Idea alert -

Idea alert


Jason Kenney introduces refugee system reforms.

To deal more quickly with those claimants, the government will replace political appointees on Immigration and Refugee Boards (IRB) with full-time civil servants. The government says this change and some others to IRBs will mean claimants can expect a hearing within 60 days rather than up to 19 months.

Secondly, the government proposes to divide the countries of the world into two groups: those with a good human rights record and those with a poor one. Refugee claimants arriving from a country that has a strong record on human rights will be able to appeal a negative decision at the IRB only to the Federal Court of Canada. Claimants from an “unsafe” country will have an extra level of appeals they can use if the IRB denies their refugee claim.


Idea alert

  1. The dividing up of countries really worries me. Human rights issues are not that simple. A country could have an excellent general record, but certain groups (e.g. gays, Roma) could face particular persecution. Also some refugees face persecution by non-state entities like local tribes or gangs.

    • Persecution by non-state entities would not normally entitle one to refugee status. The obligation to provide refuge extends to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution by the state, not by other individuals. There may be rare exceptions, of course, which this legislation allows for, but generally, noone in western Europe (the Roma being a possible exception) is going to be persecuted by their government for their religious or political beliefs. And if they have fear of their immediate neighbours, any citizen of th EC can move to any other city or country within the EC. There is no reason such people need to be accomodated by Canada, in contrast to those in refugee camps around the world, who have no other place to go.

      • So, Venezuela bad, Israel good? Until the Liberals get in when it will be Venezuela good, Israel good. Or, if the NDP gets in it will be Venezuela good, Israel good, but we really have a problem with the way they do things.

        • Is it really hard to make a distinction between the UK and North Korea, or Italy and Myanmar? There may be arguments around the edges, but the principle of the reforms is sound. And no one is being denied the opportunity to make a case that they are a legitimate refugee. No one can argue that it is either sensible or humane to make people wait years for a determination of their eligibility. Dissuading bogus claims by speeding up the process should enable speedier, hence fairer, adjudication of legitimate claims.

          • It is always easy at the extremes North Korea vs., well virtually anyone, but the tricky bit comes in the middle where personal bias and ideology roam free.

      • You have an incorrect understanding of the definition of a refugee in Canadian law and under the Convetion Relating to the Status of Refugees.

        To wit: "A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

        In short, the source of the persecution doesn't matter – it's enough that it exists and that the person can't or, for good reason, won't rely on his or her state's *protection*.

        • Thanks for this. Would you be able to clarify – does this mean that the changes proposed by Kenney would also change the definition of a refugee under Canadian law? I assume this would also contravene the Convention. Can he do that? Or would we be in violation of international agreements we have signed?

          • The definition as provided is correct, a person can claim refugee status (and it has, rarely, been granted) even if the source of persecution is not the state itself. However, that simply illustrates why it makes sense to look at the country from which someone is seeking refuge – as is, in fact, done now on a case by case basis. If you can prove you are not being protected by the government (people fleeing narco-terrorists from Mexico, for example) you may be a refugee. If you are simply afraid of crime or an angry ex-spouse, you likely are not. The proposals, as I understand them do not change the test, nor do they create a reverse onus. They simply create an alternate – civil-service-based- system of assessing claims from countries where it is less likely, in fact, that someone is being oppressed by the state.

  2. Long overdue. Bravo Mr Kenney. Though I reserve final judgment until I see more of the details of this, because I'm having a hard time understanding how replacing patronage positions with civil servants will magically reduce the delays from 19 months to 2.

    I hope Kenney is ready for the backlash he will most likely shake loose from this and has the stones to carry it through. And hopefully, assuming the plan is workable, enough Liberals step up to support this.

    • The board has a reputation for being staffed with friends of politicians who tend not to be up to the job (In the Mulroney years, Stevie Cameron says it was the place an MP would put his mistress!) . This aspect of the plan can only be an improvement.

      • "The board has a reputation for being staffed with friends of politicians who tend not to be up to the job"

        That might be true from days gone past but in recent years the patronage appointment process has been revamped to become a merit based system. Any one can apply but you will be required to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to ensure you can, in fact, do the job.

