Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was absolutely right when he imposed visa requirements on visitors from the Czech Republic and Mexico. Canada was being pummelled with thousands of refugee claimants that virtually no other country in the world would allow to make claims.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was equally correct when he told Mexican President Felipe Calderon that the reason why visas had become necessary was because Canada’s refugee system encouraged bogus claims and had to be changed.
It has been clear since the current refugee determination was put in place nearly two decades ago that it is highly dysfunctional. While the auditor general of Canada, among others, has documented its shortcomings in detail, no one has been prepared to take on the powerful Canadian refugee lobby, which keeps insisting we are far too stingy when it comes to accepting those seeking asylum.
We are the most generous country in the world in welcoming refugees. We accept 50 per cent of those who make claims in Canada (compared to an average of 12 to 15 per cent for other Western countries) and on a per capita basis we grant refugee status to four or five times the number that others do. We also provide the most generous package of benefits — a fact that makes us a highly attractive destination for asylum shoppers.
The problems with the current system are many. To begin with, we allow far too many people to make claims, thus clogging the system and slowing down the processing of claims that have merit.
We also need to reduce the multitude of appeals and reviews available to failed claimants to a single substantive reappraisal of their case. Under the current system they are able to avoid removal for years by means of serial reviews and appeals. All of these should be bundled into a single one-stop process so that those whose claims were rejected know quickly if they will be allowed to stay here permanently or will be removed without delay if the review is not favourable.
Whether the government will be able to make any substantive changes to refugee policy remains to be seen. The opposition parties have not been co-operative when it comes to reforming the system and, in fact, have been attempting to complicate it further by adding yet a further layer of appeal without first clearing up the existing mess.
Canadians, however, are increasingly aware that the refugee system is badly in need of a complete overhaul and those who try to block it could well pay a price in terms of electoral support.