Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and committee members. Good morning. Let me add my words of welcome and congratulations also to Minister Blair. We're very glad to have him as part of our team at Public Safety.
The border, Mr. Chair, that we share with the United States is the most successful international boundary in the history of the world. It is a source of great prosperity for both our countries, with 400,000 people and $2.5 billion in trade crossing in both directions every day. This immense flow of trade and travel happens at the same time that security, of course, remains our top priority when it comes to border management. From the very beginning of the asylum-seeker issue about 18 months ago, the Government of Canada has repeatedly emphasized two primary objectives: make sure that all Canadian laws are enforced, and make sure that all of Canada's international obligations are honoured. We have met those imperatives, Mr. Chair, without fail and we will continue to do so, ensuring public safety and national security.
We can all thank the competent officers responsible for law enforcement and border security for that. They enforce Canada's laws while ensuring we meet our international obligations. Both for them and for our government, security remains the number one priority.
Our law enforcement and border security personnel have been performing their duties in a professional and highly effective manner during what has been a busy and challenging time. Everyone who has seen them in action at the border, at places like Lacolle, have nothing but praise and admiration for their work, including, I am pleased to say, the leader of the official opposition, who paid a visit to the border at Lacolle some weeks ago.
We have repeatedly made clear that entering Canada outside an official port of entry is not a free ticket to stay here. There are rules and procedures that must be followed—notably, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Criminal Code. The women and men of the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, and the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship apply those rules and procedures assiduously. Those who cross the border between ports of entry are immediately arrested. They are carefully interviewed, searched, fingerprinted, and photographed. Their identity is verified both biographically and biometrically. Their records are checked against Canadian and international databases for any immigration, security, or criminal concerns. If they present any risk to the safety and security of Canadians, they can be detained as necessary.
Asylum seekers who are found eligible to pursue an asylum claim in Canada are issued a conditional removal order pending the resolution of their claim by the Immigration and Refugee Board. That is a question of fact that they must prove. If the IRB finds that an individual is in genuine need of Canada's protection, they receive that protection in keeping with our values and our long-standing international commitments. If the claim is unsuccessful, the claimant becomes inadmissible to Canada, and the removal process proceeds as quickly as possible in accordance with the due process of law.
That is the process, because since Canada signed on to the UN refugee convention nearly half a century ago, it has been one of our country's bedrock principles that we do give a fair hearing to people on our soil who ask for our protection. That principle is embodied in section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
At the same time, our system must be well managed. That's why earlier this year the government operations centre within my department led Canada's contingency planning for a possible surge in irregular migration this summer. In fact, the number of asylum seekers crossing between ports of entry went down in May, and it went down again in June, now to the lowest monthly total so far in 2018. But thanks to our preparations as well as continued collaboration with provincial and municipal partners, we have a national strategic response plan that is now in effect. This plan is based on lessons learned and best practices from our experiences collectively last year. It enables us to use all of the resources—technology, intelligence, and partnerships—available to address fluctuations in irregular migration. It is flexible and nimble, and allows for quick responses when necessary, including increases and decreases in capacity based on need.
These measures are bolstered by the additional funding provided in budget 2018. Within the public safety portfolio, that includes $49 million for CBSA, $10 million for the RCMP, and $2 million for CSIS. On top of that there are, of course, regular communications with U.S. authorities. I raised this matter of irregular migration, for example, at the G7 security ministers meeting in Toronto in April, where American officials undertook to strengthen efforts on their part to prevent the abuse of U.S. travel documents. That have in fact done that.
All of this taken together is ensuring effective, responsible management of the situation at our border.
I'll conclude with this. Irregular migration is an issue that countries around the world are dealing with. We should not be surprised that it's affecting Canada too, and we should not expect there to be easy, quick solutions to what is a complex global problem. But Canadians can be assured that robust security measures are in place, that Canadian law is being rigorously applied, and that we are living up to our international obligations and to our duties and values as Canadians.
Mr. Chair, let me now invite my colleague Minister Blair to go ahead.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, committee members. I am very happy to join you here this morning in my new role as the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, and also to be joined by senior officials in the relevant departments. As many of you are aware, I am very new to the job, but the issues we are discussing are not unknown to me, having served in a large metropolitan community and having to deal with these issues.
