Experts say Scheer’s plan to close border loophole ‘doomed to failure’

More political positioning than realistic options for many of the reasons listed:

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says that, if elected, he would close the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) that allows people to make refugee claims in Canada even if they enter the country at an unofficial border crossing.

The Conservatives also aren’t ruling out creating detention camps at the border to house irregular migrants while their claims are being processed.

Asked directly if detention camps were something a Conservative government would create at the border, the Conservatives said the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides criteria for detaining asylum seekers. This leaves the option of creating detention camps at the border open.

Scheer’s pledge, made Wednesday at Roxham Road in Quebec, came with few details on exactly how he would close the loophole.

Scheer said his “preferred option” would be to renegotiate the STCA with the U.S., but when pressed on what he would do if U.S. President Donald Trump refused to make a deal, Scheer was light on details.

“There are other options. There are other tools available to the government that we will also be exploring,” Scheer said.

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

One of these options is to declare the entire Canada-U.S. border an official port of entry. This way, people entering the country would be covered by the STCA and — if they do not qualify for an exemption under the agreement — would be sent back to the U.S.

Scheer suggested this is one of the options he’s looking at when he said “we can apply the principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement at other points along the border.”

But migration experts, border security officials and the government have questioned whether this is possible.

Sharry Aiken, a Queen’s University law professor, says any plan to scrap the loophole in the STCA without agreement from the U.S. is “doomed to failure.”

Meanwhile, she says expanding the agreement to cover the entire border is nonsensical because Canada does not have the resources to enforce this type of mass “securitization” of the border, nor is this type of strategy effective.

Aiken points to the U.S.-Mexico border as an example of why increased security does not mean fewer irregular migrants.

“As we can see in relation to what’s going on with respect to America’s efforts in relation to Mexico, they’re an abysmal failure,” she said. “People are still crossing, just at higher costs and at peril to their lives. People are dying all the time.”

A Conservative spokesperson later clarified Scheer’s comments on this issue. The Conservatives said it’s not their policy to expand official port of entry status to the entire border. Instead, they would “pursue a regulatory approach to ensure that the principles of the Safe Third Country Agreement are applied and people are not able to jump the queue.”

Promise would require new legislation

Since spring 2017, there has been a significant influx of asylum seekers in Canada, many of whom entered the country irregularly at unofficial border crossings.

The total number of asylum claims made in Canada in 2018 was 55,000, of which about one-third crossed the border irregularly. This was up from 23,500 total claims two years earlier.

In addition to pledging to close the loophole in the STCA, Scheer said he would move existing judges from the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) closer to the border and widely used unofficial crossings to speed up the processing time for claims and make crossing “illegally” less attractive.

But Aiken and others say Scheer could not do this without first introducing new legislation to change the IRB’s mandate. That’s because the IRB operates independently of the government, and administrative decisions are strictly the authority of the IRB’s chairperson, she said.

Raoul Boulakia, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer, says moving refugee judges to the border would also make it a lot harder for asylum seekers to access a lawyer — a right they are guaranteed under Canada’s Constitution.

Meanwhile, Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said Scheer’s pledge lacks vital details.

For example, he wonders if Scheer would create detention camps at the border for asylum seekers who enter the country irregularly to be held while their claims are processed.

Scheer claims asylum seekers are ‘skipping the line’

Smith also questions the logistics of the move. The IRB isn’t just made up of judges, he said. There are translators, administrative staff, offices and other things needed in order for claims to be heard and judges to be able to do their jobs.

Smith says holding asylum seekers at the border while their claims are processed — no matter how quickly this is done — presents other problems, such as limiting their ability to work, pay taxes and receive health care.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, says that if elected, it will amend existing immigration legislation and regulations to make sure IRB judges can be deployed to irregular crossing “hot spots.”

The money needed to relocate IRB judges will come from existing budgets, Conservatives say, adding that there are no plans to change current work-permit rules for people whose asylum claims are allowed to go forward.

