Today, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney introduced proposed legislation designed to improve Canada’s refugee system, to deliver quicker decisions on asylum claims, and to provide faster protection to those in need. “This balanced reform would both increase support for refugees in need of protection and discourage many of the unfounded asylum claims that burden our system,” said Minister Kenney. “These changes would result in faster protection for those who need our help and quicker removals of those who do not.”
As the Auditor General of Canada has said, delays in rendering final decisions on asylum claims leave the system open to abuse. Canada’s existing system is crippled by long delays and a cumbersome process which results in many claims taking years to resolve with finality. These delays encourage people not in need of protection to make claims knowing they will be able to live and work in Canada for many years.
“Canada’s asylum system is broken,” said Minister Kenney. “We must act to avoid a two-tier immigration system: one for immigrants who wait in line – often for years – to come to Canada, and another for those who use the asylum system, not for protection, but to try to get through the back door into Canada.”
It currently takes an average of 19 months for claims to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (“IRB”). The proposed measures would shorten this so that claimants would generally have a hearing at the IRB within 60 days. “This would allow those in need of our protection to have security, and to build their new lives in Canada much more quickly,” said Minister Kenney.
All eligible asylum claimants would continue to get a fair hearing by the IRB based on their individual circumstances. Most claimants would also have access to a new appeal process at the IRB including the opportunity, in certain cases, to present new evidence.
“Through these changes, we would create a more efficient system where most failed claimants would be removed from Canada within a year of their final IRB decision,” said Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety. “This would benefit all Canadians and protect the integrity of our immigration system.”
In general, failed claimants would be removed within a year of their final IRB decision, compared with the status quo in which it generally takes 4.5 years to exhaust all recourses and remove a failed asylum claimant. Quick removal of failed claimants would help discourage individuals from using the asylum system to try to jump the immigration queue to enter Canada. These new measures exceed Canada’s international and domestic legal obligations to asylum seekers and address key concerns raised by the Auditor General of Canada in her May 2008 report on managing the detention and removal of individuals.
Following the example of several democratic countries, the new measures would also allow the government to designate safe countries of origin. As in the current system, all eligible asylum claimants, including those from designated safe countries, would continue to receive a hearing at the Refugee Protection Division of the IRB. All claimants would continue to be able to ask the Federal Court to review a negative decision.
Ottawa has yet to determine which countries are safe and which are not. Senior government officials said the process of making those designations could take some time.
The intention of the proposed law is to reduce the substantial list of asylum seekers living Canada. The backlog of cases now sits at about 60,000. There are about 38,000 claimants whose whereabouts are unknown. Critics argue that one of the reasons the list is so long is that the government, for many years, failed to make an adequate number of appointments to the IRB.
It is estimated that each failed asylum claim costs Canadian taxpayers $50,000, mostly in provincial social service and health costs, and that these reforms would reduce this cost to $29,000 per claim. By shortening the time failed claimants remain in Canada, it could reduce the costs faced by provincial and territorial governments.
These improvements to the asylum system would also allow the Government of Canada to help more refugees resettle to Canada through a commitment to increase the annual refugee resettlement target by 2,500, to a total of up to 14,500 refugees per year.
In addition, as announced yesterday, the Government of Canada would be able to increase Resettlement Assistance Program funding to $54 million, the first increase in over 10 years, in order to help these refugees successfully integrate into Canadian society. Funding would also include an investment to reduce the existing backlog of asylum claims.
The official press release appears here.