Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the costs of the Charter

In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision (Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration) that held that "The term "everyone" in s. 7 [of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] includes every person physically present in Canada..."

In 1981, in the Pre-Singh Decision period, 3450 refugee claims were made in Canada. In 1987, two years after the Singh Decision, over 25,000 refugee claims were made. Also in 1987, a backlog of 85,000 refugee claimants had accumulated and these people were given amnesty.

It's a situation linked to a 20-year-old Supreme Court ruling (the Singh case) that led to amnesties, administrative chaos, bureaucracy, huge financial costs and, eventually, to the existing refugee-determination system.
Under it, Canada has to process anybody and everybody who comes to this country and claims refugee status, bogus or otherwise. To try to stem the flow, we impose visa requirements.

In April of this year, I decided to change my flight to South America from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina, because otherwise I would have had to pay 132 USD to enter Chile by air (I entered Chile by land about a week later). Why 132 USD? Because Canada requires Chileans to have a visa (and pay an associated visa fee) for entry into Canada. The Chileans call it a "reciprocity fee". And why that visa requirement? As Simpson explains:
In 1996, there was a surge of phony refugee claimants to Canada from the Chilean port of Valparaiso. Word had got around in a poor neighbourhood that Canada was an easy mark. These obviously economic migrants were told: Apply for refugee status in Canada, get into the multilayered refugee-determination system and melt into Canadian society. And the chances of getting caught, or being deported, are next to nil.
Canada responded by slapping visas on all Chileans wanting to come to Canada, even though Chile had thrown off dictatorship and become an admirable country.

Simpson concludes "We incur large costs in money, time and bureaucracy (or what the Supreme Court airily dismissed as matters of “administrative inconvenience”). We get big backlogs in the system." Yet can one really fault the SCC? For once, our Supreme Court actually took the words of the Charter at their plain meaning (it says "everyone", not "Canadians" or "Canadian citizens") as opposed to, say, the 1995 Egan case which managed to find the words "sexual orientation" in the following Charter section:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

It's thus fair to say that when you hand over your 132 USD at Santiago airport (or pay for a visa to enter many other countries of the world), that fee exists as a direct consequence of the Charter:
the Charter says "everyone"
kicking someone out after arrival is a massive legal process
there has to be some speedbump BEFORE arrival
visa requirement
reciprocal visa requirements for Canadians abroad

132 USD, however, pales in comparison to the tax revenues that support the Canadian refugee review system. Immigration Watch estimates costs to be 2 billion per year, and that was several years ago.

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