In April 2003 the Auditor General of Canada submitted its report to the House of Commons. Chapter 5 of the report addresses immigration control and enforcement functions. The Canadian Council for Refugees understands the particular role of the Auditor General in assessing government performance, but nevertheless considers that the audit is weakened by the narrow and one-sided approach to measuring the effectiveness of enforcement and control measures. This has contributed to misleading coverage in the media. Because it is so far removed from the human context of detention and removals, the audit fails to assess the cost of unnecessary enforcement activities, both on the people affected and the Canadian taxpayer. The audit therefore contributes to the myth of Canada as a country that hardly ever enforces its immigration laws, while never addressing the realities of the people detained for months on flimsy grounds, deported to situations of risk, interdicted and sent back to persecution or living lives of fear and deprivation because they are under threat of deportation.
Extent of enforcement activities
Coverage of the report in the media gives the impression that the immigration legislation is hardly enforced at all. This is a false picture. The people questioned, detained and deported by Citizenship and Immigration Canada every day can testify that enforcement activities are very present and affect many people's lives. Thousands of people with uncertain status in Canada live in daily fear that their turn will be next, knowing that immigration enforcement is a reality.
The Auditor General's report makes no attempt to assess the quality of enforcement activities, from the point of view of those against whom the enforcement activities are exercised. No attention is paid to the allegations of racism and of abuse of power by some immigration enforcement officers. This lack is particularly noticeable given past history, including the 1996 study by Roger Tassé on removals, commissioned by CIC after it became known that an official had committed forgery to facilitate removals. The study recommended improved accountability measures and more attention to ethical issues. There is still no independent complaints mechanism available to people who feel that they have been mistreated by immigration enforcement officials.
Consequences of being without status in Canada
The Auditor General is quoted in the media as asking, "Why would people go through the procedure of trying to arrive legally in this country, if they can come in illegally and there's no consequence?" In fact, people without status in Canada face very serious consequences every day of their lives, because they have virtually no rights in Canada. They have great difficulty getting access to basic services such as health care. They are vulnerable to exploitation by employers and others. They have no social safety net. Virtually all avenues to improvement of their lives through education or professional development are closed to them.
The Auditor General's report looks at detention, but fails to ask whether CIC is unnecessarily detaining some people, at considerable expense to the taxpayer. Many Canadians might wonder what the point is of keeping a woman in detention while she gives birth, or detaining children (even in at least one case, sending guards to detain a hospitalized child). Some detainees spend months and years in detention, without being removed. Refugee claimants who are detained because they lack identity documents remain in detention even after they have produced ID because they are unable to come up with money for a bond.
The Auditor General also neglects to ask whether CIC is using its enforcement resources effectively in interventions in refugee claims being heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board. While some CIC interventions are necessary to ensure that relevant information is considered, other interventions add nothing to the process except extra delays. Given the existing backlog of refugee claims at the IRB and the shortage of resources at CIC, unhelpful interventions at the IRB are doubly costly.
Impact of interdicting refugees
The Auditor General expresses satisfaction with Canada's overseas interdiction efforts, which prevent "improperly documented travellers" from getting to Canada. She does not stop to ask what happens to those who are interdicted if they are refugees fleeing persecution. In some cases, interdiction leads to refugees being jailed in the country where they are interdicted or sent back to the country where they face persecution, without ever being given a chance to make a refugee claim.
Priorities for funding
Citizenship and Immigration Canada would no doubt like to have resources for enforcement activities. But more resources are desperately needed in other areas too. People trying to reunite with close family members are facing long delays because there are not enough visa officers available. Refugees waiting for resettlement in Canada are also being pushed aside. CIC is even suggesting that refugees may have to pay for their own processing, because CIC can't afford to meet the government's commitment towards resettling refugees.
Backlogs in all directions: does CIC need more work?
It appears that almost every facet of CIC work is bogged down with backlogs, despite extra resources allocated in the wake of September 11: there are backlogs in processing family reunification, overseas refugee applications, skilled workers as well applications for humanitarian and compassionate considerations. It is therefore all the more strange that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration should be proposing to Cabinet, as reported in the media, that CIC take on responsibility for the refugee determinations currently done by the IRB. It hardly seems that CIC is well-positioned to take on any more work.
Resolving the situation of people without status
Talking about thousands of people being "illegally in Canada" conceals the human face behind the numbers. Many of them have in fact done nothing illegal. They may be refugee families who have been wrongly refused refugee status, with no recourse because the government has not implemented the appeal for refugees. They may not be removable because they come from a country at war or so disrupted that the Minister has temporarily suspended removals. They may be women who have been trafficked into Canada and who are effectively being held in slavery in Canada. They may be people who would be willing to return to their own country, but they do not have the means to do so, and CIC offers them no assistance with voluntary return. They may be people who are contributing positively to the Canadian economy and society. They may be people who are here because their family is in Canada.
Canada stands to gain more by investing in programs to regularize people's status than by spending more money deporting them.
The Auditor General report can be found at:
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