Canada has turned back 4,400 asylum seekers in 5 years

Of note. A bit less than the 55,000 or so that crossed the border:

Canada has turned away at least 4,400 asylum seekers at the U.S. border since 2016 — including some who were hoping to find refuge here at the height of the global pandemic — according to newly released government figures.

Nearly half of those trying to enter Canada over that five-year period made the attempt in the year after U.S. President Donald Trump took office, according to figures released in response to a parliamentary request from NDP MP Jenny Kwan.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which has been in effect since 2004, Canada and the U.S. consider each other to be “safe countries” for refugees and require them to make their claims in the country they arrive in first.

The agreement has long faced criticism and legal challenges from refugee advocacy groups, who say the agreement is an inhumane way to limit the number of people Canada accepts as refugees. They say the U.S. is not a safe country for all refugees and that the dangers they face have increased under the Trump administration.

The federal government is appealing a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that found the STCA infringed Charter rights.

The figures provided to Kwan show there was a spike in the number of asylum seekers turned back at the border after Trump was elected in 2016 and took office in 2017.

In 2016 there were 742 people turned back at the border. That figure jumped to 1,992 in 2017. There were 744 denied entry in 2018 and 663 in 2019.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 23 this year — a period which captures the height of the first wave of COVID-19 — 259 people were turned back at the border.

‘Even more precarious’

Kwan called that “really disturbing.”

“In the face of a pandemic, things are even more precarious for people who need to get to safety and Canada actually did not hesitate to turn people back,” she said.Kwan said the Trump administration imposed detention and deportation policies that violated international human rights and provoked widespread fear among refugees. By turning away asylum seekers, Canada is “complicit” in the violation of their rights, she said.

Kwan said Canada should immediately suspend the STCA and work to negotiate a new agreement with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden that addresses human rights issues. But she said the “aggressive and intense” detention policies could linger.

“I think even with the Biden administration, that policy may still continue to exist, and even if the Biden administration wants to make changes, it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said the government appealed the Federal Court ruling because it believes there were errors in key findings of fact and law.

She said the decision mistakenly suggests that all asylum claimants who are ineligible under the STCA and turned back to the U.S. are automatically detained as a penalty. She also noted that the U.S. remains a party to the UN Refugee Convention.

Refugee pact ‘fair, compassionate’: Blair spokesperson

“The STCA, which has served Canada well for 16 years, ensures that those whose lives are in danger are able to claim asylum at the very first opportunity in a safe country,” she said.

“We are in continuous discussions with the U.S. government on issues related to our shared border. We believe that the STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle for the fair, compassionate and orderly handling of asylum claims in our two countries.”

As for the spike in numbers in 2017, Power said that 2017-2018 recorded the highest number of globally displaced individuals since the Second World War.

Justin Mohammed, human rights law and policy campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said a number of factors could have driven that sharp increase, including global patterns and Trump’s policies.

He said Canada should be fulfilling its international obligations under international refugee law at all times — even during a pandemic, when safety concerns are heightened.

Mohammed pointed to exemptions made for students, family reunification and other immigration classes that allow people to arrive in Canada despite travel restrictions.

“Why are refugees being excluded from that? They’re able to quarantine or be required to have a quarantine plan just like anyone else … so why is there not the ability to be able to provide protection?” he said.

Partial picture

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the 2020 figures represent only a partial picture of the people turned back to the U.S. because of added restrictions after the border closed March 20.

At that time, refugee claimants were denied entry on public health grounds whether they arrived at an official point of entry or at another crossing — such as Roxham Road in Quebec — where the STCA does not normally apply.

Despite assurances the Canadian government says it received from the U.S. that refugee claimants directed back would not be subject to enforcement such as detention or removal, Dench said refugee advocates in Canada know of at least two people who were detained in the U.S. after being directed back.

Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said the Liberal record on administering the refugee and asylum system was one of “mismanagement, years-long backlogs and failure,” even before the pandemic.

“Conservatives have long been calling on the government to close illegal border crossings and work with their American counterparts to close the longstanding loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement so that refugee and asylum seekers have a fair, compassionate and effective pathway to come to Canada,” she said in a statement.

Source: Canada has turned back 4,400 asylum seekers in 5 years

Ibbitson: COVID-19 is severing a lifeline of immigration Canada needs to survive. Here’s what we can do to repair it

Ibbitson makes the case to accelerate the transition of temporary residents to Permanent Residents, as they are already in Canada and thus travel restrictions are not an issue.

