Matt Martorana & Karthicka Suthanandan
McMaster Debating Society
Q: Is the Balanced Refugee Reform Act going to be too damaging to future immigration?
Matt: Immigration Minister John Kennedy recently introduced Bill C-31, which will reform Canada’s refugee policy. A refugee is a person living outside their country of origin or habitual residence because they have suffered persecution on account of race, religion or political opinion. According to Kennedy, Canada’s immigration office is flooded with “bogus” refugee claims, where many people who seek refugee status are not in “serious danger.” To solve this problem, Kennedy intends to label certain countries as “safe countries” and thus make it more difficult for individuals from these countries to obtain refugee status.
Kari: The changes incurred by the Balanced Refugee Reform Act are to the benefit of those claimants with founded claims because it ensures them faster and more inclusive support. These reforms are simply that – reforms to a system that remains fundamentally the same, simply working faster and more efficiently. Currently, the number of unfounded claims unnecessarily slows down the system. The matter of people abusing the system at the risk of others in serious need is no small matter. For individuals in need, this is a hindrance to the new life they wish to begin, while for those abusing it, buying time is all they want. The proposed bill has the ability to cut wait times for hearings with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada from 19 months to 60 days, removing failed claimants within a year as opposed to several. With these changes, the Canadian Government is even now able to increase the annual refugee target resettlement from 2,500 to 14,500.
Matt: The Balanced Refugee Reform Act puts too much authority into the hands of the Immigration Office, and specifically into the hands of the Immigration Minister, allowing them to be the judge, jury and executioner of determining who will qualify as a refugee. Rather than allowing the people whose job it is to help refugee claimants decide which countries are safe, politicians become the ones in charge of the decision. This is a serious problem, because determining which country is “safe” becomes a political question.
Kari: The system is still the same and will take into account the same humanitarian beliefs, though it uses authority to create structure and protect itself from corruption. Assuming that unfounded claimants cannot be distinguished from those with legitimate claims simplifies and underestimates the hearing process. The new bill comes out of a strong understanding of the system. The fact of the matter is that there are people who abuse the system and it is done so in correlation to certain areas, making the new policy’s regulations about safe zones necessary. For instance, claims from Hungary nearly doubled between 2010 and 2011, even though the rate of acceptance is only about two per cent. Consequently, these high rates of rejected claims contribute to the worsening backlog that is slowing the system to a halt.
Matt: The focus on the “bogus refugee claims” is nothing more than a political tactic that Kennedy wants to use to ensure that this bill passes. I do not deny that there are individuals who are abusing the system, but we have seen this tactic used by the Harper government before. Either you are on board to resolve the problem of bogus refugees or you are not. Suddenly, not supporting this bill means not solving the problem. While we should solve the bogus refugee problem, Bill C-31 has serious flaws, such as authorizing to strip refugees of their status and deport them years later if the government figures that the refugee no longer faces a risk of persecution. People who have already been approved as refugees might be deported even after years of living in Canada. This bill will also give the government the authority to detain any non-citizen as an irregular citizen for up to a year without any judicial review.
Kari: The current system negatively affects the claimants themselves, as well as Canadian taxpayers, with failed claims costing $50,000 of social service expenses. The reformed system cuts costs to $29,000, will allows for savings toward other areas. The Canadian government also announced increasing Resettlement Assistance Program funding to $54 million. They aim to promote more successful integration into society for refugees, because contrary to this idea that the government will begin arbitrarily deporting refugees, the humanitarian value of helping these individuals is still inherent to our practices.
Matt: I acknowledge that Bill C-31 may not only be faster for our immigration system and cheaper, but we should be careful if we are valuing human lives in terms of dollars and cents. For instance, think about what this bill would mean for European refugees. Any country in Europe would be considered a “safe” nation. Only five per cent of Europeans who apply for refugee status ever attain it, yet it is apparently fair to turn that five per cent away because the majority of Europeans may have made “bogus” claims? My point is, there are still families who legitimately require refugee status, even if their country is labeled as safe, and we would be wise not to overlook them. Yes, our current refugee policy needs reform, but replacing it with a more imperfect, corruptible system, which Bill C-31 supports, is not a better idea.
Kari: Someone has to make the tough decisions, and there is really no evidence to say that the immigration minister will use political influence to make poor decisions. It is an exaggeration to assume this bill will create some overly formatted system that does not make exceptions or recognize individuals in need on an unconventional basis. Even this proposed small five per cent can and will be heard. If anything, the example of only a small minority of EU applicants qualifying is exactly the problem. There is no reason to promote an old sloppy system that is to no one’s benefit. Instead, we need to continue to be progressive and adapt our system to the changes that affect us.