IRCC Evaluation of Language Training Services

Of interest, particularly the differences between settlement service language training clients and non-clients, the greater effectiveness of employment-focussed language training and the overall impact of the socio-demographic profile of clients and non-clients:

This report presents the findings of the evaluation of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) Language Training Services. The evaluation was conducted to provide an in- depth assessment of this major program and considered issues of program effectiveness, covering the period from 2015 to 2018.

The Evaluation of the Settlement Program (2018) highlighted the need to further assess the different success factors and approaches to language learning. While language training is helping newcomers improve their language ability, progression was shown to vary by skill (i.e., reading, writing, listening and speaking), as well as client characteristics, which pointed to the need for a greater understanding of progression across skills. As such, the evaluation recommended an in- depth examination and thorough analysis to provide fulsome outcomes results and specific recommendations for improvements to the Department with the aim of improving language training effectiveness.

The language learning services have been evaluated, focusing on two key areas. The main focus was to better understand language skills improvement – what works for whom and under what conditions, with a view to determining the specific characteristics that influence language skills improvement. The secondary area of focus was to examine whether the language learning framework is adapted to address newcomers’ needs.

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Based on the evidence analyzed, it was found that language learning services are designed to be flexible and effective in meeting the diverse needs of newcomers and to support their progression. The findings also show that language progression for newcomers is mostly positive, but there are differences between clients and non-clients with respect to likelihood of progression. While clients were seen to progress at the same pace as non-clients when assessed in the short term, using an objective measure, clients appeared to progress more than their non- client counterparts when assessed on a longer timeframe using a subjective measure. It was also found that some components of language training are associated with a greater likelihood of newcomers improving their language skills, such as full-time language training and multi-level classes, while others lowered chances of progression, such as continuous intake classes.

Furthermore, when assessing other settlement outcomes, the evidence indicated that:

  •   clients of general formal language training use official languages less frequently than non- clients, while formal language training focused on employment were using it significantly more than non-clients.
  •   clients of formal language training, and clients who took both formal and informal language training, are more likely to report an increase in the frequency of use of official languages.Although not a direct objective of language training, employability remains a primary concern for clients. The evaluation carefully analyzed this theme and assessed the impact of language training on various labour market outcomes. Clients of general language training used English or French at work less frequently and were less comfortable using official languages than non-clients, however taking language training focused on employment contributed to making these gaps smaller. Also, clients often had poorer labour market outcomes than non-clients on the short to medium term. The analysis showed that a large part of the difference in employment outcomes between clients and non-clients could be attributed to socio-demographic profiles of individuals (e.g., education, age, gender, year of admission). This suggests that taking language training is not necessarily a cause of poorer labour market outcomes, but rather that clients and non-clients may have different characteristics that explain their outcomes on the labour market. Furthermore, the evaluation found that employment outcomes of clients do not vary greatly based on how language training is delivered, language training focused on employment generally had a positive impact on employment outcomes, and taking language training during core hours was associated with less favourable results.

While the client progression and their labour market outcomes show mixed results, it should be noted that language learning services correspond to the diversity in clients’ need and IRCC- funded language learning services are designed in a manner to be conducive to language improvement for newcomers.

In response to the findings from the evaluation, this report has grouped the recommendations into two main themes. First, the evaluation proposes three recommendations around the topic of outcomes measurement. Second, the evaluation recommends improvements to the program to foster success. To this end, the evaluation proposes seven additional recommendations to further support clients, instructors and program stakeholders.


IRCC Citizenship Evaluation: Uptake and Fees

Given my earlier work highlighting a recent decline in naturalization, a study guide and test written at more advance language levels, and the possible link with the increases in citizenship fees, found these sections of the recent evaluation of the citizenship program to be of particular interest, providing a nuanced analysis of recent trends and impact of the citizenship fee increases.

Found it somewhat amusing that the evaluation included a similar trend chart to one I shared a number of years ago to provoke some needed discussion, and one that I refined to provide a more accurate picture thanks to the advice of some former IRCC colleagues.

