Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/7/2009 (4445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There have been few immigration issues which have generated as much controversy and headlines as the recent decision by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to impose visa restrictions on Mexico and the Czech Republic. Canadians are attempting to digest the merits of this change and are wondering whether an alternative was possible to the blunt hammer of a visa requirement.
A minister of immigration is required to maintain a balance between preserving the integrity of our immigration and refugee programs versus refraining from making public pronouncements that could be seen as political interference in the work of his own refugee board.
In the case of Mexico, action was required. In 2008, Mexican refugee claims represented a full 25 per cent of refugee claims from all countries, with an acceptance rate of only 11 per cent. The absence of a visa requirement permitted Mexican claimants to fly directly to Canada, and Mexico’s exemption from the safe third country regulations allowed Mexicans already in the U.S. to claim asylum at our land border — giving Mexicans an advantage over most refugees from other countries.
The Czech Republic is a different story altogether. Almost all of these refugees are Roma or gypsy claimants and their claims are all alike — beatings at the hands of neo-Nazi skinheads, systemic employment discrimination, being turned away from stores and restaurants — with the state being unwilling or unable to offer protection. In 2008 these claims had a 94 per cent acceptance rate before the refugee board. In the first six months of this year, 72 out of 90 claims decided by the board were approved, an acceptance rate of 80 per cent.
For Minister Kenney to publicly state "it’s hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe," not only ignores evidence of the refugee board’s high acceptance rates for Roma refugee claims, but also undermines the operation of his own board. The minister’s political interference has already been raised in a number of challenges filed in the Federal Court, citing the apprehension of bias when refugee decisions are made by politically appointed board members who look to the same minister to secure their reappointment to the board. The effect of the visa requirement upon the Czech Republic will be to shut the door on the ability of genuine Roma refugees from reaching Canada.
The minister has argued that nothing prevents the Roma from relocating to other European countries, given the Czech Republic’s membership in the European Union. The Roma, however, remember their bitter experience of making asylum claims all over Europe in the years before the Czech Republic was admitted to the European Union, being routinely refused and being deported back home. They choose Canada because, like most of our immigrants, they see Canada as the best country in the world and the country most free of discrimination.
Yet the lingering question remains — was there an alternative and less intrusive method of stemming the flow of bogus refugees other than the imposition of visas. Every immigration minister in recent memory has solemnly pontificated upon the urgency of offering protection to genuine refugees and expelling those that are not. Every system has its weakest link and the Achilles heel of our refugee program is the seven, eight, even 10 years it takes to deport failed refugee claimants, if they are ever deported at all. For bogus claimants, attending their refugee hearing is a minor inconvenience — the payoff is the many years they will be allowed to remain in Canada after their claim is refused, and before the chronically under-resourced immigration department sees fit to remove them. Minister Kenney has signalled that reform of our entire refugee program is imminent. The most critical reform needed is to ensure that a refugee claimant has their hearing within six months of arrival and that an appeal on the merits, if necessary, be completed a few months later. Removal after an unsuccessful appeal should be immediate, which will remove the incentive for bogus refugees to come to Canada in the first place.
Had these steps been taken years ago, the system would have corrected itself, with mostly genuine refugees being motivated to apply for refugee status. Instead, government inattention to the removals process has given every incentive for economic migrants to abuse our refugee program and left the minister no choice but to impose visas and their collateral consequences when a properly managed immigration program would have made such a drastic step unnecessary.
Max Berger is a former Winnipeg immigration lawyer who now has offices in Toronto and Montreal.