Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll try to get through this as quickly as possible. I thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee today. I'm happy to speak regarding our asylum system and border enforcement proposals, which we have included in Bill .
Mr. Chair, we are in a world that is experiencing unprecedented levels of migration. The United Nations Refugee Agency has estimated that there are approximately 258 million people who are now on the move globally, including economic migrants. However, 25.4 million of those individuals are deemed to be refugees, those who are fleeing war and persecution and are seeking protection.
Like many other countries in the world—almost every other safe country in the world—Canada has seen an increase in migration. The growth in global migration suggests that a higher number of asylum seekers is likely to continue, and points to a need to continue to ensure that our borders and asylum system are well-managed to meet our international and Canadian legal obligations.
It's imperative that we maintain a refugee protection system that is predicated on two important principles: fairness and compassion. Budget 2019 has proposed to invest $1.18 billion over a five-year period, starting in 2019-20, with $55 million per year ongoing to enhance the integrity of Canada's borders and our asylum system. These investments also support the government's border enforcement strategy. They will increase the asylum system's capacity to handle higher volumes of claims in order to provide timely protection to refugees and ensure that a failed asylum claimant is removed quickly and compassionately from our country.
The border enforcement strategy includes detecting and discouraging the misuse of our visa system by preventing travel to Canada by individuals who may not be legitimate temporary visa applicants. This means investing significantly in intelligence gathering and trend analysis to limit the number of Canadian visas issued to people who would use a Canadian visa only to establish themselves permanently in Canada.
We are also continuing to work with our international partners to share information and trend analysis that may impact visa issuance; are significantly increasing the interdiction of would-be irregular migrants abroad; engaging recalcitrant countries in support of removal operations by obtaining their co-operation in a timely way for the issuance of travel documents for failed asylum claimants after they have exhausted all legal recourse in Canada; and we are also discouraging would-be irregular migrants via targeted outreach, by correcting misinformation and providing the facts about Canada's asylum system, to make sure that people understand our laws and how this system works.
Mr. Chair, the border enforcement strategy will also maintain the integrity of Canada's border. We are investing in an ongoing building of capacity for interceptions between ports of entry as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police continues to increase its capabilities at key locations at the border and invest in new border technology equipment.
We are putting in place contingency measures to ensure that we are ready to respond to any potential increase in the number of irregular migrants, and we have introduced legislative changes, which we believe will improve our ability to manage flows along the border in the event of any increase and influx. This includes, for example, an amendment that will eliminate the three-day time period for officials to determine if an individual is eligible to make an asylum claim before the claim is automatically referred to the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Removing this requirement will give the government greater flexibility to manage volumes at the border and will ensure that everyone is examined properly and in a fair way.
We are also putting in place measures to discourage irregular migration by those who try to make multiple claims in different countries—and this is described in the BIA legislative change. Just like other existing ineligibilities, these individuals will be barred from accessing the Immigration and Refugee Board. Instead, they will have access to an enhanced pre-removal risk assessment, or the PRRA, prior to removal, to ensure that they are not returned to a situation of risk.
Mr. Chair, I think it's very important to emphasize that no one who has been barred from accessing the IRB as a result of this new measure will be removed without a PRRA hearing. This proposed measure will also help lessen the caseload at the IRB, while ensuring that everyone receives fair treatment before any removals take place.
Mr. Chair, we maintain public confidence in our system by treating those who cross irregularly in exactly the same way as those who currently do so at regular points of entry, as a means of eliminating any incentive or perception of unfair advantage.
In addition, we're continuing to engage the United States to modernize and enhance the safe third country agreement. The Government of Canada has been in continual contact with the U.S. government on issues related to our shared border.
I also advise you that I have recently met with numerous stakeholders, including U.S. members of Congress, Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security officials, and we are seeking to enhance U.S. co-operation to address irregular migration challenges, including the modernization and enhancement of the safe third country agreement to the mutual benefit of both countries.
Canada and the U.S. share a mutual interest in ensuring the orderly handling of asylum claims while protecting the safety and security of our citizens and respecting the rights of those who are fleeing persecution.
We are investing in an asylum system that will be fast, fair and final. We are increasing funding for the asylum system as a whole to process higher volumes of claims. This will allow the IRB to make decisions on up to 50,000 asylum claims and 13,500 appeals by fiscal year 2021. With this additional funding the board will be able to finalize more decisions, thus reducing wait times for those in need of protection, and leading to faster, more efficient removal of failed claimants.
I would also note that in recognition of the increasing volumes of asylum claims, we're investing more in settlement funding as more people will be given protected person status. Given that protected persons are eligible for settlement services such as language training, this investment is an investment in the future of Canada.
In addition, we are increasing funding to allow for timely removal of individuals who are found not to be in genuine need of protection, and we are taking measures to expedite the removal of failed claimants who cross irregularly into Canada.
Finally, with the budget 2019 investments and the legislative proposal that I bring before you today, Canada will continue to respect its international obligations for people who are legitimately fleeing persecution, and will achieve finality in our asylum system.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I welcome your questions.
Thank you, , for being here today.
We just finished a study on global migration, and per the numbers you've given us, we do know that around 258 million people are on the move. Many of that number are refugees, as you mentioned in your statement.
You mentioned investing at the border—ensuring that our borders are secure, making sure that the men and women working at the borders have the proper tools and that the federal government is investing in that so that we maintain the integrity of our border. However, in previous years, $143 million was cut from CBSA. I want you to speak to that. When we're seeing this new global trend of 250 million-plus migrants on the move, we'd better be prepared to invest in our borders, or else we may see a situation that is hard to handle.
Since you've been in office, what are some of the changes you've seen? There have been cuts before; now we're investing. I want you to elaborate on that.
We've been doing a number of important things.
I want to share some good news with this committee. We have seen significant reductions in the number of people who have been presenting themselves irregularly at our border and subsequently making a claim for asylum. So far, year-to-date, there has been about a 47% reduction in the number of people who have crossed our borders irregularly. That's a direct result of some very effective interventions that our agencies and officials have been undertaking—outreach into populations in the United States and elsewhere around the world to provide them with better information about our system. Unfortunately, there's a great deal of misinformation and people who would exploit those who are in a vulnerable position, which has I think contributed to that influx of people at our border.
We've also been working very closely with U.S. and other international officials with respect to the issuance of visas. We saw, for example, a significant number of people from one particular country in Africa who were issued tourist visas to come to the United States who subsequently presented themselves at the Canadian border seeking asylum. As a direct result of interventions made with U.S. border patrol officials and their visa issuance systems, as well as through investments made by CBSA, which put officials overseas to work collaboratively with the U.S. officials in the issuance of those visas, we've achieved a 73% reduction in the number of individuals coming from that country through the United States who subsequently present.
One of the things we found, and I hope this gets to the answer of your question, is that we also needed to significantly increase the capacity of the IRB to conduct timely hearings. Their ability to conduct those hearings was resulting in their falling further and further behind due to the volume of people who were presenting—and not just irregularly. We've also seen a significant increase in the number of people who are crossing regularly at airports, regular points of entry, and making inland claims. So we needed to invest in IRB's capacity to do timely hearings.
