OTTAWA — The Canada Border Services Agency has removed fewer than 900 “irregular” asylum-seekers who have applied for refugee protection in Canada through a loophole in asylum laws, according to new federal figures.
Since early 2017, more than 45,000 migrants have arrived in Canada irregularly by entering the country mainly through a forest path between New York State and Quebec, avoiding official border checkpoints where they would be turned away and told to file refugee claims in the United States.
So far, only 866 have been removed from Canada after their refugee claims were rejected, according to figures tabled recently in the House of Commons.
The number is low is because removal orders can only be enforced once a refugee claimant has exhausted all legal avenues to try to remain in the country, said Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux, a spokeswoman for Border Security Minister Bill Blair.
“Prior to removal, individuals may seek leave for judicial review, as well as administrative review procedures that assess the potential risk to the person of returning to their country of origin,” she said in a statement Friday.
“Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law and all removal orders are subject to various levels of appeal.”
Canada began experiencing an influx of irregular asylum seekers in early 2017, after U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would end a program that offers temporary protected status to migrants from several countries, serving notice he would seek to return them to homelands that had previously been considered too dangerous.
By avoiding official border crossings when entering Canada, these migrants take advantage of a loophole in Canada’s “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the United States that allows people who are already on Canadian soil to make refugee claims. The agreement would otherwise see them turned back to the U.S., a country Canada considers safe for them.
The Trudeau Liberals have called these individuals “irregular” migrants, rather than “illegal” — the term regularly used by the Conservatives.
Their refugee claims are processed by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) — an arm’s-length tribunal. The IRB has built up a major backlog in trying to process the rush of new claims over the last two years. This, too, is a factor in the length of time it has taken for those without valid claims to be removed by the border-services agency.
Figures posted online show the IRB has only processed 33 per cent of the refugee claims it has received from irregular migrants since 2017. Of those, 6,885 people have been accepted for refugee protection and 5,650 have been rejected. Another 1,322 claims have been abandoned or withdrawn. Tens of thousands remain in a queue, waiting to be processed.
Meanwhile only 30 per cent of the 4,700 appeals of these decisions have been finalized.
Even if their appeals are unsuccessful, refugee claimants may also be entitled to pre-removal risk assessments to determine whether sending them back to their home countries might put them in danger.
Missing travel documents and medical issues can also delay removals.
Cadieux says the decision to remove someone from Canada is “not taken lightly.”
However, CBSA is required by law to enforce removal orders as soon as possible once all avenues of appeal have been explored.
“Everyone ordered removed has been given due process, but once legal avenues have been exhausted, individuals are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada, or, as per our commitments, be removed.”
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
Little change to Vancouver downtown street encampment as residents wonder where to go
VANCOUVER — It was difficult to see any difference had been made to the tent encampment in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside on Wednesday, a day after city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process to remove the structures.
That’s for good reason, said a resident who goes by the name Edith Elizabeth — the people who live in the tents have nowhere else to go.
She said previously, residents would relocate their structures nearby so city staff could clean the street.
“It’s just like, ‘Okay, cool, take down our structures and move down the block so they can wash it,’ and that’s it,” said Elizabeth. “But here, now, it’s just like we have to disappear or something.”
Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents along the stretch of Hastings Street dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.
The city has said staff would concentrate their efforts on the “highest risk” areas, but several structures in those areas remained in place on Wednesday.
The neighbourhood struggles with many complex challenges including drug use, crime, homelessness, housing issues, and unemployment.
It was tense on Tuesday, Elizabeth said, with a heavy police presence on the street.
The Vancouver Police Department released a statement Tuesday saying multiple people were arrested after officers were assaulted during a “melee.”
It said staff at a community centre had called police to report a man throwing computers and behaving erratically. The man resisted arrest, police said, as “a large crowd gathered, and became hostile and combative with the officers.”
Elizabeth said police used pepper spray and the incident left people feeling scared.
An update from the city on Wednesday said a big contingent of police at the Main and Hastings intersection in the afternoon “was not as a result of the City’s effort to remove structures”, and instead stemmed from the incident outside the community centre.
The city said staff aimed to approach encampment residents “with respect and sensitivity, encouraging and supporting voluntary removal of tents and belongings through conversation.”
“We recognize that some people believe the city should not do this work, but there are significant safety risks for everyone in the neighbourhood that the city cannot ignore,” it said.
Elizabeth stood near her belongings on the sidewalk where she said she’s been staying for about three weeks after moving from another spot nearby.
“It’s not like this is a forever, permanent place,” she said, although she’s not sure where she might go next.
“As far as options down here, generally there’s been Crab Park, which is like tent city,” she said, referring to tents set up around the park near Vancouver’s waterfront.
Elizabeth said she, like many others living in tents along the street, doesn’t feel comfortable or safe in single-room occupancy buildings with “awful” conditions.
The city said staff have been meeting each week with a community-based working group since May, and more frequently with members of the Overdose Prevention Society and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users over the past two weeks.
Staff spent Wednesday telling residents about storage options for their belongings, the city said.
These included up to two 360-litre storage totes, which staff would seal with tamper-proof labels before placing them in short-term storage. The city said the totes are on wheels, so owners can take them away if they did not want them stored.
A long-term storage container is also being provided nearby, the city said.
Community advocacy groups, including the drug-user network and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.
The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.
