3 min

A crisis of their own making

There was some shocking – but not entirely unexpected – news today in that the government placed a visa restriction on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic. The reason is because of the large volume of refugee claimants from those countries, but the tourism industry is already bracing for a huge impact at a time when they’re already hard hit by the Great Recession.

And amidst the diplomatic furore – the Czech Republic recalled their ambassador to Canada over this, imposed their own visa restrictions to Canadians visiting their country despite their EU membership – there is something that I think needs to be mentioned.

In a Twitter post, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said that even if they tripled the staff of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), it still wouldn’t help us to clear the refugee claimant backlog, but he neglects to mention that it was his government that created the backlog – that the Auditor General herself has said is reaching crisis levels. And it’s his government that is allowing the situation to continue deteriorating.

When the Conservatives came into office, there was no functional backlog in the IRB system. They had the optimal number of cases flowing through the system for maximum efficiency, and it was working. But as IRB member appointments came due, the Conservatives stopped re-appointing those members, and they left the positions vacant. They said they were waiting for a new merit-based system to be implemented, but it was a system that would give the Minister greater say in the selection of candidates – as we recently witnessed with the appointment of a vocal anti-gay evangelical like Doug Cryer to the IRB.

As the vacancies mounted, so did the backlog. And when the Conservatives started hiring new members to fill those positions on the board, they were hiring people with no IRB experience – people for whom it would take at least six months to get up to speed, during which time the backlog continues to grow. Perhaps what is most damning is the fact that there is no documented reason why those whose appointments were due for renewal weren’t given another term. No reason except that the Conservatives likely wanted their own appointees in place.

If there’s a crisis in the system, it’s of their own making. That’s why I have a hard time swallowing their justifications. Yes, there are problems with the influx of Roma refugee claimants from the Czech Republic. Yes, there is a large volume of dubious “economic refugee” claimants from Mexico, but there are also some very legitimate claims, such as gay men who are persecuted in their home communities – and there have been some notable cases where the IRB has refused these claimants, telling them to simply butch it up when they go home.

Our refugee system wasn’t perfect under the Liberals – and the fact that they never implemented the legislated Refugee Appeals Division is one of those problems (which Thierry St-Cyr’s Bill C-291 would address, provided it passes). But the Conservatives have pushed it to the brink, and the Auditor General warned that it’s going to take drastic measures – possibly something along the lines of an amnesty – to fix. (And I was there for that committee meeting).

I don’t always like to indulge in conspiracy theories, but I sometimes wonder if this wasn’t part of the Conservatives’ long game – break the refugee system so that they can implement something far more restrictive and draconian in its stead, citing the crisis (that they created, but shhh, don’t mention that) as justification. That would certainly settle the more long-standing complaints of some of their Reform-era membership. Then again, it’s just as likely that this is a product of their own incompetence, and the whole of Canada – and those refugees who really need our system – are paying the price.

Elsewhere, another Conservative backbench MP has found that “lower place” that people keep talking about. Barrie MP Patrick Brown says that the local provincial PC riding president, who has been charged with gang sexual assault, is actually a Liberal who took over the riding association. Seriously. Apparently the accused did volunteer with the Liberal MPP during her last campaign, but that’s hardly conclusive of a Liberal plot. And to defend your party by fingering the other guys when one of your workers does something heinous is just low.

Also of note, yesterday marked the anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Canada in 1976 – coincidentally on the day the Americans marked their 1000th lethal injection.

And finally, in her weekly Hill Times column, former deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps discusses the whole Trost-Ablonczy conflagration, Copps drops this little open-secret (yet unpublishable) gem: “Harper himself has named gay Cabinet ministers to senior positions.” Hmm, I wonder who she could be referring to? *twirls hair innocently*