Canada is preparing to implement the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act later this year. The law is ostensibly designed to protect Canada’s refugee law by weeding out false asylum claimants. The provisions of the new law include the following:
- The immigration minister would have the power to designate which countries are safe without a committee including human rights experts.
- Rejected refugee claimants from “safe” countries would no longer be able to appeal the decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board (the administrative body that reviews asylum claims).
- Claimants from countries on the safe country list would have limited appeals rights and limited ability to apply for compassionate or humanitarian relief.
The law seems primarily targeted at the Roma (a/k/a Gypsies) who have been coming to Canada from Hungary in large numbers and requesting asylum. According to the Canadian Immigration Minister, “almost 95 percent of Hungarian asylum claims [are] abandoned, withdrawn or rejected.” The Minister states that “Countries whose nationals have an acceptance rate of 25% or less, or where 60% or more of claimants from a country have abandoned or withdrawn their claims … would be subject to designation” as a safe country, thus making it more difficult for them to successfully claim asylum.
My first question about this new law is whether it is necessary. Under the current system, people who can return safely will presumably have their cases denied anyway. The new law is designed to streamline the system to allow people from certain countries to be deported more quickly. Also, if people from “safe” countries know that their claims will likely be denied, they may decide not to seek asylum in Canada in the first place. Proponents of the law claim that all this will save government resources. But I wonder how many people will actually be dissuaded from coming and–for those who do seek asylum–how much money the government will actually save under the new, streamlined system. Currently, 95% of asylum claimants from Hungary are unsuccessful, yet Hungarians keep coming to Canada. If the current (very high) denial rate does not dissuade people from coming, how will the new law? Further, those who seek asylum from “safe” countries are still entitled to certain procedures and benefits. It is unclear how much the Canadian government will save by marginally reducing the protections available to such asylum seekers.
Assuming the law is needed, how effective will it be? The idea of determining in advance whether a country is safe seems antithetical to international refugee law. Someone once said that no country is safe for everyone all the time. If 95% of Roma claims are denied, what type of harm do the remaining 5% face? Also, just because a country has a low overall denial rate for asylum claims does not mean that it is safe. To cite an example from our side of the border, the denial rate for Mexicans is quite high (about 98%), but certain people from Mexico–journalists and human rights activists–face real danger there. Another example–while the overall asylum grant rate for Jamaicans is low, the grant for Jamaicans claiming asylum based on sexual orientation is relatively high. My point is that designating a country “safe” just because the overall grant rate is low will likely result in legitimate asylum seekers being rejected and returned to face persecution.
Despite these (and other) doubts, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act will go into effect shortly. We will then start to get a clearer idea of whether the law will save resources and how it will affect asylum seekers.