Good morning, Mr. Chair. I'm happy to appear before the committee on the topic of irregular migration today.
My name is Mike MacDonald. I'm the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic and Program Policy at IRCC, and I'm joined by my colleague, Louis Dumas, who is the Director General of our domestic network.
I will be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have, but first, I would like to make a few comments.
As everyone is aware, the Government of Canada has spent many months responding to the increase in irregular migration at key points along the border.
We continue to work with full vigour on this issue in collaboration with provinces, territories and municipalities, and across different departments and agencies within the Government of Canada.
Our common goals remain the same: ensuring an orderly and efficient process, treating asylum seekers humanely and in line with our international obligations, and protecting the safety and security of Canadians. That being said, I think it's important to keep sight of the fact that the asylum system has a role that is fundamentally different from all other areas of the immigration system.
Asylum claims are governed, in part, by international treaties that Canada has signed, so we have a legal responsibility to assess asylum claims as per international conventions.
The critical goals of Canada's asylum system include: first, saving lives; second, offering protection to displaced and persecuted people from every part of the world; third, responding to international crises by providing assistance to those in need of protection; and finally, meeting our country's international legal obligations with respect to refugees.
Our rules-based system will ultimately determine the validity of any individual asylum seeker's claim, but as officers, we never forget that many of these claimants have made very difficult decisions to leave their lives behind in order to arrive at our border.
We treat them with respect and afford them the opportunity to have their cases heard.
At the same time, we make every effort to communicate to potential asylum seekers that entering Canada between designated points of entry is not a free ticket into the country. Rather, it is a violation of Canadian law and can be very dangerous.
We continue to apply our policies and procedures to protect our border while respecting Canada's domestic and international obligations.
Many federal departments and agencies, along with provincial and local partners, are working together to manage the situation. We're making every effort to ensure adequate resources are available at key locations to address volume. Departments are continually reviewing their operational priorities to ensure we are appropriately responding. Together, we have made significant progress in the last several months in planning for further potential influxes.
This includes supporting the work of the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Irregular Migration, which provides a focal point for the collaborative work on this issue.
The Task Force has met nine times, and will continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss the latest progress and ongoing coordination efforts.
At their most recent meeting in Ottawa on April 18, members of the task force agreed to take concrete action to ensure even more coordinated and effective responses to the irregular migration situation. Although irregular crossings from the United States into Canada have occurred in different locations across the country such as the Pacific Highway in British Columbia; Emerson, Manitoba; and of course, Lacolle, Quebec, we do appreciate that the province of Quebec is in fact receiving a disproportionate number of the asylum seekers. That's why we're currently working with our Quebec counterparts on a number of issues in order to help move individuals who wish to go as quickly as possible to other provinces.
We also continue to work collaboratively with our counterparts in all provinces as part of our contingency planning, because even though we're managing current volumes, we know we must prepare for the possibility that numbers may increase. In fact, we've made significant progress in the last several months in planning for further potential influxes of asylum seekers, and we've introduced innovations into our processes that will help ensure a rapid response to any surge in irregular migration.
At the same time, we're continuing our outreach efforts to ensure that individuals are aware of Canadian immigration laws, and the risks of irregular migration into Canada.
In order to do so, we continue to work closely with our missions in the United States, engaging directly with communities in that country, and issuing messages on social media channels in Canada and the United States on these topics.
Many of the recent asylum seekers are Nigerians with U.S. visas, so we are also engaged with our U.S. counterparts in Nigeria to address joint challenges. With that in mind, we've been sharing information with the United States with the view of preventing any abuses of U.S. visas for the purpose of asylum, and that has had an impact in terms of the United States taking action.
In closing, I would like to state that we value the continued close collaboration among all those working to address the asylum issue both at home and abroad. We are committed to doing even more if and when opportunities arise.
Thanks very much, I look forward to answering your questions.
My name is Patrick Tanguy, I'm the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Emergency Management and Programs Branch at the Department of Public Safety. I'm also responsible for the Government Operations Centre.
First of all, I want to give members an overview of the role of the Department of Public Safety and then discuss contingency planning.
Public Safety is responsible for providing leadership relating to emergency management in Canada and ensuring a coordinated response to events affecting the national interest, including terrorism as well as human-induced and natural disasters.
With regard to irregular migrations in particular, the government operations centre is the organization that coordinated the development of the national contingency plan, working closely with all federal partners, including Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, as well as our RCMP colleagues.
In 2004, following a wide range of emergencies, the government operations centre was created by the Government of Canada in order to provide a centralized, stable, 24-7 facility to coordinate and support a whole-of-government response to these events.
As such, the government operations centre is the principal means by which the Minister of Public Safety exercises a leadership role in establishing an integrated federal approach to emergency response as mandated in the Emergency Management Act. The mandate of the government operations centre is to support coordination of events requiring a national response involving multiple federal departments or agencies when a single department or agency does not have the required capability, capacity, and jurisdiction to do so.
It is—and it's really important to focus on this—an interdepartmental response-focused asset. The government operations centre is a key asset working with all departments. The GOC is charged with the following functions: to provide definitive national-level situational awareness to partners and senior decision-makers; to provide 24-7 watch and early warning for the government; and, in support of partners' mandates, to ensure a whole-of-government response capability to ensure the efficient use of the Government of Canada's strategic assets and, when offered, provincial and territorial assets.
This is the key asset for the minister's and for the deputy minister's community to get the mechanisms and advice to support their direction.
During operations, the governance of the Government Operations Centre is in accordance with the Federal Emergency Response Plan, which is the Government of Canada's all-hazards response plan, designed to harmonize federal emergency response efforts with those of provinces, territories, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.
This Plan outlines the processes and mechanisms to facilitate an integrated Government of Canada response to an emergency.
Now I'd like to say a few words about contingency planning. Following the 2017 influx of asylum seekers, Public Safety Canada, in collaboration with other government departments, began contingency planning for a possible increase in irregular migrations. This resulted in the development of the national strategic response plan.
The plan is based on lessons learned and best practices derived from last year's influx of asylum seekers. Lessons learned included the need for an early decision on contracting and financial authorities, the establishment of a governance structure, and the early identification of primary and supporting departments.
Public Safety has been working closely with IRCC, CBSA, and Public Services and Procurement Canada, as well as reaching out to NGOs in the private sector to develop interim lodging options to address the increasing number of asylum seekers at the border in Lacolle, Quebec. There is ongoing work among all federal partners and also Quebec and Ontario provincial officials to address interprovincial movement of asylum seekers in order to export solutions to regulate the interprovincial flow and provide alternative accommodation options.
Provincial and federal assistant deputy ministers have been meeting on a regular basis to discuss and review capacity and planning issues with their provincial and territorial colleagues. Public Safety Canada supports these discussions by ensuring that plans made at federal and provincial levels are integrated and well coordinated.
Responding to the rapid increase in asylum seekers has been a whole-of government effort with many federal departments, agencies and provinces involved. The leadership shown by all has permitted an efficient response to a fluid situation.
I will finish there and I’d be happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
Good morning Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee.
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today about the RCMP's efforts related to irregular migration at our shared border with the United States.
I’m the Deputy Commissioner responsible for Federal Policing, and with me is Superintendent Jamie Solesme, who’s in charge of our Border Program.
The RCMP has the mandated responsibility for border security and enforcement between ports of entry.
Our primary objective is to prevent, detect, and disrupt cross-border criminality and any threats that may result in harm to Canada or Canadians. We work closely with the Canada Border Services Agency as one of our core federal counterparts as well as with U.S. partners including U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Crossing the Canadian border without reporting at a port of entry is not permitted under Canadian law, and any person found committing this offence may be arrested. That being said, as per section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, if an individual is seeking asylum, no enforcement action should be taken against them related to their entry. This is in line with the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, which clearly indicate that a person who enters a country irregularly in search of asylum should not be penalized.
RCMP officers are frequently the first point of contact for asylum seekers crossing at points of entry. When an individual is first encountered, their intentions are not known. It is the responsibility of our members to determine if they pose any risk to Canada.
To make such a determination, the RCMP conducts a preliminary risk assessment, which includes an interview, background checks and document review, to determine if there has been any known involvement in illegal activities or any connections to terrorism or organized crime.
Each case is individually assessed and the necessary time is taken to evaluate activities and confirm identity before determining the appropriate course of action. An asylum claimant is only released and transferred to the CBSA for processing once our members are satisfied there is no threat to Canadian interests.
As the committee is aware, there was a significant upturn in asylum claims last year, much of which came from individuals intercepted by the RCMP. In 2017, the RCMP intercepted 20,593 people crossing between ports, with 18,836 of these occurring near Roxham Road, in Quebec. Manitoba and British Columbia were also affected, but to a much lesser degree.
The upward trend has continued into the current calendar year, with a total of 5,052 intercepts between January and March. Again, the majority, 4,828, have occurred in Quebec, but intercepts also continue to occur in Manitoba and British Columbia.
As Canada's police force, the RCMP is present in every province and territory, which allows the force to adjust enforcement efforts with relative speed to ensure our focus is always targeted to the areas of greatest need. To respond, the number of resources allocated to the border has been enhanced, with a particular focus on Quebec as the province most impacted.
The cost to redeploy resources to impacted areas was absorbed in 2017 within our own budgets, with budget 2018 allocating approximately $10 million to the RCMP for fiscal year 2018-19. This funding is earmarked for border security and our enhanced presence at the border in support of our continued and effective response to the ongoing situation.
At present, the RCMP is monitoring the border on a 24-hour basis near Roxham Road with temporary infrastructure and the necessary facilities in place to allow for the orderly, timely and thorough assessment of each individual intercepted.
RCMP efforts and those of the CBSA have been highlighted by the United Nations Refugee Agency in its positive assessment of front-line operations at the border. The RCMP will continue to work in a collaborative and co-operative fashion with all partners to ensure an effective response.
Thank you for your attention. I am happy to take any questions you may have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Jacques Cloutier and I’m the Vice-President of the Operations Branch at the Canada Border Services Agency.
As this committee is aware, border security and integrity is a shared mandate between the Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as Gilles just described. The CBSA is responsible for enforcing domestic legislation at designated ports, and we work closely with the RCMP, who are responsible for enforcing the law between the ports.
Likewise, preserving the integrity of the immigration system is a shared mandate between the CBSA and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Together, we administer the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which governs both the admissibility of people into Canada, and the identification, detention and removal of those deemed to be inadmissible under the Act.
Individuals seeking entry into Canada must meet certain admissibility requirements under our legislation. An individual may make an asylum claim at any designated CBSA port of entry, or inland or at an IRCC office, regardless of whether they entered at a designated port or not.
Last year, as you know, asylum claims rose by 110% compared to the previous year, resulting in a surge of refugee claimants across Canada. In response, the agency demonstrated its ability to address the emerging and fluid situation, while still maintaining its ongoing commitment to protect and to serve Canadians.
When a person makes a claim for refugee protection, the CBSA determines the admissibility of the individual and the eligibility of the claim under the act. This process notably includes an interview, the taking of fingerprints and photos, as well as performing security, criminal record, and health checks. No asylum seeker leaves the ports before a risk assessment is completed. In 2017, the agency processed a total of 22,140 asylum claims in Canada, at airports, land borders, and inland offices, which means this rigorous process which I described was repeated over 22,000 times and always done with professionalism.
And while we rose to the occasion last summer, we know that continual review and refinement of our processes and strategies, in collaboration with partners, is key to remaining responsive.
We have created and are now implementing a comprehensive national plan that includes human resources, infrastructure, and operational processing to address any influx of asylum seekers.
The national plan also includes a strategy to ensure that sufficient temporary accommodation is available while asylum seekers are undergoing their eligibility determination.
As the situation across the country differs in each region, the agency acts quickly to deploy resources when and where they are most needed. We work with partners to ensure maximum operational efficiency.
As part of our response, contingency plans include the establishment of a surge capacity workforce that can be redeployed to process influxes across the country. These plans rely on a layered approach that shifts from one phase to the next depending on volumes and port capacity; they are flexible and scalable.
To do this, the agency makes the most effective use of all available options and ensures a steady stream of trained officers is deployed to the regions of highest activity.
For example, between July 2017 and March 2018, just over 800 employees were reallocated temporarily to the Quebec-U.S. land border to assist their colleagues during this surge. Our officers are proud of the role they play in facilitating and protecting Canada's borders and are keen to provide assistance where and when it's required.
Officer mobility will continue to be an effective strategy for maintaining service integrity and safety and will ensure that resources are in place throughout the asylum claimants screening process to minimize risks to the health and safety of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, I will conclude by underscoring the confidence that we have in our border service officers who go above and beyond their responsibilities to ensure the safety of Canadians and the integrity of the border.
I would also like to thank our colleagues from Public Safety, RCMP, IRCC, and IRB for their outstanding professionalism and dedication to ensuring the protection of Canadians through the compassionate treatment of claimants, while respecting our legislation and international obligations.
I'd be happy to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you for inviting us to appear before your committee.
My name is Shereen Benzvy Miller, and I am the Deputy Chair of the Refugee Protection Division at the Immigration and Refugee Board. I'm here with Greg Kipling, who is the Director General of Policy, Planning and Corporate Affairs.
I appreciate the opportunity to update the members of this committee on the impact of the influx of refugee claimants at the border on the Immigration and Refugee Board as well as the steps we are taking to address this phenomenon going forward.
I think it is important to bear in mind that the Refugee Protection Division, the RPD, has been experiencing a substantially rising intake for quite some time. Referrals rose from 16,000 in 2015 to 23,000 in 2016, and then to about 47,000 in 2017, representing a significant growth intake over the last two years. And so far in 2018, we've received 12,600 claims, of which approximately 43% percent are from people who crossed into Canada between ports of entry.
Building on lessons learned from the measures we took last fall in response to the surge in refugee claims, we have been working with our Government of Canada partners to create a contingency plan. We want to be as prepared as possible in the event of another influx of refugees at the border.
To increase the overall output of quality refugee determination decision-making, we have taken several measures to be as strategic as possible with our approach to case management and the resources at our disposal.
We have expanded our use of the expedited process, which is a tool we use in specific circumstances to increase output, without sacrificing the robust checks and balances currently in place, including the proper security checks.
We are also making use of the short hearing process, which essentially tries to fit more hearings onto our hearing schedule by matching case complexity with the expected time needed for a hearing.
We've also altered our scheduling approach, by primarily scheduling our oldest cases first, as these cases are more hearing-ready than some of the newer ones, and we are generally seeing fewer postponements and, as a result, more cases being finalized.
We have also been able to take greater advantage of country specialization on the part of our members, which has shown to yield tremendous efficiency gains.
Our appeal division has also made several positive changes by increasing adjudicative support to its members and by working toward making use of much simpler and more streamlined forms.
Finally, last year in the absence of additional funding, the board reallocated internal resources to establish a focused legacy task force to hear the remaining pre-2012 claims still pending before the RPD.
These ongoing efforts are showing strong results. We've increased the number of refugee claims finalized by approximately 40% over this past year. At this time, the board projects to be able to finalize up to 2,500 refugee protection claims per month.
While these efforts have borne fruit, they were not sufficient to fully address the growing backlog, which has been increasing by an average of approximately 2,300 per month over the past year, amounting to 53,000 pending claims at the beginning of April.
As such, we are grateful to have received in Budget 2018 $74 million over the next two years to increase capacity at the RPD and the RAD, the Refugee Appeal Division.
The first priority will be staffing, which includes new decision-makers and support staff in the RPD, as well as in internal services. We plan on adding at least 50 decision-makers in the RPD, and 14 in the RAD, along with the required support staff.
We anticipate to have 58 appointed members by the summer for the RAD and up to 72 in the fall — a full complernent. This will be the first time the RAD is ever at full complement.
What this means is that, with the funding over the next two years, we should be able to finalize more than 17,000 refugee protection claims and more than 3,000 refugee appeals by March 31, 2020, over and above what we are already funded to do. We are hard at work to make this happen.
Let me spend a moment on how we schedule and hear claims from individuals who have entered Canada between the ports of entry, as I know this is of specific concern to the committee at this time.
First, we feel that a balanced approach to scheduling and case management results in the most efficient processing of all claims. As I mentioned earlier, the RPD is predominantly focused on hearing its inventory in the order in which it was referred. This approach is flexible in its application, and we continue to make significant strategic case management decisions to ensure program efficiency and integrity.
Currently, this scheduling flexibility is most demonstrated in our eastern region where a significant portion of the inventory—approximately 60%—consists of those who have entered Canada between ports of entry. Because this intake is highly concentrated among several key countries, the caseload lends itself to the streamlining process. Currently, these claims make up 40% of the eastern region's finalizations, yet these claims are not necessarily among the region's oldest.
From an adjudicative perspective, at their core, these claims are like others before the RPD: each is heard on a case-by-case basis by an independent decision-maker. Each is afforded the same procedural rights as other claims. Each has appeal rights at the RAD. The fact that these individuals entered Canada between ports of entry makes very little difference from an adjudicative perspective. The caseload, however, as I mentioned before, does lend itself to realizing solid case processing efficiencies.
Of course, challenges remain. All of us — the federal government, the provinces, municipalities, law enforcement, lawyers, and advocacy groups — face the same difficulty in adequately predicting the scope and size of future migrations, and this uncertainty creates impediments for planning for future migrations.
Member recruitment is challenging and difficult. It is difficult to increase capacity on a dime. We have outstanding member vacancies both at the RPD and the RAD. These positions are highly specialized and require highly qualified and dedicated individuals. Once hired, there is extensive training involved before they can begin to take on a caseload.
Linked to the imperative of hiring new members, there are of course the inherent challenges of having only a two-year funding window. It can be difficult to attract talent if all you have to offer is a couple of years of employment.
We greatly appreciate the allocated funding. We will use it to increase our output of excellent administrative decision-making on refugee matters at both the first instance and the appeal level.
I hope this provides a helpful overview. I look forward to your questions.
There's a lot there, so I'll try to parse it out as clearly and as best I can.
I think the best way to start the response is to say what the safe third country agreement is. It's a binational treaty. As a treaty, it's agreed upon by each country, and then there are mechanisms that countries use to put into effect the treaty.
The reason I bring that up is that no one can just independently go and change the safe third agreement, because it's a treaty. You need both parties to first agree to amend the treaty, then enter into a process of formal negotiations, and then move into a formalization process to put that input through domestic mechanisms.
In terms of our engagements that we've had with the Americans over the last...well, if you look at the period of when the irregular migration episode happened, but of course we have ongoing relationships and engagements with the United States.... When we look at the engagements we've had—and I've said this before—we have been in constant contact with the Americans about Roxham Road. We have been in contact with the Americans through our working groups and at our level in terms of asylum, the North American perimeter, and what's happening overall.
Part of these engagements has in fact incurred us sharing with the Americans what we feel are the challenges with the safe third agreement as it stands today. The key point here is that today is a more modern time than when the agreement was negotiated in 2004 and formalized. A 14-year gap has occurred. We've done this with the hope that one day we can have richer conversations with the Americans on asylum and on the perimeter, and safe third is but one part of that richer conversation.
Our American colleagues have been receptive to us in our conversation. They have not shared with us their views on what we feel are the challenges, so I cannot comment on what the Americans may feel the challenges are with the safe third. That has not occurred, but again, as has been said in the media and by ministers and parliamentarians, there are no formal negotiations occurring at this time, so as for where the scope of conversations can go into the future, I don't have any way to predict where that could or could not go.
To solve a problem, we must clearly establish its causes.
I take from your answer that the main cause of the problem is that people who lived in the United States or had a visa for this country started to be scared and showed up on Roxham Road. That’s what you said.
Mr. MacDonald, this question is for Ms. Benzvy Miller rather than for you.
The Immigration and Refugee Board produces charts, in particular on the asylum claims and interceptions by the RCMP at air and land borders.
We want to understand and follow the situation as acutely as possible, especially with respect to the judgment.
In Quebec, at land borders — so at border crossings — there were 1,486 interceptions and 185 asylum claims in February. That’s an 8 to 1 ratio. This means that 80% of people go through Roxham Road.
I want to understand something. In Quebec, there were 1,884 interceptions made by the RCMP and 1,610 asylum claims at land borders in March. We’re really under the impression that the situation is deteriorating, but we might think that it’s now half and half and that we’ve improved the situation by at least 30%.
I would like to understand how you make your calculations and why you’ve changed your method.