Mason: The gong show at our passport offices is inexcusable

Yet another backlog at IRCC, the department responsible for Passport Canada.

When multiculturalism moved from Canadian Heritage to IRCC in 2008, the then hope within the Citizenship Branch was that the addition of Multiculturalism would rebalance to some extent the IRCC focus on immigration.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and citizenship remained the “poor cousin” compared to other IRCC programs and then of course the program moved back to Canadian Heritage and the Liberal government increased its funding.

It appears that the move of passport to IRCC more than 10 years ago has similarly resulted in relative program neglect, an even “poorer cousin.” Telling, as I have noted before, that IRCC does not include current passport statistics on open data:

As COVID-19 vaccines began to do their work last year, more Canadians began to venture out and allow themselves to imagine vacations to exotic locales – or even just to the United States.

Surely, the federal government was aware of this. It must have known that the demand for travel after two years of being cooped up at home would be unprecedented. Airlines began preparing for this eventuality months ago, when it was evident COVID-related travel restrictions were being lifted around the world. You would assume the federal government would have brainstormed as well: What should we be prepared for, when the travel surge occurs?

If anyone in government had been thinking, they would have foreseen the mad march to Service Canada’s passport offices we have recently witnessed – of Canadians seeking to apply for and renew their passports – and come up with a strategy to respond to it. After all, these applications were way down during the pandemic – in no small part because many Service Canada offices were temporarily closed at points during the pandemic – and many of these documents have expired in the interim. It should have been plainly evident there would be overwhelming demand.

The numbers now bear it out: Service Canada issued 363,000 passports from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, a number that jumped to more than 1.27 million in the following fiscal year. (It’s also been reported that the number of passports processed is up 350 per cent over last year). Before the pandemic, Service Canada was getting about 5,000 calls a day related to passport renewals; today, that number has shot up to more than 200,000.

But it’s clear now that whatever plan there was to deal with an inevitable avalanche of applicants was wholly inadequate. Maybe “inept” is a better word. Perhaps “complete disaster” more aptly fits the bill.

Of course, we have seen government incompetence before. But if there was a government-incompetence Hall of Fame, Service Canada’s response to this surge of passport demand would have to rank right up there.

The stories: wow.

Citizens have been lining up for days outside some passport offices. To no one’s surprise, this has led to tensions at some locations. When some of those who had been camped out for days outside an office in Surrey, B.C., noticed little to no movement in the line, they attempted to go inside to see what the issue was. They were met by security, and things escalated to the point police were called – surprise, surprise.

Women with babies in strollers have had to stand in line for hours, with no place to sit down. Pleasant, elderly commissionaires haven’t really been able to give people reliable information about how long if might be before they get processed, or even if they will. There have even been reports of people paying homeless people to hold their place in line.

The government agency has reported that it has hired more than 600 additional staff to handle the extra volume, and yet it does not seem to have alleviated the lineups at many of the most popular centres. People report going inside and seeing only a fraction of the kiosks open, because COVID-19 protocols and social distancing guidelines have kept many stations closed. Strangely, everyone in those same passport centres, including staff, can meet at a bar or restaurant afterward, maskless, and raise a toast to the incompetence and irrationality of all those involved in this utter shemozzle.

The government says you can still get a passport in five days if you apply in person at one of the centres. What it doesn’t say is that you might need to take a week off work so you can sit outside in the rain waiting for your chance to get inside one.

For many, new passports can take up to 12 weeks to get, according to the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.

I realize that having to wait in line to renew a passport seems like the mother of all first-world problems. There may not be a lot of sympathy for people who might not be able to go on their Caribbean cruise because they didn’t anticipate a three-month delay in getting their passports renewed.

That’s not the point.

The point is there are all sorts of legitimate reasons for wanting and needing a passport beyond luxury travel. And people who need those passports shouldn’t have to compete in a real-life version of Survivor to get them from our own government.

Ottawa was completely drunk at the wheel here. And it still hasn’t been able to figure out how to design a system that can eliminate these unconscionable wait times and delays.

The country deserves better.

Source: The gong show at our passport offices is inexcusable

Canada is leaving some would-be immigrants waiting just to hear whether their application has been received

More accounts on backlogs, processing delays and lack of communication:

When Manmeet Kaur applied to sponsor her newlywed husband to come from India to join her in Canada, it seemed like a no-brainer to submit the application online rather than to send the paperwork by courier.

Electronic application through new government portals was supposed to be faster and keep important documents — such as wedding photos and personal identification — from getting lost in the process or mixed up with others’ files.

And so, Kaur applied last September.

As she watched applicants she had met through social media groups, and who had applied around the same time, start to get their acknowledgment of receipt, better known as their “AOR,” the Brampton woman says, she expected that immigration officials would soon open her e-application and that her day would come.

She says she got nervous when others who had applied months after her were getting their AOR, which is only issued once a thorough check by officials ensures an application is complete — with no missing forms, documents and signatures. That’s when an applicant receives a file number and the actual processing starts.

“Many of the September applicants have gotten their passport requests and decisions made in January and February. While we’re still waiting for our AORs, some already have their spouses with them. Now January and February applicants are getting their AORs, too,” said Kaur, 27, a medical lab technician, who last saw her husband in India in July.

“The people who applied first should get processed first. I completely understand each file is different and some take longer than others. But we are talking about just checking if an application is complete or not. It should make no difference. Now, we’re lagging further and further behind.”

Few other federal services have seen so much disruption as the immigration system during the pandemic, with the operation grinding to a halt; staff working remotely with antiquated infrastructure; and travel restricted for newcomers abroad due to border closures.

Source: Canada is leaving some would-be immigrants waiting just to hear whether their application has been received

Automatic for the people [immigration focus]

Of note. Given volumes and resources, no realistic alternative but care need to eliminate biases (either pro or con):

If there was ever any doubt the federal government would use automation to help it make its administrative decisions, Budget 2022 has put that to rest. In it, Ottawa pledges to change the Citizenship Act to allow for the automated and machine-assisted processing of a growing number of immigration-related applications.

