Canada’s immigration minister leaves door open to extending Afghan resettlement programs

Of note:

As Canada reaches the halfway point of meeting its commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says he’s not ruling out lifting the current cap and welcoming more into this country.

But for the moment, he says, his main focus is the 8,500 people to whom Canada has already promised refuge who remain stuck in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“When we hit that target (and) we have the ability to continue to support all of the people through additional pathways, then we’ll do what we can,” Fraser told the Star in an interview Thursday, on the eve of the arrival of the 20,000th resettled Afghan in Toronto on a charter flight from United Arab Emirates.

“What we have done is made the commitments to the 40,000. But we have not taken a decision never to do more for people from Afghanistan.”

Fraser’s softened tone was in contrast to how his office had previously underlined to media Canada’s commitment to meet the target it announced last October.

In June, the Star reported that Ottawa planned to stop taking in Afghans after it had enough applications to fill the announced spots, despite the fact that many who risked their lives to help the Canadian mission were still waiting for a response to their applications.

“The unfortunate reality is that not everyone who expressed interest in coming to Canada will be eligible. … We are doing everything we can to help Afghans inside and outside of Afghanistan,” Fraser’s press secretary told reporters at the time.

Fraser said there are currently 8,500 Canada-bound Afghans still inside Afghanistan who need to get to another country to complete the resettlement applications and meet requirements such as biometrics and health screening.

These applicants to whom Ottawa has already committed are his top priority and he is working with the international community to find ways to get them out of the country, he said.

He would not reveal the different options officials are investigating.

“I learned through my experience with this effort not to expect a smooth ride. We’re dealing with a territory that’s under the control of a group that’s listed as a terrorist entity in Canadian law. There is very little patience that the Taliban has for people who are eligible to come to Canada,” he explained.

“These 8,500 people who are already in the process are still inside Afghanistan. We are not wavering on our commitment to bring those individuals here. If it was a matter of bringing in any 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, we could have done that.”

In terms of processing displaced Afghans who are now in a third country waiting to come to Canada, Fraser said the largest groups are in Pakistan and Tajikistan. But many of those are privately sponsored by community groups and their applications may fall outside the special resettlement programs.

This week, the Globe and Mail reported that a Manitoba senator’s office had issued an inauthentic Canadian government document to help facilitate an Afghan family’s travel.

Fraser said an internal investigation confirmed the document — known as “facilitation letter” to help eligible Afghans get through Taliban checkpoints — was inauthentic and that the matter has been referred to law enforcement.

“The integrity of the process has not been compromised because even the authentic letters that we did issue do not permit a person to enter Canada. An individual who used them to move through the airport still has to go through the application process and be issued an invitation to apply and complete the process and other steps required,” he said.

“To our knowledge, no one has been able to use an inauthentic facilitation letter to enter the program, but only to transit to and through the airport.”

Fraser said the Afghan resettlement project has been the most difficult but also rewarding task in his entire life and career as a parliamentarian.

He said it’s humbled him as he’s heard an Afghan woman arriving in Newfoundland saying “she finally has a home”; played soccers with the kids of a group of Afghan human rights defenders in Edmonton; and seen a new arrival kissing the ground of the tarmac in Toronto.

“It’s a great reminder of the lottery of birth that we win as Canadians, by virtue of being born in a country that is safe, where we take for granted that our communities will be peaceful places to grow up,” Fraser said.

“It’s not lost on me that we will have a lot of work ahead of us to make good on our commitment to hit 40,000.”

Source: Canada’s immigration minister leaves door open to extending Afghan resettlement programs

MP calls for parliamentary probe of inauthentic immigration documents, Afghan resettlement program

Of note:

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is calling for a parliamentary probe into the extent to which inauthentic Canadian government travel documents were used during efforts to rescue people from the Taliban last year, and into the fairness of the government’s resettlement programs for Afghans.

On Wednesday, The Globe and Mail reported that Senator Marilou McPhedran and her staff sent documents to an Afghan family shortly after the Taliban overthrew Afghanistan’s government in August, 2021. The documents, called facilitation letters, said the people named on them had been granted visas to enter Canada. The letters were meant to help those people get through Taliban checkpoints on their way to Kabul’s airport.

But the federal government told The Globe the documents the Senator and her office sent were not authentic, and that the people named on them had not been approved to come to Canada. Authentic facilitation letters were sent only directly by the federal government, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters on Wednesday.

The Immigration Department referred the matter to police. The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency declined to say whether they had launched investigations.

Ms. McPhedran, whom Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended for a Senate appointment in 2016, has defended her actions to The Globe. She has acknowledged using a template version of a government facilitation letter, but she denied that the documents were fake, or that she had used them in an unauthorized way.

She said she had worked around the clock to help vulnerable people get out of Afghanistan during an inadequate federal effort to save Afghans last year. She added that a senior government official had given her the facilitation letter template, and that people within government were aware of her work. Despite repeated requests to the Immigration Department and Global Affairs Canada, the government has refused to say whether any federal officials helped Ms. McPhedran.

