Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
This is meeting number 16 of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. This meeting is televised.
We have two items today. For the first hour, we have Minister as our guest to talk about the supplementary estimates. In the second hour, we are continuing our study on the report on the protection of women in our immigration system.
We will proceed.
Mr. Alexander, thank you very much for coming before us today with your guests.
We have with us Mr. Robert Orr, who was just here recently, and Mr. Linklater, of course, the assistant deputy minister, strategic and program policy, who has been here many times as well, as has Mr. Tony Matson, assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer. We also have with us the deputy minister, Ms. Biguzs.
The Honourable is here.
You have the floor, sir, for up to 10 minutes. Thank you for coming.
Mr. Chair, colleagues, thank you for inviting us.
Good afternoon everyone.
I'm delighted to be here with so many from the senior leadership of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to present our department's supplementary estimates (C) for fiscal year 2013-14.
The most significant allocation of $35.5 million in additional funding will allow us to meet our obligations under the requirements of the Canada-Quebec accord on immigration. As you know, this accord gives the Government of Quebec the exclusive responsibility for immigrant and integration services in return for financial compensation from the Government of Canada.
Our supplementary estimates also include an allocation of $3.9 million to support immigration for official language minority communities as part of the “Roadmap for Canada's Official Languages”.
Overall, under the Official Languages Roadmap for Linguistic Duality 2013 to 2018, our government has invested $149.5 million over five years in initiatives related to official languages and immigration. That is a significant sum.
Most of this $3.9 million in funding—in other words $2.3 million—will be invested in promotion and recruitment activities in Canada and abroad, primarily through expanding the frequency and the number of locations of existing events such as the Destination Canada job fair, a very successful event that many of you probably know. Through these successful job fairs, we help to connect French-speaking or bilingual skilled workers with employers across Canada.
We are always struck by the number of francophones outside of Quebec who are not born in Canada, who are immigrants. I will give you a statistic that you may not know. The population of the Yukon is now 14% francophone, and that number is completely unheard of in the Canadian territories. It says a lot about the strength of our francophone immigration policy outside of Quebec.
Mr. Chair, francophone immigration under our government is on the rise. We want it to increase even further.
We have seen a consistent annual increase in the number of francophone minority immigrants since 2006, and we will continue to promote initiatives to strengthen Canada's francophonie in all the provinces and territories.
This past November, I had the opportunity to launch the first ever National Francophone Immigration Week. I think the event was greatly appreciated in Ontario, which has a significant francophone population of course, but also in New Brunswick, Manitoba and all the provinces.
Through these initiatives we are helping our francophone and other immigrant populations successfully integrate into Canadian society.
Unfortunately, the previous government ignored this issue for 13 years. We are committed to strengthening francophone immigration.
We also want to continue to strengthen immigration outside of the big cities. Under the Liberal government, I believe that nearly 92% of our immigrants went to the three big cities or metropolitan areas. Today, immigration is much more spread out. Small cities and rural areas are receiving more and more immigrants. And this is what our demographics and our economy require.
Our government is committed to ensuring the successful integration of newcomers across Canada, both into the labour market and into their new communities, wherever they settle.
Let me give you a couple more of the highlights from the supplementary estimates, so that we're all clear on how the numbers change the outlook for our department and reflect the priorities and program reforms we continue to make.
I mentioned funding the Canada-Quebec Accord, which is an obligation and which continues to grow in accordance with the terms of that accord. The funding to promote official languages is there, a needed adjustment to reflect the strength of our commitment under the road map.
Item 3 is the funding for debt writeoff from uncollectable immigration loans. This is the standard procedure that we have. We give loans to large numbers of refugees, and some other categories of immigrants. The collection rate is something like 91%, but there are some loans that are not collected, and we are adjusting the amount to reflect that.
Under item 6, you see several available authorities that we have had to take advantage of this year in order to fund other priorities because we weren't fully using those authorities this year. This is a standard procedure, and I can give you more details about which appropriations are there. One of them is the biometrics initiative. Another is reductions in an initiative to fund workplace technology devices. There was $.9 million savings for the entry/exit perimeter initiative. There were some savings in the federal skilled workers return of fees. These are all authorities that we had that weren't fully used, so the money is reallocated through these available authorities to help us meet the adjustments in these supplementary estimates (B).
The same goes for statutory appropriations. We have basically decided not to refund as large a number of the federal skilled worker backlog. We will complete the refunding of that program, I believe next year. Again, that money allows us to meet the requirements for this year.
Then, on transfers, there are essentially five different transfers. These are standard procedures that reflect our intense and complicated relationships with sister departments. We are receiving some money back from Foreign Affairs Trade and Development Canada. We are receiving some money back from Shared Services Canada, and we are transferring some money to the Canada Border Services Agency. There are two transfers that reflect the fact that we have assumed responsibility, as of this past summer, for International Experience Canada. This is a very successful program that used to be delivered by Foreign Affairs and is now delivered by us.
Those are the highlights, and that is the substance of the supplementary estimates (C) for this year.
If I have a couple of more minutes, Mr. Chair—
Thank you, Mr. Menegakis.
We know we have to invest in this program, and we want more than ever to invest in this program, this road map, because we've always had francophones, French Canadians, in all parts of this country. But even more so, we know it is part of who we are.
It's part of our Canadian identity. It is a part of our immigration programs themselves. It's something that all Canadians across the country want.
Never before has there been such a keen interest in immersion programs. For example, in my riding, Ajax—Pickering, the only new schools being built are francophone schools. This is because French-language education has become so popular among anglophones.
We also know, though, that to have successful francophone immigration to all parts of the country, we need settlement services, support, language training, a whole network that wasn't there in the past. We've tripled— in some provinces, quadrupled—the support for settlement services. In every case there is a francophone component, and that is making it more and more attractive for francophones from France, Haiti, and Cameroon to go to places like Vancouver or Yukon. They're not always there in large numbers, but they go because they find the services they need, and that is absolutely the right thing for Canada. That reflects our history, it reflects our identity today, and it certainly reflects our future.
Absolutely. Everyone is going to like EOI because it will be faster than ever. It will be a closer match between their skills, whether they are English-speaking or French-speaking, and Canadian needs, and it will show that Canada is once again at the forefront of modernizing its immigration programs.
Yes, Australia and New Zealand have had a system similar to EOI before, but we're doing it on a larger scale and I have every confidence we're going to do it better than any other country that has implemented such a program, and that will be exciting for talented people around the world.
French remains a highly international language, widely used in all parts of the world.
This is a strength for Canada, to be able to attract francophone immigrants from around the world, to deploy them in Canada and make use of them in our trade relationships and academic investments worldwide as a springboard for our growth and the growth of our exports.
Our bilingual advantage is a very important asset for Canada, and we want our immigration programs to magnify that asset.
Welcome, Minister and officials.
I'd like to focus on the citizenship program, beginning with your chart, which shows a mushrooming of processing times from 15 months to 31 months over the last seven years accompanied by a statement in your document that “as resources for processing these applications have not kept pace, backlogs have developed” over those seven years. Then there's a commitment to more funds, which is the main reason why, you alleged, the processing times will come down.
In budget 2013 the government committed $44 million over two years to this program, and since the program was only $46 million to begin with, that's a doubling of the program over two years, so that may have an impact. The commitment was for $20 million extra in 2013-14 and $23 million in 2014-15.
So imagine my surprise when I looked at the estimates and I found that instead of $20 million extra in 2013-14 there were zero extra dollars in 2013-14, nothing at all. So rather than reducing times, there was nothing at all spent where $20 million was committed. Then if you look at the estimates for next year, you find that the full amount, $44 million or so, instead of being spread over 2013-14, was included in the single year 2014-15. So instead of having $20 million and $23 million over two years, nothing was done in year one and all of it was put into year two.
There are problems with that, Mr. Chair. First of all, why was nothing put into the program when the budget promised it would be in 2013-14? Second, how can you possibly want us to believe that you can double the program in a single year? Finally, is it not a little bit suspicious that we will not know until after the next election whether this $44 million extra in 2014-15 is actually spent? There's no pre-election accountability as to whether or not you actually spend this money, which is absolutely essential to keeping your promises to reduce processing times.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I will be splitting my time with Mr. Komarnicki.
Minister, thank you to you and your staff for being here today.
I've been involved in this since I worked for Jason Kenney at one time and I've watched many of these new reforms come in that have absolutely, I think, made our government and country proud by being able to offer very flexible ways for people to either visit this country, come stay in this country, or rejoin their families in this country.
We've redistributed how immigration is allocated—as you just mentioned, Minister—across the country and how those funds are redistributed to recognize that redistribution, and of course we do targeting for francophones. We are part of la Francophonie, and I think that we have an obligation, of course, to work within that construct and develop those abilities that we have.
I've got lists and lists in front of me of our accomplishments in the last few years, which have been absolutely unprecedented.
I have just a quick question. We're moving money from contributions to grants and to the Institute for Canadian Citizenship in order to encourage national dialogue around and build awareness of Canadian citizenship, as we've already done in so many ways with our products. What other programs does the Institute for Canadian Citizenship run that you can tell us about?
I do think it's a very exciting time for Canadian citizenship, not just because of gold medals in hockey at Sochi and other achievements of which we are justifiably proud. We are making progress in delivering citizenship better. In just two months there were 41,000 citizenship awards. That puts us on a pace, if we kept it up, to do 240,000 this year, which would be well beyond what we have ever done in the past. I don't expect that, by the way. But it's a great way to begin the year. It certainly has us on a pace to beat last year, and the year before, even before the provisions of the new act come into play which will make us more efficient and more productive on the citizenship front.
I should mention, in talking about the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, there is one great initiative that I didn't mention which is their cultural access pass, which allows newcomers to Canada to go to this huge number of cultural attractions and national parks across the country that most of us have not visited. It's a great way to open their imaginations and minds to the scale of this country and its history.
But what are we doing in this bill to strengthen Canadian citizenship? I think it really comes down to two things.
One, taking a solemn commitment from every applicant to be a citizen, that they are going to reside here, that they are going to meet the terms required to become a citizen. We're going to do that in a way that is verifiable now. That's exciting because it's going to make the rules clearer, more understandable, and equal for everyone. There won't be ways of jumping the queue or getting around the rules.
Two, we are going to make sure there is this deeper connection, this sense of attachment and belonging to Canada. It used to be five years under successive Liberal governments, until the 1970s. Then it went down to three years, and we had a certain number of people who weren't even here for the three years and nevertheless became Canadian citizens. Now we're saying it's going to be four years out of six. That's flexibility that reflects the global lives that many people are leading, but it's going to emphasize to newcomers to Canada that there is no substitute for direct experience of our country. Four years of that experience, we think, is enough to create the connection that leads to strong citizenship.
I have to say we are very pleased by the reaction we've had, first and foremost from newcomers, from new Canadians themselves saying this is what they want to see. Canadian citizenship has value, and no one is going to protect the value of our citizenship if we don't do that ourselves, especially we as legislators in this committee and the Parliament of Canada.
All right. And I am an immigration and refugee lawyer here in Ottawa—
The Chair: Everybody's a lawyer here. Good.
Ms. Heather Neufeld: —at South Ottawa Community Legal Services.
As I'm sure you probably know, in October 2012 Canada implemented a new conditional permanent residence regime for certain sponsored spouses and partners. That's for anyone whose sponsorship was submitted after October 25, 2012. The first two years of the person's sponsorship will be conditional if they have been married or lived common-law with their sponsor for less than two years before that sponsorship and they have no children in common.
