Former Tory government’s refugee reforms get failing grade

Good evidence-based analysis but would have been helpful to have the pre-changes data as well:

Five years after Ottawa rolled out controversial reforms to build a “faster and fairer” asylum system, also meant to boot out failed refugees quickly, the verdict is in.

Despite the highly-touted changes made by the former Conservative government in 2012, the revamped refugee system has failed to hear claims within tight statutory processing timelines or get rid of the backlog, reports a new study released by the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies.

“The aim of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act was to make the system faster, fairer and more cost effective,” said Ryerson University criminology professor Idil Atak, who co-wrote the review with colleague Graham Hudson at Ryerson and University of Ottawa professor Delphine Nakache.

“But the new system is not faster. It is not fairer. It is not more cost-effective.”

To restore the asylum system’s “integrity,” then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney introduced substantive changes to the process, including truncated timelines in asylum claims’ processing. Those who claim asylum at a port of entry are given 15 days, not the 28 days that applied prior to that, to submit the form setting out the basis of their claim.

For most claimants, refugee hearings are supposed to be held no later than 60 days after the claim is referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board, while those from the government-designated list of “safe” countries will be heard as quickly as within 30 days.

The government did respond to advocates’ demands by establishing a tribunal to hear appeals by applicants whose claims have been rejected.

However, it also introduced a one-year bar to prevent failed refugees from having a pre-removal risk assessment or applying permanent residence under humanitarian considerations to delay deportation.

The researchers examined the system’s performance against its policy goals. They did this based on government data from the refugee board, immigration department, border service officials and the RCMP, and on 47 interviews with officials from those agencies and others.

Despite the drop in the volume of asylum claims by half over the course of one year, from 20,427 in 2012 to 10,322 in 2013, only 55 per cent of the safe-country claims met the 30-day target, compared to seven out of 10 claims from non-safe countries.

According to the refugee board, 30 per cent of asylum hearings had to be rescheduled in 2015, mostly due to lack of time. One-third of the appeals at the refugee appeals tribunal also failed to deliver a decision within the 90-day limit; on average, appeals cases were finalized 44 days beyond the target.

“The administration’s priority was to schedule the initial (refugee) hearings for new asylum applications,” said the 50-page study. “As a result, secondary intake of claims, i.e. claims returned by the appeals tribunal or Federal court, remained unresolved for a period of time.”

There were more than 5,000 so-called “legacy cases,” which were filed before the new system came into effect in 2012, that were languishing in the system as of 2016, said Atak, adding that the refugee backlog has already reached the number that applied before the 2012 reform.

With a spike in the number of irregular land-border crossings via the United States, Canada this year has already received a total of 12,040 claims up to the end of April.

If the trend continues, it could reach 36,000 cases in 2017.

Refugee advocates have called on the government to do away with the two-tier system based on where claimants come from and the unrealistic timelines for hearings and appeals.

Mario Dion, the refugee board chair, has called on the Liberal government both for more resources and to ease the restrictive process.

The Tories established the one-year bar to pre-removal risk assessments and humanitarian consideration for failed refugees because of the target to kick them out of Canada within one year.

However, the study found only one-third of failed claimants were removed from Canada within 12 months due to many obstacles.

These include lack of co-operation by the home country, inability to locate the individuals and the person’s fitness to travel.

The reforms did not come cheap, said the study; the Tory government allocated a total of $324 million on implementation over five years.

The removal costs almost doubled to $43 million after the reforms, while the number of people deported from Canada dropped from 13,869 in 2012 to 7,852 in 2014, according to the latest data available to the researchers.

Source: Former Tory government’s refugee reforms get failing grade | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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