Receiving the documents from the Senator and her office left the Afghan family with the mistaken belief that they had been approved to come to Canada. That belief led them to risk their lives attempting to reach the airport, and also delayed their efforts to secure valid visas.

The people who received the documents are family members of one of Ms. Rempel Garner’s constituents. They first reached out to the MP’s office because not everyone in the family had received the documents, and they wanted to know why some had been left out. The group is still in Afghanistan, where they say they are being hunted by the Taliban. To protect their safety, The Globe is not identifying them.

“This case raises a lot of questions about the integrity and the fairness of the initial program,” Ms. Rempel Garner said in an interview with The Globe. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions.”

For example, she said, it remains unclear whether her constituent’s family members were the only ones who received inauthentic documents. And she said it is also unclear how many spaces in Canada’s resettlement programs for vulnerable Afghans were taken by people with such unofficial documents.

Ms. McPhedran did not answer The Globe’s questions about whether she sent similar documents to other people.

The federal government has said no one arrived in Canada using invalid documents, but a government source was unable to say if anyone had successfully used them to get out of Afghanistan. The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

In the years before the Taliban takeover, the Canadian government promised Afghans who worked with Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan that they would receive asylum in Canada, because their work with a foreign government put them at risk of Taliban reprisals. But the government didn’t create resettlement programs for Afghans until last year. Its effort to process those immigrants came too late for many, and was unable to meet overwhelming demand.

Tens of thousands of people who had helped NATO in its war in Afghanistan were left behind by Canada and other allied countries. Some are being tortured by the Taliban.

Ms. Rempel Garner spoke to The Globe with the permission of the Afghan family. They had formally applied for resettlement in Canada in the first wave of applications last year, but they later discovered their initial application had been lost.

A letter from Mr. Fraser to Ms. Rempel Garner, which was obtained by The Globe, said the family had not received a valid invitation to apply, despite the fact that they had received an invitation from a government of Canada e-mail address.

A second application, which they made this year, was rejected because Canada’s immigration programs for Afghans had already reached capacity limits set by the government.

In Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Fraser said letters that inaccurately purport to be from the government of Canada are a “very serious” matter. He added that he is concerned by any case where vulnerable people “might not be able to rely on documents they have received.”

But Mr. Fraser said he is not concerned that there has been widespread fraud, because the government has not uncovered a significant number of inauthentic documents.

Ms. Rempel Garner said her constituent’s family’s case also raises questions about the overall process that the federal government used to approve or reject resettlement applications from Afghan nationals. She said it’s not clear why her constituent’s family members, who worked for an organization under contract with the Canadian government, didn’t qualify for the immigration programs.

And she said the family’s efforts to escape Afghanistan were not hampered just by the inauthentic documents, but also by long waits for answers from the government about the status of their case. It took almost a year for the government to confirm to Ms. Rempel Garner that the documents the family had received were not authentic.

In 10 years of constituency casework, she said she has never experienced the level of federal government stonewalling that her office dealt with in this case. “Why that happened is something that needs to be examined through Parliament, or the government needs to pro-actively address it, because that really raises concerns about integrity within the immigration system,” she said.

“For this particular family, they’re in a great degree of danger now in Afghanistan. And the government has essentially said there’s not a lot of options to help them.”

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said she was taken aback by the use of inauthentic documents reported by The Globe. She called for more “clarity and investigation.”

Ms. Kwan said the police should make clear whether they are investigating the case. If they are, she said, any parliamentary probe should begin only after the police work is completed.

She also repeated her earlier calls for the government to lift what she said is an arbitrary cap on the number of spots in its immigration programs for Afghan nationals. She said the programs should be expanded so that all Afghans who served Canada can qualify.

“We need to bring them all to safety,” she said.

Source: MP calls for parliamentary probe of inauthentic immigration documents, Afghan resettlement program

Documents senator sent to family trapped in Afghanistan weren’t authentic, says federal immigration department

Embarrassing for Senator McPhedran but good that IRCC caught the error. And I think the Senator has to be more forthcoming on which “trusted high level Canadian government official” reportedly provided advice.

That being said, understandable that those desperate to leave Afghanistan after its fall to the Taliban would resort to such means:

In the final days of a chaotic and inadequate government effort to rescue people from the Taliban last summer, Senator Marilou McPhedran and one of her staff members sent travel documents to a family attempting to flee Afghanistan. The documents, called facilitation letters, were supposed to help the Afghans bypass checkpoints that had been set up around Kabul’s airport, so they could catch one of the last evacuation flights out of the country.

The letters, copies of which were obtained by The Globe and Mail, have the appearance of official Canadian government documents. They say that each of the Afghans named on them has been “granted a VISA to enter Canada” and ask that the group be given “safe travel to the Hamid Karzai International Airport so that they can board their organized flight.”

A year later, the people who received those documents are still stuck in Afghanistan. And the Canadian government has at last explained why: The facilitation letters they received from the senator and her office were not authentic, and the people named on them had not been approved to come to Canada.

Behind the scenes, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal immigration department, had conducted an internal investigation and referred the matter to police.

