Cancelled asylum hearings 'devastating' to Ottawa refugee claimants, advocates say

August 11, 2017

As asylum seekers continue to stream into Canada in record numbers, dozens of refugee claimant cases in Ottawa are being delayed or cancelled with very little notice, say local advocates.

The revelation comes as hundreds of people, most of whom are originally from Haiti, have been crossing illegally into Canada from the U.S. each day near the border crossing in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que.

"This is a new phenomenon this year," said Arghavan Gerami, an Ottawa immigration lawyer who spoke with CBC News about the situation facing her clients.

Gerami said more than two-thirds of her clients' cases have been cancelled without yet being rescheduled.

"I've been practicing for a number of years, and this would rarely happen. We would have cancellations, but they would be rescheduled right away." 

Growing national backlog

Earlier this year, Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board issued a memo obtained by the Canadian Press suggesting that asylum claims had spiked so quickly in 2017 that the board was being overwhelmed by a growing backlog of applications.

The memo projected that the number of asylum claims would hit 36,000 this year — and could continue to increase after that. There were 16,115 claims in 2015, and in 2016 there were 23,895. 

The backlog is posing particular challenges for asylum claimants in Ottawa, since the local Immigration and Refugee Board office closed in 2014.

Read more: Cancelled asylum hearings 'devastating' to Ottawa refugee claimants, advocates say