24 January 2002

The Canadian Council for Refugees is an umbrella organization made up of about 170 member organizations from across Canada.  Our mission is to promote the protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada.

The CCR welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on 15 December 2001.  The regulations are extensive and we have numerous concerns about many areas of the regulations.  What follows are some of our key concerns.

Detention of Children
The new Act extends the already very broad powers of immigration officials to detain people.  A particular concern relates to the detention of minors, which has started to be a common phenomenon in Canada’s immigration detention centres.  The proposed regulations do not fulfill the promise of the Act to make detention of minors a measure of last resort.  On the contrary, the factors listed seem to suggest that if there are adequate detention facilities and services, minors can be detained.  The CCR urges that the regulations be amended to clearly state that minors will never be detained on the basis of identity alone since it can never be in the best interests of a child to be detained because of questions of identity.  Furthermore, the CCR is very concerned that the regulations promote the detention of minors suspected of being controlled by smugglers or traffickers (256(c)).  This is completely unacceptable.  Detention cannot be used as a form of protection.  If there are protection concerns for minors as a result of traffickers, “safe houses” should be used instead.

Permanent Resident Card
Immigrants applying to renew their permanent resident card are to be subjected to excessive and intrusive demands for information.  The permanent resident card, like a passport, is a document attesting to status and information asked for should be no more than is required to establish that the applicant has that status.  It is fair to ask applicants whether they have been in Canada sufficient time to have kept their permanent resident status, but what business does the government have asking people who their employers were or where they went to school over the past five years?  Permanent residents, like citizens, will need to have a guarantor, but permanent residents are also going to be required to provide the names and contact information of two people that know the applicant.  What kinds of questions is the government proposing to ask these references?  What will the government do with the information it collects?

The CCR is concerned that the proposed regulations on the permanent resident card represent an intrusion into the private lives of permanent residents.  The proposal is discriminatory in that permanent residents are being required to submit far more personal information than citizens applying for a passport.  The implication is that the government believes that immigrants are suspect.

Refugee resettlement: successful establishment
Refugee resettlement is all about protecting refugees.  Yet, under the regulations, most refugees applying to resettle to Canada need to show not only that they need protection, but also that they can successfully establish themselves in Canada.  This means that refugees are chosen on both protection and immigration criteria.  The successful establishment test discriminates against women since they often have fewer opportunities for education and work experience.  We note that the government is moving towards objective criteria for assessing skilled workers, since the old criteria were too subjective and ineffective.  But at the same time it is proposing that we retain the subjective successful establishment test for refugees.  Maintaining the successful establishment requirement will perpetuate the belief that the overseas system for refugee selection is unfair and not fundamentally about refugee protection.  Canada is the only country to apply such criteria to refugees being resettled.  The proposed regulations reword the successful establishment criterion and exempt urgent and vulnerable cases.  The CCR calls on the government to scrap it entirely instead.

Refugee resettlement: Length of sponsorships
An important and distinctive part of Canada’s response to refugees is the private sponsorship program, through which groups such as faith communities and ethnocultural groups commit themselves and their resources to resettling refugees to Canada.  Currently, the usual length of sponsorships, during which the sponsoring group continues to be responsible for the refugee family, is one year with provision for up to two years in special cases.  The regulations will increase the maximum length of sponsorship from two years to three years.  A sponsorship of a year is a significant undertaking for a group, since it means responding to the various needs, including financial, of the family.  Sponsorships of three years will be beyond the capacity of most groups.  The effect of asking for three year sponsorships will be to reduce the number of refugees that can be offered a home in Canada.  The CCR urges that the maximum length of sponsorship remain two years.

Refugee resettlement: Barriers to private sponsorship
In addition to the proposed increase in the maximum length of sponsorships, the regulations contain other measures that penalize private sponsors and undermine the partnership relationship between the government and the sponsoring community.  The CCR looks to the government to support and promote the work of caring Canadians who through their own initiative increase Canada’s capacity to offer refugees a home.  Yet the regulations introduce new barriers.  Sponsorship agreement holders are to be required to submit a settlement plan for each refugee they apply to sponsor, a new measure that has not been agreed to by sponsors.  In addition, the regulations exclude from sponsorship an individual or group who has ever defaulted on a sponsorship.  There is no process established for determining whether a default has occurred, which raises concerns that groups may be found to have defaulted without being given a fair chance to defend themselves.  A further concern is that the bar on sponsorship appears to be perpetual.  Any organization can make a mistake: one mistake should not bar the organization from future sponsorship without any hope of rehabilitation.