Under the new law, if the sponsored person does not remain cohabiting in that conjugal relationship for the first two years—the conditional period—then their permanent residence may be revoked and they may find themselves at risk of deportation.
Now the government has enacted two exceptions to that conditional permanent residence for people it would normally affect, and that is for people whose sponsor dies during the conditional period or for people who are subjected to domestic violence by their sponsor or someone related to their sponsor during that two-year period.
My emphasis today is going to be on the domestic violence exemption during the two-year conditional period. Although we applaud the government for creating the domestic violence exemption, there's more that needs to be done to make it practically and meaningfully accessible to women in the situation who need to access that domestic violence exemption.
First I'm going to mention a few of the vulnerabilities of the women who may find themselves in that situation of needing to access the exemption, and then I'm going to talk about a few of the practical examples of how implementation of the exemption needs to be improved, and some of the barriers that we're seeing already. This is a very new procedure. Given that it only applies to sponsorships that have been submitted after October 25, 2012, we haven't seen tons of cases yet, but we have seen some that are starting to give us a picture already of what's happening.
I'd like to note that 59% of sponsored spouses are women. Those are the most recent statistics that we were able to access from 2012. It's important to consider situations of domestic violence because in the conditional permanent resident system, the conditionality of the two-year period gives an abusive sponsor an extra tool, an extra type of power that he can hold over the woman. And I'm saying “he” and “woman” because in the majority of these situations, I'm talking about a male sponsor and a female sponsored person. Now it could be a same-sex relationship, or it could be reversed as well. The sponsor is able to hold over the woman that basically if she doesn't obey, if she doesn't put up with the domestic violence and she leaves before the two years are up, she can find herself without status. He can also split up with her and cause her to not have status, or he can give tips to Immigration saying that she entered into the marriage fraudulently, even if she didn't.
So what are some of the barriers that these women face who are experiencing domestic violence? I'm sure you've heard many of them before, everything from language barriers to isolation and not knowing about their options for help to not having financial resources, fear of homelessness, lack of a support network in Canada, being afraid of the police and the authorities here because in many countries the police are organs of repression themselves, and as well fear of leaving the abusive sponsor because that may also affect their children. If a mother arrives with conditional permanent residence and she has children from a previous relationship she has brought with her, if she doesn't stay in the conditional situation for two years, the children's status is also at risk.
Given this situation, given the vulnerability of women who are experiencing domestic violence, for women to be able to come forward to CIC and say, “I'm in a domestic violence situation, I need to be exempted from fulfilling the two-year conditional period”, it's important that the exemption is really functional for women.
And so I'm going to mention just four points of problems that we're seeing or things that we think can be improved. The first is having a designated CIC phone number that's actually staffed by a real person. And that may seem self-evident, but if you've ever tried to call the CIC call centre, as we have many, many times, usually you don't reach anyone or you stay on line for a very long time, and then the phone hangs up on you. Now if a women is in a domestic violence situation and she needs to call CIC, explain her situation, often she's not able to stay by a phone for hours to keep trying to call. Even if she does reach an agent at the CIC call centre, she then has to be transferred to another department, and an officer has to call her back.
This is a problem, because there isn't necessarily a number where the woman can be called back all the time. Women need to be able to access a phone number where they can reach a person who can actually initiate the process with them.
As well, it would be helpful for particularly non-government organizations and lawyers who are assisting these women to be able to submit an exemption request either electronically or by mail rather than having to do everything only by phone, which is currently the only permitted option. We're aware of cases, in one case, for example, a woman has been calling CIC since November. Even when her case gets transferred to the client relations department, there is no voice mail at that department. She doesn't reach anyone. Someone eventually calls her back but she's not there. They've just gone in circles since November. It's important that they can reach someone.
