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Immigration backlog in Canada reaches 2.4M – CTV News

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The immigration backlog in Canada has ballooned to 2.4 million people, with over 250,000 applications adding to the pile over a one-month span alone.

That’s according to recent data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) across all categories, from temporary residence and permanent residence to citizenship applications.

“I have not seen backlogs like these in 16 years of my career as an immigration lawyer,” Rick Lamanna, director at Fragomen Canada, an immigration services provider, told CTV News in a phone interview on Thursday.

“Prior to the pandemic, things were running fairly well.”

The increased backlog has already led to frustrations for those waiting to receive an application update from IRCC.

The recent data only raises more questions than provides answers to the applicants in limbo.

Can’t see the graphs below? Click here

 

Despite being among the top five destinations with immigrant-friendly policies around the world, Canada is seeing an upward trend in backlogs since the pandemic.

Long processing times and a lack of communication and transparency are some of the many issues highlighted by families that reached out to CTVNews.ca.

‘EXTREMELY STRESSFUL’

Lamanna said changing processing times are preventing families and even businesses from planning anything ahead of time.

“If you were to go online right now, and take a look at the processing time, out of India, it’s taking close to a year,” he said.

Part of the problem he pointed out is that IRCC faced a cascading effect from the fall of Afghanistan and then the pandemic.

During COVID-19, IRCC staff was not deemed as “essential workers” so the backlogs only started to grow. Now with the Ukraine war, there is a massive backlog, he adds. Between March 17 and June 8, 2022, 296,163 applications were received under the program.

For most, the long delays have postponed their life decisions as they continue to wait in another country.

Kazim Ali applied for permanent residency through the Express Entry program in 2020 from Pakistan and has been waiting since to receive an update. He said he has no idea how long he has to wait until he begins his new life in Canada with his wife.

“Our lives have come to a screeching halt because of a lack of communication and no clear timeline on the processing delays,” Ali said in an interview with CTVNews.ca from Pakistan over a zoom call on Wednesday.

Ali said the estimated processing time was six months at the time of submission.

Despite repeated emails, Ali’s application seems to have come to a screeching halt. He said the IRCC helpline is of no help to those outside Canada.

He was told to reach out to the visa office that is processing his application. Currently, it lies in the London, UK office with no updates.

Ali has put a stop to his long-term plans–including his career, buying a home, and family planning.

He said the wait is now taking an agonizing toll on his mental and emotional health and has been “extremely stressful” for the couple.

“IRCC really needs a reality check and needs to understand that it is not only processing a bunch of papers but making decisions that are affecting lives of families and generations to come,” Ali said.

In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, IRCC’s communications officer Jeffrey MacDonald said that application inventories grew during the pandemic while health and travel restrictions were in effect, and it will take some time to fully recover.

McDonald said IRCC is moving towards a more integrated, modernized, and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally.

He said IRCC is also working to improve the level of service at the Client Support Centre (CSC).  Between April 2021 and March 2022, IRCC’s CSC communication lines received over 10.5 million inquiries (8.6 million by telephone and 1.9 million by email).

‘COVID IS NO LONGER AN EXCUSE’

But Mustakima Gazi, who works as a long-term care pandemic resident assistant, said COVID-19 can no longer be an excuse.

Gazi, a Canadian citizen from London, Ont., has been waiting for her husband’s spousal application since December 2021 and has seen incremental progress since she last spoke with CTVNews.ca in May.

But despite the application reaching the next stage, she remains discouraged.

The couple is a part of a Facebook community that includes families waiting for IRCC updates. She said that some who had submittedthe request for medical exam ( a requirement for those filing for permanent residency) last year have still been waiting to get an update from IRCC.

Gazi’s husband lives alone in the Netherlands and with his application in limbo, is under immense mental stress.

Making matters worse, she said, are the processing times on the online portal that keep changing.

She said one would think that the processing time would decrease as applications are being processed.

“But that is not the case,” she said. “At one point the estimated time was 12 months, and the next week it was 23 months.”

Gazi has tried to call IRCC many times to get more information on our application, hoping to speed things up, but has never been able to reach anyone who could provide her any answers on the status.

“Sometimes the helpline just gets disconnected without even putting me in a waiting line,” she said.

The one time that she got connected, the IRCC agent tried to help but could not provide any updates since the application was being processed outside Canada.

“Everyone is fighting a battle and trying their best to get through these hard times. We want to be close to our families who can support us,” she said. But the delay is leading to nothing but desperation.

‘ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION’

Among those frustrated by the lack of communication and transparency is Anne Marie Trad, a Canadian citizen waiting to be with her husband, Pierre Ajaltouni, since 2019.

The couple married in 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon and Trad filed for a spousal visa from there in 2019.