Ex-minister under Hussein made refugee claim in Canada

Conservatives point out that immigration detention already takes place in Canada. However, there are currently no immigration detention centres at the border. Instead, would-be refugees who cannot prove their identity, are a flight risk or who could pose a security risk are detained at facilities in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Some asylum seekers are also held in long-term detention in provincial jails. According statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency, the average stay in immigration detention in 2017-18 was 14 days.

Under current rules, asylum seekers are allowed to move freely within Canada once their claims are made and so long as they are not detained. Unless laws are changed, Smith said, moving IRB judges to the border would not change this and likely will not speed up the hearing process.

Scheer has repeatedly said closing the STCA loophole would make Canada’s immigration system fairer, more orderly and more compassionate.

Source: Experts say Scheer’s plan to close border loophole ‘doomed to failure”

Experts surprised immigration didn’t play more prominent role in federal leaders’ debate

I was less surprised than those listed, as the parties have (correctly) calculated that making immigration a major issue has electoral risks in ridings with large numbers of immigrants and visible minorities (905, BC’s lower mainland, and elsewhere), as Kurland and Smith note.

The same could be said for the campaign in general, although immigration issues get more play in ethnic media as my weekly analyses for diversityvotes.ca shows.

Apart of course from the PPC:

Excluding an early question that provoked a barrage of attacks against People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, Monday night’s leaders debate featured few questions about immigration — and none about refugees, specifically.

This left some migration experts feeling surprised and disappointed that immigration issues — which have been the source of heated political exchanges in Canada over the past two years — didn’t play more prominently in the debate.

“There was no substance on immigration policy, on Canada’s refugee policy, on Canada’s role in the world on these issues,” said Queen’s University law professor Sharry Aiken.

“I was disappointed that there wasn’t much there.”

Aiken says that the section of the debate dedicated to “polarization, human rights and immigration” focused almost entirely on Quebec’s contentious Bill 21, the religious symbols ban that bars religious head coverings in some sections of the public service, and that immigration issues were overshadowed by the discussion about discrimination.

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

The rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about whether these new arrivals pose a threat

Aiken believes discussing Bill 21 is very important, but she thinks debate moderators could have been better at focusing their questions on specific issues, such as the recent challenges faced by Canada’s asylum system.

The standout moment for Aiken on immigration was Bernier’s claim that Canada takes in more immigrants than any other western nation.

Aikeen says this claim is untrue. Citing a recent report from the World Economic Forum, she says Australia has a higher ratio of immigrants — 28 per cent of its population compared to Canada at 21 per cent.

She also questions Bernier’s math about letting in more economic immigrants. Bernier has claimed Canada should reduce immigration levels to 150,000 a year, while at the same time taking in more economic immigrants.

But in 2017, Canada accepted roughly 159,000 economic immigrants, she said. If Bernier’s immigration policy was implemented, Canada would actually see an overall reduction in economic immigration.

Meanwhile, Sean Rehaag, director of York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies, was also surprised by the fact that “a debate where immigration was expected to play a major role” had so few questions about immigration.

He noted that neither the influx of irregular border crossings that began in April 2017 nor the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States figured prominently in the debate.

This is also one of the issues where the parties have distinct policy options when it comes to how Canada should handle its asylum system.

No ‘political capital’ to be gained on immigration

Others were less surprised that immigration wasn’t a bigger topic for party leaders.

Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, thinks the lack of attention on immigration means political parties have decided that no “political capital” can be gained from this issue.

“It was a good move on the part of all the parties not to go there,” Kurland said.

Craig Damian Smith, director of the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto, agrees that it was wise for the leaders not to focus on immigration, particularly the divisive issues around refugee resettlement and how to handle irregular migration at unofficial ports of entry.

Scheer claims asylum seekers are ‘skipping the line’

Like Kurland, Smith thinks the party leaders have realized that immigration isn’t an issue where voters can be won or lost.

This doesn’t mean immigration isn’t important, Smith said. It just means that when it comes time to vote on Oct. 21, he believes most Canadians will be focused on issues like health care, education and the economy.

