January 20, 2017 — Refugee rights campaigners are hoping progress made under former Immigration Minister John McCallum will continue under Ahmed Hussen, the new man in charge at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Campaigners have been lobbying for the repeal of changes made under the previous Conservative government, which established different categories of refugees arriving in Canada.
Then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made the changes in 2012, as part of Bill C-31, named the ‘Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act’.
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Under the act, a category of refugees called ‘irregular arrivals’ was created, which basically means they did not arrive on a flight or at a border crossing, but by crossing the border any way they could, often with the help of people smugglers.
Irregular arrivals are treated differently as a result of Bill C-31, including being held in jails even if they are children. An average of 242 children per year were detained over the past four years, according to figures obtained by campaigners.
While Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has committed to doing all he can to end the practice, activists want to see change immediately and not months and years down the line.
The main reason for incarceration is flight risk, as immigrants wait for hearings or for their identities to be verified.
Immigration centres in Toronto, Ontario and Laval, Quebec have been criticised as ill-equipped for housing children. One expert described them as being like ‘medium-security prisons’.
The government has also come under fire for its controversial use of provincial jails to house some immigration detainees.
They are aiming to dramatically reduce this practice, with purpose-built detention centres in British Columbia and Quebec among the plans.
Goodale announced a new National Immigration Detention Framework, under which he and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) have been conducting consultations across Canada.
Major human rights concerns were raised over the categorisation of immigrants at the time Bill C-31 was up for debate, and the campaign has continued ever since.
The Conservative government reforms did not stop there. Bill C-31 also established new rules regarding refugees who came from ‘safe’ countries.
The changes meant that any asylum seeker coming from a country deemed safe by Canada’s immigration department would find it more difficult to get refugee status.
McCallum was able to achieve a great deal during his time in charge of the IRCC, including facilitating the arrival of nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees.
But, although campaigners felt the change was coming, he was unable to repeal Bill C-31 and ensure all refugees were treated the same.
Now those same campaigners are hoping they do not have to back to square one to convince Hussen that change is needed.
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