Bill C-97 – Changes to IRPA

CONCERNS REGARDING PROPOSED CHANGES IN BILL C-97

Dear Sir or Madam:

On behalf of residents and organizations in Manitoba who deal directly with immigrants and refugees, we have serious concerns regarding the amendments proposed in Bill C-97. The focus of the comments below relate to the changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (hereinafter IRPA) specifically. On a procedural note, however, we have serious concerns with the way that the Liberal Government is pushing for significant changes to Canadian laws without proper parliamentary debate.

Genuine Refugees in Manitoba

The vast majority of refugee claimants in Manitoba enter our jurisdiction after they have started an asylum claim in the United States. These claimants are from many countries, including Somalia, Djibouti, Nigeria, Venezuela, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Based on our collective experience, most of these claimants are, in fact, successful with their claims at the Immigration and Refugee Board (hereinafter “IRB”) and they are found to be genuine refugees. The highly skilled adjudicators at the IRB consider the claims based on sections 96 and 97 of IRPA. In addition, they assess the credibility of the claimants and they consider evidence from the United States and any other country where they have sought protection.

The proposed changes to Section 101.1 of IRPA will significant affect many claimants in Manitoba. Claimants who have made a claim for refugee protection in the United States and any of the Five Eyes countries will not be eligible to have their refugee claims heard at the IRB. Instead, Bill C-97 proposes that these individuals will have a risk assessment done as part of a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA).

We have concerns that the proposed changes will affect genuine refugees who are seeking the protection of Canada, in accordance with Canadian laws and our international obligations.

The Proposed Changes May be Unconstitutional

We have concerns that banning refugee claimants from the tribunal and, instead, having their risk assessment done by a PRRA Officer is unconstitutional and a breach of Charter Rights. As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Singh decision, the previous system that involved public servants making refugee decisions was unconstitutional; hence, the creation of the IRB.

We have concerns that many claimants in Manitoba will be in long-term limbo. Foreign nationals who are coming from so-called “moratorium countries” may be banned from filing a PRRA application. If they are banned from both the tribunal as well as the PRRA application, they will be living in Manitoba in limbo. They cannot be removed to their home countries and they cannot easily regularize their status. These individuals may be forced to make applications based on humanitarian and compassionate circumstances per Section 25 of IRPA. Currently, the processing time for that application is 30 months and these people will be long-term limbo during this time.

Potential Impact on Mental Health

We have concerns that the mental health of refugee claimants is not being sufficiently considered. All of us seek to provide the necessary support for individuals in Manitoba who are coming from countries where they may have experienced trauma, torture or persecution. The IRB has robust measures, including Chairperson’s Guidelines and the Adjudicators receive significant training on dealing with vulnerable persons and individuals who have faced trauma.

We have concerns that the proposed changes to not adequately consider the potential negative impact on the mental health who are coming to Canada seeking protection.

Positive Change

We live in a parliamentary democracy, based on debate and discussion. We have concerns that Bill C-97 has been tabled without due process. We would support changes to IRPA that adequately consider the circumstances of the individuals and the families that we assist on a daily basis.

As Manitobans, we are proud of Canada’s humanitarian tradition and we work hard to build our communities based on diversity and multiculturalism. The refugee determination system in Canada must also reflect our values to properly consider each claim and assess the merits of refugee claimants according to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Alastair Clarke – Clarke Immigration Law

Abdikheir Ahmed – Immigration Partnership Winnipeg

Lisa Forbes – Amnesty International Canada

Louise Simbadumwe – Amnesty International Canada

Dorota Blumczynska – Immigrant and Refugee Community of Manitoba (IRCOM)

Dr. Shauna Labman – Assistant Professor of Law, University of Manitoba

Ghezae Hagos – Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council

Bequie Lake – Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations

Carol Reimer (IRCOM)

Yahya Samatar – Former Refugee

Razak Iyal – Former Refugee

 

News: Separating Children

As reported, US authorities have been separating children from their parents as they enter the United States. Separating children is unjust and deplorable. The situation and the photos that have been coming out about this situation show the inhumanity and lack of protection for refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in the United States. This is an example, among many, that the United States is not a safe place for immigrants and the short-sighted policies from the President’s office to the state level to the local level.

Here at Clarke Immigration Law, we meet clients on a daily basis with stories of the injustice and discrimination that they face in the United States. Canada is not perfect but we do our best to help everyone who comes through our door.

Recently, we met with a father who is taking care of his young daughter by himself as the mother was deported by US authorities. This has been reported by the Winnipeg Free Press. This case is heart-breaking. The refugee claimant needs to be focusing on building his case for the Refugee Protection Division; instead, he has been figuring out how to care for his young daughter and worry about the mother who is currently in hiding.

