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View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm calling to order the 119th meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are studying the impact of irregular crossing of Canada's southern border. It's our third meeting for this study.
Thank you to the witnesses for agreeing to appear before us on quite short notice.
In this section, we have two organizations appearing and then three individuals. The three individuals will be sharing seven minutes of time. If anybody is wondering about that is working, we were able to accede to a request to have three people appear but as one witness.
We're going to start with Stephan Reichhold, the director general of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.
Thank you for being here, Mr. Reichhold. You have seven minutes.
Stephan Reichhold
View Stephan Reichhold Profile
Stephan Reichhold
2018-07-24 15:02
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you.
My name is Stephan Reichhold. I am the director general of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes, which brings together 140 organizations in Quebec that work with refugees, immigrants and undocumented migrants.
I will paint a picture of the situation. Quebec is often mentioned in this committee's discussions, but I get the impression that not everyone knows exactly how it works in Quebec. This province does things very differently than the rest of Canada when it comes to refugee claimants. So I'm going to quickly explain how it works.
According to the system that has been in place since the 1980s, the first responders, after the admissibility process of the Canada Border Services Agency or IRCC, are Quebec's social services. Refugee claimants are therefore referred to the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, which receives them and offers them social services. The ministry is responsible for everything related to temporary accommodation.
The steps taken by refugee claimants are as follows. Whether they entered the country in a regular or irregular way, whether it was through the Roxham Road or directly through Lacolle, it makes absolutely no difference. They spend a few hours completing security and admissibility formalities. The agency then takes them by bus to Montreal and drops them off directly in front of one of the four temporary accommodation centres. One of these centres, the YMCA, has been in existence for 30 years, but the others were set up last summer following the arrival of more refugee claimants.
Often, these claimants and their children stay in the temporary accommodation for two or three weeks, the time it takes to receive their first social assistance cheque, which takes an average of two weeks. Once they have received their social assistance cheque, they are directed to one of the 12 settlement NGOs in the Montreal area. Their mandate is to find housing for the claimants. These organizations are funded to find housing for them, to guide them and to help them in their efforts to settle outside Montreal.
So there is a big turnover. Currently, there are between 800 and 900 people in temporary accommodation centres. Tomorrow, maybe 100 people will leave these centres and 50 more will arrive. This turnover ensures that a presence in temporary accommodation can be maintained in a fairly controlled manner.
The housing situation in Quebec is certainly not comparable to that in Toronto. It seems obvious and easy, but it's still quite complicated. This works relatively well because all stakeholders work closely together: CBSA, IRCC, IRB, Service Canada, the City of Montreal, Red Cross, UNHCR and others.
We meet every six to eight weeks. Together, we take stock of what has been done and what is coming. We get ready and try to address the problems and the missing links in the system. We can say that it is fluid and that it can adapt to a larger volume of refugee claimants.
As Mr. Fortin said, currently between 40 and 50 new people arrive every day, which is still very manageable. If the numbers were double that, it would be quite manageable as well.
I will give you some interesting figures, because there aren't many statistics on who these people are, on their profile, and so on.
Two organizations sent me their statistics, including the Centre d'appui aux communautés immigrantes, or CACI, in Montreal. Last year, CACI provided services to 1,700 refugee claimants, mainly from Haiti, Nigeria, Syria and Congo. The educational profile of these individuals is as follows: 43% have a university degree and 27% have a college diploma. This means that about 70% of these people are highly educated. Of these 1,700 refugee claimants, 40% were receiving social assistance. The others had jobs or other sources of income.
La Maison d'Haïti met with 6,172 refugee claimants and assisted them with housing, work permits, and so on. Of these 6,172 claimants, 2,344 reported that they were employed. We find that in Quebec—and we would like to have more data on this—the majority of refugee claimants who arrived in recent months are employed, which is good news.
I'm not saying that it's easy, but we are seeing a phenomenon that we were not aware of before, namely that many companies in the regions are recruiting refugee claimants who are in Montreal. Representatives of these companies come to agencies for a day, interview refugee claimants and offer them work. We are talking about regions such as the Eastern Townships, Chaudière-Appalaches and Mauricie. At present, hundreds or even thousands of refugee claimants have been recruited by companies that take care of them, find them accommodation and sometimes even bring their families. Since these companies act independently, we are not sure how things work. Again, it would be interesting to document all this.
