CILA: IRCC is disadvantaging its clients with its new citizenship application process

My understanding, based on articles as well as discussions with immigration lawyers, is that citizenship is a relatively small part of their practice, given that immigration is vastly more complex with many more pathways and requirements, than citizenship which is a relatively simple program with most applications being straightforward.

Do we have any data on how many citizenship applicants engage a lawyer? A client-centric perspective, as advocated by CILA, would essentially do that for all but the more complex cases.

Needless to say, the policy and program objective should be to eliminate the need for counsel through simplification, streamlining and technology:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been beta testing a new Citizenship Portal which enables future new Canadians to submit their citizenship applications electronically. The ability to submit applications electronically should help reduce backlogs and speed up processing by removing the bottleneck caused by IRCC having to manually scan applications as they arrive in the mailroom. Electronically submitted applications can also more easily be resubmitted if found to be incomplete. For these reasons applications submitted through the Citizenship Portal are likely to be processed faster.

Under normal circumstances, the modernization of Canada’s immigration system at a time of historic backlogs should be celebrated. Regrettably, however, the creation of this portal is problematic since IRCC has once more made the deliberate choice to exclude those assisted by counsel. The beta version of the portal explicitly excluded all applicants who were represented by an authorized representative. Today, IRCC has amended the instructions on the Citizenship Portal, to permit applicants who are being assisted by a lawyer to use the portal, with one very large caveat.

Representatives are still not permitted to actually access the portal, input data, upload documents, or review applications for their client. IRCC’s expectation appears to be that representatives would screenshare while an applicant inputs the data and uploads the supporting documents themselves. The representative would have to rely on screenshots or what they are able to see via screensharing to ensure that the information is accurate. There is no way for a representative to ensure that the applicant has uploaded the correct supporting documents.

This latest iteration of the IRCC beta Citizenship Portal only does lip service to including counsel while still excluding them from actually being able to properly represent applicants and ensure that a complete and accurate application has been submitted. It also ensures that clients who need the most assistance, who do not have the language skills or technological savvy to use the portal on their own, are not able to benefit from this improved submission method. The courts understand the benefits representatives bring to their clients and the efficient operation of the justice system; why does IRCC not understand the benefits of including counsel?

From a representative’s perspective, the time involved in having to screenshare and talk an applicant through completing an application on their own, and the resulting additional expense to clients cannot be justified. Applicants share the most private details of their lives with their representatives, and so there is no reason that applicants should not be permitted to share their login credentials with their counsel provided there is a way that applicants can advise IRCC that they have used a representative, for example by including a Use of Representative Form (IMM5476), and requiring that clients confirm within the application that they and not the representative have reviewed and signed off on the information being submitted.

Authorized representatives had been promised that a representative portal for citizenship would be available early in 2022. However, it now appears that a representative portal will not be available any time soon. This means that applicants who are represented will either not be able to benefit from the new electronic portal, and will have to submit a paper application, or they will have to complete their applications largely on their own.

CILA also wishes to stress that Canadian citizenship applicants voluntarily choose to hire immigration lawyers. As anyone that has gone through the process before will tell you, applying for, and gaining Canadian citizenship is a defining life moment.

Due to the magnitude of this event, many citizenship applicants choose to hire an immigration lawyer for competent and professional representation. They hire a lawyer they can trust to submit a complete and accurate application to IRCC so that they can gain Canadian citizenship as quickly as possible. They understand fully that any error or omission in their application can delay the citizenship application process by months, or even worse, years. Hiring a lawyer that is familiar with the legal requirements, the forms and the documents needed not only offers peace of mind for an applicant but helps to ensure that the application is processed without delay and is ultimately successful. Using legal counsel conserves valuable department resources so that applications are not filed prematurely and are complete on submission.

At the end of the day, the exclusion of counsel is an access to justice issue. However, there is also a significant operational consideration at stake. Canada is currently grappling with a backlog of some 1.8 million applications, of which some 468,000 are Canadian citizenship applicants. It is in everyone’s best interests for IRCC to receive complete and accurate applications. As we all know too well, however, errors and omissions do occur during the application process which creates additional work and stress for all involved parties. In this vein, it is imperative for IRCC to see counsel as an ally in the shared pursuit of a fast and efficient immigration system. Enabling immigration lawyers to submit Canadian citizenship applications online increases the likelihood that IRCC will be able to render a decision at the first possible opportunity, and reduces the likelihood of unnecessary delays for clients and additional work for IRCC.

CILA expresses its disappointment that IRCC continues to exclude counsel despite a multitude of conversations and correspondence between the immigration bar and the department on this very issue throughout 2021. CILA has submitted letters to IRCC on this matter on August 5August 18, and October 27. Prior to that, the immigration bar has raised alarm on this matter, including in spring 2021 on how the exclusion of counsel would prejudice those looking to apply to the time-limited TR to PR pathways. The crux of the matter here is that IRCC continues to make the choice to disadvantage its own clients.

