August 22, 2010 with guest host Chris Hall
"Is Canada's refugee system working?"
Guests and Links
Guest host Chris Hall's introduction to the August 22, 2010 program:
Our topic today: "Is Canada's refugee system working?"
The MV Sun Sea arrived last week with more than its human cargo of men, women and children. It brought another national debate over our refugee system. On one side, Canadians who believe their arrival shows the system is broken, and being abused. On the other, those who argue that Canada has a moral and legal duty to take in people who live in fear of persecution in their homeland.
The federal government is alarmed. There are warnings from senior cabinet ministers that more ships may be on the way. They say the passage of the MV Sun Sea was arranged by criminals; human smugglers and traffickers who are exploiting the Tamil migrants for profit.
Lawyers working for the Tamil migrants tell different stories. The Tamils on the Sun Sea endured months on the ocean, risking their lives on a ship that was barely sea-worthy.. to escape perscurtion. To be free of the on-going violence in their homeland directed against them by the Sri Lankan government. Many Canadians agree that this country should not pre-judge these or any other asylum seekers who come to Canada hoping for a better life for themselves and their children.
But the debate isn't just among lawyers and politicians.
Demonstrations in support of the Tamils are now being organized around the country under the banner "no one is illegal." The letters pages in newspapers across the country have been filled with arguments both for and against allowing the Tamils to stay. Letters praising and criticizing Canada's refugee system.
We want to hear what you think.
Canada, is of course, a country of immigrants, and this is not the first time ships have landed on our shores bearing would be migrants. Most were found to be refugees under our law. Others were not.
Parliament approved changes to refugee legislation that take affect next year to speed up the handling of claims, and to expedite the the removal of any failed claimants.
We are a nation with a laudable reputation around the globe for tolerance. Generosity. And compassion. The arrival of the Sun Sea has many people worried that that it's precisely these traits criminal gangs seek to exploit.
They argue the arrival of hundreds of people on a boat is taking advantage of our refugee system. They see the Tamils as queue-jumpers, and that allowing them to stay will erode the integrity of Canada's refugee system.
Polls suggest Canadians are divided on this issue. And that shouldn't be a surprise. This is not a simple problem.
Amnesty International estimates 80-thousand Sri Lankans live in refugee camps. Other international organizations say intimidation and persecution of Tamils continues. The government of Sri Lanka is investigating human rights violations.. but the process has been criticized as insufficient by other nations.
The UNHCR - the United Nations Human Rights Agency - recently changed its guidelines for dealing with refugee claimants from Sri Lanka. It says the security situation in that country has improved in the past year, so people shouldn't be automatically presumed to be refugees. The agency reports that some Tamils are returning to Sri Lanka now that the fighting is over.
But the UNHCR also applauded Canada for its handling of the Sun Sea, crediting our government with setting up proper detention facilities, and for seeing to the needs of the people who arrived.
Do you think the federal government is handling the arrival of the Tamils the right way?
Should the government have the power to turn away ships in the future?
Do you agree with the government that criminal gangs are exploiting Canada's laws?
What experiences do you have with Canada's refugee system?
What is the right balance between Canada's humanitarian obligations, and border security?
We want to know what you think.
Our topic today: Do you think Canada's refugee system is working?
I'm Chris Hall ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.
- National Post
- Globe and Mail
- Toronto Star
- Vancouver Sun
No: I don't see anything wrong with our refugee system, except it's slow.
We need to process them much faster.
Now the immigration system? that's a different kettle of fish!
Toronto Star on the weekend said that 630 refugees arrive in Canada each week and the point of the article was why is such a huge fuss being made of this boat? Is this true?
I also read that we have a legal obligation to allow boats to land through an international agreement signed after world war II when thousands of Jews were turned back from any countries and they were killed by the Germans which will be our shame forever - is this true?
Also in my opinion and after listening to people at work this is so definitely a race issue - if this was a boat load of white people they would have been greeted at the shores with baskets of food, clothing, offers of jobs, etc.
