I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number eight of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The committee is meeting in public and is being televised today.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), the committee is meeting today to study “Report 1—Immigration Removals” of the 2020 spring reports of the Auditor General of Canada.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind members that the subject of this study is an audit by the Auditor General of Canada and the recommendations of that audit. This isn't a study of policy or looking at future events; this is looking at the audit by the Auditor General.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of September 23. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, the webcast will show only the person speaking, rather than the entire committee.
I reiterate that we're focusing on the study today, which is the audit by the Auditor General of Canada and the recommendations in that audit. For people who are subbing in or who haven't gone through the orientation, that's something unique to this committee. We really look at the functioning of the audit and the recommendations from that audit.
To ensure that an orderly meeting proceeds, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
First of all, you may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of selecting either the floor, or English or French. For those participating via Zoom, before speaking click on the microphone icon to activate your own mike. When you are done speaking, please put your mike on mute to minimize any interference.
Should any members need to request the floor outside of the time that's being given to them by me, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order. If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest to speak and create a speakers list. In order to do so, you should click on “participants”, and at the bottom of the screen you will then see popping up on the right side next to your name the “raise hand” feature. This function creates a list of speakers by the same token.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the use of headsets with a boom microphone provided by the House of Commons is mandatory for everyone participating remotely who needs to speak.
Thank you to the interpreters for working through this technology with us.
If you have any technical challenges, please advise me, and we'll do our best to help.
I'd like now to welcome our witnesses.
Joining us today from the Office of the Auditor General are the Auditor General of Canada, Karen Hogan; Carol McCalla, principal; and Erin Jellinek, director. From the Canada Border Services Agency, I'd like to welcome back John Ossowski, president, and Scott Harris, vice-president, intelligence and enforcement branch. We also have with us today, from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, Deputy Minister Catrina Tapley, and Nicole Giles, associate assistant deputy minister, operations. Also, from the Immigration and Refugee Board, we have Richard Wex, chairperson, and Greg Kipling, deputy chair, immigration division.
You will each have five minutes to make your opening statements.
We'll begin with you, Ms. Hogan. You have the floor. Welcome back. It's great to have you with us this morning.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our audit report on immigration removals. Joining me is Carol McCalla, the principal who was responsible for the audit, and Erin Jellinek, who led the audit team.
The audit examined whether the Canada Border Services Agency removed foreign nationals found inadmissible to Canada. Examples include failed asylum claimants, visitors who overstay their visas, or those with criminality. Timely removal supports the fairness of Canada's immigration system and may deter those who might seek to abuse it. In the case of criminals, their timely removal is important to protect public safety.
Overall, we found that the agency's approach to managing removal cases had not resulted in the timely removal of inadmissible foreign nationals. The accumulation of enforceable removal orders has been a long-standing issue for the agency. We determined that in April 2019, about 50,000 had accumulated, and many had been enforceable for years. Also, the agency had not known the whereabouts of about two thirds of the individuals ordered to leave.
We found two key issues that were affecting the timely removal of foreign nationals. First, the agency's efforts were hindered by poor data quality, which meant that the agency did not have the information it needed to track enforceable removal orders. For example, orders that the agency should have been monitoring were missing from the inventory. Some orders were delayed because of the poor flow of information between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, and the agency, while others were filed in the wrong inventory. This meant that the agency did not always know which orders to enforce.
Second, poor case management led to significant periods of inactivity for thousands of cases. The agency did not have an effective system that pushed it to act on removal cases—even high-priority and time sensitive ones. For example, we estimated that in its working inventory of enforceable removal orders, the agency had not acted on about 1,500 cases for at least two years simply because they had overlooked them.
The agency aims to remove failed claimants within a year of a final negative decision. We found that most of these cases had, on average, still been in the working inventory after four years and in the wanted inventory of arrest warrants after 10 years.
The agency’s inability to effectively prioritize removal cases is concerning for the small number of criminal cases that may pose a risk to public safety. Criminal cases had been in the agency’s working inventory for an average of five years. We estimated that almost 150 cases involving serious criminals had not been worked on—either because they had not been assigned to an officer or because the officer had not taken any action on the case.
Further, we found significant periods of inactivity among the 34,700 cases of foreign nationals whose whereabouts were unknown. These included 2,800 high-priority criminal cases, about 70% of which were not being investigated to determine whether the individuals could be located. Agency officials confirmed that, in general, cases in the wanted inventory are not a priority.
We made three recommendations. The agency agreed with all of them and has shared its action plan with us.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's discussion on the Auditor General's recent performance audit on immigration removals.
With me today is my vice-president of intelligence and enforcement, Scott Harris.
I would like to thank the OAG for its report, and can confirm that the public safety has accepted all of the findings and recommendations.
The removals process plays a critical role in supporting Canada's immigration and refugee determination continuum, and contributes to the Government of Canada's public safety and security priorities. These processes are complex and not linear. As a result, the inventories that the CBS maintains are constantly changing to reflect the fact that individuals are at different stages of these processes, given the recourse available in our Canadian system of determination.
The various recourse mechanisms available to some or all applicants include the Immigration Refugee Board, judicial review, humanitarian and compassionate relief, ministerial relief and the intervention of United Nations bodies, such as the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
The Auditor General's report focused on the various CBSA inventories of foreign nationals involved in these processes. As of November 2020, about 217,000 people were in our inventory. Of those, about 149,000 were in the monitoring inventory, meaning that they were not eligible to be removed for various reasons. There were 165,000 in the monitoring and stayed inventory, and not eligible to be removed.
Of the 217,000 in total, just over 18,000 are in our working inventory, but have impediments to their removal. I will speak to some of those impediments in a moment.
This leaves a total of 4,175 individuals who could be removed right now.
I want to assure this committee that everyone who comes to the border is screened by our border service officers. Our BSOs have the authority, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to deal with potentially inadmissible visitors. No one leaves the border until and unless we are confident that they do not pose a risk to Canadians. Otherwise, we pursue other options, including detention.
Our efforts aren't just at the border. We assess and reassess risk throughout the process and have the ability to detain those who present an unacceptable danger to the public.
When it comes to removals, CBSA prioritizes the cases in its inventory. However, as indicated, there are variables in our immigration and refugee determination process that require us to constantly prioritize and remove individuals from our inventories. Another significant factor that presents a challenge for removals is our dependence on other countries to provide the travel documents required to have their foreign nationals returned. We depend on the co-operation and coordination with these countries, for example, on the specific requirement for the ID documents so that a removal can take place.
The agency is working with partners on making enhancements to systems to improve our ability to manage data related to removals.
The COVID-19 pandemic's effect on international travel has allowed us to focus our efforts on reviewing our inventories of cases and conducting business that requires a desk investigation or is more administrative in nature—all in support of the program.
As part of its overall case management strategy, the CBSA employs a number of electronic resources to track files along the immigration continuum. The CBSA also uses an inventory management system to help guide the monitoring of files along with the associated resource allocation.
In addition, with the new entry-exit controls in place, we have much greater access to information about travellers who leave Canada—either by land or air—which has had a positive impact on our ability to keep on top of warrants for removals.
Mr. Chair, let me assure you that the CBSA is focused on the recommendations coming out of the Auditor General's report, so that Canada maintains its strong reputation as a fair and welcoming country that is also governed by the rule of law.
I'll be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's discussion on the subject of the Auditor General's recent performance audit on immigration removals.
I'm accompanied by one of my colleagues, Nicole Giles, who is the associate assistant deputy minister of Operations at IRCC.
IRCC welcomes the Auditor General's report and agrees with its recommendations, which offer valuable insights that support ongoing efforts to improve the immigration and asylum system.
Canada is fundamentally an open and welcoming society. We are recognized as having one of the best immigration systems in the world, which was premised on a well-managed migration. In order to preserve that tradition, we must remain alert to those who do not qualify under existing pathways and mechanisms to remain in Canada or those who are otherwise deemed inadmissible.
Equally, however, we must guard against faults in our own processes, and this is what brings us here today, how we can improve.
In budget 2019, the Government of Canada invested $1.18 billion over five years to increase the capacity of Canada's asylum system to process about 50,000 claims a year. This funding will strengthen processes at the border and accelerate the processing of claims and removals in a timely manner. In support of this investment, the departments who share responsibility for these processes have a duty to co-operate as effectively as possible.
A key part of any well-managed system is good and timely data. Our department is committed to working with the Canada Border Services Agency to ensure accurate and timely data entry to assist the agency in managing its removal programs as well as to ensure IRCC's program integrity and quality assurance.
One of the concerns raised in the Auditor General's report was the number of delays in certain removals, which were the result of deficiencies in information sharing between the CBSA and IRCC. In response, IRCC is building on the monitoring, oversight and compliance regimes that we put in place to focus on asylum and related enforcement processes.
Since September 2019, this monitoring regime has allowed us on a monthly basis to identify delayed or improper data entry and to take corrective action.
Over the last year, a section on incomplete removal orders has been incorporated into the report to ensure that any issues are quickly addressed by the appropriate organization. In addition, we are developing a systems-based solution to ensure litigation data entry is completed in a timely manner. We have committed to implement the solution in conjunction with the Department of Justice and the Canada Border Services Agency by September 30th of next year.
In the more immediate term, we have taken action in recognizing that the ability to co-operate effectively with fellow departments is crucial to delivering the many programs and services Canadians rely on to maintain public safety.
To this end, the Asylum System Management Board was established as a deputy minister-level forum in spring 2018 to improve horizontal coordination among IRCC, the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Canada Border Services Agency, the organizations responsible for the administration and operation of Canada's asylum system.
Further, in 2019, the government established a whole-of-government strategy for increasing removals co-operation.
Under this strategy, IRCC received $21 million over six years to deliver capacity-building programming to increase engagement and co-operation with targeted countries.
The strategy also aligns with key findings and recommendations of the spring OAG report, including the need to increase engagement on removal co-operation.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, coordinated efforts on any scale rely on communication and co-operation to succeed. The Auditor General's study of immigration removals has revealed opportunities to strengthen links between departments that are collectively responsible for immigration removals.
We have made progress, and I know my colleagues here today share my resolve to further strengthen our efforts in accordance with the recommendations contained in the report.
I look forward to answering the committee's questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
I am accompanied today by Greg Kipling, deputy chair of the Immigration Division.
I'd like to begin by thanking the Office of the Auditor General of Canada for its report and the information it provides.
While none of the recommendations in the report are directed to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, we are pleased to be able to tell you about our organization and the relationship between the board's work and the Canada Border Services Agency's removals program. We will also be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Before getting to the heart of the matter, I'd like to give you an overview of our mandate, our current operating context and the board's strategic directions.
The IRB is Canada's largest independent administrative tribunal, with a mandate to resolve immigration and refugee cases fairly, efficiently and in accordance with the law.
We have a staff of some 2,000 across the country, including some 500 adjudicators, and a current budget of approximately $300 million a year. As well, we're a high-volume administrative tribunal issuing some 60,000 cases a year across our four separate divisions.
The board's decisions are almost always life-changing, from deciding whether someone is granted refugee protection from the country against which they are alleging persecution, to deciding whether an individual is inadmissible to and, therefore, removable from Canada, to whether someone detained by CBSA for immigration-related reasons should continue to have their liberty restricted or be released into the community.
The board's mandate is important both at an individual level by virtue of the nature of its decisions, but also at a broader level in playing an important role in upholding Canadians' confidence in our immigration and refugee determination systems.
As many of you are no doubt aware, our operating context has been quite challenging over the past few years. Much like elsewhere around the world, Canada's asylum system has faced significant pressure, with refugee claims growing exponentially and far exceeding the funded capacity to process such claims. This has resulted in evergrowing inventories and longer wait times, raising questions around access to justice and public confidence in the system as a whole.
