Firm Founder Interviewed by Danielle Smith AM770 on Border Crossing Crisis – August 2017

Danielle Smith:                  This next topic. Before anybody says that I’m catering to the racists and bigots out there, I want you to know that you’re talking about the majority of Canadians. If you’re talking about the majority of Canadians who feel this way, then there’s going to be, in these poll results I’m about to share with you, there is going to be at least some liberal voters who feel this way.

There is an emerging problem, as you’ve heard about, in Quebec. They’ve now brought in the army to set up a tent city that can accommodate 1,200 people coming across the border, as they figure out a way to process them. Works fine for the summer. I don’t know what’s going to happen as we get close to winter.

Ipsos-Reid, along with Global, has just done this new poll, and I want you to hear for yourself what some of the results of that poll are, about the level of confidence that they have in Justin Trudeau to be able to fix this mess. I can give you a bit of a hint: not so much. Listen to this.

Speaker 2:                           According to exclusive Ipsos polling, 63% of us believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lacks a solid plan to fix the situation. Many Canadians also doubt whether those crossing into Quebec illegally are legitimate refugees. 67% believe the migrants are trying to skip the legal immigration process.

                                                When it comes to calling in the army to house the asylum seekers while their applications are reviewed, 56% say that’s a sign that things are out of control and being poorly managed by the Trudeau government. A slim majority, 56%, feel the government is not doing enough to protect our border.

Danielle Smith:                  Yikes. That’s a pretty big indictment.

Now, what on Earth do we do about it, and what should we do about it? I’m joined by Raj Sharma, who is a Calgary immigration lawyer, and he’s going to tell us about what we can expect will happen as these newcomers get their files processed.

Raj, thanks so much for being with me.

Raj Sharma:                        My pleasure.

Danielle Smith:                  Do we have any Haitian migrants that have come to Canada, and then made their way to Alberta? Is there anybody in your office who finds themselves in this situation?

Raj Sharma:                        Not quite yet. I can advise, years ago, prior to 2009, my partner and I, we actually did quite a few Haitian refugee claims at that time. Of course, there’s a Haitian community here as well. There was a number of refugee claims that were done, and obviously, a lot of it was due to the 2010 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince. Of course, Haiti has been having issues for decades, and that has resulted in this sort of catastrophe.

Danielle Smith:                  Let’s talk about, because we made the decision before they did in the United States, that it was safe to return back to Haiti. I think there have been some delays in executing on that policy. Have you had anybody who’s been caught up on that, that have been here for a few years, they’re told now, “You’ve got to go back home,” and are you able to give us some idea of what’s happened with those who had been here since 2010?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, there’s a couple of different ways that someone can make, or try to stay, or remain in Canada. You can, of course, make a refugee claim. Now, I think what’s happened is that there’s been this impression, and I believe the impression has been fueled, in fact, by Justin Trudeau, our Prime Minister. Right after the travel ban by the US, the Trump ban, he tweeted out, in January, “To those fleeing persecution, terror, and war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcomeToCanada.” So clearly, individuals took him both literally and they took him seriously. Unfortunately, I think that that’s given a degree of false hope among various communities.

You’re right. We had a temporary suspension of removals against Haiti, and that was actually lifted a while ago. We have only recently started removing Haitians, those individuals who are still here without status. The US is doing it, and they have a similar program. It’s called the Temporary Protected Status. Now, the numbers are kind of overwhelming. It’s not just the, for example, 50,000 Haitians that are under this TPS in the US that’s set to expire in January. They have 27,000 US born children. There’s 57,000 Hondurans in the US under the Temporary Protected Status, and that’s expiring in January, too. There’s 195,000 Salvadorans that are in the US, under this TPS, and that’s set to expire in March. Take all those numbers, they’ve got 273,000 children born in the US.

I’m the first person to sort of say keep calm and carry on, but these numbers are staggering. Of course, if they’re coming, and they’re coming in at, the CBSA is saying 200 to 300 a day, I’m hearing other numbers of about 500 a day, and it’s worrisome, to me. Mr. Trudeau seemed to suggest that we have the capacity and the resources to do this, perhaps at present, but I don’t think it’s normal that the military is building a tent city on the border. I don’t think it’s normal that we’re housing people in stadiums.

Danielle Smith:                  Well, that can’t be a very good circumstance to be living in. I mean, when you think about having lived in the United States, probably having jobs, having homes, to come here and have to live in some kind of a tent shantytown, I can’t imagine that’s what they were expecting when they arrived here, either.