It has been over 50 months since.

Trad has tried all the routes to get updates: she contacted the MP office, reached out to her local MP, filled out web forms, and called the IRCC helpline. But nothing has helped.

Her husband’s spousal application was filed outside Canada (Beirut) so navigating through the application status is more complicated than those processed in Canada.

Trad said the status has been saying “doing a background check” since 2019.

In hopes of a quicker route, she filed for a visit visa from Canada in 2020. But even that has seen no momentum.

Trad last visited her husband in August 2021 and now worries that with Lebanon’s ongoing crisis, it could be increasingly difficult to make these visits.

The three-year wait has taken a toll on the couple’s mental health – leading to anxiety, and depression. Trad said her husband has lost a lot of weight and she is concerned about his health.

The couple took a legal route last year to get immigration officials to act on files caught up in delays – a writ of mandamus.

The legal route is definitely not cheap, Trad said, but she sees no better option to speed up the process.

“We just want to get our life back on track after wasting three years in waiting,” she said.

WHAT IS IRCC DOING?

MacDonald said that a number of factors can impact the application and these include the type of the application submitted, and how well and quickly applicants respond to the IRCC requests. These requests include biometrics and additional information. Verification and complexity of the application can also affect the processing time of an application.

To support the processing and settlement of new permanent residents to Canada, the government has committed $2.1 billion over five years and ongoing $317.6 million in new funding announced in Budget 2022.

With additional funding of $85 million from the 2021 Economic and Fiscal Update, IRCC is looking to reduce application inventories accumulated during the pandemic by hiring new processing staff, digitizing applications, and implementing technology-based solutions such as digital intake and advanced analytics.

Lamanna said the hiring will help reduce the backlogs but that itself will take some time.

“Even if IRCC hires more people, it could take months before any group of new hires is actually effective in tackling the backdrop since that would require new training,” he said.

He said digitizing is a step in the right direction but even that could take years before it is finally implemented and may not assist those who are currently waiting and may help new applicants in 2023.

“It is a very difficult situation,” he said.

HOW DID IT GET SO BAD?

Many immigration law firms have seen a spike in the mandamus applications. In over 10 months, Toronto -based law firm, Abramovich & Tchern has processed over 200 mandamus files.

It is unfortunate that applicants have to take this route, Lev Abramovich, an immigration lawyer at Abramovich & Tchern, told CTVNews.ca on Thursday.

Abramovich, who is not representing any of the applicants in this story, said it wasn’t COVID-19 itself that created the backlog, but it ultimately revealed the “archaic structure and the management style that is not very agile.

”After the pandemic hit, processing centers were operating with very limited capacity, and that partly contributed to the increasing backlogs.

Some application categories filed during the pandemic were paper-based and lay in offices, gathering dust for many months.

Abramovich said most mandamus applications his firm has received have been from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, India, and China.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Lamanna said one of the solutions is focusing on prioritizing groups or processes and fixing them instead of trying to have a catch-all approach. “So, people understand how to process these applications,” he said.

Abramovich said the existing system needs to be “centralized and agile.”

Many times, an application is stuck in an office outside Canada that may be partly functional due to a number of reasons such as shut down or remote work orders.

He said a centralized agile system would manage applications by redistributing them in different offices.

“And they will be processed, more or less based on when they came in, not based on the country of nationality or other factors which is deeply unfair,” Abramovich said.

Abramovich said the new immigration minister inherited the existing system and has been open to dialogue, and that an independent review could provide recommendations for a long-lasting change. He added an impartial investigation to understand the actual root causes will only help prevent something like this from happening in the future.

“We are dealing with human lives here and let’s not pretend it has something to do with COVID-19 and that finances alone are going to be sufficient,” he said.

Edited by CTVNews.ca producer Phil Hahn

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Canada first to sign off on Finland, Sweden joining NATO – CTV News

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Canada became the first country to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession protocols to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday.

The move follows NATO leaders officially inviting the two nations to join the alliance during a summit in Madrid last week, and brings the two countries a step closer to becoming full NATO members.

“Canada has full confidence in Finland and Sweden’s ability to integrate quickly and effectively into NATO and contribute to the Alliance’s collective defence,” Trudeau said in a statement.

“Their membership will make NATO stronger and we call on all NATO members to move swiftly to complete their ratification processes to limit opportunities for interference by adversaries.”

According to The Associated Press, all 30 NATO allies signed off on the accession protocols on Tuesday, sending the membership bids to each nation for legislative approval. Both Canada and Denmark were quick to turn around their ratification documents.

“Thank You Canada! Canada is the first country to deliver its instrument of ratification to the United States Department of State, the depository of the North Atlantic Treaty!” tweeted Sweden’s Ambassador to Canada Urban Ahlin.

