2019 APRIL 11
Life has become even harder for refugee claimants also known as asylum seekers. The Federal government of Canada is making moves that will severely hinder, and in some situations deny, due process and access to a fair hearing for many; to a chance to prove they need Canada’s protection.
How ironic that we can successfully demand our day in court to fight a parking ticket while denying a hearing for those knocking on our “doors” seeking safety.
How ironic (and arrogant?) that we get upset when our citizens don’t get what we think is due process in other countries (thinking about our citizens locked up in China right now) but we think it is okay to deny due process and decide before even hearing the facts that an asylum seeker is lying and out to use our systems.
From my vantage point, I do not see people who are country shopping! I see people who have faced closed border after closed border, trying to find anyone who will listen long enough to hear the facts and weigh the evidence before passing judgment. They have heard Canada is fair and follows the rule of law. It makes sense to me that they would put their hope in what they have heard and come here. It’s what I would do; go for the best chance I have. Imagine how they will feel when they find out we won’t listen either. Oh but wait!
They can ask for a pre-removal risk assessment (how would they know to ask for this?). But, isn’t it contradictory to deny a full hearing of their claim because we think they are just shopping or outright lying but then we allow an assessment to determine if they might truly be at risk if deported?
Shelley Campagnola, Executive Director
2018 July 10
Taylor: Stop blaming refugee claimants for problems we’ve chosen not to solve
Updated: July 10, 2018
Working on refugee issues means having the opportunity to meet inspiring people, both refugees and Canadians, every single day — and almost as often, having to defend those incredible people against labels or policies that just don’t make sense.
This is one of those times.
Last week, the government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced it would no longer help the federal government or municipalities deal with the rising number of people requesting refugee status in Canada, thousands of whom have chosen Ontario. The practical implications of the province’s decision were unclear, but it appears to mean it won’t participate in the efforts to move refugee claimants out of the overcrowded Toronto shelter system to other Ontario cities and develop systems to divert new arrivals to other locations, and it wants nothing to do with distributing the extra $11 million for housing that the Justin Trudeau government has allocated to the province.
The premier’s office said the Trudeau government’s policies “resulted in a housing crisis and threats to the services that Ontario families depend on.” Later, provincial Minister Lisa MacLeod (MPP for Nepean) referred to “illegal border crossers” who, she said, had created a “capacity issue” in housing at the municipal level. The provincial government’s solution was to say the federal and municipal governments should sort it out between them.
Let me break this down a bit.
1. Housing is not a refugee claimant problem, it is a Canadian problem. More than 6,700 people were in Ottawa shelters in 2013, long before the current influx of claimants began. Yes, refugee claimants account for around half of the recent spike in demand for family shelter spaces here, but that means there were already thousands of residents in need of housing support. Canadian voters created the acute shortage of affordable housing by failing, election after election, to elect governments that would act. Now the arrival of so many newcomers in need is shining a light on how big this hole in our safety net really is.
2. Blaming refugees for the housing crisis is also Xenophobia 101: When you can’t get your own house in order, blame “outsiders.” Refugees are easy targets, after all — they can’t vote and they don’t want to make waves; they just want a crack at a new life.
3. Disengaging from one of the most urgent pressures facing the province’s biggest city (and smaller centres, including Ottawa) is the wrong move at the worst time. We should be scaling up teamwork, not dissension. The province’s absence will be felt most acutely by the Ontarians working hard to build thriving communities.
4. Stop falling into the trap of referring to people crossing the border as “illegal.” It is not a crime to cross the Canadian border and ask for asylum — it is a right Canada agreed to respect when we signed the UN Convention on Refugees almost 50 years ago, and that holds true whether someone crosses at an official border point or down a wooded path. Every time you hear someone refer to “illegal border crossers,” bells should ring and alarms should sound. It’s the surest sign that someone is trying to separate you from your humanity and get you to ignore the most fundamental fact: Refugees are people in search of safety, with a legal right to ask for it when they come to Canada.
Finally, and most importantly:
5. What are we really afraid of? Refugees have proven, throughout our history, that they strengthen communities and economies. They start businesses, create employment, contribute to our vibrant arts and cultural scene, become cherished neighbours and friends, students and leaders — and eventually pay back more in taxes than they use in services.
Minister MacLeod is correct to call this a “capacity issue,” but solving capacity issues requires collaboration. The answer the province seeks is only possible by staying at the table to improve housing options for all. Refugees are builders, dreamers, doers — and Canada needs them all.