Smith also pointed out what he saw as a significant moment in the debate — that is, when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer lashed out at Bernier for his past comments about immigrants, saying Bernier had changed from someone who used to believe in an immigration system that was fair, orderly and compassionate to someone who bases his policies on the number of likes and retweets he gets on social media from the “darkest parts of Twitter.”

According to Smith, this “well-rehearsed” line shows that the Conservatives now realize Canadians, on average, support the country’s current approach to immigration.

Smith still thinks that who wins the election could have big consequences on the future of immigration in Canada — especially for refugees — but in Monday’s debate, at least, it looked like everyone other than Bernier agreed immigration is important to Canada’s future.

“Even when they had the section on polarization, human rights and immigration, they all took that opportunity to steer it towards other issues, either to attack one another or to bolster their own position on other issues,” he said.

“It’s a good thing, or it’s at least a good sign, that they decided to steer the debate away from [immigration] because it means that that’s not going to be an issue that Canadians are going to vote on.”

Source: Experts surprised immigration didn’t play more prominent role in federal leaders’ debate

Supreme Court says migrants can bring detention challenge to judge

A reminder of legal constraints regarding immigration policy:

Refugee claimants have the right to challenge their prolonged incarceration before a Superior Court judge, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

In a 6-1 decision released Friday, justices ruled in favour of Tusif Ur Rehman Chhina, a Pakistani national who challenged his prolonged detention in a maximum-security remand centre in Calgary. He was detained because he was deemed a security risk.

His case was reviewed regularly by an immigration tribunal, which repeatedly ordered him detained as a flight risk.

The majority of the justices found the tribunal process does not provide for a review that is “as broad and advantageous” as a hearing before a Superior Court.

Chhina had been stripped of his refugee status and ordered deported because he misrepresented his identity to Canadian officials and was involved in serious criminality, including possession of a prohibited weapon, forgery and fraud.

Chhina was removed from Canada in September, 2017 but his legal case carried on, to determine whether the current detention regime is constitutional.

He had argued his charter rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention were violated.

Human rights groups praise ruling

The ruling focused on the legal principle of habeas corpus, which allows someone in custody to go before a judge to challenge a detention. The ruling sets aside an exception that compelled migrants without Canadian citizenship to challenge immigration detention only through immigration tribunals or a federal judicial review.

Human rights groups and refugee advocates welcomed the decision.

Amnesty International said Canada has an international legal obligation to guarantee immigration detainees are able to exercise the right to a Superior Court hearing.

“The right to liberty is a fundamental human right. This decision vindicates immigration detainees who have been denied their liberty for years on end with no meaningful way to challenge that injustice and regain their freedom,” said Amnesty International Canada’s secretary general Alex Neve. “They can now seek justice in superior courts and have their Charter rights protected and enforced.”

‘Devastating impacts’

The Canadian Council for Refugees said detainees don’t always get a fair hearing and incarcerating them can have serious repercussions.

“Detention often has devastating impacts, even when it is only for a short period, particularly for children, refugee claimants, trafficked persons and individuals suffering from mental health issues,” reads a statement.

Swathi Sekhar, lawyer for the advocacy group End Immigration Detention Network, said the high court delivered an “important tool” for migrants to challenge their detentions. In a habeas corpus application, the onus is on the government to prove the detention is lawful, but in a detention review the onus is usually on the migrant to prove they should be released.

“This is one more tool, but more importantly this is one more large step on the road to the abolition of immigration detention,” she said.

Risks for LGBT migrants

There were 11 interveners in the case.

One of them, Egale Canada, said migrants often suffer homophobic violence, while transgender migrants are often detained in facilities that don’t align with their gender identities.

“LGBT people who are detained for immigration purposes face life-threatening conditions and, prior to this ruling, there was no tangible way to challenge these conditions under the current system,” said Egale’s executive director Helen Kennedy.

The ruling may not affect a large number of detainees. According to the recent statistics, just 122 migrants were detained for longer than 99 days over the last quarter.

The decision comes as the federal government takes steps to improve the system in response to sharp criticism of harsh detention conditions and policies.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the government has made improvements to infrastructure and mental and medical health services, while expanding alternatives to detention and the use of provincial jails and reducing the number of minors in detention.