Our country is built on immigration. I am the product of immigration, albeit white. I work with the most wonderful people from Pakistan, Togo, Algiers, Tunisia, China, Egypt as well as immigrants from "white" countries and I don't understand this backlash. What are we so afraid of?
As long as the unrestricted universality of Canada's Charter serves as a shining beacon to all-and-sundry, guaranteeing full civil rights to any and all non-residents, people smugglers won't have to worry about losing "clients".
By enabling them to virtually guarantee their "clients" the protection of the Charter, once delivered to Canadian soil (waters),
the Charter remains a veritable boon to a growing industry of people smugglers (and, by domestic extension, to an ever- expanding industry of immigration lawyers) ..... and continues to serve as a powerful magnet to all comers.
Vancouver-Tsawwassen, British Columbia
I'm on neither side of this particular issue, but as a Canadian, I think it's important that we accept these migrants into Canada regardless of the circumstances.
Also, I can't believe how ignorant Alberta and Quebec are when it comes to their view on the issue. This is a caring, peaceful country, not a country full of nasty, anti-immigrant S.O.B.s like some poll said recently.
If there is going to be a huge change to the immigration system, I'm afraid that it'll end up like how Arizona created that unacceptable immigration law. That's not what Canada is about.
These are human beings, people.
In order to have an informed position on this matter there are several issues that I think need to be addressed.
One, who owns the ship that brought the individuals claiming refugee status to our shores?
Two, rumours persist that these people paid upwards of $50,000 for their fare. Is there any proof of this? What sort of financial resources to they have or have access to?
What does the ship's captain have to say and what, if any, is his financial reward for the trip?
What action, if any, does the gov't plan for the ship's crew?
Does the government plan on releasing this ship?
Right now there is too much emotion and too few facts.
As for people who claim that we should accept anyone and everyone who claims to be a refugee, why then should we bother with having any immigration policies?
While I feel for those on board who are desperate for a better, safer life, I feel they are jumping the queue at the expense of many who came through the proper channels.
Many come to Canada to work in order to eventually bring their families over. There are instances where persons from the Phillipines, for example, spend years working and living in Canada while their children are back home. These families are put through a cruel separation, leaving behind young children who don't recognize their parents on the visits home they are able to make. They simply cannot afford to come together.
I realize simply choosing to move to Canada for a better life differs from refugees who need to flee for their safety. All the same, it is important they come through the correct channels, both for their own safety and for our country's security.
Certainly our immigration system needs an overhaul, including the ability for persons to come with their families intact when they are following all the rules and going through the proper channels.
The description I am listening to regarding these boat people sounds like a
very well produced staged play in order to enter Canada.
Its time to seize this vessels, return the passengers and stop the anymore
outside our boundaries.
The government introduced the whole topic using the word "terrorist "in its announcements, and then the Canadian chorus began, having been primed on what was the correct position to take. The worst of us have had the loudest voices.
Perhaps those of us who still think for ourselves might look at the way the word "terrorist" is used to maniuplate public opinion, and remember that these refugees are the victims of terrorism, victims of concentration camps in Sri Lanka.
Muriel E. Wiens
I believe that we have an immigration policy that works. I also believe that our government interfered with that process by planting just enough incendiary comments to whip up their base, and taint the discussion for everyone else. This group of 500 is a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers of people who enter our country every year. Our system is more than capable of handling it.
It was highly irresponsible for cabinet ministers to be talking about human smuggling and terrorist links before the boat ever touched our shore. Before one word was uttered in a hearing. My suspicion is that the current government would love to drastically change our immigration policy. However, they want to be seen as reacting to what Canadians want, rather than implementing an ideology that is counter to our history.
We are being played quite successfully on this one.
The folks who pay an inordinate amount of money to spend 3 months at sea to avoid Canada's immigration policy and procedures cannot be considered refugees or worthy immigrants. These people should not be rewarded for breaking Canada's laws and in my opinion are not the type of people that we want or need in this country. A message needs to be sent and the only way is to send these folks back to their country of origin and be told to apply through normal channels as all potential immigrants and refugees to Canada should do. I'm a tired tax payer who feels we can no longer afford to have our services and benefits eroded by those who jump the que and then expect to draw on Canada's liberal laws and social benefits. As a final not perhaps those who are supporting these folks in circumventing Canada's laws should come to the table and sponsor them with their own funds and this includes existing family members in Canada and the Canadian Tamil Congress.
