Federal stats show slight increase in irregular migrant claims in August

Numbers may be stabilizing but will need to see full year numbers to assess. But government must be relieved with significant drop in numbers from summer 2017:

The number of irregular border crossers seeking asylum in Canada increased slightly in August, but were far below the record spikes seen last summer.

Statistics published Tuesday by the federal government shows the Mounties apprehended 1,747 irregular migrants between official border crossings in August, a jump of 113 from July, marking the second consecutive month of increases following a downward trend that began in May.

Overall, this summer saw less than half of the just over 8,800 irregular migrants who crossed into Canada during July and August last year.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel suggested the issue of irregular migrants has not gotten better, noting that the total number of asylum seekers so far for this year — 14,125, federal data shows — is higher than during the same period in 2017 when 13,221 irregular migrants were counted.

“The problem is getting worse,” Rempel said.

Rempel has repeatedly called on the Liberals to close a loophole in the Safe Third Country agreement between Canada and the United States, which has been cited as a major factor in the ongoing stream of asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border through non-official entry points.

The agreement prevents asylum seekers from asking for refugee protection when they present themselves at an official port-of-entry, which is why thousands have crossed the border on foot so they can get into the country and claim what they would likely be denied at an official entry point.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair said he has asked to meet with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to discuss ways to modernize the agreement and continued to defend the government’s handling of the border during the daily question period.

The issue of irregular border crossers has been an ongoing topic of heated debate and one that has become divisive among federal and provincial parties.

The federal and Ontario Tories have labelled the situation at the border a “crisis” and called irregular border crossers “illegal” — two terms the federal Liberals reject. The Trudeau Liberals insist the border is being managed in an orderly way and that Canada is accommodating asylum seekers as required under human rights obligations.

Ontario has also demanded millions in federal funding to cover unanticipated costs from the influx of refugee claimants and is refusing to co-operate in Ottawa’s plan to identify individuals or families willing to relocate to areas outside Toronto while awaiting the outcome of their refugee claims.

The government said a pilot project for this triage program started last week in the southwestern Ontario municipality of Chatham-Kent that will see five families relocated to the town just east of the border with Michigan, instead of Toronto. Blair’s office said the families chosen for the pilot were willing to go to Chatham-Kent, where temporary housing may be easier to find.

Speaking to reporters, Blair said the number of asylum seekers involved in this project is small, but it will allow the community the opportunity to see how families settle there and give the federal government a chance to learn from any successes — or failures.

Blair said he would have “very much preferred” to work with Ontario’s government on the triage program, rather than with individual municipalities, but he is hopeful about resolving the tension between the two governments.

Source: Federal stats show slight increase in irregular migrant claims in August

Asylum-seeker surge at Quebec border choking Canada’s refugee system, data show

Good in-depth analysis of the numbers:

The wait time for a refugee claim hearing in Canada increased more than a third over the past two years, to 19 months, as more than 30,000 asylum seekers arriving via unauthorized border crossings placed significant pressure on the system.

Overwhelmed by the number of migrants, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has only managed to finalize 15 per cent of the 27,674 asylum claims made by people who illegally entered Quebec – where the majority of the crossings took place, mostly at a single location near St. Bernard-de-Lacolle – between February, 2017, and this June.

The resulting backlog has created a growing queue for any and all asylum seekers. Under the Supreme Court’s landmark 1985 Singh decision, all refugee claimants on Canadian soil are entitled to an oral hearing.

Asylum seekers who cross illegally at the U.S.-Canadian border eventually face the same questions as all other refugee claimants: Are they genuine refugees, fearing persecution in their home countries? Data from the IRB show that less than half of the claimants in finalized cases – 1,885 – have been accepted as legitimate refugees in Quebec, significantly lower than the proportion for all refugee cases in Canada.

Canada has only deported a small number of the nearly 30,000 asylum seekers who
illegally entered Quebec through unauthorized border crossings since last year, accord-
ing to statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency.

The majority of border crossers have entered Canada through Quebec, mostly at an
unauthorized port of entry in St. Bernard-de-Lacolle. While a breakdown of adjudicated
cases was not available for Quebec, national statistics paint a picture of a refugee deter-
mination system that has been slow to finalize asylum claims.

But a separate data set from the Canada Border Services Agency shows that only a handful of those who have been denied refugee status have been deported. The CBSA said it had removed just 157 people who entered Quebec through unofficial border crossings since April, 2017 – about one in every 200. It said another 582 are being processed for deportation.

Canada-wide, the CBSA said it has deported 398 of the 32,173 people who crossed into Canada illegally since April, 2017. Of those, 146 were sent back to the U.S., while the rest were deported to 53 other countries, including Haiti (53), Colombia (24), Turkey (19) and Iraq (15).

Refugee lawyer Lorne Waldman said the relatively low number of deportations is simply an indicator of the system.

“It doesn’t surprise me because it takes a while for cases to make their way through the system. So people who came a year ago, if the system works efficiently, they should be at the end of the system and subject to removal if their claims are rejected,” he said.

But the situation at the border has put pressure on Canada’s already-strained refugee determination system. The projected wait time for a refugee claim hearing is currently 19 months, up from 16 in September, 2017, and 14 in September, 2016 – just before the influx of asylum seekers.

