Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. That's a wonderful present. I'm delighted to be here. It's good to see you again in a new capacity; I remember you last being the chair of the public safety committee.
I'm very glad to have the opportunity with Minister Hussen to discuss the issue of irregular migration.
I would like to thank the committee and its members for their exhaustive and rigorous review of this important national issue.
Canada is an open, welcoming, and generous country, but it is also a country with the rule of law, and the Government of Canada takes its laws and the integrity of its borders very seriously.
Some people, in the circumstances of this year, appear to have been misled to believe that crossing the border into Canada in an irregular fashion is somehow a free ticket to Canada—but it certainly is not. We have been making that point repeatedly in Parliament, in the media, in the public domain, and in the United States since the surge of asylum seekers began earlier this year.
We want people to know that crossing the border into Canada between designated ports of entry is contrary to the law. We also want to warn people about how dangerous that can be. That's why there are rigorous immigration and customs rules that must be followed.
To be clear, we enforce those rules through the CBSA, the RCMP, the IRCC, and other agencies to protect our border and to safeguard our communities while we also respect all of Canada's international obligations, including those that are reflected in section 133 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Everyone seeking entry to Canada must demonstrate they meet the requirements to enter and/or to stay here. That's a matter of fact, proof, and evidence. It is not negotiable. It applies regardless of where or how people try to enter the country.
Those entering Canada outside of ports of entry are subject to particular scrutiny. They are arrested by the RCMP or by a local law enforcement officer under the terms of the Customs Act. The RCMP then conducts a preliminary risk assessment to determine if the person has been involved in illegal activity or presents any safety or security risk.
This assessment involves detailed questioning, searches, the examination of documents, and so forth. It may result in the person remaining in RCMP custody for further investigation, if that is deemed necessary, or being transferred to another police agency, if that is the appropriate course. Or, the person will be brought to a Canada Border Services Agency officer at a port of entry or to an inland CBSA or IRCC office.
Once they have cleared that preliminary police and security check at the moment of irregular crossing, asylum seekers then face a careful process to determine whether they are admissible and eligible to make a claim according to Canadian and international law. There are no shortcuts, no exceptions, and no special treatment. There are also no guarantees that an asylum seeker will be able to stay in Canada. That is up to the IRB to determine. Not all asylum claims will be accepted, and not everyone is eligible even to make an asylum claim. The rules are very clearly specified in the IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Verifying an asylum claimant's identity is, obviously, fundamental and essential. It's done for all cases, each and every time, using both biographic and biometric information. This screening includes an interview, taking fingerprints and photographs, as well as medical, security, and criminal record checks. The process is intended to ensure that anyone who wants to come to Canada has not committed serious crimes and does not pose a health or safety risk to Canadians.
An asylum seeker's records are examined for any immigration, criminal, or national security concerns and they are checked against Canadian, international, and other databases, including Interpol's. No one leaves the port of entry without this initial security screening having been completed in a very professional manner, in the first instance by the RCMP, and then by CBSA.
If there is doubt, they can and will be detained. If the applicant is eligible, the person's file will be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board for appropriate consideration. The person will be authorized to be in Canada to attend a hearing of the IRB, where each claim is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Bear in mind that the nature of the claim being made by asylum seekers is that they are seeking asylum in Canada because they need Canada's protection for their life or their safety. If the IRB determines that individuals are not in need of Canada's protection, they are removed from Canada. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, removal orders must be enforced as quickly as possible. The Canada Border Services Agency is firmly committed to doing so. Sometimes, you will note, they get some flack for that, but it is their duty under the law to effect those removals as quickly as possible.
Many people have been working very hard to ensure that the process I have described is managed effectively, efficiently, and in as orderly a fashion as possible. That includes reallocating resources to where they are most required within the RCMP, within CBSA, and within IRCC. Responding to the increase in asylum seekers this year has been very much a whole-of-government effort. Besides the two or three that are abundantly obvious, numerous departments are involved in the coordinated response, and that is all organized and coordinated through the Government Operations Centre in my Department of Public Safety. The leadership shown by all the agencies has permitted an efficient and effective response to a very fluid situation.
Enhanced processing capacity at Lacolle and at inland offices in Montreal and Cornwall has significantly reduced the backlog of people awaiting initial processing and eligibility determination. In some cases, we are able to conduct both the initial interview and investigation and the secondary stage eligibility interview at Lacolle, and that reduces pressures down the road.
