A Toronto man facing removal from Canada to Nigeria tested positive for coronavirus after attending an in-person meeting at a Canada Border Services Agency office, his lawyer says.
The incident from earlier this month has lawyer Robin Seligman questioning why her client wasn’t offered the chance to conduct a teleconference or virtual hearing, given the ongoing global pandemic.
“We offered them virtual options, but they were not receptive and refused to do that,” said Seligman.
She said the CBSA officer told her and her client the office was unable to facilitate a virtual meeting and that her client had to attend the Sept. 2 meeting in person.
“What they did is reckless.”
The man started having sore throat, cough, fatigue and headache five days later, and was referred to a COVID-19 test at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., on Sept. 11. His test result came back positive Monday.
“I am not sure where I got it, but I could’ve been asymptomatic and accidentally spread it to other people I came into contact with,” said the man, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal and due to concerns over his personal safety should he be deported.
The man said he came across six individuals at the 6900 Airport Rd. location, including a security guard and the CBSA officer in charge of the interview. The man is now in self-isolation.
According to the border agency, there have been four COVID-19 cases reported by employees at its site on Airport Road since March, but there have been no new cases reported among staff since July 30.
“Public health agencies engage with the CBSA if a confirmed case of COVID-19 is reported through contact-tracing,” said Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr, a spokesperson for the agency. “No known cases involving members of the public that have visited 6900 Airport Rd. have been reported or brought to the attention of CBSA by public health agencies.”
She said video conferencing using Zoom or Microsoft Teams is not currently available at the 6900 Airport Rd. office due to technological limitations.
“Whenever possible and appropriate, the CBSA offers clients and their counsel hearings to take place via teleconference,” Gadbois-St-Cyr said. “Decisions regarding whether an in-person or a teleconference meeting is appropriate are made on a case-by-case basis and are informed by the individual circumstances of each client.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, Gadbois-St-Cyr said, measures have been put in place to prevent transmission and spread of COVID-19 within CBSA facilities. They include enhanced daily cleaning of offices, restricting public access and limiting office hours. Mask and personal protection equipment protocols have been followed according to Health Canada’s occupational health advisory.
At the border agency’s office in Mississauga, all meetings and interviews are scheduled. The main reception has remained open by appointment to visits on Tuesdays and Thursdays since March, though some walk-ins have continued to take place. Starting this week, though, the office is being opened Monday through Friday.
Seligman, for her part, said the CBSA meeting rooms are tiny and counsel are seated right next to their clients, across from the officer, divided by a security glass with an opening at the bottom to allow passage of documents.
“They said the counsel didn’t have to be there, but it’s the rights of my client to be represented at these proceedings,” noted Seligman, who said she had another client — a cancer patient with compromised immunity — being asked to attend an in-person interview in June.
Gadbois-St-Cyr said officers are required to wear PPE when attending these meetings and that hand sanitizer is also available on both sides. All interview rooms are cleaned after every use.
“The CBSA will continue to follow recommended public health measures and protocols at its offices, to ensure the safety of both CBSA staff and the public.”