Commentary  The difficult refugee claim process just got more difficult

Economy a higher priority than humanitarian aid for Conservatives

Conservatives are making it abundantly clear that Canada’s time as a leader in providing aid to refugees in need is coming to an end. The new immigration policy is one in which money talks and bullshit walks – only the bullshit here happens to be fear, persecution, and danger.

Earlier this month, Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney announced in his yearly report to Parliament that by 2010 Canada will be admitting fewer refugees in the years ahead. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 27,865 asylum seekers entered into Canada in 2007. That number has been steadily declining ever since.

These figures show a shift in immigration policy under the Conservative government, who want to streamline the immigration system to combat alleged abuses. Kenney’s report includes data that shows the number of successful refugee claims from asylum seekers will have fallen by half since the Conservatives have taken power.

An example of the tightening grip around immigration: the government’s application of new visa requirements for visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic coming to Canada. This trend will drastically change the way Canada is perceived – as a safe haven for refugees – in the international community.

The status and treatment of refugees is governed internationally by the United Nations’ Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines a refugee as any person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable…or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…or is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Nations are asked to cooperate with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, but actual legislation relating to each nation’s action on the protocol is a national decision.

Upon arriving in Canada, refugee status must be declared at customs, where an official does a cursory check of an individual’s eligibility before transferring successful claimants to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

This board, which operates independently of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, must then examine each case to determine whether the individual meets the criteria of a protected person under Canadian law.

The hearing process can take months or even years, and the board’s decisions are final. Claimants rarely have an opportunity for appeal.

Any person who fails an IRB claim faces immediate removal from Canada, often to dangerous, even life-threatening situations. Critics have cited a recent case where a 24-year-old Mexican woman was found murdered after failing two Canadian refugee claims.

Canada has, in the past, been considered a hospitable nation for refugees seeking asylum, a reputation that politicians bore internationally with pride. The Conservative government’s planned immigration reforms, along with the hyper-security measures installed in the wake of 9/11, are eroding that image daily.

Canada’s borders are no longer safe shores for the persecuted masses of the world. Just ask the 76 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who have been languishing in a B.C. detention facility for a month. They have been paraded in front of numerous courts, accused of terrorist ties, and have had their identities banned from release by the IRB. This is far from the hospitality Canadians imagine they are known for on the world stage.

The report’s statistics have also drawn criticism for the preferential emphasis being placed on allowing “economic class” immigrants into Canada over others. Hearkening back to the immigration policy of early British colonial authorities, this policy would give preferential treatment to people with professional credentials over those with humanitarian needs. Of the projected 240,000-265,000 immigrants to be allowed into Canada over the next year, 166,800 are expected to be in the economic class – about 65 per cent of the total.

Cameron Fenton is a student at Concordia and writes for the Concordian. This article originally appeared in the Canadian University Press.