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Who gets to decide what countries are 'safe?' - Metro US

Who gets to decide what countries are ‘safe?’

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is well-intentioned. However, I don’t think he has carefully thought through one of the key proposals in his refugee reform bill.

Kenney wants to discourage people who are citizens of safe and democratic countries from reaching our shores and making bogus refugee claims, which will allow them to stay and work here, and possibly even take advantage of our health and social services.

I am sure we are all on board with him on that.

He wants to see these people gone as quickly as possible. And so, he proposes to create two lines for refugees; a regular line where people from “un-safe” countries (perhaps Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) will have up to two chances to appeal a refusal of their asylum claim and an express line for people from “safe and democratic” countries (perhaps, the U.S., Mexico, France, etc.) who would only have one chance to appeal a refusal. It is proposed that the Immigration and Refugee Board will continue to hear all of these claims but that it will do so in two months instead of the nineteen months it is currently taking.

Who will be deciding which countries are “safe and democratic” and which are not?

Kenney wants this job.

I think this idea is nothing short of crazy, not for any reasons whatsoever relating to the rights of refugees but, because it will unleash a torrent of foreign policy and international trade issues for Canada that I don’t believe have been properly considered by anyone. I am strengthened in my view by the fact that the government has not even acknowledged this potential problem, let alone offered any solutions for it.

If this proposal is adopted, no doubt the U.S. will be the first country designated as “safe,” since the IRB almost always rejects American claims and because the U.S. is our biggest trading partner, a member of NAFTA, and our closest ally. However, in 2009 the IRB accepted the claims of seven American “refugees.”

What will Kenney do when Mexico, a constitutional democracy and also a NAFTA partner, comes knocking for Kenney’s designation that it is a “safe and democratic” country? While that may sound like a natural to most, the IRB accepted 516 out of about 6,000 Mexican refugee claims processed in 2009. What will Kenney, say “safe” or “unsafe”?

How about China? Officially, “Canada is seeking to broaden its relationship with that country at all levels.” In 2008, Canada exported $10.5 billion of goods to China, one of the world’s largest economies. What will Kenney do if China asks him to designate it a “safe” country? In 2009, the IRB accepted 990 of the 1,700 (i.e. 57 per cent) refugee claims it received from China. Clearly, China can’t be considered safe…but who is going to tell that to the Chinese?

Israel is a vibrant democracy, one of Canada’s closest allies, and enjoys excellent relations with the Tory government. In 2008, fourteen refugee claims were accepted from this country. So… safe or not safe?

If Kenney wants bogus claimants out of Canada fast, all he has to do is pick up the phone and call the chairman of the IRB and ask him what resources are needed to pick up the pace on frivolous claims. I am certain that all we need is some heavy lifting and not a new classification system that will force us to classify every country on the planet including our close and our not-so-close trading partners and political allies.

Presently, if the IRB grants asylum to a person from a safe country, our immigration minister can distance himself from the decision since it was made by an independent tribunal. Under the current system he can express his disapproval by appealing the decision to the Federal Court and even point to Canada’s independent judiciary for any embarrassing decisions. Under this new proposal, such decisions will draw heavy and persistent political pressure to designate or undesignated a country.

I have no doubt that Kenney is fashioning for himself and his successors a job that they will soon regret holding because of the enormous implications a misclassification can have on Canada’s foreign policy and on its international trade.


– Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email metro@migrationlaw.com

Correction – April 14, 2010, 9:44 a.m. EST: A previous version of this story mistakenly referred to Kenney’s predecessors, when it was intended to refer to his successors. It has since been corrected.

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