The challenges posed by irregular arrivals in Canada straddle a number of federal organizations, represented at the table today, including the CBSA, the RCMP, the Government Operations Centre and, of course, the ministries of Public Safety Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I hope that in my new role I will have the opportunity to support my colleagues, and , in making sure that we connect all the dots among all levels of government and stakeholders—provincial, territorial, municipal, and international—to ensure that all of our obligations are fulfilled. I also hope to make sure that we are addressing irregular migration as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Lacolle. It was very clear to me that our front-line law enforcement and border services personnel continue to perform their duties in a professional and highly effective manner. They are managing that difficult situation exceptionally well.
Ensuring the security of our border and the integrity of our rules-based immigration and refugee protection system continues to be a top priority for the Government of Canada. We will continue to make the point loudly and clearly, as has already stated, that there is no free ticket to Canada. There are rules and procedures that must be followed.
However, while we remain committed to enforcing every Canadian law, we are also committed to honouring all of Canada's international obligations. As this committee well knows, one of those obligations is to provide refuge for those who are in genuine need of our protection. People seeking asylum in Canada are treated with compassion, and they are afforded due process under the law. While the number of irregular migrants has dropped significantly in recent months, thanks to increased government efforts I believe we are well prepared for any further influx that may arise in the future.
We have a national strategic response plan that is now in effect, based on lessons that have been learned and best practices that have arisen from our collective experiences since 2017. We have also made significant investments of $173.2 million, through budget 2018, to support security operations at the Canada–U.S. border and the processing of asylum claimants. This funding will be used to provide short-term processing and security screening supports at our border. It will also help support decision-making capacity for the Immigration and Refugee Board, which in turn would lead to more timely removals of those who are found to be without a valid claim.
As the situation at the border evolves, we will continue to work closely with our provincial counterparts and municipalities to manage any pressures and concerns. This includes looking at all available options in terms of interim and long-term lodging, as both the Government of Canada and the provinces have a role to play. To that end, I've had the opportunity to meet with the responsible minister in the Province of Ontario, and we are continuing our outreach and close co-operation with provinces and municipalities on this issue. The federal government has been working closely in the past with Ontario and Quebec on secondary migration issues, such as moving asylum seekers outside of large metropolitan areas like Toronto and Montreal.
We also remain closely engaged with our counterparts in the U.S., including U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. In addition, the Government of Canada continues to reach out to diaspora groups that are headed toward the border, largely based on misinformation. These outreach efforts have been successful. For example, last year they reduced the number of Haitian asylum seekers coming to Canada. We are now working with the U.S. and Nigerian governments to make sure that Canadian rules, laws, and border procedures are well understood by any potential asylum seekers from that country.
Mr. Chair, the government has a plan to manage irregular migration flows. We will work closely with our domestic and international partners to ensure that the plan is implemented.
I look forward to the opportunity to answer your questions. Thank you very much.
That's a bit of a confusion.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Ms. Jenny Kwan: Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
Congratulations, Minister Blair, and welcome to the committee.
Welcome, Minister Goodale and your officials.
The safe third country agreement came into force in 2004. As we heard, in 2001 approximately 45,000 asylum seekers came to Canada. I think that was the peak, actually. In 2000 that was the second highest, when our numbers were at approximately 38,000. The third-highest peak was in 2008, at around 37,000.
By way of comparison, could we look at before the safe third country agreement came into force and effect? Could you and perhaps your officials give us the background on how that was managed and how that compares with the situation we are faced with today, when the safe third country agreement is in place?
Ms. Damoff, the concept, as I understand it, is that you would have every inch of the Canadian border declared to be a port of entry. That means a port of entry that is 9,000 kilometres long. There are several problems with that.
First of all, if you are declaring it a port of entry, it would need to be populated with the necessary border officers to administer all of the responsibilities of the CBSA across a 9,000-kilometre stretch of space, which would involve the hiring of literally thousands of border officers to provide any credible administration of a port of entry that ran for 9,000 kilometres. That's a practical problem.
Second, you would need to have American counterparts on the other side of the border for that full expanse. If, for example, your purpose is to turn back people at the border, you would need someone to turn them back to. If the Americans don't follow the same practice, then you have a one-way port of entry, which obviously doesn't solve the problem.