Interestingly, in the management response to the fee issue, no mention was made of the government’s election platform commitment to waive citizenship fees entirely but softer commitments to:

Action 1a: As part of IRCC’s review of citizenship fees, bring forward a plan to EXComm to address affordability.

Action 1b: Bring forward a plan for a free or low-cost option citizenship-specific language test based on the Canadian Language Benchmarks and work toward adding it to the list of acceptable evidence.

There is a wealth of data and analysis contained in the evaluation, including application data which is not published as part of the monthly operational statistics on opendata along with informative surveys on reasons for applying for citizenship:

4.1.1 Overall uptake

Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates among Western countries. Citizenship research based on census data shows that Canada’s naturalization rate (i.e., the proportion of PRs who become citizens) increased from about 81.6% in 1991 to 86.3% in 2016. However, the rate among more recent immigrants (five to nine years in Canada) declined, suggesting that immigrants are taking longer to become citizens.

Research based on Census data allows for the study of citizenship uptake over a longer period of time (30 or more years), but is less robust as it is based on self-reporting, and does not consider the immigrant’s decision to apply for citizenship as part of uptake process. The decision to apply is also a valid proxy of desire for citizenship. It does not exclude individuals with an interest whose applications are refused, or those who may be delayed in obtaining it due to limitations with IRCC’s application processing capacity. With this in mind, the evaluation examined citizenship uptake using administrative data from GCMS, and looked at the initial uptake of PRs admitted to Canada between 2005 and 2015, who had obtained or applied for citizenship by the end of 2018.

Overall, the analysis found that citizenship uptake was 57% for this population, with 50% of PRs having become citizens, and 7% having applied. The analysis also showed that the more years in Canada, the greater the percentage of PRs who had obtained or applied for citizenship (Figure 1). Citizenship uptake ranged from 21% after 3 years in Canada as a PR (2015 cohort) to 76.5% after 13 years in Canada as a PR (2005 cohort).

4.1.2 Challenges related to fees

Finding: The citizenship application fee is a common challenge for permanent residents, particularly refugees, families and those with lower income.

Sections 31 and 32 of the Citizenship Regulations deal with the structure of two fees related to citizenship: the Fee for Right to be a Citizen, and the Fee for Application to be a citizen. The Fee for Right to be a Citizen is payable only by applicants aged 18 years or older, at a cost of $100. The Fee for Application varies from $100 for minor grant applications, to $530 for adult grant applications.Of note, these fees do not account for extraneous costs related to applying for citizenship that applicants may incur.

The adult grant application fee increased twice during the evaluation period.A review of citizenship grant application data did not reveal a significant decrease in the volume of applications received after these changes were implemented.Interviews also suggested little to no impact of these changes overall, but pointed to possible challenges for vulnerable people, like refugees.

Evaluation survey results were consistent with interview findings. While many respondents did not indicate a problem with the application fee, 28% indicated that it had delayed or was preventing them from applying for citizenship at the time of the survey. This percentage was greater for resettled refugees and protected persons, respondents with a personal income of $60,000 or less, and those with 5 or more people on their application (or future application) (Table 4). Moreover, about half of evaluation survey respondents who had not applied for citizenship felt a lower application fee would encourage them to apply.

Census-based research also showed evidence of a more pronounced decline in naturalization among recent immigrants (5 to 9 years in Canada) with low family income. Findings from the interviews and focus groups with PRs suggested that economically disadvantaged newcomers, such as those who are unemployed, are not able to afford the costs associated with applying (e.g., costs associated with third-party language testing). Moreover, the fear of being unsuccessful in an application (e.g., not passing the knowledge test) and losing the applications fees (or paying to reapply) was also noted in the focus groups with PRs and program-led consultations on Discover Canada.  The impact of the fees was also thought to be amplified for larger families with multiple applications.

Citizenship test and study guide:

Interviews generally noted that the test is efficient, easy-to-grade, and objectively scored. However, the language level of the test and study guide was viewed as higher than the language requirement. Moreover, the evaluation observed that the two requirements involve different skills. The official language criteria are based on oral communication skills (speaking and listening), while the knowledge test is generally written and requires reading skills. Although applicants can access an audio version of the study guide and an oral knowledge hearing, this does not address comprehension challenges related to language level.

