For the last several years, changes to a refugee system described as ‘broken’ have been an important priority. With the current election and the potential changes it could bring, what better time to consider what all these ‘reforms’ have meant for refugee policy – and refugees – in Canada?
News: Refugee Rights
Our historically warm welcome for immigrants has become decidedly colder recently: Canada is welcoming those with money at the expense of reuniting families and helping refugees. We also rely more and more on Temporary Foreign Workers who aren’t even allowed to apply for residency.
Public justice demands that we do our part to welcome the stranger and take action to ensure that newcomers to our country are met with a warm welcome.
The numbers are out: in 2010 Canada let in the highest number of immigrants in over 50 years. But while Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney may use this as evidence of a clean bill of health for Canadian immigration policy, these numbers do not tell the whole story.
The recent tabling of Bill C-49, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, ignited a fervent outcry against its punitive measures against refugees. However, the Act also raises bigger questions about politics in Canada and the measures used to get things accomplished. Is cooperation towards the common good possible?
Refugee policies are complicated, require sensitivity, and stir up much emotion. As a result, it is crucial that the public be involved in the development of such policies to provide various viewpoints and options. But with the recent refugee bill public debate was only held during the amendment process, not in the drafting of the legislation. Eventually all parties and many refugee advocacy organizations accepted the amendments, recognizing that there were some improvements, but still cautious about the prospects for future refugee cases.
Rebekah Sears looks at the proposed changes to the refugee system, questioning whether they emphasize Fast at the Expense of Fair? Rebekah notes several conditions the proposed changes need to meet in order to ensure the system remains fair.
Yesterday I took the tour through the Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City (put on by Médecins sans Frontières) in Ottawa. It was a very educational, moving and humbling experience.
MSF is bringing the tour to Montreal (May 20-23), Toronto (May 27-30) and Waterloo (June 3-6) in the coming weeks. I highly recommend taking the tour. See below for more details and links.
Since the 1970s, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) has been working in crisis and emergency situations, providing care and helping those most vulnerable, including refugees and internally displaced people. MSF estimates that over 42 million people around the world have been uprooted by war, either as refugees or internally displaced persons.
But what do we really know about what experiences in these camps are like, and how can we become more informed and make a difference?
April 4 is Refugee Rights Day in Canada, when we commemorate the declaration by the Supreme Court in 1985 that the Charter of Rights of Freedoms is meant to protect the rights to liberty, personal security and justice of everyone in Canada, including refugees. This means that all refugee claimants are entitled to an oral hearing to make their case.
This year, Refugee Rights Day comes less than a week after Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announces major changes to Canada’s refugee and asylum system. In response to the rising number of asylum claims and the long waiting list Kenney has made changes, part of which is the proposal of a "safe country" list which will categorize applications.
False claims are a real concern, as is the daunting backlog of applicants, but is the categorization of refugee applicants by country a viable solution? What about the Supreme Court decision which emphasizes equal treatment?
In Canada, our labour laws extend to all workers, both in the public and private sectors. These laws include the maintaining of proper and safe working conditions, and ensuring that complete wages are issued. All workers, be they citizens, permanent residents, immigrants or temporary foreign workers, documented and undocumented fall under this protection.
Unfortunately, despite our laws incidents of abuse, including the withholding of wages still occur in Canada, and often in connection with temporary foreign workers.
In 2009 Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney promised significant reforms to Canadian immigration policy before the end of the year. In the last months of 2009, several small changes were introduced, including improvements to the Live-in Caregivers program and better recognition of foreign credentials. We are still awaiting the major changes.
But before the changes are announced, Minister Kenney and the government should consider what Canadians really think about immigration.