Big Changes to Canadian Refugee System Proposed

Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced on March 30th that big changes were proposed to completely overhaul Canada’s refugee system, which is described as “broken” and “crippled”. He also spent the day doing a tour of the GTA to speak with various groups on the subject. The day before, the reform package was presented before Parliament, who must decide to pass it if it were to become law.

Stated Goals of the Canadian Refugee System Reform: The Hope

“Canada’s asylum system is broken. The proposed changes would result in faster protection for those who need our help and quicker removals of those who do not,” said Minister Kenney. “This balanced reform would both increase support for refugees in need of protection and discourage many of the unfounded asylum claims that burden our system.”

Goals of the Refugee System Proposed

The goals of the new program are to deliver faster decisions on refugee claims and allow for much faster protection of those who need it the most. The main reason for the reform is the long delays that usually occur in the processing of refugee claim decisions allow for a lot of abuse within the system.

These delays, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, allow for those who do not really need protection to make refugee claims so they can live and work in Canada for a long time. The longer a claimant spends in Canada the more difficult it is to remove them, and times between the original application and the time the person is removed can range from 4.5 years to 10 years in very extreme cases. Refugee claims that are denied will also see the claimant removed from Canada within a year of this decision.

Current Issues of the Refugee System

Currently, there’s an average waiting time of approximately 19 months for claims to even be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, or IRB. Canada’s current asylum system had a 42 percent acceptance rate in 2009, but currently there are over 60,000 people waiting for their hearing. Last year, there were 30,000 claims total.

There are also 15,000 people waiting to be removed from Canada, and 38,000 people that are to be removed but cannot be found.

The total cost of the program will be 540 million.

What are the Refugee Reform Changes? The Details

Safe Countries of Origin: The government will create a Safe Countries of Origin List, and claimants from these countries are usually rejected anyway. Those from countries on the list will go through a fast-tracked process and may not have access to the appeals board. This list is more of a deterrent to prevent the abuse of the system.

Assisted Voluntary Returns Program: Currently, Canada does not have an Assisted Voluntary Returns Program, but many other countries do, including the UK and Australia. Those whose claims are denied are given a set time to leave the country, but many do not leave. The costs for removing an individual are extremely expensive, so the Assisted Voluntary Returns program would create incentives for the refugees to leave on time as well as further educate them on their rights and responsibilities during the processes. To be eligible for this program, applicants would have to show proof of proper travel documents or apply for them during the process.

Limit on post-claim processes: Currently, applicants can have access to multiple post-claim processes. Under the changes, they’ll only have a time limit of one year to do so, after which they will be removed.

Information gathering: Instead of a personal information form that is completed by the claimant, the information will now be gathered within 8 days of the claim through an interview. Most often the personal information forms had errors or omissions, which was one of the major contributing factors to the hefty delays.

Faster claim hearings: Right now, it takes approximately 19 months for a claimant to have a hearing, but the changes will ensure that this time is reduced to no longer than 60 days.

Changes to the hearings: Currently, the initial hearing is at the IRB by governor in council term-appointed members and has no appeal division. According to the proposed changes, this initial hearing will now be conducted by permanent public servant members along with a special appeals division that allowed for decisions within four months of the appeal.

The Concerns with the Changes

While no one disputes that the current system needs fixing. The long delays, bogus refugee claims and enormous cost on the system are all problems that need solutions. However, there are concerns  I have with some of these proposals. For one, the Safe Countries of Origin proposal may not be so “safe” for all claimants coming from such countries. While many democratic countries would likely be included on the list of safe countries, not all of them may be as democratic as ours. In other words, not all countries that persecute are undemocratic. In fact, we have handled cases from countries like Mexico, Slovakia and others where people have been tortured and left unprotected by the authorities.

I worry that such countries may be included in the Safe Country list meaning that the rights of these people from such places will again not be protected–but this time in Canada.

Another related concern is while the government is eager to create this Safe Country list there is no mention of a “Dangerous Country list”. Why not identify those countries with abysmal records of human rights abuse like Iran, North Korea and Cuba?  Claimants from those countries should, in my view, be given an almost automatic Refugee status in Canada. If you are a “citizen” of say, North Korea, I think you should be given the welcome mat…unless of course you were a participant in human rights abuses. The way it stands now, claimants from these horrific places have to go thought the arduous process of proving their claims which is a waste of time. Other than proving that you are from a place like Cuba, is it really necessary to show how the authorities there are making your life miserable? Please.

So if it is determined that a claimant does in fact come from one of these dangerous countries, “nuff said”! Give them asylum.  Don’t make them wait.

There are more problems with the proposals which will be discussed later on. I am encouraged however that something is being done to improve the current system that is certainly in need of repair.

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Michael Niren

About Michael Niren

Michael is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association’s Citizenship and Immigration Section and the Associate Member of the American Bar Association. Read more

  • Steven B

    This is quite interesting.
    Where can you find this list of Safe Countries of Origin?

    • Thank you. As far as I know, the Safe Countries of Origin have not been published yet but I expect them to be among the G-8 and others.

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