To a certain extent, this is already happening. This past June, almost 70 percent of new Permanent Residents were previously temporary residents. July numbers should be out sometime next week.

However, once we get through the “inventory” of qualified temporary residents, the lack of new arrivals will become more of an issue:

Tens of thousands of future Canadians are missing. Because of closed borders brought on by COVID-19, only a fraction of those who were supposed to become new permanent residents this year and next will actually arrive.

This country relies on immigrants to sustain its population and expand its economy. But Canada admitted only 34,000 permanent residents in the second quarter of this year, down 67 per cent from the same period in 2019. Most new permanent residents were already in Canada on work or study permits.

And lockdowns and closed visa offices overseas could suppress immigration for years to come.

There is a fix, though only for the short term. Tens of thousands of international students, temporary foreign workers and asylum claimants who are in Canada right now could be fast-tracked to permanent residency.

“We’ve got all these people that are here,” Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said in an interview. “And if we give them permanent residence, they’re going to be able to contribute to Canada. So we end up benefiting from it.”

Converting students, temporary foreign workers and asylum claimants into permanent residents could ease the shortfall of immigrants until Ottawa can get the overseas applications process back on stream, air travel fully resumes and barriers between countries come down.

If they come down.

In an August report, the International Organization for Migration warned “the age of migration itself may now be coming to an end.” More than 90 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with pandemic-related restrictions on new arrivals.

A recent report from the Royal Bank of Canada estimated that, best case, immigration in 2020 will be down 30 per cent from the target of 341,000 set by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“The worry is that what happens in the short run may turn into the long run,” said Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist at the bank and author of the report.

Consider the situation of international students. There were 642,000 of them studying in Canada in 2019. Only the United States and Australia take in more foreign students. As well as contributing $22-billion to the Canadian economy and helping to sustain 170,000 jobs, they serve as one of the main sources of new permanent residents each year. But not this year. In the second quarter, the Immigration department issued just over 10,000 new study permits, compared with 107,000 a year earlier.

The University of Waterloo, with its strong reputation in engineering and computer sciences, plays host to about 7,000 international students each year, along with about 35,000 Canadian students.

But apart from the roughly 2,000 students who are already here, almost all foreign students will be taking their courses online from their home country, said Christine McWebb, the university’s assistant vice-president responsible for international operations.

Those international students who are in Canada and wish to remain provide a pool of applicants who could be fast-tracked to permanent residency. And those who can’t get here this year can be encouraged to come as soon as conditions permit.

Ottawa agrees. Last week, the Immigration department announced new measures that will make it easier for students to study from abroad while still being able to later obtain a work permit in Canada.

Another potential pool of permanent residents can be found among temporary foreign workers. Although the federal government took special measures to ensure agricultural workers were admitted this year, TFW permits were down about 50 per cent in the second quarter. These workers are critical to sustaining not just agriculture, but health care, construction, transportation and other sectors.

“We call them temporary foreign workers but the work they are doing is neither temporary nor superfluous,” said Usha George, director of the Centre for Immigration and Settlement at Ryerson University. “These people are called unskilled, but they are essential workers.”

A third group of potential permanent residents might be more problematic, at least to some.

In 2019, just over 16,500 people sought asylum in Canada by making use of unauthorized border crossings, such as Roxham Road in Quebec. But as of the end of July, this year, just over 3,100 asylum seekers had been intercepted by the RCMP, owing to the closing of the border between Canada and the U.S. and the severe reduction in international travel.

The majority of claims referred to the Refugee Protection Division are eventually approved, although the process can take years. Many claimants are already working. They speak or are learning English or French, have housing, and have forged ties within the community. Expediting their claims would provide new permanent residents to make up for those not arriving from overseas, while eliminating the backlog.

“We’d be better off saving the money of the refugee claim process,” Ms. Dench said. “And the sooner they can obtain permanent residence, the sooner they can get on with their lives and really contribute to Canadian society.”

Ottawa has already announced that some asylum claimants working in the health sector may apply to become permanent residents.

Immigrants to Canada tend to be better educated than the native-born and they start more businesses. As Canada’s population ages, they will be vital to providing both the labour and the taxes needed to care for older citizens.