CILA wishes to offer two major recommendations to IRCC. First, keep your clients front-and-centre of all your modernization initiatives. Having a client-centric view will allow you to unveil modernizations which are inclusive to as many of your clients as possible at the outset, and avoids the creation of a two-tiered system, where some are disadvantaged. Second, consult with as many stakeholders as possible before going live with modernization initiatives; this includes beta testing portals with all stakeholders. Representatives are more effectively able to identify issues with new systems than applicants who only have experience with one application. Canada has a vibrant immigration ecosystem with plenty of stakeholders that can provide IRCC with beneficial guidance that will allow the department’s modernization efforts to be as successful as possible. Again, this will represent a win-win for both IRCC and its clients, including during life-defining events such as the Canadian citizenship uptake process.

Source: https://cila.co/ircc-is-disadvantaging-its-clients-with-its-new-citizenship-application-process/

Canada is refusing more study permits. Is new AI technology to blame?

Given the high volumes (which immigration lawyers and consultants benefit from), expanded use of technology and templates inevitable and necessary, although thorough review and safeguards necessary.

Alternate narrative, given reporting on abuse and exploitation of international students and the program itself (The reality of life in Canada for international students), perhaps a system generating more refusals has merit:

Soheil Moghadam applied twice for a study permit for a postgraduate program in Canada, only to be refused with an explanation that read like a templated answer.

The immigration officer was “not satisfied that you will leave Canada at the end of your stay,” he was told.

After a third failed attempt, Moghadam, who already has a master’s degree in electronics engineering from Iran, challenged the refusal in court and the case was settled. He’s now studying energy management at the New York Institute of Technology in Vancouver.

His Canadian lawyer, Zeynab Ziaie, said that in the past couple of years, she has noticed a growing number of study permit refusals like Moghadam’s. The internal notes made by officers reveal only generic analyses based on cookie-cutter language and often have nothing to do with the particular evidence presented by the applicant.

“We’re seeing a lot of people that previously would have been accepted or have really what we consider as complete files with lots of evidence of financial support, lots of ties to their home country. These kinds of files are just being refused,” said Ziaie, who added that she has seen more than 100 of these refusals in her practice in the past two years.

It’s a Microsoft Excel-based system called Chinook. 

Its existence came to light during a court case involving Abigail Ocran, a woman from Ghana who was refused a study permit by the Immigration Department.

Government lawyers in that case filed an affidavit by Andie Daponte, director of international-network optimization and modernization, who detailed the working and application of Chinook.

That affidavit has created a buzz among those practising immigration law, who see the new system — the department’s transition to artificial intelligence — as a potential threat to quality decision making, and its arrival as the harbinger of more troubling AI technology that could transform how immigration decisions are made in this country.

All eyes are now on the pending decision of the Ocran case to see if and how the court will weigh in on the use of Chinook. 


Chinook was implemented in March 2018 to help the Immigration Department handle an exponential growth in cases within its existing, and antiquated, Global Case Management System (GCMS).

Between 2011 and 2019, before everything slowed down during the pandemic, the number of visitor visa applications skyrocketed by 109 per cent, with the caseload of applications for overseas work permits and study permits up by 147 per cent and 222 per cent, respectively.

In 2019 alone, Daponte said in his affidavit, Canada received almost 2.2 million applications from prospective visitors, in addition to 366,000 from people looking to work here and 431,500 from would-be international students.

Meanwhile, the department’s 17-year-old GCMS system, which requires officers to open multiple screens to download different information pertaining to an application, has not caught up. Each time decision-makers move from screen to screen they must wait for the system to load, causing significant delays in processing, especially in countries with limited network bandwidth.

Chinook was developed in-house and implemented “to enhance efficiency and consistency, and to reduce processing times,” Daponte said.

As a result, he said, migration offices have generally seen an increase of between five per cent and 35 per cent in the number of applications they have been able to process.

Here’s how Chinook works: an applicant’s information is extracted from the old system and populated in a spreadsheet, with each cell on the same row filled with data from that one applicant — such as name, age, purpose of visit, date of receipt of the application and previous travel history.

Each spreadsheet contains content from multiple applicants and is assigned to an officer to enable them to use “batch processes.”

After the assessment of an application is done, the officer will click on the decision column to prompt a pop-up window to record the decision, along with a notes generator if they’re giving reasons in the case of a refusal.

(An officer can refuse or approve an application, and sometimes hold it for further information.)

When done, decision-makers click a button labelled “Action List,” which organizes data for ease of transfer into the old system. It presents the decision, reasons for refusal if applicable, and any “risk indicators” or “local word flags” for each application.

The spreadsheets are deleted daily after the data transfer for privacy concerns.

While working on the spreadsheet, said Daponte, decision-makers continue to have access to paper applications or electronic documents and GCMS if needed.

“Chinook was built to save decision-makers time in querying GCMS for application information and to allow for the review of multiple applications,” Daponte noted.

However, critics are concerned that the way the system is set up may be guiding the officers toward certain conclusions, giving them the option of not reviewing all the material presented in each case, and that it effectively shields much of the decision making from real scrutiny.

According to Daponte’s court affidavit, the notes generator presents standard language that immigration officers may select, review and modify to fit the circumstances of an application in preparing reasons for refusal. The function is there to “assist them in the creation of reasons.”

Ziaie believes that explains the templated reasons for refusals she’s been seeing.

“These officers are looking at a spreadsheet of potentially 100 different applicants. And those names don’t mean anything to the officers. You could mix up rows. You could easily make errors,” said the Toronto lawyer.