The second issue is the need for telephone interpretation. A lot of women do not have strong enough English or French, particularly if they've just recently arrived. CIC would be very helpful if they provided telephone interpretation in these kinds of circumstances, much as Legal Aid Ontario does with their 1-800 number for requesting legal aid certificates. It's a model that exists with other organizations. It would be extremely helpful for women to be able to speak directly to the CIC agent themselves.
The third issue is better training for CIC officers. Currently we're seeing issues like officers, despite there being an operational bulletin on the domestic violence exemption, not being aware of the correct information, and saying that they don't know the procedure; that a woman has to wait the two years of conditional permanent residence before she can apply; or that they can't talk to a woman who's using an interpreter because the interpreter is not an authorized representative. There are problems like that.
I've been doing immigration for about 20 years, and I'm a certified specialist in immigration and refugee law. I'm not an expert in violence against women, so I'm going to limit my comments today to things that I've seen on the ground in my practice as a lawyer, real-life examples and things I have actually observed personally.
From my observation, the issue of violence against women in the immigration system has many causes, but it breeds on two factors. First of all, there's a lack of information and education, initially, by women who are immigrating to Canada. Second, there's a situation of isolation in which they find themselves after they immigrate to Canada, which keeps them in a powerless position of being unable to learn about their rights.
From thousands of spousal sponsorships that I've handled personally, I see the solutions in the immigration context as being divided into two separate factors. First of all, what can we do before the woman arrives in Canada to ensure she is arriving in the best possible conditions to be able to understand what her rights are? Second, what can we do after she arrives in terms of integration and settlement into the community, so that even if she doesn't know her rights before she gets here, she will at least somehow learn about them after she arrives?
With the sponsorship process itself, there are some gaps that I think could be addressed, some through regulatory revision and some through simple procedural changes. The first one is sponsorship eligibility. Under our current system, a sponsor must be 18 years old in order to sponsor a spouse. However, the sponsored applicant, the person who is overseas, need only be 16 years old to be sponsored as a married person. I see that as problematic. I think probably the reason it was written that way in the first place is to make it consistent with Canadian law. In most provinces you have to be 16 to legally marry. So that's probably why it was written that way in the first place.
But I think there's a strong case to increase the minimum age from 16 to 18 years. I believe it would disincentivize families overseas from forcing their younger daughters to marry so early. Why should we distinguish between marriages that take place in other countries compared to marriages that take place in Canada? Well, I believe people who get married in Canada have all the legal protections of our system. If they enter into an abusive relationship or if they suffer coercion in entering into a marriage, they can access the Canadian legal system to take care of that. However, women overseas do not have those rights.
I'm not saying we shouldn't recognize marriages as legal if they occur in another country with a woman who is under 18 years of age. But I think what we should do is not allow that person to be sponsored until she at least reaches the age of 18. I believe that being faced with the prospect of waiting two years before sponsorship is allowed to take place would disincentivize families and allow them to allow the girls to mature a little bit and reach the age of 18 before rushing into the marriage.
I should state that not all of my colleagues share this view. Contrary views have been expressed, specifically that it would end up putting a girl possibly in a worse position, that if she's married when she's 16 and then has to wait two years before she can be sponsored, she would certainly be much better protected in Canada compared to outside of Canada. But my view is that it's a good case to increase the age of sponsorship.
If I then turn to looking at the specific immigration processes, simple things such as making amendments to application forms and application kits could really go a long way. For example, what I often see in my practice is that young couples are not filling out their application forms and making their sponsorship applications on their own. It is usually an elder family member, a father, uncle, or a brother, who is doing this on their behalf. The problem is that oftentimes young couples do not understand what has been written in the application and do not understand what they are signing. They may not even have been permitted to read those application forms before they signed.
