Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing: Globe article and response

Following this Globe story, PM Harper stated that:

… when it comes to admitting refugees, his government ensures the selection of the most vulnerable people while keeping the country safe and secure.

“The audit we asked for earlier this year was to ensure that these policy objectives are being met. Political staff are never involved in approving refugee applications,” Harper said. “Such decisions are made by officials in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.”

No PMO vetting of refugees, say Conservatives

But it appears that it was not prompted by security:

Sources tell CTV News that a temporary halt to the processing of some Syrian refugees was ordered earlier this year to make sure the types favoured by the Prime Minister’s Office were being prioritized.

Department of Citizenship and Immigration insiders told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that PMO staff went through the files to ensure that persecuted religious minorities with established communities already in Canada — ones that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper could court for votes — were being accepted. Insiders say PMO actively discouraged the department from accepting applications from Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Private applications, which are often from church groups, were allowed to continue while the rest were on hold.

Should this be true, it is highly inappropriate both in substance (taking identity and ‘shopping for votes’ politics to a new level) and in process (PMO directed rather than PCO directed), not to mention morally wrong given the impact on refugees and the delays incurred.

During my time at PCO (1998-2000), when PMO had concerns about handling of files, PCO would play a strong policy coordination (and sometimes direction) to departments in close coordination with PMO. But the bureaucratic chain of command was respected.

This indicates a lack of confidence of CIC (and Minister Alexander’s ability to direct the department) to implement preferences for more vulnerable ethnic groups. Globe article that started it all below:

The Prime Minister’s Office directed Canadian immigration officials to stop processing one of the most vulnerable classes of Syrian refugees this spring and declared that all UN-referred refugees would require approval from the Prime Minister, a decision that halted a critical aspect of Canada’s response to a global crisis.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the Prime Minister intervened in a file normally handled by the Citizenship and Immigration department in the months before dramatic images of a dead toddler brought the refugee crisis to the fore. The processing stop, which was not disclosed to the public, was in place for at least several weeks. It is unclear when it was lifted. At the same time, an audit was ordered of all Syrian refugees referred by the United Nations in 2014 and 2015.

The Prime Minister’s Office asked Citizenship and Immigration for the files of some Syrian refugees so they could be vetted by the PMO – potentially placing political staff with little training in refugee matters in the middle of an already complex process.

PMO staff could have also had access to files that are considered protected, because they contain personal information, including a refugee’s health history and narrative of escape, raising questions about the privacy and security of that information and the basis on which it was being reviewed.

As a result of the halt, and the additional layers of scrutiny, families that had fled Syria and were judged by the United Nations refugee agency to be in need of resettlement had to wait longer to find refuge in Canada. It also meant there were fewer cases of UN-referred Syrians approved and ready for sponsorship when the public came forward in large numbers after the drowning death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi in August.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not directly respond to a request for comment, nor did it confirm Stephen Harper’s involvement.

A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, however, said the government was concerned about the integrity of the system and ensuring that security was not compromised in any way.

“The processing of Syrian Government Assisted Refugees resumed only after there was confidence that our procedures were adequate to identify those vulnerable persons in most need of protection while screening out threats to Canada,” said Chris Day, spokesman for Mr. Alexander. He noted that processing of privately sponsored refugees, who are not referred by the UN but by their Canadian sponsors and who make up a growing portion of Canada’s refugees, continued throughout this period.

Critics have long complained about the centralization of decision-making in the PMO – and it would be unusual for a prime minister to sign off on refugee files that have already been vetted by the UN refugee agency, Canadian visa officials and in a small minority of cases by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Source: Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: