September 27, 2017

5 Measures that May Help Address the Escalating Refugee Influx to Canada

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

Further to our discussion on CTV Your Morning this is my final blog in a three-part series on the topic of the influx to Canada.  In my first two blogs, “Huge Influxes of Refugees to Canada is Not New but the Numbers May Be!” and “Impact of Escalating Refugee Influx to Canada’s Refugee System Complex, Multi-Faceted and Potential Source of Conflict” I highlighted we need to avoid a crisis of delay. In this blog, I will briefly speak to five potential measures that could assist in repositioning eligible foreign nationals to other immigration pathways and safeguard the system we have in place to avoid a collapse under the weight of a mass influx.   The first two measures are targeted at aiding in reducing the influx and the last three to potentially assisting with large numbers.

1.Social Media Campaign Must Be Developed and Delivered

 As noted in my previous blogs there have been reports on social media that Canada will give asylum seekers special treatment given their status in the U.S. [1] These reports are false, but nonetheless, have propelled many Haitians into fleeing the U.S. and crossing into Canada. The same reports apply to the Salvadorans, as they are also protected by the same policy. The public panic created by this could easily cause Salvadorans to follow suit with the Haitians.[2]  It is therefore incumbent upon the Canadian Government to develop and deliver a social media campaign to dispel myths and circulate important information about the refugee system in Canada as well as other pathways to lawful migrant status in Canada.  I understand from media reports that in the past few weeks Canadian consulates in the U.S. were drafted into efforts to clear up misconceptions about Canada’s system.[3]  Those efforts must include social media and the best technology to reach as many people as possible.

 2. Multi Tiered Government Response

In so far as it is possible a joint effort between the United States and Canada to avert a crisis would be the best possible outcome.  Serious and ongoing negotiations must continue with the United States.  There have also been reports of Members of Parliament like Emmanuel Dubourg traveling to the United States to speak directly to the Haitian diaspora there, “using his status as a member of Canada’s Haitian community and fluent Creole skills to try and manage the issue.”  The same article highlighted that a task force was being put together to deal with the issue and that Minister Hussen said “the efforts underway in Canada to deal with the current flow will stand the government in good stead should there be another wave”.[4]

During the Council for the Federation talks in Edmonton in July, premiers discussed these issues and requested additional funding and long-term planning to deal with the increasing wait times and refugee claims.[5] Whether or not the Government obliges or develops a different plan altogether remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, other groups of foreign nationals from the ten countries on the temporary protected person list in the United States must be targeted as part of the plan so proper and fulsome information reaches these individuals before they act on misinformation.

Coordination must also be had with provincial and municipal authorities as well as settlement agencies and all stakeholders including the counsel community to map out a course of action moving forward and getting the message out before foreign nationals arrive in Canada as to what may be waiting for them in terms of eligibility, healthcare, employment, long term status, access to social services etc.

3.Pilot Projects

It is unlikely those seeking migration to Canada that would qualify for immigration pathways would be processed in time to escape the suspension of the TPS and fears of imminent removal from the United States – even if they applied in advance.  Inevitably the processing of cases could take years with all the consequential effects on the system as well as foreign nationals, while awaiting an outcome to their claim.

Worse yet, many may not qualify for protected person status in Canada because of their lengthy sojourn in the United States. Refugee claimants must establish amongst other things that they are persons in danger, there is a risk to life or risk to cruel and unusual punishment and because most of the refugee claimants have been living in the U.S., they may not qualify as person in need of protection.  So, after a potential lengthy delay in Canada the foreign nationals will be processed to removal rather than to protected person status.

Potentially a good number of these foreign nationals would be eligible for immigration streams to Canada including economic, work or study.  As noted above, if many of these claims are economic in nature they will not meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) for protected person status and may jeopardize an application under an otherwise appropriate category.  This is an unfortunate outcome both for the functioning of the refugee system in Canada and the foreign nationals who may have been directed to claim as a measure of last resort with an outcome that may not be what they were expecting.

Perhaps then the Government must consider other creative solutions under pilot projects where in land foreign nationals (eligible under the terms of the pilot, no security issues etc.) are streamed through a temporary resident process rather than simply streamed into the refugee protected system where it is clear they will likely not succeed.  Thoughts must be given to the length of status, caps and queues to facilitate the temporary processing while longer term implications including eligibility are sorted.

4.Mobile Teams/ Transfer of Decision Makers as Required

We have seen the increase in the number of immigration officers available in both Montreal and Cornwall, Ont., — where hundreds of asylum seekers are being temporarily housed — in order to process claims faster.  It has also been reported the goal is to build a mobile team of immigration officials who could process claims on site.[6]  These teams must be comprised of senior officers present in good numbers to effectively counsel these individuals at first instance.

Consideration will also have to be given to transferring RPD members to regions dealing with the most numbers (like Quebec presently) from other provinces in Canada to assist with the spike.  All efforts to minimize disruption to other regions including the use of video conferencing, expedited processing, coordination with counsel community etc. should be explored.

5.Resource Allocation

Ultimately resources will play a key role in the response.  So, it may be better to spend now to help stem the tide.  As discussed last time, with resources diverted to managing this influx, Canada’s response to others in need of protection within and outside Canada will also have to be readjusted.  This impact will be felt both to the domestic as well as international protected person programs in terms of processing, resource allocation and responsiveness.  So, programs and departments beyond front line responders – Canada Border Services Agency and the Refugee Protection Division – will be called upon to process the influx.   It is critical that other facets of the system are not compromised or this could lead to negative wide ranging and long-lasting consequences.

In all, there are no simple solutions and it is vital Canada is responsive to those in need.  It is encouraging to see various stakeholders taking meaningful steps.  If I were to sum up the response required at this time in one sentence – the response must be proactive, make use of the latest technology to properly inform the narrative and develop innovative processing responses in the face of potentially unprecedented numbers.

For more information on Claiming Refugee Protection, please click here.