While a politician may wish something to be true, simply saying it in the House of Commons does not make it so.
Bill Blair, the newly minted minister for border security, made a claim about the refugee system in question period Thursday that cannot be supported by the available facts.
“The system is working,” he said.
He was responding to questions about a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which pegged the cost of “irregular” — for which read “illegal” — migration at $340 million for the cohort of migrants who arrived in Canada in 2017-18 – a cost-per-migrant to the federal government of $14,321. (That does not include provincial expenses, which Ontario claims come to around $200 million. The PBO estimated a similar amount for Quebec. The federal government has reimbursed the provinces a total of $50 million.)
Technically, Blair is correct. The refugee system is working — in much the same way the Russian military’s Antonov Flying Tank worked during the Second World War.
In that case, the plane could leave the ground and drop a tank by parachute, albeit without crew, fuel or armaments. It worked. It just didn’t work well — and the project was rapidly abandoned.
- Average cost of asylum-seeker who enters Canada irregularly is over $14,000, budget officer says
- Federal government has spent $2.3M to house asylum seekers in Toronto hotels, some rooms still booked until January
- John Ivison: Will the Canadian consensus on immigration fall victim to Liberal bungling on border-crossers?
The federal government should adopt a similar approach and go back to the drawing board.
The PBO report is revealing, and not just for the cost estimates. In fact, it emerges in a footnote the costs are likely more than $14,321 per migrant — Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada estimates the number at $19,000.
But during its investigation, the PBO team elicited some interesting responses from government departments that show how bizarre the migrant story has become.
Another footnote revealed that Canada Border Services Agency officers have identified a phenomenon where one claimant enters Canada illegally and acts as an “anchor relative” for other family members. Those family members can then enter at a port of entry and not be considered illegal migrants. (The PBO asked for data but CBSA said it is not currently being tracked).
But think about that for a minute — a practice Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has called a “loophole within a loophole.”
This means a migrant can cross into Canada from the U.S. between official entry points, avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement that would have otherwise made them ineligible. (The agreement between Canada and the U.S. states that migrants seeking refugee status must make their claim in the first “safe” country they arrive in — either Canada or the U.S.)
Once a claim has been made, the migrant can access Canada’s generous welfare system as he or she navigates the asylum claims process that gives them multiple hearings and appeals. In the meantime, they can effectively sponsor other members of their family, who can then arrive as regular migrants — also avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement.
Blair tried to sanitize this blatant abuse of process by pointing out that 40 per cent of migrants crossing illegally are children — postulating that this is a question of humanity and human rights obligations.
But due process should work both ways, and in this case the integrity of the system is being violated.
The anchor relative provision does not just apply to nuclear families but to parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.
The obvious solution is to close both loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement — amend it so it applies between official points of entry, and more tightly define who migrants can bring in.
But there appears to have been little progress in persuading the U.S. to change an agreement that sees people it clearly does not want within its borders effectively deporting themselves.
There are other reforms that could be undertaken. Experts who have looked at the system talk about the “failure of finality” — the endless appeals process that effectively gives migrants a new hearing at the Refugee Appeal Division if their claim is rejected by the Refugee Protection Division, and still another one at the Federal Court if the appeal fails.
The Liberals have done little beyond what they do best — throwing money at the problem. In response to the new arrivals, budget 2018 allocated $173.2 million over two years to “manage the border.”
But the PBO report gives lie to Blair’s claim the “system is working.”
In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Immigration and Refugee Board had capacity to hear 24,000 claims. During that period there were 52,142 new asylum claims, of which illegal migrants represented 23,215. The system was flooded with claims beyond its capacity, creating a backlog of 64,929 cases.
More than half of the refugee claims were made by irregular migrants from Nigeria and Haiti. That is not a dog-whistle for swivel-eyed racists, or “fear-mongering,” as one senior Liberal put it. It is a fact.
They are flooding from those countries because word has got out that the Canadian system can be gamed with great ease — that an entire family can set up in the Great White North for the cost of a plane ticket from Lagos to New York City and a bus ride to the Quebec border.