Refugees in limbo
There has been a longstanding problem of “refugees in limbo”, that is refugees in Canada who have been recognized as needing Canada’s protection but who suffer long delays in getting their permanent residence.  This problem has caused enormous suffering for thousands of refugees and their families.  Refugees in limbo can’t move on with their lives and are often marginalized socially and economically, leading to problems with the provinces which can’t easily classify them, yet have to respond to them.

The proposed regulations do little to address the situation, and in fact create a new category of  refugees in limbo (refugees who are inadmissible on health grounds (38(1)(a) and (b) of the Act).  The CCR urges a simple solution to the problem: protected persons should be granted automatic permanent residence by operation of law.  The tiny minority of cases where the government has concerns could then be addressed through proceedings to remove permanent residence.  Refugee claimants now undergo a security check on arrival so people who endanger Canada’s security will have been identified before obtaining refugee status.  Furthermore, the new Act provides that those whose refugee status is vacated lose their permanent residence status automatically.  Therefore, if the government discovers that someone has fraudulently obtained refugee status there is only a one-step process to make the person removable, whether the person has permanent resident status or not.

By giving refugees automatic permanent residence, the government would ensure that the innocent majority of refugees would not be penalized for the sake of the handful of individuals who may have abused the system.

Inadmissibility classes: exemptions where presence would not be detrimental to the national interest
The Act contains a number of very broad categories for inadmissibility on the basis of security, human rights violations and organized criminality.  The government has argued that the categories should be broad because they want to be sure that they cover all undesirable people.  Because they are broad the categories also catch people who are not undesirable: these people are supposed to be exempted by provisions in the Act which allow the Minister to decide that their presence in Canada would not be detrimental to the national interest.  For example, the Act states that all past or current members of organizations that have engaged in terrorism are inadmissible to Canada.  This means that all past or current members of the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa, are inadmissible to Canada.  They can however be exempted.  The problem is that there is no mechanism for applying to the Minister for an exemption, or for ensuring that applications are dealt with in a fair manner.  Experience to date shows us that the effect of having no mechanism is that people don’t get heard and remain inadmissible even though there is no reason to think that their presence in Canada is in any way detrimental to the national interest.

The CCR urges that the regulations be amended to create a mechanism to ensure that a person can apply for ministerial relief and be given a fair hearing.

Bar to family reunification for those on social assistance
The proposed regulations bar sponsorship for persons in receipt of social assistance other than for reasons of disability (130)(1)(l): this will deny people their basic right to family unity on the basis of their economic situation.  If this proposal is brought into effect, spouses and common-law partners will be kept separated simply because they cannot find employment. Children will be denied their basic right to be with their parents because of their parent’s economic situation. The measure discriminates more against woman than men, given the higher levels of poverty among women.  Family reunification can actually assist persons to get off social assistance through improved support from new family members such as emotional support, employment, assisting with child care or other resources that the sponsored family member would bring. Barring family reunification in these circumstances may actually mean that the person stays on welfare much longer.

The CCR urges that this provision be eliminated.

Length of sponsorship of children extended up to 22 years
The proposed regulations lengthen the duration of sponsorship for children from 10 years to 10 years or age of 22.  This means that a young adult who was sponsored at the age of six months and who has been a citizen since the age of four is still sponsored twenty years after arrival in Canada and at age of 20 cannot have recourse to social assistance.

In the interests of promoting integration and healthy family relationships, the length of the sponsorship should be reduced, not lengthened, for sponsored children.  Young people growing up in Canada need to know that they are fully accepted as members of society.  A prolonged link of dependency on their parents because of their arrival in Canada as an immigrant sends a message that they are not full members of Canadian society, even long after they have become citizens.  It also puts an additional strain on what is in any case often a stressful relationship between adolescent and parent.

The CCR urges that the length of sponsorship for children be reduced to 3 years in line with the proposal for spouses/common law partners.  In the alternative, the maximum length should at least be maintained at 10 years.