Kenney Warns Against Gutting Refugee Reforms

Kenney warns against gutting refugee reforms

By Norma Greenaway
The Canwest News Service, May 4, 2010

Stripping proposed refugee reforms of a plan to fast-track refugee claims from 'safe' or 'democratic' countries could kill the entire package, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has warned.

Kenney told the Commons immigration committee Tuesday that he's prepared to consider amendments to strengthen the plan to designate 'safe' countries of origin. But when asked directly by New Democrat Olivia Chow whether didn't give opponents of the measure much to cling to.

'I would be inclined at this point to answer in the negative,' he said. 'I see this as integral to the overall balance of the package.'

Kenney said that the legislation is a carefully crafted package, designed to both speed the acceptance of bona fide refugees and to speed the exit of bogus claimants.

Among other things, the new measures would cut the time it takes for a refugee claimant to get a hearing — to two months from the current 19; it would also slice, by more than half, the average 4 years it now takes a rejected claimant to get evicted from Canada.

The 'safe' country proposal is one of the most controversial provisions in the package, and Kenney told the committee he is willing to try to address the concerns.

The proposal says refugee claimants from such countries would not have the right to appeal to a new refugee-appeal division if their claim is rejected. Only claimants hailing from countries without a safe designation would be able to appear before a Refugee Appeal Board.

Kenney argued 'waves' of claimants from safe countries with robust human-rights records are clogging the current system — even though their applications for asylum are withdrawn or rejected nine times out of 10.

Kenney rejected charges the system will be too arbitrary.

'Countries on the list would be chosen in a way that is fair, objective, transparent and reported to Parliament. They would be placed on the list only after a thorough assessment based on objective criteria,' he said.