Program-led consultations on Discover Canada (to update the study guide) also found that the language level can be difficult for many newcomers. Similarly, research findings suggested challenges with the approach, as the knowledge test pass rate dropped sharply for applicants (18- 54) after the Discover Canada study guide was introduced – from about 96% to 83.5% in 2011. Consultation findings highlighted a need for the wording and tone to be more inclusive and easier to understand, and included suggestions for the use of plain language and definitions, having less text and more visuals, and providing additional tools and support to increase accessibility and effectively communicate the information in the study guide. As a result of these consultations, a new approach, including a new guide and additional tools, is being developed to help address these concerns, but it had not yet been implemented at the time of the evaluation.


Evaluation of the Citizenship Program

Reasonable findings and recommendations and findings covering some of the issues I have written about over the past few years: high citizenship fees, greater support for knowledge acquisition (including the long delayed revision to Discover Canada) and better and more coherent citizenship promotion. Helpful.

This report presents the findings of the evaluation of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) Citizenship Program. The evaluation was conducted in fulfillment of requirements under the 2016 Treasury Board Policy on Results, and considered program performance with a focus on the citizenship grants line of business and program management. The evaluation covered the period from 2013 to 2018, with some consideration of earlier years to better understand the implications of policy changes, uptake trends and program developments.

Overview of the Citizenship Program

The Citizenship Program administers citizenship legislation and promotes the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, impacting both newcomers who wish to become citizens as well as current Canadians. Broadly, the Citizenship Program consists of citizenship awareness, citizenship acquisition, confirmation and revocation, and program management.

To obtain Canadian citizenship, individuals must first meet eligibility requirements, complete and submit an application, and attend a ceremony where the oath of citizenship is recited before a citizenship judge. Applicants pay a fee for the grant application ($100 for a minor grant application and $530 for an adult grant application), and applicants aged 18 years and older pay a $100 fee for the Right to be a Citizen. Naturalized citizens are conferred legal status in the country and receive rights, namely the right to vote, hold public office and the right to remain in Canada. For many, citizenship is a significant milestone of their integration. Of the 2,826,300 permanent residents admitted to Canada between 2005 and 2015, 50% were naturalized citizens by December 31st, 2018, and a further 7% had applied for citizenship.

Broadly, the Citizenship Program expects to contribute to eligible permanent residents becoming Canadian citizens by ensuring that Canadian citizenship involves active engagement and is a valued status, that citizenship is accessible to all who meet eligibility requirements, including vulnerable groups; and that client service standards are predefined and maintained. In doing so, the department must also ensure that newcomers and Canadians are aware of the responsibilities and privileges associated with Canadian citizenship, that newcomers to Canada have a desire to become citizens, and that the integrity of Canadian Citizenship is protected through a robust processing and policy framework.

Conclusions and recommendations

Overall, the evaluation found that, with time, most permanent residents (PR) become Canadian citizens. However, the citizenship uptake rate can vary for different populations, and has declined among more recent immigrants, suggesting that newcomers are taking longer to become citizens. While there are many reasons for obtaining citizenship, evidence suggested that wanting to feel fully Canadian and to make Canada their permanent home are primary motivators for PRs. It was observed that the grant application approval rate is very high, and recent changes to eligibility under Bill C-6 have generally been facilitative. Furthermore, increases to the application fee over the evaluation period did not have a major impact on overall uptake.

Nevertheless, while most PRs do eventually obtain citizenship, accessing it comes with significant challenges for some, specifically those from more vulnerable groups.

Evidence showed that meeting the language and knowledge requirements can be difficult, particularly for refugees, as well as for those with low official language proficiency and less education. While the Citizenship Act has built in some discretion to waive these requirements on compassionate grounds, compassionate considerations are not well defined, and waivers are typically predicated on a medical opinion. Moreover, waivers have to be requested by applicants, but the waiver process is not well known and difficult to navigate. Evidence showed very few waivers requested or granted during the evaluation period. However, given the issues noted, it was unclear whether these numbers reflected an appropriate level of use of this mechanism.