With luck, either a vaccine or effective treatments will arrive next year, weakening the impact of COVID-19 to the point where borders can reopen. In the meantime, the opportunity exists to convert as many students, foreign workers and asylum seekers into permanent residents as possible, to make up for the shortfall.

Whatever their background, we can expect the new arrivals will make splendid Canadians. They almost always do.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-covid-19-is-severing-a-lifeline-of-immigration-canada-needs-to-survive/

Liberals repeal Conservative immigrant residency requirement targeting marriage fraud

Balance of risks but tend to share Dench’s view that marriage fraud was blown out of proportion, reflecting a few high profile cases:

The Liberal government is repealing a measure brought in by the Conservatives that required newcomers to live with their sponsoring spouse for two years or face deportation.

The conditional permanent residency status policy, which kicked in October 2012, was designed to clamp down on marriage fraud. But immigrant advocates said it had the effect of trapping some people in violent, abusive relationships.

Scrapping the two-year probation for permanent residency checks off another 2015 Liberal campaign promise, which the government signalled it would pursue last fall.

According to the Privy Council Office website, the cabinet decision was formally taken April 13 and will be published on May 3 in the Canada Gazette, the government’s official newsletter.

A formal government announcement on the change is expected Friday.

Under the Conservative policy, sponsored spouses and partners were given a status of “conditional” permanent residence, and were required to cohabit and remain in a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for two years. If they didn’t, their status could be revoked, leading to deportation.

At the time, former immigration minister Jason Kenney said the change targeted con artists who dupe Canadians into marriage then dump them once they get to Canada. The measure was also designed to deal with “marriages of convenience,” where two persons pretend to be in love for one to gain entry to Canada, often in exchange for money.

Exemptions for abuse

The probation policy allowed for exemptions when there was abuse or neglect by the sponsor, but Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees said many people didn’t understand the process. They remained trapped in violent relationships, while others who applied for an exception found the ordeal excruciating.

“They often end up getting the exception, but it’s a very difficult process, retraumatizing people who are already broken down by the panic of correspondence and interviews and having to go through everything that they suffered,” she told CBC News.

Dench said reports of fraudulent marriage have been blown out of proportion, and noted there are already provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to crack down on people who misrepresent themselves or make false claims.

But Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said the 2012 policy was brought in to address a real problem of marriage fraud, and called the Liberal move to repeal it a “giant step backward.”

“I think it’s the wrong approach,” she said. “I think it erodes public confidence in the integrity of the immigration system and it puts vulnerable persons at greater risk.”

Source: Liberals repeal Conservative immigrant residency requirement targeting marriage fraud – Politics – CBC News

Refugee claims at Canada-U.S. border have doubled over past 2 years

Will likely be an ongoing challenge under the Trump administration:

The number of refugee claims made at the border has more than doubled over the past two years, surging to 7,023 in 2016, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

By comparison, 4,316 people sought refugee status in Canada at land border crossings in 2015 and another 3,747 did in 2014.

But the spike isn’t unusual and represents a return to the volume of refugees Canada has previously received, said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees.

land border refugee claims

“The numbers may look high, but that is because the range you are looking at is one where Canada has been receiving unusually low numbers of claimants,” Dench said in an email interview, noting that there were more than 8,000 land border claims made annually from 1999 to 2004.

“So in the longer perspective, 7,000 is not a very large number,” Dench explained.

Canada changed the way it receives refugees in 2004 with the introduction of the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. The agreement says that people seeking protection must make their claim in the first country they arrive in. Canada must accordingly send asylum seekers trying to cross at the border back to the U.S.

21.3 million refugees around the world

In 2016, the largest group of people making refugee claims at border crossings in Canada came from Colombia, followed by Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Burundi. There were 21.3 million refugees around the globe in 2015, according to the United Nations.

Lorne Waldman, a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in immigration and refugee law, attributes the recent rise to geopolitical instability. For example, there was a dramatic rise in Turkish refugee claims in Canada following the coup in Turkey.

“The numbers tell stories and the stories are really related to what’s happening politically,” he said, noting that Canada observed a rise in Pakistani refugee seekers that arrived via the U.S. following the Sept. 11 attacks.

land border claims

Waldman said the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to crack down on immigration and recently tried to enact a controversial travel ban restricting travel from seven Muslim majority countries, likely contributed to the bump.