We made an investment last year of some $73 million to begin to build up their capacity. It significantly improved their ability to deal with that backlog, but we recognized that more needed to be done. That's why in budget 2019 we're adding over $207 million to the IRB, with the intent that by 2020 they'll be able to process 50,000 claimant hearings each year. As a result of better administration of those hearings, more timely results are being determined, and the amount of time it takes to resolve these eligibility claims is being significantly reduced. In achieving that reduction, I think we were able to create a system that is much more balanced and in which people have a reasonable expectation that if they are in need of protection, they'll receive it in a timely way, and if they are not in need of protection they'll be removed from Canada in a timely way.
I will tell you that among the pillars, the values on which I believe our immigration and refugee protection system is based, are both fairness and compassion and the upholding of our international obligations and the rule of law. We have ensured in every step of this process that we have complied with those requirements, not just with the letter of the international law, but with its spirit as well.
I am very gratified by the support and the comments made, for example, by the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, which has acknowledged that Canada, throughout all of these changes and investments we're making, at all times maintains and upholds its international obligations to provide people with access to due process and a timely determination of their eligibility, and that as a direct result of the investments we're making in the IRB, Canada is maintaining a world-class asylum determination system.
I've recently also had the opportunity to meet and spend a lot of time with Amnesty International. I explained exactly how our system was working and was able to provide them, for example, with reassurance that before any individual would be removed from Canada, regardless of whether or not they're eligible to have access to the IRB, regardless of the circumstances under which they have come, would be afforded an enhanced pre-removal risk assessment, and according to our laws, they would always have the opportunity to be heard, to have legal representation. If there was a determination that they were at risk, we would not send them back into a dangerous situation. Instead, they would be afforded protected person status.
I think maybe we should just cut the baloney.
You are sitting here, Minister, in an invented position with bureaucrats who don't report to you, but who, nonetheless, have the misfortune of working with you. We are in the final days of a Parliament where we've seen your government purposefully go out—again, regardless of your opinion on the American president—and poke the Americans in the eye with #WelcomeToCanada, then allow 40,000-plus people to illegally enter the country and claim asylum, while saying that the safe third country agreement upholds...and then putting in place a permanent tent city, establishing bussing programs to the GTA and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on hotels for people who likely, by your own colleagues' admission, don't have valid asylum claims.
Then you proceeded to vilify any Canadian who said that maybe people who are in upstate New York have not been subject to the same level of persecution as somebody coming from northern Iraq. Maybe we shouldn't be spending hundreds of millions of dollars on hotels and creating pulls into our system that result in years-long backlogs.
You've vilified anybody. Your colleague, the , and the himself tried to score cheap political points with #WelcomeToCanada and then calling people un-Canadian and racist if they questioned this, which has inflamed tensions. You sat here and you blustered that we can't call it illegal, and then you proceeded to spend hundreds of millions more dollars on this program. You ramped up the rhetoric until we started to get close to an election.
Then, all of a sudden, we have division 16 in the budget implementation act that includes measures that have been routinely panned by virtually every immigration professional in Canada and not likely to hold up to any sort of court challenge whatsoever. Frankly, people will testify during these hearings that these are likely to result in even more of an administrative backlog in and burden on the system.
You and your colleague then proceeded to blame this situation on Stephen Harper. Good on you; you've got to do what you've got to do, being paid to be a communicator. But the reality is that you inherited a 10,000-case backlog, which of course had been reduced from a massive backlog at the IRB under a previous Liberal government. We're now at a 71,000-case backlog at the IRB according to the Auditor General.
You said that the system is fast. Fast is five years-plus to have a refugee claim hearing.
You also added to the backlog by lifting the visa requirement on Mexico when your government had not done a formal review of the system. We've now seen, I believe, over 1,500 claims from Mexico in the last two months. We know that the about 22% of those claims will be determined to be valid. The average case load right now, or the average level, is about 55%, so we know that many of these are bogus claims.
I believe that we should have a strong asylum system. We should be allowing people into the country who have legitimate needs from persecution, but you've managed this system like it's a joke for votes. Fast? Come on, really? It's Stephen Harper's fault? When we form government in October, we're going to have to clean up a 120,000-case backlog left by you.
Now, in the dying days of this Parliament, when you have seen polling showing that your mismanagement of this is unpopular because people are saying this isn't fair, all of a sudden you now throw something into an omnibus budget bill. I had a colleague on this committee who had to fight to get it parsed out to review here—we only had one piece of legislation come through this committee in the entirety of this Parliament—and it's not even going to work. It's probably illegal and unconstitutional.
You haven't even picked up the phone to the Americans. Your department literally sat here and we asked them if the government had given them any direction to close the loopholes in the safe third country agreement. The answer, Minister—in case you weren't briefed—was nope. That's because you guys didn't even pick up the phone, saying that you don't know if the Americans can.... You didn't even pick up the phone and say that we have a problem here and maybe we should deal with this.
No. You had your go sit on a stage in the middle of a trade negotiation with the American president—again, regardless of how you feel about it—and compared him with Bashar al-Assad and the North Korean dictator. That's maybe not the best thing to do in the middle of a trade agreement while you're trying to negotiate asylum system reform.
This is incompetence. I've seen a lot of incompetence, but this is incompetence that has a human face, because the hundreds of millions of dollars that you've spent on the baloney you're peddling is costing Canadian taxpayers. It's costing people who are trying to come into this country legally, because you're redirecting resources to people who are abusing our system, and you're raising taxes on Canadians. This is not how to manage an immigration system.
Then, the government, to add insult to injury, hires you. They hire you to be a communicator on the file. You don't have authority over any of these bureaucrats. You don't have the ability to bring a memorandum to cabinet or instruct the RCMP on this sort of thing. You're a glorified mouthpiece for the on this stuff.
This has real implications. You guys have bungled so badly—so badly that it's embarrassing—and you should be held to account for it in the fall. We're just tired of it. This is a sham. This is a joke.
My question for you is this. Are you comfortable with your personal legacy—you've had a long career as minister—breaking Canada's immigration system for your, and the Liberal Party's, political gain?
Thank you very much for the question.
The answer is essentially yes. What we intend is that for people who have been determined to be ineligible for referral to the IRB because they have made a claim elsewhere—this is what is in division 16—in another country that is deemed to be a safe country, they will be given an opportunity to have a pre-removal risk assessment. That will not be just a paper exercise. There will actually be a hearing. They will have an opportunity to bring forward legal counsel, and it will be heard.
They also get the benefit of judicial review in a Federal Court. Just to facilitate that, included in these budget submissions is an increase in the number of federal judges—by three—in order to facilitate those hearings in a timely way.
Also, once they've had that hearing, if it is determined that they are at risk, they will not be removed.
It will in a number of ways.
There is the measure that we've just recently put in place: that those who have already made a claim in another country, in the United States, a safe country, cannot subsequently make a claim in Canada as well and will not be referred to IRB. That rule is already in place for those people who would cross at a regular point of entry, so we're just ensuring...and this is on the principle of fairness.
People are subject to rules should they cross at a regular point of entry. We believe that people should be subject to similar rules should they cross at an irregular point of entry. That's to remove any incentive or advantage to crossing irregularly. We're trying to encourage people to enter the country appropriately.
