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Canada: Proposed New Immigration Act

(Mar. 1, 2012) On February 16, 2012, Canada's Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister, Jason Kenney, introduced a new draft law designed to protect the integrity of the country's immigration system and enhance changes to the asylum system made in 2010. (Press Release, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Harper Government Introduces the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act (Feb. 16, 2012).)

The Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act would, if enacted, amend several existing laws: the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act, and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act. (Bill C-31, Parliament of Canada website (last visited Feb. 24, 2012).) It would reform the current system for asylum, to make it more efficient and fair, as well as adopt measures on human smuggling. The amendments are designed to grant deserving applicants asylum more quickly and to identify and remove those who do not qualify. The bill would furthermore make it mandatory for asylum seekers to file biometric data with their temporary resident visa applications. (Press Release, supra.)

One concern about the current system is that Canada receives more claims from asylum seekers coming from European countries, which are generally perceived as not producing true refugees, than from Africa or Asia. Of those European-origin claims, 95% are rejected, withdrawn, or abandoned. One goal of the new law would be to process these European asylum seekers in 45 days. According to Kenney, “Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs. But they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country.” (Id.) He went on to say, “[t]oo many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees. We need to send a message to those who would abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if you are not in need of protection, you will be sent home quickly.” (Id.)

The current bill also proposes a change in how victims of human smuggling would be treated in a related bill, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act (Bill C-4, Parliament of Canada website (last visited Feb. 24, 2012)). Those under the age of 16 would no longer be subject to that bill's provisions on detention of those who arrive in Canada as a result of human smuggling operations. Older victims would be detained under the human smuggling bill, but once their statuses as refugees were established, they would be released from detention. (Press release, supra.)

Kenney also praised provisions on biometrics of the proposed Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, stating that the requirements would reduce identity theft and fraud. (Id.)

Reaction to Bill C-31 has been mixed. The government cites a number of commentators who call it a good move for building an efficient system for determining refugee status. Don Davies, a Member of Parliament, said in a February 16, 2012, broadcast:

We want a fast, fair system where we can give a sanctuary to people who need it quickly and we can weed out the people who don't have valid claims, get them through a fair process. And if they're not valid at the end of the day, deport them out of Canada swiftly. (Quoted in Press Release, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act Earning Rave Reviews (Feb. 22, 2012).)

Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer, speaking on the same date, also praised the proposed law:

Finally someone recognized that the open wallet approach of the past, offering free education, free medicare, and a welfare cheque to anyone who touched Canadian soil making a refugee claim was not the right thing to do. So I'm glad to see today that finally, after several years, someone has the political courage to take the political risk of saying, if you're from a European country and you can land in London or Paris or Berlin, fill out paperwork, and legally live there, work there, pay taxes there, you shouldn't be allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. (Id.)

Some observers, however, have been expressing concerns about the bill's possible impact on refugees. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers points to clause 19 of the bill, which, they say, could result in a person who had previously been given permanent resident status as a refugee losing that status if the government decides that they no longer need protection. (Kristen Shane, Refugee Lawyers Say Bill Would Create Conditional Permanent Residence, PARLIAMENT NOW: EMBASSY (Feb. 24, 2012).)

Rick Goldman, of the Canadian Council for Refugees, thought the new provision might particularly put asylees from Burundi, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka in jeopardy, as those countries may now be seen as safer than they were in the past. (Id.)