Conservatives cut life-saving immigrant services to fund own agenda
Canadian government cuts refugee health care and $53 million from immigrant services, but spends $1.8 billion on deportation enforcement.
Funding Priorities: Over $53 million has been cut from immigrant services, with additional cuts to refugee health, access to social assistance, and ESL training. Government offices offering walk-in services have closed, and trained staff in remaining offices have been laid off. This results in a high error rate in immigration processing; in a review of just 88 refugee applications, 113 government errors were identified. Meanwhile, immigration enforcement spending rose by $107 million between 2010 and 2013.
In 2010, the federal government announced $53 million in cuts to immigrant services. Ontario lost more than $71.5 million in funding for immigrant services between 2011-2012. The Conservative government also cut off funding for services and language programs run by pro-Palestinian groups such as the Canadian Arab Federation and Palestine House. Minister Kenney told an Israeli audience that the faith-based group Kairos lost $7,098,758 in funding because of the group’s leadership role in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
The government has spent more than $1.4 million in taxpayers’ money in legal fees to defend their drastic refugee health cuts in court.
Drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program in 2012 means refugee claimants have significantly reduced access to basic health care. According to Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, these cuts “place the pregnancies of refugee women at serious risk, cause denial of treatment for sick children, and deprive refugees with cancer of coverage for chemotherapy.” Furthermore, health professionals question the validity of the IFH cuts as a cost-saving measure. They point out that costs will be shifted to more costly forms of care like community health centres and emergency departments.
Even though the Federal Court of Canada called the refugee health care cuts unlawful and unconstitutional, the government is appealing the decision. The government has spent more than $1.4 million in taxpayers’ money in legal fees to defend their drastic refugee health cuts in court.
In 2012, the federal government closed 19 Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices across the country. The remaining offices no longer provide front desk or walk-in services. Refugee claimant Kujachagulia Wayhi describes the impact: “[The front desk] had a receptionist who would answer all your questions: how to get your work permit, how to take your medical examinations, how to apply for your PIF [the personal info form where you explain why you’re claiming refugee status in Canada], and how to apply for your SIN. [Calling the call centre results in] a voice that asks you to wait, or repeats, or asks you to call another time.”
In 2014, the federal government took control of funding for immigration services in British Columbia and Manitoba. Under federal funding regulations, services can only be provided to permanent residents and certain refugees. This leaves out migrant workers, refugee claimants, and people with precarious immigration status. Since the changes came into effect, organizations have to apply for funding directly from CIC. Without explanation, the federal government denied applications from refugee mental health services in BC, forcing some to shut their doors. BC colleges and universities lost $17 million in federal money that was used to provide ESL training to immigrants and domestic students. A total of 9,000 ESL school seats are expected to be cut in BC in 2015.
Buried within the latest omnibus Economic Action Plan that passed into law in 2014 are also provisions to deny social assistance to a majority of refugees. This law amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act such that provinces can now impose individual residency requirements for eligibility for social assistance benefits. Despite opposition by over 160 organizations, the Tories made these provisions into law.
Meanwhile, in 2013-14, the Canada Border Services Agency overspent its allocated $1.8 billion budget on enforcement activities such as removals and bribing refugees to self-deport. The border agency also contributed $200,000 in communications support to the widely criticized Border Security reality TV show. In 2013, the federal government dedicated more than $15 million over four years to strip refugees of their status. In 2015, the federal government committed an additional $292.6 million to the budget for the RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Canada Border Services Agency, and immigration enforcement spending rose by $107 million between 2010 and 2013.
Migrants Pay the Price for Cuts
In 2011, Bashar Kassir applied to sponsor his aging parents to Canada from Syria, which was in the early stages of civil war. In August 2014, his application was rejected because he had not replied to a letter that he never received. Experts at Microsoft were not able to locate the emails that immigration claims they sent. Kassir did receive a CIC letter by email that was intended for someone in Winnipeg trying to sponsor their family to Canada.
A 2013 review of the evaluation of refugee permit applications identified 113 errors in just 88 files.
The Canada Employment and Immigration Union says that cuts and layoffs since the Conservatives came to power mean that minimally trained casual employees make up half the workforce responsible for the reviews of permanent residence applications. As a result, internal government reviews revealed in 2015 identified a “high error rate” in immigration processing. According to the review of 996 permanent residence applications handled between November 1 and December 6, 2014, 617 request letters had shortcomings. A 2013 review of the evaluation of refugee permit applications identified 113 errors in just 88 files.
Migrants like Camillio Senior are paying the price. Senior, a Jamaican national, married his Canadian wife Christine Villaman in 2013, and they had a baby girl named Zurie. On August 7th 2014, they received a letter acknowledging receipt of his spousal sponsorship application. Later, an agent told him his application had been returned to him on July 14, 2014, because it was “incomplete.” He said he had neither changed his address nor received the returned application. Senior states, “We called immigration three times and they gave us three different versions about our application. We are human. We can’t put our lives on hold because of some mistakes they made. We need some transparency over what happens. Someone needs to be held accountable.”