Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair stands during question period in the House of Commons in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair stands during question period in the House of Commons in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Federal officials dealing with backlog of refugee security screens

Border Security Minister Bill Blair said officials check all asylum-seekers at the border

Canada’s border-security minister says there is a backlog in the screening of asylum seekers, including those who are considered irregular border-crossers walking into the country from the United States, but it doesn’t constitute a security problem.

Internal government documents obtained by lawyer Richard Kurland under the federal access-to-information law show that as of Feb. 28, 2018, there were 11,745 asylum-seekers waiting for second security screenings, up from 1,683 just two years earlier — an increase of about 700 per cent.

All those in the queue had already been screened once at the border to see whether they posed clear security threats.

Overall, 41 per cent of the backlog cases were refugee claimants “who are already in Canada but who have not been security screened,” Canada Border Services Agency officials wrote in a presentation outlining why things were so backed up, and who was stuck in it.

The Toronto Star first reported the details, which lit a political fire in the House of Commons’ daily question period.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair said officials check all asylum-seekers at the border and stressed “there is no security threat to Canadians.”

He said there is a backlog for the second checks, but didn’t say how many people are in it now.

“As part of the process of determining their eligibility for asylum … there is an additional screening that takes place,” Blair said.

READ MORE: Canada Border Services Agency told to speed removals of failed refugee claimants

“We are working hard to deal with the backlog that they left to us,” he said, referring to the previous Conservative government, “and we will complete that process before anyone is eligible for refugee status in our country.”

The answer didn’t sit well with Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, who questioned how Blair can say there are no security threats if the people involved had yet to go through the full screening process.

“One could argue that it would be difficult to evaluate if someone posed a security risk to Canada if their security screening was not completed,” Rempel said.

Everyone who comes across the border is screened upon arrival and given a biometric scan to check against data held by some of Canada’s allies, such as the United States, to see if the person has any flags on his or her file.

Refugee claimants who pass the first test are admitted into the country, and then undergo a secondary screen involving the Mounties and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to see if there is anything in their past that could render them ineligible.

The total backlog of cases one year ago, including applications for temporary and permanent residency, stood at 28,467, up from 5,419 in 2016, for an increase of 525 per cent, the documents say. And applicants waited an average of 72 days for the secondary screens to be completed.

The longest wait time as of February 2018 was 872 days.

READ MORE: Two years later: Most Syrian refugees settling well in B.C., report says

Kurland said it’s problematic that the security screening process continues after people have entered Canada. Pointing to the documents, Kurland noted some claimants who don’t raise immediate alarms can have “extensive criminal history for theft.” That’s the sort of thing the initial check isn’t designed to detect.

“These people wait in security backlog in larger numbers and for longer periods of time. Why?” said Kurland, a lawyer with the firm Kurland, Tobe. “We know there are bad people. Do we save money by letting more bad people spend even longer periods of time in our streets because we have a growing backlog of security cases, or do we spend the money now to reduce the security backlog?”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Fire Service at a garage fire in the 14400-block of 82A Ave on March 22, 2021. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief

Between police and fire, Larry Thomas said there are 8 confirmed cases, 18 others isolating

Surrey Fire Service is on scene of a fire in the 12300-block of 72A Avenue Saturday morning (April 10). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Surrey crews on scene of house fire

It happened in the 12300-block of 72A Avenue

Emergency crews on scene after a small plane crashed in a grassy area on the northeast side of Boundary Bay Airport Saturday morning (April 10). A freelancer said the plane caught fire and one person was transported to hospital by BC Emergency Health Services. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Small plane crashes at Delta’s Boundary Bay Airport

Plane appears to have suffered ‘significant’ damage, says freelancer

Signage on a South Surrey sidewalk reminds pedestrians to respect social-distancing guidelines. (Photo: Tracy Holmes)
Surrey records 4,400 COVID-19 cases in March

New cases almost doubled between February, March

Surrey RCMP are looking for these two men after a bank in the 12800-block of 96th Avenue was robbed on March 12. (Images: Surrey RCMP)
Police release images of two men suspected of robbing Surrey bank

Robbery happened on March 12 at bank in 12800-block of 96th Avenue

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, was filming near Prospect Lake in Saanich last month. (Photo courtesy Fred Haynes)
Province announces $150,000 towards film studio, fulfilling B.C. NDP promise

Investment to fund movie studio feasibility study at Camosun College

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

People stroll through rows of tulips in bloom during the Tulips of the Valley Festival on May 2, 2017. The colourful spring event, now called Chilliwack Tulips, opens on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Fraser Valley tulip attraction returns this weekend for 1 month

More than 6.5 million bulbs in all at this year’s colourful Chilliwack Tulips event

Most Read