Ms. McPhedran, a long-time human-rights activist and lawyer, says she was trying to help, and that she acted in good faith. But communications obtained by The Globe show that receiving the documents from her office could have hampered the Afghans’ efforts to escape by giving them the mistaken impression that they had been cleared for travel.

The family had formally applied for resettlement in Canada, but they would later discover their application had been lost. A second application, which they made this year, was rejected because Canada’s immigration programs for Afghans were already at capacity. The group remains at risk in Afghanistan, hunted by the Taliban.

“The use of inauthentic facilitation letters is a serious matter,” IRCC spokesperson Rémi Larivière said in an e-mailed statement. Following the department’s internal investigation, he added, it “made a referral to the appropriate law enforcement partners.”

The RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency declined to say whether they have launched investigations, adding that it is generally their policy not to comment on cases unless charges are laid.

E-mailed statements from IRCC about the matter do not name Ms. McPhedran, but two government sources said the internal investigation was directly related to the documents sent by the senator and her office. The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

One source said the government is not aware of anyone coming to Canada using the inauthentic documents, but they were unable to say if anyone had successfully used them to get out of Afghanistan.

In an interview, in e-mails to The Globe and in letters sent by her lawyer, Ms. McPhedran defended her efforts to save vulnerable Afghans, who are now subject to the Taliban’s brutal fundamentalist regime. She acknowledged using a template version of a government facilitation letter, but she denied that the documents were fake, or that she had used them in an unauthorized way.

She said the facilitation letter template was sent to her by a “trusted high level Canadian government official,” whom she declined to identify. She also would not say who added the names to the facilitation letters sent by her and her office. And she did not answer a question about whether she knew the Afghans had not been approved for resettlement in Canada.

“There is nothing fraudulent or illicit about any actions I took with regard to the Afghanistan rescue efforts last August,” she said in an e-mail.

”That my good faith efforts to help save Afghan lives are now being mischaracterized as unauthorized or an overreach is a sad commentary about our governance and nothing more than a politically motivated smear campaign.”

Despite repeated requests to IRCC and Global Affairs Canada, the government has refused to say whether any federal officials helped Ms. McPhedran. IRCC’s Mr. Larivière said he would not comment further, to “protect the integrity and privacy of investigations.”

The senator said she had worked around the clock with advocates and non-governmental organizations in August, 2021, as she tried to rescue the people most at risk from hard-line Taliban rule – namely, women and girls. She has spent most of her life fighting for women’s rights. In 1985, she was invested into the Order of Canada for her work ensuring equal rights for women were enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recommended her for a Senate appointment in 2016.

For years before the events of 2021, the Canadian government had promised Afghans who had worked closely with the country’s military and diplomatic missions in Afghanistan that they and their families would be able to resettle in Canada. In 2012, embassy staff in Kabul asked the government to launch a special immigration program for those Afghans. Such a program was finally created in July, 2021, just weeks before the Taliban took over on Aug. 15.

On the same day as the takeover, 10,000 kilometres away from Afghanistan, Mr. Trudeau called a snap election, and the government shuttered its mission in Kabul and evacuated its staff from the city.

The speed of Afghanistan’s fall surprised NATO countries. They were left scrambling to evacuate Afghans whose work with foreign governments put them at risk of Taliban reprisals.

Ms. McPhedran’s lawyer, Matthew Gottlieb, said the senator received the facilitation letter template from a government official on Aug. 25. Flights out of Afghanistan were about to end, and the federal government’s immigration programs for Afghans had buckled under overwhelming demand and a cumbersome application process. Advocates say the eligibility criteria were opaque, and that the process was difficult to navigate in a war zone.

At the time, Kabul’s airport was constantly surrounded by thousands of Afghans hoping to be among the lucky minority allowed to pass through military guards and board flights out. The stakes were so high that some resorted to desperate measures. In at least one instance, parents passed an infant to American soldiers over a barbed wire barricade. In other cases, people tried to cling to the outsides of planes as they took off. On Aug. 26, a suicide bombing at one of the airport’s entrances killed scores of civilians.

Ultimately, tens of thousands of people who had helped NATO in its war in Afghanistan were left behind. Some are being tortured by the Taliban.

Ms. McPhedran told The Globe she acted how anyone would have in a life-or-death situation. She said her efforts “were known by high level government officials.” In some cases, she said, those officials “participated directly in these rescue efforts.” She added that there are e-mails that show people in government knew about her work.

Her lawyer, Mr. Gottlieb, said the senator lacked “the authority or permission” to provide those e-mails.

Mr. Gottlieb added that she “understood, and was told,” that the facilitation letters “could and should be used in assisting Afghans to get to the tarmac” at the Kabul airport.

IRCC’s Mr. Larivière said the government was using facilitation letters in August, 2021, to help ensure Afghans were able to get through security checkpoints on their way to the Kabul airport. But he said authentic documents were sent only by Global Affairs Canada and IRCC, and only through official government e-mail addresses.