In Canada, the federal government made moves domestically to move through the ratification quickly, Trudeau said. This included issuing orders-in-council authorizing Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly to “take the actions necessary to ratify, on behalf of Canada.”

Ahead of Parliament adjourning for the summer, the House of Commons debated and voted on a motion signalling their support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

In May, the House Public Safety and National Security Committee adopted a motion expressing “strong support” for the two Scandanavian countries’ membership in the alliance. The motion also called on all NATO members to approve their applications as quickly as possible.

A debate was held on this motion on June 1, and it passed unanimously when put to a vote the following day.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has actualized something that was once only theoretical. An authoritarian state led by an autocrat has attacked a democracy: It has demonstrated that it is willing and able to attack a democracy. It has made clear that democracies that stand alone and are not part of military alliances are most vulnerable,” said Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong during the House debate. “That is why it has become necessary to bring both Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance. This is an urgent matter.”

Also taking part in the debate, NDP MP and foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she supports Finland and Sweden doing all they can to prevent their countries from being threatened further by Russia.

“Prior to the further invasion of Ukraine, support for NATO membership was around 20 to 30 per cent in Sweden and Finland. Now, 76 per cent of Finnish people support joining NATO. Very simply, Vladimir Putin and the aggression of the Russian Federation are responsible for escalating tensions in the region and leading Sweden and Finland to seek NATO membership,” McPherson said.

With NATO member countries having different processes for completing ratification, it could be some time still before the two nations formally become a part of the longstanding intergovernmental military alliance.

With files from Senior Political Correspondent for CTV News Channel Mike Le Couteur

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Canada Day Ottawa: 12 arrested, 50 charges laid – CTV News Ottawa

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Ottawa police say 50 criminal charges were laid over the Canada Day long weekend and 12 people were arrested.

Last Friday marked the first Canada Day in Ottawa with major in-person events since 2019. Thousands of tourists and residents came downtown to celebrate the holiday. In the mix were several hundred protesters associated with the “Freedom Convoy” movement that paralyzed downtown Ottawa in February.

Ottawa police were out in force starting June 29 with the implementation of the downtown vehicle control zone, which was meant to prevent another vehicle-based occupation of the city.

Police said they arrested a dozen people in downtown Ottawa between June 29 and July 3, including people who were not involved in Canada Day events or protests. On top of the 50 criminal charges, four charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were also laid.

One man was arrested on Parliament Hill June 29 for causing a disturbance. He was taken back to Toronto on an outstanding warrant.

On June 30, police charged one person with breach of release orders and Highway Traffic Act offences after a traffic stop on Highway 417 at Anderson Road.

Later that day, three people were arrested following an incident at the National War Memorial in which a police officer was allegedly choked. Charges include assaulting police, resisting arrest, causing a disturbance, and assault by choking. This incident came shortly after Canadian soldier James Topp, who is facing a court martial for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 vaccine rules in uniform, completed his cross-country walk protesting vaccine mandates. Hundreds of people had gathered at the War Memorial to hear Topp speak.

On Canada Day, one man was arrested and charged for allegedly pulling a knife on RCMP officers near LeBreton Flats after officers broke up a fight. Two more people were arrested and face several assault charges after an attack in the ByWard Market.

On July 2, police arrested two people in a vehicle and seized a handgun. Several gun and drug charges were laid. Patrol officers also seized a gun in Sandy Hill that afternoon and charged a man with drug and gun offences.

On July 3, police arrested a woman for public intoxication who allegedly spit in an officer’s face. She now also faces an assault charge.

Ottawa police did not name any of the accused.

Police are also investigating paint on public property in Strathcona Park and on Wellington Street. Protesters painted messages about convoy organizers Pat King and Tamara Lich on Wellington Street on Canada Day. Police also said earlier they laid 19 impaired driving charges over the long weekend.

Ottawa Bylaw towed 121 vehicles from the vehicle control zone between June 29 and July 3 and issued 513 parking tickets. 

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to take part in G20 despite Russia’s presence

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OTTAWA — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will take part in a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this week, even though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to attend.

In March, Joly joined many others in walking out of a United Nations meeting in Geneva when Lavrov, whom Canada had brought sanctions against days earlier, began speaking.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined a walkout of a G20 meeting for finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng joined her counterparts from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand in leaving an APEC meeting in Bangkok when the Russian representative began to speak.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would take part in the G20 leaders’ meeting in November, even if President Vladimir Putin goes too, saying it is important to counteract the voice that Russia will have at that table.

Joly, who recently said it was unacceptable for a Canadian official to attend a reception hosted by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is expected to join other foreign ministers at the G20 meeting in opposing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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