In response to these and other challenges, in early 2019 the IRB developed and implemented a fairly ambitious multi-year growth and transformation agenda. In terms of growth, budget 2019 provided some $200 million in additional temporary funding over two years for the IRB to address the recent surge in asylum claims and slow the growth of the refugee claims inventory and wait times from where they would otherwise be.
As we work to grow the organization and maximize the use of these temporary investments, we're also focused on transformation, as defined by three strategic directions. First, we're focused on improved productivity characterized by a culture of increased operational awareness and results.
Second, we're focused on enhanced quality in decision-making, and third, we're focused on strength in management, including, as my colleague Ms. Tapley just mentioned, improved governance through the Asylum System Management Board with IRCC and the CBSA, which allows us to work through common issues requiring coordinated responses.
I'm pleased to report that results to date across all four divisions have met or exceeded ambitious performance targets, including those associated with the recent investments in budget 2019. At the refugee protection division, for example, the board finalized over 42,000 refugee claims last year, some 10,000 more claims than in 2018-19. The board finalized some 11,000 refugee appeals, more than double the number of appeals finalized at the refugee appeal division the previous year. Of course, these gains represent better access to justice for tens of thousands of people waiting for certainty in their lives.
The audit under consideration deals with immigration removals. Removal orders or decisions that impact whether removal orders are brought into effect are issued by each of the IRB divisions. They cover a range of potential circumstances, including those where the board finds someone to be inadmissible, or where refugee claimants are ultimately found not to be in need of protection.
The effectiveness of CBSA's removals program is based in part on the timely sharing of such IRB decisions. The audit examined the sharing of such IRB decisions with the CBSA in the context of their removal program, and I was reassured that the OAG found no issues with the information shared by the IRB. That said, we are committed to and are currently taking steps to further strengthen our information sharing practices with both IRCC and the CBSA across the immigration and refugee determination system.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. My colleague, Mr. Kipling, and I are available for your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to be here and to question the witnesses.
I looked over this report in detail and have a number of questions. I just want to reiterate the crux of the report and many of the remarks by the Auditor General. My understanding of the report is that the goal was “to determine whether the Canada Border Services Agency, in coordination with [the department of immigration] and the Immigration and Refugee Board...removed individuals ordered to leave Canada as soon as possible to protect the integrity of the immigration system and maintain public safety.” Further, the AG had found that “[f]ailed asylum claimants make up the largest share of those ordered to leave”.
I just want to reiterate some of the highlights from the AG's remarks in English—she gave them in French. She said, “[W]e found that the agency's approach to managing removal cases had not resulted in the timely removal of inadmissible foreign nationals” and, further, that “in April 2019, about 50,000 had accumulated, and many had not been enforceable for years.”
That, in particular, I found very concerning.
“[T]he agency had not known the whereabouts of about two thirds of the individuals ordered to leave”, and she found two main issues with this. “First, the agency's efforts were hindered by poor data quality, which meant that the agency did not have the information it needed to track enforceable removal orders.” They didn't even have the technology to sort of know and find where these individuals were. There were 50,000 at the time. She also mentioned that there was a “poor flow of information between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the agency”.
The second one, in particular, I found quite concerning. “[P]oor case management led to significant periods of inactivity for thousands of cases. The agency did not have an effective system that pushed it to act on removal cases, even high-priority cases” that were time-sensitive. She said that “the agency had not acted on about 1,500 cases for about 2 years” and that more “of these cases had, on average, still been in the working inventory [for] four years and in the wanted inventory of arrest warrants” for a decade.
What I think the public will be particularly concerned about is “the agency's inability to effectively prioritize removal cases”, which “is concerning for the small number of criminal cases that may pose a risk to public safety. Criminal cases had been in the agency's working inventory for an average of 5 years.”
Now in her report, she mentions that criminal cases, particularly the serious ones, were with regard to “those convicted of crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more” and “who, in the opinion of the [border] officer, [would] pose a threat to the public or individuals.”
