Danielle Smith: On the surface, I am prepared to give them credit for bringing in Saudi teenager, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun. I do question a couple of things. Number one, I question why act so quickly on this one and in the way that they did? Does it set a precipice for others? Why not act equally quickly with Asia Bibi, that would be one question. But the other one would be, the story from last week, which is the original reason why I want to talk Raj Sharma, my next guest.
Danielle Smith: Here's the headline in case you didn't see it. Star story, 74 million, not enough to cut refugee claim backlog according to internal documents. The agency that processes refugee claims in Canada, estimated it would need almost four times as much money as it's getting, to tackle a major backlog in asylum claims caused in part by influx of the, and this is the word they use in the story, irregular migrants. Documented [inaudible 00:01:00] access information laws show the immigration refugee board drafted estimates in November 2017, showing it would need an extra 140 million dollars a year, plus an additional 40 million dollars a year in one time costs to process 36,000 extra refugee cases on an annual basis.
Danielle Smith: Something's happened on this front. Because there appears to at least be some stabilizing of the number of people who are crossing the border illegally. It went from being undetectable under the Harper years, to going up to 20,000 in 2017. I don't think they've got the December numbers finalized yet for 2018, but it's on track for another 20,000 in 2018. So, it's not going down, but it's not the kind of crisis that they were dealing with in Germany. We're not seeing 50,000, or 100,000, or 200,000. I don't want to overstate it, but the fact of the matter is, it is too much for our current institutions and agencies to be able to manage. It doesn't appear that the government is doing anything about it. I think that that's a concern. So I'm questioning whether or not they're trying to get some feel good photo ops to distract attention from a really deep underlying problem that they don't have a [inaudible 00:02:13].
Danielle Smith: We're going to get Raj Sharma, who is of course the Calgary Immigration Lawyer, who joins us now. Raj, thanks so much for being with me again today.
Raj Sharma: Good morning Danielle, happy new year.
Danielle Smith: Happy new year to you. Let's first start talking about Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun. I want to give the government credit for this, but I'm sort of puzzled as to why they could act so quickly on this case, and not Asia Bibi or any of the other, well-deserving individuals who are seeking asylum for similar reasons. You think you can comment on that?
Raj Sharma: Well, you're right. Asia Bibi has been an issue that I've thought about, and I think other refugee advocates have thought about for many years. She's of course the Christian woman in Pakistan accused of blasphemy. She's been in detention for many, many years. Finally, we have a situation where Pakistan's supreme court has acquitted her, and that has led to actually protests and death threats in Pakistan itself. They are looking for a way out for Asia Bibi and her family. And you're right, Rahaf al-Qunun, her matter was resolved in a matter of days as opposed to years for Asia Bibi.
Danielle Smith: Yeah, so why did they have a different approach in each of those two cases?
Raj Sharma: I think it's simply the world that we live in today, Danielle. It's a world that's driven by social media. It's a world that's driven by this sort of, not quite ... let's say virtue signaling to some extent. But Rahaf of course is 18 years old, she was able to get out her message. She renounced Islam, and I have no doubt in my mind that her life would be at risk if she is returned to Saudi. I have no doubt in my mind that her life is probably at risk at countries outside of Saudi Arabia as well, which is why I disagree with [Minister] Chrystia Freeland going to the airport to welcome her and have a photo-op with this refugee claimant whose life, I think, continues to be at risk.
Danielle Smith: So, Asia Bibi needs to get a Twitter account is almost the conclusion? That she's just not been as successful in getting her story out and becoming a social media phenomenon as this young woman is, which, it seems like it's not the greatest way to prioritize a refugee claimant.
Raj Sharma: Even, for example, the Syrian refugees in Canada which was an excellent decision, we are picking, unfortunately, winners and losers. I suppose this is just the way things are.
Danielle Smith: Let me ask you about the approach that we're taking here, because one former diplomat saying the way that they handled this case could set a dangerous precedent. Here's the distinction that they draw on, and I need you to explain the difference here.
Danielle Smith: "The Australians were prepared, as I understand it, to accept her as a refugee claimant. What we did, is we went one step further and accepted her not as a claimant, but as a refugee. Not the process that Canada typically requires an assessment of the claim, a vetting of the individual, a decision that typically can take as much as two years. What happens the next time a teenage girl or adult woman from Saudi Arabia flees her family, and declares herself to no longer be a Muslim? Does that mean automatic sanctuary?" This is the question being asked by David Chatterson, who is Canada's ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2009-2011.
Danielle Smith: Is that what happened here? That she doesn't have to go through the assessment process? That she's just, bang, all of a sudden we just accept your refugee claim?
Raj Sharma: That's right. My understanding is that the Australians were willing to allow her to enter, and then of course assess her needs and whether that's to grant her status as a refugee, or grant her status under a humanitarian basis. That's what the Australians were working on, and I think Canada stepped up faster and simply granted her refugee protection. That is of course, within the purview of the Prime Minister [and the Government].
Danielle Smith: Is it unusual or unprecedented? I don't want to overstate it if it happens routinely.
Raj Sharma: It doesn't happen routinely, but it can be done. This is probably just an example where it was publicized, but it certainly can be done. The UNHCR has made a determination that she's a person in need of protection, and Canada can resettle such an individual.
Danielle Smith: Is there some concern ... I mean, whenever the Prime Minister does something that gets international attention, I don't know how much you credit the tweet with the influx of people coming here illegally. I credit it quite a bit since most of them are coming by way of Nigeria, as opposed to fleeing Donald Trump. So I wonder, again, whether David Chatterson's concerns [inaudible 00:07:20] to essentially give another group of people a pathway to get into Canada, just make sure when you leave to do it in a loud a way as you can, and you'll get an automatic pathway in.
Raj Sharma: A lot of people may disagree with me. I do credit the surge partly to the tweet as well. A lot of my colleagues and refugee advocates disagree with me on that, strongly. If you look at the timeline, I know correlation's not causation, but January 28, 2017, the day after Donald Trump announces his Muslim ban, that's when Justin Trudeau sent out his welcoming tweet. Then there started the surge at the borders. In March 2017, there was another tweet from the Prime Minister's office stating, "Regardless who you are, where you come from, there's always a place for you in Canada."
Raj Sharma: Now, if someone says that the tweet was irrelevant, look to August 2018, there was a group of asylum seekers in Nauru, they were trying to get to Australia. Australia's put them in this Micronesian Island. They've sent a specific request to Justin Trudeau because of that tweet. December 18th, there's a migrant caravan from Central America heading up to the US, they were in Tijuana in December 2018. There was a Canadian archbishop who was telling everyone that there was a special program that Justin Trudeau is going to say yes to their amnesty or relocation to Canada. So I do think that tweet did have a lot of consequences. I don't think that tweet can be discounted out of hand.
Danielle Smith: Okay. So what kind of consequences now do you think might happen out of this decision? Any, or do you think we're still just living with the bigger issue of people having a misapprehension of what our laws are here?
Raj Sharma: Look, again, I take no issue with an 18 year old granted protection when clearly she was going to have a risk. That has to be contrasted against my clients who are waiting many years to have their family members resettled. In the meantime, their family members are in other countries, they are in refugee camps, they're in difficult circumstances. I have Canadians that have privately sponsored their own family members or friends, and they wait years of course. There's this sort of deus ex machina this sort of act of God that allows someone, and others don't have that same access. Again, but this is the reality.
Raj Sharma: In terms of the consequences you've got, over the last two years, perhaps a billion dollars in terms of cost as a result of the irregular arrivals. The IRB needs four times more money so put that on top of the billion. They need about 140 million a year plus a 40 million one time cost to deal with their inventory right now. The current inventory is 50,000, they still have to deal with probably about 20,000 yearly intake. You've got outstanding claims of 64,000. It's taking probably years to get a refugee hearing done.
There's storm clouds on that horizon because September 2019, right about the time of the federal election, there's 400,000 individuals in the US their TPS, temporary protected status, is expiring. I don't believe that Donald Trump is going to extend that status and so we are going to see, in my opinion, a consequential very, very significant event in fall of 2019.
Danielle Smith: Let me take a pause because I want to find out what the solution might be Raj Sharma's my guest, Calgary Immigration Lawyer. Let's talk about the bigger issue now, the backlog in refugee claimants, as well as everybody waiting, going through the system the right way and how they feel that somebody's able to jump the queue because they have a very affective social media backing.
