The initial screening process of asylum seekers illegally entering Canada can take less than two hours, according to migrants staying at the Toronto Plaza Hotel in North York.

“It was more than an hour, and they treat us fine,” says an African woman outside of the hotel.

“They asked different questions, take your passport … search your bag, search your body. Women search women, men search men.”

At the beginning of February, the Toronto Star reported that 11,754 asylum seekers were awaiting completion of their security clearance, over seven times what it was back in 2016. Forty-one percent of those awaiting security assessment in February were refugee claimants, with the average asylum seeker waiting 72 days to have their assessment completed.

B.C. immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the government statistics (via an access to information request) which were used in the Star story, said at the time, “Canada does not blindly let terrorists, security threats and organized criminals into the country. The [initial screening] system is picking up the highest-level risks … But what level of risks are we taking in? What level of risks are we prepared to accept that are below national security threats and terrorism? Other risks are not unimportant.”

In an email interview with True North, Kurland further explained, “The real deal is that the asylum seekers enter, claim at the border, and go forward. When they claim, they are immediately fingerprinted and biometrics are gathered.”

“This deals with the highest potential national security risk to Canada, because the person is cross-checked against myriad intelligence databases world-wide. If there is a ‘hit,’ the person does not walk ‘scott-free’ away.”

Shortly after the influx of asylum seekers first took off in 2017 — after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted to the world that Canada was open to all those looking for a safe haven — the workers’ union representing the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers said nearly 50% of the asylum seekers entering Manitoba in the first weeks of spring had serious criminal records. The statistics of how many asylum seekers illegally entering Canada have criminal records are not publicly available on the CBSA or Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada websites.

“What do we do if a migrant has come from a country without a functioning government? Think Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen, Syria. How do we check databases in those countries for criminal records, etc.?” says True North Fellow and security expert Leo Knight.

“It becomes next to impossible to determine then if the responses given in the interview were accurate. What then is the threat to this country? It can’t be known.”

CBSA spokesperson Nicholas Dorion told True North the average number of days to complete referral background checks is now 51 days and that 3,111 refugee claimants/cases are currently being processed for front-end security screening within the the legislated time frame so there’s no longer a backlog.

“The time required to complete front end security screening can vary depending on multiple factors, such as: complexity; requirements for additional research; availability of information; an applicant’s personal history; the availability of relevant information; the level of detail provided in the application; and responses from the CBSA’s security screening partners.”

“The category not ‘caught’ may be a person with ‘local’ criminal records in their home countries. It takes time to get access to this data; but, the risk to Canada is significantly lower. History shows that a former criminal may possibly re-commit, but then that goes counter to coming to Canada,” says Kurland. “Unlike the USA, these claimants do not fall off the grid, because there is no significant ‘illegal infrastructure’ that can offer underground employment, as in the USA.”

Despite government claims that the number of refugee claimants have dropped off since the end of 2018, a combined 12,940 asylum seekers were processed by the IRCC and CBSA in the first three months of this year (and these preliminary numbers are subject to increase), 825 more than the combined total for the same time period from last year.  

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