Nolan Matthews / Senior Andy Editor

Last month, Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney released a list of 27 “safe” countries that drastically reduces the rights of people who hope to leave those countries as refugees. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Kenney claims the list was created to resolve the perceived problem that Canada is letting in too many refugees that would otherwise, in his mind, somehow overrun our country.

Usually when a refugee claimant arrives in Canada they have 60 days to get settled and put together their case, which is heard by a judge who determines whether or not the claimant has sufficient reason to be accepted as a refugee. A claimant from one of the 27 designated country has their first hearing 45 days after they arrive – a timeline that doesn’t seem close to being realistic. That’s 45 days to find a lawyer, a place to live and a way to pay for it all. The Canadian Bar Association recommends having four months to prepare for a refugee hearing.

Kenney defends the shorter timelines by saying that they will make the refugee application process more efficient, but we’re asking people to talk about the worst things that have happened to them. It can take a lot of time to tell a good friend about something terrible, let alone a judge sitting at the end of a table. And a faster process will send refugees more quickly back into the dangerous situations they came from.

Of course, that’s only true if they came from a dangerous situation in the first place. A popular term with Jason Kenney is “bogus,” meaning he sees many refugee claimants as not really being in danger and simply trying to take advantage of Canada’s social services. Kenney’s impression of “bogus” refugees is largely based on flawed statistics spewed by Rick Dykstra, Kenney’s parliamentary secretary. In a parliamentary meeting, Dykstra claimed that in 2010 “Canada received 2,300 [refugee] claims from Hungary, which is 23 times more than any other country.” Hungary is one of the countries on Kenney’s safe list.

“The fact that most gets to the core of why further refugee reform is needed is that virtually every one of these claims was abandoned, withdrawn, or rejected,” said Dykstra. “Refugee claimants themselves are choosing not to see their claims to completion, meaning they are not in genuine need of Canada’s protection. In other words, their claims are bogus.”

So much of what Dykstra said is wrong. The Canadian Council for refugees, which got its data from an access to information request from the Immigration and Refugee Board, states that in 2010 there were 1,973 claims from Hungary, not 2,300. Of those claims, 1,089 were abandoned.

Unless you consider about 55 per cent to be “virtually every” claim, Dykstra and Kenney are not only deluded but plain wrong.

I also wonder if Kenney and Dykstra ever considered why a refugee claimant might decide to abandon their claim – other than the reason being they’re scam artists. Perhaps claimants are finding Canada not nearly as welcoming as we like to think we are.

Perhaps the most disturbing consequence of being from a “safe” country is that refugee claimants will only have access to health care if they have a condition that threatens public health. I’ve spoken to a refugee settlement worker who told me about a woman who had been severely burned all over her body by her husband and wasn’t able to access health care because her condition wasn’t a public health concern. It’s completely ridiculous.

As a country, we’re moving towards a very negative view of people seeking protection and closing our doors to people we should be helping. We are obligated to do so much more.


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