Refugee approval rates reflect subjectivity of decision-makers, prof says

Rehaag does good serious analysis, demonstrating the challenge of ensuring consistency among a diverse group of decision-makers. The replacement of political appointees by public servants appears to have reduced somewhat the previously wide variation among decision-makers:

The rate at which refugee claims are accepted by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board varies widely depending on who hears the case, according to a professor who obtained data from the federal government.

Sean Rehaag is an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto, who specializes in immigration and refugee law and human rights. Through an access to information request, he was able to obtain IRB decisions for refugee claims filed in 2016.

‘Some board members are just more likely to believe claimants than other board members.’ Sean Rehaag, university professor

He found a wide variability in acceptance rates, from as low as a quarter of cases heard to a high of 96 per cent.

“I do think that who we appoint as decision-makers really matters,” said Rehaag, specifying it is important to “appoint people who have a solid understanding of refugee law and who are not predisposed to denying claims.”

Rehaag’s work may provide insight into how the 7,000 asylum seekers who have crossed the border on foot at Roxham Road in Hemmingford, Que., will be handled over the next few months as they begin to appear in front of the IRB to test their refugee claims.

Some of that variability in deciding cases is due to the fact that different board members can specialize in different regions of the world.

“It makes perfect sense that if you are mostly hearing cases today from, let’s say, Syria, you are going to have a much higher grant rate than if you were mostly hearing cases from Western European countries, because Syria is much less safe,” said Rehaag.

But even when specializations are taken into account, said Rehaag, there’s still a lot of variation.

“My view is that the variation that remains reflects subjectivity in decision-making,” he said.

Variance to be expected, IRB says

In a statement, IRB spokesperson Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff said variance in acceptance rates from one member to another is to be expected.

“Members render decisions based on the evidence and argumentation presented (or not presented) and each refugee protection claim is unique, and must be determined on its individual merit,” she wrote, adding that there are many factors that impact a decision.

While consistency in its decision-making is the goal, Guibert-Wolff said that, in a quasi-judicial setting where each case is determined on its own merits, based on the evidence presented, consistency is not always possible.

However, the variance in acceptance rates is subject to a periodic review.

New system better than old one

The process for people seeking asylum in Canada changed in 2012, affecting how cases were heard and who heard them. Under the old system, decision-makers were political appointees, but under the reformed system, the decision-makers are public servants who are appointed instead.

As a result, Rehaag noticed a change in how many cases are accepted.

“There used to be decision-makers who denied every single case that they heard over several years. Those were political appointees and that no longer happens,” he said. “There is still subjectivity in decision-making, but it’s not as bad as it was before.

“To me, though, the biggest challenge that the Immigration and Refugee Board is facing right now is a resourcing question,” said Rehaag.

Procedural protections

One way to change the variation rate is to create procedural protections, similar to the criminal justice system.

For example, many asylum seekers are denied access to appeal, which Rehaag said would never happen in a criminal law context.

In 2016, 33 per cent of appeals were granted, a rate Rehaag characterizes as “remarkably high.”

Some claimants, especially those who came to Canada through the United States, are denied access to appeal and are ineligible for automatic stays of removal pending judicial review at the Federal Court.

That means once they’ve gotten a negative decision, they are forced to leave Canada quickly.

IRB spokesperson Guibert-Wolff said the majority of refugee claimants can appeal to the refugee appeal division, except if they fall under a few categories listed.

He said the government must properly fund the IRB so that there are not only enough decision-makers, but administrators, managers and support staff for the system to work smoothly.

Source: Refugee approval rates reflect subjectivity of decision-makers, prof says – Montreal – CBC News

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Immigration tribunal to audit long-term detention practices

Needed:

The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) will conduct what it calls an independent audit of the long-term detention of non-citizens, after two court rulings in the past three weeks found detainees may be denied basic fairness.

The audit, to be completed this fall on a sample of cases from closed files, comes after Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan likened a refugee claimant’s treatment at the hands of adjudicators to that of Joseph K in Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. The claimant was detained off and on for 17 months in a maximum-security provincial jail, even though he had done nothing wrong, the judge said in a ruling on Monday.