Ms. McPhedran and her staff member sent at least two identical e-mails to a recipient of the facilitation letters in Afghanistan. The messages said Ms. McPhedran had learned the person’s name from the New York-based Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, where the senator is a board member. The organization did not reply to questions from The Globe.

The e-mails were brief. They said there was “no guarantee” the attached documents would help. They directed the recipient to a specific gate at the Kabul airport and ended by saying: “Please do not discuss; just present this document first to any Canadian soldier – flights end on the 26th!” The Globe is not naming the recipient of the e-mails or the other people named on the documents to protect their safety in Afghanistan.

The Globe also obtained a letter sent by MP Michelle Rempel Garner, whose constituent’s family members in Afghanistan are the people who received the inauthentic documents.

Ms. Rempel Garner’s letter, dated July 7, was sent to the constituent, as well as Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Ms. McPhedran.

The letter detailed almost a year of work that Ms. Rempel Garner’s office had done to help the constituent’s family navigate the immigration system. It said her office at first believed the facilitation letters were legitimate government documents and tried to help the constituent understand why some members of her family had been approved to come to Canada while others had not been.

Over the course of that work, the letter said, Ms. Rempel Garner’s office began to have concerns about the validity of the facilitation letters. Ms. Rempel Garner wrote that, despite 10 months of work and after corresponding with government officials more than 30 times, no one in government had said whether the documents her constituent’s family had received were legitimate.

The letter also said that, because the family had believed they possessed legitimate documents, they had come out of hiding to travel to the airport and exposed themselves to danger.

Mr. Fraser clarified the status of the facilitation letters in a response to Ms. Rempel Garner later in July. He said IRCC did not issue the documents, nor did it have a record of the first of the family’s two resettlement applications.

“Since finding no record of the application, IRCC took steps to understand the nature of the letter you raised and related communication,” Mr. Fraser wrote. “The use of inauthentic facilitation letters is a serious matter, and IRCC has treated the matter with the attention it deserves.”

Source: Documents senator sent to family trapped in Afghanistan weren’t authentic, says federal immigration department

Did Canada use facial-recognition software to strip two refugees of their status? A court wants better answers

Judge Go’s activist background likely influenced this decision questioning the lack of due process and transparency over decision-making:

Canadian authorities can’t just brush off allegations that they are using facial-recognition software to discredit asylum-seekers, a court has ruled.

The decision by the Federal Court comes in a case that has cast a spotlight on the possible use of the technology by the Canada Border Services Agency — a practice the agency denies.

At the centre of the case are Asha Ali Barre and Alia Musa Hosh.

The pair claimed to be Sunni Sufi Muslims, who fled sectarian and gender-based violence from Al-Shabaab and other militant Islamist groups in Somalia.

They were accepted by Canada as refugees in May 2017 and July 2018, respectively.

In 2020, border officials moved to strip their refugee status before the Refugee Protection Division tribunal, alleging in part through photo comparisons that they were in fact Kenyans, a claim the women denied. Barre and Hosh lost their refugee status, and have appealed in court.

At issue was the alleged use of facial recognition technology, but also the privilege that authorities enjoy in withholding the source of their photo comparisons — and their investigative methods — under the Privacy Act.

“The RPD gave a cursory nod to the Respondent’s Privacy Act argument and failed to engage in the necessary consideration of balancing the alleged protection of privacy rights with the Applicant’s procedural fairness right to disclosure,” Judge Avvy Go wrote in a recent ruling in favour of the women’s joint appeal.

“The RPD’s swift acceptance of the Minister’s exemption request, in the absence of a cogent explanation for why the information is protected from disclosure, appears to be a departure from its general practice.”

Last year, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien found that the RCMP committed a “serious violation” of Canadians’ privacy by conducting searches of Clearview AI’s facial recognition database, which contains billions of photos of people scraped from the internet, including from social media sites.

Facial recognition technology has been used in Canadian immigration settings to verify the identities of incoming travellers through automated kiosks at airports, but border officials have maintained they don’t use it in immigration enforcement.

Lawyer Quinn Campbell Keenan, who represented Barre and Hosh, was pleased with Go’s decision.

“It sent a clear message to the minister and the Canada Border Services Agency against the use of photo comparison or matching software to single out individuals for possible deportation on the basis of this very dubious photo matching technology,” she told the Star.

Other lawyers also hailed the decision after seeing a surge of former and current Somali refugees having their identities challenged by the border agency through photo matching with Kenyan travellers who had previously entered Canada legally. Many of those cases are now being contested in court.

“There has to be a balanced approach where, at the minimum, the RDP should at least review the possible disclosure that the border agency has,” said lawyer Tina Hlimi, who has seen more than a dozen cases in her practice since 2019 where Somali clients’ identities were challenged based on this investigative method.

“It’s refreshing to see a different perspective when we have been arguing in vain that border agents are perhaps using facial recognition technology.”

According to the court, in support of her asylum claim, Barre had “an identity witness,” a Canadian citizen from Somalia she had met in Somalia, and a letter from the Somali Multi Service Centre, which had conducted a verification assessment of her knowledge of and connection to Somalia.