In addition, the application fee was found to be a common challenge, particularly for refugees, families and those with lower income. The Citizenship Program does not currently offer any flexibility around grant application fees. The fee structure is set out in the Citizenship Regulations, and provides individual rates for adult and minor grants.

With this in mind, there is a need to re-examine the waiver process and fee structure in order to ensure that sufficient mechanisms are in place to facilitate equitable access to citizenship and to better serve and support prospective applicants who may be facing socio-economic challenges, as well as families with multiple applications and fees to pay.

Recommendation 1: IRCC should review the costs associated with applying for citizenship and implement a strategy to address the affordability of citizenship for prospective applicants facing economic challenges.

Recommendation 2: IRCC should implement and promote a clear and transparent process for knowledge and language waivers to ensure consistent access and decision-making for prospective applicants who need them.

The evaluation also found that the citizenship eligibility requirements related to physical presence, language and knowledge are largely set at an appropriate level. While there are various tools and methods in place to support the assessment of these requirements, findings were mixed in terms of their effectiveness, highlighting important challenges to be addressed.

It was observed that while the requirement for physical presence is clearly defined, it can be difficult for applicants to prove, as well as for IRCC officers to verify, without entry-exit information. For language, it was noted that the range of evidence accepted is very broad and does not always reflect the applicant’s actual language ability. When there are concerns, it can be difficult for IRCC officers to assess language ability, as the tools in place are subjective and officers are not formal assessors. For knowledge, it was noted that the test and study guide have a higher language level than that of the language requirement, and there is a need for more tools and support for applicants.

At the time of the evaluation, implementation of a new Entry/Exit Program was already underway, which was expected to address issues related to tracking and verifying physical presence in the future. In addition, a new approach for the knowledge assessment tools was being developed, with a new study guide and supporting materials, but had not yet been implemented at the time of the evaluation.

Thus, while a strategy is being implemented to improve the tools and methods available to assess physical presence in Canada, there is still a need to address outstanding challenges with respect to the tools and methods in place to assess the language and knowledge requirements.

Recommendation 3: IRCC should review the language verification process and put in place a strategy to ensure that IRCC officers are more effectively equipped to validate language evidence and better supported to assess language ability when needed.

Recommendation 4: IRCC should move forward with its plan to implement a new approach for the knowledge requirement, which could include a revised study guide and additional tools, to improve the accessibility of the required information and enhance supports for prospective applicants studying for and taking the knowledge test.

Overall, integration outcomes were positive for naturalized citizens. It was observed that many feel a sense of belonging to Canada, their province or territory and to their community. They have social connections in Canada and confidence in Canadian institutions. Moreover, many are performing well economically, and some are volunteering and participating in groups, organizations or associations.

It was also observed that many PRs, particularly those intending to apply for citizenship, feel a sense of belonging, have social connections and confidence in Canadian institutions, suggesting that newcomers with stronger feelings of connection to Canada have a desire to become Canadian. In addition, while a difference in employment earnings was found between PRs and naturalized citizens, this difference was not attributable to citizenship, but rather to the socio-economic characteristics of those obtaining it, largely previous earnings and length of time in Canada.

Differences between PRs and naturalized citizens were also found for volunteering and group membership. They were found to be more prevalent among naturalized citizens, followed by PRs intending to apply for citizenship, and lowest among those not intending to apply. The rates of volunteering and group membership also varied based on socio-economic characteristics.

Thus, evaluation results highlight the relationships between integration and engagement in Canadian society, and some of the dynamics of decision-making around citizenship. Becoming Canadian and active engagement are at the core of IRCC’s Citizenship Program objectives. While these objectives are generally seen as relevant and appropriate, the program has limited mechanisms and resources to influence them. At present, IRCC’s citizenship promotion activities are largely newcomer-focused and tied to the citizenship grant process or funded by the Settlement Program, which excludes citizens from its eligibility.

With this in mind, there is a need to ensure that the department’s objectives for citizenship promotion are aligned with the activities, mechanisms and resources in place to achieve them.

