Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, November 13, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Canada's immigration and refugee board is wasting too much time and money entertaining meritless claims from American criminals, an Abbotsford MP said Friday.
Randy White said many criminals are fleeing to Canada to claim refugee status, making our country a haven for drug criminals and others seeking to avoid prosecution or serving their sentences in the U.S.
"We're finding that people who want to avoid the law in the U.S. come here." he explained. "There is no merit to their claims and the refugee board knows they have no merit."
But it takes up to two years to schedule a refugee hearing and, once the board rejects a claim, the person seeking refugee status appeals, creating further delays.
He said an average refugee board hearing costs taxpayers $2,500. But he estimated that lengthy cases can cost up to $20,000.
"It's taking a lot of time and money to convene all these hearings," White said. "The refugee board is wasting our time and money."
The solution to the problem is to shorten the time between receiving a refugee application and convening a hearing, the Conservative MP said. The time elapsed should be shortened from years to days, he said.
"I really think what the immigration department has got to do is make a fast assessment," White said.
Refugee claims by U.S. citizens invariably fail, he said, but if a person stays in Canada long enough, he can establish a life here and immigration authorities won't bother him because they don't have the resources to chase everyone down.
"So you can establish yourself -- get married, have a child. They know the game," White said.
Even people deported from Canada often return again and again, he said.
"There's been one fellow sent out [of Canada] 32 times," he said. "He's from Texas."
White said a number of those who seek refugee status in Canada are facing marijuana charges in the U.S., where there is harsher sentencing for drug offences.
One B.C. website, the Underground Reefer Railway, established last year, provided tips to Americans trying to escape marijuana charges and assisted them in coming to Canada, claiming refugee status and accessing social services such as welfare, the MP added.
"They can also go to school and not be harassed by [U.S.] authorities," White said.
According to the Canadian immigration and refugee board, Americans filed 317 claims for refugee status last year, up from 213 the previous year.
The surge in claims from the U.S. began immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Some claimants were Muslims who alleged tough new laws in the U.S. adversely affected their civil rights.
Of 39 refugee claims filed by U.S. citizens in the Vancouver region last year, only a half dozen or so were made by medical marijuana users who claimed they would be persecuted in their home country.
One of the examples used by White is Steve Kubby, 57, who came to the Sunshine Coast in 2001 and claimed refugee status after he was convicted in California of possessing peyote and one magic-mushroom stem. He received a 120-day sentence.
The medical-marijuana crusader, who smokes pot to control symptoms related to his adrenal cancer, claimed he would be persecuted and would die if returned to the U.S., because he would not be allowed to smoke pot while in jail.
His claim was rejected, but White estimated it cost about $20,000 to hear Kubby's case. "And he's still here," he pointed out.
Kubby, who has a Health Canada exemption to grow and smoke medicinal marijuana, has filed an appeal of the refugee board decision in federal court.
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