REFUGE IN CANADA – The Change in Attitude

Peter Showler, former Chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board, reflects on the effect of the changes to Canada’s refugee system initiated in December 2012.

One of the most dramatic effects of the recent changes to Canada’s refugee law is the significant drop in claims, according to Peter Showler. The system operates much more quickly, but the speed causes problems in that there is not enough time in just 60 days to gather the evidence to prove a claim.

Refugees who arrive by boat or ship, are automatically put in detention for up to six months making it nearly impossible to collect the documentation necessary to compile a case for refugee status.

Peter Showler says, Canada has always had a far more positive view of refugees than other countries. He emphasizes the fact that refugee claimants come to Canada for protection.

“With the combination of visa barriers imposed by the European countries and the two principal North American countries, we’ve managed to essentially seal most refugees in poor second or third world countries,” says Peter Showler.

“The government, principally when Mr. Kenney was the minister but also now with Mr. Alexander, they have actually under taken what can only be seen as a negative public relations campaign against refugees. The endless repetition of colour words such as bogus, fraudulent, queue-jumpers, all of which are primarily false statements. When that is repeated to the Canadian public, we have seen a drastic shift in public perceptions of refugees in general. I say it with great regret.”
According to Peter Showler, “this government clearly has carried on an anti-refugee rhetoric and it has had a significant effect on the Canadian population.”

He clarifies that “virtually all refugees, when they arrive in Canada are ‘irregular arrivals’. In the refugee convention, and in international law, refugee claimants do not have to have valid documents. You cannot, as Canada is a signatory to the International Convention on Refugees, we cannot punish a refugee for arriving in Canada without a valid passport or without a valid document.

He says, “It should make sense to everybody that when you flee a country often you’re grabbing, you know you grab your children and maybe a few things and you get out of the country, so you don’t have the proper documentation, and refugees are permitted to do that as long as they can prove they have a fear of persecution.”

“The number of removals that are happening, of deportations that are happening has really shot up in the last few years” according to Peter Showler and he says this is because the federal government has put more money and resources into the removal process.

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