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Canada needs an Immigrant Bill of Rights

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As debate rages on about achieving sustainable levels of permanent and temporary residents in Canada, it is easy for us to lose sight of the newcomer experience.

This CILA op-ed was originally posted by the Hill Times.

Canada continues to invite newcomers to submit immigration applications. Newcomers prepare their applications, pay their fees, and patiently wait their turn.

But, government decision-making can be arbitrary and harsh.
Wait times are often well in excess of posted service standards. Imagine paying a courier for next-day delivery, only for the delivery to take months. It would be reasonable for you to seek recourse. Unfortunately, little recourse is available to newcomers when the federal government lets them down.

This is why in a new report entitled Let’s Clean Up Our Act, the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) encourages the federal government to introduce an Immigrant Bill of Rights to provide newcomers with greater protection and an enhanced experience.

We also believe the Immigrant Bill of Rights should be complemented by introducing an Ombudsperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
These recommendations are far from novel or controversial.

Numerous federal departments and agencies already have a bill of rights and/or ombudspersons.

For instance, Canada has a Taxpayer Bill of Rights that outlines 16 rights you are entitled to when you deal with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson works independently from the CRA. It looks to improve the CRA’s service to taxpayers by reviewing service-related complaints and broader issues that can affect a segment of Canada’s population.

Given that the IRCC and CBSA both serve the public, the newcomers who rely on them have a reasonable expectation to be treated in a fair, transparent, and responsive manner.

CILA’s recommendations are also meant to improve how the Canadian government allocates time and resources. Members of Parliament must often devote significant effort to resolving the immigration issues of their constituents. This is usually due to a lack of responsiveness by IRCC, which is not an efficient use of MP resources.

The government has proposed legislation (Bill C-20: An Act establishing the Public Complaints and Review Commission and amending certain Acts and statutory instruments) that would establish a Public Complaints and Review Commission as an enhanced independent review body for CBSA (and the RCMP). CBSA does have existing processes for complaints and requests or reviews in addition to important formal legal processes. While much of CBSA’s mandate involves border services, it includes immigration. Consideration should be given to how a proposed Bill of Rights and Office of the Ombudsperson would work with CBSA operations and existing mechanisms.

We must remember that we are not doing newcomers a favour by treating their applications with courtesy and respect, given we are soliciting their applications and requiring they pay a fee. Canada needs immigrants to support our economy and advance other key objectives such as strengthening our francophone character.

Moreover, with the summer Olympics around the corner, we should also be mindful that Canada is in a global race for talent and we need to up our game if we want to secure the gold.

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