Skip to content

Canada Immigration responds to Haida basketball players’ detainment

Haida men from Alaska were detained after coming to Canada to play in the All Native Tournament
Two Haida basketball players took a boat from Hydaburg, Alaska to Haida Gwaii and then ferried over to Prince Rupert to make it to the All Native Basketball Tournament, but they were detained after they bypassed Canadian border services. (Google Maps)

Canadian immigration has responded to the story of two Haida basketball players who took a boat from Hydaburg, Alaska to Haida Gwaii and then ferried over to Prince Rupert to make it to the All Native Basketball Tournament.

Vince Edenshaw and Greg Frisby journey bypassed Canadian border services. On Feb. 16, before their team’s final game at the tournament, they were detained by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and taken to Terrace, B.C., to await their hearing.

Melissa Anderson, the senior communications advisor for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, said the men were detained for two reasons: for non-compliance with the immigration law under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and for their criminal records outside of Canada.

During the hearing, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) counsel representing the Canadian government withdrew the allegation regarding Edenshaw’s and Frisby’s prior criminal convictions. Since both men are U.S. citizens, a criminal record could bar them from entering Canada permanently. But according to Section 19 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, Canadian citizens and people registered under the Indian Act has the right to enter and remain in Canada.

Instead of being deported, Edenshaw and Frisby were given an exclusion order for failing to check in with CBSA at the border. It is the weakest version of removal order, Anderson said. Once the year is up, they will be able to return to Canada as long as they check in at the border.

READ MORE: Two Haida men detained for crossing U.S.-Canada border

Their lawyer, Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson said the criminal aspect of the hearing was dropped because CBSA did not want to make it a bigger Aboriginal rights hearing.

What complicates matters is that neither Edenshaw nor Frisby are registered under the Indian Act.

“A lot of people are still going through the process of getting their status because they were wrongfully denied it in the past when their maternal ancestor married someone who was not someone with Indian status,” Williams-Davidson said. “For these individuals, their grandmother or great-grandmother emigrated to the U.S. before Indian status was even given out in Canada, because their migration happened in the 1700s — before Canada was even a country.”

But under the Haida Nation’s constitution, anyone of Haida decent is a Haida citizen.

“The Haida have not yet, but are in the process of starting to issue Haida citizenship verification,” Williams-Davidson said.

Although the Haida had their own passports at one point, there is not currently citizenship documents proving their status, which would be required at the Canadian-U.S. border.

“For me, the important part of this case is that these are men who could have potentially been denied the opportunity to reconnect with their homeland,” Williams-Davidson said. “That’s what was so important to me about being involved is that there’s great restorative value in returning back to our ancestors’ homeland because of our ties with the land.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter