Canada's refugee and immigration laws need an overhaul
Why do we have the world's highest acceptance rate?
July 31, 2009
Canada's immigration and refugee system is broken. The Immigration and Refugee Act is innately flawed and has created a dangerously dysfunctional immigration system in Canada. The law is fraught with loopholes and lax rules that encourage fraud, pose security threats to Canada and facilitate illegal immigration while creating roadblocks to legitimate refugee claimants and immigrants.
Thousands of permanent residents and Canadians have been victims of immigration fraud as a result.
I know about this. As a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board and an experienced immigration lawyer, whose clients include refugee claimants, family sponsors, and immigration applicants, I have first-hand knowledge of Canada's immigration system.
The refugee system is particularly dysfunctional.
I applaud Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's attempt to plug some of the loopholes, but it reminds me of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.
Requiring visas for citizens of the Czech Republic and Mexico is a necessary stop- gap measure to curtail the crush of bogus refugee claimants.
In the case of Czechs, citizens of any European Union country have the right to live and work in any of the other 26 countries. Therefore there is no justification for any EU citizen to make a refugee claim in Canada.
As for Mexico, NAFTA regulates trade and commerce among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Mexicans wishing to travel to the United States must obtain visas and Canada has just recently imposed the same requirement. It is well known that Mexican drug cartels have successfully expanded into the U.S. states that border Mexico.
It is not surprising that 90 per cent of Mexican claims have been denied, but just to get to that stage can take up to 18 months. A denied claim is almost meaningless due to the myriad of appeals that are available to unsuccessful claimants, who can remain in Canada for years.
The vast majority of Mexican claimants are not refugees but economic migrants who want a better life in Canada, but that is not a basis for making a refugee claim.
It follows that the logical step would be for Citizenship and Immigration Canada to create a list of safe countries whose citizens would not be entitled to make refugee claims. That list should include at least all EU countries, Switzerland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Israel, some Caribbean countries, and other established democracies with acceptable human-rights records.
Currently, any person in Canada may make a refugee claim. People entering Canada may make a refugee claim at any port of entry. Visitors, international students, foreign workers, foreign diplomats, and visiting athletes or artists may make a claim.
All claims must be considered regardless of the citizenship of the claimant. However, processing such claims costs millions of dollars both in the process and concomitant public health, social services and education costs – adding to the already staggering backlog.
Due to the broad interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and efforts of refugee activists, Canada has the highest acceptance rates in the world. According to United Nations statistics, in 2003 acceptance rates were: Canada 49.6 per cent, U.S. 32 per cent, Italy 16.3 per cent, France 13.3 per cent, Denmark 12 per cent, Belgium 10.3 per cent, Spain 10 per cent and Finland 0.7 per cent.
The IRB schedules hearings to determine refugee claims within 18 months of making a claim or appeal. There is now a backlog of 60,000 claims. These claimants remain in Canada and hundreds if not thousands of them could pose security threats to Canada.
Canada has the most generous refugee system in the world that has unfortunately become a parallel immigration venue for those who are not qualified to immigrate, for economic migrants, criminals, even terrorists. The need for a total overhaul of the refugee determination system is urgent to serve the best interests of genuine refugees and Canadians in general.
Julie Taub is an Ottawa lawyer.