Hosh’s refugee acceptance was based on a survey by the Loin Foundation that verified her identity, as well as her ability to speak about the Tunni clan and converse with the interpreter fluently in Somali, the court said.

In their attempts to revoke the women’s refugee status, Canadian officials submitted evidence based on photo comparisons between the women and two Kenyan citizens who arrived in Manitoba as international students, just before Barre’s and Hosh’s refugee claims were made.

Despite the refugees’ objection to the photo comparison and allegation about Clearview AI database being used in their cases, the refugee tribunal agreed with the government that the firm ceased providing services in Canada on July 6, 2020, and an “App that is banned to operate in Canada would certainly not be used by a law enforcement agency such as the CBSA.”

It also found “great similarities” between the photos in either case, even though lawyers for the women had argued that facial recognition software is unreliable and particularly flawed in identifying darker-skinned females in research studies.

The court was critical of the tribunal’s conclusion that Clearview AI was not involved when no inquiry was made as to when the photo comparisons were created in the two cases.

“While the RPD relied upon the fact that the RCMP was the last remaining customer of Clearview AI and stopped using it in 2020, this does not necessarily mean (Canada Border Services Agency) was not using the software when the photographs were collected in 2016 and 2017,” said Go.

“The RPD’s finding that the Minister did not use Clearview AI was not supported by evidence, and it failed to consider the Applicant’s submissions highlighting the danger of relying on facial recognition software.”

Government lawyers argued in court that Barre and Hosh were provided with the photos of the Kenyan women, were aware of the case they had to meet and had the opportunity to respond. The obtaining of the photographs and comparison, they said, was a matter of an investigation done by border officials, and thus subject to non-disclosure privilege.

“The RPD reached a conclusion about the reliability of the photo comparisons based on the Minister’s say-so with no further details about the ‘how.’ It then took the Minister’s word that they must protect the details of their investigation under the Privacy Act without having to demonstrate whether the requirements for non-disclosure, as set out in the Act, were met,” Go said.

“The RPD’s conclusion, which was void of transparency, intelligibility, and justification, must be set aside.”

Lawyer Paul Dineen, who represented Barre and Hosh before the RPD, said the women are not out of the woods as they wait for a new tribunal hearing to decide if they can keep their refugee status.

However, depending on where further arguments go, he said officials are left with two choices.

“They either have to reveal the methods of the investigation or they have to withdraw the photos,” said Dineen.

Both Barre and Hosh declined the Star’s interview requests.

Source: Did Canada use facial-recognition software to strip two refugees of their status? A court wants better answers

ICYMI: Ottawa capped immigration program for Afghans who worked with Canada since its launch

Bad marks for transparency but at least adjusted upwards:

When the federal government launched an immigration program for Afghans who worked with Canada’s military or government in Afghanistan, it capped the number of people it was willing to receive at a maximum of 2,500, though did not make that figure public for more than a year.

The cap for the special immigration measures (SIM) program was then gradually increased over several months.

The evolving caps were made public for the first time on Aug. 27 – more than a year after the program began – when the government published the temporary policies behind the program, which provide its legal foundation. The disclosure also shows that the program’s penultimate policy ended in January, at the latest, but a new one didn’t come into effect until June – a gap that two lawyers called “inexplicable.”

Maureen Silcoff and Sujit Choudhry, who have been retained by around 30 Afghan nationals to explore their legal options for securing entry to Canada, also criticized the federal government for capping the program, and for failing to publicize the caps and expiry dates spelled out in the policies from the beginning.

“These measures mean that from its inception, the government created an artificial cap that would inevitably leave Afghans behind to face possible death, because of their significant and enduring connection to Canada,” Ms. Silcoff said.

Opposition MPs and advocates have criticized the federal government for poor communication, long delays and seemingly arbitrary decision making within the SIM program. More than a year after Afghanistan fell to Taliban control, they say many Afghans who worked for Canada are still unsure whether they will eventually receive a shot at safe passage to Canada or be left behind. In the meantime, many are in hiding – in danger of being targeted by the Taliban.

While Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014, the SIM program also applies to Afghans who worked with Canada in the years since, such as at the Canadian embassy in Kabul.

The first time the federal government publicly referenced a limit to the SIM program was on April 25, when Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the House special committee on Afghanistan that the government planned to welcome 18,000 Afghans through the program. In June, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) confirmed the vast majority of those 18,000 slots were spoken for, prompting widespread calls for the Liberal government to do away with the cap.

The official caps detailed in the government’s policies are not as simple as the 18,000-person plan, however. The first policy, dated July 22, 2021, as well as three updated versions, dated Aug. 9, Aug. 22, and Nov. 10, 2021, were all set to expire when IRCC received applications for a certain number of people – or on Jan. 31, 2022, whichever came first.

The first policy would end “on January 31, 2022, or once applications for 2,500 individuals have been received for resettlement to Canada, whichever comes first.” The subsequent three iterations upped the cap on applications to 5,700, then 9,500, then 14,000.

