Canadian Council for Refugees on proposed amendments to IRPA

The Canadian Council on Refugees (CCR) finds fault with proposed amendments to the IRPA tabled by the federal government (as part of the Budget bill, C-50) on March 14/08. In particular, the impact on children with regard to changes in Canada’s obligations to consider humanitarian applications from outside of Canada: From today’s CCR press release:

“These amendments take away the right to have an application for humanitarian consideration examined, even though this is the only option under the immigration law for many people, including some children seeking to be reunited with their parents,” said Elizabeth McWeeny, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “Again and again when we point out gaps in the immigration law, Citizenship and Immigration Canada tells us that humanitarian and compassionate applications are the recourse. What kind of a recourse will it be, if visa officers can simply discard the application without even examining it?”

The following are two situations where the law does not provide children with a right to family reunification and humanitarian and compassionate applications are the only recourse:

  • Under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, separated refugee children in Canada cannot apply for family reunification with their parents and siblings who are outside Canada. The only way for these children to be reunited with their parents and siblings is through humanitarian and compassionate consideration.
  • The excluded family member rule (Regulation 117(9)(d)) keeps many children unfairly separated from their parents. The only way for affected families to explain why they should be able to reunite in Canada is through a humanitarian and compassionate application.

“Canada has an obligation, under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to consider the best interests of the child in any decision taken affecting a child. This obligation is reflected in the provisions in the Act relating to humanitarian and compassionate applications (section 25). With the proposed amendment, visa officers would no longer be required to consider the best interests of the child”.

Amendments to IRPA

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has released a statement about amendments the federal government tabled yesterday to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. From their news release:

“On March 14, 2008, the Government of Canada introduced legislative amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to modernize the immigration system, to ensure that families are reunited faster and skilled workers arrive sooner.

“One of the challenges facing our immigration system today is the large number of people waiting in the queue. This is especially a problem in the skilled worker category which makes up most of the backlog.

“Under the proposed measures, Citizenship and Immigration Canada would have greater flexibility in processing new applications, especially from skilled workers.

“The legislation is intended to provide greater flexibility in addressing a range of labour market needs. It will not apply to refugees and does not affect our objectives related to family reunification.

“Ultimately, this will result in reduced wait times and improved service. It will also help manage the growth of the backlog of applications.

“Once passed, the new measures will apply to applications received on or after February 27, 2008.

“Those who applied prior to February 27, 2008, will not be subject to the new measures and will be dealt with fairly under the existing rules”.

What do these amendments mean for children and families? In the FAQ, it says that “the new rules will “allow us to get the people we need” and “allow the Department to select among the new applications and choose those that best meet Canada’s labour market needs”. The FAQs assure Canadians that “The Department will maintain its commitment to the broad objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—supporting Canada’s economy and competitiveness, family reunification and protecting those in need. The legislative amendments are intended to respond to Canada’s labour market needs. It will not apply to refugees and is not intended to affect our objectives related to family reunification”.

The FAQ says the federal government will keep Canadian informed about the amendments through postings to the CIC website and the Canada Gazette.

Here’s the official transcripts from the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. Edited Hansard, Number 067. Friday, March 14, 2008

Mr. David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government is so desperate to close the door on immigrants that it will ignore the painful mistakes of previous Conservative governments that tried to do the very same thing. Diefenbaker tried to shut out immigrants by capping the system only to abandon his plan a month later because his policies were short-sighted and misguided.

Why does the minister insist on closing Canada’s doors to the newcomers we desperately need to fuel our labour and population growth even though history shows this is absolutely the wrong approach?

Hon. Diane Finley (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is absolutely wrong. In fact, last year this Conservative government welcomed more immigrants to Canada than has been done in almost 100 years.

Not only are we doing more, we are doing it better. In the family reunification class we have made that a priority and now cases are getting processed 20% to 40% faster than they did under the previous government. We are making great strides in cleaning up the Liberals’ immigration mess.

Mr. David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Lib.): Some progress, Mr. Speaker. The backlog has increased by 100,000 in 26 months. I would ask the minister to get to work and not by closing the doors on immigrants.

