Buried deep inside the 392 pages of Bill C-97, the budget implementation bill, is a package of amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would turn decades of Canadian refugee policy on its head.
The changes would disqualify from consideration refugee claimants who had previously made claims in “a country other than Canada.” (Also ineligible: those whose claims had already been rejected in Canada, or who had been granted refugee protection elsewhere.) What is more, this would apply even to those already on our soil, seeking asylum.
Ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark 1985 ruling in Singh v. Canada, refugee claimants under the protection of Canadian law cannot be deported without having their case heard before an independent tribunal — a recognition of the serious, possibly fatal consequences of sending a genuine refugee, with a “well-founded fear of persecution,” back to his country of origin. Under the new policy, the best that those affected could hope for would be an interview with an immigration official, as part of a “preremoval risk assessment.”
All this came as a complete surprise to refugee advocates. The only mention of it in the budget the bill claims to be implementing was this cryptic remark on p. 326: “The government proposes to introduce legislative amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration.”
They could hardly have guessed what this would turn out to mean. The changes not only go far beyond the existing Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, which allows Canada to turn back claimants arriving at official points of entry on our southern border — not once they have already crossed — but would extend it to a number of other countries with whom Canada has immigration “information-sharing” agreements.
Understand: the people whose claims Canada would summarily reject in this fashion would not necessarily have had their claims assessed and rejected by another country – it would be enough that they had made a claim. They would face deportation, what is more, not to the country in which they had earlier made their claim, but to their country of origin, to meet whatever fate awaited them there. All this, without even the right to an independent hearing.