The latest controversy surrounding the arrival of Tamil refugees serves to point out the necessary for the Canadian Government to develop much more comprehensive refugee acceptance policies. Looking into the future, there will be incredible pressure to accept a new type of refugee -- environmenmtal refugees. What we are witnessing currentlly in Pakistan, as terrible as it is, on a world scale will be considered minor in comparison to environmental catastrophes consequent to the combined effects of global warming and overpopulation. As Canada becomes even more ethnically diverse, and more involved in global affairs, there will be tremendous political pressure for Canada to accept refugees from countries experiencing widespread starvation and death. The early signs are here, mostly ignored, but will become increasingly visible.
Something needs to be done or we will have our immigration program run by people smugglers. We need to change some fundamental parts of the refugee law. One good place to start is with a need to choose a place that is geographically close to the country of origin, but safe.
It is also important in the cases where there are pregnant women that if these children are born in Canada, they should not be given citizenship. A lot of Canadians are immigrants or refugees or the children of them. I have no problem with dealing with refugees but I have a lot of problems with a flood of refugees. We have problems with homeless people and first nations people that we need to deal with those problems first. If these people left from Thailand, then they were not refugees whose lives were in danger.
Vancouver, British Columbia
I do not have much of a problem with the Tamils who have arrived by ship in British Columbia because I feel most of them are generally poor (even though they paid exhorbitant amounts to get here) and that they are coming here for a better life for themselves and their children. I have a lot more problem with the immigrants who come here with a lot of money, get their Canadian citizenship then return to their own countries and contribute nothing to this country. Or if they do not return to their own country, they try to change Canada into their country. My question is why did you leave if you did not want to live in a free and liberal land. I would rather the poor and people who wish to better their lives come to Canada. They, at least, will appreciate what they are able to achieve for themselves and their children.
I am very disappointed at the response of the Harper government on the issue of the refugees who have arrived on our shores from Sri Lanka. Vic Toews practically tripped over himself in his zeal to label them as terrorists, and PM Harper has gone out of his way to disparage them. It's true that the UNHCR has praised the efforts of the CBSA to treat them fairly, but the CBSA shouldn't be confused with the Canadian government. Let the process follow it's due course, and judge each of these individuals on the merits of their claim.
Labeling can really narrow our perspective on this issue.
We have to remember that the Tamil Tigers were not labeled as "terrorists" until 2006.
The Federal Government has labeled them as "human smugglers", "terrorists", etc.
We need to do due diligence and process these people fairing and quickly.
The bottom line is that we have a group of people who have taken their lives in there hands to get here.
We need to help people in need and not listen to fear mongers.
Canada should not be a country simply for well to do people who I understand get preference in our immigration policy.
When it comes to letting in refugees, I think it is good policy providing there is no threat of terrorism. If they have skills or the potential of contributing to Canadian society, they should be given a chance.
If there are questionable instances, these need to be addressed. We are not here to be doormats for the world. There are a lot of reasons people would want to come to Canada and a lot of things in the world are not fair or even humane but we can't solve all of the world's problems and the UN has to take some responsiblity for how the diplomatic side of things are being addressed and not just to create policies but to actually promote positive change. Stephen Lewis has been the greatest proponent for human rights and it is evident to him how ineffectice the system is. It needs to be resolved and there is a need for it to be more effective.
The Tamil Migrant Ship is here and we need to help the children who landed here to no fault of theirs.
But Canada should be cautious. We should not attract terrorist groups who are obviously taking advantage of the goodness of Canadians.
The Tamil Congress and the immigration lawyers who are feeding from this are not credible parties to this situation.
A few questions to ponder:
How did the Tamil migrants earn more than $30 thousand dollars to come here? It will take 10 or more life times to earn that money in SL.
We hear most Tamil people fly in and out of SL freely and go on vacations to SL. So how can you say they are being persecuted?
