Real refugees don't book flights
By MICHAEL DEN TANDT
Last Updated: 17th July 2009, 4:42am
Jason Kenney, the immigration minister, has had a tough time clawing his way up through Conservative caucus ranks. But if he can succeed in bringing fairness to Canada's out-of-control refugee system his future will be set. He will have hit a political home run.
Here's something the New Democrats deliberately don't get, the Liberals are oblivious to and the Conservatives dimly perceive as though through a glass, darkly: Canadians are quietly furious about our flabby, porous and ridiculously over-bureaucratized refugee system. We have been for years.
No government, since the supreme court handed down its so-called “landmark Singh decision” on April 4, 1985, has had the nerve to face this problem, let alone fix it.
The Singh decision established, based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that any person who claims refugee status in Canada has an inalienable right to a formal hearing. It also established de facto that the charter applies to anyone who sets foot on Canadian soil.
In principle this was fine. Canada should be a safe port in a storm. In practice Singh was a disaster. In the space of a few years it incubated an almost inconceivable legal and bureaucratic tangle, an industry in effect, devoted to sorting legitimate refugee claimants from fraudulent ones.
Once you set foot on the tarmac at Pearson the machine kicks into gear. If you're a convicted felon or merely an entrepreneur seeking to earn a better living (as opposed to a refugee fleeing persecution) the machine eventually may spit you back out. But that can drag on for years and usually does.
In one notorious case, that of “pizza guy” Harjit Singh, it took 17 years. Singh was a convicted criminal in his native India and a known credit card scammer here in Canada. But it took a national political scandal and the downfall of an immigration minister, Judy Sgro, before he was finally put on a plane and sent home in 2005.
Here's what Canadians would like instead. A foreign visitor steps ashore in Halifax and enters the customs lineup. He claims asylum. He's immediately ushered into a comfortable waiting room. In short order he speaks one-on-one to a senior customs officer. The claimant tells his story and presents any supporting evidence. That process takes 15, maybe 20 minutes.
If the story doesn't measure up, the refugee claimant is politely ushered into another waiting room. He's offered a meal and a selection of in-flight magazines. As soon as a flight is available off he goes home, courtesy of the government of Canada.
Inhumane? Not really. The stark reality is that people who most need safe harbour typically don't have the means to get to Canada. We should be finding refugees where they live — in refugee camps — not waiting for them to come to us.
This is the nub of Ottawa's decision last week to impose visa restrictions on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic. Nearly 10,000 Mexicans and 3,000 Czechs now seek asylum here each year. The vast majority, according to the government, are economic migrants. Both Mexico and the Czech Republic are democracies, more or less. Neither is beset by war or famine now. So what are we doing?
The Singh decision can't be undone. But the system can be remade so that people who need our help get it and economic migrants use the process in place for doing that. That process is called immigration.