By the Aug. 22 version, the policy also made clear that the cap included both “principal applicants,” as well as “their family members and or other members of the household.”

Jeffrey MacDonald, an IRCC spokesperson, said in an e-mail the multiple policies for the SIM program reflect the federal government’s “ongoing and increasing” response to the situation in Afghanistan. (Mr. Fraser was not made available for an interview.)

The government’s current policy, dated June 8, 2022, sets out additional slots. It ends when applications for 5,000 people have been “accepted into processing” by IRCC or on March 31, 2023, whichever comes first, “with the view to fulfill the commitment of 18,000 admissions.”

With the Nov. 10, 2021 policy ending on Jan. 31, at the latest, and a new one not coming into effect until June 8, Ms. Silcoff and Mr. Choudhry questioned what took place during this gap. Mr. Choudhry said they found it “utterly inexplicable” that the program’s legal framework was allowed to expire at all – let alone for four months.

Mr. MacDonald did not dispute that there was a policy gap, but said “at no time did we stop processing applications we had received.” When The Globe and Mail followed up to ask whether IRCC issued any new invitations to apply during the four-month period, IRCC did not directly answer.

Instead, a second IRCC spokesperson, Rémi Larivière, said, “the processing of SIMs applications that were submitted prior to January 31, 2022 continued throughout the February – June period.”

Mr. MacDonald also did not directly answer whether the government has produced an estimate of the total number of Afghans it anticipated would qualify for the SIM program. He said the ability of the government and its security screening partners to process and vet applications was a factor in establishing the caps.

Mr. Choudhry said the evolving caps reveal them as arbitrary.

“It just suggests that the government was making up policy on the fly,” he said. “I refuse to believe that after 20 years in Afghanistan, we do not have a reliable estimate of how many individuals would qualify.”

According to IRCC, as of Sept. 7, the department has received 15,340 applications to the SIM program, resulting in 10,880 approvals, with 7,735 Afghans arriving in Canada.

The federal government has acknowledged the danger Afghans are in while they await answers, stating in the June 8 policy that Afghans who worked for Canada are at increased risk of being targeted for “attacks and assassination campaigns” because of that work.

Last week, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, submitted his first report, detailing numerous concerns since the Taliban took control, including a “staggering regression” of women’s and girls’ rights and “reports of ongoing extrajudicial and reprisal killings” by the Taliban.

Source: Ottawa capped immigration program for Afghans who worked with Canada since its launch

Ibbitson: Will Trudeau’s Liberal government open the door to at-risk Uyghurs?

Should be an easy decision to make:

This autumn, the House of Commons will debate a motion from Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi calling on the federal government to accept 10,000 Uyghur refugees who have fled China but are at risk of being deported back, where they would face severe persecution.

That motion achieved greater urgency with the arrival of a United Nations report on Wednesday that states the Chinese government may be guilty of crimes against humanity in its treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities.

The question is whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals government will act to protect Uyghurs at risk. On Thursday, the government was sending mixed signals.

Mr. Zuberi put forward the motion, which calls on the federal government “to expedite the entry of 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in need of protection, over two years starting in 2024 into Canada.”

Motions, if passed, are not binding on the government, but they do represent the will of the House.

“Not only are you dealing with extremely vulnerable people, you are also dealing with the compounding issue of genocide,” Mr. Zuberi told me. “The UN report shows how immediate and concrete action on the part of governments is urgently needed.”

The report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights does not use the word “genocide.” But its findings are damning. “Serious human rights violations have been committed” in Xinjiang, concludes outgoing commissioner Michelle Bachelet, that “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

These crimes include arbitrary detention, torture, forced medical treatment, sexual offences, forced birth control, forced labour, suppression of religious freedom and family separations.

“We’ve known about these crimes against humanity for quite a number of years,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, who is a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

“Now we have detailed documentation of the crimes, and official confirmation that all of this is happening.” She urged the federal government to swiftly launch a program that would bring government-sponsored Uyghurs into Canada. “I don’t believe they need to wait until 2024.”

But when the House unanimously declared last year that “a genocide is currently being carried out by the People’s Republic of China against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” Mr. Trudeau and most of the cabinet stayed away from the vote. Marc Garneau, then foreign affairs minister, abstained, “on behalf of the government of Canada.”

The Trudeau government walks a fine line in its relations with Beijing. It banned the Chinese company Huawei Technologies from participating in the rollout of Canada’s 5G network, but that came long after allied countries made the same decision.

The government is planning new legislation to toughen the rules banning the import of goods produced through forced labour, but we lag behind other countries.

In that context, Thursday was typical. Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly issued a strong statement of support for the UN report. “The release of this much-anticipated report was critical,” it said. “The findings reflect the credible accounts of grave human rights violations taking place in Xinjiang. This report makes an important contribution to the mounting evidence of serious, systemic human rights abuses and violations occurring in Xinjiang.”

However, a statement sent to me by Aiden Strickland, press secretary to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, was far more cautious. “The safety of Uyghur refugees is a high priority,” Ms. Strickland said. “However, we are not in a position to comment more specifically at this time as it could put this vulnerable population at risk.”