In truth, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been looking at analytics systems to automate its activities and help it assess immigrant applications for close to a decade. The government also telegraphed its intention back in 2019, when it issued a Directive on Automated Decision-Making (DADM), which aims to build safeguards and transparency around its use.

“[T]he reference to enable automated and machine-assisted processing for citizenship applications is mentioned in the budget to ensure that in the future, IRCC will have the authority to proceed with our ambition to create a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment.” said Aidan Stickland, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship minister Sean Fraser, in an emailed reply.

“This would enable us to streamline the application process for citizenship with the introduction of e-applications in order to help speed up application processing globally and reduce backlogs,” Stickland, added. “Details are currently being formalized.”

But to live a life of ambition requires taking risks. So the DADM comes with an algorithmic impact assessment tool. According to Teresa Scassa, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, it creates obligations for any government department or agency that plans to adopt automated decision-making, either in whole or as a system that makes recommendations. It is a risk-based framework to determine the obligation to be placed on the department or agency.

“The citizenship and immigration context is one where what they’re looking at is that external client,” Scassa says. “It does create this governance framework for those types of projects.”

Scassa says that the higher the risk of impact on a person’s rights, or the environment, the more obligations are placed on the department or agency using it, such as requirements for peer review, monitoring outputs to ensure the system remains consistent with the objectives or that it doesn’t demonstrate improper bias.

“It governs things like what kind of notice should be given,” Scassa says. “If it’s very low-risk, it might be a very general notice, like something on a web page. If it’s high risk, it will be a specific notice to the individual that automated decision-making is in use. Depending on where the project is in the risk framework, there is a sliding scale of obligations to ensure that individuals are protected from adverse impacts.”

Scassa suspects that IRCC may use automated decision-making to determine if someone qualifies for citizenship, which can mean different things.

It could be a triage system, for example, drawing information from applications before using AI to determine which applicants clearly qualify for citizenship. “Everything else [would fall] into a different basket where it needs to be reviewed by an officer,” Scassa says.

Such a system would be relatively low-risk as any decisions would be positive for the applicant, while all others go to a human for review, which would speed up overall processing times.

“That may be less problematic than a system that makes all of the decisions, and people have to figure out why they got rejected, and you have to ask how transparent is the algorithm, and what are your rights to have the decision reviewed,” Scassa adds. “There is the question of how it will be designed, and how impactful the AI tool will be on individuals. On the other hand, a triage system like this could have automation bias where files get flagged. Maybe the human reviewing them approaches them with a particular mindset because they haven’t been considered to be automatically accepted. The automation bias may make the human less likely to approve them.”

Scassa notes that the Open Government platform shows an algorithmic impact assessment for a tool developed for spousal analytics, a form of triage tool, which gives a sense of what kinds of tools the department is contemplating.

Scassa also notes that under the Citizenship Act, a provision allows for the delegation of the minister’s powers to any person authorized in writing. She suspects that the proposed legislative change could be to specifically allow some of the decisions to be made on a fully-automated basis.

When it comes to reviewing decisions, the DADM and its risk framework appears to apply administrative law principles, including procedural fairness protections.

Paul Daly, also a law professor at the University of Ottawa, adds that the administrative law principles apply regardless of whether this type of automated decision-making has been authorized in the statute.

“It’s a common concern for officials using sophisticated machine-learning technology to want legal authority,” Daly says. “Really, that’s only one part of the picture. There’s a whole body of legal principles from administrative law, the Charter, and the [DADM] that have to be complied with when you start to actually use the systems,” Daly says.

Lex Gill, a fellow at Citizen Lab, co-authored a report called “Bots at the Gate,” which looks at the human rights impacts of automated decision-making in Canada’s citizenship and immigration system. She acknowledges there are serious backlogs within the immigration system. But she cautions that faster isn’t always better, particularly when the error rates associated with AI disproportionately affect certain groups who are already treated unfairly.

“Sometimes we adopt technologies that will allow us to believe that we are doing something more scientific, methodical or fair, when really what we are doing is reproducing the status quo, but faster and with less transparency,” Gill says. “That is always my concern when we talk about automating these kinds of administrative processes.”

Gill notes there is a spectrum of technologies available for automated and machine-assisted processing, some of which are not problematic, while others are worrying and raise human rights issues. Still, it is hard to know what we may be dealing with without more information from the minister.

“When we talk about using automated or machine-assisted technology to do things like risk scoring, that’s an area where we know that it’s highly discretionary,” Gill says. “There is an entire universe of academic study that demonstrates that those technologies tend to replicate existing forms of bias and discrimination and profiling that already exists within administrative systems.”

Gill says that these systems tend to learn from existing practices. The result tends to exacerbate discriminatory outcomes and makes them more difficult to challenge because there is the additional layer of perceived scientific or technical neutrality layered on top of a system that demonstrated bias.

“When the government is imagining adopting these kinds of technologies, is it imagining doing that in a way that is enhancing transparency, accountability, and reviewability of decisions?” asks Gill. “Efficiency is clearly an important goal, but the rule of law, accountability and control of administrative discretion also require friction—they require a certain degree of scrutiny, the ability to slow things down, the ability to review things, and the ability to understand why and how a decision was made.”

Gill says that unless these new technologies come with oversight, review and transparency mechanisms, she worries that they will take a system that is already discretionary, opaque, and has the ability to change the direction of a person’s life, and render it even more so.

“If you’re going to start adopting these kinds of technologies, you need to do it in a way that maximally protects a person’s Charter rights, and which honours the seriousness of the decisions at stake,” Gill says. “Don’t start with decisions that engage the liberty interests of a person. Start with things like whether or not this student visa application is missing a supporting document.”

Source: Automatic for the people

Immigration Canada acts to end racism, cultural bias among employees

Of note:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is conducting a study to explore potential cultural bias shown by its employees when it comes to processing visa applications at the country’s points of entry, according to a department spokesperson.

The study comes in response to a survey examining workplace racism at IRCC released last year that revealed multiple reports of racist “microagressions” by employees and supervisors.