There's also been a fairly significant outreach to those communities where people are, in fact, not in need of protection, but perhaps are desiring to migrate to Canada for economic reasons and a better life. A lot of it has been outreach, as well, to direct people to the appropriate way to make an application to emigrate to Canada, and I think that those efforts have proven successful as well. However, we also recognize that we need to be able to respond to whatever presents itself at our borders.
We've been building up our capacity because we want to be able to assure Canadians that, first of all, the safety and security of the country is being maintained and that, secondly and equally as important, we're upholding our international obligations and the Canadian rule of law. Canadians expect a fair and compassionate system, but they also want it to be well managed.
We're making sure that we are rightsizing, and we're working very collaboratively with our partners in the United States and other countries to make sure that proper intelligence is gathered, that people take proactive steps to manage the situation and that those who do come are given access to a faster system. I don't wish to characterize the system as fast enough currently; it's not. That's why we're making significant new investments in budget 2019 to increase the capacity of IRB to conduct timely determinations of eligibility.
We're also working hard to make sure that those processes and systems are efficient so that the CBSA can fulfill its responsibility for those who are determined to not be eligible, and so that they can effect timely removals for those individuals.
Good afternoon to you, Minister, and to the officials here with you.
Minister, today the Auditor General's report came out on the management of immigration applications, specifically, the processing of asylum claims. It's quite a critical report.
Let's set aside the matter of those who come to Canada to claim asylum and talk about the government's administrative issues.
As far as dealing with the problem goes, the couldn't do the job, and the had bigger fish to fry, so the government opted to create a new position, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, to coordinate the response. You were appointed to the position last year.
Can you tell us how you've been effective in the job?
Certainly, I think when the immediate influx occurred in Quebec, there was an excellent response at that time, but it was a reactive response, with the large surge of people who presented themselves at the border, particularly at the end of Roxham Road in Quebec. The impact was also in other places, such as Emerson, Manitoba, and on the Pacific Highway in B.C. But our officials, I think, responded quite appropriately and have dedicated the resources and put in very effective processes, which I've reviewed very extensively. I'm quite reassured by the excellent level of collaboration and the thoughtful way they have been managing this increase, which is being experienced around the world, but is being exceptionally well managed, in my opinion, by our officials at the border. Due to the fruits of their labour, we've seen a significant reduction in those who are presenting themselves irregularly at our border.
I'll give you another example. We heard earlier about B.C. In Manitoba, in 2017, nearly 1,300 people crossed irregularly from the United States. Last year that number was reduced to approximately 500. In the first three months of this year that number is down to single digits. It's a direct result of some really good work that's been done by our officials in collaboration with their partners in the United States and in other parts of the world that has affected this change. But at the same time, we recognize that timely determinations by IRB required significant new investments, and so we've been working with the new director of IRB to make sure that he has additional personnel to make those timely determinations.
The level of collaboration and innovation between our officials through this new management board of our senior officials who oversee these processes have resulted in a number of innovations. For example, there's an integrated claims assessment project now under way, which is bringing much greater efficiency to those processes. For those people who would seek asylum in Canada and are perhaps not in need of our protection, I think that as there is greater awareness of the improved efficiencies and the more timely determination, and the certainty that you will be subject to removal if you are determined not to be at risk, that is helping us reduce the number of people who would present themselves irregularly.
Ms. Zahid, I think your question is important.
I think that maintaining public Canadians' confidence in their refugee protection system is critical. We have worked very hard to make sure that it's adequately resourced to deal with the volumes that Canada and other countries in the world are currently experiencing. We saw a fairly significant increase in the number of people seeking asylum. We also heard from many Canadians concerned about whether those who were crossing the border irregularly were being treated in the same way as those who chose to seek asylum here at a regular point of entry.
We've examined all of the rules and worked very hard to make sure that we strike that balance and maintain fairness in the system. We have also ensured that there will be no particular advantage for an individual who might choose to cross irregularly, while also acknowledging that, for people who are fleeing war and persecution and who fear for their lives and the safety of their children, we are always going to be a country that is welcoming and receptive and offering protection to those individuals.
We understand as well that fairness in the system requires timely determination of whether or not a person is eligible for the protection of Canada, so we know that we needed to make significant new investments in IRB's capacity to do that. At the same time, we will have to make sure that those systems are also conducted with efficiency because some of those individuals are determined not to be eligible. They have to be subject to a timely removal and that's done in a careful and compassionate way, but it's important that the system also reach a finality to assure Canadians of its fairness. I think we've achieved the right balance of success.
As I've already indicated, I've had extensive conversations with UNHCR and Amnesty International and others who want to ensure that Canada maintains a compassionate, welcoming approach for those who are truly in need of protection and that we uphold our legal obligations. I believe very sincerely that the measures we propose in budget 2019, in the bill before this committee, have achieved that balance and that we are implementing measures that are thoughtful, reasonable, lawful and appropriate for the circumstances.
One of the things that we put in place last year was a board called the asylum system management board. This is a board where the heads of the departments—Mr. Ossowski here, I and IRB—come together about every six weeks. The purpose of that board is to discuss those issues where we have information-sharing types of concerns or we're putting new initiatives in place where we want to be connected collectively together so that, as we go forward, we are in fact talking both from a person's perspective but also from an IT perspective.
One of the things that the recent budget investments gave us was $36 million to invest in new IT. One of the things that we've been challenged with is that we have very legacy types of systems from an IT perspective and so they don't talk to each other. Going forward, what we want, obviously, is to be able to be connected in terms of information sharing from an electronic perspective as well. We actually are using the board we have now, where we meet regularly to talk about those issues: how we actually project manage this and how we actually implement those systems, both from a communications perspective and from a technological perspective, so in fact, the systems are actually talking together.
I'll just take that for a spin.
If, in that scenario I highlighted, you are saying to the person, “Okay, we won't reject you—you will now go to IRCC to be assessed under the PRRA process”, isn't that a duplication of work, when you already know that Australia has this history? Hence, I mention the point that's been raised by the Auditor General about duplication. The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. You have people applying for an expedited process. In the meantime, they're still just being processed regularly. It turns out that the expedited process is not any faster than a regular process.
Here you are setting up another system to deal with this dedicated group of people, effectively, as far as I can tell, creating a duplication in process. I'm not quite sure how efficient it would be. Maybe in numerical terms, if we diverted 3,500 cases to this other process, it would seem to lessen the demand on the IRB. The IRB, even by doing that, still has over 40,000 cases before it, and the IRB isn't funded adequately to do the job. The whole point of the Auditor General's report speaks to the inability of the government to ensure that the IRB has rapid access to resources to process claims. This really doesn't solve the problem. The lack of resources does not really solve the problem.
I have another question that I would like to ask. I'm not sure if I missed it when I went to the bathroom.
You have a provision under this bill that would allow the government to bar the issuance of temporary visas to all citizens of a country if that country refuses to issue passports to some of its citizens. So, effectively, you would punish a group of people from a particular nation if that government is refusing to issue passports to some of its citizens.
Under what circumstances do you anticipate this being used? Why was this actually put in Bill ?
No, we don't have that information.
The new measure is meant as a deterrent. We hope it will encourage people to follow through with the process that was initiated in the country where they claimed asylum and to comply with the resulting decision.
