The House

The House: Addressing cracks in the refugee system

This week on The House, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen defends the government after a scathing new report from the Auditor General. We recap the latest in the Mark Norman case with Conservative MP Erin O'Toole. Chris Hall sits down with New Zealand's high commissioner to discuss the Christchurch Call, and finally, two senators break down the amendments to Bill C-69.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Hussen says he remains confident that a growing backlog of asylum claims will be dealt with as proposed changes make their way through the refugee system. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Canada's immigration minister is defending the government's new proposed measure to limit asylum claims. 

The provision, slipped into the budget implementation bill, would block people from applying for asylum in Canada if they had a pre-exisiting claim in another country with a similar immigration process — like the U.S. or New Zealand. 

The addition was made quietly, but immigration lawyers and refugee advocates say it's an attempt to keep certain people out of Canada. 

Ahmed Hussen rejected that, saying the government is looking for ways to speedily deal with applications. 

"We're getting efficiencies everywhere that we can. And one of the ways to do that is to say to someone 'Look, if New Zealand, which has a robust domestic asylum system, is willing to give you protection and you've already initiated a claim there you don't really need access to the immigration [system],'" he told The House.

"The fact of the matter is I'm very confident in our record."

This week's Auditor General's report highlighted a number of issues with Canada's immigration system - longer wait times, mounting backlogs, and lax criminality checks. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen stops by to discuss what promises to be a key election issue this fall. 9:36

Hussen didn't dispute that it's also an attempt to curb the flow of migrants at illegal crossings like Roxham Road in Quebec. 

There were approximately 55,000 asylum claims in 2018.

A new report from the auditor general showed there are big problems with that system, including large application backlogs and lax criminality checks. 

The government says many of those issues were dealt with before the report was released, but when asked what more the Liberals would do to fix the issues, Hussen blamed the previous Conservative government for the bulk of the problems. 

He also added that the recent integration of the three arms that deal with refugees — border services, the immigration department and the Immigration and Refugee Board — is a huge step forward. 

"For the first time we have line of sight throughout the system."

Mark Norman was the government's fall guy, Conservative MP says

Federal prosecutors stayed a breach of trust charge against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole says Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was singled out to take the fall for a leaked shipbuilding contract. 

Charges of breach of trust against Norman were dropped by the director of public prosecutions earlier this week, as new information that had come to light through the defence team convinced the prosecution that there was no longer a reasonable chance of conviction.

Norman had been accused of leaking cabinet secrets in relation to a $668-million shipbuilding deal. He was accused of leaking to both an executive at the Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que., which leased a supply ship to the navy, and to a former CBC journalist.

O'Toole says a Privy Council Office investigation found 73 people were aware of the leak. Only Norman was taken to court. 

This week, a charge of breach of trust against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was suddenly stayed. The prosecution says new evidence was delivered to them by Norman's defence - evidence they got from interviews with three former conservative federal cabinet ministers. One of those former ministers, Erin O'Toole, sits down with Chris Hall to discuss this latest development, as well as this week's release of the Conservative's foreign policy plan. 9:45

"My conclusion is they felt that one name needed to be put to blame for the Cabinet leak. I think [the Liberals] were embarrassed by it," he told The House

He added that questions need to be answered, including why dozens of people who knew the information was out there weren't held accountable. 

"They handed one name, I think, to the RCMP and that was Mark Norman. Why was that done?" 

The Conservatives have used this case to accuse the Prime Minister and his office of political interference, including coaching witnesses. The director of public prosecutions said her decision was made independent of political factors. 

O'Toole and his party are now using Norman's stayed charges as a political weapon against the Liberals in the House of Commons, and are pushing for further compensation for Norman. 

"We're happy for Mr Norman. We want to see him reinstated as vice chief of defence staff."

Norman said he has an "important story" to tell Canadians, which he will be sharing in the coming days.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance issued a statement saying he will be discussing Norman's return to regular duty at the earliest opportunity.

The path for Bill C-69 is through controversy: Senators

A calendar sits in the middle of the newly-renovated temporary Senate chamber. ((Benoit Roussel, CBC))

Two Senators working through the amendments on Bill C-69 say there's a path forward for the controversial legislation. 

Senators are going clause-by-clause through over 200 proposed amendments to the Liberal government's energy assessment overhaul legislation. 

It's been one of the trickier bills to navigate, as opponents say it will block any new pipelines from being built, and others say there's not enough clarity about who would have jurisdiction over the approval process.

Still, Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald says there's a future for C-69. 

"I believe there's common ground. We have some real issues with the bill, but there is an urgency in the industry and we know there's one in the government to get this bill," he told The House.

Independent Senator Paula Simons agreed. 

"I'm feeling more optimistic than I have in weeks."

Both Conservative and Independent members of the energy committee are largely aligned already on the bill's perceived flaws and how they might go about fixing them. Even the government has some amendments it would like to make to the bill before it clears the final legislative hurdles.

Despite some agreement, there are still serious concerns the bill is unworkable. Sen. Simons says some of the amendments have to be examined carefully. 

"I don't think they're reconcilable so much as they can be held in balance, because I consider myself an Albertan and an environmentalist and I don't think it is impossible to come up with a regulatory regime that will protect the environment, respect extremely importantly Indigenous rights that are enshrined in the Constitution, and still give project proponents clarity about whether or not they're legitimately going to get a project to go ahead." 

The Senate's Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee is now deliberating over 200 amendments to the government's Bill C-69, which looks to change the way major resource projects are reviewed in this country. Chris Hall talks with Senators Paula Simons and Michael MacDonald about trying to find common ground in order to pass what they are calling a flawed Bill. 11:42

New Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was in Ottawa last week testifying before the Senate committee. He told the group that he saw the bill as a threat to national unity. 

MacDonald says he thinks Kenney has a point. 

"This is not just an Alberta issue," he said.  "The Alberta issue is actually a pan-Canadian issue that we have to embrace it that way. And I think there is a challenge here for the unity of the country."

New Zealand high commissioner praises Canada in wake of shootings

The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, left, talks to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they arrive for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Windsor, England, April 20, 2018. Ardern's rapid response to the Christchurch mosque shooting has prompted calls for more action on gun control in Canada. (Frank Augstein/AP Photo)

Canada's support and leadership has played a big role in moving forward from the shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, their representative says. 

Daniel Mellsop, the high commissioner to Canada, told The House that the government has shown a commitment to ensuring attacks — like the one in March that killed 51 people — don't happen again. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be travelling to France next week to participate in the Christchurch Call, a multilateral meeting aimed at stopping the spread of terrorism and extremism online. 

"It's wonderful that Prime Minister Trudeau has confirmed he's coming and that goes back to the point that the support we've had from the Canadian government on this has been outstanding, very much on the same page as New Zealand," Mellsop said.

New Zealand's representative in Canada talks about the upcoming meeting where countries and tech companies will meet to talk about how to battle extremism and terrorism online. 8:03

In addition to that collaboration, he said officials have discussed the 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City. 

"In the aftermath of the Christchurch incident we've certainly been talking to authorities up in Quebec and and I've had fantastic support from officials up there in terms of sharing the lessons learned."

Tech companies and government leaders will be present at the upcoming summit, and Mellsop says that partnership is essential. 

"I think it has to be collaborative in order to work. There are things that can be done by the tech companies. There's potentially things that can be done by governments to address the problem," he said.

"But I think all the tech companies, the countries involved, we all agree that there is a set of terrorist content, violent extremism that we don't want to have on the platforms."


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