The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Bedard shines, host Canada downs Latvia 5-2 at world junior hockey championship
EDMONTON — Team Canada needed some time to shake off the rust as they embarked on a late-summer campaign for gold.
Coming into their first game of the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton, many on the squad hadn’t laced up their skates for a competitive bout in several months.
The time away showed at moments, but Canada held on for a 5-2 victory over Latvia to open the tournament on Wednesday.
“I know a coach is never happy with the game, but considering the time of year and where we’re at in this tournament, I think it was good.” said head coach Dave Cameron.
The 2022 tournament is being held in August after the original iteration was called off on Dec. 29 after just four days as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited.
Teen phenom Connor Bedard hasn’t played a “real game” in three months, and said getting back to competition felt good.
The 17-year-old was quick to show his offensive prowess, opening the scoring in the first period and adding an assist on a second-period power-play goal.
“It always feels good to score, especially that first one of the tournament,” said Bedard, an early favourite to go first overall in the 2023 NHL entry draft.
“I think it’s always exciting no matter who gets it. So definitely felt good. And it was cool to kind of be going to the corner and seeing some fans.”
Ridly Greig and William Dufour each had a goal and a helper for Canada (1-0-0), while Lukas Cormier and Olen Zellweger also scored. Captain Mason McTavish notched two assists.
Rainers Darzins and Bogdans Hodass put away goals for the Latvians, who were coming off a 6-1 drubbing by Finland on Tuesday.
Canada’s Sebastian Cossa made 22 saves and Patriks Berzins stopped 39 of 44 shots for Latvia (0-2-0).
The Canadians broke out with a three-goal performance in the second but found themselves in trouble in the final frame due to a series of undisciplined penalties.
Latvia got nine seconds of five-on-three play midway through the third when Greig was called for hooking after Kent Johnson had already been sent to the box for delay of game.
The Canadians weathered being down two men and Cossa preserved the advantage with a collection of timely stops.
Earlier in the period, Latvia cut the deficit to 4-2 on a power play after Greig was called for tripping.
Just four seconds into the man advantage, Hodas — a Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman — ripped a shot off from the top of the faceoff circle, sailing the puck over Cossa’s pad.
Dufour gave the Canadians some breathing room with 5:16 to go in the third period. The New York Islanders prospect collected a slick pass from Greig and sent a quick shot in past Berzins to give his side a 5-2 lead.
Greig capped a big middle frame by collecting a pass from Dufour along the boards for an odd-man rush and streaking up the ice, using one arm to hold back Latvia’s Peteris Purmalis. With his free hand, the Ottawa Senators prospect poked the puck in past Berzins at the 17:16 mark to give Canada a 4-1 lead.
“It was a pretty lucky bounce,” Greig said. “And the tracker was right on me so I just tried to get it on net with one (hand).”
A power-play goal gave the Canadians a three-goal lead after Latvia captain Ralfs Bergmanis was called for slashing.
Bedard set up the play with a no-look backwards pass to Zellweger at the blue line. The defenceman wound up and fired a rocket through traffic, finding the back of the net 16:17 into the second.
Minutes earlier, Cormier scored with the man advantage after Dans Locmelis was called for roughing.
Joshua Roy calmed a bouncing puck and dished it to Cormier, who sent it sailing past Berzins from the top of the faceoff circle.
Canada’s power play looked to be in trouble on its first attempt of the tournament earlier in the period.
The man advantage saw Cossa nearly send a puck into his own net while trying to clear and Johnson come within inches of scoring an own goal. The host nation turned the puck over multiple times and Latvia registered a pair of short-handed shots.
“That was just to give the fans their money’s worth,” Cameron said.
“That was at the time where we were in their zone for a period of time five on five and we thought that was going to carry over into the power play and we got too comfortable and we thought it was going to be easy.
“We stalled in our execution and hats off to Latvia, they didn’t give up.”
The Canadians went 2 for 4 on the power play Wednesday and Latvia was 1 for 5.
Canada kept Berzins busy across the first period, outshooting Latvia 18-4.
The host nation dominated play but Latvia scored the equalizer with less than two minutes to play in the opening frame. Darzins chipped a shot up and over Cossa stick side to make it 1-1.
Bedard opened the scoring 7:31 into the game, blasting a shot through a pair of Latvian defenders and over Berzins’ glove from the top of the slot.
With a different roster than the December tournament and a short training camp, Canada is still trying to build chemistry as the world juniors get underway, Cossa said.
“We’ve been practising but nothing’s really game speed,” he said. “So it was nice getting into the game now and just kind of fix things coming up here, practice and get ready for the rest of the games.”
Earlier Wednesday, Winnipeg Jets prospect Daniel Torgersson scored twice as Sweden (1-0-0) took a 3-2 victory over Switzerland (0-1-0) in Group B play.
In the final game of the day, Germany (1-0-1) defeated Austria (0-0-1) 4-2 for its first win of the tournament.
The Canadians will continue round-robin action Thursday when they take on Slovakia (0-0-1).
NOTES: Greig turned 20 on Monday. The world juniors are a showcase of the best under-20 players across the globe, but the International Ice Hockey Federation has allowed athletes born in 2002 who have already turned 20 to play in this summer’s championship. … Cossa was playing on familiar ice, having helped the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship in June. … Canada’s goal song is “Can’t Stop” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
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