The third issue is that if you're going to spread the venue like that, you are, quite frankly, spreading the risk. The issues being dealt with at Roxham Road are indeed challenging, and all credit to CBSA, RCMP, IRCC, and the others who are called upon to handle that physical situation. They are managing the situation in a way that is safe and secure for Canadians as well as for the people they are dealing with. If you have an expanse of 9,000 kilometres, you are going to have an enormous enforcement problem that is a practical impossibility. In fact, you would make the border less safe, not more safe, by the concept that has been proposed.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and welcome to all.
I am more confused now by your answer than I was previously, but I won't go there.
I'll go back to the question of the 9,000-kilometre border. I speed all the time on the highway—all the time, I swear to you—and I haven't gotten a single ticket. I don't get tickets. So, I'm sorry, I could claim my asylum anywhere and not get caught. It's just so unbelievably ridiculous to claim that we could monitor 9,000 kilometres of a border. It's beyond ridiculous. I'm sorry; I've had my rant.
Going back to that crossing into the United States and reciprocity or not, could you be a little more precise? My understanding of the safe third country agreement is that if you cross the border in-between official ports of entry, you are not returned back to the third country. But if you cross at a port of entry, an official one, then you go back or are sent back.
You're saying that's not exactly the case for the Americans?
Just to be clear, when you show up at a regular port of entry—
Mrs. Alexandra Mendès: Such as Lacolle, which is the one closest to me.
Mr. John Ossowski: —or a bridge, say, in southern Ontario, and you seek asylum, one of four conditions must be met as an exception to the safe third country agreement—i.e., you have an anchor relative in Canada, or you're an unaccompanied minor.... That is very clear what happens.
In-between ports of entry, there is an exception, if you will, or a “loophole”, for lack of a better word, in the agreement where during the negotiations the Americans said that we don't know for sure where these people claimed, because they could claim inland or they could claim in-between port of entry. They wanted to know where they originally came from, and that is what is currently being exploited by these people crossing in-between ports of entry.
I'll turn to Bill to respond to part of that, but let me just deal with the question here about when this issue started. If you actually trace back the migration patterns of when people started to move toward the Canadian border, it in fact predates the last election in the United States. The beginnings of that movement were before the government changed in the U.S.
Therefore, I don't think you can say entirely that what is happening is a phenomenon triggered by political developments in the U.S., because the origins of this began before that.
Our agencies, all of them at this table, coordinated by the government operations centre, learned many best practices and many practical lessons from the experience of last year and applied those lessons to our planning process for this year and for future years, as necessary. We've engaged multiple departments of the Government of Canada, together with provinces and municipalities, as well as NGOs. A number of NGOs are engaged in this, like the Red Cross, for example, to make sure that we have the provisions in place and the flexibilities to deal with the eventualities as they present themselves. We may need to increase; we may need to decrease.
As we saw earlier this year, there was a trend upward in the numbers until about Easter. There was a spike in the numbers around Easter, and ever since then the numbers have actually been going down to the point right now that they're at the lowest level they've been all year.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable members. Thank you for inviting us to come before this committee once again.
Let me put things in the perspective of the UN refugee agency, which has a global mandate. Last year we saw 25 million refugees. It's an increase, compared to 2016, of close to three million refugees. It's the largest increase that we have witnessed globally in a year's time. On top of that we have 4.4 million asylum seekers whose cases are still pending.
It will come as no surprise to the honourable members that if we have an increase of three million people recognized as refugees, Canada will have a fair number of those people coming to the territory. If you look at the number, the 50,000 asylum seekers, let's say that if the IRB were to recognize all of them—and it's the prerogative of the IRB to decide who is a refugee or not—of the 29.4 million, those 50,000 mean that less than 0.2% have come to Canada. I think it's important to put this in perspective.
The second point is that if we look at the countries, indeed we have a number of people coming from situations of extreme violence, such as those in Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. I'm sure that all Canadians are very proud to be offering protection to those families. In addition, we have countries like Nigeria and Haiti, the two main countries from which irregular arrivals are arriving. We know that in those countries a number of profiles, such as the LGBTQ community, victims of sexual violence or domestic violence, or little girls at risk of female genital mutilation or cutting or of child marriage, may be in need of Canada's protection. Again, I'm sure that everybody in this room is proud that Canada offers this protection to those families.