“As the situation deteriorates in the U.S., the likelihood that we’re going to see more people crossing is very high,” he said.

But, Waldman noted that there has long been a perception among asylum seekers — even before Trump took office — that the U.S. is not sympathetic to refugee claims.

Source: Refugee claims at Canada-U.S. border have doubled over past 2 years – Canada – CBC News

Feds reviewing inland refugee system, under pressure to scrap ‘safe countries’ list

Another issue to watch in terms of how the Liberal government finds a balance between maintaining the integrity of refugee determination and rights of refugee claimants:

The Liberal government is re-evaluating the way it treats refugee claimants who ask for protection after arriving in Canada, but won’t say whether it will scrap some of the widely criticized restrictions on some refugee claimants brought in by the previous government.

Government officials met with refugee advocacy groups and researchers July 14 to gather suggestions on what to do with Canada’s asylum system, which is used to process applications for refugee status by people who have already arrived in the country. People brought in from refugee camps abroad are processed in a different way. In 2014-15, the tribunal that decides on refugee claims in Canada was referred 13,500 claims, and the next year that creeped up to 16,500.

The government’s controversial Designated Countries of Origin (DCO) list was one of the key topics of the July 14 meeting, said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The DCO or “safe countries” list was created by the previous Conservative government, and includes countries that, according to the government, do not usually produce legitimate refugees. The list—which currently includes 42 countries—was designed to “ensure that people in need get protection fast, while those with unfounded claims are sent home quickly through expedited processing,” says the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada website.

However, an internal IRCC audit released this summer found that DCO claims had not been processed faster than those from other countries, leading NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) to question what the point of the system was.

The Liberals promised during the election campaign to set up an “expert human rights panel” to determine which countries should fall on the DCO list. Since the Liberals came to power, the government has said little about how it will fulfill this promise, and IRCC and the office of Immigration Minister John McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.) declined to provide details when asked.

The promise of an expert panel wasn’t good enough to satisfy critics of the DCO list, such as the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) or Canadian Council for Refugees. CARL wrote in a brief submitted to the government in July that a human rights panel “cannot cure what is, at root, a discriminatory regime, introduced into the legislation for discriminatory purposes,” a sentiment Ms. Dench said was echoed by many in the July 14 consultation.

“There was a very clear message to the government from everybody that the designated-country-of-origin policy was not useful, was not credible, was not serving any purpose and was contrary to the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms],” she said.

 Critics say the DCO system kneecaps claimants from listed countries because they’re rushed through the process. They also say so-called safe countries may in fact be quite dangerous, at least to some persecuted groups or in some areas.

When asked a series of questions about the DCO system and the establishment of the expert panel, IRCC spokesperson Remi Lariviere wrote in an emailed statement that the government was considering how to make Canada’s asylum system “more fair and timely,” in part as a response to this summer’s consultations on the immigration system and to the IRCC internal audit, which identified several concerns with the system’s fairness and efficiency.

The Liberal party had also promised on the campaign trail to provide a right for claimants from DCO countries to appeal decisions by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an arm’s-length tribunal, a right they had been denied under the system set up by the Conservatives. The Liberal government has already fulfilled that promise by dropping a legal challenge initiated under the previous government to a Federal Court ruling last year, which held that the ban on appeals by DCO claimants was unconstitutional.

Department finds ‘need to reform’ system

The previous Conservative government overhauled the inland refugee system in 2012, after a rising number of refugee claims, few of which were accepted and many of which stemmed from countries the government of the day perceived to be generally safe, such as Mexico and Hungary. Canada had also recently seen two ships arrive on its shores with dozens of migrants from Sri Lanka who claimed asylum.

The IRCC conducted an audit of its asylum system at the instruction of the Treasury Board, which had committed to a review of the program three years after major reforms by the Conservative government. The audit covered the period from December 2012 to December 2014. In addition to a number of positive findings about the way the asylum system was operating, it identified a series of shortcomings in Canada’s asylum system, including that DCO claimants were not processed faster than non-DCO claimants.

The audit also found “a need to reform the in-Canada asylum system due to the increasing number of claims, growing backlogs/inventories, and lengthy processing times,” and that “failed claimants are not being removed in a timely manner.”

Source: The Hill Times

Citizenship Act C-6 Changes: Witnesses 19 April Meeting

The second set of witnesses at CIMM C-6 hearings had all testified at the C-24 hearings two years ago, with a good cross-section of perspectives, largely focussed on the same issues of revocation, language and knowledge testing.