For more details on this case and how separating children may have an impact, check out the WFP article. Here is an excerpt:

“If I go back, I’m in trouble,” he said in his Twi language. Ben and Blessing and her mother, Rose, flew from Ghana to Ecuador last year and made their way by land to Mexico. When the family crossed at Tijuana into the U.S. to make a refugee claim, the men were separated from the women and taken to separate detention facilities. Ben had been carrying Blessing, and the father and daughter were sent to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lockup for men in California, he said. Rose, he discovered, was deported back to Ghana.

[…]

The danger he faced going back to Ghana, he said, was worse than their separation from Rose. He became Blessing’s main caregiver — a non-traditional role for men in Ghana, he said, and one that’s been a challenge. They headed for Canada, and on Jan. 20, they crossed the border into Quebec to ask for refugee protection. Ben said he heard good things about Winnipeg and he and Blessing boarded a bus heading west. He got social assistance and legal aid. His lawyer said no date has been set for their Immigration and Refugee Board hearing, but he hopes it’s soon.

“I have serious concerns about the father, the child and the mother,” immigration lawyer Alastair Clarke said.

“In my personal experience with the father and child, they have genuine fear of returning to their home country. He has limited support and extremely limited language skills. He is working hard to request the necessary documents for his case, but he clearly needs to focus on taking care of his daughter,” Clarke said. “I also have significant concerns about the health of the mother. Separating a mother from her young child is a tragedy.”

If you can assist Ben & Blessing or if you know of similar cases, please contact our office immediately. 

 

Tribunal Advocacy Training

For the 2nd time, Alastair will be providing a training session to lawyers, representatives and advocates on advocating on behalf of clients at the tribunal. In particular, we will cover best practices when dealing with cases at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) – Western Region. This tribunal advocacy training session is being coordinated by the IRB and space is limited.

Details:

  • DATE: 12 June 2018
  • TIME: 11:30AM
  • ADDRESS: Legal Aid Manitoba Building, 4th floor

The deadline to RSVP is on 5 JUNE 2018 and space is limited. At the last training session, the room was completely packed and we had a good discussion. Since that time, there have been significant changes at the IRB, in particular how RPD hearings are scheduled and conducted. Two keys points that we will discuss:

  • Making an application to the RPD for Late Disclosure of Evidence
  • Making an application for submitting more than 100 pages of country condition evidence

The tribunal has been making changes to deal with the increasing numbers of refugee claimants in the Western Region. As advocates, we have a duty to best represent our clients and ensure they have the best chance of success with their applications. This tribunal advocacy training will include a section on Q & A with an experienced RPD Member.

Please note that this tribunal advocacy session is not a regular training session. This is the 2nd session in Winnipeg and the purpose is to increase the level of advocacy among representatives. The session is strictly confidential and all participants are encouraged to express any questions or concerns with the policies and procedures at the IRB.

Canada Flag Pins

We had a client, about a month ago, who was preparing in our office before his hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board. As we were leaving for the tribunal, he noticed Heavenly’s Canada Flag pin which she regularly wears on her lapel. He complimented her on it and, in turn, she gifted him the pin to give him good luck with his hearing. We got a positive decision on that day and, of course, the client was very happy.

Canada Flag pins

Since then, we contacted MP Jim Carr’s office and they have provided many new pins! So for anyone in downtown Winnipeg, feel free to come by to pick up a pin!

When I saw this new bag of Canada Flag pins, I actually felt quite nostalgic. I brought a bag of Canada Flag pins when I moved to Ecuador in 1993. While I was there, I handed them out to Ecuadorian, Colombian and Australian friends. They were extremely popular in the small city of Esmeraldas. I ran out of them very quickly and then I noticed that my friends would pass them around and trade them.

I also brought a small bag of pins with I moved to Tokyo to teach in a public Junior High School. I used the pins as rewards for students who did well on English assignments or tests. They were also very popular with my Japanese students. For them, it was not only an interesting international object that traveled to them from a far off land, it was also a badge of doing well in school. The trick was to try to get pins into different hands. I had a few students who were extremely good students and they would have earned all the pins.

At Clarke Immigration Law, we are going to give away these pins to all our clients who are preparing for their hearings. Hopefully it will also give them good luck and confidence!

CBC News: Expedited Processing

CBC News Reporter Karen Pauls published a piece today on the expedited processing of claims at the tribunal. We have had success with these procedures and they are open to certain applications that are made to the tribunal. As noted in the article, the average processing time for these cases can take 14 to 18 months and there is currently a significant backlog of cases. Through the special processing, some clients are able to access these procedures so they do not have to wait.

An excerpt from the CBC News article on expedited processing is below. The full article is posted on their website.Expedited Processing

The Immigration and Refugee Board is clearing about 160 claims per month using an expedited process that eliminates the need for hearings in straightforward refugee claims for people from seven countries.

It’s a “win-win situation” – for the IRB, which is already facing a backlog of refugee claims as a result of the flood of asylum seekers walking over the border this year – and for the people filing those claims, says Winnipeg lawyer Alastair Clarke.

“For the claimant, they essentially get two kicks at the can and they potentially have an early positive decision. Secondly, for the tribunal, because they save resources. They don’t have to have a hearing, they don’t have to expend additional time to hear oral evidence, and they can review a case based only on the documents,” Clarke said.

“Our job is to do our best to make sure all the potential issues are dealt with in the supporting documents. And once it gets to an adjudicator, it’s up to him or her to decide whether or not what we’ve submitted is sufficient to meet the test.”

If you believe that your case is suitable for expedited processing, please contact our office and book a consultation. 

 

Strangers in New Homelands Conference – 3 Nov 2017

Please note that Alastair Clarke will be on a panel at the Strangers in New Homelands Conference at CanadInns Polo Park in Winnipeg. He will be discussing Immigration Policies, Practices, and Canada’s Refugee Determination Process with his panelists, the Western Region Assistant Deputy Chairperson of the RPD (Vancouver) Karin Michnick and Dr. Shauna Labman, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law and the University of Manitoba.

Some of the issues the panel will cover include:

  • current procedures of claiming refugee status in Canada
  • the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA)
  • issues at the tribunal (IRB-RPD)
  • rights of appeal after a negative decision by an RPD Member
  • Overseas Protection
  • Private Sponsorships and refugees
  • Government Assisted Refugees
  • Secondary migration of resettled refugees

Questions are welcome and encouraged.

The program for the conference is 62 pages and we have included an excerpt below with details of the panel on Friday, November 3rd. If you would like a program (11MB), please contact that office. 

Here is a description of the Strangers in New Homelandsconference by the Conference Chair, Dr. Michael Baffoe:

We are delighted to welcome you all to the special tenth anniversary edition, of our annual conference, Strangers in New Homelands: Deconstructing and Reconstructing of ‘Home’ Among Immigrants and Refugees in the Diaspora.

This annual gathering of researchers, academics, and practitioners in the migration field, an idea mooted by Conference Chair Michael Baffoe (University of Manitoba), Dr. Lewis Asimeng-Boahene (Penn State University-Harrisburg) and Dr. Buster Ogbuagu (University of St. Francis, Joliet, IL) began modestly in 2008. The dream of growing that initial idea into a larger annual event bringing together critical stakeholders in the field of migration has really borne fruits and brought us to where we are today…ten years later. We are proud and satisfied for mooting this idea and, with the help of many of the people gathered here, especially members of the Conference Committee, for making this event a success.

This year’s conference is being held at a very critical time in world migration history. World migration is now a reality. The world has been witnessing unprecedented displacement and movements of people from their homes into other countries, especially to Europe seeking safety as well as better life conditions. The images of these mass movements are sometimes nerve-wrecking and difficult to watch. This is a new form of diasporic movement in which desperate people are challenging the existing national borders of nation states.

These challenges have brought out the best and worse in some of the nation states: some have received and welcomed these desperate people with open arms while others have shut their borders with barbed wires leaving the desperate people to their fate. Erecting barbed wires and pushing desperate people into the cold will not stop people from moving to seek new homelands. Driven by push-pull factors, the concept of geography of opportunity has taught us that erecting barbed wires or “beautiful walls” made of concrete or steel, would not solve the problem. It is therefore pertinent to find innovative ways for meeting these new challenges. As Karen Armstrong succinctly puts it, “our differences define us, but our common humanity can redeem us”. The societies into which the migrants seek to settle, and the migrants need each other for their mutual benefits. The diversity that migrants bring should therefore be seen as assets, which can enrich the host societies as well.

The exchanges of ideas and discussions that will take place at this conference will be essential for those who design and implement immigration and refugee policies and settlement, as well as those who provide services to, and work with, immigrant and refugee groups. These exchanges are more crucial than ever and we should continue to engage in these discussions as well as engage policy makers and governments to embrace the reality of world migration and the challenges and opportunities that the phenomenon offers.

For those of you who were here in previous years, we welcome you back to this tenth anniversary edition of this annual gathering. For those of you participating for the first time, we welcome you to this conference, and to the Province of Manitoba. We hope to see you all again at subsequent conferences until we solve, or at least attenuate, the lingering issues and challenges that confront migrants around the world every day.

Strangers in New Homelands Program (excerpt):
Strangers in New Homelands

IRB Wait Times

Based on the backlog at the tribunal, our clients have experienced significant wait times for their hearings to be heard and decided. The IRB has been overwhelmed by new cases. This has been well reported in the news. Currently, most cases at the IRB are being postponed for “administrative reasons”. Please note that this does not put the case at risk and counsel do not have the power to set new hearing dates. Where an applicant or claimant has an urgent situation, counsel can make a request to the IRB for consideration.IRB Wait Times

Global News was in our office reporting on this issue. In case you missed it, here is a link to the story.