The IRB oversees the detention-review system, conducted by members of its Immigration Division – civil servants paid between $89,112 and $101,892, very few of whom are lawyers. More than 6,200 refugee claimants and permanent residents have been detained in fiscal year 2016-17, of whom more than 400 have been inside for more than 90 days. Reasons include being a danger to the public, of uncertain identity or a flight risk.

One of those, Ricardo Scotland, a 38-year-old single father from Barbados, went before Justice Morgan and was released on a writ of habeas corpus – a declaration that his detention was unlawful. He had been held as a flight risk and had been convicted of no crimes. At his last detention review before he asked Justice Morgan for his freedom, the Canadian government told the Immigration Division that it supported his release. But the adjudicator still refused to grant it.

Subodh Bharati, a lawyer who represented Mr. Scotland, said he welcomed the audit, but questioned how independent it would be. He said that, at a minimum, Immigration Division members need basic legal training on the principles of fundamental justice and the importance of procedural fairness.

“As Mr. Scotland’s case has clarified, there are fundamental problems that will require substantive change,” he said in an e-mail. “I hope that this audit is a starting point of more thorough overhaul which includes consultations with detainees and immigration lawyers.”

Audrey Macklin, a University of Toronto law professor, called the audit a positive and long overdue step by the IRB to initiate internal reform, after external pressure. “These [pressures] have variously exposed detention decisions as procedurally unfair, arbitrary, incompetent, unnecessary, and indifferent toward the value of liberty, the best interests of children and the needs of people with mental-health problems,” she said.

She said the audit should examine the qualifications, background and competence of Immigration Division adjudicators, “especially in relation to their capacity to understand, interpret and apply the relevant law.” It should also examine whether the adjudicators “genuinely apply the rule that the burden is on the state to justify ongoing detention, not on detainees to justify release.”

The announcement of the audit also follows a July 25 ruling by the Federal Court in Ottawa, in response to a constitutional challenge to the detention-review system brought by a Jamaican immigrant who had been in Canada since he was 8. As an adult, he amassed multiple criminal convictions and was detained for five years while Jamaica confirmed his nationality.

The Federal Court said the laws as written are not inherently flawed, but there may be shortcomings in how the Immigration Division applies them.

Justice Simon Fothergill set out several “minimum requirements” for the system, such as that the burden of showing why someone should be detained is always on the government, and that the adjudicator must always consider alternatives to detention. Also, the total time in detention should be “reasonable in all of the circumstances.”

The IRB said in a news release on Wednesday that “while recognizing that Immigration Division members make thousands of well-reasoned decisions each year, often in challenging circumstances, the gravity of these decisions – determining for example whether or not an individual will continue to be deprived of their liberty – requires the IRB to be proactive in identifying and pursuing opportunities for improvement.”

Source: Immigration tribunal to audit long-term detention practices – The Globe and Mail

Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays

More on ongoing refugee determination delays, beyond IRB unfilled positions:

Despite law that requires all refugee hearings to be heard within 60 days once a claim is initially deemed eligible by an immigration officer, more and more asylum hearings like Ahmad’s have been suspended indefinitely because of delays at the Canada Border Services Agency in issuing clearances of what is known as front-end security screening.

According to the refugee board, only 46 per cent of asylum claims were heard within the statutory timeline in April, far below the 84 per cent mark two years ago.

Failures to observe the scheduling timelines are caused by delays in security clearances, operational limitations or unavailability of interpreters or counsel.

However, the proportion of hearing cancellations due to delays in obtaining a security clearance has ballooned from just 6 per cent two years ago to a peak of 55 per cent in December, meaning more than half of cancelled hearings were due to border officials’ inability to meet timelines for assessing if a claimant poses threats to Canada due to criminal or security concerns.

Although cancellations due to a pending security clearance were down to just 13 per cent in April, cases cancelled due to so-called operational limitations such as unavailability of refugee judges was up to 32 per cent from 8 per cent in 2015 and 13 per cent in 2016.

