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$74M not enough to cut refugee claim backlog: internal documents

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OTTAWA — The agency that processes refugee claims in Canada estimated it would need almost four times as much money as it is getting to tackle a major backlog in asylum claims, caused in part by an influx of irregular migrants.

Documents obtained under access-to-information law show the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) drafted estimates in November 2017 showing it would need $140 million a year, plus an additional $40 million in one-time costs, to process 36,000 extra refugee cases annually.

That’s the number of cases the board would need to complete to cut the backlog while also dealing with new asylum claims.

The government ultimately earmarked $74 million for the IRB, over two years, in last year’s federal budget to address Canada’s refugee backlog.

This amount will not go far enough, the IRB said in a “key messages” document circulated within the department.

“The additional funding will allow us to finalize at least 17,000 additional claims for refugee protection and a little more than 3,000 RAD (refugee appeal division) appeals,” the IRB says in the document dated May 24, 2018. “Certainly the current inventory of pending claims — a little over 50,000 — cannot all be finalized with the funding provided, and in a two-year window. To tackle an inventory of this size, while still meeting ongoing intake, requires a longer-term approach.”

The number of outstanding claims has since grown to over 64,000.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has had an increase in the number of refugee claims since 2017, a phenomenon it attributes to “changes in the global environment.”

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the number of new claims began exceeding the board’s capacity to process them by an average of about 2,300 cases a month, which has resulted in the growing backlog. It means asylum-seekers hoping to be accepted as refugees to Canada face wait times of up to 21 months before their claims are even heard.

Part of the problem has been an influx of irregular migrants, mainly from Nigeria and Haiti, who have been crossing the Canada-U.S. border through unofficial pathways to seek asylum.

These irregular asylum cases, totalling over 38,000 since the beginning of 2017, accounted for about 42 per cent of the pending refugee claims at the IRB, as of May 31, according to the documents.

The IRB has responded by making a number of operational changes as well as adding staff, thanks to the $74 million in new funds.

But the internal documents also reveal that even before the IRB began adding jobs, dozens of board positions had been left vacant since 2016 due to delays in the cabinet approval process for the positions.

Meanwhile, employees processing claims have raised concerns about heavy workloads as they try to chip away at the ever-growing pile of case files. They also complained of problems with their pay due to the federal government’s buggy Phoenix compensation system.

“Employees are clearly feeling the effects of the increased workloads and stress (pressure)!” one employee said in a question posed to then-IRB chairman Mario Dion in an employee town hall in November 2017. “We’re working hard and it doesn’t seem fair that we’re having issues with our pay.”

“Employees are already tired. How are you planning on managing this?” another employee asked.

One staffer pressed Dion about when the influx of claims will be considered a crisis.

In his response, drafted with the help of staff, Dion told the employees that while attempts were constantly being made to work smarter, “efficiencies and hard work alone will not solve the current issues around growing backlogs.”

“Simply put, the IRB is not sufficiently resourced to deal with its current workload,” Dion told employees.

After this town hall, government did announce the $74 million, which will add at least 50 additional decision-makers to the IRB’s refugee-protection division. Some of the money will also go toward translators, interpreters and other support staff. These resources, coupled with streamlined processing strategies, has increased the number of finalized cases by 40 per cent over the last year.

But the IRB notes more than once in the documents that a longer-term strategy will be needed to fully clear Canada’s backlog of asylum claims.

—Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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Environment

Tax credits, penalizing big polluters, key to Conservative climate plan

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OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wants to give corporate tax breaks to companies that develop and patent green technology in Canada and introduce another federal tax credit for residential energy-efficiency projects.

Scheer is unveiling his long-awaited climate plan later today in a speech in Gatineau, Que.

It is the last of five big policy pronouncements he is making this spring in the lead-up to the fall election campaign.

A party official says the Conservatives intend to scrap the federal carbon tax but keep a price on pollution for heavy industrial emitters.

However their plan won’t tax emissions from major polluters, but will require them to invest in clean technology as a penalty for exceeding emissions limits.

Scheer intends to use his plan to reduce emissions in line with Canada’s targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change, but the Conservatives have been hinting that their plan will include taking credit when Canadian products reduce emissions overseas.

The Canadian Press

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Acts of kindness emerge at chaotic Raptors rally derailed by shooting

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TORONTO — When gunshots sparked panic and chaos at a massive outdoor celebration for Toronto’s NBA champions this week, some fans caught in the stampede worked to keep others out of danger, at times putting their own safety at risk.

As authorities now look to learn lessons from the event marred by overcrowding and violence on Monday, accounts of acts of kindness by complete strangers have emerged.

The shooting — which took place shortly after the Raptors went on stage during a victory rally at Nathan Phillips Square — injured four people, police said. Three people were arrested and two firearms were recovered, with investigators still looking for another suspect and firearm.

As hordes of fans scattered in fear, Mo Hussein said a group of young adults he had just met helped shield his three-year-old daughter from the crowd.

Hussein had gone to the rally with family members, including his niece and nephew, and ran into some of his niece’s friends, who he did not previously know. His daughter had just fallen asleep in her stroller when shots set off a wave of panic in the packed square, he said.

“All of a sudden the crowd started running towards us,” he said. “Fortunately I didn’t panic, my first thoughts were to protect my daughter who was asleep in the stroller. I just told people around me to come help me protect the stroller.”

Hussein said his niece’s friends formed a semi-circle around the stroller, protecting his daughter, who remained blissfully unaware of the commotion around her. When the crowd dispersed, “there were strollers around, there were shoes strewn all over the place, peoples’ hats and personal possessions all over the place,” he said.

That selfless act from the group prevented what could have been a terrible outcome, said Hussein, noting many children were put at risk at a purportedly family-friendly event.

“It basically means that even at the most evil point, humanity prevails,” he said. “(My niece’s friends) were afraid themselves and they were shivering after the fact, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and the fact that they were brave enough to actually help protect my daughter is something I really appreciate.”

Some who received a helping hand also witnessed other acts of kindness.

Kimi Marfa, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were separated from friends moments after the shooting, which occurred steps away from their group.

“It was so scary not knowing if my friends were hurt or if they were safe,” Marfa said.

The 16-year-old said they ran into the nearby Old City Hall courthouse and saw children who had lost track of their parents. The kids were crying and looked scared, particularly when security announced the building was under lockdown, Marfa said.

Other parents who were still with their children stepped in to console those who were alone, Marfa said. “There were mothers acting as mothers to these others kids, hugging them and singing to them,” Marfa said.

Marfa was also helped through a panic attack by a woman in the courthouse, they said.

Suzanne Bernier said she ran into a nearby Canadian Tire where employees told distraught Raptors fans to come inside and stay calm. Store employees acted professionally and with compassion despite not being prepared to deal with dozens of terrified people seeking shelter, she said.

“It was so nice to see people stepping up to help each other,” she said. “It was just everyday citizens coming together to help each other out.”

Alanna Rizza and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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