The recently tabled Bill C-98 would create an expanded, independent oversight body to review the CBSA. Bardsley said the bill will allow migrants to file complaints before that body about detentions and the conduct of CBSA employees.

Source: Supreme Court says migrants can bring detention challenge to judge

Sharry Aiken and Stephanie Silverman make the case that A world without immigration detention is possible.

Gloomier future seen for Canadian immigration

IRCC analysts are asking many of the right questions:

With 35 per cent of male newcomers returning home and a growing middle class in developing countries less inclined to migrate, an internal government review is calling the future of Canadian immigration into question.

The report by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada also points to the challenge of reconfiguring an immigrant-selection system in a rapidly changing labour market where a growing number of jobs are temporary and there’s “increasing mismatch” of available skills and the skills in demand.

“What changes, if any, does Canada want to make to its current ‘managed migration,’ ” asked the 23-page study, titled Medium-Term Policy: Balanced Immigration and stamped “for internal discussion only.” “To what extent is the current overall immigration level appropriate and/or necessary?”

With major changes made in the last decade under the former Conservative government, legal and immigration experts are calling on Immigration Minister John McCallum to have a “national conversation” on the future of Canadian immigration.

“Ottawa must take a step back to do a review of the whole immigration program and reach a national consensus in moving our country forward as a nation-building exercise rather than as an economic imperative,” said Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

“The Liberals have good political instincts and like to be seen as doing more on the immigration front. It’s the right time to take a look at what is working and what is not working in the system.”

The new government has already announced reviews of certain immigration programs involving temporary foreign workers and the Express Entry processing system, but critics say such reviews must be done in a holistic manner rather than a piecemeal fashion.

“This is the most thoughtful brief (on Canada immigration) I’ve seen in 10 years,” said Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken. “It’s asking all the right questions that are useful starting points for a wide-ranging discussion of the future of our immigration system.”

The internal report, obtained by the Star, also devotes attention to the estimated 2.8 million Canadian citizens — 9 per cent of the population — who live abroad, including a million people in the United States, 300,000 in Hong Kong and 75,000 in the United Kingdom.

Some 35 per cent of male immigrants to Canada return home, many within the first year. Between 1996 and 2006, the annual exit rate for citizens born in Canada was 1.33 per cent compared to 4.5 per cent for naturalized citizens.

“There has been a rather negative view of these expatriate Canadians, as they have been regarded as evidence of ‘brain drain,’ Canada’s lack of competitiveness in retaining high-skilled professionals and business leaders, and our insufficient success in integrating new arrivals,” the report noted. “Canada could choose to take a more proactive stance with expatriates.”

Measures implemented by other countries include: extending voting right to expats, providing non-resident representation in the national legislature, facilitating business and research networks, doing outreach to communities abroad to promote ties as well as creating tax treaties with other countries to facilitate work abroad.

The report also points to the greater emphasis the former Tory government put on selecting economic immigrants based on in-demand occupations in a so-called “project economy” marked by limited length of employment based on the duration of a contract or project.

“This environment makes it a significant challenge to target occupations and industries that are priorities for addressing through immigration,” it said.

While the report forecast does mean potentially lower immigration to Canada in the longer term, University of Toronto professor Jeffrey Reitz said global migration is still driven by “inequality” from poor to rich countries.

Although Ottawa introduced the Express Entry system in 2015 to let employers pick prospective immigrants from a pool of candidates to ensure newcomers are quickly employed, Reitz said the uptake of candidates outside the country has been small.

“Anything that improves the employment situation contributes to immigrant retention, but there is an aspect of retention in the family class. When you lose your job and you have no family, you move. A support group gives people a reason to stay,” explained Reitz, the director of ethnic, immigration and pluralism studies at U of T.

Hence, the immigration report raised the question over the strict differentiation of “economic” and “social” immigration in the current system, which channels applicants into the skilled and nonskilled streams.