Tens of thousands have flooded the Canada-U.S. border since last year. Initially, many of the border crossers were Haitians who had been living in the U.S. under a temporary protected status (TPS) they had been given after the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti. When the Trump administration announced its intention to end the TPS for Haitians, word spread among the community there that they could apply for refugee status in Canada if they headed north and found a way into the country.

But it wasn’t as simple as showing up at the border and claiming asylum. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. requires both countries to refuse entry to asylum seekers who arrive at official border crossings, as both countries are considered safe for refugees. However, since the agreement applies only to people who arrive at official points of entry, asylum seekers can avoid being turned away by entering between official border crossings – a loophole thousands have taken advantage of.

This year brought a new wave of asylum seekers in St. Bernard-de-Lacolle: Nigerians travelling on valid U.S. visas. It’s not exactly clear why Nigerians choose to travel on U.S. visas instead of Canadian ones, but Mr. Waldman said the U.S. visa system is seen as more generous than Canada’s. Many of the Nigerian asylum seekers obtain visitor visas and use them to fly into the U.S. They then head north to the Quebec border, cross into Canada and apply for asylum.

Earlier this year, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and senior government officials travelled to Nigeria to raise their visa concerns directly with U.S. officials there. Mr. Hussen said the Nigerian government also pledged to discourage its citizens from claiming asylum in Canada after crossing between official points of entry along the U.S. border.

The IRB has finalized just 4,181 asylum claims made by border crossers in Quebec between February, 2017, and June of this year (more current data were unavailable), of which only 45 per cent – 1,885 – were accepted. Another 1,614 claims were rejected, and 682 were abandoned or withdrawn.

That number of accepted claims is significantly lower than the Canada-wide acceptance rate for all refugee claims. As of June, the IRB had approved 7,831 of 13,687 – 57 per cent – of all processed asylum cases made since Dec. 15, 2012, including claims made by asylum seekers who crossed illegally into Canada. Another 55,567 claims were still pending. A small number of refugee claims made before 2012, when the refugee determination system underwent significant changes, are documented separately.

As a part of the 2018 federal budget, the government invested $72-million in the IRB, which will be used to hire 64 new decision-makers in an effort to improve processing times.

Montreal refugee lawyer Mitchell Goldberg said he is optimistic processing times will start to decrease as the government dedicates more resources to the matter.

The deportation process can take even longer, especially if an asylum seeker chooses to exhaust all their appeal options – a source of concern for the Conservative opposition.

“It’s completely unreasonable for our asylum system to be backlogged for years and then for us to not have a functioning system to remove people who don’t have a legal reason to be in Canada,” said Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel.

However, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the former Conservative government, in which Ms. Rempel served as a cabinet minister, is also to blame for the delays at the IRB.

“There’s been pressure on the system for many, many years, from the Conservatives to the Liberals. Successive governments have not resourced the IRB accordingly so that they can get the job done,” Ms. Kwan said.

Asylum seekers waiting for their cases to be heard have had to find accommodation, with thousands heading to Toronto, where the city has paid to house them in hotel rooms, dormitories and shelters for the homeless. Ottawa has pledged $50-million to defray the costs incurred by the provinces, with Quebec receiving $36-million, Ontario $11-million and Manitoba $3-million. But Toronto and Ontario have been pressing the federal government to pay much more, with the provincial Progressive Conservative government demanding a reimbursement of $200-million.

Mr. Waldman also said the government must do more to address the IRB delays, as the long wait times serve as a “magnet” for illegitimate asylum claimants who know they can potentially spend years in Canada while their cases linger in the system.

Source: Asylum-seeker surge at Quebec border choking Canada’s refugee system, data show

Canadian border agency has deported 398 ‘illegal migrants’ out of 32,000

The latest numbers:

Nearly 400 people who crossed the U.S. border illegally for asylum in Canada have been deported since authorities began tracking irregular migration in April of last year.

That number is a small fraction of the 32,173 so-called “irregular migrants” who came through unguarded land borders from the United States during the period ending in late August. Most are still waiting for their asylum claims to be heard.

Of the 398 failed refugee claimants Canada has deported, 146 were sent back to the U.S., where 116 of them have citizenship, according to data provided to the Star by the Canada Border Services Agency. The rest were deported to 53 countries, with most sent to Haiti (53), Colombia (24), Turkey (19) or Iraq (15).

The deportees, 48 of whom were under the age of 17, included 238 males and 160 females, said the border enforcement agency.

“What happens is people come to the U.S., establish themselves and have children while they try to regularize their immigration status,” said Ottawa immigration lawyer Betsy Kane.

“The number of deportees captures these American-born children who accompanied their parents to Canada for asylum.”

The Canadian border agency said the decision on where an individual is deported depends on from where they came into Canada, their last permanent residence, their citizenship and country of birth. All deportees have seen their asylum claims rejected by the refugee board and exhausted all legal avenues of appeal and due process.

All 32,173 irregular migrants have been declared inadmissable simply for crossing the Canadian border illegally, including six who failed the criminal checks, said border agency spokesperson Nicholas Dorion.

Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken said she was not surprised by the low number of deportations as the majority of asylum claims by border-crossers are still to be determined by the refugee board. That board has long been underfunded and only recently got the money from Ottawa to hire additional decision-makers.

Of the 12,190 overall claims processed in the first six months of this year, 64 per cent were granted asylum.

“When removal orders become effective and are not enforced, it undermines the integrity of the system and the confidence in the system,” said Aiken. “But due process does take time with other legal remedies when a claim is refused. We shouldn’t say something must have gone awry because only 400 people have been removed.”

The latest refugee board statistics show it still had 55,567 new claims in the backlog by the end of June after 13,687 had been processed and finalized — 7,831 claims being accepted, 4,359 rejected, and the rest either abandoned or withdrawn. The backlog includes claimants from other countries who didn’t come through unguarded land borders via the U.S.

Source: Canadian border agency has deported 398 ‘illegal migrants’ out of 32,000

HYDER: No crisis with newcomers arriving in Canada

Good commentary by Goldy Hyder of Hill+Knowlton Strategies and board member of the Century Initiative.

Perhaps more important is that this appeared in the Toronto Sun to provide a different perspective than their usual contributors (just as the Star and Globe could benefit from a broader range of views):

Over 25 years ago, I wrote my master’s thesis on how the crisis label applied to public policy is both an opportunity for governments and a problem for its citizens.

The example I used to make the point was the “refugee crisis” generated by the dramatic boat arrival of 174 Sikhs off the coast of Nova Scotia in August 1986. This was preceded in equally dramatic fashion by 155 Tamils also arriving on a boat a year earlier.

In the first case, the government of the day responded with openness, generosity and willingness to embrace those who claimed to be fleeing persecution.

The public response was less generous, particularly upon learning that the boat and its occupants were in fact arriving not from India (hardly a refugee producing country) but in fact a safe country (Germany) that could have and should have applied its own refugee laws to determine legitimacy of the claims.

An RCMP officer standing in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., advises migrants that they are about to illegally cross from Champlain, N.Y., and will be arrested, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

When fate afforded the government a do-over upon the next boat arrival, the response by the same government — clearly feeling both duped by the circuitous manner in which the first boat arrived, and with the full knowledge of public sentiments on such arrivals — was to label the issue as a “refugee crisis.”

This dominated headlines, debate in Parliament and the public’s attention. It allowed a government under pressure on other issues to leverage the advantages that a “crisis” label affords any government: Namely the public’s demand and expectation that the government will — as a matter of priority — focus on and put an end to the “crisis.”

In 2018, history is repeating itself.

It was no more a crisis in the aforementioned incidents than there is one today from a purely statistical perspective. But that didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now.

There are many reasons we stand to be worse off if the debate heads in the direction it currently is driven by emotion, stoked by political agendas on both sides.

Canadians, I believe, are smarter than that. But, they must be heard.

We know our history. Unless Indigenous, we are all immigrants. What we cherish as a value is fairness and rule of law. We do not like our generosity and compassion to be abused.

While much attention goes to how the so called “alt-right” or those labelled racists, the fact is that masks what is taking place much more broadly in society albeit less overtly.

In the modern era, these debates cannot be suppressed, nor do they function uncomfortably underground. Rather, they play out in the open and that, frankly, is an opportunity.

Migration in all its forms has long been used as an issue to debate because it is deeply personal and goes to who we are as a people and as a nation. We need to be reminded from time to time about the role immigrants, refugees and migrants (not all the same thing) have played in making Canada what it is today.

We know study after study has proven time and again that immigrants put more into the system than they take out of it. Yet, people here in Canada, and in many other countries, are reaching a point of saying either “no more” or “not so many.” Whether there is a crisis or not (there isn’t), this is an opportunity to hear the voices of Canadians, left and right and those in between to understand what is driving their emotions.

If there is one thing I have learned about we Canadians, it is this: Given the right information, provided an opportunity to speak and be heard, there is a collective wisdom in the Canadian public consciousness that usually gets the answer right in the end.

Source: HYDER: No crisis with newcomers arriving in Canada

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair takes charge of Canada’s borders

Reasonable political and operational management approach to address the influx. Having a more dedicated junior minister, with law enforcement experience, won’t change the fundamentals of the impact of US policies but may help both internal government discussions and public debates:

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair has been given the task of managing the migrant crisis at the border as part of his new cabinet appointment – a move that will require him to work directly with Ontario Premier and long-time adversary Doug Ford.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose Mr. Blair, an experienced senior public servant, to lead the new ministry of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction as a part of a federal cabinet shuffle Wednesday. Mr. Blair will oversee the surge in asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, gun violence and the cannabis file. Mr. Trudeau said he trusts Mr. Blair to counter the “politics of fear” that he says the Conservatives have been using, especially when it comes to asylum seekers.

“I am reminded of the very first conversation I had with Bill Blair years ago when I was asking him to think about running for the Liberal Party,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.

“One of the things he said stuck with me and certainly echoes in my mind today as we give him these new responsibilities − he said the No. 1 enemy of public security is fear.”

