Refugee laws need to be tougher

Special to The Gazette
November 3, 2010 8:42 AM

The federal government’s proposed legislation to curb the tide of human smuggling and bogus refugee claims is welcome, but it should be only the first step in overhauling Canada’s severely dysfunctional refugee determination process.

Under the International Refugee Convention, a genuine refugee should make his/ her claim at the nearest safe country. In the case of the Tamil migrants who arrived in B.C., that would be the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, an established democracy. Tamil Nadu is about the size of Greece and has been the home of the Tamil people since 500 BC.

It is difficult to understand why these Tamil migrants would have chosen Canada at great expense when two hours from Sri Lanka, they could have sought protection in their ancestral home in India where the population shares the same culture, religion, and language (but perhaps not politics, since there is no Tamil Tiger financial-support network in India as there is in Canada.)

To suggest that these Tamil migrants are like the Jews fleeing the Holocaust is an affront to victims and survivors of the Holocaust. The Tamils are not fleeing gas chambers and genocide, but the Sri Lankan government’s successful suppression in May 2009 of the Tigers’ brutal secessionist war that afflicted Sri Lanka since 1980.

The Tamil Tigers, labelled a terrorist group in 32 countries including Canada, invented the suicide bomber, forcibly conscripted children from Tamil families, massacred civilians, ethnically cleansed areas of Sinhalese and Muslim Sri Lankans, and brutalized Tamils who refused to support and finance its barbaric mission.

It is therefore not unreasonable to conclude that there are Tamil Tigers among the migrants who arrived in B.C. last month to join the some 8,000 Tigers in Toronto, to wage terrorism against Sri Lanka from the safety of Canada.

Under Canada’s generous but dysfunctional refugee system, all claims must be processed. The claims are considered regardless of the citizenship or the claimant’s status in Canada.

Therefore, it is not surprising that a Hollywood actor, Randy Quaid, and his wife made refugee claims in October after being arrested in Vancouver on outstanding warrants from the United States.

Annually thousands of bogus refugee claimants use the refugee determination process to jump the queue and bypass the regular immigration process -economic migrants, unqualified migrants, would-be students who do not want to pay international student fees, organized criminals, and so on.

The majority with genuine claims are caught up in the estimated backlog of 61,000 claims and have to wait up to 18 months just to have their hearings and another year to gain permanent resident status.

Canada spends $2-$3 billion annually for the approximately 40,000 people who make claims in Canada. In 2007 there were 28,533 claims (this number does not include spouses and dependents) while 36,895 were made in 2008, a 29-per-cent increase.

Canadians might be shocked to learn that among the Top 10 refugee-producing countries in 2007 and 2008 Mexico ranked No. 1 and the United States was No. 4. And in 2008, the Czech Republic ranked 7th, even though its citizens had the unqualified right to live and work in 26 other EU countries.

This problem could be easily remedied by compiling a list of established democratic countries whose citizens or permanent residents would be barred from making a refugee claim. Such a list would include the United States, all European Union and Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and others.

There is also the issue of legislative bias toward accepting refugee claims. Members of the Immigration and Refugee Board must prepare written reasons to justify decisions to turn down claimants. Writing reasons for a single case can take several hours and review by IRB lawyers is often needed. However, no such obligation exists for accepting refugee claims. There is an obvious temptation for members to choose the easier and faster route of rendering positive decisions orally from the bench.

I hope Hollywood refugee claims will raise the awareness and ire of Canadians about the dysfunctional refugee system and assist the government in having its reforms passed.

Julie Taub is an Ottawa immigration and refugee lawyer, a former member of the IRB and a member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform.