Refugee board set to finally hear ‘legacy’ asylum claims

To note – these kinds of backlogs should not happen:

The Immigration and Refugee Board is finally taking action to process asylum claims languishing in the system under pre-2012 rules, some of which have been waiting to be heard for more than six years.

There are about 5,500 so-called “legacy” claims filed before December 15, 2012, when the former Conservative government overhauled the asylum system by introducing statutory timelines to hear new claims and expedite removals of failed claimants — leaving the old cases on the back burner.

All legacy claimants are being asked to immediately contact the board and make any needed updates to their applications, so the board can start scheduling their hearings for September. Those who are ready have been asked to fill out an “intention to proceed form” online.

“We understand how difficult it is for the people to have been waiting for a minimum of four years in the legacy backlog,” said Mario Dion, chair of the refugee board. “Their lives and well-being are at stake and we are committed to start scheduling these cases as soon as possible.”

This spring the board launched a legacy task force and dedicated $3 million yearly to address the legacy backlog by hiring more than 20 retired refugee judges to focus on these drawn-out cases, the majority of them filed in 2011 and 2012. It also released a YouTube video to advertise the effort.

Although most post-2012 claims are generally heard by adjudicators within 60 days, the board is facing tremendous pressure at its refugee protection tribunal with a backlog of pending asylum claims that is expected to exceed 37,000 by the end of the year, partially due to the surge in claims at border entry points from the United States since President Donald Trump was elected.

For years, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have called on the federal government to introduce some form of amnesty to legacy claimants to allow them to move on with their lives, but the plea has been ignored.

They said the longer people wait for a refugee hearing, the less chance they have of being accepted as refugees as memories fade and country conditions change with the processing delay.

“Fairness requires that we give them the opportunity to regularize their status in Canada without delay,” said Loly Rico, chair of the refugee council.

Source: Refugee board set to finally hear ‘legacy’ asylum claims | Toronto Star

How the word ‘terrorism’ lost its meaning: Neil Macdonald

More good commentary from Macdonald:

What appears to have qualified those attacks for inclusion on the Trump list was the fact that the attackers, Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had converted from their birth religion to Islam.

Similarly, Trump’s list did not include Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who, in the summer of 2015, pulled out a gun in a black church in Atlanta and began killing. Roof was a practising Christian, a member of an evangelical Lutheran congregation. Reportedly, he sat and argued about scriptural issues with congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before murdering nine of them.

Still, like Bissonnette, Roof was not labelled a terrorist by law enforcement authorities, or charged as such. He was certainly not called a “radical Christian terrorist” or “white supremacist terrorist.” Those are phrases the mainstream media rarely find pronounceable.

The FBI even went to far as to say Roof’s killings were “not a political act.”

If that sounds outrageously hypocritical, that’s because it is. (Go ahead and imagine the official reaction had Roof or Bissonnette been Muslims).

Western concept of ‘terrorism’

But it’s perfectly consonant with the Western concept of “terrorism,” which is itself a form of hypocrisy deeply embedded in the American and Canadian psyches.

Terrorism is political invective, nothing more. It’s a great favourite of demagogues, widely accepted by audiences, and is almost always applied exclusively to the other, never to ourselves.

Take the Irish Republican Army. The IRA was an exclusively Roman Catholic organization, and had no problem killing civilians to advance its agenda. The British government characterized the IRA and all its offshoots as terrorists, but did not for decades apply the label to the equally murderous Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries.

IRA flag Irish Republican Army Gerry Adams

The State Department’s list of designated terrorist groups has never included the IRA. (Paul McErlane/Reuters)

Some Irish Catholics in Canada and the United States, though, tended to regard the IRA’s behaviour as understandable, if not excusable. They preferred not to label it as terrorism, never mind “Christian terrorism,” even though the Troubles were all about a schism in Christianity, something like the violent Sunni/Shia fissure in the Middle East. Almost certainly because of domestic American sentiment, the U.S. State Department’s long list of designated terrorist groups has never named the IRA

Because the terrorist is always the other.

While working for CBC in Israel, I once searched the database of the Jerusalem Post for uses of the word “terror,” “terrorist” and “terrorism.”

There were thousands over the course of several years, all of them relating to Palestinians or other Arabs.

The newspaper had another term for Jewish settlers who targeted and killed Palestinian civilians: “Jewish extremists.”  Most mainstream Israeli journalists have just as hard a time with the phrase “Jewish terrorist” as Western media do with “Christian terrorist.”

Those two words simply seem a contradiction in terms to many Jews, although, to give the Israeli justice system credit for at least some consistency, authorities there have charged Jewish Israelis with terrorism-related offences.

Until the 9/11 attacks, there was at least an attempt in the West to define terrorism: the deliberate targeting of civilians by non-government players to advance a political agenda.

By that definition, of course, Alexandre Bissonnette, if convicted, and Dylann Roof would qualify.

War on Terror

But once America began its “War on Terror,” the word was stretched and adapted to mean anything Washington wanted it to mean, and the U.S. media fell obediently into line.

Any attack on any U.S. soldier anywhere became terror, even attacks by people whose country had been invaded.

Groups such as the Shining Path in Peru, or Kurdish ultranationalist groups, or fringe Irish diehards, or Tamil extremists, are relegated to trivial regional annoyances. The predations of militants or governments America approves of are overlooked or ignored.

Today, the word terrorism is so objectively meaningless that the only sensible definition is: “Violence we disapprove of.”

Source: How the word ‘terrorism’ lost its meaning: Neil Macdonald – CBC News | Opinion

Pre-clearance bill would give U.S. border agents in Canada new powers

Signed and agreed to under different times. Concerns under Trump administration valid but unlikely to impede implementation. However, ongoing monitoring needed:

U.S. border guards would get new powers to question, search and even detain Canadian citizens on Canadian soil under a bill proposed by the Liberal government.

Legal experts say Bill C-23, introduced by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, and likely to pass in the current sitting of Parliament, could also erode the standing of Canadian permanent residents by threatening their automatic right to enter Canada.

The bill would enshrine in law a reciprocal agreement for customs and immigration pre-clearance signed by the governments of Stephen Harper and Barack Obama in 2015. Both houses of Congress passed the U.S. version of the bill in December.

Michael Greene, an immigration lawyer in Calgary, says C-23 takes away an important right found in the existing law.

“A Canadian going to the U.S. through a pre-clearance area [on Canadian soil] can say: ‘I don’t like the way [an interview is] going and I’ve chosen not to visit your country.’ And they can just turn around and walk out.

“Under the new proposed bill, they wouldn’t be able to walk out. They can be held and forced to answer questions, first to identify themselves, which is not so offensive, but secondly, to explain the reasons for leaving, and to explain their reasons for wanting to withdraw,” said Greene, who is national chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s citizenship and immigration section.

“And that’s the part we think could be really offensive and goes too far.”

Pre-clearance allows Canadian visitors to the U.S. to clear U.S. Customs and Immigration while still in Canada at a Canadian port of departure.

Eight Canadian airports offer pre-clearance, and it will expand to two more later this year. They also exist at the Port of Vancouver, at Vancouver’s train station and on some B.C.-Washington ferry routes. Later this year, pre-clearance is expected to be introduced at Montreal’s train station for Amtrak’s Montreal-New York City route.

Howard Greenberg, a Toronto immigration lawyer who has chaired the immigration law committees at the Canadian Bar Association and the International Bar Association, says the law raises the prospect of a Canadian being arrested simply for deciding he or she has had enough with a certain line of questioning.

“At some point, it may change from a situation where you’re simply responding to a question, to a situation where you’re failing to respond to a direction of an officer. So the ambiguity is somewhat dangerous for the traveller.”

Unreasonable delay

A spokesman for Public Safety Canada said C-23 limits how far a U.S. agent can go in questioning a traveller.