Recommendation 5: IRCC should review its objectives for citizenship promotion, and the corresponding activities, mechanisms and resources available, and develop and implement a plan to better support the achievement of its expected outcomes.

View or download the evaluation:

Complete report:

Glavin: Religious freedom is under assault. Will Canada be its champion?

Hard to say whether the Office of Religious Freedom had any substantive impact beyond raising the profile of religious freedom issues compared to having religious freedom as part of overall human rights, where it now resides.

The Evaluation of the Office of Religious Freedom conducted by Global Affairs Canada in 2016 was mixed in its review of the Office’s work and impact, providing a rationale for the Liberal government’s closing the office.

The planned evaluation of Partnerships and Development Innovation: Human Rights, Governance, Democracy and Inclusion to be approved February 2021 will give a sense of whether the human rights program effectively included religious freedom in its programming/activities or not:

Monday was a fairly uneventful day for Peter Bhatti, the 60-year-old president of International Christian Voice, a non-denominational organization based in Brampton, Ont. But it was a sad day, as March 2 has been, every year, for nine years. It was on March 2, 2011 that Peter’s younger brother Shahbaz was assassinated in Islamabad.

As Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti had drawn the ire of Islamist extremists for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of Pakistan’s persecuted Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, and the Hazara and Ahmadi Muslim minorities. Bhatti died from 22 gunshot wounds in an attack claimed by the Tareek-e-Taliban only six weeks after he’d visited Ottawa, where his activism served as an inspiration for the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom.

The high-level diplomatic project was shuttered by former Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion in March 2016. It was a move that Peter Bhatti says was shortsighted and ill-advised, especially now that religious liberty is under such brutal assault around the world.

You know, we are so lucky here in Canada. We have all kinds of freedom here,” Peter told me on Monday. “But if Canada is going to be a champion of human rights, we should be paying more attention to places where people have no religious liberty at all.”

China is engaged in a brutal campaign involving intensive surveillance and internment without trial in an all-out effort to eradicate the Muslim identity of the Uighur people of Xinjiang. Myanmar continues to evade responsibility for its enforced expulsion of nearly a million Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh.

In Pakistan, the blasphemy law that Shahbaz Bhatti fought against not only remains on the books despite international condemnation. It is increasingly deployed to intimidate and persecute religious minorities and liberal intellectuals. Hundreds of people have been prosecuted under the law in recent years.

Shahbaz Bhatti had been particularly outspoken in the notorious case of Asia Bibi, the Christian farmworker who was convicted on a wholly contrived blasphemy charge and languished on death row for eight years before a high court overturned her conviction in November 2018. Several weeks before Bhatti’s murder, on Jan. 4, 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was also assassinated for protesting the obvious miscarriage of justice in Asia Bibi’s case. Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard.

The judicial reversal of Bibi’s conviction prompted riots across Pakistan. Bibi was placed in protective custody, and it wasn’t until last May that she arrived in Canada—two of her daughters had already relocated here. For the past 10 months, Bibi and her family have been living in Canada on temporary visas, at an undisclosed location and under assumed names for security reasons.

Last week, French President Emanuel Macron invited Bibi to apply for permanent asylum in France, where Bibi is currently promoting her memoir, co-authored by the French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. Last Tuesday, she was presented a certificate of honorary citizenship from the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “France is a symbol for me,” Bibi told reporters, adding that Canada’s harsh winters were also a factor in her consideration of France as her permanent home. Besides: [France] was the first country in the world to really support me, and the country from which my name became known.”

While Shahbaz Bhatti’s name has been nearly forgotten in official Canadian circles, his memory lives on among Pakistani minorities and progressive Muslims. Last Sunday, memorial masses in his name were held in Catholic churches across Pakistan. Several commemorations were underway in his honour this week, in the Bhatti family’s home village of Kushpur, and also in the capital, Islamabad. A celebration of Bhatti’s life was planned at the site of Bhatti’s murder in Islamabad, bringing together Muslim and Christian leaders, politicians, diplomats and representatives of the All-Pakistan Minorities Alliance, led by another of the five Bhatti brothers, Paul.