According to our numbers, if the measure had been in place in 2017 and 2018, between 3,200 and 3,400 people could have been affected, given that they had made a number of refugee claims. Approximately 75% of them crossed the border irregularly. Most of those cases have not yet been processed by the board.
About a hundred or so made refugee claims in Canada, then went to the U.S. to do the same thing, before returning to Canada to make another refugee claim.
In addition, approximately 150 people made a refugee claim at a port of entry to Canada, but were sent back to the U.S. further to the safe third country agreement between Canada and the U.S. Those people then decided to return to Canada by crossing the border irregularly. Most of them were Haitian. As of now, the number of successful claims is fairly low, but many of them have yet to be processed by the board.
I can offer a couple of thoughts. I guess the first thought would be that we are confident that this meets our international obligations, albeit it's a different process than going through the IRB. As I've said on a couple of occasions, it makes the determination based upon the same standards and thresholds as the IRB.
My second and final point would be that, in some sense, we're not breaking brand new ground here. We have situations where certain claimants who come into Canada do not have access to the IRB and they go directly to a pre-removal risk assessment.
I'll just give you a couple of examples. We have five or six that I can leave with you, Mr. Chair, if it's helpful.
If someone has already made a previous asylum claim in Canada—including those whose claim was withdrawn or abandoned—if they already have protection in a third country, that is, if they have already been granted asylum but they show up in Canada and make another asylum claim, they will go directly to the pre-removal risk assessment. Or, if someone is inadmissible for security reasons—violating human or international rights, serious criminality or organized crime—they do not go directly to the IRB for the refugee protection division, the refugee appeal division, the Federal Court and then the PRRA. In these examples, they go directly to the pre-removal risk assessment, which is a process comparable with what we're suggesting for this cohort.
The main point I would leave with you, however, is that they are looked at under the international obligations to Canada, which is critical. The government does not want to send anybody back to persecution.
I can offer a couple of comments and maybe others want to jump in.
Certainly there have been broad investments, Mr. Chair, across all agencies simply to keep up with capacity. Those investments have been made both in the 2018 budget and significantly over the billion dollars in this 2019 budget.
There have been investments in intelligence gathering and intelligence analysis that look at these cohorts broadly and determine how we can work with other countries, for example, on the issuance of visas. A lot of significant work was done, Mr. Chair, with our colleagues in the operations branch working with U.S. officials and officials in other countries on the issuance of U.S. visas to those citizens because, as you know, a big percentage of people arriving primarily in Quebec actually have a valid U.S. visa.
We've had significant outreach by members of Parliament and others, in particular right after the Haitian arrivals, which we think helped, at least in part, with those numbers of irregular arrivals. I might keep it there to be respectful of time. I don't know if John has other comments.
Thank you very much. That's very kind.
I want to go back to the Australian example for one minute. For the people who came from Australia and somehow got into the United States to make a claim, if they then make the decision to cross to Canada, they would be subject to the IRCC process. That is the point. They will not go to the IRB; I want to say that very clearly.
If the IRCC's pre-removal risk assessment process provides the same standards and threshold as the IRB, then why set up another process? Why not just go through the IRB if it's effectively the same?
That's what I'm hearing from the government, the minister and officials. They say, “Don't worry, we will actually have due process afforded to them”. Why set up a different process if all things are being equal and they will just have to go through the process in any event?
In essence, this is a process to send a message to people, potentially putting them at risk, by saying, “Don't bother coming if you've already made a claim, even though you may very well have a valid claim.” Even though, under the international refugee convention, they may very well have a valid claim, we're just saying to them, “Don't come anyway.”
We're talking about this having an impact on 3,500 claims, which is what the government's projecting. Six months from an election, the government wants to make a political statement to people to the effect, “Don't come to make a claim”, thus really aligning itself with the Conservatives in saying to the refugee claimants, “Don't come to Canada to make a claim.” In essence, that's what I'm learning now in this process.
I get it. This is a political comment and not directed to the officials, but to the government. I wish the minister were here to hear this, because in essence, we're playing with fire and with people's lives just to send a message. At what risk? People who actually have a valid claim have nowhere to go. With nowhere to go, they are subject to this situation. That's what we're talking about. To me, I find it astounding.
We will have other witnesses come forward who will talk about the risks that people are facing, including being in the United States. I know that the government and UNHCR will say they are in a safe country, but there are a whole lot of other experts who say they are not. In fact, Amnesty International brought an expert that we had a breakfast reception for—with all the parties and senators—and the experts from the Americas told us that, in fact, people there are faced with the worst violence in the world. They are faced with sexual and gang violence. Those individuals, seeking asylum in the United States, will be rejected out-of-hand because the Trump administration has declared that it will no longer accept those claims. Those individuals are being forced to seek asylum somewhere else.
Children as young as seven to nine are being recruited by gangs, and the workers there were trying to negotiate with gang members. What were they trying to negotiate? “Please don't recruit the children until they're 13.” That's what they were negotiating. That's why people cross over irregularly, because they are absolutely at risk. What is Canada doing? We're going to throw up as many barriers as we can to say to people, “Please don't come to Canada”—just so that we can reduce our numbers. That is the political game that's being played, really catering to the Conservatives and the alt-right in a move to close Canada's border.
Frankly, I do—
Thank you for inviting me.
I will be pleased to answer any questions you have in either official language.
I'll provide some context and then give a sense of where we stand with the current bill and some of the things in it that I think could be remedied in a broader way forward.
To be clear, there is a whole series of pressures in the international context, everything from population growth of another three billion people in the next four decades, to climate change, social and economic disruptions, civil and religious strife and whatnot, that's going to put general and continuing pressure on migration, and in particular issues of war and civil war, and civil-war-like circumstances in some countries in South America. In that sense, we can expect the demand to remain the same or more likely to intensify.
Co-operation with the U.S. has been absolutely critical to maintaining the integrity of the system, and includes everything from enhanced travel authorizations to biometric travel documents and intelligence exchange. I cite as one example the co-operation with the U.S. authorities between mid-2017 and mid-2018 that has reduced the flow of irregular travellers, border crossers, from 87 to 42 a day.
It shows that demonizing our neighbour or calling into question the rule of law, circumstances and the integrity of our neighbour is strategic folly. Given the changes we've made to make it more difficult to come to Canada by air for people who might otherwise be inadmissible, we will continue to expect greater pressure along the land border, and so co-operation obviously is going to remain integral to...since we only have one bilateral partner on the land border.
Then there are supply issues that were already mentioned by the Auditor General and others, like Neil Yeates in his report on the system.
I also need to point out in context that there's a social contract with regards to immigration into Canada, and it has three cornerstones. First is a well-administered migration policy around rules and principles—a principled approach with the rule of law preserving the integrity and security of Canada's borders. The second component is the successful economic and political socialization and integration of migrants into Canadian society, and the third is that immigration is of collective benefit to Canadian society and to Canadian prosperity overall. Those three components are integral to safeguarding the integrity, the sustainability and legitimacy of the immigration system.