How is it over million Tamils live in SL side by side with others?
Why did they not go to Tamil Nadu on the way and claim refugee status?. It is a lot closer and safer.
These people throw away their documents of identification and come to an affluent country to follow up their cause which is to regroup in Toronto and carry on terrorist activities. Tamil Congress is obviously funding this.
I am also suprised a refugee can afford high paid lawyers to defend them.
Canada is a country that welcomes genuine refugees. Don't encourage people who are exploiting Canada to make political gains and create more problems for Canada. Toronto will become a haven for terrorists very soon. Beware Canada.
Chilliwack, British Columbia
I am of the opinion that these are not poor people as they have paid many dollars to get on the ships that come here. Most of them don't want to go through the normal process of immigration because of their past or whatever. No sympathy from me. Turn the boats back, they will continue to prey upon Canada's good nature until the rest of us revolt. We certainly couldn't go to their country and get the treatment we give them. Aren't we the suckers? I just wish more Canadians would realize what a burden these folks are upon our system, going about things the wrong way. We pay them more to come to our country than we pay senior citizens for giving their all to our society. I should say here that I come from immigrant stock and no one helped my predecessors, they wanted to be here and did what they had to, to stay and contribute to their new home. The other home stayed behind and wasn't called home anymore, Canada was home. No other ethnicity was recognized.
I think some folks in Canada find it hard to be generous to people from that part of the world has been said well by Grame Mackay's politica cartoon depicting aid being dropped to the victims of the floods in Pakistan, but falling into the hands of the Taliban. I feel for these people in being victimized twice. Once by the strife in their homeland, and then by suspicion of being part of the ones that are persecuting them.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
For those who are unwilling to allow these people to stay on
compassionate grounds alone, allow me to lay out the economic reasons:
If one calculates what it costs for a Canadian citizen to acquire the
age of these refugees, these refugees are cheap since we have never
contributed to their health care, their education nor any other social
These refugees will eventually buy homes, and furniture and
clothing...they will not inherit any of these items from their extended
These people will all find jobs and pay taxes, they will be part of the
group that will ensure that the boombers will be able to have adequate
pensions and health care.
The more people that live in Canada, the lower the per capita dept load.
Canada needs immigrants and these refugees are only a small number of
what is needed in order to maintain the financial stability in the future.
In the aftermath of conflict ect. does a refugee ever go back to the country or do we have permanent settlers even when it maybee ok to return?
I just want to respond to a caller from Manitoba who said these people are queue jumpers.
These people are seeking refugee status and that refugees do not have a queue.
We should develop a system of determination which is fair, for such a situation and stick to it, instead of whining. Because this will not be the last ship.
We pay good money to people who are making laws and rules, why are they whining instead of doing properly what they should do?
Vancouver, British Columbia
After verifying health and validity of the reasons why they left their home country:
1) Like back in the 1940's, are the refugees or asylum seekers and Immigrants expected to do work in a field of the government's choice for two years? For example, my dad and mom applied as immigrants from Europe (originally Poland), and were accepted and arrived back in 1948 ( they met each other in 1950).
After fulfilling this, they received landed immigrant status, and Canadian citizenship.
2) Bottom line, people who are accepted should provide Canada some value, for initial acceptance, then additional acceptance once that person earns a good track record over a two year period.
I can understand why Canadians are divided on this issue, as I am
There is no question in my mind that these people are queue jumpers.
Maybe they should be told they will be held in the correctional facility
until their claim is processed in the regular queue. I know it will be
expensive, but maybe this will discourage queue jumping.
We have a system at the US border that says if a refugee claimant comes
from a country we regard as "safe" then they are expected to make a
claim there, not in Canada. Are these people going to be sent back to an
intermediate country that they passed through that is "safe", if they
did not come directly from an unsafe country?
There is also no question in my mind that the captain and crew should be
prosecuted as people traffickers. They charged outrageous amount for
transportation to get these people here. That in my mind is a crime
that should be punished. The ship and any other proceeds of the crime
should be seized and sold to return some of the money to the refugees.
