IRCC program for Palestinians Much More Onerous Than That Offered to Ukrainians

by Ronalee Carey Law

January 2024

Currently, the home page of IRCC’s website provides links to information on ‘the situation’ in a number of countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Ukraine.

I am not without sympathy for the policymakers at IRCC who are trying to respond to horrific world events and to placate the Canadian family members of those caught up in violence.

However, nothing seems to have changed in the year since I published a blog post entitled, ‘Time for IRCC to have a Standardized Response to Adverse Country Events.’ In that post, I urged IRCC to develop a coherent strategy for dealing with those who want to come to Canada or bring people to Canada as a result of an adverse event in another country.

IRCC’s response to Palestinian family members in Gaza has varied so differently from its response to individuals affected by the war in Ukraine that one can only question how deeply engrained systematic racism is within the department.

On January 9th, a temporary public policy came into effect for ‘certain extended family affected by the crisis in Gaza.’ It waives some visa requirements for Palestinians currently in Gaza so they can travel to Canada to be supported by family members. Afterward, they can apply for an open work or study permit and stay for up to three years.

Intake procedures for the program weren’t announced until the day it opened. On January 9th, we learned there would be a three-stage process to coming to Canada, which involved the Canadian family member obtaining a notarized document, submitting a web form to receive a reference code, and then using that code to submit a visa application. Further, the program was to be limited to the first 1000 applicants who submitted a visa application.

Details of the program were met with both confusion and criticism.

I had an inquiry from a Canadian who wanted to bring her sister and 18 and 22-year-old nephews from Gaza. Her sister and 18-year-old nephew were eligible, but not the 22-year-old, as he was too old to be considered a ‘dependent child.’ Would IRCC accept his application anyway? Ukrainian applicants did not need a family member in Canada to be eligible. Further, the measures do not apply to Palestinians in Canada with protected or temporary status, only for permanent residents and citizens.

The cap of 1,000 led to an immediate outcry, as no cap was imposed for the Ukrainian program and approximately 210,000 people have arrived from Ukraine to date. Almost immediately, the Immigration Minister was doing damage control, saying there was no ‘hard cap’ on the number of applicants. However, he also had to appease Canadians with security concerns, assuring the public that all applicants would undergo a ‘multi-stage security screening.’

As part of the enhanced screening process, applicants are being required to complete a form that requests details I’ve never seen in any other type of application, such as URLs for social media accounts, details of any scars or injuries, and employment history since age 16, raising privacy concerns.  I take no issue with IRCC properly vetting applicants, but is it really helpful to ask for a 65-year-old Jaddati’s Facebook account? Surely, photos of her grandkids in Canada don’t indicate a security risk.

There is no reason why people fleeing war in one part of the world should be treated any differently than others. If we are willing to accept any Ukrainian who applies, we should not limit visas for Palestinians to those who have certain family members in Canada. A quota is heartless; anyone who can get out of Gaza and has the means to get to Canada should be able to apply, just as all Ukrainians who wanted to apply were able to do. And please, deal with this now, before the next crisis emerges, so as soon as it does, we don’t need to wait months for a policy to be developed during which lives are being lost.