The most interesting exchange was with respect to Martin Collacott who accused the government of pandering to new Canadian voters in the relaxed residency and language requirements.

Details:

Bernie Farber, now heading the Mosaic Institute, shared his personal family refugee and Holocaust history as a means to personalize what it means to be Canadian citizens and the challenges of being a refugee. He cited research carried out by the Institute on imported conflicts, showing an attitudinal shift towards being more empathetic and recognizing common ground, with very high levels of attachment to Canada (94 percent, with 80 percent feeling more Canadian than anything). Ensuring full participation helps reduce imported trauma, improving both individual lives as well as Canada. He was broadly supportive of the proposed changes. See his op-ed Its Time to End the Stigma of Immigration”.

Sheryl Saperia, of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, reiterated her past support for the revocation provisions of C-24 for those convicted of terror or treason, believing it an appropriate consequence for these crimes. She did not accept Minister McCallum’s arguments that it created two-classes of citizenship, given that naturalized Canadians chose to become Canadian, and were not forced to become dual citizens. She noted that a Canadian is not always a Canadian, citing the examples of revocation for fraud or war crimes as exceptions. She proposed an alternative approach to revocation, with Ministerial discretion to review the depth of the connection to the other country, with the less active the connection the weaker the case for revocation. Should the government proceed with repealing the revocation provisions, this should be combined with greater deradicalization efforts in Canadian prisons.

Patti Tamara Lenard of University of Ottawa noted that citizenship in democracies is a fundamental right. She went through the previous government’s arguments in favour of revocation. There was no evidence that revocation made states any safer, using Belgium as an example, and that ‘targeting’ of dual citizens undermined security, not strengthening it. Canada was not catching up with other countries, apart from the UK [and Australia], noting that France had abandoned this approach. And public support did not justify measures to curb minority rights, even the ‘most hated’ of Canadians should still have their rights protected. She noted the broader context under which Canadian Muslims felt targeted, citing security certificates and no fly lists, all of which have contributed to their distrust of the Canadian state. Prior discourse had portrayed Canadian Muslims as disloyal and that discrimination was legitimate and inclusive language was needed.

Janet Dench and Jennifer Stone of the Canadian Council for Refugees noted the importance of citizenship for mental health, particularly so for refugees. CCR supports early access to citizenship without discrimination. They supported counting time before permanent residency towards citizenship but focussed on the lengthy processing times for permanent residency for refugees and live-in-caregivers. CCR supported the reduced residency requirements but advocated a waiver if compelling reasons provided. They also supported the reversion to the previous age requirements for knowledge and language (18-54), but noted that some older applicants still struggle to meet these requirements. CCR noted the need for some form of waiver from the high citizenship fees and language assessment, citing the USA example. While pleased that C-24 dual national revocation was being repealed, they noted the need for fraud revocation to be subject to court review. CCR also noted the need for children under 18 to apply for citizenship should they have neither parent nor guardian. Lastly, they argued for repeal of the first generation limit of passing on citizenship to reduce possible future statelessness. See their detailed brief Bill C-6 Citizenship Bill concerns.

R. Reis Pagtakhan, a Winnipeg-based immigration lawyers, is one of few witnesses to date who has changed his position in the past two years. While he remains broadly supportive of revocation for treason or terror, he now believes this should only apply to those convicted in Canadian courts to ensure Charter and related protections apply. He made a forceful statement in favour of the TRC recommendation 94, changing the citizenship oath to include a reference to treaties with Indigenous Peoples. He supported repeal of the intent to reside and credit for pre-permanent residency to count towards citizenship. See his op-ed Canadian citizenship should have 2 tiers, Reis Pagtakhan says.

Martin Collacott opposed shortening the residency requirements, noting that they were among the shortest in the world, allowing some to ‘park’ their families here and work abroad. He was against repealing the intent to reside provision. He thought the change in age requirements particularly ill-considered, particularly for 55-64 year olds who were often still working. He cited the Fraser Institute report on the cost of immigrants to the Canadian economy [Note: its methodology is questionable]. He supported the previous government’s revocation for terror or treason as a reasonable measure, and that most would not be convinced by a “Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” in these cases. He noted that citizenship can be used for political gain, using the example of the Clinton presidential campaign in 1996 where 1 million became citizens [surprised he refrained from Canadian examples as there was a surge in new citizens in 2014 and 2015 under the Harper government]. He ended by stressing the need for a full immigration review in terms of who benefits as it was abundantly clear that the current high levels were only serving special interests, certain sectors and political parties, with congestion and higher prices being part of the costs.