Danielle Smith: Some of you may be just as outraged as this former opposition leader was in the last campaign about refugees being used as a photo op.
Justin Trudeau: Somewhere in the Prime Minister's office, staffers were poring through their personal files to try and see whether these families, or find out which families would be suitable for a photo op for the Prime Minister's reelection campaign. That's disgusting.
Danielle Smith: Oh, I couldn't resist. That was the one that was making the rounds on the weekend. Disgusting that anyone would ever dare to use a refugee as a photo op for their re-election campaign. Can you believe it? Raj Sharma is my guest. He's Calgary immigration lawyer, but we're going to talk about something a bit more serious though [inaudible 00:00:55] solve this problem.
Danielle Smith: So Raj, in one way, I mean I know that we were both concerned when we were looking at some of the trends in how many people were coming across the border illegally. We were concerned it was really going to spike. It does strike me that some of what they have done might have had an impact, 'cause then ... I know they dispatched the Immigration Minister to go to Nigeria and say, “No, no, no, no, no, you can't come to Canada this way."
Danielle Smith: The numbers have not dramatically spiked, you think that there still might be some ... that still might be coming. But has the government proactively done anything to stem the flow?
Raj Sharma: It's hard to tell whether that is the cause, or the causal factor. I think that refugee flows are always episodic, and so you still have ... So if we were to say, refugee flows have sort of decreased, you still have a thousand irregular arrivals in December. That's last month, for example.
Danielle Smith: So it's stabilized but not decreased.
Raj Sharma: That's right. So you still have a significant number there. So, in my opinion, you know, the way to really decrease those numbers would be then to get expeditious decision making and removal of those individuals that were found not to have a risk against them. So once you have removal, once individuals ... let's say you have economic migrants within that pool of individuals claiming refugee protection.
Raj Sharma: Once they see that there is no great advantage of coming to Canada, working for a few years, you know, and then trying to obtain status through refugees or other ... refugee program or another program. If individuals are being removed in expeditious fashion, that should discourage the economic migrants. And it should not discourage those individuals truly fleeing persecution.
Danielle Smith: Well then let me pose this to you, is that, if the cabinet or the Prime Minister is able to make a decision to bypass the process to bring somebody in as a refugee, couldn't they do the same thing to those who clearly wouldn't qualify into the refugee program, so that they can make that expeditious decision? And then clear the backlog that way so that we're only dealing with legit claims?
Raj Sharma: Well, you raise an interesting point, which is that the IRB, the Refugee Protection Division, is this quasi-judicial, administrative tribunal, very court-like. And is that the appropriate way, or ... it may not be suited for these types of numbers. But standing in the way of course is the Singh decision back in 1987, which extends charter rights to non-citizens. And so how do you ... what you would have to do would be to really take the bull by the horns and say, “Well, do we reassess? Do we put refugee adjudication squarely within the mandate of the government, and do away with the independent tribunal?”
Raj Sharma: You know, I think lawyers would be up in arms. I think important stakeholders would be up in arms regarding that. And so, that would be the way, because ... this statute creature called the IRB, you know, is very, very court-like. And courts are not suited for mass numbers or mass adjudication.
Danielle Smith: They're not noted for their efficiencies. So tell me again what you think is the date that we should be looking at, for when this temporary status in the US expires, where 400,000 people might be looking at [inaudible 00:04:20] cross the border for Canada?
Raj Sharma: It's September 2019.
Danielle Smith: September 2019. So, you're right, we'll be right in the middle of an election campaign.
Raj Sharma: That's right.
Danielle Smith: Raj, thank you so much for shedding some light on this again, I always appreciate your analysis.
Raj Sharma: My pleasure, thanks Danielle.
Danielle Smith: Thank you, that's Raj from Calgary Immigration Lawyer, aha, well. That kind of draws a bit of a point around it, doesn't it? I wonder what that's going to mean? I mean I suppose the election has the potential to be over before that happens. No, I guess it won't. I mean, if we've gotten a fixed election date, last time it was October the 19th. So this might all come to a head, right in the middle of an election.