The idea of fast-tracking claims that seem unfounded is an attractive one.  However, there are a number of problems:

  • It is difficult to identify at the outset which claims are without merit.  Some claims that seem superficially unfounded turn out on investigation to be serious claims.  In the UK, claimants wrongly screened into the fast track have included survivors of torture, rape and other gender violence.1 The Canadian system used to have a screening process designed to eliminate claims with “no credible basis” but it failed and was abandoned in 1993.
  • Screening by country of origin is not useful because there are very few claimants from countries which one could confidently label safe.  The countries currently preoccupying us, the Czech Republic and Mexico, have both experienced significant and well-documented human rights abuses and there are serious questions about whether the state is able or willing to protect its citizens.  This is confirmed by the acceptance rates of those heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board.  Over the last year and a half over 80% of Czechs and 15% of Mexicans heard were found to be refugees.  While the acceptance rate of Mexicans certainly indicates that many claimants do not need Canada’s protection, it also makes it impossible to argue credibly that we can presume a Mexican claim is not well-founded.  In addition, the acceptance rate may be unfairly low: many of those refused are denied protection on the grounds that the Mexican state should be able to protect them.  But, in the context of rising violence in Mexico, the state often does not offer protection, either because it is powerless or because it is complicit in the abuse.  A study by the Pentagon has concluded that Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state.2
  • Putting claimants in a fast-track on the basis that they are deemed unfounded usually works out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The claimants don’t have sufficient time or opportunity to prepare and present their case properly, and decision-makers risk being biased against them because they have been labelled unfounded.  Fast-tracking particularly penalizes survivors of rape and sexual violence, since it is well-documented that these survivors often need time before they are ready to disclose their experiences to decision-makers.  In fast-track systems, they will be out of the country before they have had a chance to explain to anyone what has happened to them.
“Fast track is just a system to refuse people. There is no time to listen to you. Even the judge didn’t listen.” N., claimant in the UK detained for 11 months.3

Most commentators fixate on getting fast refugee determinations for unfounded claims, but in fact delays very often occur after a claimant has been rejected.  Removals operations rarely seem to be coordinated with the rest of the system.

The UK is experiencing a similar problem.  Their National Audit Office recently reported that the introduction of the New Asylum Model has not resulted in an increase of the removal of failed asylum applicants.4

In fact, recent statistics show that backlogs in the UK asylum system are increasing.5 Worse, significant numbers of claimants at the end of the asylum process find themselves destitute.6

Canadians are rightly proud of our international reputation as a leader in refugee protection.  Our refugee system is far from perfect, but in considering changes, we would do well to safeguard the core elements that contribute to its success, and that are envied in other parts of the world.  Among those core elements is a commitment to treating claimants with dignity and to providing a fair process to determine whether they need protection.




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1. Bail for Immigration Detainees, Refusal factory: Women’s experiences of the Detained Fast Track asylum process at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, September 2007,  The National Audit Office found that some applicants are detained although their case is too complex for the fast-track, due to a failure to conduct a full screening interview, Management of Asylum Applications by the UK Border Agency, par. 10, supra.

2. Wall Street Journal, “Mexico’s Instability Is a Real Problem.  Don’t discount the possibility of a failed state next door”, Joel Kurtzman, 16 January 2009,  The Federal Court of Canada has repeatedly struck down decisions of the Immigration and Refugee Board where claimants were rejected on the basis that the Mexican state could protect them or that they could find safety elsewhere within Mexico.  For references, see

3. Refusal Factory, supra at footnote 1.

4. Management of Asylum Applications by the UK Border Agency, January 2009, para. 6(h). supra.

5. The National Audit Office, supra, found a growing backlog  of cases awaiting an initial decision (par. 2.14) and a rising backlog of refused claimants awaiting removal (par. 2.23), in addition to a “legacy backlog” of 335,000 cases from 2006, of which nearly 90,000 were concluded by My 2008 (par. 5.1 – 5.4).  See also House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, 28th report, Management of Asylum Applications, 16 June 2009,

6. Kate Smart, The Second Destitution Tally: an indication of the extent and causes of asylum seekers, people at the end of the asylum process and refugees in the UK,  May 2009,