I did find that concerning. She specified that there were “150 cases involving serious criminals [that] had not been worked on”.
So, what I was hearing in her remarks and in her report was that there were 150 known criminals that they weren't sure where they were and that they weren't working on finding. Further, there were 2,800 other criminal cases, as well, that they didn't know where they were and that they weren't working on.
Now we know that this report is from data from a year and a half ago—April 2019—so I'm hoping today to hear an update with progress for the Canadian people who are concerned about criminals who, essentially, have illegally entered our country and that we're not able to find and are not working on finding, at least at the time of this report.
Mr. Ossowski, how many of the 2,800 criminals that were identified for removal have now been removed in the past year and a half, and how many warrants for the arrest of failed asylum claimants who are individuals who are criminals exist in Canada right now?
I just have to continue. I only have a minute and a half left.
My understanding of her report is that she said that there were many of these criminal cases where no one was looking for them. They were, I guess, on somebody's desk, collecting dust, which I found concerning.
But just now in French for our French colleagues....
How do you explain the fact that the average processing time for removal orders for criminals we are able to locate is five years? How do you explain the fact that 150 serious criminal files have been inactive for years, often with no officer assigned to the file?
Thank you to all the witnesses for your testimony today. It's certainly an important subject.
I'm going to start with Ms. McCalla, who was the principal on this particular report.
The information is obviously helpful, but it's a snapshot in time. As Mr. Wex was talking about, the IRB has basically increased the number of asylum cases it has processed, and I think he suggested that it might have doubled in the last year.
Was there any type of analysis—this is obviously a snapshot in time—about where we were in years past and where we are today basically? Is there any continuum there that we looked at?
Thanks for that, Mr. Chair.
We have changed our existing quality assurance and data monitoring to ensure that all removal orders are entered correctly in the system to allow the CBSA to better manage its inventory. Over the past six months, all removal orders issued were finalized correctly.
We take this report seriously. We are working for a longer term.
These are interim solutions. The longer-term solution is to modify the IRCC system, or the global case management system, to include the tracking of these decisions.
There are two other things, if I may, that I would note are very important. One is called the Asylum System Management Board, which I mentioned in my opening remarks. It is an opportunity for the three of us, Mr. Wex, Mr. Ossowski and me, as heads of the three organizations, to share information, to work collaboratively on priorities and to track our decisions on how we're building different processes that are there.
That, I think, has been tremendously helpful in terms of better horizontal co-operation and better meeting the needs of the three organizations in play.
First of all, I'd like to say hello to my colleagues and all the witnesses present today.
Ms. Hogan, it's a pleasure to see you again. We're going to make it a habit. My first questions will be for you.
You report is quite overwhelming. Once again, you've produced an extensive report, which is also disturbing to ordinary Canadians. The government had provided funding for the voluntary return assistance programs announced in 2019 and funds for its operation directly from 2020.
Do you think this program that is now in place has been delayed by the pandemic?
Thank you very much, Mr. Longfield.
I certainly appreciate the opportunity to have heard the comments, and I want an opportunity to learn more. This audit has certainly brought to light some pretty significant and challenging conversations around our immigration system.
There were earlier assertions, through you, Mr. Chair, that somehow people with extreme criminality who are here in an unauthorized way are kind of roaming the streets. One of the answers was in fact that when people serve their time, they're taken into the custody of the CBSA, of our immigration system. Currently, how many people do we have incarcerated for immigration-related issues? How many people are within the custody of the CBSA, just to give me a better understanding here?
I just want to talk a bit about the cost to taxpayers of the recent influx over the last couple of years. We know that in 2017, 2018 and 2019, 169,000 people illegally or, as others have said—the federal government in particular—irregularly crossed the border into Canada, most of which claimed asylum, for most of which we found their asylum claims were not valid and many of which we now cannot find to remove.
