Posted on March 31, 2010

Proposed Refugee Law Would Speed Process

Canadian Broadcasting Centre (CBC), March 30, 2010

Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney has introduced legislation that would give refugee claimants faster access to hearings and force the quicker removal of failed claimants trying to stay in Canada.

“Canada’s asylum system is broken,” Kenney said Tuesday in a formal announcement of the legislation.

“These changes would result in faster protection for those who need our help and quicker removals of those who do not,” Kenney said.

Currently, refugee claimants generally wait 19 months to have their claims heard before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which Kenney called “too long to wait.”

Instead, under his proposed changes, refugee claimants would receive “fast and fair decisions on asylum claims” within 60 days only.

“That means faster production for bona fide refugees,” Kenney said.

Bona fide refugees will also benefit from new guidelines that allow officers at the triage interview level to recommend certain refugees for “priority consideration.”

Tuesday’s reforms, along with reforms to refugee settlements announced Monday, will cost $540.7 million over five years to implement. It will require another $85.4 million a year to keep the new system running.

Failed claimants deported faster

Failed claimants would generally be removed within a year of their final IRB decision, compared with the 41⁄2 years it can currently take for them to exhaust all recourses and be removed.

There are more than 15,000 failed asylum claimants ready to be removed from Canada and another 38,000 whose whereabouts are unknown and who are subject to an immigration warrant, according to Kenney’s ministry.

Many of them must be found, escorted and removed by the Canada Border Services Agency, which Kenney’s ministry describes as “a very costly and time-consuming process.”

The government estimates Canadian taxpayers pay $50,000 per failed claimant, mostly to cover provincial social service and health costs.

The reforms announced Tuesday would reduce that cost to $29,000, the government estimates, because they shorten the time that failed claimants remain in the country.

The total savings, principally at the provincial level, will be “in the range of $1.8 billion,” Kenney said, underscoring that such estimates “are not an exact science.”

‘Safe countries of origin’

Kenney has also proposed creating a list of “safe countries of origin,” or “democratic countries with robust human rights records” that do not normally produce refugees.

Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney presented his legislation to tighten up Canada’s asylum system Tuesday in Ottawa.Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney presented his legislation to tighten up Canada’s asylum system Tuesday in Ottawa. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Asylum seekers from these countries would continue to have access to hearings before the IRB but would have to appeal a negative decision before the Federal Court instead of the Refugee Appeal Division.

Such a reform would presumably cut down on the number of false claimants who bog down the system, Kenney hopes.

“Our generosity is too often abused by false asylum claimants who come here and do not need our protection,” he said. “They’re misusing the asylum system to jump the queue rather than waiting their turn like everyone else.”

Kenney said Canada’s top source country for asylum claims in 2009 was Hungary, a member state of the European Union. Of the country’s estimated 2,500 claims, just 25 were deemed legitimate. Ninety-seven per cent were withdrawn or abandoned.

“If we don’t have the capacity to speed up the processing of those overwhelmingly false claims, we simply incentivize the networks–often commercial, sometimes criminal, networks–that counsel people to abuse the system,” Kenney told reporters.

Incentivizing creates momentum, which adds to the backlog, which adds to the processing times, he said, eventually becoming “a vicious cycle.”

Critics speak out

Kenney’s proposals, titled Bill C-11, will need parliamentary approval to become law.

Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua acknowledged the refugee system “is broken” and that the Conservatives’ package “tries to address some of the concerns.”

He said the idea of a safe countries list “needs to be explored further,” but said Kenney should have a chance to “explain himself on that particular issue.”

Bevilacqua was pressed by reporters to explain whether his party would vote in favour of the proposed legislation.

“You’re not always going to get a hundred per cent of what you want, particularly when you have a party-based system but my sense is that . . . there is a problem here,” Bevilacqua said.

“To start planting markers now I think it’s a way to basically say that you’re not dedicated towards a solution and that you’re happy with the present mess of affairs,” he said, adding that he is not.

Amnesty International Canada said creating a list of safe countries discriminates against individuals and is “a very, very dangerous way to go.”

“We never rank countries in terms of good guys and bad guys,” Amnesty spokeswoman Gloria Nafziger told CBC News.

“When you begin to determine which country is safe and which country is not safe, the consideration that you have to take into making that kind of a decision is . . . highly politicized,” Nafziger said.

Britain, France, Ireland and Switzerland, among others, already have safe country of origin policies in place that allow them to accelerate the cases of some asylum seekers.

The NDP also criticized the safe countries list, suggesting even democratic countries are not always “free from all forms of persecution.”

Criciticism ‘outrageous’: Kenney

Kenney defended his measures Tuesday afternoon in an interview with CBC News.

“I don’t want to tell someone who’s gotten off a plane that has been a victim of torture, say, in an Iranian prison, ‘Take a form and wait 19 months for us to get back to you,'” he said. “That is outrageous and anyone who defends that system is really defending the indefensible.”

Previous governments avoided dealing with the issue because of “opposition from a couple of shrill organizations,” Kenney said, in response to a question about criticisms.

“I think that it’s intolerable that anyone would say that we need to maintain a current system with massive permanent backlogs which works far too slowly,” he continued.