“The change is that once a traveller indicates their wish to withdraw, pre-clearance officers would be authorized to exercise certain authorities, such as question the traveller as to their identity and reason for withdrawing,” Scott Bardsley told CBC News.

“This authority is provided in order protect the integrity of the border but can only be exercised to the extent that doing so would not unreasonably delay the traveller.”

But Greene said the bill fails to define what constitutes an “unreasonable delay.”

“What’s reasonable for them may be a very long interrogation. Whereas for the individual it may be, ‘I’ll tell you why I don’t want to answer any more questions and then I’m leaving.’ Well, the problem is, if that person tries to leave, then they can be charged with failing to co-operate, which under this bill is an offence they can be arrested for, and then charged and given a federal record.”

Physical searches

Under the existing law, a strip search can only be conducted by a Canadian officer, though a U.S. officer can be present. Greene points out C-23 says if a Canadian officer is unavailable or unwilling, the U.S. officer can conduct the search.

“So you could have a circumstance where the Canadian officer says, ‘No I don’t think a search is warranted here. I’m not willing to do it.’ But the U.S. officer just says, ‘Fine, we’re going to do it anyway.'”

Thousands of alleged fugitives nabbed at Canadian borders in wake of CBC Toronto investigation

Hard to understand why this took so long:

Canada’s borders have become less porous in the wake of a CBC News investigation that revealed a major security gap in the way passengers were being screened before being allowed into Canada.

In the past 12 months since new screening measures came into effect on Nov. 21, 2015, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) apprehended 3,067 people with outstanding criminal arrest warrants at border crossings.

In the previous 12 months, before the changes came into effect, the CBSA caught just 556 alleged fugitives.

The almost fivefold increase is in large part due to the efforts of a southwestern Ontario woman who demanded answers after being sexually assaulted — allegedly by a Nigerian man who was able to get back into Canada despite having warrants out for his arrest.

“Knowing that potentially some other person’s rapist has been caught at the border, or somebody that’s done something terrible to someone else, gives me some comfort,” she said.

CBC News is not identifying her because she is a victim of sexual assault.

The changes to national border security came last November after CBC News looked into her case and discovered front-line border agents at primary inspection points did not have access to the Canadian Police Information Centre.

CPIC is a database detailing criminal records, individuals with outstanding arrest warrants and other information outlining who might be a risk to Canadians. Only travellers deemed suspicious and sent for more secondary checks were being screened through CPIC at border crossings. Now CBSA agents at all inspection points screen every passenger arriving in Canada through CPIC.

Jean Pierre Fortin, the head of the union representing Canada’s border and immigration agents, says the changes have boosted national security.

Border picture

Canadian governments had quietly been aware of the loophole in border security since at least 2002. Yet giving all front-line CBSA agents access to a database was considered too costly. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

“It’s sad that this only came because of a terrible situation … but we got a better tool through CPIC to our front-line officers to be able to intervene right away.”

Source: Thousands of alleged fugitives nabbed at Canadian borders in wake of CBC Toronto investigation – Toronto – CBC News

Canadian officials preparing for potential flood of Mexican migrants after Trump wins presidency – Politics – CBC News

Appropriate analysis and preparations, along with the note by Lorne Waldman of the need to see exactly what policies a Trump administration enacts (assume this kind of policy work is a focus across government these days):

The federal government is preparing for a potential surge in Mexican migrants coming to Canada after Donald Trump’s election victory, CBC News has learned.

Sources confirm high level meetings took place this week with officials at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and in other departments.

The news comes as Canada prepares to loosen rules for Mexicans to enter the country by lifting a visa requirement on Dec. 1. That restriction has been in place since 2009.

Talks on a plan to cope with a possible spike in asylum-seekers have been ongoing for some time, but were accelerated this week after Trump’s surprise win.

Trump campaigned on promises to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to swiftly deport undocumented workers and illegal residents.

Lawyer predicts ‘significant impact’

Toronto-based immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman expects an increase in refugee claims from Mexicans once the visa requirement is lifted. He also predicts a “significant impact” from Trump’s election.