As members of the committee will know, the ad hoc intergovernmental task force on irregular migration, of which Minister Hussen and I are members, was recently created, involving not just the federal agencies but also a number of provincial agencies, to work on issues related to the influx of asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States. The collaboration at that level has been very good. The task force has met four times so far, most recently a week ago today.
Canadian authorities are diligent in protecting the integrity of our border and the safety of our country while applying our rules and procedures to provide refuge for those in need of our protection according to Canadian and international law. The government will continue to address irregular migration in accordance with that law and in keeping with our values as an open and welcoming country.
Thank you for your interest, and I am happy now to give the floor to Minister Hussen.
Thank you very much, Minister Goodale.
Mr. Chair, first of all, happy birthday.
The Chair: It's not mine; it's his.
Hon. Ahmed Hussen: It's not yours. Okay, I thought it was. Someone told me it was your birthday.
It's a pleasure to appear once again before this committee. I look forward to answering any questions committee members might have on this important and timely topic.
First, I would like to make a few comments.
I know you've heard from officials in my department over the past two meetings, and they've described to you some of the actions we've taken to address the recent increase in asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States outside designated ports of entry.
I'd like to follow up on these comments by stressing that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been working very closely in partnership with other departments and agencies and with other levels of government to ensure that we have the capacity to deal with the situation and to process claimants expeditiously while maintaining the overall integrity of the asylum system. I'll also note that while asylum seekers await decisions, the social assistance supports they receive are funded and provided to them by our provincial partners. As we take these actions, we remain strongly committed to orderly migration and to, first and foremost, ensuring the safety of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, Canadians can be assured that we've been monitoring the situation for many months and putting in place the necessary plans. Although it's far from a routine situation that we're facing, it's one that we've been able to manage responsibly, effectively, and professionally. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank my department officials and officials in all the different agencies involved for how they've been able to rise to the challenge and respond with the utmost professionalism, nimbleness, speed, and ingenuity.
I'll now outline the concrete ways in which we're responsive. When we saw the numbers of irregular migrants begin to increase at the Lacolle border crossing, we were able to quickly mobilize in order to reassign staff and set up additional office space so that we could keep up with the volume and process asylum seekers quickly for their eligibility hearings. In fact, these efforts have enabled us to bring the eligibility processing timelines of from five to seven months down to from five to seven days.
We figured out a way to fast-track work permit applications from asylum claimants across Canada in order to alleviate the pressure on the social assistance budgets of provincial governments. This is an issue that was raised by the Government of Quebec, and we moved quickly to establish a new 30-day service standard for work permit applications so that asylum seekers may support themselves and become self-sufficient while they await the final decision on their claims. This minimizes the impact they have on provincial social assistance programs.
Similarly, we have built in flexibility to ensure that asylum seekers are covered under the interim federal health program immediately after background checks are completed, but while they are awaiting their initial hearing. This is important because we want to ensure that public health is protected, that asylum seekers have access to basic care, and that there is no undue burden on hospital emergency rooms and provincial health care budgets.
Mr. Chair, all of these are great examples of how we have been responding to an uncommon situation in an effective manner. At the same time, we've been working to dispel the false information that has prompted many to embark on a journey to cross our border. We know this situation is, in part, fuelled by misinformation on various social media outlets and other channels suggesting that certain groups of individuals will receive preferential treatment or be given status in Canada. This is, of course, incorrect, and all claimants have been and will continue to be treated according to existing laws.
We've taken a number of steps to dispel false information and inform people in Canada and the United States of the facts regarding the asylum process in Canada. In recent weeks, two of our colleagues, multilingual members of Parliament, travelled to the United States to help counteract this false information among different diaspora communities.
They met with local politicians and community leaders, and made appearances in the local media and multicultural media, as well as in Canadian and broader U.S. media. As well, I had the opportunity to hold a very fruitful round table discussion on this very issue with groups in the United States, in New York, groups who serve immigrant communities and actually take in phone calls from people who call them to ask them about the asylum system in Canada. This round table included the largest immigrant service providers in New York state, as well as the New York city mayor's office and the legal services provider for immigrants. These groups will now be able to provide and pass on the correct information to the thousands of individuals they deal with on a monthly and weekly basis.