Questions:

As in 2014, after the first few hearings, the questions and responses tend to reinforce earlier sessions.

Revocation for terror or treason: Not surprising, a fair amount of questions from both the Government and Conservative side, with the Government challenging Saperia and Collacott’s arguments in particular. Saperia stumbled occasionally in her responses, reverting to talking points and arguing that there was no discrimination between Canadian and dual nationals convicted of the same crime but punished differently. However, she acknowledged that the argument that revocation was exporting terrorists to other countries was the most convincing one.

Revocation for fraud: NDP raised again the question of the pre-C-24 procedural protections and that C-6 did not address these. No witness substantively address this (Audrey Macklin on April 14 did).

Language: There were considerable questions on language requirements, with the Conservatives focussing on the importance of language and the NDP concerned about the cost of language assessment and the requirement to take the knowledge test in an official language. Collacott in his replies stressed the importance of language, particularly for older 55-64 year olds, that ample research demonstrates the link between language and economic integration, noting that lack of language meant having to work in the particular immigrant community with likely poorer economic prospects.

Pagtakhan interestingly posed the question why both with language assessment anyway at the citizenship stage, this should be a requirement when immigrating to Canada, rather than fixing it post facto. CCR reemphasized its previous points on challenges for refugees, who may have additional barriers in terms of ability to learn language, find time given employment and cost. Many applications had been returned given that proof of language had not been provided. Farber noted that the language bar should not be set so high to ‘exclude’; Lenard favoured a relatively low bar as in the USA.

Knowledge: No major Q&As on knowledge requirements although CCR did mention the decline in pass rates following the changes in 2010.

Statelessness: NDP raised as before. Lenard noted that international documents cover statelessness and the right to nationality. It is generally understood that the right to nationality means either having been born or mainly lived in a country.

Pandering for votes: Collacott, in his introductory remark mention of political benefits, drew considerable fire from the government side. He initially ducked the question but then, following a second question challenging him for the evidence, replied that there was considerable evidence over the years regarding Liberal governments. The previous Conservative government had tried to gain support among new Canadians through its policies [Note: he was silent on ‘boutique’ initiatives such as the historical recognition, targeted towards Chinese, Ukrainian, Indo, Italian and Jewish Canadians  and legislation such as the Vietnam Journey to Freedom Act S-219]. He cited the Liberal government having 4 ministers from the Punjabi community and none from the Chinese community in Cabinet as more recent examples.

The right way to settle refugees: Dench and Douglas

Janet Dench and Debbie Douglas on supporting the government’s decision not to convert government-assisted refugees into privately-sponsored refugees:

We are fortunate to be in a situation in Canada where so many citizens want to sponsor refugees. This current reality is almost beyond the most optimistic dreams of refugee advocates just six months ago. It is important that this energy be harnessed, to provide solutions for as many refugees as possible and to reinvigorate a private sponsorship program that has been in decline recently, weighed down by barriers and delays.

The sudden emergence of so many would-be sponsors has also created challenges, as the structures are not in place to orient and support them, nor are there adequate mechanisms ready to connect them with refugees in need of sponsorship. Experienced private sponsors, settlement agencies, members of the Syrian Canadian community and government officials have been working day and night for months now to respond to these new sponsors. The Syrian Family Links initiative, announced last week by the federal government, fills a gap by connecting sponsors with Syrian refugees who have family in Canada. It should be noted, however, that this role is already being played effectively by settlement agencies and private sponsorship groups in many regions of the country. The private sponsorship route is well-adapted to supporting people in Canada trying to reunite with their families overseas caught in dire situations and in need of protection.

If sponsors take over responsibility for government-sponsored refugees already here, that may very well result in the abandonment of refugees with family in Canada.

We must also remember that there are other refugee populations whose needs for protection are just as great. They should not be forgotten in the focus on the Syrian refugee crisis.

