The Canadian government may soon make it more difficult for asylum seekers to file for refugee claims at the border if they have already made claims in other countries.
The legislation is part of the country's omnibus budget bill introduced on Monday, and it would prevent anyone who has made a refugee claim in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand from making a separate claim in Canada, Global News reported.
"I expect this to be a major change for Canada's refugee system and I'm surprised to see it buried in a budget bill," attorney Kevin Wiener told the BBC in an email.
"If immigration officers are going to be the new front-line decision-makers for a large volume of refugee claims, then the government needs to make sure they do a better job at providing fair and reasonable decision-making," he added.
Many of the 20,000 asylum seekers that crossed into Canada from the U.S. in 2018 had already made refugee claims in the U.S., the BBC reported. With over 200,000 pending asylum claims, the wait for hearings by Canada's refugee board ends up to be about 20 months.
The National Post reported that lawyers and advocates who work with asylum seekers said they were taken aback by the proposed changes.
Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees Janet Dench said the proposal was a "devastating attack on refugee rights," pointing out the process would create another category of people who would be denied access to the country's refugee determination system.
Maureen Silcoff, chair of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said that human rights have no place in a budget bill, calling the legislation "undemocratic," The Post reported.
Others have a different take on the measure. Border Security Minister Bill Blair said the proposal intended to prevent "asylum-shopping," adding that he had been working to "significantly reduce the number of people who are crossing our borders irregularly."
"There's a right way to come to the country to seek asylum and/or to seek to immigrate to this country, and we're trying to encourage people to use the appropriate channels and to disincentivize people from doing it improperly," he said.The Post reported that some 40,000 asylum seekers had entered Canada from the U.S. "irregularly" since 2017.
The Canada Border Services Agency is ultimately responsible for deciding if refugees are eligible to make a refugee claim in the country. Those who are denied refugee status can submit a written, pre-removal risk assessment, Wiener said has about a 3 percent success rate.
In the budget, the government agreed to spend more than $750 million for border services over the next five years.