Does Canada still have 'a border called Hope'?

Most Canadians are under the impression that their country is exceptionally generous to refugees. Official Canada cultivates that impression. Ottawa has, in fact, signed all the relevant International Conventions for the protection of refugees. Looking good?

Think again. In terms of numbers, Canada is a shrimp among refugee hosting countries. Canada’s annual acceptance rate for refugees measures a mere one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of its total population. With our vast land mass, low birth rate, and shrinking labour pool, you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard to welcome more refugees.

Canadians used to like thinking of their country as a place of refuge and hope. Since September 11, 2001, it seems that most people would rather think of the whole North American space as safe and secure.

The onus on refugees to prove that they are neither terrorists nor criminals has almost doubled. The first eligibility screening includes fingerprinting, appraisal of documents, and check-backs with the country of origin for security angles or connections with crime. Only after those scrutinies does the Immigration and Refugee Board begin to decide whether to accept someone as a "protected person." From there, the road to permanent resident status can be long indeed, taking up to eight years, while the system repeats security and criminal-background checks all over again.

People in refugee camps or other situations abroad who are selected by Canadian government screeners or sponsored by a private group don’t have it much easier. Currently it takes three to five years before a privately-sponsored refugee actually arrives in Canada. It’s hard for sponsoring groups to stay focused that long.

Some agreements act like a Keep Out! sign nailed to our border. The "safe third country" protocol and direct-back policies now authorize Canada to send a refugee claimant back to any "safe country" through which he or she might have crossed while trying to reach Canada. Well, from most parts of the world, it’s hard to reach Canada without first touching land in the USA. This new protocol significantly shrinks our official willingness to deal with refugee claimants.

The refugee system is often accused of being a conduit for terrorists. But not one of the nineteen young men who took part in the airborne 9/11 massacre had entered the United States as a refugee. In a survey of two thousand "protected persons" waiting for more than five years in Canada to be "landed," only one was found to have any grounds for inadmissibility as a criminal.

Some helpful new policies have been adopted, but not implemented – at least, not yet. Canada’s latest Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act provides for a right of appeal from the decision of a single IRB adjudicator, triggering a review by a Refugee Appeals Division. Unfortunately, the RAD exists, so far, only on paper.

Did you know...

  • That there are about 20 million refugees in the world right now, including "internally displaced persons" who have fled to a different part of their own country?
  • That poor countries in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East host by far larger numbers of refugees than rich, developed countries like Canada and the USA? (Examples: Iran hosts 1.3 million refugees; Pakistan, 1.2 million; Tanzania, 690,000; Democratic Republic of Congo, 333,000; Sudan, 330,000.)
  • That only two "rich" countries make it into the list of the top ten refugee-hosting countries? The two are: Germany, with 980,000, and USA with 485,000.
  • That in the year 2001 (the last year for which final figures are available), Canada ranked second in the world in terms of number of refugees resettled (that is, accepted as permanent residents). The actual number "landed" was 12,200 refugees… out of 20 million seeking a new home!
  • In that same year (2001), the number of refugee claimants allowed into Canada was 27,910. The acceptance rate for refugee claimants in Canada hovers at around 45%. So allowing 28,000 claimants to enter the country in any given year will continue the status quo for numbers accepted yearly.
  • It will probably add between 12,000 and 14,000 new permanent residents at some future point, when the long determination process has played itself out.