Questions Raised Over Canada’s Immigration Promise To Filipino Typhoon Victims

Questions are being raised about whether the Canadian government fulfilled its promise earlier this year to expedite immigration for Filipino victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

In the wake of the deadly typhoon, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) pledged to simplify and expedite the immigration process to Canada for Filipinos who were “significantly and personally affected” by the storm. However, six months after the incident, media inquiries into just how many Filipino typhoon victims have been allowed into Canada may indicate the government has not fully kept its promise.

While the Canadian government confirmed to the Toronto Star that about 1,100 immigration applications had been approved under the Typhoon Haiyan plan, it would not reveal the exact number of applicants, or the number of rejected applications or processing times.

The federal government’s reluctance to answer these queries by Canada’s largest newspaper is raising eyebrows among some. A spokesman for Democracy Watch, an organization that advocates for open government, concluded that there was “no reason” why the government could not reveal this information, and that not revealing details of the immigration plan amounted to an “excessive and unjustifiable level of secrecy.”

The Star reported that, despite repeated requests for additional details regarding the Filipino typhoon victim immigration program, the government’s only response was that “as of April 1, 2014 the total number of approved applications from Filipinos affected by the typhoon was 1,097.”

Neither the immigration department, nor the office of Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, responded to additional queries by the newspaper.

Critics of the Conservative government say its unwillingness to provide additional information about the program is in keeping with the secretive nature of the Stephen Harper administration. Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said that the government’s silence about the Filipino victim program illustrates a policy of “refusing to give answers…even when the public has the right to know the information.”

The Star claims that despite the urgency of their situation—and Canadian promises to expedite immigration—some Typhoon Haiyan victims have waited five months or more for a response to their immigration applications.

The president of the Canadian organization representing Filipino victims appears to confirm the concerns about the success of the typhoon immigration program. Tom Price, president of the Leyteno Association of Ontario, said he knows of only two visas approved under the program, but is also aware of several applicants who are still waiting for a response, as well as a few denied visa applicants.

Price added that the government’s official number of approved Typhoon Haiyan visas surprised Filipinos in Toronto, as almost no one in their community knew of anyone who had been approved.

“Our organization is representative of the towns that were most affected by the typhoon,” Price said, and “these are small towns–and people would know each other”.