On Wednesday, I will arrive in Australia to embark on an exciting and ambitious reporting assignment for the Times Colonist, and readers can follow my progress online.
Canada has introduced tougher new laws on illegal migrants in response to the two ships loaded with Tamil asylumseekers that arrived in Victoria in October 2009 and August 2010. The policy reforms in Bill C-31, touted by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney as the most effective way to deter human smugglers from selling spots on the dangerous cargo ships, steer Canada in the direction Australia has taken to deal with boat migrants, which is long-term detention in remote and highsecurity facilities.
I will be investigating Australia's detention policy: visiting the controversial detention centre on remote Christmas Island; touring a facility near Adelaide called Inversbrackie, which houses families and allows children to leave daily for school; and speaking to policy-makers, immigration experts and refugee rights groups.
Scrutinizing the Australian detention policy will provide a solid context for our own country's reforms. Australia has spent billions of dollars building detention centres in remote locations throughout the country. Human rights groups like Amnesty International and refugee advocates have raised concerns about suicides, self-harm, hunger strikes, and emotional and psychological damage on the part of detainees, who include children. Questions need to be asked before the reforms in Canada take effect.
What are the benefits? How much does it cost? What are the consequences? Is there evidence that mandatory detention deters migrants ships and if not, why is Canada moving in that direction? What will be the cost, monetarily and to our humanitarian reputation?
I will also be in Bangkok, Thailand, a major hub for human smuggling, investigating how Canadian authorities are working with Royal Thai police to stop the smugglers from selling spots on rusty ships for a dangerous voyage across the Pacific Ocean.
This project is funded by the $25,000 R. James Travers Foreign Corresponding Fellowship, a bursary established shortly after Jim Travers's death on March 3, 2011, to finance significant foreign reporting projects by Canadian journalists. Travers was a respected foreign correspondent and political columnist who saw journalism as a catalyst for social change.
Readers can follow my journey on my blog on timescolonist.com and watch for a series of stories in the paper and online this fall.