“There’s no way to go back and check that because these decisions end up with very similar notes that are generated right when they’re refused. So my concern is about accountability. Every time we have a decision, it has to make sense. We don’t know if they make mistakes.”

That’s why she and other lawyers worry the surge of study permit refusals is linked to the implementation of Chinook. 

In fact, that question was put to Daponte during the cross-examination in the Ocran case by the Ghanaian student’s lawyer, Edos Omorotionmwan.

Immigration data obtained by Omorotionmwan showed the refusal rate of student permit applications had gone from 31 per cent in 2016 to 34 per cent in 2018, the year Chinook was launched. The trend continued in 2019 to 40 per cent and reached 53 per cent last year.

“Is there a system within the Chinook software requiring some oversight function where there is some other person to review what a visa officer has come up with before that decision is handed over to the applicants?” asked Omorotionmwan.

“Within Chinook, no,” replied Daponte, who also said there’s no mechanism within this platform to track if an officer has reviewed all the support documents and information pertaining to an applicant’s file in the GCMS data.


“This idea of using portals and technology to speed up the way things are done is the reality of the future,” said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Will Tao, who has tracked the uses of Chinook and blogged about it.

“My concern as an advocate is: who did this reality negatively impact and what systems does it continue to uphold?”

Tao said the way the row of personal information is selected and set out in the Chinook spreadsheet “disincentivizes” officers to go into the actual application materials and support documents out of convenience.

“And then the officers are supposed to use those notes generators to justify their reasoning and not go into some of the details that you would like to see to reflect that they actually reviewed the facts of the case. The biggest problem I have is that this system has had very limited oversight,” he said.

“It makes it easier to refuse because you don’t have to look at all the facts. You don’t have to go through a deep, thoughtful analysis. You have a refusal notes generator that you can apply without having read the detailed study plans and financial documents.”

He points to Chinook’s built-in function that flags “risk factors” — such as an applicant’s occupation and intended employer’s information — for inconsistency in an application, as well as “local flag words” to triage and ensure priority processing of time-sensitive applications to attend a wedding or a funeral.

Those very same flag words used in the spreadsheet can also be misused to mark a particular group of applicants based on their personal profiles and pick them out for refusals, said Tao.

In 2019, in a case involving the revocation of citizenship to the Canadian-born sons of two Russian spies, the Supreme Court of Canada made a landmark ruling that helps guide judges to review the decisions of immigration officials.

In the unanimous judgment, Canada’s highest court ruled it would be “unacceptable for an administrative decision maker to provide an affected party formal reasons that fail to justify its decision, but nevertheless expect that its decision would be upheld on the basis of internal records that were not available to that party.”

Tao said he’s closely watching how the Ocran decision is going to shed light on the application of Chinook in the wake of that Supreme Court of Canada ruling over the reasonableness standard.

“Obviously, a lot of these applications have critical points that they get refused on and with the reasons being template and standard, it’s hard for reviewers to understand how that came to be,” he said.

In a response to the Star’s inquiry about the concerns raised about Chinook, the Immigration Department said the tool is simply to streamline the administrative steps that would otherwise be required in the processing of applications to improve efficiency.

“Decision makers are required to review all applications and render their decisions based on the information presented before them,” said spokesperson Nancy Caron.

“Chinook does not fundamentally change the way applications are processed, and it is always the officer that gives the rational for the decisions and not the Chinook tool.”

For immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo, Chinook is another step in the Immigration Department’s move toward digitalization and modernization.

Ottawa has been using machine learning technology since 2018 to triage temporary resident visa applications from China and India, using a “set of rules derived from thousands of past officer decisions” then deployed by the technology to classify applications into high, medium and low complexity.

Cases identified as low complexity and low risk automatically receive positive eligibility decisions, allowing officers to review these files exclusively on the basis of admissibility. This enables officers to spend more time scrutinizing the more complex files.

Chinook, said Bellissimo, has gone beyond the triage. He contends it facilitates the decision-making process by officers.

The use of templated responses from the notes generator makes the refusal reasons “devoid of meaning,” he noted.

“Eventually, do you see age discriminators put into place for study permits when anyone over the age of 30 is all automatically streamed to a different tier because they are less likely bona fide students? This is the type of stuff we need to know,” Bellissimo explained.

“When they’re just pulling standard refusal reasons and just slapping it in, then those decisions become more difficult to understand and more difficult to challenge. Who made the decision? Was technology used? And that becomes a problem.”

He said immigration officials need to be accountable and transparent to applicants about the use of these technologies before they are rolled out, not after they become an issue.

Petra Molnar, a Canadian expert specializing in migration and technology, said automated decision-making and artificial intelligence tools are difficult to scrutinize because they are often very opaque, including how they are developed and deployed and what review mechanisms, if any, exist once they are in use.

“Decisions in the immigration and refugee context have lifelong and life-altering ramifications. People have the right to know what types of tools are being used against them and how they work, so that we can meaningfully challenge these types of systems.”

Ziaie, the lawyer, said she understands the tremendous pressure on front-line immigration officers, but if charging a higher application fee — a study permit application now costs $150 — can help improve the service and quality of decisions, then that should be implemented.

“They should allocate a fair amount of that revenue toward trying to hire more people, train their officers better and give them more time to review the files so they actually do get a better success rate,” she said. “By that, I mean fewer files going to Federal Court.”

As a study permit applicant, Moghadam said it’s frustrating not to understand how an immigration officer reaches a refusal decision because so much is at stake for the applicant.

It took him two extra years to finally obtain his study permit and pursue an education in Canada, let alone the additional application fees and hefty legal costs.

“Your life is put on hold and your future is uncertain,” said the 39-year-old, who had a decade of work experience in engineering for both Iranian and international companies.

“There’s the time, the costs, the stress and the anxiety.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/11/15/canada-is-refusing-more-study-permits-is-new-ai-technology-to-blame.html

Federal immigration department employees reporting racist workplace behaviour, says survey

Looked at the IRCC 2020 Public Service Employee Survey results to help understand the context.

  • Q55 Harassment: With respect to having been a victim of harassment, IRCC is marginally better than PS average: 9 vs 11 percent, down from 11 vs 15 percent in 2018. With respect to types of harassment, IRCC generally tracks either close to the government-wide numbers or lower levels. In terms of resolution of harassment issues, IRCC also tracks government-wide numbers.
  • Q62 Discrimination: With respect to having been a victim of discrimination, IRCC numbers are the same as government-wide numbers: 7 percent, no change from 2018 IRCC numbers while the government-wide number was 8 percent. However, IRCC had a significantly higher percentage of race-based discrimination, 40 to 28 percent, a significant increase from 2018 27 percent, which may have prompted the focus group study. IRCC also had higher numbers with respect to discrimination based on national/ethnic origin, colour, but not with respect to religion. In terms of resolution of discrimination issues, IRCC also tracks government-wide numbers.
  • Q69 Victim satisfaction with resolution of discrimination complaints: No major difference but overall satisfaction (very strong, strong) is low at 8 percent.

IRCC, of course, will have this data disaggregated by visible minority group, likely highlighting some of the issues mentioned in the focus groups, which is informing its policies and practices. Expect to have my analysis of the overall government harassment and discrimination responses in a few weeks once survey demographic data up on open data:

A report examining workplace racism at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) describes repeated instances of employees and supervisors using offensive terms with their racialized colleagues.

The 20-page document, compiled by the public opinion research company Pollara Strategic Insights, was presented to IRCC in June and recently posted online.

The report is based on ten two-hour focus groups with 54 IRCC employees Pollara conducted for the department in March.

Multiple employees told Pollara they’d heard racist language used in the workplace. The report describes what it calls multiple reports of racist “microagressions” in the IRCC workplace, including:

  • Staff members describing a department section known for having a lot of racialized employees as “the ghetto.”
  • Staff members asking to touch a racialized employee’s hair, or mocking the hairstyles of racialized employees.
  • A manager calling Indigenous people lazy, or calling colonialism “good.”
  • “Widespread” references in the workplace to certain African nations as “the dirty 30.”

“You just feel like, now that I’m speaking out, am I also going to be looked like as one of those angry Black women for speaking up?” the report quotes one employee as saying.

Racialized employees also told Pollara they’ve been passed over for international assignments and “professional development opportunities.” The report says one manager claimed that their evaluation of a racialized employee was overridden “by someone above them to promote a non-racialized employee instead.”

Racialized IRCC staffers told Pollara that they’re marginalized in the workplace — kept in “precarious temporary contract positions disproportionately and for a long time” which prevent them from “advocating for their own rights” to promotion or from speaking out against racist incidents.

Pollara also said participants in the focus groups warned that racism in the workplace “can and probably must impact case processing.” They cited “discriminatory rules for processing immigration applications for some countries or regions,” including additional financial document requirements for applicants from Nigeria.

Source: Federal immigration department employees reporting racist workplace behaviour, says survey

PSES 2020 IRCC Link

Canada issues tender notice to improve face biometrics for immigration applications

Of note (passport has been using facial recognition technology for some time) as does NEXUS:

The Government of Canada has issued a tender notice inviting industry engagement to improve its biometric immigration system.

The document was published by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) on behalf of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

The Invitation to Qualify (ITQ) is the first phase of a two-phase procurement process, which will initially see suppliers of facial recognition technologies invited to pre-qualify in accordance with the terms and conditions of the ITQ.

Qualified Respondents will then be permitted to submit bids on any subsequent Request for Proposals (RFP) issued as part of the procurement process.

According to IRCC, the biometric system’s requirements should be a “reliable and accurate system for establishing and confirming a person’s identity throughout the passport program continuum,” considered as “an integral component of immigration and border decision-making processes.”

Furthermore, the facial recognition system should also include both a front-end component with a user interface and a back-end component. The former will be used by IRCC to collect, enter, and view biographical and biometric data, as well as passport and potential passport clients, while the latter should store databases, tables, algorithms, permissions, code, IT and security rules, and infrastructures.

The back-end system will be also responsible to perform the validation, transformation, and dissemination and integration of face biometrics data in alignment with Government of Canada IT guidelines.

The first phase of the tender notice will end on 9 November. The full text of the document is available in both English and French.

The publication of the new tender comes months after a similar one the Government of Canada posted in July for biometric capture solutions for IRCC.