Mr. Blair’s new role puts him on a potential collision course with Mr. Ford, with whom he has a fraught history. Mr. Blair infuriated Mr. Ford in 2013 when the then-Toronto police chief said he was disappointed by a video of Mr. Ford’s brother and then-Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Doug Ford, a city councillor at the time, unleashed on Mr. Blair and called on him to step down as police chief.

Nearly five years later, now in new political jobs, the pair will face off once again. As a part of his irregular migration portfolio, Mr. Blair will have to navigate a tense relationship between the Trudeau and Ford governments over the resettlement of asylum seekers who cross the border illegally. Earlier this month, Mr. Ford withdrew the province’s support for the resettlement, saying that the federal government created the problem and should pick up the tab to fix it.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Blair said he looks forward to working with all three levels of government, which “have a responsibility for the safety of their communities and to uphold the rule of law.”

In a statement, Mr. Ford’s office maintained the the federal Liberals are to blame for the influx in border-crossers.

“Premier Ford is hopeful that Minister Blair will be interested in standing up for respect of the law, and encourages his Liberal colleagues to take responsibility for the mess they’ve created,” spokeswoman Laryssa Waler-Hetmanczuk said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Mr. Blair will head up the government’s work on the migrant issue, while working closely with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is responsible for the border agency, and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who will still oversee the refugee determination process.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the appointment of a new cabinet minister to the migrant file is yet another sign that the Liberal government is “normalizing” the situation at the border. More than 31,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada between authorized points of entry since January, 2017. She invited Mr. Blair to testify to the House of Commons immigration committee this summer when it holds a series of emergency meetings on asylum seekers.

Refugee advocates expressed concern about the government’s decision to put the migrant issue under the ministerial umbrella of border security and organized-crime reduction.

“Now they are going to have an enforcement approach, to be stronger at the border,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

“Don’t forget that people in the middle are human beings, refugee claimants … . Don’t blame them.”

via Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair takes charge of Canada’s borders – The Globe and Mail

Conservative party pulls attack ad of black man walking over Trudeau tweet

The Conservative party pulled an attack ad from its Twitter feed Tuesday that depicted a black man carrying a suitcase walking over a tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The tweet is rolled out as a carpet entering a broken fence and the words “faith” and “diversity” are visible.

The Tories have argued that a Trudeau tweet from January 2017 is partly to blame for the influx of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States.

Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann says the ad was axed because the situation at the border is not about any one group of people.

Hann says the image, which shows an actual person “illegally” crossing over the Canadian border, was originally used by a number of media outlets with stories about the surge in asylum seekers.

The full photo shows the man with a group of people carrying suitcases in Quebec, while the edited image used by the Conservative party singled out one man.

A quote from a story in the Financial Post is superimposed on the image which says, “Trudeau’s holier-than-thou tweet causes migrant crisis — now he needs to fix what he started.”

In an opinion piece published Tuesday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen accused the Tories of “peddling false information to stoke fear” and called it “ridiculous” that they blame the flow of asylum seekers on Trudeau’s tweet.

Source: Conservative party pulls attack ad of black man walking over Trudeau tweet

Andrew Coyne: We have a problem with border crossers — but this is no crisis, John Ivison: The Liberals’ Band-Aid solutions won’t fix asylum seeker problem

Good and balanced analysis:

Bowing to the opposition parties’ demands, the Commons Citizenship and Immigration committee will hold special hearings this month on what Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel is calling the “border crisis.”

The notion that there is a crisis on the border — that Canada is being inundated by a tide of asylum claimants crossing the border in defiance of our laws — has been heard with increasing frequency in recent weeks, coinciding with the election of Doug Ford’s Conservatives in Ontario.

Last week’s meeting of federal and provincial immigration ministers broke up in acrimony over the issue, with the feds’ Ahmed Hussen decrying the Ford government’s use of the term “illegal border crossers” as “not Canadian” (Liberals prefer “asylum seekers”) while his counterpart Lisa MacLeod accused him of bullying her. Followed by the usual performative outrage online — he called her un-Canadian! she called them illegal! etc.

All of this mounting fury, while the number of people claiming asylum after crossing the border between regular ports of entry — the neutral and factual description — is in decline.

In June, the Immigration department recorded just 1,263 “RCMP interceptions” — for that is what happens to them after they cross — less than half what it was in April and barely a quarter of the rate last summer.

Still, the 10,744 such interceptions so far this year is two and a half times the number recorded by this point last year. Perhaps the rate will continue its recent decline. But even if the year-end total were the same as last year’s, it would still be considerably higher than has been the norm in recent years.

That’s a problem, no doubt. The monthly rate may be declining, but the accumulated total of more than 30,000 claims over the last 18 months is by all accounts putting a strain on refugee services in Toronto and Montreal. The growing backlog of unprocessed claims, moreover, now at about 43,000, leaves claimants waiting months or years to have their claims assessed: unpleasant for them, costly for taxpayers.

But a crisis? What distinguishes this from any of the many other pressing problems on the public agenda? What, in particular, justifies the kind of massive media coverage and opposition hyperventilating the issue has received?

