Emergency study on Irregular Border Crossings

In July, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration completed an emergency study on the situation of asylum seekers crossing into Canada irregularly from the US border.

We heard from 3 federal Ministers, 1 federal Parliamentary Secretary, 1 provincial Minister, and 1 Mayor.

In 2017, 1,900 individuals were returned to the U.S due to The Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), more than 4 times the number in 2014. People are calling the recent influx of irregular migrants from the United States a crisis, but the only crisis is the government’s reactionary approach and bad management of the situation.

Throughout the study I made it clear that I think this agreement should be suspended as frankly, the United States is not a safe country for asylum seekers, especially with the latest decision from the Trump administration that it will not accept any applications for gender-based asylum claims based on domestic violence and gang violence. It is clear that the government will continue to avoid the elephant in the room that is the Trump administration; which continues to violate international and humanitarian law, enact racist immigration policy, and fuel the rhetoric of xenophobia and hate. It is also clear that Conservatives offer only rhetoric and ideas of somehow shutting down the border, which officials continue to inform us is not actually possible so long as we adhere to our own laws and international obligations.

It was a humbling experience to listen to Seidu Mohammed tell his story and thank Canada for “saving his life”. In his home country of Ghana, he risked imprisonment and lynching by homophobic mobs due to his sexual orientation. While I am proud that he was able to eventually find safety and sanctuary here, I am saddened that he had endure such hardship to get here. His testimony really demonstrates that America is no longer a safe third world country as, after a long, dangerous journey in which his friend died of starvation beside him, he was then put in US detention for 9 months. He was not provided with a lawyer and the court required him to pay $28,000 to be conditionally released from detention. Even after his brother paid this, he still feared for his life due to the constant, realistic threats of deportation from Immigration officers. He fled to Canada in search of safety and lost all his fingers to frostbite in the process.  

Asylum seekers do not want to have to make these dangerous crossings, but they have no choice since the Safe Third Country Agreement prevents them from coming through regular crossings from the United States. We should not make vulnerable people risk their lives in search of safety and protection by suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement.

Mrs. Anne Woolger, founder of Matthew House Refugee Reception Services and Mr. Alex Neve, from Amnesty International, strongly supported me in this view from a Human Rights perspective. The Minister claimed that the government is meeting “our international obligations to continue to provide asylum to those who seek it”, yet the Safe Third Country Agreement clearly undermines this.

To my disappointment, even after hearing Mohammed’s story, the Minister refused to acknowledge that the United States is not a safe third country. Even worse, I had to call the Minister out more than once on his use of terminology; dehumanizing asylum seekers and their dignity by using the words “illegal” and “irregular” interchangeably. However,  the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, states clearly under section 133 that asylum seekers who cross over, directly or indirectly, are actually not committing an offence.

We must not lose sight of who we are as a country and lose ourselves in the rhetoric of fear. This is not a crisis. We’ve seen similar situations before. We simply need a rational approach that recognizes reality, ensures our public services are well funded, and that our policies treat asylum seekers with the compassion and humanity they deserve.

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CIMM#93: Closed Work Permits and Temporary Foreign Workers and Briefing on Recent Changes to International Student Policy and Plans for Future Measures

On the question around student housing, I absolutely think that it is essential for institutions and provinces do their part and I think that the federal government should show leadership and perhaps initiate a program wherein the federal government contributes a third of the funding, institutions provide a third of the funding, and the provinces and territories provide a third of the funding towards the creation of student housing, both for international students and domestic students. That way you can have a robust plan to address the housing needs of the students.

I'm going to park that for a minute and quickly get into the students who were subject to fraud. We have a situation in which students have now been cleared and found to be genuine by the task force, but they have not gotten their passports back yet. I don't know what the holdup is, and I wonder if the minister can comment on that.

Second, there are students who are still waiting to be evaluated by the task force, and the task force work can't proceed because they might be waiting for a date for the IRB to assess the question on their permit on whether or not it was genuine or whether or not there was misrepresentation. They are consequently in a situation in which people are just chasing their tails and they can't get to the task force.

On that question, will the minister agree that instead of making people go through that process with the IRB, the task force evaluation can move forward first so that they can be found to be either a genuine student or not a genuine student?


CIMM#92: Closed Work Permits, Temporary Foreign Workers and Committee Business

I want to thank the special rapporteur for joining us today at committee. I also very much appreciate your coming to Canada and looking into this issue.

As many of the witnesses have said to us, the issue around the immigration system as it's set up, with the closed work permit approach, is that it actually sets these workers up for exploitation. From that perspective.... It's not to say, as the Conservatives would suggest, that you were alleging that all employers abuse workers. I don't believe you said that at any point in time; rather, I think the issue is about the immigration system that Canada has.

Instead of having this closed work permit situation, what would you say is the remedy to address the exploitation that many of the migrant workers you spoke with directly experienced?


Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, United Nations, As an Individual
Tomoya Obokata

My recommendation is, certainly, to modify the closed nature of the program. If the workers are able to choose their employers at their own will, that reduces the instances of abuse and exploitation.

More importantly, whether it's closed or not, employers have to comply with the relevant legal obligations. I accept that a large number of employers already do. It's those others who do not who require further attention from the provincial and federal governments to see whether they can take appropriate law enforcement actions against those who breach labour standards legislation.


Jenny Kwan Vancouver East, BC

With respect to exploitation, one of the issues that migrant workers are faced with is that they don't have full status here in Canada; they have only temporary status. One issue that has been identified is the closed work permit. The other issue is in terms of having rights. Being able to have their rights protected also means that they have to have status here in Canada.

How would you suggest the policy side of things should be amended to ensure that these migrant workers have their rights protected?

CIMM#91: Government's Response to the Final Report of the Special Committee on Afghanistan and Committee Business

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I thank the committee members for supporting the last motion.

I have another motion that I'd like to move at this point. Notice has been given for it. It reads as follows:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities and relevant officials together for two hours, or invite the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship with relevant officials for two hours, and the Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities to appear separately with relevant officials for one hour to update the committee on:

(a) the work of the task force addressing the exploitation scheme targeting international students as many students are still reporting that they are in limbo and have not heard back from officials about their status;

(b) the measures taken by IRCC and institutions to help prevent and protect international students from fraud schemes;

(c) the justification to increase the financial requirements for international students by more than 100% to $20,635;

(d) the justification for putting a cap on international study permits; and

(e) the plans to address the housing crisis for international students and efforts made to collaborate with provinces, territories and post-secondary institutions.

I think the motion is self-explanatory on all elements, and I think we would benefit from having the two ministers appear before our committee. We've also deliberated this issue at length at another meeting, so in the interest of time, I won't revisit all of those points.

I hope committee members will support this motion.


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