I believe the application form should be amended to have two different spaces on them. The first would be a space that allows people to write down if they had an interpreter who interpreted the contents of that application form to them in their own language. The second space should be for disclosing whether they had someone assist them with preparing those application forms or if someone prepared those application forms on their behalf.
It's not going to be a foolproof solution, but at minimum it's better than the system we have now where people who don't speak English at all sign the application form stating that the contents are true and correct and have no real way of knowing exactly what they have attested to in those application forms. It also allows some accountability later, with someone's signature there as an interpreter; if they did not interpret those forms, it gives someone to go back to, to ask why they didn't do that.
When it comes to consideration of the application, currently many applications are processed without the need for a personal interview. In those cases where a personal interview is required, it is only the foreign national who is required to attend that interview, and the sponsor is not. In fact, most of the time the sponsor is never heard from by the visa officer who is making a decision on the application.
Ideally, I think it would be better to insist on some form of contact with both parties. That does not have to necessarily be a personal interview; it could be something as simple as a phone call to establish contact and make sure there is no situation of coercion or abuse taking place. It should be someone who would speak directly, particularly to the female in the situation, alone, in isolation, without someone being there with her, to make sure that coercion is not taking place.
My issue is what you do in the system when a visa officer does discover that the woman is being coerced or abused. How do you handle that situation? Surely the solution cannot be to send the girl back to her family, in shame, with a refusal letter stating that she disclosed the abuse to the visa officer.
What I think should be on the table for consideration is that an officer might consider applying humanitarian and compassionate consideration to the case as a matter of routine. That is not to say that it has to be successful in every case, but I think an officer should look at whether that might be a possible solution, to allow the girl to immigrate to Canada without having the sponsorship hanging over her head in an abusive situation.
Incidentally, I agree completely with the comments of my friend Ms. Neufeld about the conditional permanent residents. Those domestic violence guidelines need to be clarified.
Finally, the one last recommendation I want to make is that there should be a sponsorship bar for women who have come to Canada, claimed refugee status on the grounds of domestic violence, been accepted, and then a couple of years later want to sponsor the husband who abused her. I do not mean that as a punishment to the woman, but as a means of protecting her. I have personally seen several cases of this happening, where the women come under incredible family pressure to forgive the abuser and to sponsor him to Canada. I believe that putting in a legal barrier to her doing that would relieve her of that obligation, and would relieve her of the family pressure to sponsor someone she probably doesn't want to sponsor in the first place.
I'll confine my comments to that because I think I'm out of time.
I'm looking at it from that perspective.
We found at that time that of the 500 victims of marriage of convenience, the majority were immigrants themselves. They were the sponsors who were duped and virtually they have no recourse, and to this date they have no recourse. And many of them, perhaps the majority of these duped immigrant sponsors, were women. And although they made written complaints to the CBSA and to CIC that they had been duped, that their sponsored spouse arrives in Canada and is gone within a few days, within a few months, there's no recourse. The CBSA and CIC does not have the personnel, does not have the means to deal with these allegations. So there is a subgroup of immigrant women who have been abused, and really abused. They may be stuck with enormous debt to pay back social services if their spouse or their former spouse decides to go on welfare within the three years of their financial obligation. Then they have to hire a family lawyer if the spouse goes after them in Family Court for support or division of property.
There is one category of immigrant women who do suffer abuse from another point of view that I would like to bring to your attention as well, because they seem to be left out of this whole equation of abused immigrant women. Now before I came here, I did a consultation with a criminal law firm of Addelman Baum Gilbert in Ottawa. Richard Addelman, the senior lawyer, has been a criminal lawyer since the 1970s. So a report of domestic abuse, as you all know, is not necessarily a real case of abuse. And as they explained to me, there are thousands upon thousands of false allegations of domestic abuse made, particularly in separation cases, divorce cases, custody cases. However, all the spouse has to say is that he abused me yesterday, last year, whenever, the crown has no discretion. They must arrest the accused. They must take him down to the police station, they must proceed with trial, even if the crown knows, even if both are aware there's hardly any evidence or it will not stand, they must proceed to trial.