Peter Bhatti’s International Christian Voice (ICV) organization and its supporters will be gathering for a commemorative fundraising dinner in Woodbridge, Ont. on Friday. “But we are no longer mourning,” Peter said. “We are trying to carry on the work of my brother, to continue his legacy.”

A priority for ICV is the resettlement in Canada of Pakistani Christians who have fled to Thailand and are now at risk of arrest and deportation. While it’s easy for Pakistanis to travel to Thailand, the government in Bangkok doesn’t recognize them as genuine refugees. So they end up stuck in limbo in Thailand, and often end up imprisoned in what the ICV calls “intolerable and inhumane conditions” in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre. Working with several churches, the ICV has managed to resettle several dozen Pakistani exiles from Thailand under the federal private-sponsorship program.

The ICV wants Global Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to urge Thailand to stop arresting and incarcerating refugees for repatriation back to Pakistan. Ottawa should also pressure the Thai government to provide Pakistani refugees with temporary asylum, at least, the ICV says. The organization has also asked Ottawa to formally recognize Pakistani Christians as bona fide refugee claimants fleeing persecution, and also to expedite claims filed by families.

Meanwhile, back in Pakistan, the country’s three million Christians—whose heritage goes back to a late 16th century Jesuit mission during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great—are increasingly singled out for spurious blasphemy prosecutions. Over the past 10 years, Christians have been subjected to several suicide bombings, pogroms, anti-Christian riots and the official demolition of Christian neighbourhoods. But it is the blasphemy law that allows extremists to engage the full force of the state most effectively against Christians and other minorities.

There are at least 25 Christians in prison on blasphemy convictions in Pakistan at the moment. Six are on death row. One of them, Shagufta Kausar, has been awaiting an appeal hearing, along with her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, ever since they were both sentenced to death in 2014.

Kausar was Asia Bibi’s cellmate.

Source: Religious freedom is under assault. Will Canada be its champion?

Audit: Tories’ religious freedom office was tainted by politics

Hardly surprising.

But unfortunate, as a case can be made for such an office, or a specific focus within the overall human rights agenda on issues relating to religious freedom:

Efforts by the previous Conservative government to promote religious freedom around the world were tainted by the perception of political interference, an internal government evaluation concluded.

The Office of Religious Freedoms positioned Canada as a welcomed world leader on the issue, said the review of the project.

But what it did manage to achieve in its short tenure was coloured by disagreement on how the work should be carried out, a lack of transparency about its goals and concerns the office was biased in its approach to which religions or countries it worked with, the review said.

For example, Christians make up one of the most persecuted minorities, the evaluation noted, so it would make sense for the office to support that group.

“However if this information is not communicated consistently and accurately in the politically sensitive arena, (Office of Religious Freedoms) may be viewed as favouring Christians over all other religious groups,” it said.

“Hence, some stakeholders may interpret actions of ORF as politically motivated. Not surprisingly, the misperception that ORF was a political office was one of the challenges that the office continued to face.”

Extensive outreach with religious groups when the office launched wasn’t enough, the evaluation found.

“The lack of broader and more consistent sharing of information to the public caused inefficiencies and hindered ORF’s own efforts to ensure the office was not perceived as favouring any specific group or religion.”

The Conservatives first announced the office in 2011 but it didn’t start work until appointment of ambassador Andrew Bennett in 2013. The program was motivated by the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who was minister of minorities in Pakistan when he was assassinated by Islamic extremists.

The 2011 announcement was met with immediate skepticism. At the time, the Liberals called it more of a domestic political ploy than a strategy for the promotion of human rights.

In theory, diplomats, religious groups and other organizations with a stake in the matter thought the office could be helpful, the evaluation said.

“International interviewees noted that as there were only a limited number of actors and leaders on freedom of religion or belief, Canada’s work in this area was appreciated since it addressed a gap,” the report found.

But there was little consensus about what was happening in practice.

“The evaluation found evidence of increased awareness of freedom of religion or belief with some stakeholders, but not all relevant actors,” said the report, posted online recently by the Global Affairs Department.

