Is the Conservative government stepping up for refugees? A fact check from CARL

September 12, 2015

Myth: Canada is doing all that it can to assist in the current refugee crisis.

Fact:  Canada can and has done more as compared to past historical examples of similar refugee crises:

  • Canada airlifted 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s.
  • 5,000 from Uganda in 1972.
  • 60,000 from Vietnam in 1979-80. In the peak month of February, 1980, Canada resettled 6,200 Vietnamese. Canada flew 181 charter flights during the two-year period, each carrying anywhere from 200 people to more than 400. Canada sent teams totaling between 20 to 25 people to process the applications.

In comparison, Canada has resettled on 2,374 Syrian refugees to date.

Myth: Canada is among the most generous nations in the world with respect to refugees.

Fact: Canada is lagging in comparison to the response of other nations to the current crisis:

  • Germany accepted 30,000 Syrians last year.  Now, they are taking exponentially more. Just last month, more than 100,000 asylum seekers reached Germany, which is reported to be preparing for 800,000 this year, around one percent of its population.
  • Sweden, with a quarter of Canada’s population, has thus far taken 20,000 Syrians.
  • There are 4.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Lebanon alone is hosting 1.4 million registered Syrian refugees, in a country with a regular population of only 4 million.
  • Ultimately, over the last five years, Canada has fallen from 5th to 15th on the UNHCR list of top refugee-receiving countries.  This is perhaps most important, as we must look at the statistics relative to ourselves – comparing where we once were to where we are now. The trajectory of our humanitarian commitment is in sharp decline.

Myth: Canada is doing all it can to expedite assistance to refugees looking to find a safe haven here.

Fact: There are significant obstacles and delays in processing private refugee sponsorships, family reunification applications, and in-land claims:

  • In 2012, the government introduced a requirement that (non-Quebec) refugee applications must be approved by UNHCR. This is not practical in the current crisis and need for exigency.
  • Private refugee sponsorship is a two-step process that takes much too long given the immediate need for safe harbour. Processing times vary by visa office;  the “expedited time” for many Syrians submitting applications in Beirut, Lebanon is still 11 months (closer to 18 months if counting both stages of processing), and 19 months for Amman, Jordan. Other Middle East offices take much longer, including 45 months for those applying from Ankara, Turkey.
  • Family reunification applications for those refugees with families sponsoring them from within Canada are likewise delayed. Processing times for sponsorship of spouses, common-law or conjugal partners and dependent children currently average a total of 19 months (for both stages) via the Beirut, Lebanon office. For parents and grand-parents from Lebanon office, the processing times are an astronomical 79 months (plus 45 months for stage 1).
  • By comparison, in 2006, the average processing time for applications for the sponsorship of spouses and partners (step 1 + step 2) was 10 months. For parents and grandparents the processing time was 41 months and for children and others the average processing time was 14 months.[1]
  • There is no Interim Federal Healthcare Program coverage for the first year for all privately sponsored refugees. Despite Federal Court ruling in 2013 that denying primary care to refugees including children and pregnant women is “cruel and unusual treatment.”
  • Harvard report has confirmed Canada has undertaken systemic efforts to eschew refugee claimants. The tactics include “intensified use of offshore interdiction, inspection, and deflection measures.” Such barriers lead to a “rise in human smuggling”, creating dangerous conditions and increased risk for families seeking safety. [source:  Bordering on Failure, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Law Clinical Program, Efrat Arbel and Alletta Brenner, November 2013]. 

Myth: Canada cannot afford to take more refugees – they are a drain on our social system.

Fact: Refugees pay more income tax than millionaire investor immigrants according to a report in March 2015. [source:]

  • Refugees who have come to Canada over the past 30 years have paid more income tax than immigrant investors admitted under the now defunct immigrant investor program.
  • Two-thirds of refugees reported income by their fifth year, on par with Canada’s average.
  • "Refugees that are actually employed, their incomes were on a par with economic immigrants, very much contradicting this notion that refugees are coming and acting as a drain for taxpayers and a drain on the Canadian economy” - Sharry Aiken, Professor of refugee law at Queen’s University  [source:]

Myth: The process needs to be slow, because of the need to conduct security checks:

  • Even temporary visa applicants go through security screening, so Citizenship and Immigration Canada would be able to screen out any obvious cases of concern.
  • Canada conducts security screenings for refugee claimants who are already inside Canada. The screening is normally completed within less than 45-60 days. There is no reason that the same timeframe couldn't be met for applicants for Temporary Residence Permits (TRPs). In the case of the Kosovars in 1999, Canada received 5,000 refugees at short notice without any time for a security screening. That was also a period when there had been a very bloody civil war.  This process was completed quickly without resulting in any major security concerns.

[1] CIC Evaluation Division, “Evaluation of the Family Reunification Program” (March 2014):