A lot of discussion has been going on about the numbers and predictions of numbers for the remainder of the year or for five years' time. UNHCR will caution against those kinds of approaches. It's extremely difficult to predict, as was said earlier on. We have seen a large decrease, in May and June, of people arriving in Canada through irregular crossings. If I am correct, as we stand now in July we have an average of 40 to 45 persons crossing irregularly at Roxham Road, which is half of what was happening in July last year. I think nobody could have predicted that. We had heard, on the contrary, people crying wolf, indicating that we would be seeing a large increase. That's not what is happening, and therefore it's very difficult to predict those movements.
I would like to make a point about the fact that it has often been described as people coming from the U.S., United States long-timers, who are coming to Canada. Actually, for the last 18 months we have observed that a number of people actually use the United States only as transit. They claim or they report that it was easier for them to get an American visa than a Canadian visa but that their intention was to come to Canada.
Here I need to stop and say that there's no obligation, under international law, for people to claim asylum in the first country where they arrive and where they can find safety. However, UNHCR encourages countries to come together and have agreements to manage their borders as efficiently as possible. In this respect, I have had the opportunity to brief this committee in the past. UNHCR has been observing the situation at Lacolle, at Roxham Road, but also in Manitoba and in British Columbia, where people are arriving through irregular means. I must say that we have seen not only an efficient processing of those persons by RCMP, CBSA, and later on IRCC and IRB, but one with a lot of humanity and respect for the dignity of those people. I'd say again that Canadians must be proud of what has been achieved by all those institutions over the last 18 months.
I would like to turn to the issue of language. I think it's very important that we keep using the correct terminology, because a number of words that have been used in this room and elsewhere tend to dehumanize the people who arrive by irregular means.
As was mentioned several times, people cannot be qualified as illegals. They are irregular arrivals. They enter irregularly, but there is nothing illegal when you cross an international border to claim asylum. IRPA is very clear on the fact that it is applicable also to people who transit through another country.
It is also important to maintain the fact that the Immigration and Refugee Board is the only competent body. It is an independent quasi tribunal that will decide whether people are entitled to the protection of Canada as refugees or not, and therefore it is dangerous to qualify those people as making an eventual bogus claim. Those people all come with different stories and choose Canada for different reasons, including sometimes a family connection or cultural and linguistic affinities. All of those reasons are difficult to ascertain because every single case is different. One needs to repeat here that it is never an easy choice for people to leave their home and cross several seas, continents, and countries to claim asylum in another country.
I would really like to stress that we hope that the populist rhetoric that seeks to gain short-term voting support will not bias the discourse and the discussions that we have about people who are irregular arrivals and are entitled to the protection of Canada, pending determination of their cases by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The last point I would like to make is that we know that a number of them are rapidly becoming economically self-reliant. We know that it takes an average of three weeks for people to get a work permit. We know from anecdotal evidence that in Quebec, for example, 50% of them have a job and therefore are not using the social subsidies of the state. They earn their bread and butter for themselves and their families on their own. We know that a number of them are educated and will find a job. We also know that the capacity of shelters to accommodate them was not overwhelmed by the arrival of those numbers. This predates the crisis, and it is extremely important that we not scapegoat refugees and asylum seekers for issues that predate and are related to other factors than their arrival in the country.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to appear once again before the committee.
I am a lawyer who specializes in the arena where criminal law, national security, immigration, and refugee status intersect. For more than a decade, I have routinely handled legal issues involving the arrival of refugees in Canada as regards both migratory law and criminal prosecution.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak at greater length about the issues deemed most important by the committee. I thought it helpful, however, to take some time during my opening remarks to briefly outline the legal context for refugee claims in Canada and the legality of the actions taken by refugee claimants.
When discussing the legality of refugee claims, it is important to understand the process of initiating a refugee claim. Regardless of where a person makes a refugee claim, be it at a land-based port of entry, an airport, an inland office, or a marine port, the claimant will invariably be issued a conditional departure order. It is important to understand the grounds on which that order is made—a breach of the requirement under paragraph 20(1)(a) of IRPA that a foreign national seeking to become a permanent resident have a permanent resident visa.