Some told the evaluation team the office was too harsh in its public denunciations of religious freedom violations, while others said there weren’t enough statements specific to religious restrictions, such as Sharia law.

Some said the $17 million over four years in program funding wasn’t enough to make a difference, others said small sums of cash were easier to disburse in countries where supporting religious freedom was sensitive.

Since the office took nearly two years to get going, more than half the funds allocated for it were never spent, the review found.

The fact the office was a project without much precedent in Canada or elsewhere explained some of the challenges and since it had only been operating a short time, whether there would be long-term benefits was difficult for evaluators to conclude, the report said.

The office’s budget and mandate was scheduled to end this year. The now Opposition Conservatives and some religious groups tried to pressure the Liberal government to keep it open, but its work was folded into a new Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion.

The evaluation wrapped up in April 2015, but clearly took Liberals’ new approach into account, noting that its sole recommendation for a concrete plan and operational direction was based on the fact the office had now closed.

In its formal response to the review, the department agreed with the recommendation, promising regular consultation, more transparency and better communication.

The Liberals have also pledged as much as $15 million for their new efforts.

Source: Audit: Tories’ religious freedom office was tainted by politics

Refugee system reform at risk as asylum numbers keep climbing: report

Like any such major changes, takes time to assess the results. Overall, a fairly positive evaluation is my take, with recommendations more in the nature of incremental improvements (Evaluation of the In-Canada Asylum System Reforms).

But there appears to be little explanation for the reasons of the increase, only discussion of the possible effects of the increase:

Changes made to Canada’s refugee system in 2012 resulted in faster decisions on asylum claims, but an internal government study warns those improvements may now be at risk.

Several asylum targets weren’t met following the implementation of reforms, despite the fact the government had set aside money to cover twice as many claims as were ultimately received, the study found.

Now, the number of claims is on the rise again.

“If claim intake continues to increase, there is a risk that there may be further challenges meeting targets, that backlogs may grow, and the overall average claimant time in the system may increase,” said an internal evaluation of the reforms posted online by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The latest evaluation comes with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government poised to put additional pressure on the system by undoing another of the changes made by the previous Conservative government.

The primary goal of the changes had been to get claims decided faster, to ensure those in need of asylum were approved more quickly, and those who did not qualify were promptly deported.

The evaluation examined the implementation of two laws that — among other things — created timelines for certain steps in the process and limited avenues of appeal for claimants from certain countries.

Prior to that, however, the Tories also sought to cut off claims at the source by imposing visa restrictions on countries whose nationals were to blame much of the backlog.

One of those countries was Mexico: about 9,000 of 36,759 claims lodged in 2008 came from Mexicans. After visas were imposed in 2009, the number of Mexican claims fell to 1,199.

But this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and announce a plan to lift that visa requirement.

It will come despite objections from departmental officials who fear a new spike in claims and a precedent being set with regards to visas in place on other countries.

The evaluation doesn’t explicitly address the implications of a Mexican visa lift on the system. It was carried out prior to the Liberals winning the election.

But in general, it found, claims are already rising.

The year the reforms were introduced, 20,456 claims were lodged. In 2013, it was only 10,322. In 2014, 13,410 claims were filed, in 2015 over 16,000 and further increases are forecast in the next two years, the evaluation said.

The $259 million spent on the reform project means those seeking asylum now receive a decision on their file about five times faster than those who applied prior to 2012.

Despite that, targets for hearing dates and removals continue to be missed. Among them — the goal of getting 80 per cent of failed claimants out within 12 months of the decision. Just over half were actually removed.

In a formal response to the evaluation, both Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency said they were working to plug the gaps.

“Successful delivery of a decentralized asylum system requires close co-operation between independent organizations, while remaining mindful that each organization is independent in delivering on specific decision-making targets,” the government wrote in its response.

“Despite efforts to ensure the smooth management of the asylum system, there are factors that are beyond the control of IRCC and other organizations, such as unpredictable intake and challenges in obtaining travel documents from recalcitrant countries.”

Source: Refugee system reform at risk as asylum numbers keep climbing: report – The Globe and Mail