        I think the issue of turning these appointments into permanent full time civil service jobs will allow more dedication to the job, on a full time basis. Federally appointed boards generally don't work full time on the task.

        • I am glad to hear your update and see no reason why it isn't the case!

  3. I think everyone should be able to agree that these are pretty sensible reforms, and I welcome them. Dealing with claims expeditiously reduces the incentive to make frivolous claims in a bid to stay in Canada for years and years through the appeals process.

    As for John's concern: claimants from 'safe' countries are still able to make refugee claims, but the have fewer appeals options. Seems like a decent compromise to me. My concern is that there might be some politics involved in which countries are identified as 'good' on human rights records.

    • That was one of my concerns too. It's no small feat to put Russia and China in the 'bad' bucket of countries.

    • I agree the reform is sensible in principle.

      I'm only concerned about the foreign relations fallout that occurs when countries are placed into "safe" and "unsafe" countries. Like John D said, China and Russia will not be thrilled to be placed in the "unsafe" category, but I don't think many will disagree that many legitimate refugee claims come from these countries. The government will be walking a fine line here between not souring foreign relations and not turning this "safe"/"unsafe" country process into something that does not reflect what it was intended to do.

      • As it is now, in order to stop floods of probably bogus claims, governments have to impose visa requirements, on coutnries like Mexico and the Czech republic, much to their annoyance. The proposed system will, no doubt, hurt some feelings, but such distinctions are already being made in a similar context.

  4. Bill on Senate Reform.
    Bill on Immigration i.e. keep bogus refugees out.
    A leak that the political donations will be stopped.

    Sure sounds like The MasterStrategist has his dog whistle for the base out.

    Wonder what he's up to? Let's see.

    Firm up the base. — Check.

    Energize the base. — Check; gotta keep the money coming in and all those poor volunteers out there shilling for him.

    Negative attack ads. — Not yet.

    So that's 2-out-of-3 then so far.

  5. Glad to see the Government and Opposition working together to fix problems that need to be fixed. The fact that the Liberals plan to support Kenney's motion (instead of trying to milk it somehow for political gain) tells you all you need to know about how desperately these reforms are needed. The huge backlog of refugee claims needs to be dealt with, and the process needs to be sped up.

    • Agreed; I don't see much to pick on in the motion as it's worded in the quote above. Without seeing the final document, it's hard to make a full judgement, but I'm hopeful that this will actually do more help than harm.

  6. Will they use the same "good country, bad country" criteria as they do for deciding whether or not to repatriate Canadian citizens to serve out their prison sentences in Canada?

  7. The major problem with country-based designations is that asylum status is granted to individuals based on their situation, not on their country of origin. It seems that the proposed changes, regardless of their intent, run counter to the very UN processes they are designed to accommodate.

  8. I'd be curious to see that list of good vs. bad countries. I think that will speak volumes about the worth of this bill.
    Another good indicator would be to see how they deal with cases like this.

    • To comment on that article directly, I don't really have any personal objections to kids being homeschooled, but I tend to find the argument that character building is best done in a homeschool environment to be a little dubious – a big part of character building is how you deal with others, including people who don't behave like you.

      To reply to your comment, I agree. This sounds like something progressive and worthwhile on "screen", but how it will function will depend almost entirely on the full content and appeals processes outlined in the bill.

      • A case like that illustrates how sensible it is to adjudicate these issues quickly, before, for example, a German family spends years setting down roots in this country before being told to leave because they don't qualify as refugees. In this case, the question would be why they don't just move to some other corner of the EC, where home-schooling is allowed, rather than claiming status here and occupying a space that could be used for someone in, for example, a refugee camp on the border of Myanmar?

  9. Why are the NDP opposed to these reforms.

    For decades, progressives have made the argument that substantive equality requires disparate treatment for disadvantaged groups. i.e to achieve equality, sometimes disadvantaged groups must be treated preferentially.