Source: The right way to settle refugees – The Globe and Mail

Are we still that compassionate Canada? – Dueck

Further to Erna Paris’ recent op-ed, Canadian mean-mindedness is back, Lorna Dueck picks up on the same theme from a faith perspective:

There are more than 40,000 places of worship in Canada, and care for our global neighbours matters to them. But now is when we will find out whether these communities can put action behind their beliefs. Mark Blumberg of Global Philanthropy reports that faith groups have increased overseas aid philanthropy 300 per cent since the boat people crisis, but my guess is we may be sorely out of touch with what it means to bring a refugee crisis into our suburban and rural homes today.

“It’s extremely provocative and it should act as a question to all of us as Canadians, as people of faith. The generous people who sponsored 70,000 refugees of the South Asian crisis still exist. That is still who we are, but the mean, nasty atmosphere that surrounds us now, that’s also true,” refugee advocate and author Mary Jo Leddy told us recently on Context TV.

“It has blinded us to the simple fact that these are our brothers and sisters,” she added. “… When you see them face to face and they look you in the eye [and they say] please help me, you at that moment are summoned, and it may well be one of the most important choices of your life.”

Are we still that compassionate Canada? – The Globe and Mail.

And more on the government’s inability to bring in Syrian refugees more quickly and the impact of cutbacks:

The Canadian government announced last year it would bring 1,300 Syrian refugees into Canada. The majority of refugees are sponsored by private groups, mostly churches, but to date only a couple hundred refugees have actually arrived.

In comparison, Sweden has taken in 30,000 Syrians with a population that is about one quarter of Canada’s.

The authors of the internal CIC report recommend the government hire more permanent staff, as well as hire some temporary workers to conduct a “blitz” to clear the backlog.

“Improvements to process accountability and processing efficiency cannot be realized without having a sufficient number of dedicated staff in place to handle core functions and to eliminate the backlog that has developed over time,” the report reads.

“It’s a damning report. It doesn’t beat around the bush,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees.

“There have been a lot of cuts in Citizenship and Immigration Canada, notably they’ve closed offices across Canada … It’s quite clear that things have not been going well.”

Departmental officials won’t say if more staff have been hired since the report was released late last year. But they said efforts are being made to speed up the process.

“Processing is done according to priority, with Syrian files currently identified as a priority,” according to a statement from a CIC spokesperson.

That concerns people like Showler, though, who wonder about other non-Syrian refugees currently in the cue.

“That means someone who was supposed to come from Thailand, Burma, Africa …that means they’re being delayed even further,” he said.

Showler said in the past, Canada has acted much faster to help refugees escape to safety.

“We did it for Yugoslavia. We brought in 5,000 and we did it within one year … we know how to do this. This is an issue of political will,” he added.

Syrian refugee backlog blamed on federal government cuts

C-24 Citizenship Act: Senate Hearings Start

While overshadowed by the Galati case and related media coverage, Senate hearings on Bill C-24 treaded much of the familiar ground and focussing on mainly the same issues. Given Parlvu was somewhat choppy yesterday, may not have captured all the main points.

Starting with the witnesses supporting the Bill. Richard Kurland, Lawyer and Policy Analyst, and regular media commentator, applauded the government for providing greater clarity and transparency on the requirements and pathway to citizenship from temporary and permanent residency. The greatest benefit will be in more applications processed in a more timely manner at lower cost. He expressed concern, however, over the insecurity created by the intent to reside provision. He emphasized the need for oral hearings, not allowing citizenship officers to rule on revocation for fraud without the person being able to present themselves. As to citizens of convenience, he argued in favour of the US approach of requiring US citizens living abroad to file tax returns.

 Julie Taub, Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, was even stronger in her support for the Bill. She had “fought the system for decades” and welcomed the tougher penalties for fraud, the simplification of revocation and the crackdown on citizens of convenience, drawing examples from her legal practice and recalling the evacuation of Lebanese Canadians and their eventual return in 2006. She would have preferred residency of five years as Canada was too short compared to other countries. To further avoid residence fraud, she recommended that Permanent Residents be provided with a “swipe card” required for entry to or exit from Canada, given many Permanent Residents have more two passports.
Opposing the Bill were Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Lorne Waldman, President, and Peter Edelmann, lawyer. They focused on the revocation provisions, noting the differential treatment between various classes of citizens: single national born Canadian; dual national born Canadian and aware of their dual nationality; dual national born Canadian and not aware of their dual nationality; and naturalized Canadians.

