Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Illegal Refugees and Short-term Memory Loss

I am proud to live in a country that offers sanctuary, hope and opportunity to refugees from around the world. I believe that we have a moral duty to take in as many legitimate refugees as is economically and socially viable. I have no doubt that most refugees are good, honest people who come here with the intent of building better lives for themselves and their families. We should feel good about welcoming them to our great nation. Many of them make better Canadians than some of the people who were born here.

However, Canada’s refugee system is not without its flaws and certainly not beyond reproach. And like all public institutions, it should not be above having a nobody like me poke a little fun at it or offer suggestions as to how it can be improved.

Security is on everyone’s mind these days, what with both U.S. Presidential candidates making the war on terrorism a main plank in their election campaigns. So, it was no surprise to me to read in the papers that the Canadian government is proposing some unprecedented security measures aimed at documenting and tracking new refugees.

As far as I can determine, the proposed changes involve having refugees fingerprinted and photographed. Personally, I have some concerns about this - the slippery slope and all that. If the government gets away with this, the next thing we know it will be out there trying to find the 36,000 illegal refugees and immigrants who were ordered out of Canada or who never showed up for their hearings. Or maybe it will actually start rejecting all claimants who have criminal records or participated in terrorism or war crimes elsewhere. How draconian can you get?

However, while I can poke fun at our dysfunctional refugee system, we must not assume that all illegal refugees are undeserving of our help. For example, some illegal refugees suffer from severe short-term memory loss and need our empathy and assistance. Think about it – some of them have sufficient identification to get on a plane elsewhere, but by the time the plane arrives in Canada, they have lost their identification. Obviously the only thing for a compassionate nation like Canada to do with these memory-impaired people is to set them free in Canadian society as long as they promise to show up for a hearing a year later. Trouble is, they sometimes forget about their hearing too. Being so forgetful must be a terrible burden to bear.

I have read that there are approximately 30,000 refugees accepted in Canada every year. The number who actually arrive here every year is likely far higher. The overall cost of Canada's refugee system is estimated to be over a billion dollars a year. Some of this money, I'm sure, is well spent.

Emphasis on the word “some”.

Unfortunately, Canada seems to be spending too much money defending and protecting thousands of dishonest, unscrupulous or questionable refugees who arrive here illegally and often never leave.

All our illegal refugee problems can, of course, be traced back to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, foisted on Canada by Pierre Trudeau in 1982. Before the Charter, Canada was doing just fine, especially in dealing with its refugees. They would come and quickly be accepted or rejected. Those rejected would be deported. No muss, no fuss, no multi-billion dollar stable of lawyers, social workers and industry hangers-on. No lost refugees. Back then the system served Canada. Today, it serves only the refugees. Thanks to an ill-founded and baffling Supreme Court interpretation of the Charter, anyone and everyone who sets foot on Canadian soil and claims refugee status is given total Charter protection and allowed endless appeals and complete access to all Canada's social programs including free lawyers, social workers, employment placement, housing, schooling, healthcare and on and on.

There are, by some estimations almost 900 refugees and over 100 immigrants living in Canada who are suspected of war crimes and genocidal activities elsewhere. I cannot understand why the rights of these illegal and criminal refugees should take precedence over the rights of Canadians? Why are they still here? Something is definitely very wrong.

In any event, I've given this issue some thought and would like to offer these four simple suggestions that, I feel, would go a long way towards fixing our refugee system.

1) invoke the notwithstanding clause and override the Supreme Court’s 'Singh' decision that gave illegal refugees immediate access to full Charter protection and endless appeals. Until their claims are approved, illegal refugees should be treated as guests in our nation, not family members. (Obviously, the court erred in its interpretation. The Charter was not written as a blank canvas for our politicized Supreme Court judges to fill with their ideological colors. It was written by Canadians for Canadians. It was not intended to, and should not, provide unconditional Charter protection to every foreign person who illegally sets foot on our soil.)

2) Apprehend the missing illegal refugees and deport them without a hearing. They have offended Canadians with their insolence and undermined the credibility of the entire refugee system. We must make all reasonable efforts to find them and expedite their exit.

3) Do not allow any refugees to serve in any position of authority anywhere in our refugee system. We don’t let convicted criminals sit on parole boards; why then would we let refugees judge other refugees? This comparison may be a bit extreme, but the conflict of interest, in both cases, real or perceived, should be a matter for concern and debate.

4) Re-engineer the current system. The new system would consist of several independent mobile teams and a home office in Canada. The teams would have access to jets. They would go to areas where the refugees are, and set up base there. They would work with local officials and Canadian Consulates to find suitable candidates; research, interview and document them, and ship them to Canada where they would be settled. All other refugees, arriving illegally and unannounced outside this system, would be detained, given one hearing and then either accepted or deported. It would not take long before potential illegal refugees in other nations realized that Canada no longer offers a free ride. There would be no endless appeals and lawyer's fees, no lost refugees, and far less uncertainty with respect to the validity of the claims. With this would come a new era of credibility for the system.

Finally, and most attractively, since the need for their services would be significantly reduced, refugee lawyers would be offered a free, one-way, airline ticket to anywhere else in the world.

Question: What do you call 1,000 refugee lawyers banished to Uzbekistan?
Answer: A good start.


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