Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Immigration around the Globe: Canada. Immigration: A broken and dysfunctional system.

Canada's border agency doesn't know the whereabouts of 41,000 people ordered to leave the country, makes flawed decisions about when to lock up suspected illegals and keeps poor tabs on spending when it does usher them out of Canada, says the federal auditor general.

In a report Tuesday, Sheila Fraser criticized the Canada Border Services Agency for failing to monitor its detention and removal decisions across the country to ensure they are being made properly.

Fraser says as a result, growing numbers might be in Canada illegally, jeopardizing the integrity of Canada's immigration program.

"If people can come into the country and stay here illegally, why would they go through what was a very long and complicated process to become a resident in Canada?" she said.

Some of the problems were traced to difficulties with a major new computer system that lagged years behind schedule.

"The agency needs to track the status of cases at a national level according to its priority areas - which are to remove dangerous individuals and criminals first," the auditor's report says.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the government was acting on Fraser's advice.

"CBSA has already put in place quite a few of the recommendations that she's talked about, so we're improving. It's not perfect yet but it's a big improvement over what it has been."

In her review of other federal activities and programs, Fraser also found:

-Children on native reserves across Canada are eight times more likely to wind up in unevenly funded, poorly tracked foster care that appears to be failing them.

-Renovating drafty and crumbling 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister's residence, would involve about $10 million of intensive repairs that could take as long as 15 months.

-Foreign Affairs lumps an unfair consular services fee of $25 - a kind of travel insurance for Canadians who might need assistance abroad - into the $85 cost of an adult passport.

-Several weaknesses in how Transport Canada has managed the transition to a new approach for overseeing air transportation safety.

-The federal Public Health Agency of Canada risks not reporting the spread of infectious diseases to the World Health Organization in a timely way because it lacks information-sharing agreements with the provinces.

The report tabled in Parliament marks the second time the auditor general has come down hard on the border services agency, created in December 2003 as part of a government reorganization to bolster national security. Previously she found weaknesses allowed many potentially dangerous people and goods to slip into the country.

The auditor general undertook the latest review following a request by the House of Commons public accounts committee to report on whether management of detentions and removals had improved under the border agency since 2003.

The agency has the power to detain foreign nationals and permanent residents considered a risk or danger to the public, and to remove people ruled ineligible to enter Canada.

In 2006-07, it held more than 9,000 people in its own facilities and another 3,500 in provincial cells.

Fraser found, however, the border agency failed to ensure it meets its standards for treatment of detainees. And it has not established backup plans for bed shortages. For instance, the Toronto holding centre has sometimes increased space by placing sleeping bags and blankets on the floor.

"In another region, holding cells for individuals awaiting hearings, which are designed for three people, had been used to hold 10, without enough space for some to sit."

New Democrat immigration critic Olivia Chow decried the conditions: "This is not Afghanistan. This is Canada. We can't treat our deportees that way."

Further, the auditor concluded the agency was not effectively managing detention costs, which amounted to more than $36 million in 2006-07.

Fraser says the agency has increasingly used alternatives to detention, such as releasing individuals on condition they post a sum of money. But she noted 368 of 2,038 cash bonds posted in 2004-05 were forfeited because the individuals failed to comply with terms of release.

The agency has located 178 of these people, removing 146 from Canada. But it doesn't know what happened to the remaining 190 who forfeited their bonds, and has issued warrants for their arrest. Eighteen have criminal histories.

"While infrequent, there have been cases where individuals who have been released on condition committed violent crimes," the report says.

Both the border agency and Citizenship and Immigration have power to allow people into the country under temporary resident permits even if they would otherwise be ineligible. Exceptions include humanitarian grounds or economic benefit to Canada - for instance a visiting performer or athlete with a criminal record.

The auditor found, however, that reasons for issuing the permits were often poorly documented and the border agency did not monitor whether the individuals with permits left the country upon their expiry.

Fraser found while the number of people removed from Canada annually has climbed in the last five years, there is still cause for concern.

As of September 2007 there were 63,000 people slated for removal. Among these were 22,000 facing formal orders, whose whereabouts were known to the border agency. However, the agency lacked contact information for another 41,000 due for removal under immigration warrants.

"How do we know that all 41,000 are harmless? We don't know," said Liberal public safety critic Ujjal Dosanjh, who wondered what Day was doing about the problem.

"What kind of a minister do we have?"

Part of the difficulty stems from an aborted plan to replace a computerized case management system, originally intended to be in place three years ago.

"As a result, the agency's ability to track individuals in the detention and removal process remains limited," the report says, adding five-year-old recommendations from her office on case tracking remain to be addressed.

Fraser noted that the precise number of people remaining in Canada illegally is impossible to determine due in part to the fact Ottawa does not record departures from the country.

Chow said the entire immigration system is broken, noting the thousands of removal lists include undocumented workers in trades like construction who are badly needed in Canada.

People considered violent or a potential flight risk are escorted by officers to their destination country, which can cost thousands of dollars per case and tallied more than $8 million in 2006-07. Fraser said there was no assurance escorted removals were being done cost-effectively.

The border services agency agreed with all of the auditor's recommendations for improvement.

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