Participants interviewed said that some of the overt and subtle racism they have witnessed by both employees and decision makers at IRCC “can and probably must impact case processing.”

The department has also made it mandatory for employees and executives to take unconscious bias training, and instituted a requirement for senior staff to take a specific course on inclusive hiring practices as a prerequisite for obtaining their delegated authority to sign financial and staffing decisions.

In addition, said spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald, IRCC is appointing anti-racism representatives in each sector of the department to support the work of a newly-established Anti-Racism Task Force and has created a Black Employee Network to ensure Black voices are heard in driving change.

“We must actively fight racism and continue to work tirelessly to foster a culture of inclusion, diversity, and respect…but actions speak louder than words,” MacDonald told New Canadian Media through email.

MacDonald said IRCC will be hiring an independent firm to do an Employment System Review (ESR). The ESR will identify new solutions in core areas such as people management practices and accountability.

IRCC also plans to release its Anti-Racism Strategy and action plan later this year.

Source: Immigration Canada acts to end racism, cultural bias among employees

‘Racism plays a role in immigration decisions,’ House Immigration Committee hears

While always important to recognize that bias and discrimination can influence decisions, different acceptance rates can also reflect other factors, and that misrepresentation may be more prevalent in some regions than others.

Training guides and materials need to provide illustrations and examples. Meurrens is one of the few lawyers who regularly looks at the data but his challenge of the training guide “Kids in India are not back-packers as they are in Canada.” is odd given that the data likely confirms that statement.

Moreover, the call for more transparency, welcome and needed, may provide opportunities for the more unscrupulous to “game the system.”

“Kids in India are not back-packers as they are in Canada” reads a note appended to a slide in a presentation used to train Canadian immigration officials in mid-2019.

In a recent access to information request, Immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said he received a copy of the presentation which was used in a training session by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officials, dated April 2019 and titled “India [Temporary Resident Visa]s: A quick introduction.” He shared the full results of the request with The Hill Times.

The slides, which detail the reasons why Indians may apply for a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) and what officials should look for in applications—have notes appended to them, as if they were speaking notes for the person giving the presentation. On one slide detailing potential reasons for travel to Canada, the notes read: “Kids in India are not back-packers as they are in Canada.”

In an interview, Meurrens spoke to an apparent double standard for Indian people looking to travel to Canada.

“It drives me nuts, because I’ve often thought that, as a Canadian, a broke university student, I could hop on a plane, go anywhere, apply for visas, and no one would be like, ‘That’s not what Canadians do,’” Meurrens said, adding that he’s representing people from India who did in fact intend to come to Canada to backpack through the country.

A screenshot of the page wherein an IRCC presentation notes that ‘Kids in India are not back-packers as they are in Canada.’ Image courtesy of IRCC

“To learn that people are trained specifically that Indian people don’t backpack” was “over the top,” he said. It reminded him of another instance of generalizations made within IRCC about different nationalities of people, when in 2015, an ATIP he received showed that training materials within the department stated that when a Chinese person marrying a non-Chinese person was a likely indicator of marriage fraud.

At the time, the department said that document was more than five years old, and no longer in use.

“[I’d like us] to get to a state where someone’s country of origin doesn’t dictate the level of procedural fairness that they’ll get and how they’re assessed,” he said.

The fact of systemic racism within Canada’s Department of Citizenship, Immigration, and Refugees Canada (IRCC) is not new; evidence of such racism was uncovered through what is colloquially known as the Pollara report. This report, conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights and released in 2021, was the result of focus groups conducted with IRCC employees to better understand “current experiences of racism within the department.”

The report found that within the department, the use of the phrase “the dirty 30” was widely used to refer to certain African nations and that Nigerians in particular were stereotyped as “particularly corrupt or untrustworthy.”

As the House Immigration Committee heard last week, there remains much work to be done to combat systemic racism within IRCC.

On March 22, the House Committee on Immigration and Citizenship began its study on differential outcomes in immigration decisions at IRCC, and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser (Central Nova, N.S.) appeared at the committee on March 24. Other issues brought up by witnesses included a lack of transparency from the department as well as concerns of systemic racism and bias being embedded in any automated intelligence (AI) the department uses to assess applications.

From students in Nigeria being subjected to English-language proficiency tests when they hail from an English-speaking country, to the differential treatment of some groups of refugees versus others, to which groups are eligible for resettlement support and which are not, the committee heard several examples of differential treatment of potential immigrants to Canada due to systemic racism and bias within IRCC.

“I know it’s very uncomfortable raising the issue of racism,” said Dr. Gideon Christian, president of the African Scholars Initiative and an assistant professor of AI and law at the University of Calgary.

“But the fact is that we need to call racism for what it is—as uncomfortable as it might be. … Yes, this is a clear case of racism. And we should call it that. We should actually be having conversations around this problem with a clear framework as to how to address it,” he said.

According to Christian, Nigerian students looking to come to Canada to study through the Nigerian Study Express program are subjected to an English-language proficiency test, despite the fact that the official language in Nigeria is English, that English is the language used in all official academic institutions there, and that academic institutions in Canada do not require a language test from Nigerian students for their admission.

A spokesperson for IRCC said the department does not single out Nigeria in its requirement for a language test.

“IRCC is committed to a fair and non-discriminatory application process,” reads the written statement.

“While language testing is not a requirement to be eligible for a study permit, individual visa offices may require them as part of their review of whether the applicant is a bona fide student. This includes many applicants from English-speaking countries, including a large number from India and Pakistan, two nations where English is widely taught and top countries for international students in Canada.”

“Nigeria is not singled out by the requirement of language tests for the Nigeria Student Express initiative,” the spokesperson said.

Systemic racism embedded in AI

Christian, who is also an assistant professor of AI and law at the University of Calgary and has spent the last three years researching algorithmic racism, expressed concern that the “advanced analytics” IRCC uses to triage its immigration applications—including the Microsoft Excel-based software system called Chinook—has systemic racism and bias embedded within it.

“IRCC has in its possession a great deal of historical data that can enable it to train AI and automate its visa application processes,” Christian told the committee. As revealed by the Pollara report, systemic bias, racism and discrimination does account for differential treatment of immigration applications, particularly when it comes to study visa refusals for those applying from Sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

“External story of IRCC—especially the Pollara report—have revealed systemic bias, racism and discrimination in IRCC processing of immigration applications. Inevitably, this historical data imposition of IRCC is tainted by the same systemic bias, racism and discrimination. Now the problem is that the use of these tainted data to train any AI algorithm will inevitably result in algorithmic racism. Racist AI, making immigration decisions,” he said.

The Pollara report echoed these concerns in a section that laid out a few ways processes and procedures adopted for expediency’s sake “have taken on discriminatory undertones.” This included “concern that increased automation of processing will embed racially discriminatory practices in a way that will be harder to see over time.”

Meurrens, who also appeared at committee on March 22, said a lack of transparency from the government impedes the public’s ability to assess whether it is indeed making progress on the issue of addressing systemic racism or not.

He said he’d like to see the department publish Access to Information results pertaining to internal manuals, visa office specific training guides, and other similar documents as downloadable PDFs on its website, pointing out this is how the provincial government of B.C. releases its ATIP responses. He also said he thinks IRCC should publish “detailed explanations and reports of how its artificial intelligence triaging and new processing tools work in practice.”

“Almost everything public today [about the AI programs] has been obtained through access to information results that are heavily redacted and which I don’t believe present the whole picture,” he said.

Whether the concerns were actually reflected in the AI itself, Meurrens said, could not be known without more transparency from the department.

“In the absence of increased transparency, concerns like this are only growing,” he said.

Fraser: racism is a ‘sickness’

On Thursday, Fraser told the committee that he agrees that racism is a problem within the department, calling it a “sickness in our society.”

“There are examples of racism not just in one department but across different levels of government. It’s a sickness in our society that limits the productivity of human beings who want to fully participate in our communities. IRCC is not immune from that social phenomenon that hampers our success as a nation, and we have to do everything we can to eradicate racism, not just from our department,” he said.

Fraser said there is “zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, or harassment of any kind,” but acknowledged those problems do exist within the department.

The minister pointed towards the anti-racism task force which was created in 2020 and “guides the department’s strategy to eliminate racism and applies an anti-racism lens” to the department’s work. He also said IRCC has been “actively reviewing its human resource systems so that Indigenous, Black, racialized peoples and persons with disabilities are better represented across IRCC at every level.”

Fraser also referenced a three-year anti-racism strategy for the department, which includes plans to implement mandatory bias training, anti-racist work and training objectives, and trauma coaching sessions for Black employees and managers to recognize the impacts of racism on mental health, among other things.

“It’s not lost on me that there have been certain very serious issues that have pertained to IRCC,” he said.

These measures are different from the ones witnesses and opposition MPs are calling for, however.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) her top priority on this topic is to convince the government to put an independent ombudsperson in place whose job it would be to assess IRCC policies and the application of said policies as they relate to differential treatment, systemic racism, and gender biases.

“Let’s dig deep. Have an officer of the House do this work completely independent from the government,” she said in an interview with The Hill Times.

At the March 22 meeting, Kwan asked all six witnesses to state for the record if they agreed that the government should put such an ombudsperson in place. All six witnesses agreed.

Kwan questioned the ability of the department to conduct its own internal reviews.

“As the minister said [at committee], he’s undertaking a variety of measures to address these issues and to see how they can rectify it. … But how deeply is it embedded? And if it’s done internally, then how independent is it?” she wondered.

Fraser said the implementation of an ombudsperson was something he would consider after reading the committee’s report.

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.), his party’s immigration critic and the vice-chair of the committee, agreed with Meurrens’ calls for increased transparency. “We need more evidence that the government is serious about this,” he said in an interview.

Hallan also said he wants to see consequences for those within the department who participated in the racism documented by the Pollara report.

“[Fraser] should start by approaching those employees of IRCC that made these complaints from that Pollara report and find out who is making these remarks. Reprimand them, fire them if they need to be,” he said.

Source: ‘Racism plays a role in immigration decisions,’ House Immigration Committee hears

Immigration Canada probing claims of systemic racism at two offices, union says

Notable that these complaints are related to the Montreal call centre, and the pressures described are likely common to most call centres. On the stereotyping mentioned by one staffer regarding “liars,” completely inappropriate but one has to recognize that fraud and misrepresentation occur, and that this may be more prevalent from certain source countries or areas:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is investigating claims of systemic racism at two of its offices, says the union representing its employees.

Meanwhile, the department has hired an outside company, Charron Human Resources, to conduct a workplace audit at IRCC’s call centre in Montreal — the department’s only Canadian call centre — where employees have been working to fulfil the federal government’s commitment to bring in 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan.

The Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU) — which represents employees at IRCC, Service Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) — says the IRCC’s internal racism probes stem from complaints filed by employees.

The news comes after the IRCC released a damning report late last year. That report cited employees complaining of repeated instances of staff and supervisors using offensive terms with racialized colleagues, and of limited opportunities for advancement for racialized minorities.

“We are going to be proving that there is a national problem at the IRCC across the workplace,” said Crystal Warner, the CEIU’s national executive vice-president.

“IRCC is committed and believes in creating a workplace free from racism, harassment, discrimination and marginalization of any kind,” the department said in a statement, adding it could not comment on the probes due to confidentiality issues.

The union said workplace issues at the Montreal call centre — the subject of Charron Human Resources’ workplace audit — go back years but have been aggravated by Canada’s daunting commitment to bring in 40,000 Afghans after the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

“[Staff] are telling us that all the new employees that are getting hired are leaving within a few months because of the pressure to produce, to stay on the call and take the next call,” Warner said.

“You could be on the phone and you could hear someone telling you about a sibling being beheaded or a relative that had been raped and all these horrible situations,” she said, adding employees aren’t permitted to take a moment to decompress before taking the next call.

The investigations came as little surprise to two federal civil servants who, fearing workplace reprisals, spoke to CBC News on the condition they not be named.

One staffer — who is Black — started her career at the IRCC call centre in Montreal in 2017 and now works in a different federal department.