Source: Canada issues tender notice to improve face biometrics for immigration applications

Canada accepted 7,300 more immigration applications due to technical bug

Shouldn’t have happened but good that IRCC accepted the invitations (of course, in current context of government target of 400,000 new Permanent Residents, doesn’t hurt):

A bug in the Canadian immigration system led to the government accepting an additional 7,307 immigration applications, surpassing the imposed limit.

This comprised files from international graduate stream applicants aspiring to change their temporary visa status to permanent residency.

Glitch led system to accept 7,307 applications over the limit

Canadian immigration law typically sets an annual limit for the number of immigration applications that can be accepted in a year under each route.

For example, eligible international graduates in Canada can apply to adjust their temporary residency status to permanent residence (PR) via an online application.

For 2021, the international graduate stream had an upper cap of 40,000 applications. However, a bug in the online system led to the acceptance of thousands of excess applications over the limit.

cic upper limit on applications
CIC upper limit on PR applications under each route

BleepingComputer reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to learn more:

“Due to a technical issue, IRCC received applications above the limit for the international graduate stream of the temporary pathway to permanent residence,” Philippe Couvrette, a government spokesperson told BleepingComputer.

The bug also caused the system to treat multiple applications as a single one:

“In some cases where two or more applications were submitted simultaneously, the electronic application system counted them as a single application.”

“As a result, the electronic application system accepted approximately 7,300 applications above the 40,000 limit for this stream,” continued Couvrette.

Minister enacts temporary policy to accept excess applications

Shelby Thevenot, editor of CIC News who first reported on the technical glitch shared additional insights with BleepingComputer.

In an internal memo shared with BleepingComputer, the government department requested Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to allow for the excess applications to be processed as normal.

Without ministerial approval, as the current law dictates, applications accepted in excess due to the glitch would normally have been returned to the applicants, along with the fees.

The minister approved the policy on June 28th this year, allowing for the 7,307 extra applications above of the annual limit to be considered.

The move saved the applicants from unnecessary penalties and inconvenience caused by no fault of their own.

“IRCC is processing the applications received above the limit to ensure the 7,300 applicants are not penalized due to a system error. IRCC also made changes to the system to make sure this no longer happens,” Couvrette further told BleepingComputer.

The government agency said it is committed to delivering quality client service across its global network by making their programs and services more efficient, clear and consistent.

As more people come to Canada and application volumes continue to rise, IRCC must keep improving its operations and provide timely and efficient service to attract more immigrants and visitors and remain globally competitive, says the department.

“IRCC has been moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally.”

“We move applications around our global network to ensure they are processed as efficiently as possible, which means applications may not be processed at or decided upon by decision makers at the office closest to where a client lives, or where an application is submitted,” concluded IRCC in their email to BleepingComputer.

IRCC is expected to enact a separate public policy for processing applications from persons requiring accommodation, details of which are to be announced.

Temporary residents and international students wanting to assess their eligibility towards one or more immigration streams can check out the online eligibility tool.

Source: Canada accepted 7,300 more immigration applications due to technical bug

Contrasting articles: New paths to permanent residency for Hong Kong students and workers not enough: advocates, Ottawa warned to not assume Hong Kongers are innocent of charges

Starting with the advocates:

UBC law student Davin Wong has many friends who are excited about two new paths to permanent residency for Hong Kong students and workers with temporary resident status in Canada.

Ottawa announced the new paths last week, saying it is “deeply concerned” by China’s imposing of a national security law and the “deteriorating” human rights situation in Hong Kong.

Source: New paths to permanent residency for Hong Kong students and workers not enough: advocates

And a note of caution from IRCC officials:

Canadian immigration officials warned the federal government in an internal memo last year against assuming protest-related charges faced by Hong Kongers seeking entry to Canada are bogus accusations fabricated by the city’s Beijing-backed authorities.

This internal caution, which was provided to The Globe and Mail, is different from the Canadian government’s public messaging on the crackdown on the former British colony. Ottawa routinely says it stands “shoulder to shoulder with the people of Hong Kong.” The consensus among human rights groups is that many of the arrests and charges laid against Hong Kong protesters have been unjustified.

A report from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Hong Kong office advises Ottawa not to consider Hong Kongers innocent if they apply for visas or asylum but have protest-related charges. “It cannot be assumed that charges are politicized or trumped up by authorities; there have been shocking images of violent attacks during confrontations,” the report says.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-morning-update-ottawa-warned-to-not-assume-hong-kongers-are-innocent/

Immigration applicants forced to file access to information requests to get answers on status: report

Hopefully, the GCMS modernization announced in Budget 2021 will enable this through an expanded MyAccount portal with increased functionality to both improve applicant service as well as reduce ATIP requests and costs:

The federal department in charge of immigration applications has been flooded with access to information requests because it provides so little information to applicants proactively, according to a new report by the Information Commissioner.

Have you applied to immigrate in Canada and want to know the status of your application? Or maybe your request was denied and you want to understand why? Well, instead of being able to see that information via your unique login on Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) Web portal, you have to file an access to information request (ATIP).

Source: Immigration applicants forced to file access to information requests to get answers on status: report

For the IRCC response, see: IRCC launches efforts to streamline and modernize access to information and privacy system and the related Management Action Plan.

When they came to power in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to ‘build a government that looks like Canada.’ Now those words have slowly been transformed into actions

Nice profile of a former IRCC colleague and her leadership in anti-Black racism both within IRCC and more broadly.