It is, of course, entirely proper that the opposition should ask questions of ministers, and criticize the government’s response to the surge in claims as inadequate, botched or worse. It may even be fair to suggest the government shares the blame for precipitating it, notably via the prime minister’s notorious “Welcome to Canada” tweet.

But you can tell a lot about what a politician is up to by how much emphasis they put on an issue. It isn’t that what they are saying about it is necessarily untrue: it’s the lack of proportion, the fevered pitch, the exaggerated stakes.

It was perfectly legitimate, for example, for Dalton McGuinty to disagree with John Tory’s proposal to extend public funding to religious schools in the 2007 election, though the proposal would have affected roughly 50,000 of the province’s two million schoolchildren. But to elevate it to the central issue of the campaign, as if the province would dissolve into civil strife if it went through? That’s where the demagoguery lies.

So what is it about the prospect of roughly 60 asylum seekers a day crossing our border that is cause for such uproar? Yes, they are crossing “illegally,” even if the charge is stayed pending the hearing of their asylum claim: Liberal delicacy on this point is not helpful. That’s obviously not something we should wish to encourage.

But on the scale of illegal acts, doing an end run around a border post to get your asylum claim heard in Canada, rather than the United States — especially in its present state of mind — ranks somewhere between a traffic offence and listing a dubious expense on your income tax return. People shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, and they aren’t: the first thing that happens after they cross the border is they are arrested.

They aren’t dodging any “queue,” because there isn’t a queue for refugees. You plant your feet on Canadian soil, you have a right to have your claim for asylum heard, period — not just under UN treaties to which we are a signatory, but under the Canadian Constitution. But that’s all you have a right to: a hearing. If your claim doesn’t stand up, you’re deported to your country of origin.

If that’s taking too long, that’s a good argument for spending more money on the process for assessing claims. It is not an argument for the kinds of wild, blunderbuss measures being tossed about, most of them illegal, unworkable or both: building a fence along one short stretch of road in Quebec, for instance, when claimants have 8,000 kilometres of border to choose from.

Or — the Conservatives’ favourite — declaring the entire border an official port of entry under the Safe Third Country agreement, as if we could impose our definition on the Americans, under an agreement we begged them to sign. Or “just sending them back” — as if, again, we could force the Americans to take them. To say nothing of the legal and moral implications of doing so.

To say nothing, again, of the logistical impossibility of patrolling an 8,000-km border. Right now, claimants willingly surrender at the border, even having crossed it illegally, because they know they’ll get a hearing. Were we somehow to deny them that — by invoking the notwithstanding clause, say — you’d have a lot more people arriving surreptitiously: not just crossing illegally, but living here illegally.

Sometimes, it is true, you have to do desperate things in a crisis. But this isn’t a crisis and, if it were, these wouldn’t solve it.

Source: Andrew Coyne: We have a problem with border crossers — but this is no crisis

John Ivison focuses on the IRB, the lengthy and almost indefinite processes and delays in removals for those found ineligible , and the recommendations of the Yeates report on possible solutions:

The Liberal government didn’t create the problem of floods of asylum seekers crossing the border illegally. Donald Trump did that when he signalled the U.S. would allow temporary protected status on significant migrant populations from countries like Haiti to expire.

But the Liberals can be fairly blamed for making decisions that have exacerbated the problem — and for fomenting the issue for political ends.

Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary, tweeted on the weekend: “Enough is enough. It’s time to stand up to this divisive fear-mongering about asylum seekers. Let’s not allow the alt-right to do here what they’re doing elsewhere.”

But pointing out failures in the system is not an act of partisanship – it’s certainly not an invocation to bash people already on the bones of their arse. The numbers don’t lie and, by every metric, the system is under more pressure now than when the Liberals came to power.

The government is touting the fact that there were just 1,263 border crossings in June — “the lowest since June, 2017.” But 10,744 migrants arrived in the first six months of the year – more than enough to outpace the budgeted processing capacity.

The Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee met Monday and agreed to produce a report on “irregular” (more correctly “illegal”) border crossings by Aug. 3, and to invite the ministers of immigration (Ahmed Hussen), public safety (Ralph Goodale) and families, children and social development (Jean-Yves Duclos) to appear.

Hussen boasted Monday the government “has a clear plan for managing asylum seeker pressures,” as the city of Ottawa suggested it will support Toronto and other municipalities facing temporary housing pressures (many migrants are housed in two college dormitories that they have to vacate before classes start). Toronto said it needs around $90 million; the federal government has, to this point, offered $11 million.

But whatever is offered is a Band-Aid – and a Band-Aid does not constitute a plan.

Before all sides engage in more pointless partisan point-scoring, they should sit down and read a report on the refugee system already made public.

Neil Yeates, a former deputy minister of citizenship and immigration, produced an independent review of the system that was released in April. It makes stark reading. The refugee determination system, he said, is “at a crossroads,” dealing with a surge of claimants that it is ill-equipped to manage. If not tackled promptly, a large backlog will build that will take years to clear.

The nearly 50,000 claims made in 2017 were mostly from people avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. that would likely have rendered them ineligible. By the simple act of crossing between ports of entry, they have been able to access Canada and its generous welfare provisions.

But sudden surges in migrant numbers is not a new problem.

