This column was printed in the Cambridge Times in response to a Letter to the Editor published originally on August 17th, and appearing in print on August 21st. You can view the original letter here.
I want to clearly state, at the beginning of this letter, that there’s not enough room to debunk every falsehood and misrepresentation in the August 21st letter about refugees. The original letter is inaccurate, and only serves to mislead and inflame. The letter was written and printed without facts. I wanted to take a moment to provide some facts to readers, and clear up some of the confusion caused by the original letter’s fabrications.
First off, there’s no such thing as an “illegal refugee.” A refugee is someone fleeing their home because of war, persecution, or violence who cannot return home because of those dangers. When someone arrives in Canada, no matter what method or border they used to arrive, they can apply for refugee status. If it is determined that there’s a legitimate threat, they are typically accepted as refugees and allowed to remain. If they are not found to meet the definition of a refugee, they are deported. It is not illegal to arrive in Canada, through any means, and ask for asylum, nor is it a guaranteed ticket into the country. Many of these claims are rejected.
In Canada, when someone claims refugee status they go before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) where their claim is heard and decided upon. It is important to note that to date, the majority of people who claim refugee status after irregularly crossing the Canada-U.S. border have been denied.
The RCMP have intercepted 10,744 asylum claimants in the first 6 months of 2018. Let’s assume that these numbers continue and we have 22,000 asylum claimants this year.
Canada has handled similar numbers of border crossers in the past. Our border agency prepares for this. We’ve had busier periods of irregular migration, which our system was able to handle. In 2001 we had 37,000 irregular entries. In 2008, Canada saw 40,000 irregular entries. Canada hasn’t seen the 30,000 mark in the past two years, and our border professionals are highly trained and effective in handling this.
Our government is actively addressing these issues. In fact, we are reinvesting in the Canada Border Services agency after the Harper Conservatives cut nearly $400 million — we’re providing $173 million more in funding this year to strengthen border security and speed up the processing of claims.
I want to be clear that Canada has a robust, transparent, and effective refugee system, but many people arriving simply do not meet the requirements of a refugee and will not be allowed to stay. Claiming refugee status in Canada isn’t a free ticket, and it’s not easy to prove that someone meets the criteria. Our MPs have taken a proactive approach, traveled over the border, and communicated that fact to those who may consider crossing the border to try their luck with the refugee system.
Keep in mind that refugees make up a small fraction of overall immigration. Canada will likely welcome 300,000 immigrants this year.
When refugees are accepted, resettlement organizations help them find homes, go on to get jobs, live lives, and raise children, just as you or I would. Contrary to the beliefs of the original letter writer, these people do pay taxes, work hard, and become positive parts of the community.
The idea that tens of thousands of border crossers are living in Canadian cities, as stated in the original letter, is utter nonsense.
Sanctuary cities is a concept from the United States that doesn’t have the same legal meaning in Canada. In Canada, no matter what a city does, the CBSA still has the legal power to arrest people not in accordance with the law. Implying that people can break the law without fear of deportation is a complete fabrication, and spreads a lie about refugees in Canada.
This letter also makes gratuitously inaccurate claims about the public benefits that migrants receive upon crossing the border. Migrants that enter Canada and claim refugee status must be treated with dignity until their case is heard and decided upon, according to international law. Claimants that are granted refugee status do not receive “gold plated healthcare” and “automatic welfare payments.” Refugees and their children receive basic healthcare protections and assistance for a short amount of time.
What refugees actually receive from the federal government is through the Resettlement Assistance Program:
- Help finding permanent housing, and temporary housing if necessary.
- Orientation to the community, a service that includes
- providing contacts for safety and emergency services,
- introducing refugees to the city where they have settled,
- public transportation,
- Canada’s education and health care systems,
- Canadian laws and customs, and
- the local climate,
- Personal finance advice, such as assistance with budgeting or setting up a bank account.
- Temporary financial assistance based on what is available in the province of resettlement.
Baseless comments were also made about our veterans. The idea that we have veterans who are unable to get any help is untrue. There are several programs specifically in place for veterans through Veterans Affairs Canada. Many veterans receive government pensions. There are some, unfortunately, who are homeless and struggling. However, there are many different programs, services and benefits for veterans, including the Veterans Emergency Fund. The Legion, Naval Benevolent Fund and the Canadian Forces Personnel Assistance Fund are also available to help veterans who are struggling. There are also specialized mental health services that are available to veterans. Veterans are able to access several types of assistance during times of difficulty.
There’s even specialized work in place to track, monitor, and provide assistance to veterans who are homeless.
Before we could move forward on these issues, we had to address the problems created by the previous government, on this file. Since 2015, our government has:
- Restored pensions to life for our veterans, which the previous government axed in 2006.
- Re-opened nine veterans’ support centres.
- Introduced a new tax-free benefit of up to $2,500 per month, on top of existing compensation for injuries.
- Developed a new Suicide Prevention Strategy to support Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans in times of need.
Again, all of this information is accessible and easy-to-find at veterans.gc.ca.
Fear can be seductive, but only to those who don’t have the facts. There are professional men and women that guard our borders and run our immigration system every day, and we should trust them to do their jobs.
There has been a lot of misinformation on this issue, but I want to encourage readers, and our whole community, to get informed about how our system actually works. Without the facts, it’s easy to believe the nonsense that was printed.
Bryan May, MP
Bryan May is the Member of Parliament for Cambridge and Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and Status of Persons with Disabilities.