Raj Sharma:                        Well, I think it’s incumbent on our political leaders to be very, very clear. I mean, there’s perhaps this perception of Canada as Disneyland, or the El Dorado for immigrants. Of course, that has been assiduously promoted, but at the same time, we have this rigorous refugee system. We look for … Just by making a refugee claim doesn’t mean that you’re actually a refugee. A refugee is someone that has personal risk against him or her, and that the personal risk arises from certain specific factors.

We know that about 50% of Haitians, that their refugee claims are denied by this country. Obviously, we can expect that those numbers will probably stay the same, or probably increase, in terms of rejection, because when you look at someone, one individual who crossed that border was in the US for 17 years. How are these individuals that have been in the US for many, many years, that have either never made a refugee claim there, or that their refugee claim has been rejected there, it’s going to be very difficult for them to establish that they have a personalized risk waiting for them back in Haiti after the passage of so many years in the US.

Danielle Smith:                  You say that 50% are denied, which means that 50% were approved. Can you give me some of the conditions under which one of these Haitian migrants might be approved?

Raj Sharma:                        Yes. For sure. I’ve done a number of successful cases for Haitians. This could involve, for example, women, and vulnerable individuals that are victims of domestic abuse, sustained targeting, for example.  Sometimes there are ways for an individual to gain protection if they’ve been targeted by criminal elements, and there’s inability of the state to protect.

Political opinion, or political expression, for example, journalists critical of powerful politicians, or other high ranking officials, this is what you typically see with a good refugee claim. Again, going to be tough to establish that if you’ve been in the US for five or ten years.

Danielle Smith:                  No kidding. Can you tell us anything about why some of these other migrants might end up coming our way, and whether or not they would have likelihood of being able to be approved. You mentioned, I think, El Salvador. I think you mentioned Honduras. What can you tell us about the reasons why they are in the US, and whether or not there’s a legitimate claim for them to be able to make in Canada.

Raj Sharma:                        All of these three countries, of course, are basically failed states. If you look at Honduras, you’re talking about a murder rate that approaches that of countries that are at war. You have massive instability. You have massive crime. You have breakdown of state institutions. It’s a lot of violence and instability that these individuals are fleeing.

Now, it’s important to point out that our refugee system was basically created after World War II.  The architecture of a refugee definition does not lend itself well to individuals fleeing generalized conditions.

Danielle Smith:                  Are they also going to be in the same state where they’ve been in the US for, in some cases, years, and years, and years, and also will face a hard time being able to make the claim on that basis?

Raj Sharma:                        Yes. Absolutely, but bear in mind, as soon as you come in and make a refugee claim … I want to make something clear. There’s been some individuals that are comparing refugees that we resettle with these individuals that are crossing the border. I think there’s a very important distinction here. Refugees that we resettle, we vet them ahead of time. We know who they are. We know their background. Individuals that come to the border, or cross the border and make a refugee claim, and now, of course, we’re supposed to do the initial screening within 72 hours. Now, with this deluge of applicants, that initial screening is not happening for a couple of months. In the meantime, they’re going to be inside Canada, and living amongst us. There has been, for example, four or five Haitians migrants, for example, that have been caught with child pornography. Again, our system is set up for that. We can deny access to a refugee system to criminals, and individuals with criminal records in the US, but it is an incredible strain.

I want to just point something out. If you make a refugee claim in Canada, you’ll be able to get a work permit. You’ll be able to enter and remain here. Now, we talked about this, I think, in our last discussion. Refugee hearing is supposed to happen in about two or three months. That is not going to happen. We were already struggling with that.  There’s legacy claims that are more than four years old.  So, we won’t be able to adjudicate these cases for, I think, many years.

Then, of course, these individuals can make other applications to remain in Canada, for example, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. If that happens, and again, those refugee reforms were brought into place by Jason Kenney, to send a message out that, “Look, we’re going to get to ‘yes’, or we’re going to get to ‘no’ quickly, and then if it’s no, we’re going to remove you from Canada.” He tried to put in place disincentives. This is how we typically manage, for example, our refugee intake. We have either disincentives, or we turn off the tap. For example, we’ll put a visa requirement on Mexicans when we’re getting too many unfounded, for example, claims from there, or we’ll put in place visa requirements against countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan, or other typical refugee producing countries. This is how we typically deal with these. We turn off the tap.

Now, we can’t turn off the tap if there’s hundreds of thousands of potential claimants that live in the US, and can stroll over the border.

