GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING: NEW
CONCERN: The new government is treating refugee claimants
as potential threats, rather than as persons who may need Canada's protection.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE: On 12 December 2003, the government
created the Canada Border Services Agency and transferred to it all immigration
enforcement activities from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). These
enforcement activities include removals, detention and investigations. Also
transferred were Pre-Removal Risk Assessments (PRRA), even though these are
reviews intended to see whether individuals need Canada's protection, and
are not enforcement functions. The Canada Border Services Agency reports
to Anne McLellan, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety
and Emergency Preparedness (not to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration).
The government announcement of 12 December declared that "Protecting the
interests of immigrants and refugees remains the responsibility of Citizenship
WHAT MAY HAPPEN: Discussions are currently underway on
whether to also transfer port of entry functions, which include the initial
interview and eligibility decision for refugee claimants. Even eligibility
decisions for refugee claims made inland (i.e. not at the border) may be transferred
to the Border Agency. If this happens, refugee claimants will have virtually
nothing to do with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, since almost all the
old CIC functions dealing with refugee claimants will have been taken over
by the new Border Agency.
WHY IT MATTERS:
- The Canada Border Services Agency is an enforcement agency, reporting
to a Minister whose mandate is to protect Canadians' security. Protecting
refugees will not be a priority within such a structure. An agency whose
main job is to detain and deport will treat refugee claimants as candidates
for detention and deportation. Yet refugee claimants, many of whom have
suffered torture or other traumatizing experiences, need to be treated with
compassion and sensitivity.
- Determining who needs protection is complex and requires particular
expertise that is not available at the new Agency. Even Citizenship and
Immigration Canada, which has a mandate to protect the interests of refugees,
is arguably underqualified to perform Pre-Removal Risk Assessments. The
new Agency, whose expertise is in enforcement, is completely unqualified
to do Pre-Removal Risk Assessments. There is also a conflict in asking the
Agency that is mandated to remove people to also decide whether they should
not be removed because of protection needs.
- Canada is following the example of the US, which recently put immigration
services within the Department of Homeland Security, thereby treating immigrants
as potential security risks. While in Canada most immigration services are
staying with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the government seems ready
to sacrifice the interests of refugee claimants to respond to US pressure
to harmonize with policies south of the border.
- By putting refugee claimants under the responsibility of the Minister
of Public Safety, the government is sending the message that it considers
refugee claimants a threat to public safety. Refugee claimants are seeking
safety; they are not a threat to safety. They are also highly vulnerable
to scapegoating, as we see from the emotional and irrational attacks on refugees
both in Canada and elsewhere. The government should be combatting public
misperceptions, not feeding into them.
WHAT WE SEEK:
- Responsibility for refugee claimants, including front-end processing
and eligibility determinations, should remain with Citizenship and Immigration
- Responsibility for the Pre-Removal Risk Assessments (PRRA) should be
removed from the Canada Border Services Agency. The appropriate place for
the PRRA is the Immigration and Refugee Board.