A man who told police he was from Mauritania in Africa is taken into custody by RCMP officers after walking across the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

Advocates cry foul over ‘buried’ changes

By 
  • April 18, 2019

Ottawa - A government crackdown on asylum seekers who enter Canada at “irregular” border crossings has refugee advocates crying foul.

Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen, insisting asylum seekers should make their claim in the first safe country they come to, said an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is meant to end “asylum shopping.” The change, buried in the Liberal’s omnibus budget bill, is intended to stop asylum seekers from exploiting a loophole in the law by crossing Canada’s border outside a legal port of entry and then making a refugee claim.

“My sense is they intentionally buried it in the omnibus bill so they wouldn’t have a fractious debate,” said Deacon Rudy Ovcjak, director of the office for refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

“This is why we elect governments to make some of these tough decision. That being said, there is room for debate and they should have been open to hearing from multiple stakeholders before they made that decision.”

The new law will deny some asylum seekers a right to a hearing before their refugee claim is refused and they are expelled from Canada. Joe Gunn, executive director of the Oblate Centre at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, said that change will likely lead to court challenges.

“I think a true democratic practice would call for larger and important pieces of legislation to stand on their own, to receive scrutiny in committee and receive all the attention necessary,” said Gunn.

Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association for Refugees sent a letter to the Prime Minister objecting to the proposed changes. They called the measure to deprive some refugee claimants access to full refugee hearings as “harsh and unnecessary” and “undemocratic.”

Conservative MPs have argued people entering Canada from New York State are not facing danger and are causing backlogs which make it harder for genuine refugees fleeing war and life-threatening persecution.

More than 41,000 people have come to Canada “irregularly” since the U.S. made changes in 2017 to immigration policy. At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to U.S. President Donald Trump’s action by posting on Twitter: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #Welcome to Canada.”

Gunn said the change may be an effort to diffuse opposition “talking points” before the upcoming election, but it will not affect the numbers of people seeking asylum in Canada. The bigger problem, Gunn said, is the Safe Third Country Agreement. “It must be ended.”

Canada’s Catholic bishops, the Canadian Council of Churches and the Canadian Council for Refugees have all called for repeal of the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires asylum seekers to make refugee claims in the first safe country at which they arrive.

“Is the United States a safe third country?” Gunn asked. “There are a whole range of reasons to assert under the current Trump administration it’s not exactly safe or easy.”

For Ovcjak, hard choices need to be prioritized. He said the average wait time for refugees abroad to get into Canada is more than two years.

“Fix that part of the system first.”

Many asylum seekers arriving at irregular crossings are economic migrants whose claims are eventually rejected after appeals that can take years, Ovcjak said. Meanwhile, they receive Canada’s social services, often marry and have children. After exhausting the asylum process, they make a final appeal on humanitarian grounds.

“Here you have two populations, one that is fleeing from life and death situations, intense persecution, violence and war, who cannot return to country of origin for fear of death,” Ovcjak said. “Then you have another population that is made up of economic migrants looking to escape from poverty.

“Canadians have to make the hard choice,” Ovcjak said. “Where should our values lie? Who deserves greater protection?”

Ovcjak said the “terrible situation going on in Central America,” involving violence, corruption, drug cartels and poverty, is “better served by assisting those countries in repairing their institutions and their economies.”


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

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