FACT CHECK: Are a majority of asylum seekers to Canada doomed to rejection?
An asylum seeker, claiming to be from Eritrea, is confronted by an RCMP officer as he crosses the border into Canada from the United States on August 21, 2017 near Champlain, N.Y. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, June 29, 2018 1:08PM EDT
OTTAWA -- "Trudeau and other politicians must realize the real-life consequences of their words when it comes to immigration. It is not compassionate nor prudent to give these individuals false hope when we know that the majority of the asylum claims before the Immigration and Refugee Board will eventually be rejected." -- Conservative MP Michelle Rempel.
Michelle Rempel, the official Opposition's immigration critic, issued a news release earlier this week criticizing the Trudeau government's handling of the ongoing influx of so-called "irregular" migrants coming across the Canada-U.S. border.
In it, she said the majority of the asylum claims before the Immigration and Refugee Board would be rejected -- a claim she attributes to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who said "a bit more than 90 per cent of irregular migrants do not meet our criteria (to claim asylum), and that they must leave."
But is either statement true?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "a lot of baloney." Here's why.
Canada began experiencing an influx of "irregular" border crossers in early 2017, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would end a program that offered temporary protected status to immigrants from several countries, including Haiti, to live in the United States.
Thousands of asylum seekers have since arrived in Canada from the U.S., avoiding official border checkpoints where they'd have been turned away under the Safe Third Country agreement between the two countries. Instead, they've been crossing the border along forest paths and fields, declaring their intent to seek refugee status once on Canadian soil.
From February 2017 to March 2018, a total of 23,577 claims for refugee protection were made by irregular border crossers, according to the latest available data from the Immigration and Refugee Board -- the arms-length body that processes asylum claims.
Of those, a total of 3,462 claims, or 15 per cent, have been finalized. Of the claims that have been finalized, 47 per cent have been accepted, 36 per cent have been rejected, nine per cent have been abandoned and eight per cent have been withdrawn or classified as "other."
After Garneau made the statement in May that more than 90 per cent of irregular migrants were being rejected, government officials later clarified that he was referring specifically to the number of Haitians who crossed into Canada last year at unofficial crossings.
The majority of asylum seekers this year are Nigerian, and as a result may be more eligible for asylum, given the state of conflict and persecution of certain populations in Nigeria, the government has said.
IRB data shows that between February 2017 and March 2018, 68 per cent of claims by asylum seekers from Haiti whose claims had been processed were rejected, while only nine per cent were approved. Meanwhile, 46 per cent of Nigerian claims were rejected and 33 per cent were accepted.
Only a small percentage of the total claims have been processed so far, due to a significant backlog at the IRB. Only 1,074 Haitian claims and 361 claims from Nigerians have been completed.
The numbers would seem to suggest that overall, more irregular asylum seekers are being accepted than rejected and that Nigerians are having a higher success rate than Haitians. But Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees warns against extrapolating any trends from such limited data.
Not only is the sample size too small, certain claims are being prioritized by the IRB for processing for a variety of reasons. Therefore, those that have been processed to date may not represent the overall population of those still awaiting an outcome, Dench said.
"There are people who come from certain countries like Yemen or Eritrea or Burundi or Syria who are expedited by the board so they can be quickly identified and quickly accepted, so that will bias (the data) in favour of positives."
Long wait times can also prompt some asylum seekers to abandon their claims -- particularly those in vulnerable situations, which can also skew the numbers, Dench added.
"It's been impossible for us to understand which claims have been going forward and which weren't, but if you were wanting to draw lots of conclusions about the numbers, I would be wanting to know a bit more."
Sharry Aiken, a refugee law professor at Queen's University, says she also believes it's impossible to say definitively whether a majority of irregular claims will be rejected.
Each individual claimant may face different risks based on their race, gender, political affiliation or sexual orientation if they're rejected and sent back to their home countries, Aiken said. That level of risk is weighed during the IRB hearing process.
"It's not really possible to offer sweeping conclusions about the prospects of either Haitian nationals or Nigerian nationals without knowing more about the individual issues, because ultimately the decision does come down to the individual circumstances and the individuated risk they would face on return," she said.
"It could very well be that in amongst the Nigerian claims are folks who have very genuine claims who have been arrested, detained, tortured and it could, as well, be that there are some claims in that group who are purely economic migrants. Those kinds of mixed flows are typical from refugee-producing countries, and it's why broad-brush generalizations can indeed be dangerous."
Given the small percentage of claims that have been processed to date, along with the dynamic and changing nature of why people may seeking refugee status in Canada, the statement that most asylum seekers will be rejected contains "a lot of baloney."
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians.
Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney -- the statement is completely accurate
A little baloney -- the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
Some baloney -- the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
A lot of baloney -- the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
Full of baloney -- the statement is completely inaccurate