Officials at the immigration department are essentially stonewalling attempts to determine how the push to bring 25,000 – and possibly as many as 50,000 – Syrian refugees to Canada in a year or less is being handled.
Attempts by The Rebel to have basic questions answered about the refugee plan are being met by extremely long requests for delays and officials are blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Last week I reported on officials at the immigration department responding to an access to information request asking for "a copy of the questionnaire used for interviews with potential Syrian refugees seeking to come to Canada." We were shocked when officials told us there was no such document, either a lie or word games given how much data senior department officials claim they collect from would-be refugees.
Now officials are responding to access to information requests by taking extensions of 275 to 300 days.
The access to information laws allow anyone to submit a question or request for information to government department and receive an answer within 30 days. In fact, for a department not to respond within 30 days is considered a violation of the law.
In response to three separate requests asking for information on the execution of the Liberal refugee plan, officials have asked for these extremely long extensions. The official in charge of dealing to with access to information requests cites a section of the act that allows for delays if the request requires searching through a large volume of documents and would interfere with the operation of the department. In the response the official made it clear, she and the rest of the department are working hard for their new political masters.
"Also, it is to be noted that, at this point of the process, the department is working to meet the mandate on Syrian Refugees set by the Prime Minister of Canada," wrote Hélène Bertrand, senior ATIP administrator at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
What makes this odd is that ATIP responses are handled by staff devoted to access to information requests. By the nature of their jobs those bureaucrats are not involved in frontline program delivery.
One of the requests sought information on "any concerns raised about the list of refugees being provided by the Turkish government to Canada" while another sought documents, "regarding efforts to meet the religious needs of Syrian refugees who are being brought to Canada, since November 4, 2015 . The period of the request is to cover from November 4, 2015 to Dec 3, 2015 (receipt date)."
Finally, with claims that some of the refugees that came on the plane greeted by Prime Minister Trudeau were quarantined, we asked for "any security or health concerns for any of the group of refugees who arrived in Toronto and were met by dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, on December 10, 2015."
Each of those requests was greeted with a request for an extension plus the note that the department is too busy meeting the prime minister's demands to deal with the public.
By asking for extensions ranging from 275 to 300 days the officials at the immigration department are essentially trying to put off any scrutiny of their planning or the execution of those plans until the refugees are here and most people have forgotten this was ever a story.
While some might be willing to accept the department's line that they are busy executing the prime minister's mandate, it worth remembering that all through the Afghan war and even now as they are engaged in both bombing ISIS and training Kurdish fighters, that the Department of National Defence continues to answer access to information requests.
The excuse given by the immigration department is simply that -- an excuse. It shouldn’t be tolerated by any government but especially not one that was elected promising to be more open and transparent than the one that they replaced.
The public has a right to know how important actions of the government are being carried out, a well worn saying is that justice delayed is justice denied. Here it is information delayed, but information that can inform the public on how well a key program and election promise is being administered.
These delays, this lack of action cannot stand.
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