My understanding is that the agency in 2018-19 spent $34 million on this removal program. The year following, the federal government more than doubled that, adding $36 million for a total of $70 million for our removal program. Further, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship committed in 2019 $1.18 billion over a five-year period to increase the capacity of Canada's asylum system to process 50,000 asylum claims per year.
For the deputy minister of immigration, can you confirm that this $1.18 billion does not include welfare payments like food, lodging, travel and others?
Deputy Minister, can you confirm that this $1.1 billion does not include the welfare payments to those asylum-seeking claimants?
I'll address Mr. Harris and Mr. Ossowski of the Canada Border Services Agency.
I can say that the Auditor General's report is quite damning for your organization. I want to focus primarily on the removal of refused immigrants. It's this alarming situation that is the main focus of the report.
In recent years, much more investment has been made in this area. I read an article from La Presse, dated July 8, 2020, written by Jim Bronskill. In that article, he says that in recent years, the government has made much more investment to improve the processing of enforceable removal orders. The Canada Border Services Agency is responsible for enforcing removal orders issued against foreign nationals who have been inadmissible to Canada.
Gentlemen, can you tell us how much money was allocated to this particular program in the last budget?
I can give you some highlights from past years. In 2010, for a program called refugee reform, the agency received $95 million for five years and $19 million ongoing.
There was another injection of funds in 2016 for the Mexican visa lift program. That's when we stopped requiring visas for Mexican travellers coming into Canada. That was $20 million for five years and $5 million ongoing.
Budget 2018 received $7.45 million for one year and nothing ongoing.
In budget 2019 the agency received $77 million for three years.
When you look at those numbers, it's important to understand that a lot of that was for us to deal with what we call the “border management” side of things. This was to process people, either through immigration levels or volumes of asylum claimants we were seeing, and it wasn't focused specifically on removals.
As we recognize this process, removals tend to be at the later edges of those things. Typically when somebody starts a process—maybe three years later if everything works well in the appeal processes and due process is afforded to people—we would be in a position to remove somebody.
Is it possible to have an overview of the situation from the agency and from IRCC? I don't know if those figures exist, but if they do, could you share them with us? It's important to have a more general, more complete view of the situation. So I'm going to ask you a series of questions.
Currently, in which provinces of Canada do we find the people who are under removal orders that have not been enforced, in your opinion?
Where do those people come from? How did they get to Canada and where did they come in?
What are your action plans, province by province, to resolve the situation?
Earlier, you mentioned visas to Mexicans. How many of these removal orders come subsequent to the government's decision to no longer issue visas?
Good morning, everyone.
On this report by the Auditor General and the team, I just want to say thank you. Obviously, it's very, very important to the integrity of our immigration system and border. We know that in a normal time, we would have approximately 500,000 people crossing the border back and forth almost every day between Canada and the U.S. We know that millions of people travel to Canada. They obtain their ETAs. They travel here. They leave and go back. There are tourists and so forth. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Canada every year to study, to work, to move here, to live and to create a better future. We know that our system for the majority part, I would argue, is very robust and remains very robust, but we can always do better with certain aspects.
When I read the report, one thing that stood out for me was on page 13, conclusion 1.47. I do wish to read it into the record:
We concluded that the [CBSA] did not remove the majority of individuals who were subject to enforceable removal orders as soon as possible to protect the integrity of the immigration system and maintain public safety.
We've gone over that point today. There are some action plans and improvements happening, which is great to see. It continues—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome to all the witnesses here. Let me also point out that Mr. Ossowski and Ms. Hogan are regulars at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
The members of this committee received some training behind closed doors. The training emphasized the point that, when we are examining reports from the Auditor General, it is important to recognize the good work that has been done in order to encourage other departments and agencies to follow the example of those organizations who achieve a good mark.
My question goes to Mr. Wex and Mr. Kipling, from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada reported that: “We found no errors with the agency's entry of removal orders issued by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada”.
In your view, Mr. Wex and Mr. Kipling, what are the practices used that result in no errors with the entry of removal orders issued by the board, in terms of the inventory of cases that the agency has to deal with? For example, is it because of the training of the officers or the regular checking of the input?
