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Immigration officials cut ‘legacy’ refugee backlog … as new one grows

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OTTAWA — A backlog of “legacy” refugee claims filed by applicants who have been waiting over seven years to find out if they can remain in Canada will soon be cleared, as Ottawa now turns its attention to an even bigger backlog of fresh asylum claims.

The old list of stagnating cases one point stood at 32,000 claims and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen was eager to shine a spotlight this week on his government’s successful efforts at cutting it to almost nothing.

The people whose cases have been on that list came to Canada seeking refugee protection prior to December 2012. That’s when the Conservatives, then in power, established new 60-day deadlines for refugee hearings. That left the 32,000 cases already in the system to be bumped to lower priority for scheduled hearings because they were already late.

Thanks to the efforts of a special task force struck to deal specifically with legacy cases, only a handful remain. The one per cent that are left have been suspended, have already had hearings and are awaiting decisions or are scheduled to be heard between now and July.

“The legacy cases consist of people who have been in the backlog for many, many years and they were simply waiting to get a hearing so they can have finality in their cases and stop their lives being held in limbo,” Hussen said in an interview Monday. “I’m really happy about the fact we’ve kept our promise to eliminate that backlog.”

The task force worked closely with the legal community and other stakeholders to schedule and hear legacy claims as quickly and efficiently as possible, Hussen added.

But even as immigration officials celebrate the elimination of this backlog, another even larger inventory of refugee claims looms at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), where asylum-seekers go to have their claims heard by an arms-length tribunal.

Departmental plans for the 2019-20 fiscal year published just last week show the board has been “experiencing significant pressure as intake continues to substantially exceed funded capacity.”

“The past 24 months have seen the highest volumes of refugee protection claims in the IRB’s history,” the departmental plan document states. “As a result, an inventory of more than 75,000 claims has accumulated, representing more than two years of work at the current funding levels.”

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. This new backlog was created in part by an influx of over 41,000 “irregular” migrants who have crossed into Canada since 2017 by avoiding official border checkpoints. Canada has also seen a rise in the number of refugees entering the country through regular, legal channels.

Hussen says the government is responding to this increased pressure, pointing to new investments contained in this year’s federal budget that promise $208 million in new money for the IRB to tackle refugee claims. This money go toward hiring 130 new staff, including 85 new decision-makers. 

Spending of $74 million over two years contained in last year’s federal budget helped the IRB to finalize its highest number of cases ever, Hussen said. 

This year, even more money is to get the IRB to the point where it can process 50,000 claims per year.

“The capacity has increased,” Hussen said. “You have in the IRB now a system that is actually funded for the volumes that Canada is actually experiencing, which is similar to volumes that other Western countries are experiencing around the world because there is just an increase in global migration patterns.”

The government also plans to expand a pilot project that streamlines a previous process that saw refugee judges reviewing three files for each asylum case: an RCMP file, a file from the Canada Border Services Agency and a file from the Immigration Department. The new system combines all these into one decision-ready file, which reduces a major administrative burden on asylum judges, Hussen said.

“This will dramatically cut the processing time and efficiencies.”

The Immigration Department projects wait-times for asylum seekers awaiting a refugee hearing will be cut almost in half, from the current two years to 13 months. And for those who go through the streamlined file-management system, wait times could be as low as four months, Hussen said.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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Alberta

Stand Together Against Bullying – Pink Shirt Day 2021

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021 is the 14th annual Pink Shirt Day, a globally recognized movement to end bullying in all its forms and encourage the growth of a global community built on acceptance and support regardless of sex, age, background, gender identity, sexual orientation or cultural differences. 

Pink Shirt Day originated in 2007 in the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, in a local story that captured national – and eventually international – attention, when a new 9th grade student walked in on the first day of school wearing a pink polo shirt. 

