John Ivison: Budget officer finds illegal migrants entering via a ‘loophole within a loophole’

The loophole, allowing those in the asylum process who arrived as irregular arrivals to sponsor their relatives during the determination process, should be relatively easy to close, in contrast to the provision in the Safe Third Country Agreement that it doesn’t apply to those not arriving at official border crossings, which would require highly unlikely agreement with the Trump administration:
While a politician may wish something to be true, simply saying it in the House of Commons does not make it so.

Bill Blair, the newly minted minister for border security, made a claim about the refugee system in question period Thursday that cannot be supported by the available facts.

“The system is working,” he said.

He was responding to questions about a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which pegged the cost of “irregular” — for which read “illegal” — migration at $340 million for the cohort of migrants who arrived in Canada in 2017-18 – a cost-per-migrant to the federal government of $14,321. (That does not include provincial expenses, which Ontario claims come to around $200 million. The PBO estimated a similar amount for Quebec. The federal government has reimbursed the provinces a total of $50 million.)

Technically, Blair is correct. The refugee system is working — in much the same way the Russian military’s Antonov Flying Tank worked during the Second World War.

In that case, the plane could leave the ground and drop a tank by parachute, albeit without crew, fuel or armaments. It worked. It just didn’t work well — and the project was rapidly abandoned.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., advises migrants that they are about to illegally cross the border from Champlain, N.Y., and will be arrested, on Aug. 7, 2017. Charles Krupa/AP

The federal government should adopt a similar approach and go back to the drawing board.

The PBO report is revealing, and not just for the cost estimates. In fact, it emerges in a footnote the costs are likely more than $14,321 per migrant — Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada estimates the number at $19,000.

But during its investigation, the PBO team elicited some interesting responses from government departments that show how bizarre the migrant story has become.

Another footnote revealed that Canada Border Services Agency officers have identified a phenomenon where one claimant enters Canada illegally and acts as an “anchor relative” for other family members. Those family members can then enter at a port of entry and not be considered illegal migrants. (The PBO asked for data but CBSA said it is not currently being tracked).

But think about that for a minute — a practice Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has called a “loophole within a loophole.”

This means a migrant can cross into Canada from the U.S. between official entry points, avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement that would have otherwise made them ineligible. (The agreement between Canada and the U.S. states that migrants seeking refugee status must make their claim in the first “safe” country they arrive in — either Canada or the U.S.)

Once a claim has been made, the migrant can access Canada’s generous welfare system as he or she navigates the asylum claims process that gives them multiple hearings and appeals. In the meantime, they can effectively sponsor other members of their family, who can then arrive as regular migrants — also avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Blair tried to sanitize this blatant abuse of process by pointing out that 40 per cent of migrants crossing illegally are children — postulating that this is a question of humanity and human rights obligations.

But due process should work both ways, and in this case the integrity of the system is being violated.

The anchor relative provision does not just apply to nuclear families but to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.

The obvious solution is to close both loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement — amend it so it applies between official points of entry, and more tightly define who migrants can bring in.

But there appears to have been little progress in persuading the U.S. to change an agreement that sees people it clearly does not want within its borders effectively deporting themselves.

There are other reforms that could be undertaken. Experts who have looked at the system talk about the “failure of finality” — the endless appeals process that effectively gives migrants a new hearing at the Refugee Appeal Division if their claim is rejected by the Refugee Protection Division, and still another one at the Federal Court if the appeal fails.

The Liberals have done little beyond what they do best — throwing money at the problem. In response to the new arrivals, budget 2018 allocated $173.2 million over two years to “manage the border.”

But the PBO report gives lie to Blair’s claim the “system is working.”

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Immigration and Refugee Board had capacity to hear 24,000 claims. During that period there were 52,142 new asylum claims, of which illegal migrants represented 23,215. The system was flooded with claims beyond its capacity, creating a backlog of 64,929 cases.

More than half of the refugee claims were made by irregular migrants from Nigeria and Haiti. That is not a dog-whistle for swivel-eyed racists, or “fear-mongering,” as one senior Liberal put it. It is a fact.

