How do you abuse a refugee system with no rules?
Chris Selley: Getting angry about Canada's refugee system is an excellent first step
Published: Thursday, March 26, 2009
As Steven Edwards reported this week, 2008 saw a 30 per cent rise in the number of refugee claimants coming to Canada over the previous year, the whopping increase being due mostly to a spike in claims from Mexicans, Haitians and Colombians. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is not amused, speaking of “wide-scale and almost systematic abuse,” an “abuse of Canada's generosity,” and a “violation of the integrity of our immigration system.”
I can't say I'm totally sure what he's talking about. As designed, the system is pretty much incapable of being abused or violated. Its guiding principle is: get your feet on Canadian soil and you can claim refugee status-period, no exceptions. Forget not-so-badly-off Mexicans and Colombians. If George Galloway had been allowed into Canada, he could have claimed asylum. Britney Spears could have thrown herself on our mercy after her show in Montreal last week. President Barack Obama, during his visit to Ottawa. Alexander Ovechkin, when he played in Toronto on Tuesday. Anyone, no matter their means, where they came from or how they got here, can claim refugee status in Canada, and they can pretty safely count on being here long enough to make the threat of eventual deportation worthwhile. If nothing else, any children born while they're here would automatically be Canadian citizens. That's a lot of reward for not much risk.
This more or less explains why, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' annual statistical report notes, “on average every tenth [refugee] application in the industrialized world [in 2008] was made in Canada.” If we had the resources or the will to properly fund and staff the system, it would at least be incredibly fair. But we don't. The Immigration and Refugee Board estimates it will have more than 84,000 claims on the go by 2011, and anticipates—very optimistically, I'd say—clearing just 25,000 of them. And anyway, the system as operated isn't even remotely fair. Mexicans, because they don't need visas to come to Canada, can simply hop on an airplane or show up at a border crossing. Colombians, however, would be turned back under the terms of the “safe third country agreement” between Ottawa and Washington. But that's okay-if they sneak across the border, they can claim asylum no problem. This is where all the IRB's resources go, while the world's most truly destitute and persecuted people can't even get a look-in.
Canada's refugee system is more than a couple of tweaks away from coherence. It requires dynamite and a complete rebuild into something that serves the world's most imperiled people as fairly, compassionately, logically and expeditiously as possible-something we're prepared to support both morally and financially. As Mr. Kenney is clearly in an off-leash area these days, I'm hoping he has some ideas to go along with his outrage.