The percentage of visible minority executives is incorrectly stated at 4.6%, not the 11.1% in the latest employment equity report (for the numbers, see https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2020/what-new-disaggregated-data-tells-us-about-federal-public-service-diversity/):

As she watched the George Floyd story and anti-Black-racism movement unfolding worldwide last summer, Farah Boisclair emailed her colleagues at Canada’s immigration department and called a town-hall meeting to talk about racism.

“I was going through a lot of emotions showing up to work. There’s a global movement and it was plastered all over the media, but no one was talking about it at work,” says Boisclair, director of the anti-racism task force at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Part of me saddened, part of me frustrated. Why isn’t anybody saying anything? That’s when I woke up and said, ‘You are a leader. You have the power. You have people who work with you, who look like you and who may be feeling a certain way, like you.”

With the blessing of her boss, she made her first presentation to more than 300 of her colleagues on topics such as experiences of microaggression, white privilege and racism.

Boisclair, whose mother is Haitian and father Guyanese, is now a member of the Federal Speakers’ Forum on Diversity and Inclusion, a platform where public servants share their lived experience with colleagues and management.

Trying to have a conversation about race and racism is tough, let alone at work in a professional setting. However, it’s one of the many initiatives the federal government is banking on in its attempts to make strides in creating and promoting a diverse and inclusive public service.

Earlier this year, with little fanfare, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat unveiled the government’s priorities to increase diversity in hiring and appointments within the public service — a commitment that was reaffirmed in the federal budget in April.

Collecting and breaking down its employee data by disability, ethnic backgrounds and executive roles, and ensuring the statistics are made public;

Launching the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to lead and keep track of departments and agencies in their efforts to address systemic racism and boost diversity representation through collaboration with diverse community groups;

Revamping the government’s existing mentorship program and starting a sponsorship program to groom civil servants from under-represented groups into leadership and executive roles in their organizations; and

Setting up a speakers’ bureau, to help raise awareness about diversity and inclusion within the public service through a roster of speakers who share their experience across departments and ministries.

“There is good momentum across the government and a desire to make significant progress on diversity and inclusion,” said Paule-Anny Pierre, executive director of the new Centre for Diversity and Inclusion.

“Our actions will help ensure that decisions, initiatives and programs across the public service foster and promote a workplace that is respectful, diverse and inclusive, that represents the population it serves and that enables each employee to feel valued and contribute at their full potential.”

There’s a lot of work to be done to boost diversity in the public service, especially among those in the leadership roles. The latest government data shows visible minorities made up only 4.6 per cent of all executives and Blacks accounted for 1.6 per cent in those roles. [Note: Correct figure is 11.1 percent]

The 2020 Public Service Employee Survey, its results released in May, also added new questions to measure employees’ perceptions of anti-racism in the workplace.

Almost 80 per cent of the 188,786 respondents said they would feel free to speak about racism in the workplace without fear of reprisal and felt comfortable sharing concerns about issues related to racism in the workplace with a person of authority.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Boisclair said no one around her worked for government. However, a co-op opportunity with the federal government while studying finance at the University of Ottawa opened the door for her.

In her 13 years with the government, she has worked in various departments, including Industry Canada (now Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada), Natural Resources Canada and Infrastructure Canada.

On many occasions, she said, she would find herself one of the few or the only person who was a visible minority in her teams.

“I felt hyperaware of myself in these environments. I was constantly like, ‘Be careful what you say, be careful what you do, be careful how you interact.’ With that, I think, I held myself back a lot (in terms of) speaking up on my ideas and my thoughts,” said Boisclair.

“It’s very much like: ‘I’m here to do a job. They’re going to tell me what to do and I’m going to do it.’ … I knew I was different from the others. You don’t want to stick out too much. You try to go along to get along.”

As a Black woman, Boisclair said, she has experienced microaggression at work many times and felt invisible in board rooms.

“I will be joined by a white colleague, a woman around the same age, same group in level, both managers from the same team. I remember the treatment of my colleague when I was working with her for three years, it was very different,” she recalled.

“When we’d go to meetings together, I felt like it’s her race and even the standard of beauty in the North American context, she got very different treatment, more eye contact, more interaction with her. It’s hard and you don’t want it to get into your head.”

The experience, she said, made her feel less important and less valued.

Although the faces in the rank and file of the federal public service are changing, she said all her managers, until now, were predominantly white.

Periodically, Boisclair would have a mentor in her department but only recently was she assigned a Black woman as her official sponsor at work.

“It’s really important to have mentors from different groups and genders, because they each offer different perspectives and each can relate to you on different levels,” she said.

“I have had mentors who professionally give you really good advice but when it came to some of those deeper conversations about race and my identity in the workplace, that’s a bit tough with the white mentors,” she noted.

Dahabo Ahmed Omer, a policy development and employment equity expert, says mentorship/sponsorship and speakers’ bureau initiatives are important tools in building understanding and trust in order to create awareness and cultural change within the organization.

A former human resources specialist with the federal government herself, Ahmed Omer said government mandates, strategies and practices are set by senior leaders who play a key role in the building of an inclusive public service.

“There’s the history of slavery, anti-Indigenous racism. You build trust by listening actively and by implementing solutions that directly come from the community,” said Ahmed Omer, now the executive director of BlackNorth Initiative, an effort led by the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism.