Revocation could apply, save in cases of statelessness, to any of the three last categories. The Bill did not say who was a dual national and how dual nationality would be interpreted. Given how citizenship laws vary by countries, some communities would be affected more than others. The reverse onus of proof was not justified. The threshold of 5 years for terrorist offences was too low compared to sentences for murder and sexual assault. Revocation for fraud allowed for no hearing and was a completely paper process without any independent review. The intent to reside provision was not clear on how it would be interpreted and applied, and was another example of differential treatment.

Loly Rico, President and Janet Dench, Executive Director, Canadian Council for Refugees, opposed the increase in residency requirements and removal of credit for pre-PR time, given that refugoees typically spent three to four years of temporary residency before becoming permanent residents. Total time for citizenship could approach eight to ten years with these changes. Extending language and knowledge test requirements made no sense for youth given they would be in Canadian schools; for 55-64 year olds who were refugees, their life circumstances, time in refugee camps etc, may make formal test requirements an unreasonable requirement. CCR opposed revocation as it was discriminatory between Canadian and dual nationals and that punishment was better handled through the criminal system.

Debbie Douglas, Executive Director, of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, noted the anniversaries of the Komagata Maru and the M.S. St. Louis as a caution against promoting “any sort of racist policies.” OCASI opposed increased residency requirements, removal of credit for pre-Permanent Residents time, particularly for live-in caregivers where family separation has social and family costs. The intent to reside did not recognize that circumstances can change for work, study, or care of family members. Good faith of Minister that this would not apply post citizenship did not change ambiguity of law. Douglas echoed CCR on extending language and knowledge testing to 55-64 year olds, questioning the purpose of adding this additional barrier.
Debate as in the Commons Committee revolved around the familiar issues of intent to reside, revocation, language and knowledge testing, and decision-making process and lack of hearing or appeal. Government senators largely focussed on their defence of the Bill, and Opposition senators largely drew out their positions from witnesses opposed to C-24.
Some of the more interesting points:
  • Government Senators were sceptical that many new citizens would be affected by the intent to reside provision, examples cited by witnesses were “exceptions,”  with Sen. Enverga stating that if you “apply to come to Canada, your should live in Canada.”
  • On revocation for terror or treason, Edelmann trotted out the cliché, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and how definitions change over time. But more originally, rather than the usual Mandela example, he cited the contemporary example of Greenpeace being charged in Russia (Dench referred to Maher Arar). He also noted other heinous crimes, mentioning Paul Bernardo and Robert Picton, questioning why terrorism or treason should be treated differently;
  • There was a fairly spirited exchange on whether restoring knowledge and language testing to 55-64 year olds was an unreasonable barrier. Taub and Senator Eaton noted that basic language capability was not unreasonable to require. Refugee advocates emphasized for some it was, given what they had gone through. Senator Eaton, as a 70-year old, found their concerns to be “patronizing” to seniors but acknowledged that it may be a “huge struggle” for some. After probing by the Chair whether this was regarding language capability itself or formal testing, Douglas confirmed that it was more the lack of the alternative of an interview with a citizenship judge
  • Israel’s “law of return” was cited by Kurland as an example of dual citizenship. Some citizens, particularly refugees,  will always have a “fear of the state.” We will see how the judiciary “handles it,” acknowledging that this created two classes of citizenship.
  • Senator Eaton and Taub noted recent media reports of young men fighting in foreign conflicts and the risks of returning fighters to Canada. Taub noted there “really is not a choice” between Charter provisions and keeping Canada safe, and 75 percent of Canadians support revocation in these cases.
  • Whether more or less time in Canada increases integration was subject of debate. Douglas was powerful in noting that inclusion and removal of barriers  “goes a longer way than time,” citing the example of Black Canadians who had been here for generations.
  • Indicating the philosophical divide was a short exchange on citizenship as a privilege (Senator Enverga) and as a right (particularly Rico), who emphasized that as a former refugee from El Salvador, the right to be a full citizen, with all the rights and responsibilities that entailed as anyone born in Canada. That was part of the “beauty of Canada,” its inclusiveness and multiculturalism.
Hearings continue today with Martin Collacott, CBA, Asia-Pacific Foundation, Canadian War Brides (shut out from Commons Committee hearings), and PAFSO (foreign service union). Will be interesting to see if Galati case comes up during questions of the CBA witnesses.