Tories aim to fix 'broken' immigration system
Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended a new plan Thursday that aims to overhaul Canada's refugee system in order to stop thousands of refugee claims from "safe" countries.
Speaking in Parliament, Harper said that Canada has the world's most "generous" immigration system, and that it is subject to abuse under the current guidelines.
"We continue to see thousands of people coming from safe, democratic countries making refugee claims in this country. That is not acceptable to Canadians," he said.
But the proposed legislation reverses some key concessions the Tories made with the opposition two years ago in order to pass the Balanced Refugee Reform Act through a minority Parliament.
And in the Commons Thursday, Interim NDP Leader Nicole Turmel accused the government of breaking a promise.
"Why destroy all the good, non-partisan work that was done on refugee reform?" asked Turmel.
While Harper also referenced the recent immigration changes, he said that more needs to be done to address the backlog of immigration claims.
"Some changes were made in the last Parliament that have been helpful, but are clearly not sufficient to deal with this issue," he said.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said that it takes about 1,000 days for the Immigration and Refugee Board to review a claim filed by someone from a democratic rights-respecting country.
That would be reduced to 45 days under the proposed changes.
"We're saying the party's over," said Kenney, who noted that current refugee claimants can access federal programs like welfare and healthcare.
Kenney estimated that the reforms would save $1.5 billion over the next five years.
"It's costing billions," he said.
Kenney added that the problem of bogus claims is so severe that on a recent flight from Prague to Toronto, there were 91 refugee claims.
"I think it's an insult to the good name of our refugee system. We're there to protect the gay Iranians who are being persecuted, the North Korean Christians, the dissidents in totalitarian regimes, not the citizens of the EU."
But the New Democrats believe that the new policy would lead to discrimination because guidelines could be based on the "whims" of the minister.
Still, Kenney said Canada has seen a sharp increase in recent years in the number of refugee claims filed from countries within the European Union.
Those who file refugee claims from unsafe countries and legitimately require protection will have their claims heard faster, and will be granted access to an appeal system not available to those from safe countries.
In fact, 23 per cent of refugee claim submissions last year were filed from the EU -- an increase of 14 per cent over the previous year.
More refugee claims were filed from the EU in 2011 than from Africa and Asia. And virtually all of them were either rejected by the IRB, or abandoned by the claimant, Kenney said.
"Too many tax dollars are spent on people who do not need our protection. In fact about 95 per cent of all claims from the European Union have been determined by our system and mainly by the decision of those asylum claimants themselves, to be unfounded," he said.
Following are some details from the proposed measures:
Nationals from countries that normally don't produce refugees will have fewer options to delay their removal from Canada. The process can now take up to four-and-a-half years if all appeal avenues are used.
Access to taxpayer-funded social benefits and work permits will be limited for applicants from these so-called safe countries.
Work permits and benefits will only be available after 180 days, but most claimants from safe countries will not be here that long.
Kenney emphasized that the goal isn't to reduce the number of refugees coming to Canada. He said Canada welcomes more refugees per capita than any other country, but is focused on bringing in legitimate refugees who truly need Canada's help.