Danielle Smith:                  No kidding. Okay. I want to talk to you about the mechanics of what should be done, now. Now that we’ve got a system that was already overwhelmed, it may end up getting overwhelmed by not just hundreds but potentially tens of thousands. What happens next? I have to take a pause.

My guest is Raj Sharma, Calgary immigration lawyer. If you thought that Justin Trudeau lacked a solid plan to deal with this, I think you’re probably right. Let’s just take a quick break. We’ll be right back on News Talk 770.

Belatedly, the Immigration Minister is now trying to send out word to the consulates around the world, because people are using the US as a byway point to come into Canada, as well. We talked about a couple of those stories with our colleague who’s covering it in Montreal. There is a New York City counselor, a Dr Mathieu Eugene, who is a Haitian American himself. He recently, I think just yesterday, came to Montreal to find out what is happening with Haitian asylum seekers, because he thinks as well that they’re under the false impression that they come to Canada, and that it is an open door policy. Listen to what he had to say when he was interviewed on this yesterday.

Dr Mathieu E.:                   [inaudible 00:13:41] After six months, after January 2018, you got to be ready to get back to Haiti. But just having the [provision 00:13:47], this is a very [inaudible 00:13:49] position. They’re human beings. That means they’re trying to survive, and they’re trying to get a way to maintain their families. That means my hope is to see the government, the American government, extend the TPS for another 18 months.

Danielle Smith:                  Okay. He’s trying to seek a solution internally to get them to extend that Temporary Protected Status for 18 months, but he’s saying, “Hey, look. They’re human beings. That means they’re trying to survive, and they’re trying to get a way to maintain their families.”

So, my guest is Raj Sharma, who is a Calgary immigration lawyer. Raj, I’m interested more in this humanitarian and compassionate designation that people might have, because it strikes me, from what I’m hearing you say, it is going to take years for some of these individuals to be processed. By the time they’ve been here five, six, seven years, they’ve got jobs, they’ve had more children, that almost seems, on the face of it, to say how can we now send them back? Is that what’s likely to play out under the current scenario?

Raj Sharma:                        I believe so. Again, this is something that I think we’ve definitely discussed in the past, that fundamentally, it would only take a small change in certain populations in the US to fundamentally break the refugee adjudication system. So once that happens, and we have a Charter requirement to give them a hearing in Canada, once that happens, and they spend years here, of course they would then, even if they’re refused the refugee claim, which appears likely, the humanitarian application, which looks at establishment in Canada, the best interests of children affected by the decision, and the hardship in return, which, of course, would probably be significant if you’ve been outside of Haiti for 20 years … It would seem, then, that there would be a natural pathway to permanent residency.

Economics tells us that people do rational things. This would be perfectly rational, then, to come to Canada, make a refugee claim, and then ultimately rest assured, I suppose, that you will be allowed to remain.

Danielle Smith:                  What should be done? I know in our last 90 seconds you probably cannot give a full solution to what the government should be doing to respond to this, but it just strikes me that if you have a bunch of people who are coming in illegitimately, and able to game the system just because of backlogs, that’s going to create social tension. I just don’t know that there’s any way around that. I think part of what you’re seeing in these poll results are people are saying, “Hey, yeah, you can come here, but you’ve got to come here fairly and you’ve got to use a fair process.”

Raj Sharma:                        Part of the problem here is that the pie is only so big. If we expend our resources and our money to process an economic migrant and not a refugee, that means we’re not giving protection to someone that actually needs it. Doing nothing doesn’t seem to be an option. The government may want to create a separate class for Haitians, but that may lead to incentives for other populations. Frankly, I think Canada’s money and efforts would probably be better spent in rebuilding Haiti, and eliminating the pull and push factors.  [Or] we may want to decide that we will make them ineligible for refugee claim if their refugee claim has already been rejected by the US.

Danielle Smith:                  Then that would stop those from even trying to come here in the first place. It’s a matter of trying to find ways to stop the flow.

Raj Sharma:                        Well, let’s put it this way. I’m losing confidence in our government’s response to this. I think it does a disservice to these individuals, and it does a disservice to, of course, the integrity of our immigration system as well.

Danielle Smith:                  Raj, I’m looking forward to getting another update from you, so let us know if you begin to start receiving any of these claims yourself. I’d be interested in talking with you again.

Raj Sharma:                        Absolutely.

Danielle Smith:                  Raj Sharma is a Calgary immigration lawyer…