MONTREAL - Deportations from Canada have skyrocketed more than 50 per cent over the last decade and the bulk of those given the boot are failed refugee claimants who often return home to face torture and persecution.
Figures from the Canada Border Services Agency show the country removed 12,732 people last year - a major increase from the 8,361 who were deported in 1999.
A series of steady increases over the years shows no sign of abating in 2009. By Aug. 25 of this year, 8,999 had already been deported.
Statistics show failed refugee claimants accounted for three-quarters of deportations while the remainder were often removed on criminal or security grounds.
The Canadian Council for Refugees says the figures debunk the widely held notion that Canada is a haven for asylum seekers.
"This totally contradicts people who continue to say in the media that claimants are never deported from Canada. Once you put your foot on Canadian soil, you can stay here forever," said Janet Dench, the council's executive director.
"These facts contradict it and that's what people who work with refugees know - that this is a daily business, a daily experience that claimants are very routinely removed from Canada."
The government explains the spike in deportations as the logical result of a jump in refugee applications; there were 35,000 refugee claims last year, and the government says the system can only handle 25,000.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says problems with the refugee system will be addressed in upcoming reforms.
But the stats cast some doubt on Ottawa's explanation. Figures obtained from the Immigration and Refugee Board indicate the 35,000 refugee applications received last year is no record.
While the figure represented a six-year high, it was still far less than the 44,000 cases received in 2001 and 39,000 in the following year. While there was an increase in claims in 2008, the government also completed far fewer cases than in the past.
Refugee advocates say the explanation is simple: the government has wanted to deport more people, and has taken steps to do it in recent years.
"There's been a lot of effort, especially in the last three years," said former IRB chairman Peter Showler. "It was an area that they knew was a problem."
The most common deportation destinations are the U.S. and Mexico, although hundreds more are being sent to places with shoddy track records on human rights or security, like China, Pakistan, Haiti and Zimbabwe.
Montreal immigration lawyer Stewart Istvanffy says he's seen many heartbreaking cases among the thousands he's taken on over the last 20 years.
He watched many deserving clients lose their fight to stay, and wind up on planes bound for unimaginable horrors. He says he's also seen families wrenched apart by poor decisions from immigration officials.
One client was sent back to Morocco in 2003, and he was detained at the airport in Casablanca and tortured during an 18-month incarceration.
"Because he made so much noise about his case here in Canada, his eldest daughter was kidnapped, raped and she was told, 'Tell your father to shut up,"' he said.
"I have a newspaper article about that from a Moroccan newspaper. She now has a . . . child who can't go to school because you need to show who the father is on your birth certificate."
He tells the story of how a Sikh client was sent back to India in 2007, and bribed his way through the airport and returned to his Punjab village. A police raid two weeks later sent him into hiding and Istvanffy says he hasn't heard from him since.
In a recent case, a Pakistani couple who had established themselves as pillars in their Montreal community were deported while their children - including a five-year-old Canadian-born girl - were allowed to stay.
Istvanffy said 98 per cent of pre-removal risk assessments end in rejection.
Supporting evidence painstakingly gathered from foreign newspapers, far-flung relatives, village leaders and even politicians is often tossed out because it comes from "interested parties."
"Dismissing any evidence from people who know you as self-interested, this is absolutely typical of their decision-making," he said.
"The pre-removal risk assessment in Canada is just a total joke."
Refugee advocates are calling for changes to the system.
They say it's not right that the fate of claimants rests with a single Immigration and Refugee Board decision-maker. They also want the appeals process outlined in the legislation to be implemented.
Last month, Showler released a proposal.
In it, he called for a process that would see rejected claimants removed within 13 months.
He recommended replacing the IRB with a two-pronged Refugee Tribunal that would include a claims and appeals division. Tribunal members would be appointed on merit without influence from the federal cabinet.
He believes a good first decision, a fair appeals process, and a prompt removal of failed claimants would eliminate the need for pre-removal risk assessments.
He says the quicker turnaround time would also prevent people from establishing themselves in Canada, and later seeking status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Kenney spokesman Alykhan Velshi said the government has already addressed the issue of patronage. Velshi said IRB members are now appointed on merit.
Although some may fall through the cracks, he said there is adequate recourse for failed claimants within the current system and argued that an appeal process would only lead to further processing delays.
The government is particularly concerned with targeting those who abuse the system, Velshi said.
Source: Deportations from Canada up - Canada - Canoe.ca (external - login to view)