The statement made no mention of the UN report.

Few nations can match Canada’s record for swift action to rescue people at risk. More than 70,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Canada in the past six months; we brought in 25,000 Syrians displaced by civil war seven years ago; and while we have settled fewer than half of 40,000 Afghans at risk that we promised to bring in, at least the commitment is there.

Canada could easily absorb 10,000 Uyghur refugees. And we wouldn’t need to wait until 2024 to bring them here. We could do it right now, and we should.

Let’s hope the House strongly affirms Mr. Zuberi’s motion. Better yet, let’s hope the Trudeau comes to the help of Uyghurs, even if it does offend the regime in Beijing.

Source: Will Trudeau’s Liberal government open the door to at-risk Uyghurs?

Channel crossings to the UK top 25,000 so far this year

By way of comparison, about 20,000 irregular arrivals at Roxham Road between January and July 2022 (virtually all), compared to close to 2 million at the US Southwest land border:

More than 25,000 migrants and refugees have crossed the Channel to the UK so far this year, government figures show.

A total of 915 people were detected on Saturday in 19 small boats, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said, taking the provisional total for the year to 25,146.

There have been 8,747 crossings in August so far, including 3,733 in the past week, analysis shows.

The highest daily total on record came last Monday, 22 August, with 1,295 people crossing in 27 boats.

It has been more than four months since the home secretary, Priti Patel, unveiled plans to send refugees to Rwanda to try to deter people from crossing the Channel. Since then, 19,878 people have arrived in the UK after making the journey.

Source: Channel crossings to the UK top 25,000 so far this year

Canada less than halfway to Afghan resettlement goal one year after Taliban takeover

Of note. Not an easy process for those trying to get out but arguably IRCC capacity has been overly stretched given overall government priorities and related backlogs:

A year after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, Canada’s resettlement efforts have lagged behind official targets and the efforts to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

More than 17,300 Afghans have arrived in Canada since last August compared to 71,800 Ukrainians who have come to Canada in 2022 alone, according to government statistics. The federal government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghans.

Canadian activists and MPs accuse the Liberals of not doing enough to help people who worked with the Canadian Forces in the country, including as interpreters.

They say some families are in hiding from the Taliban as they await approval of their immigration applications, while others have been split up, with children and spouses of applicants left behind.

New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan, who has been in contact with many Afghan refugees who worked with Canadian Forces, said there is a “stark difference” between the government’s treatment of those fleeing the Taliban and those fleeing the Russian invasion.

She said the situation for Afghans who helped Canada is “grave,” with many unable to escape the country and facing persecution by the Taliban.

She said some received no reply to their applications from the immigration department other than an automated response. Others seeking visas from the Taliban authorities to escape their regime were put in peril if they identified themselves.

“Their lives are in danger. They told me what the Taliban are calling them: they are called ‘the Western dogs,'” Kwan said.

“We owe them a debt of gratitude. We cannot abandon them.”

Amanda Moddejonge, a military veteran and activist, said she has witnessed families being split up, with only some making it to Canada. She also warned that Afghans who worked for Canadian Forces “are being hunted” by the Taliban.

“Nobody should face death for working for the Government of Canada, especially when this government can identify those who worked for them and is able to provide them life-saving assistance,” she said.

The warnings come as aid agencies working in Afghanistan raise alarms that the country is in a dire humanitarian crisis, with 18.9 million people facing acute hunger.

Asuntha Charles, national director of World Vision Afghanistan, said aid workers have encountered acute poverty and malnutrition, including among children.

“At least one million children are on the brink of starvation, and at least 36 per cent of Afghan children suffer from stunting — being small for their age — a common and largely irreversible effect of malnutrition,” she said.

“In the four areas we work, we’ve found that families live on less than a dollar day. This has forced seven out of 10 boys and half of all girls to work to help their families instead of going to school.”

Vincent Hughes, a spokesman for immigration minister Sean Fraser, said the Afghan and Ukrainian immigration programs are very different.

He said refugees who arrived through programs set up to bring them to Canada have a right to stay permanently, whereas it’s believed many Ukrainians who have fled to Canada intend eventually to return to Ukraine.

Helping get people out of Afghanistan and to Canada was very challenging, he added, as Canada has no diplomatic presence there and does not recognize the Taliban government.

“Our commitment of bringing at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans to Canada has not wavered, and it remains one of the largest programs around the world,” he said.

“The situation in Afghanistan is unique as we are facing challenges that have not been present in other large-scale resettlement initiatives.”

Source: Canada less than halfway to Afghan resettlement goal one year after Taliban takeover

Falconer: Report says Canada should loosen visa requirements to allow more Ukrainian refugees

Of note. But should this be an addition to current levels or at the expense of economic or family class? Or to fulfill some of the labour demand currently being filled by Temporary Foreign Workers? And would waiving the visa requirement create pressures to do the same for other refugees?

A new report says Canada needs to change its federal visa policy to speed up the admission of Ukrainian refugees, which has slowed to a trickle.