“The voices of the most marginalized have to be at the forefront.”

Organizations must pick the right mentors, give access to as many mentees as possible and make sure the under-represented groups have opportunities to apply what they’ve learned so they can seize those opportunities when they arise at work, she noted.

From reviewing staffing plans to budget priorities and resource allocations through a diversity lens, Ahmed Omer said the effort must be “deliberate” and she is liking the federal plan she has seen so far.

Boisclair said she is grateful to have a sponsor at work, who gives her pointers in her career development, sends her articles to inspire and equip her, expand her network and champion her in the immigration department, which had 8,500 employees in 2020.

Last year, after seeing her anti-racism presentation with her staff, her sponsor invited her to speak to a couple of dozen deputy ministers from different departments in October. Since then, she has done about 25 townhalls within the federal public sector to share her experience and stories.

These conversations are difficult, said Boisclair, because they are “too raw” for a lot of people.

“You are talking about deep, deep, deep emotions, trauma and, in a lot of cases, some people just don’t know how to deal with emotions in the workplace. When some of the people are sharing some of the more intimate experiences, it’s hard,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t want to deal with the feelings of guilt. People don’t like to get uncomfortable,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense for them. Why would I put myself in an uncomfortable position?”

The experience from these candid conversations has also been refreshing and empowering.

“At the time, I was feeling like, I’m just tired of putting on a filter. I need to show my lived experience as a woman, as a Black person, as a Canadian, the full essence of who I am. That doesn’t often happen at the workplace for racialized people,” said Boisclair.

“I have had these dialogues for many, many years in close circles at home. You would never, never have these conversations at work. For me, it’s time to open people’s minds up to the reality of systemic racism and the harmful impacts of it.”

While these conversations, along with the mentorship/sponsorship program, can drive awareness of racial understanding and organizational cultural change, Ryerson University professor Wendy Cukier says disaggregated data can provide the barometer to identify gaps and measure results.

“We need good data to tracking things like what works and what doesn’t work. We need to apply the same gender and diversity lens to how government spends money and who it’s serving. There’s the inward piece but also the outward reaching piece,” said Cukier, founder and academic director at Ryerson’s Diversity Institute.

“It’s not that anybody deliberately puts up bars or gates, but you need the data to see if certain segments of the population are applying for jobs in my department and what I can do to increase engagement.”

The latest statistics on employment equity populations published by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provide a glimpse at the diversity representation of the federal public service:

Overall, visible minorities made up 656 or 4.6 per cent of all executives;

Black people made up 96 or 1.6 per cent of all executives;

Indigenous peoples made up 239 or 4.1 per cent of all executives;

There were 1,387 persons with disabilities working in administrative support, which was 7 per cent of all these employees; and

People who are blind or visually impaired made up 767 or 0.4 per cent of all employees.

“Leaders have to represent the people they are leading, otherwise they are not going to be very effective. When organizations have leaders who look like the people they are leading, they have higher levels of engagement,” said Cukier.

“People tend to associate with people who look like them. If you’re from a racialized population, you are less likely to have a social network that will help you understand the unspoken rules that will mentor you and promote you at work.”

Cukier said the dominant group in the workforce should not feel threatened fearing that the progress for their under-represented peers will be made at their expense, given the civil service is full of boomers, many of them will be retiring in the near future.

“There is a huge challenge in digital and technological transformation in the public sector, which has one of the most acute skill shortages. This is not a question of new people pushing the established group out, this is a question of meeting concrete need for skills and new thinking,” she said.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to rely on the same kind of people if your goal is to drive transformation. We know there’s a strong link between diversity and innovation.”

Quebec MP Greg Fergus, parliamentary secretary to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, agreed.

“You don’t make this a ‘I win, you lose’ kind of equation. It’s not an ‘either or.’ It’s a ‘both and.’ We all benefit by growing the pie. We’re better together,” said Fergus. “This is not about cutting anybody’s career short. This is about building a more resilient public service.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/05/23/when-they-came-to-power-in-2015-the-trudeau-liberals-promised-to-build-a-government-that-looks-like-canada-now-those-words-have-slowly-been-transformed-into-actions.html

Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Needed modernization:

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process immigration applications more quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a new system.

The federal government pledged in the 2021 budget to spend $428.9 million over the next five years to deliver the platform that would gradually replace the existing case management system.

The new platform will launch in 2023 to improve application processing and provide more support for applicants, the government said.

Alexander Cohen, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said the new system is part of a wider shift towards digital platforms across the department and government.

“Alberta for a long time — my home province here — their provincial nomination system was purely paper-based. But then, in the past couple years, they decided to integrate their provincial nominee system with the Canadian federal government system.”

He said almost half of all immigrants who arrive in Canada under economic class programs come through sub-provincial programs.

“The actual larger issue here, I would say, is actually federalism, and maybe to align the provincial and federal governments on the issue of immigration,” he said.

Andrew Griffith, a former director of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department, said it has tried to simplify the process recently by allowing more online transmission of documents.

“These changes are not that easy to implement overnight,” he said.

Griffith said Ottawa’s promise to spend close to a half billion dollars to put in place a new immigration application processing system will be an interesting one to watch because implementing big IT projects presents challenges for the government.