The government made significant reforms between 2010 and 2012 to address a similar increase. The Balanced Refugee Reform legislation was aimed at making sure bona fide claimants would be approved more quickly and failed claimants removed just as judiciously.

The goal was a system that was “fast, fair and final.”

Alongside the imposition of visas on Mexicans and Czechs because of concerns over bogus claims, there were structural changes that allowed public servants, rather than political appointees, to be the first level decision makers at the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Protection Division. There was also an increase in operating funds that allowed for the elimination of the backlog within two years. Stable funding was put in place to facilitate a system that handled 22,500 claims annually.

The numbers between 2010 and 2017 are instructive.

In 2010, before the changes, there were 52,023 pending cases; the intake was 25,783; and the output was 34,260.

In 2013, the corresponding numbers were 22,544; 10,227; and 21,091.

By 2017, those numbers were 47,209; 47,425; and 23,102.

A more streamlined system saw the backlog cut in half and bogus claimants dissuaded from trying to enter Canada – only 10,227 people claimed asylum here in 2013.

Since then, the backlog has more than doubled and claimants quadrupled, as visas were waived for Mexicans and Romanians, and floods of Haitians and Nigerians were attracted by word that the Canadian system is a push-over.

Part of the reason the backlog went down was that failed claimants were actually removed. In 2012/13, 14,490 failed claimants were returned to their country of origin. In 2016/17, that number was just 3,892.

The result is a refugee population that “significantly exceeds the funding capacity,” in Yeates’ words. “Resourcing and prioritization of refugee removals are not fully at the level envisaged under the reforms,” he said.

Hussen is right to say that providing asylum claimants due process is not a choice, “it’s the law” under the UN Convention on Refugees and the Charter of Rights.

But due process should not be indefinite. Yeates talks about a “failure of finality” that creates a “pull” factor for asylum seekers, increasing the likelihood they will find a pathway to stay in Canada.

He is critical of the Refugee Appeal Division, which was never intended to provide a new hearing for failed claimants. If they are refused at the appeal division, would-be refugees can then proceed to the Federal Court, meaning “final is a distant goal,” according to Yeates.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the government “has a clear plan for managing asylum seeker pressures.”

If the system is not reformed to make it faster and more final, there clearly needs to be a significant increase in a budget that has averaged around $216 million in the past five years.

Hussen said there is a plan, but Yeates points out “there is no contingency framework to increase capacity.”

Any report by the immigration committee should lean heavily on the Yeates report, which suggests dozens of technical reforms that might improve the situation, such as creating a new agency to recommend an annual plan, establish operational performance targets and confirm forecasts. The plan should be tabled in Parliament, Yeates suggested.

But no amount of bureaucratic tinkering will compensate for lack of political will.

The government must get serious about removing claimants, particularly from countries that don’t normally produce refugees.

Alternatively, it must admit that it accepts the idea of the refugee system being used by people seeking a better economic life and allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to increase the capacity of a system creaking under the challenge of dealing with twice as many people as it was designed for.

Source: John Ivison: The Liberals’ Band-Aid solutions won’t fix asylum seeker problem

Irregular or illegal? The fight over what to call the thousands of migrants streaming into Canada

Nice summary. My mother was an “irregular” if not “illegal” when her mother spirited her and her siblings to Latvia when fleeing the Russian Revolution:

On Monday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen publicly rebuked Ontario’s new government for using the term “illegal border crossers” in a press release.

“I’m very concerned by Premier (Doug) Ford and (provincial) minister (Lisa) MacLeod really making statements that are difficult to understand when it comes to how they’re describing asylum seekers,” Hussen told reporters in Halifax.

The minister was referring to a statement in which Ford blamed Ontario’s housing crisis on Liberal government policies that “encouraged illegal border crossers to come into our country.”

The spat speaks to an intractable political fight in Canada: Whether the approximately 50 people per day streaming into Canada over the U.S. border are “illegal” or “irregular” migrants.

The Immigration and Refugee Board uses the term “irregular” when referring to the more than 23,000 refugee claimants who have walked into Canada since January 2017 without first passing through an official port of entry. The RCMP, meanwhile, prefers the neutral term “interceptions.”

The official CBC language guide favours “illegal border crossers,” calling it “bureaucratic jargon” to use the term “irregular” favoured by Ottawa.

“Some refugee activists have insisted that expressions such as ‘illegal’ border crossings should be banned from our journalism. The modifier ‘illegal’ in this context is accurate and clear, and it instantly helps our audience understand the story,” reads the guide.

In the House of Commons, the use of the term “illegal border crosser” is strictly divided along partisan lines.

It has been uttered 67 times in parliamentary debates since the crisis began in January 2017. Of those, 65 came from the mouths of Conservatives, and the other two came exclusively from New Brunswick Liberal MP Serge Cormier.

“They are not “irregular” border crossers; they are illegal border crossers. Let us get this straight,” Conservative MP John Brassard said in April.

The NDP and Liberal benches, meanwhile, have repeatedly accused the Tories of scaremongering.

“The Conservatives have repeated ad nauseam that these people are crossing the border illegally, implying that they are criminals. However, they have been unable to name a single law broken by the immigrants crossing the border,” said the NDP’s Anne Minh-Thu Quach in April.

