Mr. Speaker, when I first drew the attention of the minister to the situation facing the Inland Refugee Society of BC, the IRS-BC was facing a 300% increase in its caseload, much of it resulting from the irregular crossing situation.
The IRS-BC offers a unique set of programming for inland claimants, who often lack access to services while waiting for decisions to be made on their claims. Unfortunately, as a result of its unique situation, IRS-BC does not receive any federal funding.
From the time I rose in the House at the beginning of June to the end of September, an additional 271 irregular crossings resulting in asylum claims have occurred in B.C. This brings the total from January to September to 564 in British Columbia. I have risen on this broader issue numerous times. The government continues to claim that it is handling the situation well, but the reality on the ground tells a very different story.
The IRS-BC has informed me that the Canadian Red Cross had to step in to help it due to its funding shortfall. The Red Cross, in August alone, was supporting over 90 individuals in hotel rooms. The IRS-BC had a number of clients in temporary shelters. It informed me that it was stretched so thin that even the Red Cross assistance was insufficient and that people were not getting housed. In some cases, some individuals were rendered homeless. The increase in caseload was forcing the IRS-BC to turn individuals away, as it had neither the capacity to help these individuals find housing, nor to support them with food or transportation.
Irregular border crossers in B.C. are not being fast-tracked for work permits like those in Quebec are, highlighting the government's haphazard approach of taking one-off measures in response to this situation.
Throughout the year, I have also highlighted for the government the underfunding and understaffing of the IRB. To date, despite the fact the government knows about the shortfall in funding for the IRB, it has continued not to provide the necessary resources for the IRB. The IRB, the minister, IRCC, and the parliamentary secretary have acknowledged that this has increased processing time for claims, but have still not committed to providing additional resources.
The IRB now has a backlog of over 14,000 cases. This backlog is increasing by 1,400 cases per month, and yet the government is still doing nothing beyond saying that it is reviewing the situation and calling for “efficiencies”. In the meantime, lives are left in limbo. Organizations that provide services to asylum claimants like IRS-BC are forced to provide services to more people, and to provide those services for a longer period of time because of the delays in hearing these cases. Of course, it does not have the additional resources to do that.
My question for the government is this. Will it commit to provide funding to organizations like IRS-BC, and when will it finally address the funding issues at the IRB?