The Auditor General's report, as well as Neil Yeates' report and others, point out that there are questions from Canadians and others around how well-administered the system is. There are questions about being able to control borders to ensure a principled approach to migration. There are challenges around socialization and integration of migrants. At 1% of our population, we now have a legal immigration rate compounded by a surge in refugee claimants. There are serious challenges around whether the premise over the last hundred years of immigration and socialization of migrants is going to continue to sustain our society. I think there's also some question about whether we'll be able to sustain the collective benefits.
The broader problem is people taking advantage of the right to claim asylum without meeting the criteria for eligibility. The challenge then is to make Canada's refugee policies more timely and effective in distinguishing between persons who are genuinely in need of protection within the scope of Canada's international agreements from aspiring economic migrants who are seeking to exploit loopholes in Canada's border management system.
To that effect, we have had and we've been observing a trend towards what I might call a “libertarian” approach to borders that is essentially facilitated by the ease of transportation, communication, broad communication strategies, misinformation and disinformation through social media and otherwise in accessibility to Canada and whatnot. All of this is facilitated on a global scale by systematic human smuggling that is well-documented and amounts to some $10 billion a year. So by not ensuring that we have an integral system, we are also implicitly aiding and abetting the global human smuggling industry.
I also wanted to dispel the idea that somehow we can wait out the current political executive in the U.S. The phenomenon we're seeing might have been exacerbated by some decisions made by the Trump administration, but we can demonstrate empirically that it long precedes the advent of the Trump administration, so it will persist beyond the Trump administration and we will need to find a sustainable approach to this.
By way of example, two-thirds of the people who cross irregularly—
I have this problem regularly before committees, so I'll slow down.
By way of example, two-thirds of the people who cross irregularly, the single largest group of migrants to Canada in term of irregular entrants, have been Nigerians who enter the United States on visitor visas. We also have the same documented phenomenon with regard to Saudi nationals. I cite those in particular, because that is from open source information. It is here, for instance, where co-operation with U.S. authorities is integral, given that it is the mainstay of about two-thirds of the people who are crossing irregularly. It is not individuals who are seeking to escape decisions with regard to temporary protected status, as some people have suggested.
It's important to maintain effective checks and balances to maintain access to our asylum system for people in need of protection while limiting actual and prospective abuses to the system. I point here in the legislation in particular to clause 306. With my colleague, Geoffrey Hale, with whom I co-authored the submission, I think an absolute ban on sequential applications may be an excessive response to a valid concern. For reasons that we don't have time to get into, concerning different administrative processes and whatnot, we would suggest limiting the proposed exclusion of eligibility for refugees to perhaps three years from the date on which previous claims in countries with whom we have agreements have been finalized.
With regard to clause 304, it makes sense.... With the enforcement of reciprocity in the application of national immigration laws, the way that clause is worded leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I have lots of concerns about the ambiguities that leaves with regard to the minister, which would need to be clarified.
In general, we strongly support the measures in the current budget, given that it's always been difficult for governments to anticipate and manage all the trade-offs associated with policy decisions in general, in particular with regard to migration.
I would like to close on the issue of the way forward. The way forward has to be to restore section 41 of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, a regulation that's known as the so-called “direct back provision”. That provision allows a person who is at significant risk to apply for refugee protection status from within the United States, if they are not otherwise covered by provisions of the STCA. Such measures would provide a safety valve in case of changes to U.S. temporary protective status provisions, likely to significant risks of another surge in the regular migration.
However, a necessary condition of reinstating section 41 would be to include amendments within the revised STCA that would provide for standstill and prospective U.S. deportation proceedings for any person awaiting a Canadian refugee protection hearing under these provisions. Implementation of such measures would require safeguards to clarify the categories of persons at risk who are subject to such provisions, to preserve the benefits provided by the STCA and provide effective triage of claimants from third countries.
Thank you for having me. It's an honour to be here and part of such an important conversation. Today I'm here representing the Yazidi community in Canada to talk about the importance of family reunification.
We are thankful to the Canadian government for extending the one-year window opportunity. This has given hope to many families who have found out that family members who have escaped ISIS now have an opportunity to reunite once again. We are receiving news of family members escaping frequently, and to know that this barrier is no longer an issue is key in reuniting families. We have only scraped the tip of the iceberg, however.
The Yazidis traditional way of life consists of a mother taking care of the home, and the father doing the labour outside and providing for the family. The Canadian government has brought in primarily women and young children from the Yazidi culture, which has known this way of life for thousands of years. How can we expect them to successfully integrate and become a positive addition to our economy and social fabric in Canada if we are setting them up to fail and be forever reliant on social welfare? They will not integrate or settle successfully.
We need to expand the definition of family to include distant relatives for this vulnerable and traumatized Yazidi population to succeed and prosper. We need to amend the definition of family under the family reunification program. Currently only immediate family is considered. It has been five years now since the genocide began, and many still have heard nothing of their immediate family members' whereabouts, or they have already been confirmed dead. Just as a special program was created by the government to sponsor Yazidis, we now need our policies to reflect the realities on the ground and to be understanding of the special circumstances surrounding this traumatized Yazidi population.
It's been five years since the Yazidi genocide began, and it's still ongoing today. The Yazidi women who faced the most barbaric attacks from ISIS are seeking answers and justice. In Iraq and around the world, different steps are being taken to help, and victims are beginning to heal. For example, countries such as the U.K and Germany are starting to collect evidence in order to pursue legal actions against the perpetrators and justice for the victims. In Iraq a group of investigators was sent under Security Council Resolution 2379 to collect evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocidal acts by ISIS and to begin the exhumation of mass graves.
I work with the Yazidi women in Winnipeg and have spoken with the Yazidi community around Canada. There is a consensus that justice to them right now is to be reconnected with their family members. This is one of the main reasons the Canadian Yazidi Association has been prioritizing the reunification of families.
A couple months ago members of the Canadian Yazidi Association went door to door to every Yazidi family in Manitoba and recorded the names and information of family members who are still left in Iraq. We have recorded just over a thousand names. We have the capacity, the will, and the financial means to reunite these families and allow them the opportunity to live a successful and productive life in Canada, but a political will of action must be present for this to happen. We hope our government will do the right thing and allow these vulnerable families to be whole again.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to appear before this committee once again regarding the proposed change to Canada's asylum system as outlined in the BIA, the budget implementation act.
Providing technical advice to increase efficiencies in the asylum system is an integral part of UNHCR's—the UN refugee agency—advisory role worldwide. We support any measures that ensure prompt decision-making while upholding the essential element of a fair asylum system. While the number of asylum seekers arriving in Canada increased over the last two years, I have previously noted before this committee that measures taken have maintained access to asylum in a humane and efficient manner with adequate security checks.
UNHCR recognizes that governments, including Canada, must strike a balance between managing migration flows, ensuring border security and maintaining public confidence in asylum and immigration systems. In doing so, they must abide by their international obligation to grant refuge to those at risk of persecution. In this context, mixed flows and onward movement from countries like the United States may be perceived, particularly by the general public, as a misuse of asylum. This was referred to earlier on. It is, therefore, legitimate for governments to take measures to address such concerns and find ways to triage cases to ensure fair, efficient and robust processes in a timely manner.