[Translation] Let us be clear. The Conservatives say that Canada has received 429,000 newcomers, but that number has been falsely inflated by temporary workers and students. Why is the government trying to distract people from its plan to significantly reduce the number of newcomers by fudging the numbers and tooting its own horn about its pathetic record on immigration?

Hon. Diane Finley (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC): Mr. Speaker, our government has two objectives. The first is to bring more newcomers here to fill jobs and be reunited with their families. The second is to do it faster.

Let us contrast that with the Liberals’ record on immigration. They ballooned the backlog from 50,000 to 800,000. They took processing times from three to six months to three to six years. They voted against reducing the head tax that they brought in. They voted against launching the foreign credentials referral office. We are fixing the Liberals’ immigration mess.

Through the eyes of a child: Refugee children speak about violence

The Child Rights Information Network regular e-bulletin has announced the availability of a new resource entitled Through the eyes of a child – refugee children speak about violence.

From CRIN: “Life for any refugee can be difficult; life for a child refugee is doubly difficult. As one young refugee told the UN refugee agency: ‘We are always living in fear’.”

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees organized a series of workshops over 3 years on the issues facing refugee children in 8 countries in Southern African. The workshops involved refugee children, honouring the United Convention on the Rights of the Child article 12 on the child’s right to participate.

UNHCR used a participatory assessment approach, involving children through art, asking children to express themselves through drawings.

“UNHCR sought to give refugee children a voice in defining and resolving their problems, and to ensure that their voice was heard by adults. Thus an important outcome of the participatory assessments was that the attention of camp and related personnel, as well as parents and caretakers, was drawn to the needs and rights of children and their obligation to fulfil them,” the report said.” The study concluded that the greatest impact of the participatory assessments was to give a voice to the children, which increased their self-confidence and the respect they received from adults. Field staff report concrete improvements in the lives of children and the approach is now being used by UNHCR in other areas of the world”.

For more information, contact: United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Case Postale 2500, CH-1211 Geneva 2 Depot, Switzerland, Tel: +41.22.739.8111.

The refugee forum: New program at Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre

The Refugee Forum is a new program of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa. It is funded by the Maytree Foundation. The Forum will study and comment on Canada’s asylum system and address research, analysis and communication.

From the web-page: “The ultimate objective of the Forum is to develop and promote positive improvements to Canada’s asylum system as well as to raise public awareness of refugee issues”.

See the Refugee Forum web-page for more information.

Your right to education: A handbook for refugees and displaced communities

US-based Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, with funding from the Pearson Foundation, has released a publication aimed at children and their teachers on every child’s right to education.

Your Right to Education is a second in a series developed to improve access to quality education for displaced communities. The first book, Right to Education during Displacement: A resource for organizations working with refugees and internally displaced persons, was developed for international and local organizations, the United Nations and governments working with displaced communities.

The book is illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Coretta Scott King Honor Award-winner. The book has been translated into several languages. For information on the handbook, including where and how to download it, see the Child Rights Information Network website/webpage.

York University summer course on refugee issues

The Centre for Refugee Studies at York University in Toronto is holding a summer course on refugee issues from June 7-14, 2008.

From the website, this description:

“The course is designed for academic and field-based practitioners working in the area of forced migration. Participants typically include government officials, non-governmental personnel, university faculty, and graduate students”.

Topics proposed for this year’s summer course include: the root causes of forced migration, refugee status and definition, human rights, and resettlement. I did not see any specific reference on children, parents or families, but I hope that the course will address issues related to refugee children, parents, and families or at least that students of the course raise them.

More from the course website:

“The summer course provides an interdisciplinary, interactive and experiential approach to the study of forced migration. Through attending lectures and related small group sessions, course participants develop a deepened understanding of the political, economic, social and cultural contexts of forced migration, and the major state and non-state institutions involved in refugee protection and advocacy”.

Students in the course are involved in simulated refugee hearings held at the Immigration and Refugee Board in Toronto. Students take on different roles and conduct mock hearings.

For more information, including costs, location, and applications, see the website.