I was interviewed on the CBC at Noon program with Judy Aldous -discussing the immigration issue of the day -the impact of the PSAC strike on immigration, citizenship and refugee processing.
Judy Aldous: …Raj Sharma is an immigration lawyer in Calgary and he is with us now on the phone -hello Raj yeah you shouldn't have been free right you had a client who was supposed to have a hearing this morning what happened?
Raj Sharma: I had a case today, the hearing was to start at 11 the case itself was very compelling; my client was from Zimbabwe and was tortured in the past to the point that he lost the vision of his right eye and so we were expecting some finality and a positive decision. And yesterday we received an email that went out —that hearings and refugee hearings in particular were going to be affected by this strike
Judy Aldous: What was your client's response to that and yours as well
Raj Sharma: Well to some degree it is what it is there's not much that can be done. I mean refugees are already at the whims of forces beyond their control that’s usually what causes someone to leave their home to begin with obviously it's delay it's disruption and delay and obviously delay and disruption obviously calls for uncertainty and anxiety for refugee claimants
Judy Aldous: Immigration officials are are saying if people can still submit requests and applications online or by mail does any of that help your clients?
Raj Sharma: You have to understand that if you maintain intake but then limit processing what you're going to get is a backlog and we already have 2.1 million applications in a backlog situation and so that backlog will only grow. What that backlog means and it's not just statistics it means that spouses are separate from one another it means that families and parents and children are separated from one another and so it's just not inconvenience. There’s going to be seen and unseen consequences, there’s going to be primary secondary and tertiary consequences. Unfortunately it's going to be on the backs of some of the most vulnerable and marginalized
Judy Aldous: How do we get to this place where there's such a huge backlog
Raj Sharma: Complex problems usually have more than one cause in this case you had the perfect sort of storm you had covid. Covid directly impacted …for example overseas Visa office processing and directly impacted wet signature paper based applications… the department did pivot we did move on to electronic applications for example and there were some much needed innovations in the sort …so you had the pandemic that resulted in in that backlog you had for example the crossings at Roxham Road… We had massive intake and then of course last year we had a record setting intake of 430000 permanent residents and you have hundreds of thousands of International students … about 3/4 of a million so you have massive intake and then of course processing is impeded. We had visa officers working from home a lot of officers weren't working or whether they were working from home that was impacted because of the applications were not electronic and so there was a perfect storm that impacted almost every business line within IRCC
Judy Aldous: does it change given this the impact of this personal impact it has on your clients does it change how you feel when you may be driving out and you see picketing workers striking workers
Raj Sharma: …I grew up in a mining cold mining town my parents were members of the union and I started off I work for the federal Department of Justice and over 20 years ago there was a strike at that time as well so there is that element of compassion to for your fellow Canadians and I used to work at the Immigration and Refugee Board as well that being said you have to square that circle with the fact that yesterday we had a refugee claimant from Pakistan she's 20 weeks pregnant and she's got a high risk pregnancy and we need to do notification for refugee claim and after notification we get eligibility at that stage we get healthcare coverage so how do I tell this mother to be, this young woman that I'm not certain when she can get health coverage and when she can get necessary prenatal care well
Judy Aldous: such a complex complex story there alright well Raj Sharma thank you for joining us and entering your perspective really appreciate it
Raj Sharma: My pleasure
Judy Aldous: Raj Sharma is an immigration lawyer in Calgary