In the first four months of this year, 1,769 refugee hearings were cancelled because claimants’ security clearances were not ready. The border agency performed 12,997 security checks for refugees in 2015 and 19,449 last year.

“The (former) Conservative government has put in place a system with strict timelines without the resources to meet the timelines,” said Ahmad’s lawyer, Max Berger.

“Lots of claimants are devastated. They are psyched to tell their stories and have their date in (refugee) courts. The hidden cost is the delays in their family reunification.”

The refugee board said the border agency is responsible for informing it that security screening has been completed. The board doesn’t receive the actual security screening report but only a confirmation if a hearing can go ahead.

“Security screening is done to ensure that individuals who might pose a risk to Canada would not be granted protection and could not use the refugee determination process to gain admittance to Canada,” said Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff, a spokesperson for the board.

“In those cases where confirmation of security screening has not been received in time for the initially scheduled hearing, the (refugee board) will remove the hearing from the schedule and set a new date and time for the hearing as soon as feasible upon confirmation of the security screening.”

It is not known how long it takes to schedule a new hearing but claimants often are given a “target” date six months later.

“Front-end securing screening for an individual refugee claimant may take time depending on complexity or requirements for additional research,” said border agency spokesperson Patrizia Giolti.

“While there is no one specific factor that may impact the (security clearance) processing workload and timelines, 2016 has seen a significant increase over the previous year, in the number of asylum claims.”

The agency has started to give the refugee board two weeks’ notice if a screening is expected to be completed in time for a hearing and has brought in additional staff to work over the summer to perform security screening to address the backlog, said Giolti.

Calling the situation a “nightmare,” lawyer Raoul Boulakia said he has had a case where a refugee judge felt there was compelling reasons to grant asylum to a persecuted Afghan journalist and was ready to proceed with a hearing. However, the case was held up without a completed security clearance.

Recently, the refugee board has introduced a “50/50” policy by postponing 50 per cent of all new asylum cases to deal what’s known as legacy cases, which were put on the back-burner after December 2012, when the then Tory government overhauled the system to impose the statutory timeline to expedite the processing of refugee claims.

By delaying the hearings without injecting more resources, Boulakia said the problem is simply snowballing and gets worse down the road.

Source: Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays | Toronto Star

‘Impossible to close the gap’: Immigration board boss says more resources needed to process legacy refugees – Canada – CBC News

More on IRB problems – Dion is polite in not flagging the number of adjudicator issue (see Globe editorial: The Trudeau government is failing refugee claimants, and Canadians):

Faced with a swelling backlog and a promise to resolve five-year-old asylum claims, the chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada admits he needs more funding and more people.

Mario Dion insists the IRB has become more efficient in dealing with cases, but it’s not enough.

“I am afraid the way things are at this point we will need additional resources … because there is a limit to how much you can stretch one person’s time,” Dion said in an interview with CBC News.

He said it’s “essentially impossible to close the gap using existing resources.”

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen recently announced a review of the asylum system, but he’s offered no guarantee of additional funding.

The bulk of the backlog is made up of Canada’s so-called legacy refugees.

They are a group of about 5,500 people who have yet to have their asylum claims heard. That’s because they arrived in Canada in 2012, just before the federal government passed a law that requires new refugee clams to be heard within 60 days. Since the IRB had to comply with the law, it put thousands of existing files to the side — where they’ve stayed ever since.

Source: ‘Impossible to close the gap’: Immigration board boss says more resources needed to process legacy refugees – Canada – CBC News

Globe editorial: The Trudeau government is failing refugee claimants, and Canadians

Valid points – backlogs will only increase, requiring more funding and personnel to handle.

Hard to understand why IRB appointments are taking so long – after all, the government has been able to appoint almost 100 judges over the past year and a half (after a slow start):

Our neighbour to the south has taken a pronounced nativist turn in recent months, and the government of Canada’s response has been to throw the doors open – rhetorically, at least.

