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Internal report slams deportation review process

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The Canadian Press
Wed. Mar. 18 2009

OTTAWA — A federal program to prevent people from being shipped home to torture has quietly mushroomed into an inefficient new layer of the refugee-screening process, says an internal federal report.

The Immigration Department evaluation says there is a definite need for the pre-removal risk assessment program, noting more than 800 people have successfully avoided deportation from Canada due to risk of persecution.

However, the program is not the tool of last resort it was meant to be, says the report obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"In effect, it has shifted from being a `safety-net' to become an additional step in the refugee status determination process."

Under the pre-removal risk assessment process, failed refugee claimants and others ordered out of the country who allege fear of harm in their home countries can apply to remain in Canada.

"There is a need to provide an assessment of risk prior to removal, however, the . . . program in not providing an efficient response to this need," says the report, completed in February 2008 but released only recently.

Numbers seeking protection under the risk-assessment program have swelled, with 78 per cent of eligible people submitting an application in 2006 -- up from 44 per cent three years earlier.

This is despite the fact fewer than three in 100 applicants are successful.

"While the resources dedicated to (the program) have increased, program uptake has risen steadily, inventories have grown and processing times increased."

Since 2002, people from Asian and South American countries have accounted for the largest geographic segments in the program.

Immigration Department officials responsible for the program acknowledged it can be slow and complex.

"We realize that there are areas where we can improve and we are working to address those issues," the department said in an email message.

Alykhan Velshi, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, said the numbers show failed refugee claimants and others the government is trying to deport are abusing the pre-removal risk assessment process.

"If you create an avenue for appeal, people will use it. They will do it to delay their deportation even if the grounds of their appeal are frivolous," he said.

"People are using it as a sort of a second kick at the can."

Velshi reiterated the Harper government's intention to streamline the immigration and refugee process.

"I think Canadians are frustrated -- and as a government we're frustrated -- that it takes so long for failed refugee claimants to be deported."

But he said the government is not out "to take away substantive rights" from anyone. "We're not looking at replacing something with nothing."

The report says a quality assessment shows the pre-removal risk assessment is sound.

However, Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the evaluation lacks meaningful analysis of whether the process is working correctly.

"So their analysis leaves a whole lot to be desired because they apparently don't really understand what it is that the process is supposed to be doing."

Dench said the arm's-length Immigration and Refugee Board, not the Immigration Department, should handle the risk assessments.

"To have good decision-making, you're much better off with an independent body that is specialized and has the resources necessary."

The evaluation says "insufficient communication" between Immigration and the Canada Border Services Agency, which sets targets for the number of individuals to be removed from different regions, has "led to challenges" in managing the risk assessment workload effectively.

The program is a factor in the increasing time lapse between a removal order and a person's departure from Canada -- a jump to an average of 611 days from 437 days prior to 2002, the report says.