They are flooding from those countries because word has got out that the Canadian system can be gamed with great ease — that an entire family can set up in the Great White North for the cost of a plane ticket from Lagos to New York City and a bus ride to the Quebec border.

Canada has seen similar surges in refugee claims before. In 2010, the Conservatives introduced visa requirements for Mexicans and Czechs, after a flood of bogus claims. The intake of refugees fell from 25,783 in 2010 to 10,227 in 2013 and the backlog halved. For the 2017 calendar year, claims were at 47,427 and the backlog was of a similar magnitude.

If the system was working, as Blair claimed, it would be fast, fair and final.

Currently, it is the very opposite — sluggish, arbitrary and inconclusive.

Source: John Ivison: Budget officer finds illegal migrants entering via a ‘loophole within a loophole’

And John Ibbitson on the potential electoral implications of the costs:

The problem of people crossing the Canada-U.S. border illegally and then seeking asylum just became a bigger headache for the Liberals, one they emphatically do not need less than a year before the next election.

The situation at the border appeared to be improving. In 2017, more than 20,000 asylum-seekers crossed illegally into Canada from the United States. In the early months of 2018, the flow was actually increasing, compared with the year before. But then the numbers started to taper off – at least on a year-over-year basis. Ottawa seemed to have things under control.

“There is a challenge, but it is not a crisis,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale insisted in July.

But if the numbers aren’t increasing, the cost sure is. In a report released Thursday, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that handling the claims of asylum-seekers cost the federal government more than $14,000 a case in the last fiscal year, will cost almost $15,500 this year and will cost $16,700 next year. By that time, taxpayers will be doling out $400-million a year to handle these claims and to provide the migrants with health care.

As the Tories quickly pointed out, the accumulated costs will be more than $1-billion by the end of the next fiscal year.

“Justin Trudeau’s failure to address the crisis he has created has real consequences for Canadians,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said in a statement, “and this report brings those consequences into sharp focus.”

These sums don’t include the cost of sheltering, feeding, clothing, educating and otherwise caring for the needs of these asylum-claimants, which are largely borne by provincial and municipal governments, and which has set the Ontario government back an estimated $200-million.

It gets worse. Asylum-claimants who cross the border illegally are overwhelming the tribunals established to hear refugee claims, creating a current backlog of 65,000 cases. It will take about three years to handle the claim of someone arriving this year. Next year, the backlog could stretch to four years.

Each individual claim is unique. Each person seeking asylum in Canada has a story to tell, and that story can be heartbreaking. But, on its face, most of the people crossing into Canada illegally from the United States appear to have a weak case.

Last year, many of the migrants were Haitian citizens who feared being forced to return to Haiti by the Trump administration. To be blunt, that’s not Canada’s problem.

This year, many of the claimants were Nigerians who obtained a visa to enter the United States and then headed straight for the border. These appear to be economic migrants, whose claims for protection as refugees should not be accepted.

What will happen next year? Will a fresh crop arrive at our border seeking asylum – Latinos who fear deportation from the United States, or nationals from Caribbean or African countries seeking a chance for a better life? Will the ever-lengthening wait times for hearings, which allow asylum-seekers to stay in Canada, convince more and more migrants that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain – including free health care – by crossing the border illegally? Or will the numbers drop down below 2017 levels? No one knows.

What we do know is that the problem of people crossing the border illegally corrodes confidence in Canada’s immigration and refugee system. This country’s future well-being depends on a robust intake of immigrants to compensate for a low natural birth rate. If people conclude that bogus refugee claimants are gaming the system, they could lose confidence in the entire program, which would be a disaster for Canada.

None of this is lost on the Conservatives, who will accuse the Liberals of failing to secure the border – which is, it must be said, one of the core responsibilities of any sovereign government.

Of course, the Tories have no good explanation for how they would handle things if they were in charge. But that may not matter. The opposition mantra will be: The Liberals can’t get a pipeline built. They can’t balance their budget. They can’t even secure the border.

Not a pleasant narrative for a governing party to confront in an election year.

