Speaking Notes for The Honourable Ralph Goodale Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canadian Council for Refugees – National Fall Consultation
Niagara Falls, ON
Friday, December 1st, 2017
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you for inviting me here on traditional Iroquois and Neutrals territory.
It is a pleasure to bring you the greetings of Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada.
You’ve gathered an impressive group.
Some of you are involved in community work.
Others with NGOs, academia, governments or international bodies.
I’m encouraged to see so many youth advocates in your ranks.
And it’s inspiring to hear that many refugees and recent immigrants are participating in the consultation.
Whatever the reason you’re here, I hope you have the chance to share and learn from each other, and then apply those lessons to the broad and varied work you do every day.
It’s a great time to have the conversations you’re having.
Not just because they are timely and relevant.
But also because December is a holiday month in many faiths and cultures – a time when Canadians from all walks of life turn our thoughts to generosity, family and community.
It’s a time when we open our hearts – and even our homes – to those who have long dreamt of having a home of their own.
In fact it was also this time of year, two years ago, when the first arrivals from Syria touched down in Canada.
They were greeted by the Prime Minister, who had a simple message: “welcome home.”
I shared that incredible privilege in my hometown of Regina only a week or so later.
Operation Syrian Refugees has been – and continues to be – a herculean effort on the part of many – governments, organizations like the CCR, community groups and individuals.
It’s a reminder to celebrate the vast and vibrant mosaic that makes Canada, Canada… that enriches our communities and our daily lives.
It’s that same sense of collective humanity, inclusion and pluralism that guides us all through this time of global crisis.
What we’re seeing today is unprecedented seen since the Second World War.
Over 65 million people are currently displaced around the world.
More than 22 million of them are refugees.
Calling them only “refugees” does a disservice.
They are also mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, neighbours and friends.
They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, productive citizens.
What they’ve experienced is unthinkable and horrific at the hands of terrorists, brutality and persecution of many kinds - yet their persistence and resilience is remarkable.
In Canada, they have a real and fair chance to succeed.
But what we are seeing elsewhere in the world – in Rakhine state, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria in particular – is clearly unstable, unsustainable and dangerous.
Canada is playing a constructive role in our response to the global situation.
And I want to acknowledge the CCR and its members for your ongoing advocacy, engagement and awareness-raising about these issues.
Everyone here is an important part of how our country addresses the global challenges we’re facing.
Many of you see, first-hand and on the front-lines, how all the pieces fit together – making sure refugees and recent immigrants have access to jobs, language and skills training, housing and basic mentoring and human friendship.
You continue to fight for basic rights and freedoms:
Helping families reunite.
Ensuring efficient and expedient processing.
Reflecting the Canadian values of openness, inclusion and strength in diversity.
Canada, indeed, is an open, welcoming and generous country.
My colleague, Minister Ahmed Hussen, made that point loud and clear in announcing the most ambitious immigration levels in recent history – beginning with 310,000 new permanent residents in 2018.
Our target includes 43,000 refugees and protected persons—the second highest level after the exceptional year in 2016.
You are all part of that – part of making the system work.
All of that said, as I’ve noted, lately most countries around the world are facing major tests to that system, and Canada is no exception.
Indeed, some of the biggest tests to modern democracy call on our collective ability to not only address and end conflict, but to ensure the lawful democratic systems we have are resilient and strong.
They remind us of our commitment to take the law and the integrity of our border very seriously.
That is essential to preserving public confidence in our immigration system.
This year that commitment has been tested in a way we never expected.
We’ve seen a surge of asylum seekers crossing our border between official ports of entry.
Some people have been led to believe that crossing the border in an irregular fashion is somehow a “free ticket” into Canada.
There are rigorous rules to be followed and a robust assessment process applies. Those who are genuinely at risk are welcomed. Those who are not in need of Canada’s protection are removed.
Canada remains an open, welcoming country to people seeking refuge. But our Government is committed to orderly migration and entering Canada must be done through the proper channels.