“Regardless of how their application was accepted, immigrants make many contributions to Canadian society; economic migrants make social contributions; social immigrants make economic contributions,” it said.

“Given the somewhat artificial distinction between social and economic immigration, there may be grounds for giving greater weight to ‘non-economic’ criteria and on criteria related to the success of subsequent generations.”

Ryerson University professor John Shields said recent immigrants are caught up in the same “new economy” faced by young Canadians entering the workforce.

“All immigrants including the refugee class contribute to the society economically. They pay dividends economically in five, ten years as integration is a long-term process that can take a lifetime,” said Shields, whose research focuses on labour markets and immigrants.

“Recent immigrants and young Canadians face a different kind of roadblock from those who are already established in Canada. The issue we need to deal with is creating higher quality employment in Canada and educate Canadian employers of the values of one’s work experience from somewhere else.”

Source: Gloomier future seen for Canadian immigration | Toronto Star

Creation of ombud’s office urged to tackle immigration snafus

Not sure that adding another layer is necessarily the best approach compared to reviewing the overall processing system and making adjustments as necessary:

….These cases are problems critics say an ombudsman at the immigration department could easily fix, saving taxpayers money for reprocessing and potential litigation, and immigration applicants the agony of having their lives thrown into disarray.

“These are the majority of problems people have day-to-day that could be resolved if there is the will to cut through the red tape,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Raoul Boulakia.

“Immigration cases are expensive to litigate. In some cases, the court would not intervene and the process takes so long. Having an ombudsman’s office would be terrific.”

The idea of establishing a public complaints office at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been floating around for years but never got traction because of the lack of organized efforts among applicants and Ottawa’s short-sighted arrogance to cater to foreign nationals with no voting power.

However, with the new Liberal government’s emphasis on transparency and accountability, critics say an ombudsman could aptly look at these systemic challenges and find solutions.

While Immigration Minister John McCallum agreed that “obviously there is enormous room for improvement” for his department’s service delivery, he is noncommittal to the idea.

“That’s what a lot of my job is about. We are trying to reduce processing times and improve services. The idea of an ombudsman is an interesting idea, but it might be a little bit duplicating of what my office and I are trying to do, and it would add costs. Our objective is similar,” he told the Star.

“If having an ombudsman would assist that task, I would consider it … if it’s value-added. Right now, people can go to their MPs, the MPs might bring it to me and we work on it. We certainly spend a huge amount of time dealing with these problems and cases trying to get the best outcomes.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union that represents the 5,000 immigration department employees, said frontline services have suffered after 10 years of cuts — staffing was down by 5.3 per cent while workload increased — under the previous government. That led to minimum service and sometimes tainted decision-making, the union said.

“Our members are caught between a lack of resources and instructions. They are being told you have two minutes to respond to a phone call, basically. That’s not worthy of client service in our mind,” said Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president of the union.

“It is nice for the minister to say he’s all for increasing the service and service delivery, but in order to increase service delivery, you have to make sure the resources, tools and training are there.”

The union is all for the establishment of an impartial office if it serves both the clients and its members instead of creating an additional administrative burden and more work under existing resources, Aylward added.

Queen’s University professor Sharry Aiken, who specializes in migrant law and policy, said an ombudsman could best handle administrative issues that emerge in application processing as a result of “misunderstanding, poor representation and human error” that could easily be fixed.

Currently, members of parliament are overwhelmed by constituents’ requests for assistance on immigration files for relatives and friends looking for updates on applications, and immigration cases are inundating the court system and tribunals.

Aiken said the cost of setting up a well-equipped ombudsman’s office at the immigration department could easily be offset by the savings in resources in other jurisdictions and improved operational efficiency. Meanwhile, the courts and tribunals should still handle cases involving errors in law, she added.

“The office would need the authority and resources to deal with these cases and circumstances,” said Aiken, who co-chairs the Canadian Council for Refugees’ legal affairs team. She said the danger of setting up an ombud’s office without proper resources is it would get swamped and couldn’t investigate complaints in-depth.

Source: Creation of ombud’s office urged to tackle immigration snafus | Toronto Star