Louisa Taylor is director of Refugee 613, an Ottawa communications and mobilization hub for refugee welcome.
2018 June 20
There has been a lot of media coverage recently about people trying to cross the border from Mexico to Texas, and from the U.S. to Canada through Roxham Road in Quebec. Some of the most difficult images have been of children at the U.S.- Mexico border separated from their families, deemed to need protective custody while parents are criminally charged for trying to cross the border away from the recognized border points.
While not having these kinds of scenes at the Canada-U.S. border, the language has been strong for those crossing into Canada: queue jumpers, illegals, border jumpers. They are accused of trying to bypass the system and of just wanting a better life and a free ride. They are pitted against people already here for the distribution of so-called “scarce” resources.
At MCRS, we seek humane and just treatment that includes giving people a chance to be heard. We recognize that policies designed to manage the movement of people, at times can get in the way of hearing the whole story and we affirm Canada as a place of due process, good order and listening ears. We affirm the systems that are in place to facilitate these things.
Each week we meet individuals who have already been harmed by oppression, persecution, or injustice. We do everything we can to help them tell their story so that a fair decision can be made about whether or not they need Canada’s protection. They are not queue jumpers. They are in a completely different “line” that does not impact those who come via sponsorship or immigration. They are not illegals or border jumpers though we agree they illegally cross the border when they cross between border points. And they are treated accordingly.
They are not trying to bypass the system. They are trying to get access to the system. They don’t want just a chance for a better life. They want to have a chance to live at all. They do not use up scarce resources. They make up 0.028% of the population of Ontario where resources are not scarce – there is plenty of money to go around. When it comes to resources, what we are dealing with more so is a priority and allocation problem.
We understand that not everyone has all the information they need to respond differently than they do. We welcome dialogue and questions, even if people land at very different conclusions than what we have come to.
We ask that no matter what, we continue as we generally have as Canadians, to treat others, no matter how they get here and how long they are allowed to stay, with dignity, respect, and kindness.
2018 April 25
Everyday I scan the headlines and read news and opinion articles referencing refugee claimants. Today, my heart sank as I read these words from Margaret Dente in a Globe and Mail opinion piece:
“In other parts of the world, desperate asylum seekers risk their lives on leaky boats, or entrust their fate to human smugglers. But Canada is easy. To get to Canada, all you have to do is take a cab to the border. Your greeting will be warm. The new arrivals at Roxham Road look more like tourists than endangered refugees. Their suitcases are neatly lined up as they wait for buses to take them to their temporary accommodations, where they will receive food, shelter, medical care, financial support, work permits, schooling for their kids – and, eventually, a refugee hearing. No wonder Canada is such a popular destination.”
The people our office serves everyday have faced horrendous situations that most of us can’t begin to imagine. Do some of them come through the U.S.? Yes they do. And they have a right to. People have an international right to seek refuge and they are not obligated to go to the first so-called safe country. Which is a good thing because there are now 70 countries that have rolled up the welcome mat and closed their doors, making it that much harder to find safety.
I’m glad we still give a warm welcome. It might be the first sign of hope people have seen in a long, long time.
I’m glad our border is safe to cross – it means it isn’t being bombed or it isn’t lined with snipers.
I’m glad that we can meet people’s immediate needs while determining the validity of their claim. What kind of people would we be to deny such things? Should people go hungry and sleep on the streets? Should they be denied medical care when they need it?
I’m glad people don’t have to be on a leaky boat to get to us, and are far away from the hellish circumstances that put them on the move in the first place.
All of this means I’m living in a safe country that is not being torn apart by war, persecution, corruption or a whole host of other things that people must flee from.
The claims process is not easy – in fact, it is downright intrusive, skeptical, and demanding. Which means, if someone is accepted as a refugee claimant it’s because they have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they had a personal target on their back that already has strike marks on it!
Let’s not begrudge them simply because they have a suitcase and their clothes aren’t tattered.
As for having nothing to lose…
If your claim is denied and you are deported you don’t come back to Canada – EVER – under any circumstances. If your claim is accepted it is because you have lost everything already. So in that sense I guess, yes, they have nothing to lose because all they have is their suitcase as they stand in line. Perhaps they should lose that too before we are kind to them.