The conditional departure order is issued to every claimant, regardless of where they make their claim. It comes into effect only if the refugee claim is denied, and it never comes into effect for people who become protected persons.
A person who makes a claim after crossing the border at a place other than a port of entry will be issued a departure order in the same way: in other words, on the same grounds, for the same breach of the act.
Despite the grounds for inadmissibility underlying every refugee claim in Canada, I find it difficult to frame this as illegality, given Canada's obligations to refugees, both internationally and under the charter. Significant portions of IRPA are dedicated to refugee claims, starting with the objectives set out in subsection 3(2) relating to refugees, specifically paragraph 3(2)(c), which sets out the following objective:
||to grant, as a fundamental expression of Canada's humanitarian ideals, fair consideration to those who come to Canada claiming persecution;
The bulk of part 2 of the act addresses the process and procedures for making refugee claims in Canada, and section 99 specifically foresees that a refugee claim may be made inside Canada. I am unable to understand why the use of these procedures, in good faith, could be framed as illegal, even if it invariably results in a finding of inadmissibility and the issuance of a conditional departure order.
The arrival of refugees on Canada's shores will often involve other apparent contraventions of the laws of Canada and other countries. One of the most common contraventions we see is the use of fraudulent or improperly obtained documents in order to travel. Beyond the problem of not having permanent resident visas, many refugees aren't able to obtain legitimate documents to come to Canada at all.
The British House of Lords described this problem in the case of Adimi in the following terms. These are the words of Lord Justice Simon Brown:
||The problems facing refugees in their quest for asylum need little emphasis. Prominent amongst them is the difficulty of gaining access to a friendly shore. Escapes from persecution have long been characterised by subterfuge and false papers. As was stated in a 1950 Memorandum from the UN Secretary-General:
||“A refugee whose departure from his country of origin is usually a flight, is rarely in a position to comply with the requirements for legal entry (possession of national passport and visa) into the country of refuge.”
It is precisely in the context of this that the framers of the refugee convention included the principles in article 31, which, as you've heard today, have been implemented into section 133 of the act, which states that a person who has made a refugee claim in Canada may not be charged in relation to a series of events “in relation to the coming into Canada of the person, pending disposition of their claim for refugee protection or if refugee protection is conferred.”
This is the equivalent in criminal law of the conditional departure orders that are issued in the context of immigration law. There are no legal consequences or penalties imposed in Canadian law for irregular arrival against individuals found to be genuine refugees.
This brings me to the question of irregular crossings, which is the topic of your meeting today. I think it is important to clearly outline why the conduct of claimants at places like Roxham Road is being reproached, so there is clarity on the appropriate way to engage in the claim process set out in IRPA.
I would like to emphasize that it is not a contravention of IRPA to cross at a place other than a port of entry. Subsection 27(2) of the regulations clearly states:
||Unless these Regulations provide otherwise, a person who seeks to enter Canada at a place other than a port of entry must appear without delay for examination at the port of entry that is nearest to that place.
The crossing itself is not illegal. Where we talk about illegality or where there is a contravention is under the Customs Act. Subsection 11(1) of the Customs Act does create a requirement to enter only at a designated customs office. Although section 160 of the Customs Act creates a general offence for the contravention of section 11, it is very doubtful that prosecution against a refugee claimant would or could be pursued without being in breach of both the charter and Canada's international obligations.
It would also be a rather odd state of affairs if we were to refer to refugee claims made in conformity with the process set out in IRPA as illegal only because of a breach of customs regulations. IRPA is designed to regulate the entry of people, while the Customs Act deals with goods. Refugee claimants entering at places other than a port of entry are doing so in order to make a refugee claim, rarely if ever with any intention to undermine the goals of the Customs Act.
Moreover, if this is the only illegal aspect of the conduct, it can easily be remedied by claimants simply crossing through waterways and lakes and arriving at designated customs points. I don't think anybody at this table wants to see people starting to cross waterways, and I don't think I need to elaborate on the problems that would arise out of that.
I'd like to conclude my remarks by sharing one last observation.
Whether you wish to qualify refugee claimants crossing into Canada at the country's southern border as legal or illegal, the strategies they are using stem from the safe third country agreement.
As Professor Liew will undoubtedly point out, there is good reason not only to question the U.S.'s designation as a safe third country, but also to consider suspending the agreement altogether from a practical standpoint. Rather than creating a situation that encourages irregular crossings, it would certainly be preferable for refugee claimants at Canada's southern border to enter at ports of entry in an open and orderly fashion.
It is highly doubtful that the U.S.'s designation as a safe third country will deter refugee claimants. It is much more likely that the designation will merely deter them from making their claim at a port of entry.
Thank you for listening. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Good morning, and thank you. I am a refugee lawyer and an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa.
I first want to talk about the idea that assessing refugee claims should be done within the framework of a process related to the selection of humanitarian immigrants. When we are talking about processing refugee claims, there are three things the committee should keep in mind.
First, as you've heard a lot about today, Canada has an international obligation not to return a person to risk, and to properly assess refugee claims.
Second, there are a number of factors driving people to move, including those out of Canada's control. People have been and are coming regardless of what Canada does to discourage or encourage them to come, and the committee should not conflate the refugee protection program with other immigration streams. It is a unique program where people are not necessarily selected, and where the requirements to qualify as a refugee are different from the criteria in any other stream. Questions about whether those crossing our borders speak our official languages or what skills they have are irrelevant. What is relevant is whether the person fits the definition of refugee.
Third, refugees should not be pitted against each other. There is no queue. Sure, Canada can voluntarily select persons overseas to resettle, but refugees abroad waiting in refugee camps are no more or less deserving than those who eventually obtain protection by coming through our land borders. While, for better budgetary planning, the levels plan can be amended to an estimated number of persons who may be expected to come, ultimately we should not be preoccupied with quotas or levels because, as was said earlier, the levels are unpredictable and, ultimately, we have an international obligation to meet.
This committee has also heard that one plan the government should undertake is to close the loophole in the safe third country agreement. In my recommendation today, to manage the border, as one member of Parliament has said, in a planned, orderly, and compassionate manner, we should suspend the STCA immediately.
I just want to make a point of clarification from this morning and note that article 4.1 of the safe third country agreement actually stipulates that the STCA be applied at the land port of entries, and not between the ports of entry. I wanted to clarify that and make sure the committee knew it.
Secondly, I think if we are talking about applying the STCA between the land ports of entry, not only would there be a practical problem with that, but there is also the issue of making that factual finding. How would we be sure how a person has entered Canada? This is a factual finding that comes with many procedural barriers and one that I think would burden legal processes in the future.
Aside from that, I do want to note that the STCA's original purpose was to reduce the pressures faced by the IRB from the number of claims being made, but that it would not adversely affect the situation of asylum seekers. The STCA primarily benefits Canada, and the U.S. agreed to it in order to put in place post-9/11 measures at its border. Since it's inception, the STCA has not done what it has promised, which is to prevent refugees from coming into Canada. This is clear from the numbers that you've heard today. Both before and after the STCA was put into place, people have been coming across our border.
Second, concerns have been expressed in the House and the Senate since 2002 about the STCA, and indeed the Senate in 2002 in its report on the safe third country regulations highlighted the very risks we see people experiencing today. The Senate then, as well as advocates today, have called for a review of this agreement due to these risks. I've reviewed information coming from the United States on the impact of the STCA and I want to highlight a few factors for you today.
The first is that Canada is putting people at risk by turning them away at official ports of entry. For example, there's a case of one Rwandan woman who went to an official port of entry, was interviewed by Canadian border officials over the course of five hours, was shocked that no one asked her why she was claiming asylum, gave her fingerprints, signed some documents, and was driven back across the U.S. border, where she underwent more interviews, was handcuffed, detained, put into solitary confinement for 10 days, released into the general population in the prison, and when she was eventually released from detention she just came back to Canada through an irregular, and very dangerous, route.
I understand that Mr. Seidhu Mohammed is coming to speak this afternoon, and I think he is the best person to give you more details on the risks of crossing the border this way.
Second, Canada is violating its international obligation to properly assess refugee claims by turning a blind eye to the improper treatment of refugee claimants in the U.S., including the latter's detention of people via an expedited process, and its denial of claims based on gender-based persecution, for example.