One of the things that have become clearer through these meetings is that many different groups of people in the United States are receiving false information about the Canadian asylum process. We are coordinating outreach approaches targeting each and every one of these communities through our U.S. missions and consulates. At the same time, we are conducting outreach to stakeholders right here in Canada. This is through targeted emails to key stakeholder organizations, video and audio messages available on the IRCC website, media outreach, and social media. All of these materials are being translated into the languages used by the diaspora communities we are trying to reach. We've also begun monitoring Spanish-language media in the United States, and have distributed our outreach products to those media.
Efforts are also under way to gather information from those who are already here, to determine where they came from and what sources of information they relied on in order to make that journey to Canada.
Mr. Chair, we are ramping up our outreach efforts and our intelligence-gathering to remain on top of this situation. I look forward to continued collaboration with our key partners, including provinces and territories, and contingency planning to handle any future fluctuations. In fact, in the middle of this process, whenever the provinces were bringing to us any pressure points, we were able to work with them and collaborate to coordinate solutions on those issues.
Canadians should be confident that our officials continue to manage this uncommon situation in a professional and effective manner.
I want to thank you very much, and I look forward to answering all your questions. Merci beaucoup.
Absolutely. The safe third country agreement is an agreement between Canada and the United States. The agreement is essentially based on a principle. This principle, supported by the United Nations refugee agency, says that an asylum seeker should not engage in asylum shopping. They should claim asylum in the first safe country they land in. In essence, if an asylum seeker lands in Canada, they shouldn't claim asylum in the United States. The opposite is also true. If they first land in the United States, they shouldn't claim asylum in Canada.
Based on that principle, Canada and the United States entered into this agreement in 2004. The agreement says that we will enforce that principle. At the time the agreement was negotiated, the agreement was basically supposed to cover official ports of entry where Canadian and American officials can see the asylum seeker present themselves. The agreement, as it was entered into, covers that situation where people would present themselves at a port of entry and claim asylum. That agreement continues to be in place. When, for example, an asylum seeker comes from the United States and presents themselves at a Canadian port of entry, the safe third country agreement applies. They're told to go back to the United States to claim asylum there.
There are exceptions to the safe third country agreement. For example, if you have a blood relative or if you are an unaccompanied minor, then you can still make a claim in Canada. Essentially, however, as a broad principle, if you present yourself at a Canadian or an American port of entry, from either Canada or the United States, you're supposed to claim asylum in the country you came from.
I'd also like to extend my birthday wishes to the minister. It would probably be uncouth of me to mention that he's a few years older than my father.
In all seriousness, I think all of us here, regardless of political stripe, would agree that ensuring rigorous control of Canada's border helps to instill confidence in the immigration system. I think it also helps to prevent the rise of nationalist rhetoric, such as we've seen south of the border. My questions are going to be in that context.
We heard this week that the IRB is at a 40,000-case backlog, which is incredible. Obviously, we need to have any means possible to ensure that the spirit of the safe third country agreement is being pursued. It has been noted that when the safe third country agreement was negotiated in 2002, there were several loopholes that were allowed. Frankly, they're being used today to thwart the spirit of the agreement by people who are entering Canada illegally from the U.S and then making asylum claims.
A previous colleague of mine who was a former immigration minister has stated that he “repeatedly asked the Obama Administration to amend the STCA to remove the loopholes.” He also has stated that they “completely refused to consider any changes.”
Yesterday, I noted that he speculated that this was “because the US government regards it as being in their interests that a certain number of illegal aliens 'self-deport' themselves to Canada, so the US doesn't have to worry about tracking, detaining, or deporting them.”
I'm not asking you to comment on that, but rather on the following question. Has the government broached the topic of amending the safe third country agreement to cover claims made by people entering Canada through unofficial points of entry with the new American administration, especially as we renegotiate NAFTA? I think it could be argued that it would be hypocritical for the Americans to ask Canada to improve border security if they're not willing to reciprocate.
Or, is the government content to allow the new administration a convenient option to encourage people to self-deport to our country with a minimum amount of American resources involved?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Ministers and officials. Thank you for your presentation.
I would like to expand a bit on the safe third country agreement. I know that the government's perspective and the minister's perspective is that we should keep the safe third country agreement in place.
However, the minister must know that we had a situation where an asylum seeker, Mr. Seidu Mohammed, came through in the dead of winter. He crossed over and in fact advised that in the U.S. his claim was rejected. He cited immigration detention and the lack of access to legal counsel as major factors related to his claim, in how his claim was being rejected in the U.S. He came to Canada, lost digits in the dead of winter, made an application, and was successful. Canada found that he was a valid asylum seeker and granted him the status to stay.