Crossing the Canadian border without passing through an official port of entry is indeed illegal. Most migrants illegally crossing the border, in fact, pass directly in front of a bilingual sign telling them that they are breaking the law.

“It is illegal to cross the border here or any place other than a Port of Entry. You will be arrested and detained if you cross here,” reads a sign placed near Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., a focal point for unauthorized border crossings.

However, the illegality ends up being moot since every border crosser immediately claims asylum after being met by an RCMP officer on the Canadian side.

By doing this, their crossing is still illegal, but Canadian law stops considering them a criminal the moment they claim to be a refugee.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (section 133, to be precise), a refugee claimant is explicitly “deferred” from prosecution for a variety of illegal measures that they may have used to enter Canada for claiming asylum.

This includes forging false papers, assuming a false identity and illegally crossing the border.

The measure is an acknowledgement that people fleeing political prosecution can’t always get to Canada without breaking a few laws.

One of the more dramatic examples would be Soviet chess grandmaster Igor Ivanov. On a flight back from Cuba in 1980, Ivanov fled his KGB handlers during an emergency refueling stop in Gander, N.L.

Jumping from an airliner onto an airport tarmac is illegal, but Ivanov was never prosecuted after being granted political asylum.

Immigration lawyer Russ Weninger said it’s a criminal law concept called the “defence of necessity.”

“A person can in some cases perform acts that would otherwise be considered criminal if they must perform those acts to avoid some significant harm,” he said. “For example, if you are fleeing an axe-wielding maniac, you can ‘trespass’ onto someone’s property in order to effect your escape.

It’s why, if a border crosser is a “bona fide refugee,” Weninger says she has a right to enter Canada “whether she waits politely at the border or parachutes onto Parliament Hill.”

It’s for that reason that Toronto immigration lawyer Matthew Jeffery describes the recent crossings as being “perfectly legal.”

He noted that Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees “which legally obliges us to allow those entering the country as refugees to be admitted for a fair adjudication of their case.”

Prior to 2001, anybody on U.S. soil seeking asylum in Canada would have needed only to make their claim at a Canadian border station — no illegal entry necessary.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, the U.S. and Canada struck the Safe Third Country Agreement, a law which allows Canada to turn away refugee claimants from the U.S. on the basis that they are already in a “safe country” and are no longer in need of asylum.

By first crossing the Canadian border, however, asylum-seekers are effectively making an “inland” claim and are thus exempt from the provisions of the act.

Raj Sharma, a Calgary immigration lawyer, said “irregular” is the more accurate term given that an asylum seeker is technically still following Canadian law if they cross the border without authorization.

But the term “illegal” is still appropriate for anyone who is unlawfully crossing Canada’s border after already having been deported — or if they have no intention of making an asylum claim, Sharma said.

“It’s admittedly true that not all ‘irregular’ entries into Canada are legally justified,” said Weninger. “But for those people who are genuinely fleeing persecution, failure to wait in line at the border does not, and should not, preclude them from making successful refugee claims.”

Source: Irregular or illegal? The fight over what to call the thousands of migrants streaming into Canada

Martin Regg Cohn: Canadians should beware Premier Doug Ford using ‘illegal’ refugee claimants as a wedge to drive us apart

Agree that wedge politics being played here, arguably by both sides, with the more corrosive discourse and approach by Ford. One thing to argue over funding – yes, the federal government is largely on the hook – but another to refuse participation in all three level of government coordination and cooperation:

One week in power, and Doug Ford’s government has declared war against Justin Trudeau.

By taking aim at asylum claimants who cross into Canada.

That was fast. Don’t shed a tear for the prime minister, who can presumably take care of himself — whether rebuffing a Ford missive or repelling a Donald Trump tirade.

But ask yourself what happens to the inevitable casualties of this conflict between Queen’s Park and Ottawa:

No, not just the people crossing the border to claim refugee status. Think about the rest of us, and what this does to us — the way we treat border crossers, and the way we treat each other.

This will test all of us, not just Ontario’s new premier and his federal counterpart.

The rise in migrants slipping across the border has already challenged our border security and police officers, who have comported themselves with Canadian decency and dignity. It is testing our refugee determination system, which (lest we forget) is burdened and bound by due process.

Now, the border-crossing story that landed in Quebec a year ago, and then crossed over into eastern Ontario, has landed hard on Toronto’s doorstep. Just in time for Ford’s new Progressive Conservative team to seize on it as a wedge issue that drives people apart.

Beware the wedge that exploits refugee claimants — for while many may indeed be economic migrants gaming the system, a good number might well be legitimate victims of persecution seeking sanctuary. You never know, until you know for sure (see: due process).

Yet Ford’s government is wagging its finger at “illegal border crossers” in official statements that misstate reality and incite hostility. It is an axiom of international law that desperate refugee claimants often cross borders by hook or by crook, but that doesn’t make them criminals (it’s precisely how both my parents escaped post-war Communist Europe).

