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This article was published 9/5/2019 (334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A Winnipegger whose dangerous crossing into Canada caught national attention is urging the Trudeau government to cancel plans that would have blocked him from making an asylum claim.
"This will end up hurting those who are most vulnerable and are in need of Canada's protection," Seidu Mohammed told the House finance committee Thursday. "This is an unjust law."
Mohammed entered Manitoba from the United States on Christmas Eve 2016, losing all of his fingers to frostbite. He was among the first of thousands who have breached Canadian laws in order to claim refugee status.
He entered Canada after unsuccessfully claiming asylum in the U.S., which he left after the election of President Donald Trump. He was granted asylum in Canada in 2017.
In March, the Liberals put forward a change in their budget bill that would block asylum-seekers who had already made claims in countries such as the U.S. from having a regular hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
Instead, those claimants will have an expedited hearing on whether they can be safely deported back home, through a process that has fewer checks and balances. Those who can't go back home would be allowed to stay in Canada.
Mohammed told MPs he couldn’t sleep when Winnipeg lawyer Bashir Khan explained how the new process would work.
"I was shocked and saddened and very much disturbed at what he told me," Mohammed testified.
He was particularly concerned by the far lower amount of funding Legal Aid Manitoba could provide for removal hearings, compared with normal IRB hearings that have a thorough appeal process.
"The people of Canada saved my life from death by lynching, homophobic mobs in Ghana," he said. Mohammed previously unsuccessfully claimed asylum in the U.S., where he said officials detained him for 10 months and did not provide a lawyer.
"The United States doesn't care about refugees; they've turned a blind eye and they don't know what's going on," he told the Free Press.
"They see us as criminals, not as refugees who want to start a better life," he testified.
The Liberals say their change will free up resources to process existing claimants, and deter people who have a low chance of gaining asylum from making claims.
Yet, refugee advocates have questioned whether the change is constitutional. The Conservatives, who have been sharply critical of the border policy, say the changes likely wouldn’t withstand a court challenge.
The Liberals "should listen to the litany of people who are speaking out and saying it will only create more confusion," wrote Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire, who sits on the immigration committee. "They are rushing it through and trying to limit any political fallout."
The policy’s attracted enough scrutiny the party ended up emailing its own MPs with talking points, claiming journalists had made "significant omissions and inaccuracies" in their reporting.
Earlier this week, bureaucrats testified the policy would have applied to roughly 3,500 people who have made claims in the past two years — including those who entered Canada legally, as well as the 40,000 irregular claimants.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said such a low number of people doesn’t make sense when Ottawa has a backlog of 71,000 refugee hearings.
"The Liberals want to be seen as tough on refugees, to take the conservative direction, to move to the right and send a message on the eve of an election," she said. "They are placing politics and their political needs ahead of humanity."
She and Maguire believe the policy might add to the backlog, because of the need to hire more adjudicators.
The change was buried in the omnibus budget bill the Liberals introduced in March, despite the party pledging in the last election not to overload budget legislation.
Updated on Thursday, May 9, 2019 at 7:45 PM CDT: Fixes minor typos.
7:56 PM: Adds that Mohammed was granted asylum in Canada in 2017.
May 10, 2019 at 10:52 AM: Typo fixed.