Because they are crew they should not be allowed the same right to claim
Having said that, most of these people may be legitimate refugees and
should be allowed the due process of the right to a refugee application.
While I do not condone the rhetoric that the government has used against
these people, I have sympathy for the position in which it places the
The fact that they crossed the ocean to get here perilously, shows that this was not a case of fleeing -- they could have gone to all the countries on the way to Canada. These people are economic refugees, and want to avoid the regular immigration process. Canada is treated like the land of trusting fools. Having heard a few of the callers on the program, I tend to agree.
Immigration and GENUINE refugees, yes. Illegal immigration & bogus refugees, no.
Phil van Schijndel
In the 1800's over a million Irish fled Ireland for Canada and the US. They paid companies to bring them here in boats. They bought passage to come to a safe and better place. It's an incredibly sad story, now layered with romance.
If they did the same today they'd be accused of working with "human trafficers".
This is true of most of the immigrants from Europe that came to Canada in the 1800's - they bought passage and paid it back once here. But now, suddenly, people who do that are victims of human traffickers.
I think it's a great story to tell about your ancestors immigrating to the new world, but when it's people we don't want they're branded as evil and victims.
I think there is some hypocrisy going on here.
Vancouver, British Columbia
I am appalled at how we are currently treating immigrants. We have
become so paranoid that the slightest deviation from Young, Blond and
Rich seems to put us off. So now instead of empathy we have suspicion
and want guarantees that of course cannot come from people who are
fleeing. When I cam to this country, I was made to feel right away
that I belonged. So after all these years I am relaxed, well accepted
and retired. It is enormously hard to lose homeland, family, and
sense of place and find the hard face of unwelcome looking at you with
hooded eyes. It makes for each of them a future of nightmares,
depression that never quite goes away even when and if they become
Of course each person arriving must be scrutinized, but not in a
detention centre, not without compassion. Let them stay with
relatives or in half way houses in the meantime. Let them get
acquainted with us slowly and in welcoming circumstances.
How about looking for people who can give shelter in their homes for a
Canada should take in refugees - Tamils, Roma and others, whether they arrive by boatloads or ones and twos. And, I would not be inclined to trust the word of the genocidal government of Sri Lanka regarding these people.
I tend to the side of the No-one is illegal. Canada has done very well from refugees - from post-WW2 to Boat people and many others.
As for this government's response to the Sun Sea, it is totally hypocritical.
Shame on them for putting the lives and well-being of these refugees at risk by sharing information with Sri Lanka.
How are people in remote areas of countries with limited public information infrastructure supposed to discover Canada's immigration rules?
What about the government's approved back door into this country? The temporary foreign worker scheme.
What is the difference between an entrepreneur who sells passage to Canada by ship and another who sets up a "temporary foreign worker" agency in a foreign country. Many of these agencies charge high fees to send people here to minimum age jobs. There seems to be no effort to enforce Canada's law that the agency's may not charge fees to job applicants nor to ensure these people have a job meeting the host province's minimum standards.
And, all this because low wage employers are unwilling to submit to the rule of the magical free market when it dictates lower returns for big business and greater returns to business.
Canadian people are amongst the most kind people on earth, they respond right away to victims everywhere, whether tsunami, earthquakes or floods, they give a helping hand and this is good. Indeed Canadians are among the first to reach out.
However the same is true that kind people are often used and misused, for this reason this country needs clear cut laws carved in stone who they take in and who not. Our Government needs to draw a line in the sand and say yes we take refugees but we go there and select them in their country or the country where they abide and sort out who we want, because we can't take them all. This way at least it gives the Canadian people the chance who they would like to have live as neighbors side by side.
It's always the few that when they come cost the Canadian taxpayer a lot of money and not only money but when we allow people to come in off the shore and off some boats, we make ourselves very vulnerable. It's not only that it cost are staggering but lives are endangered when criminals are involved.
