Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, for sharing the block of time we have here this evening. It will allow me to zero in on one issue. He said that there are many that I might speak about, but I am going to zero in on one this evening.
In the Liberal's budget implementation bill, the government snuck in a major change to Canada's refugee laws. In fact, the Liberals did not even want to send division 16 to our immigration committee for review. Luckily, our former Liberal chair, who I believe is very much opposed to his own government's changes, was able to get it referred to our committee.
I want to set the stage for why the proposed changes are too little and too late. There is a good chance that they will be deemed not compliant with the Singh Supreme Court decision from the 1980s.
Since the between-ports border crossers started to enter in the numbers we have seen in these past couple of years, the Liberals have literally done nothing to close the loophole in the safe third country agreement with the United States. While there are MPs in this House who want to scrap the agreement in its entirety, our public servants, who are in constant contact with their American counterparts, still firmly believe that the United States is upholding the spirit of the agreement.
What we do not know is if the Liberal government has tried to renegotiate the agreement. Trying to get a straight answer out of the immigration minister is harder than getting the finance minister to tell us when the budget will be balanced.
I also understand that division 16 caused great consternation in the Liberal caucus. This was a major pivot from their previous stance that we could not do anything because of obligations and international law. Somehow this change, which came out of nowhere, seems to have been given the green light by the justice department.
The proposed Liberal changes have been panned by virtually every immigration professional in Canada and are not likely to withstand any sort of court challenge. We have asked for the government's charter review of the legislation, and it has yet to provide it. What the government did provide was a very high-level response that said it was compliant.
Multiple witnesses testified at our immigration committee and said that these changes might even add to the administrative backlog and the burden on the refugee system by directing people through the pre-risk removal assessment process. This change also raised concerns that the pre-risk removal assessment process would be conducted by departmental officials rather than by the independent and quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board.
After ignoring concerns about how the Liberals reacted to the influx of people walking across the border to claim asylum, they took almost two and a half years to introduce legislation. In fact, they stuck it into the budget implementation bill, and our immigration, refugee and citizenship committee was not even permitted to amend it. The Liberals pushed it through and tried to limit any political fallout. It sounds just like how the Liberals presented the deferred prosecution agreements issue in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
To add to the confusion, there are conflicting media reports as to whether the Liberals have reached out to the Americans to amend the safe third country agreement. According to the CBSA, they have had fruitful discussions with their American counterparts, but neither the Minister of Border Security nor the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship have told us if they want to amend the safe third country agreement.
Moreover, the Auditor General just gave the Liberals a failing grade on how they have handled Canada's refugee system. The Auditor General was clear that the government “did not process asylum claims in an efficient and timely manner.”
The audit revealed that the Liberals did not adequately respond to the influx of border crossers from the United States, and the Auditor General uncovered serious inefficiencies, which are contributing to significant delays.
Due to these delays in processing claims, there has been an increase in total costs for all levels of government for such things as housing, social assistance and health care. This report confirmed that the Liberals were incredibly slow to react. They should have responded immediately, rather than delay for two years.
The Auditor General conducted this review because of “the rising number of asylum claims that is testing the ability of Canada's refugee determination system to process claims in a timely manner.”
According to the report, if the Liberals do not improve the system, the backlog and wait times will continue to grow. They are projecting that if the number of new asylum claimants remains steady at around 50,000 per year, the wait time for a decision will increase to five years by 2024, which is more than double the current wait time. It goes without saying that these delays are costing taxpayers millions of dollars and putting tremendous strain on the resources of our provinces and municipalities.
In the report, it was determined that roughly 65% of all asylum hearings are being postponed at least once before a decision is made. This means that individuals seeking a decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board are facing increasing wait times to determine if their claim is valid or they will be issued a deportation order.
The Liberals have only themselves to blame. The Auditor General was clear when he stated the postponements “were due to administrative issues within the government's control.”
The Auditor General also brought to light that while the government records the identity documents of those seeking asylum claims, some were indecipherable and could not be read.
Furthermore, the Auditor General took a sample of the asylum claims and reported the government failed to check for criminality or to determine the identity of 400 individuals. He concluded that neither CBSA nor the immigration department tracked whether criminal record checks were always completed.
There is a vacuum of leadership at the very top that is now permeating throughout the entire government. If the Liberals cannot properly manage our immigration and refugee system, it is time for a new government. They should stop blaming others and take responsibility. They have had years to make the necessary changes to improve efficiencies, and now the entire system is backlogged for years to come.
If the Liberals think their proposed changes in the budget implementation act are a step in the right direction, they should listen to the litany of people who are speaking out and saying it will only create more confusion. What we would have liked to have seen is a clear commitment to fix this situation once and for all.
It was just last year that I wrote to the Parliamentary Budget Officer to request a full financial analysis of border crossers into Canada. The request stemmed from the lack of financial information provided by the Liberal government.
Since January 2017, over 40,000 border crossers have been intercepted by the RCMP in Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The PBO revealed that the border crossers cost taxpayers $340 million in 2017-18, $368 million this year, and if similar numbers come across next year, it will cost another $396 million. It is projected to cost at least $1.1 billion in just these three fiscal years, while costs will only continue to go up as the wait times for processing through the Immigration and Refugee Board have ballooned.
These numbers are just the federal government's expenses, and they exclude the hundreds of millions of dollars in costs being borne by provincial and municipal governments for housing and for welfare payments.
The numbers in the report are quite staggering. If the Liberals do nothing to either close the loophole in the safe third country agreement or deter border crossers, we can expect that the overall price tag will only continue to grow.
The PBO outlined in his report that the average cost per asylum claim will grow from $14,321 to $16,666 by 2019-20 as the backlog continues to grow.
The reason for this increased cost is that while asylum claimants are in the country waiting for their refugee hearing, they are eligible for various government services. Moreover, as asylum claimants are denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board, the individual can appeal that decision, which could end up costing $33,738 by the time the appeal is done.
The PBO also revealed that only 18% of border crossers have had their refugee board hearing, and out of the failed claimants, only a fraction have been removed from the country.
Because of this influx, there has been significant pressure on resources for all organizations involved in this process, which has led to delays in the processing of these claims.
To wrap up, not only do I oppose division 16, but I also want the Liberals to immediately get to work to renegotiate the safe third country agreement. Then and only then will we be able to restore confidence in our refugee system and stop ill-thought-out changes of the kind we find in this budget implementation act.