No refugee determination system will ever be perfect. There will always be those who try to game it, as well as many more who cannot access it at all. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s refugee reforms, aimed at making the process more efficient and decisive, are generally good. If implemented, they will improve an unwieldy asylum program. There are, however, legitimate concerns about a lack of due process in the new bill, known as Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.
The legislation rightly focuses on weeding out claimants who are not genuine, and stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries such as Mexico and Hungary that are democracies with respect for basic rights and freedoms. Last year, the number of refugee claims from Hungary doubled to 4,900; many are Roma. The acceptance rate is only about two per cent. Following a spike in asylum claims from Mexico, Ottawa imposed a visa in 2009, which has been the source of great irritation for all Mexicans, with good reason.
Fast-tracking refugee claims from these countries, and ensuring failed claimants are promptly deported, is an excellent way to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse. The bill will also implement biometric identification, such as fingerprints and photos, for people who apply for visitor’s visas. This welcome change will guard against the use of false identities.
However, Mr. Kenney’s decision to eliminate a right of appeal for all refugees from a designated list of “safe countries” is problematic. Critics are concerned it could result in the persecution of genuine refugees. The new bill has also eliminated a committee of experts which was meant to advise the government on which countries should be on the “safe country” list. This is unfortunate, and opens the process to political pressure. “If you have to have a safe country list, input from independent experts would give it more credence,” notes Sharry Aiken, a law professor at Queen’s University.
Mr. Kenney’s opponents are irked that in introducing the bill, the minister reversed many of the compromises he had agreed to in an earlier version, which was passed under a Conservative minority government in 2010.
This is to be expected in politics. But it is a shame some of the better ideas didn’t survive. The best asylum system isn’t just efficient and transparent, but errs on the side of caution in not sending back people to countries where they could be persecuted.