When it comes to irregular border crossers of any kind, we enforce the rules to protect our border and safeguard our communities.
To give you a sense of the process here:
Irregular asylum seekers are apprehended and secured by police or local authorities.
Their identities are determined from both biographic and biometric information.
Health checks are done.
Their records are examined for any immigration, criminal or terrorist flags against both Canadian and international databases.
Those who cannot be identified, are a flight risk or pose a danger to the public can be detained.
They go before the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board to adjudicate their status through due process.
If they are found to be inadmissible without a valid claim, deportation procedures are begun.
We have been working hard to ensure that these processes are managed effectively, efficiently and in an orderly fashion:
· Enforcing all Canadian laws and
· respecting all of Canada’s international obligations.
The UNHCR says the people working for IRCC, the RCMP and the CBSA have done their work very well.
To accomplish this, our agencies have reorganized workloads and resources.
-And new resources, processes and physical facilities have been added – First at Emerson, Manitoba and especially for Lacolle in Quebec.
Looking ahead, we have learned from what happened in 2017 to prepare contingency plans for what may lie ahead.
We remain concerned that people are acting based on misinformation or disinformation. To give an extreme example, some of those coming did not even know they would have to apply for asylum. They had been told there were no border crossing procedures to get in to Canada.
To clear things up, Spanish-speaking Members of Parliament have made information missions to Miami, New York, Texas and Los Angeles. More trips are in the works.
They’re having an impact. The number of asylum seekers irregularly crossing the border at Lacolle is down from a high 200-250 a day in the summer, to about 60 this fall.
The Government will continue to address irregular migration in accordance with Canadian and international law.
And in keeping with our values as an open and welcoming country.
The same applies when it comes to the tough issue of immigration detention.
On that note, I can give you an update on what you heard from me around this time last year.
The government is committed to transforming Canada’s immigration detention system.
The overarching goal is to make it better and fairer, supporting humane and dignified treatment, while still protecting public safety.
A key principle is this – we must avoid the holding of children in immigration detention as much as humanly possible.
Last month, I provided the Canada Border Services Agency with a new Ministerial Direction.
Its objective is to stop the detention or housing of minors, except in extremely limited circumstances, and to keep families together.
It makes clear that the Best Interests of the Child must be a primary consideration.
I’m gratified to see the CCR welcoming that Direction.
It reaffirms the government’s commitment to make transformative changes to the immigration detention system.
It is complemented by the CBSA’s own issuing of a new National Directive to help officers put those principles into everyday practice.
The new Directive will provide clear guidance on what to do when faced with a detention decision that involves minors or their parents.
We want to limit the use of detention to those difficult cases where there are serious and real concerns about the individual being unidentified, a flight risk or a danger to the public.
More broadly, our $138 million plan to improve immigration detention is making progress since we announced it two summers ago.
That includes major federal infrastructure improvements that will allow us to reduce our use of provincial jails and expand services.
We’re providing better mental health and medical service.
Expanded Alternatives to Detention will be phased in starting in spring 2018 with organizations like the Toronto Bail Program, the Salvation Army and John Howard Society.
And we’ve signed a contract with the Red Cross to monitor detention facilities.
I know that the detention of children has long been a key issue for the CCR.
On a larger scale with respect to CBSA oversight:
· When National Security issues are involved, CBSA will be subject to the new review process created by Bill C-22 and the National Security Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians and by Bill C-59 and the new NSIRA.
In matters apart from national security – we will also present separate legislation to create an appropriate mechanism to review CBSA officer conduct and conditions, and handle specific complaints.
To be sure, there are plenty of challenges ahead, and I know the CCR will be front and centre in tackling those head-on.
We share the purpose of making our collective humanitarian ideals a reality.
We can never be complacent or careless about that. Nation-building, the Canadian way, is a never-ending process.
I’m confident we can marshall the expertise, goodwill and diligence of everyone in this room today into better protections and solutions for those most vulnerable.
I want to thank you for helping make the Canada we all want to see.
And I wish you the very best at your consultation.
Thank you for having me.
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