Kenney’s immigration reforms will hurt refugees, say critics

Posted by admin on Apr 2nd, 2010

Apr 2 2010 – 8:29pm, John Bonnar,

Members of the newly formed Immigration Network took a swipe at Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s proposed immigration reforms Wednesday at a press conference outside the Immigration and Refugee Board Canada regional office in downtown Toronto. Under the proposed changes, Kenney promised quicker decisions on asylum claims and faster protection to those in need.

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

According to Kenney, Canada’s existing system is hampered by long delays which results in many claims taking years to resolve.

“Canada’s asylum system is broken,” he said. “We must act to avoid a two-tier immigration system: one for immigrants who wait in line – often for years – to come to Canada, and another for those who use the asylum system, not for protection, but to try to get through the back door into Canada.”

Right now, it takes an average of 19 months for a claim to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Kenney would shorten that to 60 days.

“This would allow those in need of our protection to have security, and to build their new lives in Canada much more quickly,” said the Immigration Minister.

While most claimants would have access to a new appeal process, failed asylum seekers would be removed within a year of their IRB hearing as compared with the current average of four and a half years.

“It is estimated that each failed asylum claim costs Canadian taxpayers $50,000, mostly in provincial social service and health costs, and that these reforms would reduce this cost to $29,000 per claim,” said Kenney. “Quick removal of failed claimants would help discourage individuals from using the asylum system to try to jump the immigration queue to enter Canada.”

The government said these changes would mean an annual increase of 2,500 refugees admitted to Canada and allow the government to add $54 million to the Resettlement Assistance Program.

The new measures would also allow the government to designate “safe” countries of origin.

Critics were quick to point out at Wednesday’s press conference why the proposed changes are detrimental to refugees.

Immigration lawyer Raoul Boulakia argued that the backlog of refugee claims could have been eliminated simply by adequately staffing the Refugee Board through qualified appointments. He alleged that the government allowed a backlog to be created and used that as a pretext to invent a crisis that needed radical changes.

“Decision making at the Board now is going to be demoted from board members to civil servants, who will be even less qualified ,” said Boulakia, “and the decision making is going to take place rapidly (within 60 days) which doesn’t necessarily give the government or the refugee claimant enough time.”

Boulakia also believes that by declaring certain countries and refugees to be “safe”, the government is guilty of overt political interference.

Across the street from the IRB regional office, Elizabeth Long, an immigration lawyer, said a refugee arriving in Canada will now be expected to find a good lawyer within eight days. “You probably can’t even find a good supermarket within eight days,” said Long.

Refugees need adequate time to obtain proper documentation, after fleeing their country of origin with the clothes on their back. “It is unreasonable for the Minister to expect real refugees to be able to prepare before they come to Canada,” she said.

As a result, she fears that more refugees will be placed in detention.

“Is this what Canada wants to be know for?” asked Long, who’s also troubled by Kenney’s decision to designate certain countries to be “safe”. “Many people who are gay and lesbian (in these so-called safe countries) are persecuted there.”

Immigration lawyer Andrew Brouwer pointed out that fairness should be paramount in an immigration system. He called the new system, which will be run by civil servants accountable to the Minister, “a serious problem.”

Brouwer said he doesn’t expect refugees will get a fair hearing under the new arrangement and hoped that members of all political parties will give the reforms a thorough review, listen to the views of immigration experts working on the front lines and make the necessary amendments before passing them into law.

“This is just a patchwork bill,” said Victor Wong, Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council. “None of the ideas that you see in this bill are new. Many of these ideas were proposed over the last ten years.

Ten years ago, Wong worked on the case of the Chinese boat migrants when 600 people arrived on four ships off the coast of British Columbia.

“What happened to them is about to happen to all of the future refugee claimants,” he said. “They were not given enough time to prepare for their cases which were overseen by so-called independent IRB adjudicators acting on the instructions of the government.

“The government had already detained those people and set the tone in how to handle those cases.”

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