The study by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy released Thursday says that compared to other countries, Canada has received a small number of the millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced since Russia invaded the eastern European country in February.

“Applications by Ukrainians are starting to far outstrip the number that are being granted by the Canadian government and we don’t even have a really clear picture of how many Ukrainians are coming into the country,” said author Robert Falconer.

Statistics show the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, which expedites visas and temporary residency permits for Ukrainians and their families, isn’t enough, he said.

As of June 22, there were approximately 190,000 Ukrainians with pending applications to come to Canada, up from 140,000 about one month earlier.

Falconer said the program, requiring those arriving to have visas, is to blame for Canada lagging behind other countries — most notably Ireland, which has waived its visa requirement.

“One of the objections within the committee in Parliament was if we let Ukrainians in, then Russian spies would use that to infiltrate the system,” he said.

“Russian espionage does exist, but the refugee channel is one of the more inefficient ways to try and infiltrate a Russian spy into the country.”

Falconer said federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, with proper resources, would be able to manage security risks involving the visa process. He recommends Canada adopt the Irish model or another option to do visa checks once people arrive.

“If we’re not doing the Irish model, I would say we do what’s called the on-arrival model, which is what a lot of countries do. When you arrive at the airport, you have to wait for a small period while the government officials run the security checks,” Falconer said.

“You do some risk assessments and can probably vet that eight-year-old kid who is probably not a Russian spy whereas an unaccompanied male in their mid-20s … you might hold them while you process the background check and let them into the country. Let them get here to safety first and then process them from there.”

Falconer said an overwhelming number of Canadians support bringing in a high number of Ukrainian refugees and our country has the highest percentage of people of Ukrainian descent next to Ukraine and Russia.

The report says Canada and the United Kingdom have similar processes for the admission of Ukrainian refugees and the numbers are comparable.

It says about 13 times the number of Ukrainian refugees per capita arrived in Ireland than in the United Kingdom during the first two months of the invasion.

Falconer said the findings of the report are to be forwarded to the federal government, but he isn’t sure whether it would result in a loosening of the requirements.

“I think they’re probably aware. I think they are very, very, very concerned — less with Ukrainians and more with how the overall immigration file is going generally.”

Source: Report says Canada should loosen visa requirements to allow more Ukrainian refugees

Canadians are seeking asylum in US due to Trudeau’s Covid policies

Funny and sad that some think they can apply for asylum in the USA given COVID-related restrictions. At least the lawyer involved is reasonable honest about the likelihood of success (while pocketing his fees). “True” North is not exactly innocent in promoting such beliefs:

Buffalo immigration lawyer Matthew Kolken has filed asylum applications for at least half a dozen Canadians who hope to flee the country permanently due to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pandemic policies. 

In an exclusive interview with True North, Kolken, who is a former director of the Board of Governors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained that his clients fear being persecuted for being unvaccinated should they return to Canada.

“If you just don’t want to go back to Canada, you actually need to fear that you will be the victim of targeted persecution by the Government of Canada or by groups within the country that the government either can’t or won’t protect you from,” said Kolken. 

“(The application) says they’ve either expressed some sort of political speech or a member of a particular social group like unvaccinated individuals that have faced persecution before either through seizing of bank accounts, or loss of employment, or forced quarantines, things of that nature.”

According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, those seeking asylum must apply within one year of arriving in the country. Groundsfor seeking asylum include suffering persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. 

An application filed by Kolken in January for one client cited the Liberal government’s crackdown on the Freedom Convoy in February. To deal with the situation, Trudeau took the unprecedented step of invoking the Emergencies Act which enabled the government to freeze the bank accounts of protesters.

Kolken stated that his clients were also “scared to death” of being singled out by the Trudeau government for speaking out against vaccine mandates or have their employment opportunities limited. 

“They’re scared to death that if they go back to Canada they will be singled out and isolated by the Government of Canada, they will be unable to travel,” said Kolken.

“They’re afraid they wouldn’t get onto a plane in Canada and they will be trapped within their own country and that their abilities to obtain employment are limited there.”

Although the Liberals lifted travel mandates which prohibited unvaccinated Canadians from boarding a plane and train domestically or abroad, public health officials have not ruled out re-introducing restrictions in the future. 

“[If] COVID-19 takes a turn for the worst and we need to readjust and go back to a different regime, maybe similar to what we might have had before, we’re ready to do that,” said Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo in June. “We have no idea what the long term success rate is but I counsel my clients over the phone, the applications that clearly are justifiable under the law and regulations. They set forth a bonafide non-frivolous case.”

He also warned those seeking asylum that the Safe Third Country Agreement which dictates asylum applications between Canada and the US could be used against them. 

“The Safe Third Country Agreement cannot differentiate either country’s treaty obligations to accept asylees from one of the two contracting countries. You can’t say that because of the Safe Third Country Agreement that nobody who is a Canadian citizen can’t apply for asylum in the United States.”

Source: Canadians are seeking asylum in US due to Trudeau’s Covid policies