Have you ever been in a refugee camp? I have worked in them and for the most part - they are not a nice place - in many cases camps still harbouring fighters, are breeding grounds for waterborne disease, and is unsafe for women. I believe that there are many that would take the chance to get to a safer place. What is more, in the Tamil case, the international community has not been able to run the camps - they are government run. In fact the UN and ICRC have to been given access to the camps. Therefore, the Tamil displaced persons in camps are being interred by the government that persecutes them. Moreover - I don't know that last time anyone has checked a map but Sri Lanka is an island. In order to be a refugee one must cross an international border. The Ambassador's argument is flawed because it is near impossible for 1) those interred in displacement camps to make asylum claims because it is controlled by an unfriendly government 2) because they are not in refugee camps.
The Canadian refugee asylum system needs to establish its credibility. Canadians recognize that they are not being well served by the current system while some people from outside the country know they can take unfair advantage. There is no excuse for the level of incompetence that has tens of thousands of refugees left in limbo for years and that fails to send the message that illegitimate claimants will be promptly rejected. People who are legitimate refugees suffer unnecessarily a as result.
A new Canadian's first lesson in citizenship should not be that cheating the system is the way to go.
I'd like to hear a definition of "smuggling" that would explain how an operation can be defined as "smuggling" when a ship is met by officials who escort the people to Canadian soil.
I assume we accept the idea that asylum seekers are not always able to receive documentation before leaving their country of origin. It's obvious that the organizers of the voyage didn't try to escape the notice of border officials by making a clandestine landing. So how is the word "smuggling" relevant to the event we're talking about?
Gabriola Island, British Columbia
Perhaps it would help those who consider the Tamils from the MV Sun
Sea "queue jumpers" to understand the actual situation by comparing it
to our hospital system.
We have waiting lists for many surgeries and diagnostic procedures-
all needed because of medical conditions. Those waiting are
experiencing everything from chronic pain to complete inability to
carry out the activities of daily living. Nonetheless, when someone
arrives in the emergency room with an urgent, life threatening need
for care, they receive it. They are not told to get in the back of the
line, they are not turned away - even (if we want to drag out the
metaphor) if their condition is the result of illegal activity. Nor
are they ever told to leave on an assumption, before they are
assessed, that they do not actually need emergency services, but would
be well enough served by calling their GP to make the next available
appointment, or waiting in line at a clinic.
If they are criminals - perhaps they crashed their car while
intoxicated, or were shot while committing a crime, or are suffering
from the effects of drug abuse - we still treat them first. Then, if
they are found to be in violation of the law, we deal with that fact.
Or, if when they are assessed it is discovered that they are not in
urgent need of help, they are referred elsewhere. But, no matter who
they are, when they arrive claiming urgent needs, through an emergency
system, we deal with that first.
Theoretically we could divert services from those emergency "queue
jumpers" in extreme danger and open more beds and OR time in the
hospital for those on the lists - but that would be as ludicrous as it
I am currently waiting for surgery, which I am told will take at least
a year to be scheduled. I do not begrudge those in the ER the services
My family member is currently applying to move to Canada, to be with
her family. We do not begrudge the response Canada has made to the
Tamils. Instead, I am grateful to live in a country where need and
humanitarian care takes precedence over money, status, comfort or
Victoria, British Columbia
These 500 people will invest in Canada and create employment.
We just lost 500 + jobs thanks to XSTRATA closing the met site in Timmins. We had miners in Sudbury on strike for a year and miners in Newfoundland still off work thanks to ValeInco. Who would you rather have in Canada 500 refugees who will help create wealth in the country or a Fortune 500 corporate refugee taking the wealth out of the country?
So many of your pro boat people calls seem to be ignoring the remarks of the man who knows something about the situation - Mr. Bissett. He pointed out that because so much money is being used for pepople like the recent load there is less for the people in the camps - fewer can come from there. So there is a queue being 'jumped'.
Also, how coincidental is it that many of these people suddenly decide they have relatives here. Why couldn't these relatives sponsor these people? And what about the 40,000 that have disapppeared? What are they doing? Who is suporting them? And surely there has to be some recognition that our pockets are not bottomless. What about the people already here - including aboriginals, the homeless, etc. who cannot get services?
Victoria, British Columbia