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A Manitoba immigration expert isn't surprised that the Canadian Border Services Agency has a backlog of tens of thousands of deportation orders.
A report released by the auditor general Wednesday shows that in 2019 the agency had roughly 50,000 outstanding, enforceable removal orders on file, including more than 34,000 cases in which CBSA did not know the whereabouts of foreign nationals. Most of these orders to leave the country had been in place for several years.
"The Canada Border Services Agency did not remove the majority of individuals who were subject to enforceable removal orders as soon as possible to protect the integrity of the immigration system and maintain public safety," reads the report.
The border agency is responsible for enforcing the removal of people who are deemed inadmissible to Canada, such as those who have committed a crime, have a failed asylum claim or have overstayed their visas.
Lori Wilkinson, director of the University of Manitoba’s Immigration Research West group, said the report findings aren't surprising considering the historically high number of asylum claims in Canada — the federal government received 64,000 claims in 2019 — and the international challenges of returning someone to their country of origin.
"Trying to deport people is always very difficult," she said. "There’s no incentive for the receiving country to take somebody back if they’ve committed a crime… there’s also very little incentive for countries to take you back if the economic conditions of that country are bad, because that’s one more mouth to feed."
For people coming to Canada to escape violence or persecution, there is significant incentive to avoid deportation, which Wilkinson says is likely a factor for those who have gone missing and are now on the CBSA’s "wanted inventory."
"That group of people is doing what they think is necessary in order to stay and I’m not saying it’s right, because it’s not, but I can’t say I’m surprised," she says.
There were 410 asylum claims processed in Manitoba in 2019. The CBSA did not respond to a request for details about the number of missing foreign nationals in Manitoba or the number of officers assigned to carry out removal orders in the province by late Wednesday afternoon.
While Wilkinson said she is glad to see the immigration removal audit, she is worried that the report could have a negative impact on people who are in Canada legally.
"There could be backlashes against immigrants," she said. "Lots of people make the leap that if the deportation system isn’t working, then the immigration system must not be working."
Winnipeg immigration lawyer Alastair Clarke said some of the criticisms in the report are valid, but the audit is a an "oversimplification" of the removal process because it doesn't include specific case examples.
"My concern is that the public reads this report, they don’t understand the details, the individuals who are behind these numbers, and this type of report causes undue or exaggerated anxiety in the public," Clarke said. "The individuals who are under enforceable removal orders in the serious criminality category are generally only a small fraction of individuals in that entire pool."
Of the more than 34,000 cases in the agency's wanted inventory, 2,800 were criminal.
The CBSA has agreed with the auditor general's recommendations to refine its timely removal strategy, particularly for high-priority cases; encourage voluntary returns and improve its data and case-management practices.
Even with those efforts in place, Clarke said the coronavirus pandemic will likely cause further deportation delays.
"We have one individual and he has a travel date and is ready to be removed, but the CBSA officers must escort him back to his home country," Clarke said. "Based on the COVID-19 pandemic, those officers are not comfortable flying with him, so he won’t be removed until his home country is at a safe stage."
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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