Mr. Chair, we have a strong system interface with IRCC, which is also shared with CBSA, with respect to decisions issued on the refugee side—refugee decisions that are issued every night. There's a run on the system, and the disposition of the decisions is uploaded on a nightly basis.
That information is shared with IRCC through their GCMS database. Our case management system is connected with theirs, and CBSA has access to it.
Those decisions are also shared, either through encrypted email or regular mail, with CBSA within five days after the decision has been issued
On the immigration side, it's more manual, actually. We don't yet have a systems interface. As Mr. Ossowski mentioned, we are working with IRCC and CBSA to strengthen that area as a result in part of the 2019 audit. All parties, however, receive decisions that are issued through the immigration division or the immigration appeal division.
CBSA is a party with respect to any removal orders that are issued by those two divisions. Those decisions are issued, again by email or mail, within two to five business days. That has been the practice for a significant amount of time.
That said, as you can see, it's fairly manual; it's not yet automated. While it's working very well, and we were reassured by the OAG's report that the information management practice is working well, we want to strengthen it. As Mr. Ossowski said, we're looking at ways of doing so.
One way we are doing it is that the IRB is moving forward with its digital strategy. We are implementing a portal whereby we are pushing information, including decisions, out to counsel and other parties.
Decisions have not yet been pushed out through that portal, but that is the next stage of the implementation. It is something we're working on that will take the current manual process and make it more digital and more automated.
We're doing fine, according to the OAG, but we want to continue to advance our efforts on this front, and we have a strategy to do so. We are reassured by the OAG's report.
I am going to continue talking about the removal program.
I am talking to the witnesses from the Canada Border Services Agency.
I have been doing some research of my own, still using Report 1 from the Office of the Auditor General, which is about removing immigrants who were refused entry. Paragraph 1.2 reads:
In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the agency spent about $34 million on its removal program.
We are talking about $34 million for a program that works 30% of the time.
More specifically, of the 50,000 people who are subject to enforceable removal orders and who have exhausted or waived all legal recourses to stay in Canada, two thirds, about 34,700, according to the report, are in the wanted inventory, and 2,800 of those were individuals with criminality.
Does the Canada Border Services Agency find that acceptable?
Thank you for those clarifications, Mr. Ossowski.
I am now going to turn to the witnesses from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
As you know, the pandemic has affected everyone, particularly the board. Hearings were cancelled up until approximately July. What is the situation now in terms of processing delays?
Questions have been sent directly to the department. We have been told that cases are going to be dealt with, but all the cases have been prepared for the fall. If nothing has been processed for several months, I have a hard time believing that working at double speed will be a success, and all those cases will be processed by the fall.
I am trying to look forward a little, to see what will happen in the coming months. Because hearings have been cancelled, will there be unacceptable processing delays, meaning that, basically, you will not even manage to process only 30% of the cases in the removal program for immigrants who have been refused entry?
Can you clarify that for us?
Mr. Wex, I did not want to interrupt you, but I just wanted to get back to basics. Will there be additional delays because hearings were cancelled?
You said that you resumed hearings in June, but online. However, the pandemic struck in March. No hearings were held in April and May. Are we to expect delays?
I am trying to find out what you did between the middle of March and June. The House of Commons was closed in the middle of March and we resumed our work virtually in April, with two months then to make up for.
At the board, what did you do during that time?
Mr. Chair, if it's okay, I think I'll lead on the response to that question.
As the honourable member is aware, and as you are aware, the Federal Court struck down the safe third country agreement. It's been appealed, and we expect the court to hear that appeal. We don't have an exact date, but we think it will be sometime toward the end of February.
Just to take the question in parts, first, are we planning for eventualities around that? How would we stand up resources and what would they look like? The answer is absolutely. We're working closely with our colleagues at the Canada Border Services Agency, as well as the Department of Justice and other departments, on what this would look like and how we would make sure that we would continue operations in a safe and orderly manner that respects the safety and security of Canadians as we do that.
