Canada's 'broken' refugee system will be fixed: Kenney
By Norma Greenaway
The Canwest News Service (Canada), October 5, 2009
Ottawa — With the prospect of a fall election fading fast, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he now aims to unveil before Christmas a package of reforms to fix a 'broken' refugee system that costs Canadian taxpayers an estimated $29,000 for each claimant going through the system.
Kenney, who only last week said the reforms were on 'indefinite hold' because of the constant election threats, told a parliamentary committee Tuesday the reform package is on track for the fall.
Although he declined to provide specifics, Kenney said the reforms are designed to speed a refugee claims process that now can take five or more years and also crack down on phoney immigration consultants charging large amounts of money to help bogus refugees get into Canada.
The current backlog is 60,000 claims, and slightly less than half the refugee claims made in Canada are accepted.
Talk of an election has almost evaporated on Parliament Hill since the NDP said it would support the Harper government until employment insurance reforms are enacted.
This means the government has a period of relative stability to roll out some policy initiatives.
Kenney told the Commons citizenship and immigration committee the cumbersome system for handling refugee claims, which includes the right to appeal to the Federal Court of Canada at three separate stages, is 'an advertisement for people to come and abuse the system.'
He said Canada wants to keep the door open wide for genuine refugees fleeing persecution while closing it quickly for fraudulent claimants who take advantage of the country's generous system of multiple appeal channels to stay in Canada for years.
Kenney said he wants to maintain an appeal avenue in the new streamlined process but did not elaborate on how it would work.
Kenney told reporters later his department officials estimate the tab for each claimant going through the system, which includes everything from language and job training to lodging and social assistance, works out to about $29,000 for Canadian taxpayers.
Refugee reform is considered a major challenge in the minority Parliament.
Although MPs from all parties say they support the idea of speeding the claims system, there isn't agreement on how to fix the problem.
NDP MP Olivia Chow, the party's immigration critic, told reporters the system doesn't need a complete overhaul.
She said the problems can be solved by hiring more refugee board judges to get rid of the backlog; putting more resources into making sure rejected claimants are removed swiftly from the country; and refusing to accept refugee claims from anyone who has been helped by an unlicensed immigration consultant.
Chow said the NDP also opposes fast-tracking claims for those fleeing countries where residents are generally deemed to be safe from persecution, arguing people with legitimate claims from those countries will be given short shrift. The Liberal party is more open to the safe-country idea.
Kenney indicated anew Tuesday that he believes the idea has merit.
'I think it's a bit peculiar that we give precisely the same treatment to, say, a British citizen as, say, a North Korean citizen when it comes to our asylum system,' he told reporters. 'We need to exercise some common sense and other countries have done that.'