A reporter from Global, Timm Bruch visited our office to get more information about the wait times at the IRB. Here is an excerpt from his story:

The number of asylum seekers in Manitoba waiting to hear if they can stay in their new homes is going up.

According to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 40,000 asylum seekers are currently backlogged to have their refugee claims heard.

The number has skyrocketed in recent years due to federal funding, staff limitations, and an intense influx of those coming to Canada through non-border crossings in recent years.

Based on our numbers, this is a very serious issue and we are working with staff at the IRB.

Clarke said Tuesday many of his clients are feeling anxious due to the uncertainty the delay brings.

“While he’s waiting and doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s worried about what might happen,” Clarke said. “He’s worried he might have to go back, he’s worried about his family in his home country.”

24,000 claims are processed each year — up from 20,000 previously — but the Immigration and Refugee Board said on Tuesday that it’s just not enough.

The winter months in 2016 brought an influx of asylum seekers to Manitoba’s borders, and the number in 2017 has already started increasing as the weather gets colder: 45 people have already crossed into the province this month, just ten days into October.

We work closely with the tribunal on all our files. For hearings and appeals, please let our office aware of your situation and we may be able to contact the tribunal. We treat every case as a unique situation and we advocate for our clients. We attend hearings at the IRB – all levels, including the RPD, the ID and the IAD – frequently and we assist clients with every type of immigration appeal.

If you or your contacts have upcoming hearings at the tribunal, please contact our office and we may be able to assist.

“Seeking Asylum: How ‘very skilled’ asylum seekers are contributing to Manitoba’s economy”

FROM GLOBALNEWS.CA

WINNIPEG — It’s a dangerous trek asylum seekers are making by the hundreds as they flee a fear of deportation and look to call Canada home.

It’s a story that is very familiar to Yahya Samatar. The Somalian now lives and works in Winnipeg after illegally crossing into the country in August 2015.

“That decision was quite difficult,” Samatar said. “But it was the only option I had.”

Samatar was a human rights activist in his home country and helped young children get out of the militia. However, it was a tough job that put his life in danger daily.

[…]

How Things Have Changed

For many of the 350 refugees seeking asylum in Manitoba since January 2017, it will likely take much longer than the average 60 days for their claim to be approved or denied.

The tribunal schedules time for two claims to be heard each day, one seating in the morning and one in the afternoon.

However, depending on how complicated cases are they could take much longer.

Immigration lawyers handling many of the cases in Winnipeg are overwhelmed.

Alastair Clarke has more than 80 open cases waiting to be heard by the tribunal and said many that have dates are being cancelled.

“Right now, I have hearings once or twice per week,” Clarke said. “These cases are moving through the system so slowly and so many of these hearings are being postponed.”

Last week, Clarke said five of the seven hearings set to go before the tribunal were postponed and no new dates were given.

Read the full article…

Presentation: Refugee Crisis in Manitoba

Please note that Alastair Clarke accepted an invitation to present at Menno Simons College tomorrow on the Refugee Crisis in Manitoba. Regular readers of this blog will know that Clarke Immigration Law has provided legal services to many of the refugee claimants who are coming to Canada from the United States. Many of this people, including women and children, are crossing on foot.

The event itself is from 12:30-1:20. Each presenter has 10 minutes to share on some aspect of the current migrant refugee crisis affecting out city and surrounding areas.

Though our event is over lunchtime, we are only able to provide a snack.

Alastair will be talking about  areas of refugee law:

  1. How the Safe Third Country Agreement is putting the people at risk
  2. An overview of the relevant sections of IRPA

The main focus of the presentation is to answer questions from the public and to engage discussion on these important issues. There has been a huge increase in the numbers of people who have been entering Manitoba and this refugee crisis is only going to get worse as the weather gets warmer and it becomes easier to cross. In addition, there is no indication that the American government is taking any steps to help the refugee claimants on their side of their border.

Advocates concerned about unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Canada

FROM THEWESTERNSTAR.COM

Immigration lawyer Alastair Clarke calls it a “travesty of justice.”

In Buffalo, N.Y., a client is currently living in a shelter, desperately awaiting news about how she might be reunited with her three young children, all under the age of 10.

The woman fled the small East-African country of Burundi with her kids and landed in the United States with a visitor’s visa, hopeful they could all eventually claim asylum in Canada, where her sister-in-law is a permanent resident, living in Winnipeg.

But when they did attempt to cross the border by bus it became clear another difficult journey was ahead.

Read the full article…