“The government was very concerned about the potential for a large number of new claims coming from Mexico, and that’s why they hesitated for so long before announcing that they were going to remove the visa,” he said.

“And that announcement was made before anyone knew that Donald Trump, with his very different immigration policies from those of the current administration, won the election.”

But Waldman cautioned it’s too early to tell exactly how the situation may unfold, saying it will depend on whether Trump follows through on his campaign pledges.

Source: Canadian officials preparing for potential flood of Mexican migrants after Trump wins presidency – Politics – CBC News

Members of dormant national security roundtable seeking answers [CCRS]

Always found the CCRS a useful forum during my time working on multiculturalism issues, where we would bring the “soft side” of counter-radicalization approaches to the table.

While it is normal for a new government to review the mandate and the membership, and whether or not it duplicates other consultative bodies (I think not), pleased that the Liberal government has signalled its intent to maintain the CCRS:

A group of Canadians who advise the federal government on national security issues are in the dark about the future of a 16-member roundtable they were appointed to.

Members of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security are supposed to meet in-camera at least twice a year, yet the group hasn’t met since October 2014.

The roundtable was set up in 2005 to act as a sounding board for cabinet ministers and other high-ranking federal executives on how security matters and government policies affect different ethnic communities. Over the years, it has covered topics such as countering violent extremism, migration and cyber-security.

“I feel I’m in limbo,” said Farzana Hassan, a newspaper columnist and past-president of the Canadian Muslim Congress who was appointed to the roundtable in June 2015.

“It seemed like a very good fit and I jumped on the idea and I accepted the appointment, but I have not heard anything,” she told CBC News.

This past spring, Hassan and several other members contacted by CBC received a letter informing them that the government is re-thinking the roundtable’s activities and composition.

“I get the sense that they would want us to resign because we were appointed by the previous government and, you know, this government’s policies and outlines on certain issues is very different from the previous government,” said Hassan.

“I feel I can do more. I can share my ideas, but I have not been given the opportunity to do so,” she said.

Chair sees lack of communication

Myrna Lashley, a psychologist, was appointed to the roundtable in 2005 and has been the group’s chairperson since 2007. But after receiving the letter in March, Lashley suspects her involvement has come to an end.

“Effectively when you get that letter, you have been told ‘thank you,'” Lashley said.

In the meantime, Lashley is concerned the federal government is not communicating as effectively on national security issues with Canada’s ethnically diverse communities, such as Syrian refugees.

In the past, Lashley says the group met with and advised ministers of public safety and justice as well as senior executives from the RCMP, CSIS and Canada Border Services Agency on all sorts of issues that could or would affect an array of cultural groups.

“We could give them an idea of how different communities might react to something so that they could formulate it in a way that would be acceptable to all Canadians,” said Lashley.

Lashley points to the creation of the special advocate program, which provided independent, top-secret, security-cleared lawyers to represent people subject to a security certificate or immigration proceedings.

“We were the ones that said ‘let’s try a special advocate,’ that came from us,” Lashley said.

The Department of Public Safety refused CBC’s request for an interview. But in an email, a spokesperson said, “While the government is currently reviewing the membership of the table, it looks forward to resuming CCRS meetings in the near future.

Source: Members of dormant national security roundtable seeking answers – Politics – CBC News

Australia: Federal police commissioner warns MPs ‘words matter’ in debate on Islam

Wise words. The presence of One Nation in the Australian elected Senate highlights some of the political differences between Canada and Australia:

The Australian federal police commissioner, Andrew Colvin, has warned federal parliamentarians that words matter, emphasising that police rely on good relationships with the Muslim community to keep Australians safe.

Colvin was asked during an appearance on Sky News on Monday about whether he had any concerns about the newly elected One Nation MPs calling for a ban on Muslim immigration, or a royal commission into Islam.

