Jason Kenney added another layer to his new immigration system Dec 14. The at-times controversial immigration minister introduced the government's list of “designated countries of origin” (DCO) in a move to restore "faith in the integrity of our asylum system," Kenney said in a statement.
The government's goal has long been to revamp the sluggish Canadian refugee system to push applicants through faster. At the moment, all refugee applicants are given the same time frame to have their claims heard. Under this new system, set out in Kenney's hallmark immigration reform bill, C-31, those who come from "safe" DCOs will have their claims accelerated and heard within 30 to 45 days.
If claimants from any of the DCOs lose their applications to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), they will also lose the ability to appeal the decisions directly to the immigration system and will be left with only the last resort of appealing to a federal court judge.
One large caveat on claimants' ability to make federal appeals, however, is that the government has removed the automatic stay of deportation order granted to all those failed claimants awaiting the decision of a federal judge. That means that, if the IRB does not approve their claims, they will be issued deportation orders immediately and will have to wait for the results of their appeals from their home countries. Applicants will still be able to apply for stays of deportation.
This list marks the finishing touches on C-31, one of the biggest changes in Canada's refugee system in decades, which comes into force Dec 15. When the legislation was being debated, there was worry from refugee groups about exactly what the DCO list would entail. Based on the parameters – things such as a functioning democracy and a rule of law – there was concern that the list would be too broad, letting refugees fall through the cracks.
What was released Dec 14 is a fairly restrained list, comprising only 27 countries, with almost all falling in the European Union. Kenney says those countries make up the vast majority of the refugee claims in Canada – and most are withdrawn or thrown out.
To get on the list, the country's claimants must have at least a 60 percent withdrawal rate or at least a 75 percent rejection rate from the Immigration and Refugee Board. In other cases, namely when the country had few refugee applicants at all, the minister had the power to make determinations based on the internal realities in the country.
Yet Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees, says that those who have legitimate claims will face discrimination from Canada's refugee system. She highlights the sped-up timelines and loss of an actual review process as problematic.
Dench also points out that the IRB has repeatedly found that there can be legitimate refugee claims from Europe, especially for Roma peoples. Hungary, which is on the DCO list, has a large Roma population.
"Roma [may] flee Europe to escape discrimination only to find that Canada discriminates against them, too," Dench says.
The council sent out a press release condemning the impending changes to the legislation Dec 14. Dench calls it a "sad day for Canada.
"We used to be known as a world leader in treating refugees fairly, but now we are discriminating against some claimants, based purely on the country of origin," she told Xtra via email.
Every country on the DCO list has, to varying degrees, government regulations outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Approximately half recognize the right to change a person's gender on official documents, while a handful even cover the cost of sex reassignment surgery. Several on the list – such as Portugal and Denmark – recognize both same-sex marriage and adoption.
More countries will be added to the list in the coming months.