The department should find ways to get rid of any duplication and overlap that may exist in the current immigration system, he said.

“Do we need all those steps? Can some of these steps be automated? Can we use (artificial intelligence) to make determinations?”

Cohen said the immigration department launched in 2018 two pilot projects using computer analytics to help immigration officers triage some online visa applications.

“This computer analytics technology analyzes data and recognizes patterns in applications to help identify routine and complex cases,” he said.

“The goal is to help officers to identify applications that are routine and straightforward for thorough but faster processing, and to triage files that are more complex for a more extensive review.”

He said all decisions on every application are made by a visa officer in all cases and the department’s artificial intelligence tools are not used to render decisions.

“We’re always looking to leverage technology to improve the process for Canadians and those who wish to come here.”

Source: Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program are being forced to navigate the system alone, critics charge

Will be an interesting and important test of IRCC’s modernization efforts. We will see whether the fears of immigration lawyers and consultants are overblown or whether IRCC can design pathways and processes that many can navigate on their own.

Not to be cynical, but simplification in any area or online tools (e.g., will and tax software) often prompt fears of lawyers, accountants and other professionals who benefit from complexity:

With Canada’s highly anticipated special immigration program set to open Thursday, experts say they’re worried about the potential for chaos.

Immigration lawyers briefed about the new program and its portal say they’ve been told applicants must create their own accounts, complete the online application and upload all required documents on their own — without professional legal help.

“There are different forms they need to fill out about family information, travel history, all the (previous) addresses, work history and study periods. They require all the forms and documentations upfront, just shy of the medical and police clearances,” said Toronto lawyer Barbara Jo Caruso.

“Everything needs to be labelled, uploaded and properly attached. If they are not done properly, they will be deemed incomplete and refused.”

The applications are being taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if an application is incomplete or an applicant is ineligible, once it’s logged into the portal, it’s counted toward the 90,000 cap under this new program. The system will stop accepting applications once that cap is reached.

Lawyers and consultants asked during the briefing if the portal would reopen if many applicants turned out to be ineligible, but they said immigration officials didn’t have an answer.

The one-time-only immigration pathway, announced in April, aims to grant permanent residence to 90,000 applicants comprising recent international graduates and temporary foreign workers with experience in health-care and essential occupations.

These already-in-Canada candidates have been prioritized to help the country meet its 410,000 annual immigration targets amid uncertainty given the ongoing COVID-19 border restrictions.

The new pathway has already created a buzz — and frenzy — among candidates who have found themselves scrambling to register for one of the two government-designated language tests required to prove language proficiency in their application. (Details about the application process have yet to be published.)

Authorized lawyers and consultants have previously had their own portals with the immigration department that they use to complete and submit applications on behalf of clients.

However, the new stand-alone portal for the new pathway only allows applicants to log in through their personal email and there’s no interface to link their account to their counsel.

“If your whole future depends on this whole process, you want to be fair, you want to be understanding, you want people to have experience in working in the government portal to assist you,” Caruso said.

“It’s tedious work. Government technology is not user-friendly at the best of times, let alone when you are under pressure. There’s a cap and you want to make sure you’re the first one in.”

Among the 90,000 spots of the new program, 20,000 will be dedicated for temporary foreign workers in health care; 30,000 for those in other selected essential occupations; and the remaining 40,000 for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

Many of the essential workers will likely have to take time off from work and spend hours to figure out the new pathway application process.

“They are the essential workers. They are the people driving trucks. They’re the people on the front line in the health-care system,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Ravi Jain.

“Many people will apply even if they don’t have their language test results. They are just going to ignore the instructions and hit the submit button. Every time you hit ‘submit,’ you take a spot.”

Last year, the federal government got rid of its first-come-first-serve system for Canadians to sponsor their parents and grandparents abroad as permanent residents after public outrage that the available spots were snapped up within minutes.

It prompted Ottawa to re-introduce a lottery system, in which interested sponsors are now required to first register to enter into the draw, then submit a full sponsorship application if they are selected after duplicate and incomplete forms are weeded out.

“The reality is there are always going to be people who are going to be harmed no matter what direction it goes. There’s a race to file. There are so many things that could go wrong. But then what are the alternatives?” said Mark Holthe, chair of the Canadian Bar Association immigration law section.

“There’s a lot of little nuances with the application that people won’t understand. I envision that we could have up to 20 per cent or even 30 per cent of spoiled applications that people are ineligible who are using up the capped spots.”

Holthe, who started an online course in April to help applicants manoeuvre the basics of the immigration portal, expects the application package for the new pathway to be comparable to the existing one for the immigration of skilled workers.

Anyone interested in applying should start compiling and scanning documentations such as copies of their passports, work permits, reference letters and employment records as these are likely what would be required in the application, he suggested.

There is still time for the immigration department to get the process “right,” says Kareem El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at CanadaVisa.com.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada deserves credit for trying to accommodate more essential workers and graduates during this crisis,” he said. “But they need to be careful about dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s before they launch the (pathway) streams.”

Alexander Cohen, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s press secretary, said his office is aware of the concerns raised regarding the access to the new portal.

“We remain in close contact with several key stakeholders and are looking into this,” Cohen told the Star.

Source: Applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program are being forced to navigate the system alone, critics charge