Religious leaders take Conservatives to task on 'bogus' refugees claim

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  • November 26, 2009
{mosimage}A dozen bishops and faith leaders representing a clear majority of Canadian Christians, plus an organization representing Canadian Muslims, has accused Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney of fostering “hostility towards refugees” and fueling xenophobia.

A Nov. 12 letter from faith leaders to Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes issue with Kenney’s assertion that the refugee system has been slowed by “bogus” claims.

“References by representatives of your government to ‘bogus’ refugee claimants undermine Canada’s obligations to refugee protection and question the credibility of refugees fleeing persecution and seeking to have their rights recognized,” said the letter. “They also foster hostility towards refugees and fuel xenophobia in general.”

Kenney’s office stands by the description of some refugee claimants as bogus, and claims a 60-per-cent increase in refugee claims made in Canada (as opposed to those made outside the country) has slowed the refugee system to a crawl.

“There is a large number of refugee claimants who are not in need of Canada’s protection,” a Kenney spokesman said in an e-mail. “Between 2006 and 2008, there was a 60-per-cent increase in the number of refugee claims made in Canada and yet in 2008 fewer than half, only 42 per cent, of the claims were accepted.”

The faith leaders reject the suggestion that false refugee claims are the primary reason for a backlog of more than 60,000 pending cases yet to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The letter to Harper was signed by St. Jerome Bishop Pierre Morissette as president of the Canadian Conference of Bishops and by Dominican Father Yvon Pomerleau, head of the Canadian Religious Conference representing the Catholic religious orders in Canada. Other faith leaders who signed the letter represent the United Church, the Anglican Church, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Council of the Muslim Community.

The religious leaders ask for a dialogue with the Prime Minister in advance of any changes to the refugee system.

If the government is going to complain that the refugee system is broken they’re going to have to take responsibility for breaking the system, said Elisabeth Garant, general director of Montreal’s Centre Justice et Foi (Justice and Faith). For the first three years the Conservatives were in power they did not appoint new members to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The Jesuit-sponsored centre was one of the groups that collected signatures for the letter to Harper. The government is right when it complains that the multiple options for appeal to IRB decisions is byzantine, said Jesuit refugee advocate Fr. Jack Costello. But that can be solved by creating a Refugee Appeals Division, as called for in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002, he said.

“The refugee system in Canada needs work, but it is not nearly as broken as a system as the Conservatives suggest,” Costello said.

Kenney’s office claims implementing the appeal division that was passed into law in 2001 would add another possible five-month delay to a system that already has five different administrative and legal ways delaying an order for deportation.

After a flurry of appointments beginning in June of 2008, the IRB currently has 11 vacancies. The backlog of cases grew by 17,649 in the 13 months leading up to September 2009, and the total backlog stood at 62,084.

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