Asylum claim backlog could reach 11 years

The Canadian Press
Stephanie Levitz

OTTAWA–A increase in asylum claims in Canada eventually could mean a staggering 11-year wait for a hearing and $2.97 billion in federal social supports for claimants in the meantime, an internal government analysis has concluded.
The Immigration and Refugee Board already is trying to whittle down its current backlog, but received no new money in the latest federal budget.
With 2017 application numbers expected to far exceed earlier projections, the board simply can’t keep up, says the memo, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
The Immigration Department memorandum was drawn up this spring amid a flood of people illegally crossing into Canada from the U.S. to claim asylum, dominating headlines and raising pointed House of Commons questions about the integrity of Canada’s borders and immigration system.
The department was asked to explore estimated backlogs at the Immigration and Refugee Board, and the associated wait times under different scenarios, following a meeting about the U.S. border-crosser issue in March.
Since January, at least 2,700 people have been intercepted by the RCMP between legal border points; most went on to file claims.
The memo does not directly address the impact of the border crossers, though certain sections were redacted.
But those numbers only are part of the mix.
Asylum claims have been rising steadily since 2015; there were 16,115 that year and then 23,895 in 2016.
As of April this year, the last month for which data is publicly available, there already were 12,040 claims in the system.
The memo projects claim levels will hit 36,000 this year and could continue to increase after that.
“This scenario best reflects current concerns around increased volumes of claimants observed to date in 2017, and takes into account overall increases in asylum intake from 2015 to 2016,” it says.
The memo goes on to say that by the end of 2021, the new system inventory would grow to roughly 192,700 claims, equivalent to 133 months’ worth of output from the board or a wait time of about 11 years.
The social support costs for claimants were $600 a month each in 2016-17, the memo said.
At that claim volume, those costs could climb to $2.97 billion from 2017 through 2021.
The other two scenarios examined were what would happen if intake for 2017 remained at the originally-projected number of 28,000 claims, or what would happen if there was 36,000 claims with no growth after that.
In the first scenario, wait times would be between four-five years; in the second, around six years.
The IRB has been sounding the alarm for months over its ability to keep pace with the rising numbers.
They cite a number of factors, including dozens of vacancies for decision-maker positions and also a legislative regime that requires hearings to be scheduled within certain timelines.