Asylum seekers entering Canada outside legal border points cost an average of $14K each: PBO

Interesting to have the cost data. Doesn’t surprise me terribly given the nature of the determination processes and related costs:

The federal government spends an average of about $14,000 for each asylum seeker crossing into Canada outside of legal border points — a cost that’s expected to rise as the case backlog grows, says Canada’s budget watchdog.

In a report released Thursday — Costing Irregular Migration Across Canada’s Southern Border — Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the total cost for the asylum claims process was about $340 million in 2017-2018 and is expected to rise to $396 million in 2019-2020.

He said some of the accounting is based on average costing for all refugee claimants, because the federal government does not track separate data for “irregular” asylum claimants. Aside from some added costs for RCMP interventions, the average costs for claimants crossing illegally would be same as those for all refugee claimants.

The federal government set aside an extra $173 million over two years in this year’s budget to cover the additional costs related to asylum seekers crossing into Canada outside of legal border points. Giroux said that sum “falls short significantly.”

“Our estimates suggest that they have not budgeted enough, which will result in increased backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board,” he said.

The $173 million was based on an annual influx of 5,000 to 8,000 individuals, rather than the actual number of 23,000 per year, Giroux said.

The costs tallied in the report are for federal organizations such as the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Board. They do not include expenses incurred by the provinces, territories or municipalities, which pick up costs related to social services.

Ontario, for example, has estimated its costs related to asylum seekers arriving outside official border points at about $200 million a year.

The report comes after the City of Toronto made a new request for an additional $64.5 million from the federal government to deal with the “unsustainable” operational and financial pressures associated with refugee and asylum claimants.

The city says that about 40 per cent of Toronto shelter users are refugees or asylum claimants — a jump from 11 per cent in early 2016 and 25 per cent in late 2017.

Toronto asks for $64.5M

Toronto is asking for $64.5 million to reimburse its costs and ongoing, stable funding of $43 million a year starting in 2019.

“The city can’t do this alone. The federal government has come forward with initial help but we need the continued assistance of our federal and provincial partners to ensure that Toronto remains a safe, welcoming and accessible place for all,” said Mayor John Tory in a statement.

In June, the federal government pledged $50 million for Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. Ontario’s share of $11 million went directly to Toronto after the provincial government scoffed at the amount.

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has asked Ottawa for $200 million to defray the costs of social assistance, housing and education associated with asylum seekers.

The cost per asylum seeker varies from about $10,000 for a simple case — where the claim is accepted — to about $34,000 for a more complex case ending in the claimant exhausting all appeals and being deported.

Giroux said that as the number of asylum seekers rises, the cost increases because of the backlog in cases. Costs are driven up, in part, because the refugee claimants are entitled to the interim federal health benefit, which covers certain health-care costs for refugee claimants until they’re eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.

“Increasing the backlog means individuals have to stay in limbo for a number of years, and we estimate that could rise to five or six years in some cases,” he said.

Figures ‘absolutely shocking’

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel said some of the figures in the report are “absolutely shocking,” given that the total costs for a single asylum seeker could be in the range of a gross salary of a minimum wage worker in Canada.

“It just blows my mind that between 2017 through the next fiscal year this prime minister is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to the abuse of our asylum system,” she said.

Rempel said the Conservatives will make a formal request to the federal auditor general for a comprehensive audit of the broader costs of illegal border-crossers to government.

She blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for driving the trend by refusing to close a “loophole” in the Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S., which requires that asylum seekers make their claim in the first ‘safe’ country they arrive in. The Conservatives have been urging the government to end an exception that allows people to sidestep that rule if they cross outside official border points.

Rempel also referenced Trudeau’s Jan. 28, 2017 tweet in which he welcomed to Canada those fleeing persecution, terror and war in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

It was retweeted more than 400,000 times, and liked by more than 750,000 people.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair insisted the government is giving the refugee system the resources it needs while making improvements to reduce the number of people presenting outside official border points.

He said Canada is just one of many countries hit by the surge in global migration.

“Our obligation is to ensure that we manage that in a cost effective, efficient way according to Canadian law and our international obligations, and as well in accordance with Canadian values,” he said. “I think that’s what’s expected of us.”

Tens of thousands of people have crossed into Canada outside of official border points in the last year, mostly in Quebec and Manitoba.

