Evidence of meeting #33 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was refugee.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Martin Collacott  Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform
  • Peter Showler  Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa
  • Noa Mendelsohn Aviv  Director, Equality Program, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Julie Taub  Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual
  • Nathalie Des Rosiers  General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Toni Skarica  Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario
  • Debbie Douglas  Executive Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
  • Francisco Rico-Martinez  Regional Director, Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

4 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

Yes, there is. I mentioned part of it already in that asylum seekers don't get the information about what's going to happen to them. Secondly, in terms of the detention, they don't think it's going to be that bad. But the third reason they gave—and this is the obvious one—is that they are desperate people. I am sorry, but when Mr. Collacott talks about their being in a place where they can claim settlement.... For example, many come from Thailand. They come from Malaysia. They come from Indonesia. These countries are not signatories to the UN convention. Their status there is that they are illegal.

If you read it in The Canadian Press, there was a story this morning about a woman in Thailand in exactly that circumstance. What can happen to them is this. They can get an UNHCR registration within six months. That does nothing for them. They are vulnerable to arrest; they are vulnerable to corrupt officials; they are vulnerable to criminals. Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia will return them to their country of persecution. They do not get sent elsewhere. That's the desperation. That's why so many of them will take the chance on the boat. Some of them won't take the chance on the boat.

There are no alternatives, and there are no refugee camps. The refugee camps in Thailand, for example, are only for the claimants from Myanmar or Burma. They are not for other claimants. They do not have good options. It's important to understand that.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you for clarifying that not every refugee who arrives can arrive through the resettlement program, and also the fact that not every refugee who is trying to get into Canada is a terrorist just waiting to come and do harm.

4 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

Let's talk about the resettlement program that was referred to. Please understand that Canada is the second-most generous country in the world. We actually accepted about 13,000, which is just after the U.S. But the resettlement program under the UN convention was never intended as the primary vehicle for bringing refugees to the country. Even within those refugee camps, there are three durable options.

The first one is repatriation. The second one is local integration. Only the third is resettlement. We took 13,000. There are over 4 million people in refugee camps. The average amount of time in a refugee camp is 17 years. Let me ask every member of this committee. I'm sorry to be personal about it, but I'm a father with a couple of kids. If I had a choice about where I would b stuck somewhere and I'm illegal and can either go to a hellhole of a refugee camp for 17 years, or I could find a way to get my kids to a safe country, whether it's Canada or somewhere else, I know what I would do if I could find a way to do it.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you very much.

I'm going to move to a different aspect of the questioning. Why is an appeal so important if there's an application for judicial review? What is the difference between the two processes? If you could explain that to us, I would really appreciate it.

4 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

I repeat that I'm delighted that the government has implemented the appeal division. It was necessary.

The judicial review application is only application for leave for judicial review, which is permission to do a judicial review. Only 14% get the leave application. Once again, Professor Rehaag's statistics show that there's a tremendously wide variance in those leave application decisions by the Federal Court judge. But even if you get that leave, the Federal Court is making a determination on the basis of issues of law. I know there are some lawyers here at the committee. Issues of law can include egregious findings of fact. But they are deferential to the board. It is not an appeal. Their only power is to send it back for another hearing.

For the refugee appeal division, it's universal access, so everybody gets their appeal considered, and if there are fundamental errors where it's obvious on the evidence that they are refugees, the appeal division has the authority to overturn the decision. It is intended to catch the mistakes, to put it simply.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Do I have a few more minutes?

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

You do.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

A lot seems to be hanging on this in this legislation, so what is the difference between a refugee claimant who arrives at an airport and one who arrives in a group on a boat, if they both have used fraudulent documents to get to Canada? To me, a refugee is a refugee whichever way the person arrives, but this piece of legislation definitely differentiates between the two.

4 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

When they arrive, they're not refugees; they're asylum seekers and they're refugee claimants. However, we do no lists from the boats. If someone arrives in a group, we cannot make any assumption about the merits of their claim, whether or not there's a greater or lesser possibility that they're a refugee.

To give you a contrast, when the first boat arrived from Sri Lanka, the acceptance rate for Sri Lankan claimants was 76%. Ten years earlier, with the four boats from the People's Republic of China, the acceptance rate was less than 5%.

We can't draw conclusions just because it's a group arrival. Also, we can't draw any inference that it is an increased threat to Canada one way or the other because they're in a group. It is not a security threat.

What is the difference? The only difference, quite frankly, is that the person who arrived with fraudulent documents and manages to get through Vancouver International Airport probably had more money and was able to buy better quality documents to get to Canada.

In terms of threats to Canada, in terms of the merits of the claim, there is no difference.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you very much.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Lamoureux.

April 30th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Showler, my questions are for you.

In listening to Ms. James, I think she used the term “bogus refugee claimants” about four or five times. I know there is a difference. I'm wondering if you could expound on the government's use of the term “bogus refugees”.

4:05 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

Certainly. I take bogus refugee to mean a fraudulent refugee. By that I mean someone who knows they are not a refugee and they're coming to Canada anyway. In other words, they are abusing Canada's refugee system.

I think where the confusion occurs is with this notion of failed refugees. If someone's claim is refused, it does not necessarily mean they're bogus. They may very well have come to Canada with the belief that they're refugees and genuinely seeking protection, but in actuality they're refused.

A good example of this would be the many Mexican claims that have come over the last five or six years. A lot of those claims were refused, not because the person didn't have a fear of either drug lords or someone else, but because of technical, legal reasons within the definition. The conclusion by the board of the Federal Court was there was adequate state protection for them, or in other instances they thought there was another part of the country to which the person could go to be safe. In many cases, the credibility of the claim was accepted and it was within the technical definition of a refugee.

In my view, those people are not bogus refugees. We may have a difference of opinion with the minister and others, but I think it is not only unfair to characterize them in that way but that it also, in a way, distorts the issues when trying to understand an effective system that will let real refugees be here and quickly identify non-valid claims and remove them.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

It's a poor way to label is what I think.

A big part of this is all about fraudulent claims. Are there thoughts you might want to share with the committee in regard to how you would deter these fraudulent claims?

4:05 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

I've already mentioned to you this notion of determination within six to seven months. I accept the concept of a designated country of origin. I accept the notion, though not everybody will agree with me, that there are some so-called advocacy communities, but I think it's possible.

What's important is that you can deter the claims. You can do two things. I'm saying that you can have your cake and eat it too. You can have a well-reasoned decision. You can have a well-reasoned appeal. And when they're not refugees, you can promptly remove them from the country. Certainly if you do it in six to seven months, as I say, I am very confident that you will deter flows of fraudulent claims.