Last January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to social media and proclaimed, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

As political marketing goes, it was nicely timed. But to be completely insulated from truth-in-advertising complaints, it should have included a disclaimer – “Offer available only to genuine refugees, as defined by law. As we are experiencing an unusually high number of claimants at this time, it could take many years for our government to decide whether you are legally entitled to welcome, or removal.”

According to the latest federal statistics, more than 14,000 people have registered their intention to seek asylum in Canada through the first five months of 2017.

That number doesn’t include refugees from Syria, who are being fast-tracked, and it adds upon the 23,900 who arrived in 2016 – itself a sharp increase from the 16,000 who came in 2015.

Last month, the federal government offered a modicum of good news to 5,500 people whose claims had been shunted to the back burner by the former Conservative government. Most have been waiting in limbo since at least 2012; their cases are expected to proceed in the fall.

Unfortunately, this will barely dent the application backlog, which is estimated at close to 40,000 cases.

The wait faced by refugee claimants – legitimate or otherwise – is too lengthy, and also unfair. It is well known that the longer an application is delayed, the lower the chance of it being accepted.

Meanwhile, the influx of asylum-seekers is unlikely to abate. There’s been a surge in the number of claimants showing up at Canada-U.S. border crossings since President Donald Trump took office in January, but even that is not the whole story.

The United Nations’ Refugee Agency calculates there are more displaced people on the planet right now – 65 million – than at any point since the Second World War.

A government analysis obtained by the Canadian Press forecasts the number of refugee claimants in Canada will hit 36,000 this year, and rise by as much as 20 per cent a year after that.

If the current trends hold, the time required to process an application will reach 11 years in 2021, and could cost $3-billion in social support payments. This must not be allowed to happen.

Hiring more staff and expanding budgets are an unavoidable aspect of correcting the situation, but it isn’t a matter of applying a simple fix.

The new federal appointments process announced earlier this year, billed as independent and competence-based, has been a disaster for the Immigration and Refugee Board. Dozens of key jobs remain vacant, while the number of claims is rising rapidly.

On June 21, the IRB announced its Western Canada immigration appeal division – which deals primarily with applications involving family members and dependents abroad – would be working at reduced capacity “for at least the next six months” because of staffing shortages.

The re-appointment of two outgoing members to one-year terms, announced that same day, won’t do much to ease the bottleneck. There should be 11 on the job, but there are currently only four.

Across all regions, the IRB’s refugee and immigration appeals divisions have a shortage of at least 29 members, and the terms of another 29 are set to expire at the end of this year, according to one news report.

The vacancies, and the slowness with which the Trudeau government is filling them, have led to accusations that Ottawa is culling IRB members who were appointed by the Conservatives in order to replace them with Liberal supporters.

Whatever the reasons, the IRB is unable to handle the load because Ottawa is allowing members’ terms to end while failing to appoint new people in a timely fashion.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen recently announced a third-party review to examine resource levels and the various bureaucratic mechanisms involved. However, it won’t be concluded until next year, and that’s not good enough.

The IRB has raised the alert about under-staffing for years. An overwhelmed immigration and refugee process, already buffeted by an ill-advised overhaul under the Harper government, has real-world impacts. It’s bad for asylum seekers, and undermines public confidence.

Ottawa must move quickly to show Canadians that their government is doing more than drifting in its response. Tweeting “#WelcomeToCanada” is an empty gesture by the Prime Minister, if it’s not accompanied by action.

Source: Globe editorial: The Trudeau government is failing refugee claimants, and Canadians – The Globe and Mail

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

Asylum claim wait times could hit over 11 years: federal analysis

Appears problem will likely get worse before it gets better (current number of IRB vacancies is 39):

An increase in asylum claims in Canada could eventually mean a staggering 11-year wait for a hearing and $2.97 billion in federal social supports for claimants in the meantime, an internal government analysis has concluded.

The Immigration and Refugee Board is already trying to whittle down its current backlog, but received no new money in the latest federal budget.

