Proposed changes to Canada's refugee system designed to crack down on "bogus" claimants would save B.C. taxpayers almost $100 million over five years, the federal government claims.
However, the government is planning to achieve those savings by stripping away the rights of vulnerable people who come to this country seeking protection, according to a University of B.C. immigration law professor.
The pending legislation, announced on Thursday by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, aims to process claims from countries deemed "safe" more quickly so that illegitimate refugees are removed within a shorter period of time.
On average, Kenney said it takes 4½ years from the initial claim to remove a failed refugee claimant from the country. The government has said under the new rules that it will take 45 days to process an application from a "safe" country and 216 from other countries, but this does not include the time to removal.
It's expected the move will assist in dealing with a huge spike in claims by Hungary's Roma population. Last year, the number of refugee claims from Hungary nearly doubled, to 4,409.
The legislation also would block claimants from so-called "safe" countries from appealing a negative decision and it would eliminate a committee of experts who would advise the government on which countries to place on that list, which has not been formulated yet.
"Canada's asylum system is bro-ken," Kenney said, after introducing Bill C-31 in the House of Commons on Thursday. "Requirements are needed to ensure the quicker removal of bogus claimants."
The omnibus bill also lumps in legislation that would grant legal authority to collect biometric data - fingerprints and digital photos - from people entering Canada on a visitor visa, work permit or study visa starting next year.
The proposed legislation is expected to save British Columbia $98.7 million over five years as a result of reduced social service expenditures for asylum claimants, specifically for education and social assistance, because claim-ants will now spend less time in the asylum system, Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesman Remi Lariviere said in a statement.
However, the B.C. ministry of social development, which administers social assistance, said it does not track clients based on refugee or immigrant status.
It would mainly affect refugee claims from the European Union, of which B.C. received 150 last year out of a total of almost 1,200, Lariviere said.
Many of the EU refugee claims come from the Roma population, who face widespread discrimination in many parts of the continent. In one widely reported incident in the Czech Republic in 2009, a two-year-old Roma girl was nearly burned to death when suspected neo-Nazis set fire to the family home.
The vast majority of refugee claim-ants from the EU - between 90 and 95 per cent - withdrew or abandoned their claims last year, Kenney said at a news conference in Ottawa, adding that he believes Canada's generous social benefits represent a significant "pull factor" for such claimants. More-over, people fearing persecution in a country such as Hungary can easily move to one of 26 other EU countries, he said.
However, the ability to move around within the EU is contingent upon employment and refugees fleeing persecution would not be able to gain protection in another country without a job, said UBC law professor Catherine Dauvergne.
"So if you are from a persecuted group - and this really is what our Federal Court has been finding in regard to the Roma - that there are some people that are simply persecuted to the extent that they can't establish a viable life anywhere in Europe."
"Instead of tackling that head on and dealing with it in a very effective way, they've chosen to deal with that in a way that will affect the human rights of individual claimants and that's just cowardly on their part," she said. "How many people is it reasonable for us to send somewhere to be killed? Five per cent? Ten per cent?"
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