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Uzelman: Complaints multiply with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

A column by Bruce Uzelman

~BW Uzelman

Penticton residents, Hardeep Singh Chahal, his pregnant wife Kamaldeep Kaur, and their three year old daughter were scheduled to be deported June 13. They have been in Canada for ten years, so it is difficult to understand the imperative for the action by IRCC. Chahal was employed by Lake Breeze Winery. The vineyard manager, Pierre Levesque, said, “This is so crazy that when we are in great need of good vineyard workers, the government wants to send him away.”

Fortunately, the Member of Parliament for South Okanagan-West Kootenay Richard Canning and his staff intervened along with community members, who sent more than 100 supportive emails which were forwarded to the IRCC. The family was put into this situation by the department, despite not having received a ruling on their permanent residency application. They were in Surrey, awaiting removal, when the deportation order was finally delayed indefinitely by the department. It must have been a terribly stressful experience for the family, and was totally unnecessary.

And the Chahal family is far from being alone. Their experience with IRCC is widespread. It is a poorly led department in a rudderless Liberal government. It is almost impossible for individuals or their lawyers to get specific answers as to why applications are being held up or have been denied. As a result, applicants and their lawyers have resorted to using the access to information system. But this has not resolved severe problems with IRCC’s services. Indeed, it has created new problems.

IRCC has received the most requests of any department under access to information legislation, causing further backlog. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, it received a stunning 177,413 requests. An internal 2021 IRCC memo obtained by the Globe and Mail revealed requests could continue to rise dramatically. As well, the 2022-2023 Report of the Information Commissioner noted 4685 complaints for the year against IRCC. The report said over 50% of complaints for all departments since 2019-2020 were directed at IRCC. An inordinate number cited IRCC taking more time to respond than the access legislation allows.

The report notes that already in 2021, the Commissioner concluded that the “extraordinarily” high level of requests and complaints, “is the direct result of applicants … being unable to receive information they are seeking about immigration files through other means than the access to information system.” It continues, “Two years later, … the number of requests and complaints received has not decreased. … IRCC has yet to offer applicants any alternative methods to access the information they are seeking on their files.” The report is damning. Yet, the government only blathers. Nothing substantive has changed.

The Information Commissioner, in 2021, recommended a simple way to solve the problem – allow applicants to see their files without an information request. The government has not complied. Alec Attfield, past director-general of citizenship at IRCC, told the Globe, “’Clients should have access to their case files,’ with exceptions for information that might affect national security. ‘Until you have the proper information systems in place, growing immigration volumes are going to put further pressure on access to information and our ability to respond to people’s requests for status on their files.’”

The Globe recounts a very unfortunate immigration story. Sunkar Shagambayev, his wife and son came to Canada in 2019. However, each time they have filed to have their adopted daughter, now 14, admitted to Canada, they have been refused and have not been told specifically why. The family’s application for permanent residence, submitted in early 2020, has neither been denied nor approved. To date, Mr. Shagambayev has filed nine access requests. The process has exacted a mental toll on him.

“We came to Canada because we thought that the Canadian immigration system was transparent, tolerant and equal,” he said. “This really made us feel like we’re not needed in Canada, not welcomed …. But I love this country anyway, because every time I leave Canada and come back, I feel like I’m home.” The actions of IRCC are perplexing. To deny the family’s daughter, a child, the right to join the family is cruel, and to not respond to an application for permanent residence for over three years is unjust.

The case of the Chahal family in Penticton shows there is some measure for hope, but not much. MP Canning’s constituency assistant, Jula Sukumar-Dyer marveled at their success. She said, “Honestly, deportations are really hard to turn around, but I think it can happen.” She and Mr. Canning agree it was the strong support from the community that made IRCC reverse course.

The Liberal Government could resolve the immigration issues across the system. They, however, seem incapable of systemic change. Realistically, this government will likely never effectively address the broader problems within the IRCC – and elsewhere.


Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age.

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.


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