In addition, a multitude of citizens' initiatives have been launched since last summer. For example, TD Group and Team Spectra, which includes the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal among its achievements, have provided significant amounts of money to, among other things, provide activities for children in temporary accommodation centres. Many citizens participate in these initiatives. I'm not talking about donations.
Of course, resources are a challenge, but as you know, community organizations are very creative. We manage to find resources. Centraide is a major financial player. There is also the private sector and fundraising, among others. In the face of the desire to do things right and to treat people with dignity, negative messages are still the most important obstacle. That is what we fear most. The remarks we've heard, even here around this table—
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
You have a few seconds left.
Stephan Reichhold
View Stephan Reichhold Profile
Stephan Reichhold
2018-07-24 15:10
My time is up?
Stephan Reichhold
View Stephan Reichhold Profile
Stephan Reichhold
2018-07-24 15:10
I could answer your questions if you want to know more about how things are done in Quebec.
Thank you.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Ms. Casipullai.
Amy Casipullai
View Amy Casipullai Profile
Amy Casipullai
2018-07-24 15:10
Thank you, Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee on this important topic.
OCASI, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, has 232 member agencies across the province, and much as my friend here does, our member agencies assist immigrants, refugees, and refugee claimants. Historically the number of people making claims has gone up and down. Currently we are seeing a higher than usual number of claimants in Ontario, and this is causing a higher than usual draw on services and supports.
Ontario also receives refugee claimants who have entered and made a claim in another province. This is also not new and it's a trend that's not limited to refugee claimants. The Toronto Shelter Network says that refugee claimants currently make up about 45% of the people in the shelter system, but it's hard to say how they arrived and whether they arrived irregularly or at a port of entry since I'm told that the shelters don't really ask for that information—nor is there a need to do that. We should also keep in mind that not all refugee claimants seek out emergency shelter or services.
The shortage of emergency shelters in various municipalities and the shortage of affordable housing are long-standing needs and are not caused by refugee claimants. So if there's a crisis, it's the lack of affordable and adequate housing, resulting in bottlenecks in emergency shelters in many municipalities, including Toronto. The backlog in the shelters is due partly to the fact that in the past refugee claimants would stay only a few weeks and then move out into housing, but now it takes longer. One estimate from Toronto is that it is for about three to six months, which is creating a backlog, and that's because there just isn't enough affordable housing.
The City of Toronto together with community service organizations is working on short-term and long-term capacity plans to deal with the refugee housing situation. Leaders of local refugee shelters are working alongside city officials to formulate the long-term plan, which, if funded sufficiently, could have a huge impact on dealing with the current challenges. My colleague Anne Woolger can elaborate on that situation, but it should also be noted that not all claimants seek shelter.
Claimants are not eligible for all services, unlike other immigrants or refugees, and our member agencies continue to do some terrific work as they've done for many years to find the resources and collaborations to deliver services that claimants need. Historically all levels of government—federal, provincial, and municipal—have worked well together with community service organizations to welcome and support refugee claimants and other newcomers. It's important for that collaboration to continue so that there's a plan and that services are harmonized across regions and across all governments, and so that all governments continue to benefit from the contributions that refugee claimants make.
Finally, like our colleague, we are concerned about the growing anti-refugee sentiment, and it's important for us that our leaders and media are careful to not use inflammatory or alarmist language with respect to refugee claimants. I will end there and I look forward to your questions.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good. Thank you very much.
For the other three, we'll begin with Ms. Woolger.
It's nice to see you again.
Anne Woolger
View Anne Woolger Profile
Anne Woolger
2018-07-24 15:13
Thank you.
My name is Anne Woolger, and I'm the founder of Matthew House, Toronto, a group of homes that welcomes, shelters, and supports refugee claimants. For the past 30 years, working individually and with dedicated staff and volunteers, I've helped with the resettlement of close to 4,000 refugees. During those years, many painful stories drove me to tears as refugees told me of loved ones killed before their eyes, of being gang-raped, of receiving death threats against them and their children. I've seen torture marks and scars on people's bodies, like the African woman who showed me wounds from bullets that had grazed her stomach before they killed her husband and son. Hence, when I hear media reports portraying these same people as illegal, bogus, and queue jumpers, it both angers me and breaks my heart.
