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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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    Online real estate auctions try to shake up sales with novel approach

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  • An online auction for a luxury home in Abbotsford, B.C., is drawing attention for its novel approach, which some observers say has potential to inspire new sales even if it doesn’t have any notable impact on the housing landscape.

    Bidding opens Tuesday on the 12-bedroom, 10-bath restored train power station known as the “Sumas Powerhouse,” which was previously listed for $5 million and has an assessed value of $2.2 million on B.C. Assessment.

    It’s one of three properties in Canada listed on global firm Concierge Auction’s website. A news release says it’s targeting Chinese buyers and will be sold in co-operation with Re/Max.

    Scott Pate, a project sales manager with Concierge, said luxury real estate has been a buyers market for quite some time in both the United States and Canada and auctions are a way to give sellers more certainty.

    “We’ll bring the market to this sale instead of the normal way of selling real estate, which is putting it on the market and waiting for an offer, which could take years and years,” he said.

    “The market is motivated because there’s a fear of missing out. This auction is going to end on a certain day … so it creates a lot of interest.”

    Real estate auctions are typical in Australia and New Zealand, but the model is less common in Canada. 

    A real estate agent in Victoria tried the in-person auction approach in 2016 with a property in the city’s upscale Rockland neighbourhood, holding a public auction featuring a pianist playing a grand piano in the ballroom at the event.

    But local media reported that although 60 people filled the room, only one was an interested buyer so the auction was cancelled. In 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court accepted a $1.8-million offer for the historic mansion in foreclosure.

    Tom Davidoff, director of the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, said online auctions aren’t all that different from the way we buy and sell homes traditionally in Canada, especially in cases where there are multiple interested buyers and a bidding war.

    That could make it comfortable for Canadian buyers to transition to the model.

    “It certainly could be a direction the market could go. In segments where the market is slow today, people will try different approaches to move product, so it’s certainly possible,” he said.

    But beyond creating another way for potential buyers to bid, he said he doesn’t believe there will be an impact on the market in terms of housing prices or competition.

    “This will have no impact on the market overall,” Davidoff said.

    In Toronto, On the Block sells real estate both the traditional way and through its online auction platform but doesn’t focus on luxury sales.

    Co-founder Daniel Steinfeld said online auctions offer a way around some of the frustrations that come with silent bidding wars under the traditional system.

    As part of the company’s model, buyers must sign agreements to make the value of their bids public while their identities remain protected. Real estate board regulations otherwise prohibit real estate agents from disclosing the substance of competing bids.

    “Buyers, especially in the Toronto and Vancouver markets, have grown pretty frustrated with the blind bidding approach,” he said.

    The platform also allows the company to post more information than might be available through MLS listings, like copies of home inspections and agreements of purchase and sale, which makes it less likely for a sale to fall through.

    The most important factor in a successful real estate auction is the starting price, which can inspire competitive bids, Steinfeld said. So when identifying potential properties for auction, the company interviews the sellers to determine their objectives and market expectations.

    If the seller has unreasonable expectations about the market value of their property, it’s probably not the right fit for auction.

    Market conditions matter less, he said.

    “We have seen in both good and bad market conditions that it can work, it really just comes down to the appropriate pricing strategy,” Steinfeld said.

    Auction properties are typically first-time listings and the company sets a reserve price, which represents the minimum value at which the seller is obligated to sell.

    “Once bidding reaches that number, everyone knows for sure that property will sell,” he said.

    “Then everyone starts to bid quit a bit more because they know at that point that if they win, it’s theirs.”

     

    Amy Smart, The Canadian Press


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    A week on, vigil held for Christchurch victims in Prince Edward Island

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  • CHARLOTTETOWN — More than a week after the deadly shooting rampage at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a vigil was held at the Charlottetown cenotaph in Prince Edward Island on Saturday to show solidarity with the victims.

    Sobia Ali-Faisal, a faculty member at the University of Prince Edward Island’s psychology department, said while the temperature was cold the atmosphere at the vigil was warm.

    “It was sombre, but the signs that people had were very, very supportive,” she said, adding that the hundreds of people who attended “really wanted to be there.”

    Ali-Faisal said it was particularly heartening to see support from outside the Muslim community.

    “It’s soothing because you can feel quite vulnerable after something like this happens,” she said.

    “It could happen here. You could be a target, and you just kind of become cautious and take a lot more precautions. So it’s nice when you see people come out and support you. It makes you feel safer.”

    Vigils can also be a starting point for challenging hate by allowing people of different faiths to connect, she added, but said it’s important to keep up the momentum they create.

    Shaukat Khan, the president of the Pakistan Canada Association in Vancouver, said it’s “amazing” to see Canadians standing with the Muslim community, adding that Canadians always come together in hard times and these vigils show that.

    There are a number of groups in British Columbia and other parts of the country meeting up and thinking of ways to sustain the dialogue following the attacks, he said.

    The gunman killed a total of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, in the nation’s worst terrorist attack.

    Australian national Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with murder in the attacks and is scheduled to make his next court appearance on April 5.

    Alhadi Abusneena, the president of the Muslim Society of Prince Edward Island who was also at the Charlottetown vigil, echoed Ali-Faisal’s words.

    The people of Charlottetown and P.E.I. support the Muslim community and “we stand as one family,” he said.

    “I see in their eyes, I see the love and compassion,” he said.

    Such vigils show that in spite of the sorrow, people choose love over hatred, he said.

    Although the vigil on Saturday took place more than a week after the shooting, Abusneena said the timing is irrelevant since the victims’ families have to live with a lifetime of pain.

    —By Hina Alam in Vancouver, with files from The Associated Press

    The Canadian Press


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    fri8mar - 30aprmar 85:30 pmapr 30Real Estate Dinner Theatre5:30 pm - (april 30) 10:00 pm

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