That's one case that shows that the safe third country agreement is not working—at least not for Mr. Mohammed.
The other situation that has been brought to our attention by the IRB is that some 300 applications now have been processed. A little over 50% of the 300 successfully got an asylum claim here in Canada, so I would argue that the minister should look at this carefully and intensively. Canada has a legal obligation in the international world to play our part with respect to asylum seekers. Frankly, many people, including experts, are saying that the safe third country agreement is not working.
I'm going to park that with the minister. I'd like to get a quick response from the minister, specifically related to Mr. Mohammed's case. How can you then say that the safe third country agreement is working for people, when in fact it didn't, at least not for him?
I have limited time, so I'm going to say this.
We also have 300 cases that have come through, and more than 50% of those applications have been approved. So it's not one case. It's more than one case. I'm going to leave that.
I do want to actually talk about the IRB and the importance of ensuring that the integrity of our system is protected. When the minister was last here, there was a backlog with the IRB, and with an additional 1,000 cases being added to the backlog—and that's 1,000 cases per month—we now have a situation in which it is 1,400 per month, and there have been no additional resources given to the IRB. The minister himself, when he was last here, said that efficiencies needed to be looked at, which is what the IRB is doing, but he also said that there needed to be additional resources, yet no additional resources have been given to the IRB.
Is the minister planning on giving the IRB additional resources to deal with this influx?
The minister talked about how he felt that everything is being managed well. This is not about the staff on the ground. I have to say, and what I'm getting back from CBSA staff and, in fact, at every level, is that all of the staff are doing an exemplary job, along with the community, in a very trying situation.
However, it is interesting to note, in response to the committee member's question, that the IRCC indicates that it began tracking irregular crossings only in early April 2017. As a result, claims made by those who entered since the start of 2017 cannot be reported on. So there's a gap.
If the government had been monitoring the situation right from the get-go, anticipating what the implications of the Trump administration would be.... There is a huge gap, right? The irregular crossings began prior to April 2017, so why didn't the government get on with it right from the beginning? And what about Manitoba? Resources are being provided to Quebec, which is fantastic, but what about Manitoba? I know that the Province of Manitoba has asked for additional resources, specifically related to resettlement services. B.C. is also faced with tremendous stresses from the NGOs. They have spoken to the minister directly about those, and the minister has ignored that request and nothing has happened with respect to that.
So how can the minister say that you've managed this effectively?
There is no doubt in my mind that the numbers we were looking at in the summer were unusual in terms of the volume of daily arrivals. We went from a daily average of between 20 and 30, and then it became 50, and then we went as high as 200 to 300 a day.
The important thing to note here is that there was planning. The satellite office of the RCMP at Lacolle, which I was able to visit, had been procured before the increase in the influx. CBSA was able to quickly expand its operations and redeploy staff.
I was able to see first-hand the professionalism and the humane way in which people were being processed. There was absolutely no downgrading of our rigorous screening processes to make sure that each and every asylum seeker who was being processed in that facility was handled in a professional manner.
In terms of IRCC, we quickly ramped up our capacity in Montreal from being able to have about 32 eligibility hearings a day to about 200 a day, as a result of procuring more space and redeploying staff from other parts of Quebec and other parts of Canada, because we recognized that this was a pressure point, and we dealt with it accordingly.
My impression of the whole situation is that it was an unusual influx. It was an increase that was not similar to the previous volumes, but the fact that we were able to work very closely with Quebec and Ontario afterwards ensured that we were able to address any pressure points and increase the capacity within our own department and other departments to ensure that we responded to the situation in a professional manner. It was not a crisis.
Thank you, Mr. Tabbara.
That draws to a close our time with you.
As is the chair's prerogative, I want to take one minute to thank the officials and to thank the ministers for not only their time but also their work on this.
Last week I had the opportunity to go to Manitoba, and I met with 11 of the asylum seekers who had crossed the border at Emerson, including the one Ms. Kwan mentioned today. Overwhelmingly, I was extremely proud to be a Canadian.
I asked for their stories about the border crossing and about the respect that the RCMP had offered to them, including making sure that they were medically treated and that they had food to eat. One offered a coat on a very cold day in January. CBSA told me the story, and as a Canadian I felt it was overwhelmingly positive to hear about the respect they were afforded and also the due process they were given, by the IRCC as well, of course. Two of them have had their hearings already with the IRB and were successfully determined to be in need of protection in Canada, and nine are awaiting postponed hearings.
