OTTAWA — Changes made to Canada's refugee system in 2012 resulted in faster decisions on asylum claims, but an internal government study warns those improvements may now be at risk.
Several asylum targets weren't met following the implementation of reforms, despite the fact the government had set aside money to cover twice as many claims as were ultimately received, the study found.
Now, the number of claims is on the rise again.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at an end-of-session news conferernce on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
"If claim intake continues to increase, there is a risk that there may be further challenges meeting targets, that backlogs may grow, and the overall average claimant time in the system may increase," said an internal evaluation of the reforms posted online by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
The latest evaluation comes with Justin Trudeau's Liberal government poised to put additional pressure on the system by undoing another of the changes made by the previous Conservative government.
The primary goal of the changes had been to get claims decided faster, to ensure those in need of asylum were approved more quickly, and those who did not qualify were promptly deported.
The evaluation examined the implementation of two laws that — among other things — created timelines for certain steps in the process and limited avenues of appeal for claimants from certain countries.
"If claim intake continues to increase, there is a risk that there may be further challenges meeting targets, that backlogs may grow, and the overall average claimant time in the system may increase."
Prior to that, however, the Tories also sought to cut off claims at the source by imposing visa restrictions on countries whose nationals were to blame much of the backlog.
One of those countries was Mexico: about 9,000 of 36,759 claims lodged in 2008 came from Mexicans. After visas were imposed in 2009, the number of Mexican claims fell to 1,199.
But this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and announce a plan to lift that visa requirement.
It will come despite objections from departmental officials who fear a new spike in claims and a precedent being set with regards to visas in place on other countries.
Department officials concerned
The evaluation doesn't explicitly address the implications of a Mexican visa lift on the system. It was carried out prior to the Liberals winning the election.
But in general, it found, claims are already rising.
The year the reforms were introduced, 20,456 claims were lodged. In 2013, it was only 10,322. In 2014, 13,410 claims were filed, in 2015 over 16,000 and further increases are forecast in the next two years, the evaluation said.
The $259 million spent on the reform project means those seeking asylum now receive a decision on their file about five times faster than those who applied prior to 2012.
Despite that, targets for hearing dates and removals continue to be missed. Among them — the goal of getting 80 per cent of failed claimants out within 12 months of the decision. Just over half were actually removed.
Working to 'plug the gaps'
In a formal response to the evaluation, both Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency said they were working to plug the gaps.
"Successful delivery of a decentralized asylum system requires close co-operation between independent organizations, while remaining mindful that each organization is independent in delivering on specific decision-making targets," the government wrote in its response.
"Despite efforts to ensure the smooth management of the asylum system, there are factors that are beyond the control of IRCC and other organizations, such as unpredictable intake and challenges in obtaining travel documents from recalcitrant countries."