Pressure to produce

She described an office of overworked staff constantly being monitored by management — where the pressure to field as many calls as possible affected everything, even bathroom breaks.

“If you took more than the allotted surplus time that you had in order to do your bodily functions, you would get an email saying, ‘You’re really off your stats today, what’s going on?'” she said.

“Am I supposed to ask like in a kindergarten? Raise my hand and say, ‘Ma’am, can I please go to the bathroom?'”

She reported racist attitudes toward immigration applicants from certain countries — particularly those from Cuba and Nigeria.

“That came from the top, how we were instructed to deal with people from certain countries,” she said. “There was a lot of stereotyping going on … ‘People from this country, people from that country, they’re all liars, you know?'”

The report the IRCC released last October spoke of employees referring to a group of 30 African countries as the “dirty 30.”

‘Plebeian tasks’ left to people of colour, staffer says

The unnamed staffer also said there were few career advancement opportunities at the call centre for people of colour.

“The plebeian tasks were left to the people of obvious ethnic background and the higher-ups were homogeneous in their colour and culture,” she said.

The second employee who spoke to CBC — who is also Black — started his career at the call centre in Montreal in 1998 and now works as an immigration officer.

He said he noticed a reluctance to promote employees of colour within the department over the years. He said he went through about a dozen applications before he got a promotion.

“They would find ways to tell me, ‘You’re not qualified, come and we’ll discuss about the failure and we’ll tell you exactly what to do next,'” he said.

Farahldine Boisclair, director of the IRCC’s anti-racism task force, admitted the department has a lot of work to do.

“Racism is a factor in Canadian life,” Boisclair said.

The department created her position and the task force after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020 triggered widespread protests against police violence targeting people of colour.

She said the department has been working hard to stamp out workplace racism through training for managers. She said IRCC has introduced programs to help emerging talent from racialized minority groups move up the ranks.

“The higher you move up, the less diverse it gets at the top,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is really empower employees to share their experiences with us, in whatever fashion.”

External audit expands scope

According to emails seen by CBC News, the scope of Charron’s audit expanded over the past two months.

A message sent to staff by Charron on Jan. 6 explaining the nature of the audit was limited to employees who had lodged workplace complaints, as identified by an IRCC director-general.

A second email, dated Feb. 7, went to everyone at the call centre. Like the first, it promised to keep all information confidential and suggested interview dates for later in the month.

Charron did not return requests for comment.

The CEIU said it has little faith in the department’s internal processes or its impartiality.

“It’s like you’re your own judge and jury,” Warner said, adding that as a result, many staff choose not to report individual complaints. “If your complaint is founded, you basically get an email saying, ‘We agree that you have been harassed.'”

The union says it intends to file a collective grievance about workplace discrimination and harassment.

It said it has more faith in the external audit performed by Charron since it’s a third party.

Source: Immigration Canada probing claims of systemic racism at two offices, union says

How Canada uses personal information collected at the border on immigration applications

Useful overview. Entry/Exit will improve data collection (e.g., visa overstays) and allow for simplification and better client service (e.g., automatic completion of citizenship application residency information):

Since February 2019, the Entry/Exit Program has allowed the Canadian border to collect basic traveller information and share it with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

IRCC uses the information to verify residency requirements for applications for permanent residence, work permits, study permits, and Canadian citizenshipapplications. Some programs require applicants to be in Canada for a certain number of days. For example, in order to apply for citizenship, permanent residents need to have been physically present in Canada for 1,095 days out of the five years prior to the date of their application.

With the Entry/Exit Program, IRCC can inquire about traveller information from the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) via the Global Case Management System (GCMS), which is the system IRCC uses to process immigration applications.

What information is available

For now, the Entry/Exit program is only open to travellers to come to Canada by land and air. It is not yet available for marine and rail travel to Canada. The information that IRCC can access through the Entry/Exit program includes:

  • given and family names
  • aliases
  • date of birth
  • gender
  • country of birth
  • country of citizenship
  • passport details
  • date of entry/exit

CBSA stores the information in the GCMS, which IRCC can use as needed to administer the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the Citizenship Act, and the Canadian Passport Order.

How IRCC uses Entry/Exit data

According to the government website, IRCC can use Entry/Exit data to:

  • verify residency requirements in support of applications for grants of citizenship (CIT) or permanent resident cards;
  • verify if a temporary residence applicant may have previously overstayed their allowable period of admission in Canada;
  • assist in an investigation of an individual’s entitlement to a Canadian travel document;
  • verify that sponsors are residing in Canada;
  • verify the residency of spouses and partners under the spouse or common-law partner in Canada class;
  • verify whether or not a refugee claimant entered Canada using their travel documents; and
  • support investigations of possible fraud in relation to immigration, citizenship, and passport/travel document programs.

IRCC does not need client consent in order to query traveller entry and exit information. They are allowed to access the information if it is relevant to an IRCC officer’s decision in relation to a specific program. Only IRCC roles that make decisions on applications can access Entry/Exit information in the GCMA.

IRCC officers are not allowed to disclose entry and exit information unless it is necessary to administer the IRPA and is covered under an information-sharing agreement. Any disclosure not covered under a memorandum of understanding or other information-sharing agreement must be governed by CBSA.

As CBSA is the owner of the data, all authorized CBSA employees have access to it.

Travellers can request a copy of their personal travel history through an access to information request under the Privacy Act. To request a correction, travellers can contact the CBSA.

Temporary residence applications

IRCC can request Entry/Exit information for the following application types:

The Entry/Exit data can be used to check whether a foreign national has previously exceeded their authorized period of stay in Canada. The government calls this “overstay monitoring.” It begins when a traveller enters Canada and ends upon their exit. If the applicant has overstayed their visit, an “overstay indicator” will appear as a checked box in the GCMS once queried.

IRCC expects overstay indicators for temporary residents will begin appearing in Entry/Exit search results in November 2022, once a sufficient number of air carriers are on-boarded.

