In May 2008, the Auditor General published its audit on the government’s immigration detention and removals activities, an update of a 2003 audit. The 2008 report, and the media response to it, were characterized by a number of the same distortions witnessed five years ago, namely:
- A failure to consider the human and financial costs of detaining people unnecessarily.
- An unfair and damaging assumption that immigrants subject to removal orders are likely to represent a danger to the public.
- A distorted focus in the media on the numbers of immigrants subject to removal orders who are not accounted for.
- A failure to appreciate the extreme vulnerability of persons without status in Canada.
The following comments are intended to provide some balance.
The government’s powers under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to detain non-citizens are enormous. In practice, this leads to many people, including refugees, pregnant women and children, spending weeks and months in detention, at considerable expense to the taxpayer and with little or no obvious benefit to society, and significant human costs to the detainees.1
From comments made in the media, Canadians might get the impression that Canada is exceptionally “lax” in terms of removals. In fact, observers from other countries are most likely to be surprised at the high proportion of removals enforced in Canada and the low number unaccounted for. For example, according to a 2006 US government audit, there were more than 544,000 “absconders” in the US, as of end 2005.2
The Auditor General is quoted in the media as asking, “If people can come into the country and stay here illegally, why would they go what through what is a very long and complicated process to become a resident in Canada?”3
The Auditor General is obviously out of touch with the brutal realities of living without status in Canada – without access to health care, prey to exploitation in the labour market, constantly in fear of arrest. No one would choose that situation if they could have the security of status. Among those forced to live in this way are refugees who fear persecution in their home country. Wrongly rejected in the refugee determination system, they are denied the right of appeal because of the government’s failure to implement the appeal that exists in the law.
For the CCR’s comments on the 2003 Auditor General’s report, see http://www.ccrweb.ca/AGresponse.html
1. In April 2008, for example, 110 minors were held in immigration detention for all or part of the month.
3. E.g. in Calgary Herald, “Day says tighter 'exit controls' will help address potential security threats”, Andrew Mayeda, Canwest News Service, 6 May 2008