Ontario’s new minister of children and social services, Lisa MacLeod, points an accusing finger at Trudeau for supposedly triggering a mass migration when he “tweeted out that everyone was welcome here, and as a result of that, we’ve had thousands of people cross the border illegally.”

Was this truly the tweet that launched a thousand ships? Or dispatched thousands of taxis to our border, there to disgorge their human cargo on our doorstep as per the PM’s precise GPS directions?

Were it so simple, Trudeau need only delete the troubling tweet. But he never offered directions to those unauthorized border pathways, nor invitations to cross over at leisure.

Yes, Trudeau and countless Canadians took turns humble-bragging and boasting about our supposed virtue in welcoming Syrian refugees after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives behaved churlishly and Barack Obama’s America acted ungenerously. But to draw a direct line between a Trudeau tweet and an imagined human stampede to the border is to elevate the prime minister’s Twitter feed to Trumpian influence.

Let’s be clear here. The migrant movement that began last summer emanated not from any misplaced magnanimity by the PM, but from fear of a looming Trump clampdown on Haitians still enjoying sanctuary in the U.S. after a 2010 earthquake.

It bears repeating that Canada had previously ended that sanctuary status — yes, faster than the Americans — and was systematically deporting Haitians who were here back to their homeland. Oblivious to that fact, thousands of Haitians crossed over into Canada, making up 85 per cent of migrants at the outset.

Under an existing bilateral agreement, the U.S. automatically takes back any refugee claimants who show up at our side of official border crossings. But by slipping over out of sight of those official crossings, migrants exploited a loophole by which the Americans wouldn’t take them back.

Since then, there has been a long and awkward debate about what to do to avoid turning a trickle into a tide.

Federal Conservatives have suggested we declare the entire border one big crossing — as if this would force the Americans to take back their asylum claimants. But Trudeau can no more demand that Trump do as we say on refugees than he can insist that the president undo the tariffs he slapped on our steel and aluminum.

Shall we stand our ground and instruct our police to point guns and draw bayonets at asylum-seekers to keep them on the American side? Or heave them back across the border, throwing their bags after them? Do we build a Trump-style wall across our undefended border and demand Mexico pay for it?

Not really so easy, except in the virtual reality of Twitter.

It’s perfectly fair for the provincial and municipal governments to demand that Ottawa come up with the money and plans to deal with the pressure points in local facilities — in Ontario as in Quebec. To his credit, Mayor John Tory has been pressing the case for Toronto’s needs without turning people against migrants in need.

Ford’s government could learn from the mayor’s approach, instead of delegitimizing asylum-seekers as illegal, and demonizing Ottawa for following a legal framework. On Thursday, when Trudeau met him at Queen’s Park, a statement from the premier’s office declared, provocatively:

“This mess was 100 per cent the result of the federal government.”

In truth, there are no easy answers, just the certainty that public support can easily be turned against asylum-claimants if politicians want to press those buttons (see: Europe and America). All the more reason for all levels of government to start working together, rather than driving people apart.

Source: Martin Regg Cohn: Canadians should beware Premier Doug Ford using ‘illegal’ refugee claimants as a wedge to drive us apart

Federal budget watchdog to take deep dive into costs of asylum seekers

Notwithstanding the politics behind the request, useful to have the PBO do an independent analysis:

Canada’s budget watchdog will crunch the numbers to shed light on the total costs of a surge in asylum seekers.

In response to a request from Conservative MP Larry Maguire, the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) will take on a global accounting exercise to determine what costs have been incurred to date and how much the stepped-up pace of irregular migration might cost in the future.

“We just need to know, as Canadians, what the costs are and how the government intends to handle it in the future, given that many of our communities are becoming very loaded with the numbers of refugees, coming in to Toronto, Montreal and other areas,” Maguire said.

“We need to know from these various departments just what the total costs are going to be.”

More than 23,000 people have crossed into Canada outside official border points in the last year, most of them in Quebec and Manitoba. Major cities such as Toronto and Montreal are buckling under the pressure to house and support the new arrivals.

In a letter to the PBO, Maguire said the asylum seeker spike has created “serious financial strains and workloads” on several federal government departments, yet there has been little public reporting on costs.

Canadians ‘deserve to know’

“While this crisis has been ongoing for some time, the government has given no indication of what it has cost to facilitate the increasing numbers of irregular arrivals, nor has it shown any projections for what it may cost in the future,” he wrote. “I believe that Parliamentarians, and indeed all Canadians, deserve to know exactly what the influx of irregular arrivals at the border is costing their government.”

Maguire’s request calls for:

  • Total costs to date, including added costs to the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Immigration Review Board, as well as any transfers to provinces or municipalities.
  • A projection of total costs to deal with similar numbers of irregular arrivals for the next several years, outlining the costs from the time a person irregularly enters Canada to when a final decision is made by the Immigration Refugee Board or Federal Court.

The PBO is charged with providing independent, non-partisan analysis on federal finances, government estimates and trends in the economy.

PBO spokesperson Sloane Mask could not say how long the accounting will take, but said the office has begun requesting information from various government departments.

“Once we have received the responses, we will be in a better position to gauge the timelines required to complete the analysis,” she wrote in an email.

Source: Federal budget watchdog to take deep dive into costs of asylum seekers