With 2017 application numbers expected to far exceed earlier projections, the board simply can’t keep up, says the memo, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The Immigration Department memorandum was drawn up this spring amid a flood of people illegally crossing into Canada from the U.S. to claim asylum, dominating headlines and raising pointed House of Commons questions about the integrity of Canada’s borders and immigration system.

The department was asked to explore estimated backlogs at the Immigration and Refugee Board and the associated wait times under different scenarios, following a meeting about the U.S. border-crosser issue in March.

Since January, at least 2,700 people have been intercepted by the RCMP between legal border points; most went on to file claims. The memo does not directly address the impact of the border crossers, though certain sections were redacted.

But those numbers are only part of the mix.

Asylum claims have been steadily rising since 2015; that year, there were 16,115, and in 2016 there were 23,895. As of April this year, the last month for which data is publicly available, there were already 12,040 claims in the system.

The memo projects that claim levels will hit 36,000 this year and could continue to increase after that.

“This scenario best reflects current concerns around increased volumes of claimants observed to date in 2017, and takes into account overall increases in asylum intake from 2015 to 2016,” it says.

The memo goes on to say that by the end of 2021, the new system inventory would grow to approximately 192,700 claims, equivalent to 133 months’ worth of output from the board, or a wait time of approximately 11 years.

The social support costs for claimants were $600 a month each in 2016-17, the memo said. At that claim volume, those costs could climb to $2.97 billion from 2017 through 2021.

The other two scenarios examined were what would happen if intake for 2017 remained at the originally projected number of 28,000 claims, or what would happen if there was 36,000 claims with no growth after that.

In the first scenario, wait times would be between four to five years; in the second, around six years.

The IRB has been sounding the alarm for months over its ability to keep pace with the rising numbers.

They cite a number of factors, including dozens of vacancies for decision-maker positions and also a legislative regime that requires hearings to be scheduled within certain timelines.

A backlog has arisen, the note explains, because hearings need to be scheduled as soon as the claims are filed, and the board simply can’t keep up with the pace.

The time required to actually make a decision on the claims has remained relatively stable at about five months; the challenge is getting them heard in the first place.

The board has tried to deal with the backlog on its own by, among other things, redeploying half its capacity to address backlogged claims. Repeated pleas for more money, however, have only been met by the immigration minister’s insistence that the board find ways to be more efficient.

That might not be enough, says the analysis.

“The rate of backlog growth presented in these scenarios could be mitigated in part by these efficiencies, but not avoided altogether,” the note said.

Last Friday, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen announced a wide-ranging review of the IRB, bringing in a former deputy minister in the department to study the system and report back by the summer of 2018.

“Canada’s asylum system must strike a balance between providing protection to those fleeing persecution and ensuring that the system is not misused by those who do not need Canada’s protection,” he said.

A budget for the program has not been established, but a spokesperson for the department said it will be paid for by them and the IRB.

Source: Asylum claim wait times could hit over 11 years: federal analysis – The Globe and Mail

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

Liberals postpone indefinitely overhaul of asylum claim system

Interesting. An overhaul beyond the original campaign promise of an expert panel to determine which countries should be considered as safe would be complex by itself, not to mention the politics involved:

A Liberal election promise to overhaul the way asylum claims are handled has been postponed indefinitely despite rising numbers of people seeking refuge in Canada putting the system at risk, The Canadian Press has learned.

One of the options on the table, multiple sources have told The Canadian Press, is rejigging the historic Immigration and Refugee Board, and giving some of its authority over to the Immigration Department itself.

But those advocating for the government to do something before backlogs threaten the integrity of the system say they are running up against a Liberal government seeming to have lost interest in spending any more money or political capital to help asylum seekers.

The starting point is the designated country of origins system, which determines how fast asylum claims are heard based on where they are from – a system that should, in theory, help weed out unfounded claims faster.

Internal evaluations have shown that hasn’t quite worked, and the system has drawn the ire of refugee advocates for creating a two-tier approach that includes unworkable timelines for hearing cases and their appeals. Elements of the program have already been struck down by the Federal Court.

The Liberals had been on the cusp of doing away with it, going even farther than their original promise to use an expert panel to determine which countries belonged on that list.

