41,000 rejects lost in our midst
Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2008
OTTAWA -At ports of entry across Canada, new signs should be erected: “Give us your terrorists, your hardened criminals and your human rights violators.”
As the Auditor-General's report on the Canada Border Services Agency suggested yesterday, this country is becoming a haven for the world's hoodlums, in the same way that Ellis Island represented salvation for Europe's tired, poor and huddled masses.
The fault is not necessarily that of the Border Services Agency, which was set up in 2003 to co-ordinate front-line border management and enforcement activity. In fact, the agency is removing far more people from Canada than were being kicked out before it was created — 12,636 in 2006-07, including 1,900 criminals, up from 8,683 in 2002-03.
Sheila Fraser, the Auditor-General, agreed its performance has improved since her last audit five years ago, when it had no idea how many illegal immigrants were out there. Now it knows 63,000 individuals have enforceable removal orders against their names.
Unfortunately, it doesn't know where 41,000 of them are. That's like the population of Grand Prairie, Alta., just disappearing off government radar screens.
Ms. Fraser sought to reassure Canadians. “Many of them are failed refugee claimants, and I don't think we should jump to the conclusion that they represent a high risk to the public,” she said.
She must be privy to more information than she is sharing with us — all we know is that 41,000 people have skipped town because they don't want to help the authorities with their inquiries. Chances are, they won't be filing tax returns or raising money for their local Rotary Club any time soon.
The real villain in this story is an insanely generous immigration and refugee system. The legislation that governs the system is the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which pretty much says it all. When someone arrives in Canada, the onus is on the Canadian government to prove why they should be denied entry, rather than on the individual to prove why they should be allowed in.
As soon as immigrants land, they receive the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They can be detained for 48 hours, at which point the Immigration and Refugee Board reviews the case. If the IRB decides detention should continue, the decision is reviewed within seven days and every 30 days thereafter.
The A-G's report included a diagram, depicting what it called a “simplified” version of the detention and removals process. Stephen Hawking would have trouble following all the various appeal and review routes. What was clear was that almost all roads led to the applicant being granted permission to remain in Canada. Even when someone is scheduled for removal, there is an out. At that point, Citizenship and Immigration attempts to determine whether the individual would face persecution or torture in their home country. If the answer is yes, the immigrant is allowed to stay. If no, he or she can apply for a review of the decision to the Federal Court of Canada. Needless to say, this process takes years.
One area where Ms. Fraser suggested the Border Services Agency could improve its performance is in the issuing of temporary resident permits. These are permits that allow people who are inadmissable to Canada for technical, medical or criminal-history reasons to enter the country. The Border Services Agency issued 9,489 of these permits in 2006 — 639 to individuals who were barred for past serious criminality (defined as those who have been convicted of an offence that would be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least 10 years under Canadian law).
Quite why Canada is allowing criminals convicted of serious offences into the country in the first place is concerning enough. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, brought in by the Liberals under Jean Chretien, says entry is warranted if there are economic benefits or sufficient humanitarian or compassionate grounds. An examination of 64 of the 639 criminal files found that the reason for issuing the permit was not clearly documented in one-third of the cases.
Ms. Fraser again played down the potential risk by suggesting these miscreants were typically rock bands with a drug history. This is ridiculous — even if you took the Rolling Stones, added Guns'n'Roses and threw in the remaining members of The Who, you'd struggle to come up with 10 years of convictions.
Still, that's not the worst of it. Even more worrying is that once the temporary resident permit is issued, the agency has no idea whether the individual ever leaves. Canada does not monitor the exit of travellers from the country, so no one knows how many of these 639 ex-cons (and that's just one year) are still here.
Stockwell Day, the Public Safety Minister, said the Border Services Agency will look at implementing a more effective tracking system. But reforms need to go deeper than just introducing exit controls.
Perhaps it's time to take a serious look at who we are admitting to this country and what happens to them once they've passed through the initial entry process. The Protection of Canadians Act, anyone?