Permanent residence applications

Entry/Exit information is available to IRCC for the following permanent residence application types:

The data can be used to outline the periods of time spent in and outside Canada, and will allow IRCC to see if residence has been maintained. In addition to residency requirements, IRCC may make an Entry/Exit query to investigate misrepresentation, or revocation of Canadian documents.

For family sponsorship applications, Entry/Exit data can be used to determine if a sponsor is residing in Canada.

Citizenship applications

Exit/Exit data can be used in citizenship applications to:

  • verify compliance with physical presence requirements for grants of citizenship;

  • assist in the verification of other requirements, such as, flagging of potential loss of permanent resident status, the need for applicants to submit foreign police certificates, or misrepresentation;

  • verify compliance with physical presence requirements for resumption of citizenship; and

  • assist in cases of revocation of Canadian citizenship.

Source: How Canada uses personal information collected at the border on immigration applications

IRCC Departmental Performance Report: #Citizenship

While I haven’t gone through the entire DPR, I have looked at the citizenship section, excerpted below, and have the following comments.

Percent of applications within service standards: Only 9 percent compared to the target of 80 percent, given the closing of the citizenship program for a number of months. IRCC relies on growing application volumes and dated systems as well to explain the dramatic decline (dated systems have long been an issue that IRCC has neglected but is being addressed with funding in Budget 2021). IRCC has also recently implemented online applications.

The other factor not acknowledged by the department is that citizenship is a lessor priority even under normal times.

In the context of the pandemic, some prioritization made sense (e.g., facilitating the entry of temporary agriculture and other workers); in others, it was more of a political and policy choice (e.g., lowering the Express Entry score to 75 for the large CEC draw or the focus on attaining the political target of 401,000 Permanent Residents).

Service Satisfaction: Basically met, less than 1 percent under the target of 90 percent. However, the DPR usefully contrasts the experience of applicants affected by COVID (82 percent) and those that were unaffected (96 percent).

Percentage of permanent residents who become Canadian citizens: This is IRCC’s and possibly the government’s most meaningless indicator, as it refers to all permanent residents, whether they arrived five or 50 years ago, and not the more meaningful measure of the percentage of permanent residents who with the last five-to-nine years (previous Census period) that measures naturalization of recent immigrants. The report even. states that: “naturalization rates in Canada have remained relatively steady and have demonstrated a slight growth” despite the the StatsCan report, Trends in the Citizenship Rate Among New Immigrants to Canada, that showed that the naturalization “rate has been falling among recent immigrants to Canada.”

Number of people granted Canadian citizenship: Only 58,000 compared to the target of 200,000, given the same reasons as for not meeting the service standards.

No mention, of course, of political commitments that have not yet been implemented, whether it be the release of the revised citizenship study guide or the elimination of citizenship fees.


Eligible permanent residents become Canadian citizens2

Indicator: Percentage of citizenship applications that are processed within service standards

Date to achieve target: March 2021

Target: At least 80%. Actual result 9%. Status: Target not met

Result explanation: In 2020–21, 9% of all citizenship grant applications were processed within the 12-month service standard. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic related closures and the implementation of business resumption initiatives for the Citizenship Program, growing application volumes and dated systems have caused increased processing times. IRCC is exploring ways to deliver improved processing as it moves from paper-based applications to e-applications and continues to advance e-initiatives including the online knowledge test and virtual ceremonies.

MethodologyRationale: This indicator measures the degree to which IRCC is able to meet published service standards for those applying for Canadian citizenship.

Calculation / formula: Service standard adherence for citizenship grants is calculated as the percentage of completed applications that were processed within the published service standard. The performance target is to process 80% of completed applications within the 12-month service standard. (This standard is effective for all applications received after April 1st, 2015.) Data Source: GCMS Baseline: 2016-17: 90%

Definitions: NIL

Notes: NIL

Last year’s target: At least 80%

Last year’s actual result: 65%

Indicator: Percentage of citizenship applicants who report they were satisfied overall with the services they received

Date to achieve target: March 2021

Target: At least 90%

Actual result: 89.2%

Status: Target not met

Result explanation: While the client satisfaction rate has remained steady and satisfactory over recent years, 2020–21 saw the lowest applicant satisfaction rate of the past reporting years, including a drop of over 5% between 2019–20 and 2020–21. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to office closures and processing delays, may have had a direct impact on client satisfaction levels over the past year. IRCC’s analysis shows a lower satisfaction rate of 82% for citizenship grant clients who said they were affected by the pandemic when interacting with IRCC, compared to a satisfaction rate of 96% for citizenship grant clients not affected by the pandemic when interacting with IRCC. IRCC remains committed to making services as efficient and client-focused as possible so that citizenship applicants are satisfied with their citizenship naturalization process.

MethodologyRationale: Client satisfaction is the broadest measure of overall success in providing excellent client service. It is the client’s perception of the service experience.

Calculation / formula: Percentage of respondents who answered ‘yes’ to ‘Citizenship Grant’ OR ‘Citizenship Certificate’ within the question “Have you completed the application process for in year” AND who answered ‘yes’ to the question “Overall, were you satisfied with the service you received from IRCC?”. The question regarding satisfaction is asked twice in the survey – once at the beginning of the survey, and once at the end. Here we will capture the latter question, which provides the respondent with a ‘yes/no’ response option.

Data Source: IRCC Client Satisfaction Survey Baseline: 2016: 94% (composite average for Citizenship Grants and Citizenship Certificates (i.e. Proofs)). The baseline is based on responses from the IRCC annual client satisfaction survey conducted in 2016.

Definitions: The Client Satisfaction Survey questionnaire focused on drivers of client satisfaction, such as timeliness, access and ease of use. Questions are developed based on the Common Measurement Tool (CMT). Respondents are directly asked the question, so the definition of “satisfaction” is determined by the respondent.

Notes: The narrative will be supplemented with information from additional indicators and data on areas such as ease of process, ability to find information/get updates, etc.

Last year’s target: At least 90%

Last year’s actual result: 95%

Indicator: Percentage of permanent residents who become Canadian citizens

Date to achieve target: December 2021

Target: At least 85%

Actual result (interim): 86%

Status: Result to be achieved in the future

Result explanation: The ultimate goal of the Citizenship Program is to facilitate naturalization for eligible permanent residents to become Canadians. This indicator reflects naturalization rates in Canada and is based on the 2016 Census. Over the last decade, naturalization rates in Canada have remained relatively steady and have demonstrated a slight growth. As this indicator is based on the Census, the result of the last fiscal year remains the same and there will be new naturalization rates based on the 2021 Census reported in the next fiscal year. Between fiscal year 2018–19 and 2020–21, over 512,000 permanent residents applied and met the requirements and were thus granted Canadian citizenship.

MethodologyRationale: Canada’s immigration model encourages newcomers to naturalize (become citizens) so that they can benefit from all the rights of citizenship and fully assume their responsibilities, thereby advancing their integration. Take-up rates are considered a proxy that illustrates to what extent permanent residents value Canadian citizenship.

Calculation / formula–Numerator: Permanent residents in Canada who are eligible to acquire Canadian citizenship and self-report on the Census that they have acquired Canadian citizenship. Denominator: Permanent residents in Canada who are eligible to acquire Canadian citizenship.

Data Source: Statistics Canada’s Census Baseline: 2016: 85.8%

Definitions: Naturalization: The Census instructs individuals who have applied for, and have been granted, Canadian citizenship (i.e., persons who have been issued a Canadian citizenship certificate) to self-report their citizenship as “Canada, by naturalization”.

Notes: In the performance narrative, IRCC administrative data could be used to tell the story of citizenship from an operational and policy perspective. Information on age, gender, immigration stream, and country of origin of new citizens would be considered in order to explain changing trends. It is also important to note that calculations using IRCC’s administrative data will be based on the number of people admitted as permanent residents who took up citizenship. Figures from Statistics Canada indicate that in 2011, about 6,042,200 foreign-born people in Canada were eligible to acquire citizenship. Of these, just over 5,175,100, or 85.6%, reported that they had acquired Canadian citizenship. This naturalization rate in Canada was higher than in other major immigrant-receiving countries. In telling the story of the naturalization rate, it will be important to explain the reasons why some people choose not to naturalize.Last year’s targetAt least 85%Last year’s actual result86%Programs tagged as contributing to this result

Citizenship Programs

  • Citizenship 2020-21 Spending: $83.3 M2020-21, Number of Full Time Equivalents: 917 See the infographic
  • Results
    • ▼People who meet the criteria for citizenship are successful at becoming Canadian citizens
      • Indicator: Number of people who are granted citizenship
      • Date to achieve target: March 2021
      • Target: At least 200,000
      • Actual result: 57,823
      • Status: Target not met
      • Result explanation: Due to the strained processing capacity of the Citizenship Program caused by COVID-19 closures almost 58,000 residents who applied and met the requirements were granted Canadian citizenship in 2020-21. Even before the pandemic, growing application volumes and dated systems strained the operational processing model for the Citizenship Program resulting in increased processing times. The Citizenship Program is continuing to explore ways to improve processing as it moves to online applications and advances online services such citizenship ceremonies, interviews and hearings and online testing.
      • MethodologyExplanation/rationale: The main objective of the Citizenship Program is to encourage and facilitate naturalization. The program seeks to ensure that all eligible permanent residents who apply are successful at becoming Canadians. The number of individuals who are granted citizenship is a measure of how this result is achieved.
      • Formula/calculation: Using GCMS, for the given fiscal year, count the total number of individuals who were granted citizenship and who have taken the oath when required: This count is based on the Citizenship Effective Date. This is the date that an applicant, who was granted citizenship in GCMS, is confirmed to have taken the oath of citizenship. In instances where a person is not required to take the oath, the effective date of citizenship is the date that they are granted citizenship in GCMS.
      • Application Categories: Adoption, Grant, Resumption
      • Citizenship Effective Date: the given fiscal year Count of persons
      • Measurement strategy: Data is extracted annually from GCMS. Baseline: 2016-2017: 109,543
      • Notes/definitions: Canadian citizen: Under the Citizenship Act, a person is described as a Canadian citizen if the person is Canadian by birth (either born in Canada or born outside Canada to a Canadian citizen who was themselves either born in Canada or granted citizenship) or the person has applied for a grant of citizenship and has received Canadian citizenship (naturalization). Grant of citizenship (Naturalization): Grant of citizenship or naturalization is the formal process by which a person who is not a Canadian citizen becomes a Canadian citizen.
      • Note: The count includes all individuals who became citizens of Canada under Sections 5(1), 5(2), 5.1 and 11(1) of the Citizenship Act.
      • Last year’s target: At least 138,000
      • Last year’s actual result: 247,139

Sears: Canada is still admitting Afghan refugees at a glacial pace. Justin Trudeau must set a fire underneath our immigration officials

Overly harsh on IRCC staff and under-estimating the issues and processes involved but valid critique of the pace of bringing them to Canada in a more timely manner. Risks feeding the “over-promise, under-deliver” government narrative:

I suspect being a senior immigration official is only marginally less boring than being a night watchman, and that might sour their view of the world. Nonetheless, on three continents over several decades it has been my experience that those who control the visa stamps are all conditioned to find a way to say “No,” or “Later,” or “We’ll get back to you” — and then don’t. Ours are no different.

A young relative of mine was denied entry into Canada, after an especially obnoxious senior Canadian immigration official declared to her mother that they were not convinced that this was a “sincere adoption” — the staggering assumption being, I suppose, that the new mother would sell her beloved infant on arriving in Canada. Serious political pressure was required to reverse the insulting judgment. Plenty of Canadians have similarly awful stories to tell.

This is the reality that too many terrified Afghan refugees are facing today. The Taliban threaten their lives and their families constantly; Canadian NGOs desperately struggle to find paths out for them; and our senior immigration officials are unresponsive or unreachable. This too will require serious political pressure to fix, from the prime minister.

The parallel with Syria is quite plain. There, our immigration officials also tried their usual delaying devices until two very determined ministers, supported by PM Justin Trudeau, said, “Enough! Get this done.” Thousands of Syrians were quickly welcomed to Canada. Though the Syrians were fleeing a war zone, the risks the Afghans face are far more specific, urgent and life-threatening.

A favourite blocage used today is, of course, national security. As in “Yes Minister,” a Canadian Sir Humphrey might ooze, “Well, minister, that would be very courageous, questioning the advice of our national security advisers. Highly politically risky, but courageous, ma’am!” I was not aware that we have had a rash of terrorist attacks in the six years since thousands of Syrians built new lives for their families here.

We had little previous knowledge of many of the Syrians we admitted then. But many of the Afghans desperate to be rescued from tyranny now are men and women who put their lives at risk assisting Canadian soldiers, diplomats, journalists and NGOs. Hundreds of Canadians know these Afghan families personally.

It is especially embarrassing that we promised safe havens to 40,000 Afghans and have admitted fewer than 7,000. The United States, who have not outranked us in our welcome for immigrants and refugees for many, many years, have admitted over 10 times as many.

At this rate of foot-dragging — fewer than 50 refugees per day — we will be approaching the end of 2023 before we have kept our promise. By then, many of these desperate families will have been tortured and killed. Are we really willing to risk the humiliation and international opprobrium of having their blood on our hands?

Source: Canada is still admitting Afghan refugees at a glacial pace. Justin Trudeau must set a fire underneath our immigration officials

Canada pausing intake of highly skilled immigrant workers amid heavy backlog 

Money quote: “These reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR [Temporary to Permanent Resident] stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada.”

The former was a policy choice in order to meet the government’s fixation on meeting its target of 401,000; the latter reflected lack of foresight, common to many countries, and thus the need to deal with the crisis:

Canada’s immigration system for high-skilled workers is severely backlogged and even amidst a labour shortage, the government is pausing new invitations because the department simply can’t process them quickly enough, according to a briefing document.

Immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens obtained the document through access to information and provided it to the National Post. In the memo, department officials outline that “an estimated 76,000” applicants are in the inventory for federal high-skilled worker applications, which is more than what the government needs to meet targets all the way out to 2023.

The same memo says the express entry pool, which includes skilled workers, skilled trades and people with experience living in Canada, has more than 207,000 people in it.

Canada’s immigration plan has a variety of different classes, including skilled workers, provincial nominees, family reunification and refugees. The government has continued to process applicants nominated by the provinces, but other economic immigrants have been stalled since last fall.

People applying through the high skilled worker and trades program submit a variety of documents including a language test and then wait for an invitation to finish their application before it is processed.

With travel bans in place, high-skilled worker applications from overseas have been on pause since September 2021. Last year, the government still managed to hit its record-high immigration targets, but did so mostly by inviting people already in Canada on temporary permits or as students to become permanent residents through a new temporary resident to permanent resident program (TR2PR).

The government’s current immigration plan forecasts bringing in 110,500 skilled workers next year, but the department says in a memo that could have to be cut by as much as half, because the department has so much other work.

“These reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada,” reads the memo.

The Liberals initially pledged to bring 20,000 Afghans to Canada, but during the fall campaign doubled the pledge to 40,000. As of the most recent update 7,000 of them have arrived in Canada.

A new departmental immigration plan will be tabled in Parliament when the House of Commons resumes in February.

The department aims for a six-month processing time for federal skilled workers (FSW), but in the memo they warned that could rise dramatically.

“Processing times are currently at 20.4 months (over three times higher than the service standard) and are expected to continue to grow as older inventory is processed. The FSW processing time is expected to rise to 36 months throughout 2022.”

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was not available for an interview, but Rémi Larivière, a spokeswoman for the department, said the government will still bring in highly skilled workers, because so many are already in the queue.

“The already existing robust inventory of skilled candidates to process means that there won’t be a reduction in 2022 of the number of new skilled permanent residents arriving in Canada to work and settle,” she said in an email. “This pause is temporary; invitations to apply under the FHS streams will resume once the processing inventory is reduced enough to create space for new intake.”

Larivière said the fall fiscal update included measures to help reduce the backlog.

“The Government of Canada has proposed to provide $85 million in 2022-23 so it can process more permanent and temporary resident applications and reduce processing times in key areas affected by the pandemic.”

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, the party’s immigration critic, said the delays are unacceptable.

“The massive backlog the Liberal government has created at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is not only hurting hard-working newcomers, families, immigrants and business owners, it also threatens billions of dollars of much-needed economic growth in Canada,” he said in a statement.

He said employers need workers and the government has to act quickly.

“Immigrants and Canadian employers cannot wait three years to have Federal Skilled Worker applications processed. It’s time for the Liberals to announce a precise date for when the pause on processing federal skilled worker invitations will come to an end.”

A Business Development Bank of Canada study from last fall found 55 per cent of Canadian businesses were dealing with labour shortages. They found that number was as high as 80 per cent in hospitality type businesses.

Potential immigrants to Canada are scored based on their level of education, language proficiency and other measures under the government’s Comprehensive Ranking System. The memo outlines that with the current state of applications someone would need a score over 500.

Betsy Kane, an Ottawa Immigration lawyer, said that is a very high score.

“What that’s going to mean is basically a young couple with very high education for both applicant and the person concerned, potentially only with executive-type job offers,” she said. “What it’s telling you is that only basically power couples are going to be who’s going to benefit from the 500-plus scores.”

Kane said with this backlog there are also going to be a lot of people on work or study permits who will need extensions because their application hasn’t been processed.

The federal Liberals have set targets to bring in more than 400,000 immigrants a year. Kane said they need more than lofty goals.

”The department has the capacity to do it. It just needs tools.”

She said that should include getting people back into the office to process applications, many of which come in on paper.

“This department is an essential service just like Canada Revenue Agency and just like the Canada Border Services Agency,” she said. “These guys should be back in the office.”

Sergio Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said the department also has to start focusing more on what Canada’s employers need.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of adding personnel. I think it’s a matter of realigning priorities, and reassigning personnel to process the type of applications that the Canadian economy requires,” he said. “Employers are desperate for skilled trades for people who are highly skilled typically in the construction industry.”