Now with this new loophole, just because a sponsored spouse says she's been abused, unless it's clearly evident, until there is a trial, how do we know that is not a false allegation of abuse simply to get around the new conditional residency requirement? How do we know how many of these cases are false allegations where a Canadian sponsor will have to hire a criminal lawyer, will have to go to trial, and by the way, it takes a minimum of one year to go to trial, and there are absolutely no consequences for false allegations. Nothing. A judge can tear into the complainant during the criminal trial and tear her testimony to pieces. She will not be charged with perjury. She will not be charged with anything. But a sponsor who was falsely accused of domestic abuse because the sponsored spouse doesn't feel like hanging around for two years and just wants to become a permanent resident, he has to hire a criminal lawyer. His life is destroyed, and it goes on for a year.
I am speaking first-hand of one of my cases, at which I'll be testifying at a criminal trial. I helped a female immigrant, a failed refugee claimant from one of the Scandinavian countries. She came to me when there was a removal order in place against her. I wasn't involved with her refugee claim. She came to me to stop the removal order. She had two children and she had sort of joint custody with her Canadian husband who had withdrawn the sponsorship and their allegations of abuse.
I succeeded, for various reasons, in stopping this removal order. She would disappear for six or seven months at a time. She was having a lot of emotional issues and breakdowns.
Two years later, in 2012, she came back to me, after an absence of about a year, with a new Canadian husband and another child to do an in-Canada spousal sponsorship, and I was really happy for her. And I did, and I proceeded, and we did it. Everything got going. I submitted it. Then in January 2013, I got an email from her, on a particular date, stating, “I'm just terrible at choosing husbands. My marriage has broken down. As usual, I picked the wrong man”—something to that effect—“and he's been abusive, not physically, but he won't give me money to spend as I wish”. It was something like that. She said he was psychologically abusive.
Two days later, I got a call from the husband. These were joint clients I had in the past. He said, “The marriage has failed. I've taken our child. She's had another breakdown and we just can't continue. What am I supposed to do? What are my rights?” I said, “Well, if you're no longer together, just withdraw the spousal sponsorship.” I imagine that's what he did, because a week later I got another email from her stating that she had been sexually assaulted by her husband on a date prior to her first email.
So clearly when she was in a position that there was going to be a removal order issued against her, we went from psychological abuse to sexual assault. That's an abuse of the system, and I'm afraid that might happen in these cases.
Just because someone says they've been a victim of domestic abuse, unless it's clearly evident, until you go to trial, you really don't know. Just as when someone says they're a refugee claimant, until they've had their hearing, we don't know if they really are a refugee.
We have seen many cases, and we do a lot of training for other organizations on dealing with cases where there is abuse while a sponsorship is in process, and the woman either has to walk away from the sponsorship or the sponsor withdraws the sponsorship as part of the abuse. The woman's only recourse generally is a humanitarian and compassionate grounds application.
As part of that application, she has to show establishment in Canada. Often she's at a point where, particularly due to the domestic violence, she's not in a strong position to show establishment in the financial sense, in the sense of being well integrated. She may have been isolated, she may have been prohibited from taking language courses.
The United States has what's called the self-petition procedure for women precisely in that kind of situation. It was authorized under their Violence Against Women Act, which permits women whose sponsorship has broken down or been withdrawn and processed, to petition for permanent residence on their own behalf, apart from their sponsor, on the basis of the domestic violence they've experienced in the U.S. They have to show certain documentation relating to the domestic violence, but it gives them a tool to be able to safely leave that abusive situation and not have to stay in this situation of violence simply to try to obtain their permanent residence.
I would like to see something established more along those lines, rather than women having to resort to the humanitarian procedure, which also does not stop deportation, and given the long processing times right now, a woman is going to be deported long before that application even gets looked at.