The police commissioner was reminded about previous interventions by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) warning Coalition MPs to tone down florid rhetoric about Islam because the contributions were considered unhelpful to agencies trying to maintain public safety.

Colvin said he didn’t want to intervene in any political debates but he emphasised that people needed to be careful about their public interventions. “What I have been on the record saying and I will say it again, words do matter,” Colvin said on Monday.

“It’s very important to me that I maintain good relationships with the community. Words do matter. They listen very carefully to what’s said,” Colvin said.

Newly elected senators will come to Canberra on Tuesday for orientation ahead of the resumption of parliament next week. One Nation emerged from the recent poll with a Senate bloc of four.

One Nation’s policy on Islam states that the religion sees itself “as a theocracy, not a democracy.”

“Islam does not believe in democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press or freedom or assembly,” the policy says.

“It does not separate religion and politics. Many believe that it is solely a religion, but the reality is that it is much more, for it has a political agenda that goes far outside the realm of religion.”

“Its religious aspect is fraud; it is rather a totalitarian political system, including legal, economic, social and military components, masquerading as a religion.”

Security agencies face ‘real challenge’ fighting terrorism: London police head

Worth noting:

Identifying and tracking people who could turn into terrorists remains a challenge. At least 800 people from Britain went to Syria in recent years, with many joining the Islamic State and others in the fight against the Syrian government. Roughly 400 have returned to Britain and the police now have to assess their potential threat. They are ranked on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the most dangerous.

Many of those who returned from Syria were legitimate aid workers or IS fighters who became frightened of the conflict, he said. “You could, therefore, regard them as a lower-risk group. But we can’t absolutely guarantee that,” he added. “They remain a continuing concern.”

He had praise for controversial programs such as Prevent, which obliges teachers and others in Britain to report people engaging in radical behaviour. Critics have said Prevent stigmatizes those who have been reported and unfairly targets Muslims. Sir Bernard said that while it isn’t perfect, the program can offer help to vulnerable people and families.

Putting guns in the hands of police officers isn’t a solution, he added, because that only increases barriers between cops and communities. The Metropolitan force remains one of the few in the world where the vast majority of officers do not carry guns. Of the city’s more than 32,000 officers, only 2,100 are armed. However, that number is slated to increase by 600 because of the attacks in Paris last November that killed 130 people.

“Just arming all police is not always the answer,” he said. “And our way is to have well-trained specialist officers, well equipped, well led, who we’d be deploying in large numbers to deal with that type of attack.”

One of the most effective tools to combat terrorism, and most other crimes, is the city’s vast network of CCTV cameras. After rioting in 2011, which spread across several parts of London, police gathered 250,000 hours of camera footage to seek out the culprits. About 800 officers spent a year combing through the material, leading to 5,000 arrests. Of those charged with a crime, 90 per cent “pleaded guilty because [the video footage] was such powerful evidence,” he said.

Britons have become so accustomed to the proliferation of cameras in the subway, on buses, across public places and in some taxis that the country has not had a major debate about privacy issues.

Sir Bernard said that is because the cameras were introduced at the local level. “It wasn’t the government saying you’re all going to have CCTV cameras. This was local authorities saying we want it in a public space, in shopping centres, and buses wanted it,” he said, adding that for police work, the cameras are “incredibly powerful.”

Source: Security agencies face ‘real challenge’ fighting terrorism: London police head – The Globe and Mail

ICYMI – Andrew Coyne: A war that cannot necessarily be won, but must be fought all the same | National Post

Good realistic commentary by Coyne:

Alas it is not so. Whether or not we choose to be at war with ISIL they are at war with us. And there is very little we can do to change this.

We cannot simply defeat them in battle, as we might a conventional state: whatever progress we have made against ISIL in Iraq and Syria seems only to have diverted its energies into attacks overseas. Nor can we appease them, as we might a conventional terrorist group, even if we were of a mind to: for they have no demands, or none that we can possibly meet, such is the fantastic, end-times nature of their beliefs.