Travis Price and David Shepherd are the two young men responsible for unintentionally launching the global pink shirt movement. According to Price and Shepherd, a group of students were physically and verbally bullying the young man for wearing pink to school. As senior students, Price and Shepherd saw the situation as an opportunity to set an example and take a stand against bullying in their school.
That night the two went and purchased 75 pink tank tops and released a call on social media (MSN messenger at the time) encouraging their fellow students to show up at school the next day wearing pink. According to Price, in a school of roughly 1000 students, “700 to 850 kids showed up wearing pink. It was incredible.” 

 

Since 2007, the movement has gained exponential traction and is now recognized in communities all around the world as individuals come together in an international display of solidarity against the devastating impacts of bullying.
The global movement to end bullying has led to the creation of countless local, national and internationally available resources, but there is still a long way to go.

Bullying Canada identifies 4 distinct types of bullying: verbal, physical, social and cyber. Short term and long term effects of bullying vary based on each situation, and can lead to damaging and dangerous outcomes for victims, friends, bystanders and countless others. While commonly associated with children and young adults in school, bullying impacts individuals of all ages and backgrounds in many areas of life, including the workplace.
Statistics released by Safe Canada revealed that 47% of Canadian parents have at least one child that has experienced bullying, while approximately 33% of the population experienced bullying as a child, and 33% of teenagers reported being bullied recently. Furthermore, around 40% of Canadians reportedly experience bullying in the workplace on a weekly basis.

If you, or someone you know is struggling with bullying, reaching out is the first step. You are not alone, and help is available. Extensive networks of resources exist in Alberta and across Canada to provide support, aid and solutions for those experiencing bullying. 

For support from Bullying Canada, call (877) 352-4497, or email [email protected]

The Alberta 24-hour Bullying Helpline can be reached at 1-888-456-2323, or the online Bullying Helpline Chat can be accessed here.

For more resources on how to identify a bullying situation, get help, or help someone in need, visit https://www.alberta.ca/bullying-how-to-help-others.aspx.

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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Alberta

First Nation applauds new initiative protecting boreal forest in the Kitaskino Nuwenene Wildland Park

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February 11, 2021

Fort Chipewyan-AB-Mikisew Cree First Nation applauds a major expansion in protecting the boreal forest area in the Kitaskino Nuwenene Wildland Park initiative.

The announcement to expand the protected area by nearly 150,00 hectares means more of the area south of Wood Buffalo National Park will be protected along with the headwaters, which flow into the Delta area. This marks a key step in a collaborative effort between Mikisew Cree First Nation, Government of Alberta, Government of Canada, energy, mineral and forestry companies.

Today’s announcement is about protecting the land and celebrating partnerships between First Nations, government and industry,” said Mikisew Chief, Peter Powder. “We wouldn’t be on the doorstep of this significant expansion without cooperation. We hope this means we can move forward with the western expansion of the Kitaskino-Nuwenene Wildland Park as part of Mikisew’s stewardship vision for our lands, waters and iconic species such as woodland caribou and wood bison.”

After engaging with the community, it was clear leaders and land users wanted to protect this area for future generations. The overall goal of the Kitaskino Nuwenene Wildland Park ​is for Mikisew Cree First Nation and other Indigenous groups to play a key role in safeguarding the area and the traditional resources within it. The expansion has received a strong endorsement from the Athabasca Chipewyan Cree First Nation, Fort Chipewyan Metis, Fort McKay First Nation, Fort McKay Métis, and Fort McMurray Métis. Kitaskino-Nuwenene translated means, “Our Land” in Cree and Dene.

Moving this forward is another step in implementing the Nikechinahonan Framework, which is the vision of the Mikisew to ensure our cultural survival. We look forward to building on this momentum by working to protect more habitat of the Ronald Lake Bison Herd and by continuing our efforts to save the Peace Athabasca Delta‘ said Melody Lepine, Mikisew Cree First Nation director.

Kitaskino Nuwenene Wildland Park is located along the southern border of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta. Phase 1 was established in 2019. This project was undertaken with the financial support of Environment and Climate Change Canada through Canada’s Nature Fund.

Read more on Todayville.

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