We continue to watch developments in the U.S. and any potential changes with a new administration and what that might involve.
I'm just trying to make sure I have a thorough answer to the question.
You're doing a great job, and for folks who are tuning in, I'm bringing this up because oftentimes immigration is reduced to a very small minority of highly criminal cases. We haven't, in this discussion, delved into what criminality looks like, whether it's summary convictions or indictable offences, whether they're violent offences or mere missteps of the law.
I want to peel back what the average experience is like for people seeking refuge in Canada. We know, for instance, that the United States under Donald Trump's regime was horrific in its treatment of refugees, with the separation of children, the caging people and inadequate conditions. I think that there is a reasonable understanding now, perhaps not four years ago, but certainly now that we can argue why the safe third party agreement is likely to fail in this appeal.
For lack of a better term, I want to make sure that we have systems and principles in place so that this new flow of people who may be escaping.... Maybe they won't under a new regime. I don't know if there's going to be a difference, but I want to make sure that we're really focused on what the general experience is like for refugees who cross at places like Roxham Road.
I think what Mr. Ossowski said earlier about others calling for a fast, fair and final system remains one of the overall priorities, whether it's with or without a safe third country agreement with the U.S.
There are a couple of things that, as partners, we're working on together but haven't highlighted yet. One of the big issues is the complexity of the asylum system. How do we simplify or de-complexify that system?
As part of the work toward an asylum interoperability project, one of the things we've been working on is the integrated claims analysis centre. This is where we've come together in Toronto to make sure that files are as complete as they possibly can be so that we can reduce the back and forth. If I'm at the IRB, I can't make a decision because I don't see the information, so I send it back, then I get it back, and it goes back and forth.
The goal of the integrated claims analysis centre is to really streamline that processing, define deficiency in the current in-Canada asylum system and ensure that the decision-makers have all relevant information in a timely manner. That helps to maintain the integrity of the system.
We're optimistic about the results of this. It has been through three phases. The third and final phase was just implemented this month, and I'm happy that we've been able to do that throughout the COVID period. Now we will be analyzing how effective it is, but I can tell you that it looks pretty promising.
Mr. Chair, I have one last comment to make.
Against the background of the pandemic, when our meetings are held virtually, the francophone members are very grateful when we receive the written opening remarks from each of the witnesses in advance, not just while they are making their speeches. Today, we had speaking notes from Ms. Tapley, from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and from the Auditor General, Ms. Hogan.
Thank you very much, Ms. Tapley and Ms. Hogan.
However, I would like to have had the notes from all the witnesses, because the notes contain important information. It allows us to be better prepared for the meetings, especially when we don't have the opportunity to be there in person.
That's a fair comment, Mr. Berthold.
Thank you for all the preparatory work and the presentations this morning.
We've had a very fruitful discussion after a very intense audit and it looks like we have some action items that will be ongoing.
Congratulations to everybody for the work you've done to get to the committee, and prior to getting here as well.
We'll suspend now and go into committee business. I would kindly ask our visitors to leave, and then we'll go in camera for committee business.
The Clerk: We're not going in camera.
The Vice-Chair (Mr. Lloyd Longfield): Oh, yes, it's because we have to do different logins. It's just amongst us.
Okay, we've had some modifications to our schedule.
We sent out a new calendar because the public accounts were delayed until November 30, which has opened up an opportunity this Thursday to have the Auditor General come to speak to us about her plans for the next series of audits. That would be in camera with a separate login. We could have a chance to discuss her priorities then.
Then we would have a follow-up workshop on the questions that we're asking, how the committee is doing, from the agency that we used earlier.
I want to open that part of it up for discussion of our schedule of people. Have people had a chance to look at it?
There is one open item on the schedule, and that's our December 10 meeting. There's a choice of either looking at workplace harassment or the spending of money by the Government of Canada on advertising.
That's an open question. Are there any other comments from the floor?