“Protecting Canada’s immigration system”
Most readers have some knowledge about Canadian immigration but are probably unaware that there are basically three types of immigration within the Immigration Act. One deals with economic stream applications, such as the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program; another with family reunification, like the sponsorship of spouses; and a third covers our international human rights obligations towards political refugees.
Refugees, as defined by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), are persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. In terms of asylum seekers inside the country, Canada has to make an individual determination of whether they would face persecution or torture in their home country before removing the person. On February 16, 2012 the federal government tabled Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System, to protect the Canadian immigration system against abuses within the asylum system, targeting those who claim refugee status inside Canada.
Under the current system a person can submit a refugee claim at a border point (at an airport or border crossing) or from within Canada. Claimants must show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country, but not all claimants are genuine refugees. The processing of refugee claimants inside the country is often time consuming and costly. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) adjudicates the claims. A claim is not eligible to be heard if the person: has already been determined to be a Convention Refugee by another country; or has already been rejected as a refugee by Canada, or has withdrawn or abandoned a previous claim; or if the person came to Canada through a designated “safe third country” such as the United States. The numbers are not insignificant: over 20,000 claims were made in Canada in 2010 and over 10,000 in the first six months of 2011.
A refugee claimant may undergo an expedited process or a full hearing. The expedited process is for claims that appear to be well founded. While waiting for their hearing, refugee claimants are given permission to work and are also covered by provincial heath. Once the full hearing is convened by the IRB the claimant has the right to be represented by legal counsel and the IRB even provides an interpreter where necessary. If the decision is positive, the refugee claimant is given the status of a “protected person” and can apply to be a permanent resident. If negative, the IRB must provide reasons in writing. There is no appeal of a negative decision but the failed claimant can request that the Federal Court conduct a “judicial review” of the negative IRB decision. The review is restricted to serious legal errors. The claimant who is found not to be a protected person faces removal from Canada but prior to any removal immigration can conduct a risk assessment to review conditions in the country to which the claimant will be returned. The only other option to the failed claimant is to apply to Immigration Canada for permission to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and this outcome is rare.
The federal Minister Jason Kenny can speak with some pride about the system we have in place for judging asylum seekers but his department is also charged with screening out bogus applicants. “Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs,” Minister Kenny stated in support of Bill C-31. “But they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of the system.” The proposed changes would provide faster protection to those who genuinely need refuge and faster removal for those who don’t.
Minister Kenny is especially conscious of bogus claims being made by persons from the European Union (EU). In 2011 claims made from persons from the EU comprised 23 per cent of total claimants, up from 14 per cent in 2010. Over 95 per cent of the EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. The unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost the Canadian taxpayers nearly $170 million. The National Post newspaper was more specific in terms of identifying Roma or Gypsy applicants from Hungary as the focus for the government’s proposed amendments. In 2010 Roma from Hungary submitted 2,300 claims and this number increased to 4,500 in 2011. “Too many tax dollars are spent on people who do not need our protection,” Minister Kenny stated at his news conference following the tabling of Bill C-31. We “have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity or take advantage of our country.”
At the center of the proposed legislation is a change in Canada’s “Designated Country of Origin.” Minister Kenny wants: the provinces to review who is eligible to collect welfare and other benefit programs; refugees from the designated countries will be ineligible to apply for a work permit and associated benefits until their claim is adjudicated by the IRB; there will be quicker hearings, which will be complemented by faster removals; human smugglers will be dealt with in a harsh fashion such as the 12-month detention; the proposed change includes legislation for long-planned implementation of biometrics as an identification management tool.
The rhetoric of the Minister matches the changes he proposes in Bill C-31: “If you are a bona fide refugee you’re going to get protection in Canada. If you are a law-abiding immigrant, you’re more than welcome in this country, which maintains the highest level of immigration in the developed world. But, if you intend to come here as a criminal or to abuse our generosity, you will be stopped or you will be returned promptly. That’s what Canadians expect.”
Those who abuse the current system often come from many countries not designated as refugee-producing such as the Philippines. Yes, there are some refugee claimants in the country at this moment whose cases are being heard. Their likelihood of success is slim to none at all. Bill C-31 would change the benefits they currently receive and the time it takes to remove them. Bill C-31, as it appears above, is presently being debated in the House of Commons and, of course, there are other opinions on the value or impact of the proposed changes. Follow the debate if you want because this is a good way to watch our democracy at work: public debate is both healthy and a way to protect the integrity of the Immigration Act. Part two of this article will deal with the amendment once implemented and it’s impact both to refugee claimants and the wider Canadian public.
Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: email@example.com