But a planned January roll-out was postponed after the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the subsequent Liberal cabinet shuffle that saw a replacement of the federal immigration minister.

Then in March, as the issue of illegal border crossers dominated global headlines and Question Period, plans to repeal the designated-country-of-origin scheme were scrapped again, sources said.

They haven’t been rescheduled, even as the IRB itself has been among those saying the system needs to go as a way to ease the pressure.

“It would simplify our life from a case management point of view,” chairperson Mario Dion said in an interview with The Canadian Press in March.

“I don’t have a political view.”

The Liberals do, observers said.

When they came into power and moved to make good on a promise to resettle 25,000 Syrians, the government believed it had broad public support for refugees, said immigration lawyer and refugee advocate Lorne Waldman.

Things have changed.

“The concern at the centre is that support has dissipated significantly because of a series of factors, the most important one being the emergence of Donald Trump,” he said.

“And I think the concern is amplified by the Conservative leadership race where you have many of the candidates taking a very anti-immigrant posturing in their campaign.”

Source: Liberals postpone indefinitely overhaul of asylum claim system – Macleans.ca

Asylum seekers fleeing U.S. may find cold comfort in Canada’s courts

Useful article on how the system works:

Migrants who applied for asylum in the United States but then fled north, fearing they would be swept up in President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, may have miscalculated in viewing Canada as a safe haven.

That is because their time in the United States could count against them when they apply for asylum in Canada, according to a Reuters review of Canadian federal court rulings on asylum seekers and interviews with refugee lawyers.

In 2016, 160 asylum cases came to the federal courts after being rejected by refugee tribunals. Of those, 33 had been rejected in part because the applicants had spent time in the United States, the Reuters review found.

Lawyers said there could be many more such cases among the thousands of applicants who were rejected by the tribunals in the same period but did not appeal to the federal courts.

The 2016 court rulings underscore the potentially precarious legal situation now facing many of the nearly 2,000 people who have crossed illegally into Canada since January.

Most of those border crossers had been living legally in the United States, including people awaiting the outcome of U.S. asylum applications, according to Canadian and U.S. government officials and Reuters interviews with dozens of migrants.

Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration, however, spurred them northward to Canada, whose government they viewed as more welcoming to migrants. There, they have begun applying for asylum, citing continued fears of persecution or violence in their homelands, including Somalia and Eritrea.

But Canadian refugee tribunals are wary of “asylum-shopping” and look askance at people coming from one of the world’s richest countries to file claims, the refugee lawyers said.

“Abandoning a claim in the United States or coming to Canada after a negative decision in the United States, or failing to claim and remaining in the States for a long period of time — those are all big negatives. Big, big negatives,” said Toronto-based legal aid lawyer Anthony Navaneelan, who is representing applicants who came to Canada from the United States in recent months.

The Canadian government has not given a precise figure on how many of the border crossers were asylum seekers in the United States.

But it appears their fears may have been misplaced. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has said that anyone in the United States illegally is subject to deportation, but there is no evidence that asylum seekers with pending cases are considered illegal under the new administration.

‘Lack of seriousness’

The asylum seekers will make their cases before Canada’s refugee tribunals, which rejected 5,000 cases last year.

The tribunals’ decisions are not made public, so the reasons are not known. An Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman confirmed, however, that an applicant’s time in the United States can be a factor in a tribunal’s decision.

Rejected applicants can appeal to Canada’s federal courts, whose rulings are published. The federal courts upheld 19 of the 33 tribunal rejections they heard last year and recommended fresh tribunal hearings for the other 14 cases.

The judges believed those claimants had a good explanation for having been in the United States first. The outcomes of the new tribunal hearings are not known.

The federal court handles only a small portion of all applications rejected by the refugee tribunals. But overall, applicants who have spent time in the United States have a higher chance of being rejected, said multiple immigration lawyers, including two former refugee tribunal counsel, interviewed by Reuters.

Source: Asylum seekers fleeing U.S. may find cold comfort in Canada’s courts – Manitoba – CBC News