As a nation, we must respect our international obligations so that those fleeing for their lives may enter without hindrance. Our refugee status determination system is second to none, assessing each case fairly and ensuring protection for those who need it. I can also attest that in spite of all their hardships, refugee claimants are highly motivated and resilient people who are often well educated and entrepreneurial, eager to give back to the country that welcomed and protected them.
I could share hundreds of success stories of refugee claimants. One is that of Ben from Afghanistan, who came alone to Canada three years ago at the age of 16. Last month, not only did he graduate from his high school with top honours, but he was also voted class valedictorian. During his valedictory address, he shared his story of fleeing for his life and described the moment he set foot on Canadian soil as being exciting, yet terrifying. Thankfully, he has been granted refugee protection. He concluded his speech by quoting Martin Luther King, encouraging his classmates to believe in their own dignity, to do their very best, and to commit themselves to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice.
Ben is but one example of the kind of people crossing our border today. I can assure you that in supporting these people with love and justice, the return on investment will be enormous, and all of Canada will benefit.
Thank you.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much.
Mr. Neve, welcome back.
Alex Neve
View Alex Neve Profile
Alex Neve
2018-07-24 15:16
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Amnesty International certainly welcomes the opportunity to appear as part of this study on irregular crossings of the Canada-U.S. border, a situation that absolutely must be understood from a human rights perspective. We do not agree that the situation along the border constitutes a crisis by any measure. The numbers are well within Canada's capacity, and also its responsibility to respond to, and certainly do not come close to approaching a sense of crisis when considered in a global context.
That said, the numbers are clearly higher than in years past, and there are two primary reasons. First, there has been a rapid deterioration in respect for the rights of refugee claimants, refugees, and migrants in the United States since Donald Trump assumed the presidency. As such, it is not at all surprising that a growing number of refugee claimants in the United States do not feel safe, do not feel confident that their claims for asylum will be dealt with fairly under the U.S. system, and have instead sought to cross into Canada to seek protection.
A 2007 Federal Court ruling documented the many ways that refugee protection in the United States failed to meet the safe third country agreement's required standards of safety. While that decision was reversed by the Federal Court of Appeal on jurisdictional and other legal grounds, the factual findings about grave problems in the U.S. asylum system remained undisturbed.
Today, more than a decade later, those concerns have mounted dramatically, including numerous procedural barriers to making asylum claims, restrictive interpretations of the refugee definition, limits on women advancing gender-based claims, bars on making claims after one year, difficulties in obtaining legal counsel, and extensive arbitrary lengthy and abusive immigration detention. Most recently there is the impact of what has come to be known as the Muslim ban and the refugee ban, toxic rhetoric associated with Donald Trump's intended border wall, and cruel measures targeting children and families for mandatory detention.
The second key element, of course, is that the Canada-U.S. safe third country agreement makes it nearly impossible for refugee claimants in the United States to seek protection at an official Canadian border post. Unless they come within a limited number of exceptions to the agreement, the only way they are able to access the Canadian refugee determination system is to cross the border irregularly and make a claim inside Canada. That has led many individuals to make dangerous journeys into Canada, including in harsh winter conditions.
We emphatically stress that these irregular crossings to make refugee claims are neither illegal under international law nor Canadian law. This is why Amnesty International has called for the safe third country agreement to be suspended. When it became clear that the government was not prepared to take that step, we joined with the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches in launching a Federal Court application last July. Full hearings are set for this coming January, but suspending the safe third country agreement now would send a strong message that Canada is concerned about the deteriorating regard for the rights of refugees in the United States and is committed to ensuring that the application of the safe third country agreement is fully consistent with our international human rights obligations. Finally, it would also bring a greater sense of order and oversight to border crossings by encouraging individuals to instead make their claims at official border posts.
Thank you.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much. You're always able to stretch the time a bit. You have committee appearances down to an art. Luckily OCASI took less time.
Alex Neve
View Alex Neve Profile
Alex Neve
2018-07-24 15:21
It was all planned.
View Robert Oliphant Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very well planned.
Mr. Mohammed, welcome. It's good to see you again.
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