The costs of housing them, and the question of who should pay, have become major political issues in cities such as Toronto and Montreal, which are under pressure to shelter and support the new arrivals.

The PBO agreed to a request from Conservative MP Larry Maguire last June for a global accounting exercise to add up the costs incurred to date from these migrants, and to indicate how much the stepped-up pace of irregular migration might cost Canada in the future.

Source: Asylum seekers entering Canada outside legal border points cost an average of $14K each: PBO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canadians ‘deserve to know’

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

Maguire’s request calls for:

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

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

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

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

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

What Kevin Page gets wrong in his new book: Tapp

Stephen Tapp, a former senior economist at the PBO, on the weaknesses in Page’s book:

Regrettably, Page’s repeated demands for transparency merely become slogans. Critical questions go unaddressed about the fully transparent government he so desires, such as:

  • What are the pros—and cons—of an open approach to government in a time of ubiquitous social media, 24/7 news and political commentary, when information (and any misinformation and missteps) can quickly go viral?
  • Should the media have open access to public servants, and if so, how would the civil service convey the facts as well as the context of complex, competing factors that cabinet weighs in its decision-making?
  • Should senior civil servants speak out publicly when they disagree with the political choices of a democratically elected government—which is at odds with the Westminster system?
  • Which countries should Canada be following to improve our public service?

Likely – and hopefully – this will prompt a reply from Page and thus continue an important conversation.

Source: What Kevin Page gets wrong in his new book – Macleans.ca

Kevin Page delivers a warning to the public service

Excerpt from Kevin Page’s book, Unaccountable: Truth and Lies on Parliament Hill. Some uncomfortable observations that merit reflection:

The ethical values section of the code speaks to a public service reflecting the need to act at all times in such a way as to uphold the public trust. It says that public servants shall act at all times in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.

This does not happen when deputy ministers refuse to provide spending plans to Parliament and the PBO that outline where Budget 2012 cuts will take place, along with an explanation of how those cuts will affect services to the public. Shame on all of us for sticking our collective heads in the sand.

Finally, under the code, the people values stipulate that public servants should demonstrate respect, fairness, and courtesy in their dealings with both citizens and fellow public servants. It says that appointment decisions in the public service shall be based on merit and that public service values should play a key role in recruitment, evaluation, and promotion. This did not happen with the recruitment of the new PBO.

What I learned from my PBO experience is that our public service has become good at avoiding accountability and transparency. The result is that public trust in the public service declines. Jane Jacobs, the famous American-Canadian urban activist, said “the absence of trust is inimical to a well-run society.” If only we could institutionalize trust, but alas, that is impossible.

Our public service leaders are going to have to step up and earn trust! To my friends and colleagues in the public service, I say this: Blueprint 2020, more than anything else it espouses, must be about restoring trust to the public service in Canada.

Source: Kevin Page delivers a warning to the public service | Ottawa Citizen

Former PBO Kevin Page says federal government should reveal plans for public service

Hard not to agree with Page on accountability and transparency grounds. I recall working on implementation of the Conservative government’s Accountability Act, and particularly the role of Deputy Ministers, and it is hard to square that with the refusal to release information on spending plans (PBO should not have to file ATIP requests to get this info):

Page said the big problem is that the government hasn’t revealed its spending plans, including the nature of the cuts and their impact on service levels. While at the PBO, Page waged a public battle with Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters and deputy ministers over their refusal to turn over information on the government’s spending plans.

The closure of veterans’ offices and libraries — and the resulting political backlash — is what happens when departments live under steady cuts and everyone has been kept in the dark about their impact.

“You can look more productive … but we don’t know for the most part whether service levels are being maintained or the same quality of service is maintained because we don’t get that information from the government. They won’t allow the public servants to release it,” said Page.

“I would think if you asked public servants working at those regional veterans offices … if they were maintaining the same quality of service, I am pretty sure they would say ‘ no, we’re not but we are better off fiscally because we’re taking people out. So productivity gets a bit of boost but if service goes down and outputs go down, Canadians aren’t getting the same quality of services, and in the long run we are not better off.”

Former PBO Kevin Page says federal government should reveal plans for public service.