Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
By way of introduction, I want to indicate the Archdiocese of Toronto's participation in the private sponsorship of refugees program. We are the largest sponsorship agreement holder in Canada and have been involved in the PSR program since its very inception.
We have been able to address the plight of refugees from many different faith and nationality backgrounds because of the generosity of Catholics throughout the archdiocese of Toronto and because of the vision and values of the church and of our cardinal archbishop. It's a response that is rooted in love of neighbour and finds its source in our love for God and in his love for us.
I would like to begin my comments by first recognizing the important work that IRCC has done to reduce the backlogs and processing times prior to the pandemic. I believe that at that point, average processing times for the PSR program were reduced to approximately one and a half years, a remarkable accomplishment that I'm confident IRCC will be able to repeat.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has had a very deleterious effect on both the backlog and the processing times. All throughout the pandemic, private sponsors were able to continue to submit cases to IRCC. At the same time, IRCC's overseas processing of cases slowed to a trickle. The resulting increased backlog—and it was significant—was exacerbated by Canada's commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghans by 2024. Private sponsors were asked to assist in this work through the operation Afghan safety program.
In addition to the direct increase of the backlog from private sponsors participating in the OAS program, I'm concerned that the situation will be made worse if IRCC resources used to process private sponsorship applications are redeployed to process Afghani cases in order to meet that target.
I'm here as one who has supported the OAS program. The goal of helping Afghani refugees is laudable, as is the desire to assist those displaced by the war in Ukraine through the CUAET program. The impact, though, of a decision to redeploy resources—if such a decision has been made—will lead to a significant increase in the backlog and in processing times for all other refugee populations, many of whom have waited in the queue for many years, oftentimes living in very intolerable conditions.
This ought to raise the question for us about how fair and equitable such an approach is to other refugee populations. I'm afraid that we have learned very little from the approach that was taken during the Syrian refugee crisis, where an enormous resettlement target of 25,000 Syrians was set and their processing was done at the expense of all other refugee populations, who had their processing times extended for an additional year so that this target could be met.
These extraordinary resettlement targets are fine, as long as they are adequately resourced and not resourced at the expense of other programs or other refugee populations. As an indication that such a decision to redeploy resources has been made, sponsorship agreement holders have experienced a significant delay in their annual allocation, which IRCC normally provides to SAHs by the end of February of each year. This allocation obviously indicates the total number of refugees that a SAH is able to submit sponsorship applications for in that year and oftentimes signals when SAHs are able to begin submitting applications to IRCC.
This year, we received the allocation not at the end of February, but towards the end of July—four and a half months later than normal. With the exception of 25 spots released in early 2022, SAHs were unable to submit applications to IRCC until the release of their annual allocation. This delay places an incredibly enormous pressure on SAHs to process and submit applications in the remaining five and a half months, essentially condensing a year's worth of work into five and a half months.
This enormous pressure placed upon SAHs has been exacerbated with the release of the program integrity framework and the new set of requirements for SAHs to complete a very onerous 34-question survey that is primarily focused on documenting policies and procedures that the SAHs undertake.
While time today, in my submission, will not permit me to comment on the many concerns that SAHs have expressed regarding this new framework, I would like to highlight that the timing of this rollout—in the midst of this already reduced processing period—is of great concern for most, if not all, SAHs.
With that, I will conclude my remarks.
Again, I extend thanks to the committee members for allowing me to speak.