UNHCR welcomes important investments to Canada's asylum system in the 2019 budget. They build on increased efficiencies gained over the last few years, and the recent proposed legislative changes that we are discussing today form part of a broader strategy. They include a significant increase in funding to the police, border agency, legal aid, and Immigration and Refugee Board. They seek to increase cost-effective efficiencies at the front end of the asylum process. Investment in refugee health care, as well as housing, will also benefit refugees and asylum seekers.
Under the proposed changes, as we have heard today, individuals who have made an asylum claim in other countries with whom Canada has a data-sharing agreement will be barred from having their cases heard before the IRB. However, they will not be barred from claiming asylum in Canada or from being recognized as refugees. Indeed, they will be channelled through the pre-removal risk assessment, also known as the PRRA. The PRRA has the same protection objective as the refugee determination process at the IRB. It is based on the same grounds and confers the same degree of refugee protection. In other words, the same definition will be applied to assess whether someone is in need of protection in Canada because of the risk that he or she may face in his or her country of origin.
I would like here to take a moment to discuss a concern often heard recently. It is true that the PRRA has an acceptance rate of 7% when it provides last recourse measures after a negative decision by the IRB and the Federal Court. This low acceptance rate suggests that the IRB and the court are performing their mandate in a effective manner. However, the acceptance rate goes up to approximately 30% when it is the first instance mechanism. It must also be noted that based on the last two years of data, some 3% to 4% of claimants will be channelled to the PRRA as a first instance mechanism. Any discussion around acceptance rates should be taken with a grain of salt. What ultimately matters is that no individual is forcibly returned to a country where he or she will be at risk of torture or persecution, and every case must be assessed on its own merits.
Protection safeguards built into the PRRA process may not be fully utilized, and all stakeholders have a responsibility to make sure that they are used to ensure that there is a fair PRRA process. We have heard Minister Blair explain those measures. With those enhanced PRRAs referred to by the government, UNHCR has received assurances that no one would be removed without due process, which notably includes a right to a hearing prior to removal. This is in line with Canadian and international jurisprudence.
Asylum seekers falling into this new stream will need to continue to have access to information about the PRRA process, effective language interpretation and access to counsel. Similarly, PRRA officers will have to be trained further on how to specifically conduct individual hearings in a fair and efficient manner, including by ensuring that counsels play their role fully through interventions during the course of the hearing. Again, we have had both ministers and civil servants explaining the measures that are now contemplated.
In the past, UNHCR has also advocated for the reduction of procedural steps throughout the front-end case process that cause delays and increase costs. Our recommendations included exceptions for people coming from moratorium countries to be given a protected person status, given that they cannot be returned home, and automatic stays of removal during appeals of negative asylum decisions.
UNHCR is looking forward to lessons learned from the various pilots that relate to inter-institutional coordination on case processing, which was referred to in the example of Montreal; simplification of data collection and forms; triaging and streamlining. In addition, timely removal of those not in need of international protection, after all available remedies have been exhausted and due process completed, will continue to be key to guarantee an asylum system that is fair and efficient, and thus maintains the public's confidence.
UNHCR has long supported the IRB and its independence as a model, and continues to do so. Finding ways to increase efficiencies through better triaging while upholding access to fair procedures are, however, legitimate. In discussing these complex realities, often of a technical nature, we all have a responsibility and must work together to ensure that the conversation about asylum and refugees remains objective and balanced, based on sound legal analysis and facts. Asylum systems must, at times, be flexible to address changes in the patterns and profiles of asylum seekers to remain fair, cost-effective and efficient, thus ensuring public confidence in their integrity.
I think that's a very apt question, because of course the challenges that we're discussing here are not unique to Canada. They are challenges from across the world.
One way to sum up the problem is that the supply of potential migrants greatly exceeds the fiscal and social capacity of most receiving countries, as you point out; and the effective management of immigration policies is vital to our continued prosperity, social cohesion and democratic legitimacy.
Much of the world looks to Canada for its being able to build a successful model not just in terms of immigration.... But what's unique in Canada, especially since the mid-1990s—and Keith Banting and Stuart Soroka have done some very interesting work on this—is the increase in popular support for immigration policies at the same time as we've raised the levels of immigration. These are not necessarily negatively correlated.
I think it is important that Canada is able, in terms of the problems that are laid out, to lead by example, because so many other countries are struggling with this. I think there is a risk that, in light of the challenges that I've laid out.... I think this is the struggle that....
One of the unique things in Canada is that 95% of the people who come to Canada are people whom Canada selects, and 5%—a bit larger since 2016—are people who just show up. In Europe, we have the opposite challenge, where 95% are people who just show up. I think that within the Five Eyes countries there's a sense of that. Because of our unique, geo-strategic situation, we have an opportunity to build and ensure we can coordinate a system that is legitimate and sustainable.
If we can't find a way forward that effectively deals with the current circumstance in terms of irregular migration, I think it will send a signal to our partners that there's probably not much hope especially for our European partners, for instance within the Dublin process, to find a measure of coordinating effectively on refugee policy. I think the medium-term strategy within the Five Eyes—and I think most people understand this—with the co-operation that we have, has to be somewhat more harmonization in the way we approach this particular issue.
There is a high level of awareness of exactly the problem you lay out.
I'll start with you, Dr. Leuprecht. You've written extensively, I think, about human smuggling and some of the issues. I'm going to go on to that, but I just want to touch on some of the comments you were making with regard to the Dublin renegotiation and the coordination of asylum system reform.
It's my understanding that Canada can operate the safe third country agreement with the United States and still be in compliance with our international obligations because of some of the provisions that are in article 19 of the Geneva Convention, which, again, are there to prevent asylum-claim shopping, and because of how the agreement is structured.
It seems to me that division 16 of the budget implementation act, Bill , or whatever it is.... I'm not sure it's going to survive. First of all, I don't think it's going to survive a court challenge in the Canadian context.
It doesn't really impact people. As the just said, it's going to impact less than 10% of the people who have entered Canada from the U.S. in the loophole in the safe third country agreement over the last few years and have claimed asylum.
For that reason, my position has been that we actually need to undertake—it's one of the roles Canada could undertake—global asylum system reform, where we're looking at a network of safe third country agreements. We could use international fora to really lead a discussion on what constitutes a safe third country and what monitoring agreements need to be in place in order to ensure that they happen over a long period of time.
I don't think division 16 is that; I think it's a last-minute shortcut—that's kind of how I read it—that probably isn't going to work. Would you say that this assessment is correct or is in the right ballpark?
I would argue that of irregular crossers who have come over so far, under our IRB determination process more than half of them have been deemed to be valid claimants. That said, I'm going to park that point for a minute. However they cross over is not really the issue, is it? It's whether or not they have access to a proper process once they get to Canada. That's your point.
You say that under Bill there is a proper process for them. I would beg to differ. Right now, those who are made to go through the pre-removal risk assessment process would not have an appeal process. The UNHCR back then recommended that all asylum seekers have access to an appeal process on their merits to the refugee appeal division. Under this system, when people go through the pre-removal risk assessment process, there is no appeal for them to go to. They cannot go through the RAD process. OCASI, an organization in our community, in fact spoke out against that. They were deeply concerned that Bill would create a two-tier system of refugee protection in Canada, which would result in some claimants being denied the right to appeal. That is what's happening right now under Bill . Why is it okay now and not okay then?
Mr. Beuze, I've been listening to the questions carefully.
Canada has always been considered a safe haven, even more so now. I would say the system is even better today. In fact, that's part of the reason for the increase in the number of claims.
As Mr. Leuprecht said, Canada's geostrategic situation is unique in that 95% of the people who come to Canada are people Canada selects. That's the figure that was given. Achieving the right balance is crucial. We have to strike a balance between what we must do, what our international agreements require of us and what Canadians are willing to do and accommodate. That's the government's job, and that's what we've done over the past few years.
I always find it troubling when immigration and refugee protection policies are the subject of hypocritical language and doublespeak. Parties call on the government to block or turn away certain refugees, and at the same time, they focus on the economic side, talking about investing more money or providing more services to refugees, for temporary housing, for instance. That fuels misinformation.
What we want is to make sure we are bringing in quality people in order to keep Canadians safe, and that's one of the things this bill does. It reassures Canadians so we can ensure Canada remains a welcoming nation.
Explain to us, if you would, how the current process works when the claims of refugees and immigrants are denied. I'd like to hear about their rights in that regard. Sometimes, a person's claim is denied but they have the right to appeal the decision. A question was raised earlier. Who is going to be able to help them because they will no longer have access to the services? Someone suggested consultants; that's one possibility.
What is your view, Mr. Beuze?
When asylum seekers aren't recognized as refugees or people in need of Canada's international protection, they have access to certain appeal mechanisms. They could include an appeal to the Federal Court of Canada further to a pre-removal risk assessment or an appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division after having appeared before the Refugee Protection Division. After going through all those appeal channels, claimants must return to their country of origin.
Their removal can be accompanied by measures to help them reintegrate into their country and host community. In many cases, people leave their home countries because of poverty and a lack of job opportunities. Measures to help with the transition can be put in place and have been in the past.
It's important now, in my view, to send the message that people should be careful and not rely on the asylum system to immigrate to Canada. If they wish to immigrate here, they have access to options other than asylum. They shouldn't spend their life savings and put their safety at risk by taking unsafe vessels or asking smugglers to take their families. It's important to let them know that, upon arriving in Canada, they won't automatically be allowed to stay. It's important to let them know that they can't abuse the asylum system, as is often talked about in the public space.
It also sends the message that Canada remains a country that welcomes those who are entitled to asylum and in need of protection. Perhaps they should have access to similar, but different, processes given the need to find quicker and more cost-effective ways of doing the work. Nevertheless, all those processes have the same objective in the end, protecting those who cannot return to their home countries because they would be at risk of torture and persecution.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we are on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. That is a particular salient message to bring in this committee because aside from our first peoples, of course, when we're discussing issues of immigration and refugee matters we all have a story that's rooted in migration.
Our remarks today will focus exclusively on clause 306 of the bill, which adds a ground of ineligibility for claims of refugee protection made to the refugee protection division of the IRB. I'd like to register our objection to the fact that the changes being proposed to Canada's refugee protection regime are in an omnibus bill. We salute this committee's decision nevertheless to examine this issue, but we're dismayed that we were not consulted prior to the tabling of this bill.
Over the course of my presentation, I would like to make three points. First, Amnesty International considers that is inconsistent with Canada's commitments under international law. Second, the bill will have the negative impact on Canadian refugee practice by creating a two-tier system of refugee protection. Finally, Canada must not rely on foreign protection regimes to uphold its international obligations.
With respect to the inconsistency in international law, Amnesty International is of the view that clause 306 of is inconsistent with international refugee law because it constitutes an automatic barrier to the referral of a claim to Canada's refugee status determination system, the refugee protection division.
It operates without regard to when the prior claim was made; the status of the claim in the other country, whether it be finalized, accepted, rejected, withdrawn, etc.; the fairness of the refugee status determination process in the other country or whether there are other possible bona fide reasons for which a person may seek Canada's protection after having done so elsewhere. We consider that automatic bars to consideration of the asylum claims are not in conformity with the refugee convention.
The convention furthermore prohibits discrimination amongst refugees on the basis of race, religion or country of origin. While the measure in does not discriminate on the basis of these grounds, it is arbitrary and discriminates on the basis of a claim having been filed in another country if that country happens to be Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States or any other country with which Canada signs an agreement.
We view this to be an analogous ground of discrimination to those covered in the refugee convention and thus a violation of the spirit if not the letter of that convention.
Second, there's the two-tier system. Amnesty International further opposes the measure because it introduces a two-tier system of refugee protection. While some refugee protection claimants will have access to the robust status determination system in the Immigration and Refugee Board, others will only have access to the PRRA.
The UNHCR has previously expressed concerns about this:
Where access to the refugee determination procedure is denied, and claims referred to the PRRA for determination, there is the risk of creating a two-tier system, in which the protection risks of one class of asylum-seekers are assessed by the Immigration and Refugee Board, while those of another are assessed by CIC officials. This could affect both the efficiency of the system and consistency of decision-making.
The UNHCR handbook, reissued as recently as February 2019, says the same:
There should be a clearly identified authority—wherever possible a single central authority—with responsibility for examining requests for refugee status and taking a decision in the first instance.
Amnesty International supports that view, because the two-tier model results in important differences. I will cover them now.
The first is independence. While the IRB is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal, a PRRA officer is an employee of the IRCC. This new system would undermine the long-standing policy in Canada that claims for refugee protection are heard by an independent decision-maker.
Second is oral hearings. This is discretionary under the PRRA. However, even if an oral interview is afforded, it does not offer the same protections as an IRB hearing. The refugee claimant has no ability to call witnesses or to test the evidence upon which an officer is relying.
Third is appeals. Decisions of the RPD are appealed to the refugee appeal division, whereas appeals of the PRRA go to the Federal Court for judicial review. Both have different standards of review and, more importantly, while an appeal to the refugee appeal division results in an automatic stay of removal an application for judicial review does not.
Finally, Amnesty International is concerned that unduly relies on foreign refugee status determination systems where human rights abuses of refugee protection claimants are well documented. The U.S. provides an illustrative example.
In our 2018 report entitled “You Don’t Have Any Rights Here”, Amnesty International documented three categories of human rights violations that are being committed by the United States: illegal push-backs along the U.S.-Mexico border, family and child separations, and arbitrary and indefinite detention.
Since that report, there has been a slew of administration policies that fail to respect the rights of refugees. One will deny bond to persons seeking refugee protection until their claims are finalized, which we know can take years. Another would establish a general rule that disqualifies victims of gang violence and domestic abuse from refugee protection. Only last week, the Trump administration circulated a memorandum that intends to further dismantle the system of protection by having U.S. border guards, rather than asylum officers, consider those claims.
I'd now like to turn the floor over to my colleague, Marilynn, to provide a real-life example of the type of claim that will be affected if Bill becomes law.
I'm going to speak French.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, I'd like to tell you the story of an individual who, thanks to the current system, was granted the protection they had claimed and to which they were entitled as a refugee.
In 2006, this individual left their country of origin, Saudi Arabia, to pursue post-secondary education in the United States. Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the individual's father, a public personality recognized by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, was arrested and imprisoned twice. He was accused of criticizing discriminatory laws and policies and calling for their reform.
The individual began a social media campaign on Facebook calling for freedom of religion and freedom of expression and, ultimately, their father's release. A family member who was also involved in the campaign was arrested shortly thereafter and forced to make an incriminating confession.
On that basis, the individual decided to seek asylum in the U.S. for themselves and their family. Their claim was denied despite the fact that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had publicly criticized the arrests of their family members.
Fearing deportation with their family members to Saudi Arabia, where they would have faced near-certain persecution, the individual decided to cross the border to Canada irregularly. After examining the individual's claim, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada determined that the individual should receive protection here, in Canada, or they would be at risk of persecution in their country of origin. The claim for refugee protection that had been rejected by an official in the U.S. was granted by the independent board.
Amnesty International therefore encourages the committee to consider the procedural challenges this individual would've faced had they not had the opportunity to demonstrate their eligibility before an independent board.
Thank you for inviting me to speak.
Some people have said that there is no point in spending our effort opposing these amendments. They say that these amendments are in a budget bill, so inevitably they will be passed into law.
I am here tonight on behalf of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers because these amendments are unfair, and they're ultimately bad for our refugee determination system. I want us to be in this room together as people who the community has entrusted to make laws that are fair and/or to speak out against ones that are not. I want you to think about whether you feel comfortable creating laws in this way—rushed through a budget bill—laws that directly affect the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
I'm going to spend my time on clause 306, the amendment that creates a new class of ineligibility. You have heard today from Minister Blair, officials and the Canadian representative for UNHCR. You've heard assurances that the changes in clause 306 are not significant, that they won't have a profound impact. Most of their faith seems to stem from promises that are nowhere to be found in the legislation. I don't understand their position. The creation of a new ground of ineligibility is a significant change to our refugee determination system that affects a broad category of people and takes away many important protections from these claimants.
This amendment does not only affect claimants who cross the border irregularly. It affects all claimants, no matter how they've travelled here, if they've ever made a claim in one of these countries that Canada happens to have an information-sharing agreement with. It's not limited only to claimants who are rejected by another country. They only have to have made a claim. It's not even limited to claims they made when they were adults. Even if they were children on their parents' claims in one of these countries, they are barred from a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board.
What do these claimants in this broad new category lose? They lose a lot. It's not about tinkering and a few procedural differences. These claimants are losing fundamental rights. They lose the full hearing before an independent tribunal. They lose access to an appeal on the merits. They can't go to the refugee appeal division. They have no protection from removal if they are reviewing a decision to the Federal Court. There's no automatic stay of removal. Now today you've heard Minister Blair and others say that there's no need to worry because these claimants will still be offered protection through PRRAs.
I would first like to deal with what is before us: the IRPA and the amendments in this budget bill. Then we can deal with the assurances that are nowhere in the law, the so-called enhanced PRRA that you heard about today. The PRRA is not the same as a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Any refugee lawyer will tell you that. The PRRA is a written process. You fill in forms. You provide arguments in writing to an employee at IRCC. The IRPA specifically provides that officers are not required to hold an interview, and indeed, they don't. It's extremely rare for them to hold an interview. Even in those rare circumstances, it's not a hearing, as Justin from Amnesty has already set out for you.
We heard assurances today from Minister Blair that there would be an enhanced PRRA. I listened carefully to the testimony, and I am lost. We were told that no one would be deported without an oral hearing. When asked whether by hearing he meant interview, we were told that, no, it will be a hearing with an official, not an interview. As far as I understand, the government doesn't have the power to establish a hearing process outside of the act.
It's also clear that the department has not thought out how this would operationally work if the department was now going to hold thousands of hearings. First, PRRA officers aren't trained to do this. An official today said that PRRA officer training to make refugee determinations is the same as that for members of the Immigration and Refugee Board. I found that answer astounding. It's not true. The PRRA was never meant to be a substitute for the RPD. It's a written process that's done after someone has already had a hearing before the Refugee Protection Division. The officers are not trained to do this work. They don't do full credibility assessments. They barely ever hold interviews. They haven't had training on how to appropriately examine a woman who has experienced violence. There are no guidelines on it. They don't have the tools.
Second, they don't have the infrastructure to do it. Are they going to create a registry and schedule hearings, interpretation and the disclosure of documents? Where are the hearing rooms? None of this has been thought through.
It's very easy to give assurances and not put them in law, and not even think them through as to how they would play out operationally.
Why wasn't this part of the BIA? If this is such a key protection and it's so fundamental, you should ask why it isn't in this legislation. All of this points to the need to separate this provision out of the budget bill and study it properly along with these promised protections. The government's assurances also beg this question: If you're going to give everyone a hearing, why create a parallel process? What is the logic in this? It will just create more backlogs and more delays.
There hasn't been a thorough review of the implications of these provisions, including the gender implications. These provisions disproportionately impact women. For example, the United States does not recognize asylum claims based on domestic violence even where the home state doesn't offer women protection from that violence. Canada has long recognized that domestic violence is a basis on which women may seek Canada's protection, yet with these amendments, we would punish a woman who was rejected in the United States or who abandoned her claim in the United States knowing that it would be dismissed. We would punish these women and their children with an inferior process and tell them they're not deserving of a full, independent hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board.
I don't know how I would explain to a client, who after living through years of domestic violence managed to escape and make her way from Honduras to the United States, where she was detained and correctly advised that the United States would not recognize her claim, why, after all that, after making it to Canada, she doesn't have an opportunity to present her case to the Immigration and Refugee Board, she is relegated to a lesser process with a government official, and she has no opportunity for an appeal on the merits. Do I tell her our government believes she's asylum shopping? This is not about women shopping for better immigration deals. This is about seeking protection and safety. There's no justification at all for punishing these claimants. Offering claimants an inferior process is a punishment.
There are so many things wrong with these proposed amendments. It will not achieve any legitimate government objective. CARL urges the committee to reject the amendment.
First off, I'd like to say thank you to Mr. Mohammed and Ms. Rubayika for presenting Amnesty International's position. After listening to Minister Blair today, I came away thinking, “Gee, has Amnesty changed their mind? Are they now in support of this provision?” So I'm really glad to hear the clear presentation from you in terms of where Amnesty stands.
On the issue around refugees and asylum seekers being faced with differential treatment here in Canada under these provisions—because that is what is before us at the moment—earlier today, UNHCR's representative argued that because the pre-removal risk assessment process is in place, and a person who is rejected under that process will have access to the Federal Court as an appeal mechanism, everything is fine. They will have fairness afforded them.
I'd like to get your comments on that. I'll start with Ms. Sadrehashemi, and then we'll go to you, Mr. Mohammed.
I'd like to touch on this notion. Somehow, the government and the minister impressed the point on us that there will be this enhanced process for PRRA, yet we don't know who is going to be doing it. They're in the hiring process, and they don't know what sort of training would be required. We actually don't have very much information about that.
More to the point, or equally important, is this: If they're going to make people go through that new enhanced process versus that of the IRB—and the official suggested that they were the same, all things being equal—why establish a new process? Why not go through the IRB, as it is established? That is a well-founded and well-respected independent process.
I wonder if anybody would like to jump in and comment on that.