Nor can we just harden our defences, as if we could anticipate every possible avenue of attack. Protect the most prominent public buildings or infrastructure, and watch as restaurant diners and concert-goers are mown down. Guard against bombs and hijacked airplanes, and see AK-47s and trailer trucks used instead. Close the borders, and find yourself beset by homegrown jihadis. Focus on known terrorist profiles, and the enemy takes the form of “lone wolf” attackers, with no necessary connection to ISIL.

The threat — anonymous attackers, willing not only to kill in limitless numbers but to be killed themselves, and aided by all the latest technologies — is unlike any the world has ever faced. And among the challenges it presents is the psychological.

Because there is no satisfying narrative arc to this. We don’t get to go home when this is all over, because we are home and it may never be over. We have to accept this. We have to accept that some problems cannot be solved, but only endured; that some wars cannot necessarily be won, but must be fought all the same.

We are not helpless. We can make less likely the worst sorts of attacks, the kind that require greater planning, co-ordination and resources, and as such are more easily intercepted and disrupted. We can deprive ISIL of territory, starve it of funds, kill its leaders, and by these and other means deny it the mantle of prophecy on which it depends for new recruits.

And we can do much at home, notably to ward off the kind of deep-seated alienation within Muslim communities that so plagues Europe, on which terrorism thrives. It is crucial Muslims are not made to feel as if they are the enemy, collectively — every bit as crucial as recognizing the unique danger posed by ISIL, and the fundamentalist Islamic theology at its heart.

But there will be more attacks like those we have lately suffered, and probably they will be worse.

I don’t mean to say there is no chance of defeating ISIL, or that Islamist terrorism may not in time go the way of other threats to our way of life. I only mean that we cannot assume it will — not in the short term, and not even in the long. The roots of fanaticism have sunk too deep, over too much of the world, to be assured of that. When an idea, once unthinkable, has been first thought, and not only thought but acted upon, and spread to thousands if not millions of people, it will be a long time before it can be unthought.

So we must accustom ourselves to looking at this, as our adversaries do, as a struggle that may go on for decades, even generations, and understand that in the meantime there will be many more innocent deaths to mourn.

RCMP refugee screening a $16M flop, says internal report

Must be some lessons learned from a big data perspective, both for the RCMP as well as the government as a whole:

$16-million RCMP project to help keep dangerous refugees out of Canada has turned out to be an expensive security flop.

An internal evaluation says the screening project delivered information too late, strayed beyond its mandate, and in the end did almost nothing to catch refugees who might be linked to criminal or terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, 30 Mounties were tied up for four years on duties that did little to enhance Canada’s security.

FedElxn Conservatives 20150909

Then prime minister Stephen Harper said in Welland, Ont., on Sept. 9, 2015, that Canada needed to proceed cautiously in taking in refugees from war zones because they had to be properly screened for criminal and terrorism links. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

“The current approach does not appear to provide much by way of relevant information to support the admissibility screening of refugee claimants,” concludes the Sept. 29, 2015, report, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

The report on the anemic results was completed at about the same time as then prime minister Stephen Harper said Canada had to proceed cautiously in accepting Syrian refugees so that Canada’s screening process could weed out terrorists.

“When we are dealing with people that are from, in many cases, a terrorist war zone, we are going to make sure that we screen people appropriately and the security of this country is fully protected,” Harper told a 2015 election rally in Welland, Ont.

“We cannot open the floodgates and airlift tens of thousands of refugees out of a terrorist war zone without proper process. That is too great a risk for Canada.”

Domestic databases checked

The RCMP screening pilot was launched in 2011-12 as part of a package of Conservative reforms tightening up the processing of refugees, including a controversial move to withdraw some medical treatments for rejected asylum seekers. The Liberals have since reversed that measure.

Under the pilot project, the RCMP vetted potential refugees already in Canada — the names were provided by the Canada Border Services Agency — by checking domestic police databases for links to criminal or terrorist organizations, among other things.

Source: RCMP refugee screening a $16M flop, says internal report – Politics – CBC News