We will keep pushing you on the IRB and on having resources.
I, not as an MP but as a Canadian, was overwhelmingly proud of your forces and officials and of the work you're doing, so thank you.
We're going to suspend the meeting as we change witnesses.
I raise this as a point of order.
As we just heard from IRCC officials in response to a question that I asked, related in particular to irregular crossings being tracked by IRCC, a written response provided to us states that irregular crossings began being tracked in IRCC's systems only in early April 2017. As a result, claims made by those who entered since the start of 2017 cannot be reported on.
I asked this question about the information that needed to be provided to us from last year, because the irregular crossings began in the dead of winter. That information, in response to the question asked by a committee member, was not provided, and they said that they did not have the information.
We just heard, when I asked that question to the minister, who deferred it to his official, that they had that information.
How is it possible that we would have a written answer that's contradictory? We're not getting accurate information before us, and that, to me, is extremely troubling, Mr. Chair, so I raise this and bring this to your attention. I hope we don't have to go through these kinds of documents with inaccurate information before us, and I ask that you follow up with the official with regard to this.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
My name is Niall Cronin, and I am the director of the division at Global Affairs Canada responsible for coordinating advocacy and engagement on behalf of the Government of Canada in the U.S. and Mexico.
We have been working closely with IRCC, CBSA, the provinces, and others since the summer on the issue that we will discuss today. At the request of IRCC, and in order to provide correct information and gather on-the-ground insights, Canada's embassy in Washington and our network of 12 consuls general in the United States are presently engaged in outreach on this issue. Our focus has been to detect and correct inaccurate information with respect to Canada's asylum process, which has been circulating in some communities in the United States. Specifically, our embassy and consuls general have worked to build connections with local representatives, local media, and community organizations in the United States that can help correct any misinformation that may be circulating about Canada's immigration processes. We are also working to gather information and insight from representatives and community organizations about any potential movements or patterns of migration. Finally, we are supporting outreach by members of Parliament and ministers, including Minister Hussen, , and MP Dubourg.
Since Labour Day, our representatives have engaged close to 25 U.S. decision-makers, including members of Congress, governors, and lieutenant governors. They have also met with numerous diplomatic representatives, NGOs, community leaders, and municipal, county, and state-level officials in communities across the United States. This information is collected and reported back to IRCC.
I should also note that the in-person outreach in the United States is supported by way of digital engagement. The social media accounts of embassies and consuls general are sharing Government of Canada messaging in English, French, Spanish, and Creole in order to correct misinformation about Canada's immigration system.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee. I look forward to answering the questions.
Hello, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
I am Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, director general, operations, strategic joint staff, Canadian Armed Forces.
Operation Element is a CAF contribution to the whole-of-government response to the influx of asylum seekers crossing into Quebec from the U.S. At the height of the crisis, the Canadian Armed Forces was tasked with providing temporary accommodation and making it available to our federal and civilian partners for their use.
As a result, the Canadian Armed Forces built tentage for up to 1,200 personnel in Lacolle, Quebec, and 500 personnel at the NAV Canada Centre in Cornwall. CAF also prepared our cadet camps in Valcartier, Trenton, and Gagetown, in case interim lodging capacity in Quebec could not handle the demand.
Throughout this operation, CAF had a supporting role to CBSA and IRCC, with the Government of Canada's Public Safety operations centre as the overall coordination organization.
Those are all my words today. I thank you for my appearance. I will answer any questions.
It's interesting because Amnesty International did an informal study, if you will, with people who crossed over. Their interviews indicated that, in fact, people were very concerned about their safety, and that of their children, and the heightened level of discrimination that they faced, so that fear has impelled them to make that crossing. People don't cross because it's a fun thing to do. They are risking life and limb to get here, and some of them are bringing children along as well. The risks are grave. This occurred in the dead of winter. Of course, even in the summer, this is an issue as well. When I visited Manitoba, for example, the heat was unbelievable. You have both aspects of it, with the cold and the heat, that could be very detrimental to you. In any event, I'm going to leave that for now.
In terms of the work of the military—and thank you for the information—could you provide us with the amount in dollars for resources that were provided to assist in this process? It sounded to me as though it was mostly military personnel who helped provide and set up the infrastructure to help temporarily house the influx of asylum seekers. Do you have a figure you can provide us?