American attorneys have given a lot of evidence that the U.S. government is apprehending people travelling by buses and trains and prosecuting them on charges of illegal entry regardless of whether an asylum claim has been made. Persons are given credible fear or reasonable fear interviews, and if they do not pass they are removable. These are cursory interviews where people can be denied on the spot, without an opportunity to obtain a lawyer or to develop and present their claims, and quickly deported thereafter.
American attorneys have also stated that immigration detainees are being held in criminal facilities, subject to solitary confinement. There is insufficient medical care in detention, and little access to interpretation and legal services. A significant number of immigration detainees are not eligible for bond. Children and entire families are being detained. Attorneys have seen their clients experience PTSD and suicidal ideation.
With regard to gender-related refugee claims, we've seen the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, issue a precedential decision that effectively eliminates a woman's ability to obtain refugee protection based on domestic violence or other forms of gender-related persecution.
This is all too real in the case of Ms. L from Honduras, for example. She was kidnapped as a teenager, held in captivity, and raped and beaten for months. This included attacks with a machete. Thereafter, for more than 10 years, Ms. L was stalked and threatened. Hit men killed her domestic partner. Ms. L had to move to different parts of Honduras. She fled to Mexico but was deported back to Honduras. Ms. L's abuser moved back in with her and continued his brutal abuse until she fled for the United States, where she was detained. Even though an immigration court found Ms. L credible, refugee protection was denied, despite evidence of gender-based violence and the Honduran government not being able to protect her.
I want to close by saying that the government should be interested in managing the border in an orderly and compassionate way. There are three steps to do this. First, suspend the STCA. Allow people to present themselves in a regular fashion at an official border crossing, not makeshift ones like at Roxham Road. Second, give each person coming to our border a fair opportunity to present their claim at the IRB, because we can no longer be assured that people are getting a chance to do so in the United States. Finally, fund the IRB appropriately to hear their cases in an efficient manner.
I am open to any questions or remarks the committee may have today. I will also be providing a copy of the Canadian Council for Refugees paper on why the U.S. is not safe for refugees.
There are two points. Definitely Canada is upholding the standards of the convention by allowing people arriving through irregular means to lodge a claim before the IRB. I must just say that, from over 18 months of observation, I will differ with a point that has been made. The people are not taking a risk. They are crossing at Roxham Road, or 96% of them are crossing at Roxham Road. I know that a number of you have been there. It's a little ditch that has actually been filled with stone. Nobody, even in the winter, is taking any risk whatsoever in terms of their life or their physical integrity. In this respect, the process at Roxham Road is extremely efficient, extremely humane. It's taking care of the various needs of the population that arrives, whether it be children, persons with disabilities, or so on. Canada is certainly upholding the standard.
The second point is that when you look at one indicator—for example, the ratio of asylum seekers compared with the overall population—it's 50,000 out of 37 million Canadians, or 0.1%, which is very similar to what the U.S. and a number of countries, Germany in particular, are witnessing. However, I need to flag this. Take Germany as an example. At some point in the past, in 2015 and 2016, Germany received 700,000, or close to 800,000, asylum seekers in comparison with the 50,000 for Canada. These are two G7 countries. Of course, Germany has double the population, but still, if you make a comparison, Canada is receiving only a small fraction of what European countries, for example, are receiving.
In terms of the processing at the border and at the irregular arrival points, I repeat the observation of UNHCR that things are processing in a very humane manner and diligently.
I would also like to flag that the IRB, over the last 12 months, has done incredible work in creating efficiencies within the system and within the legal and policy frameworks that have increased efficiency by up to 50% with the same resources—that is, without using the resources that were allocated by the federal budget in February. That, I think, is to be commended, because it's a way to go.
Yes, there is a long time frame, up to two years, but that's not odd. There is not a single refugee status determination body, including UNHCR when we are doing it, that does not have those large backlogs. That's a reality of that kind of work. It's resource-intensive. It requires human interpretation. You need to hear. There may be different evidence to be brought. In the meantime, those people, after three weeks, get a work permit, and a large majority of them become self-reliant and therefore can wait. It's clear that there is emotional duress, but when they have fled torture or bombs falling on their house, waiting even for two years—with a work permit, a house, and their kids in school—for a decision from the IRB, I assure you, is not the main problem of those asylum seekers.