    This is all the government is proposing. That cliaimants from a disadvantaged group, i.e claimants from high risk countries, will be treated preferentially with an additional level of appeal so that substantive equality in the treatment of all claimants is received.

  10. Jamaica is a Parliamentary Democracy and a member of the Commonwealth. It's also a lethal place to be gay or lesbian. Not just a difficult place … you can be killed with impunity and there's no legal protection, as homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica.

    I wonder which "Kenney List" Jamaica will land on?

    It's also a bad idea to reduce asylum/refugee issues to their country of origin. Not least because you make individual asylum seekers' claims a matter of Foreign Policy vs. Immigration Policy. If a country with a "good human rights record" nonetheless discriminates against a group or an individual, then their claim won't be judged only on the merits of the individual's situation. It will also become a political football in the relations between Canada and their home country. I don't think this is a well thought out course.

    • According to our current government, Colombia has a good human rights record. I wonder if it will be considered one of the "good" countries under this new legislation. Colombian labour activists, take note! Death squads aren't that bad!

      • Our government doesn't think Colombia has a "good human rights record". They have said the current government is trying to improve its record and things are, in fact, better than in the past. You are confusing, I suspect, our desire to have a free trade agreement with Colombia with some blanket approval of their internal political and social structure.

        • I'm not confusing anything. The FTA implies we approve of the ways in which Uribe's government is "improving its record" – but its record is not improving among people who actually care about human rights. The Colombian authorities are being whitewashed for the purposes of this agreement. Maybe that's acceptable to you, but it sure isn't to me.

          • It doesn't imply anything other than we think free trade generally benefits both us and the countries we trade with. It really has nothing to do with our internal processes for handling refugee claims, of course.

  11. The proposals do not eliminate the opportunity for an individual to make a claim such as you are suggesting (I don't think you are correct, by the way, when you suggest it is legal to kill homosexuals in Jamaica, any more than Canada used to allow murder, even when homosexuality was illegal fifty years ago). But if an individual from a designated country, such as Jamaica, the UK, or USA, for example, wanted to make a refugee claim, the proposals would simply track them through a separate stream, but, something the present process doesn't allow, give them an appeal level to make further arguments that, notwithstanding the reputation of their home, they are, in fact convention refugees. As for hurt feelings, well, Mexico already had its feelings hurt on this issue. This may prevent such problems in future.

    • Hi Mike,

      When I noted above that gays in Jamaica are " killed with impunity", I mean that the criminals will not be prosecuted by authorities, not that government officials are behind the killings. Impunity is a serious issue in many countries, where there are no records of crimes against particular groups (indigenous, journalists, gays, political activists, etc.), no recourse, and no "official" action. Perhaps it was conflated with a second point, that gays have little recourse to justice or protection in Jamaica because homosexual acts (buggery) remain a crime in the country. This does not exactly encourage victims or potential victims to approach the authorities at home. Many seek asylum in Canada for this reason.

      I agree with you that there is still recourse for asylum seekers under the proposed two-stream system. My concern is that reforming the refugee system in the manner proposed (creating lists of good and bad countries vis a vis human rights) risks turning individual asylum claims into diplomatic problems between Canada and those states who land on our bad list. It also doesn't jibe with how international organizations categorize refugees.


      • I take your point, Certainly there are egregious examples of gay men and women being persecuted, either openly by the government (such as Uganda's new laws) or by turning a blind eye to gay-bashing and murder. I didn't mean to minimize the issue.
        As for how this new regime fits in with current refugee rules, I don't think it should pose a conflict. So long as the same rules apply, and the same principles of what constituted a convention refugee, the fact claimants from, eg. the UK are dealt with by one stream and those from Myanmar by another, should not be a problem. The proposal, as I understand it, is to simply act more quickly to weed out obvious cases that cannot be accepted (home-schooling Germans for example) and allow a more rapid decision on other cases.
        I agree there may be some diplomatic push-back from those countries who feel unnecessarily "tarred", but the option now is to impose a visa requirement, as we did with Mexico, and that has similar concerns.