Winnipeg, 20 September 2017 – Dear Church Leaders and Friends: As you know, City Church has been working for over three years to create a refugee ministry center. We are excited to tell you that last Monday we received our occupancy permit and yesterday our live in care takers and director of the program moved into the building. We are planning on having our first residents move in on October 2nd.
Naomi House will have up to twenty people living in the facility for up to six months at a time. It is intended to be a transitional home for newly arriving refugees and refugee claimants. Additionally, we will be offering programming for former refugees on the main floor.
Our desire is to do this in partnership with the churches in Winnipeg. We see this ministry centre as an “on ramp” for churches to involve themselves in the lives of refugees.
We would be honored if you and members of your church would join us on Sunday, October 1, 2017 for our grand opening and dedication service.
2017 September 05
Fear. It is a very powerful emotion. Each one of us has known fear at one time or another. Fear of failing an exam; fear of losing one’s job; fear of the unknown; fear of losing somebody close; fear of dying… Nobody likes to live in fear. At the heart of every fear is the feeling of insecurity. And human beings spontaneously look for security.
For a few weeks now, we have seen the daily arrival of Haitians who are claiming refugee status on Canadian territory. They are coming here because they fear that the American administration will send them back to Haiti as of January 2018. It is at this time that the United States may put an end to special measures giving them temporary protected status over there. Returning to Haiti represents a huge insecurity for these people because conditions over there are often extremely difficult. That is why these refugee claimants deserve that we listen to what they have to say.
This widely covered arrival of refugee claimants crossing the border has also, apparently, given way to some insecurity within many Canadians. Many of our fellow citizens fear that their social benefits will be in danger by allowing these people to enter our country, because, during some time, these newcomers receive limited support from the state. Others fear they will lose their jobs or not find any, thinking these newcomers will take them. Even though these fears are largely unfounded, our co-citizens also deserve to be listened to with respect.
Many of us know the famous story of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s novel, « Les Misérables » written in the 19th century. When he was a young adult, Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread. That act, of itself, is reprehensible. The baker deserves to be paid for his labour. We can therefore condemn Jean Valjean and say that justice has been done. But as we read the story, we discover that Jean Valjean stole that bread to feed his sister, who had recently been widowed, and her seven children. He was a pruner, a seasonal worker; and during the off-season, he could not find work. His nieces and nephews were hungry; he therefore stole some bread. By getting to know the character a bit more, with his story and the reasons that led to that act, we come to feel compassion for him.
All of us, before passing judgement, should we not go and meet the stranger who has just arrived, to listen and discover a bit more on his life? We would therefore see that he is not all that different from us. He too wants to work; he too wants to feed his family; he too wants to educate himself; he too wants stability and a better life for his children. Unfortunately, all those things we take for granted in Canada are very difficult, if not impossible at this time in Haiti.
Of course, we need to work towards creating the socio-political and economic conditions that would allow Haitians to live with dignity in their own country without being forced to find exile elsewhere. But that will take years and will demand changes; changes in our politics regarding international aid as well as at the level of the political and institutional leadership in Haiti itself. But until that time, we must expect that Haitians will look for a better life elsewhere. Can we really blame them? How many people from Atlantic Canada have gone to find work in the oil patches of Alberta in the past 50 years? How many Irish people came to Canada in the middle of the 19th century because they were starving to death in Ireland?
We often hear that « we cannot take on all of the world’s problems ». Fair enough. However, a few thousand people is far from being “all of the world’s problems”. Let’s keep a bit of perspective: Lebanon (a state of 4 million people) has welcomed 1 million Syrian refugees in the last few years. In 2001, close to 45,000 refugee claimants arrived in Canada; for 2017 (from January until June) we have a little more than 18,000. Therefore, everything is quite relative…
Maybe the fear of the refugee is not so much because he is different from us, with his customs, his culture, his religion… Maybe the fear of the refugee comes more from the fact that he reminds us of our own human fragility; that we ourselves could someday become homeless, exiled and in search of a refuge… Speak to Montrealers who were victims of the flooding this past spring or residents of Fort MacMurray who lost their houses in the forest fires last year.
We could easily conclude that the situations of the refugee claimants, as well as the victims of floods and fires, that «they are not my problems! » But one day, each one of us risks being in a precarious situation… What then when the other tells us: « I’m sorry, but that is not my problem »?
To ask that question, is to return to the foundation of our common humanity and to the essential links of solidarity that weave together a society.
– Norbert Piché, Country Director Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada