Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is kicking off a major overhaul of the country's refugee system by increasing the number of people Canada accepts from UN-designated refugee camps overseas.
Canada is now prepared to accept 2,500 extra refugees selected by the United Nations, bringing its annual total to 14,500 coming from refugee camps and urban slums, Kenney said Monday.
The move was generally well-received, but critics warned Canada is favouring refugee claimants in camps overseas over those who arrive at the Canadian border to claim asylum.
Kenney will announce far-reaching new legislation Tuesday that will crack down on people who apply for refugee status from within the country.
He unveiled the increase in "resettled" refugees a day early to show that his reform was "balanced."
"It's the sweetener today and the kick tomorrow," said Gloria Nafziger, refugee co-ordinater for Amnesty International in Toronto.
While no one disputes that refugees living in camps are in terrible need of asylum, she feared Tuesday's reform package would curtail the genuine refugees who apply for status from within Canada.
"Kenney always pits the people who arrive at the borders as the bad guys and queue-jumpers," Nafziger said.
Kenney's reform package would aim to get rid of the backlog of refugee claimants who come to Canada looking for asylum by more efficiently sorting out legitimate refugees from those who are trying to game Canada's system.
Under the new legislation, refugee claimants would be sorted into two groups - those from democratic countries deemed safe and those from more dangerous spots, sources say.
The safe-country people would be fast-tracked, since Ottawa doesn't want them hanging around for years taking advantage of Canada's benefits. But they would still have access to a full hearing and appeal.
Bureaucrats, rather than political appointees, would handle the initial decisions.
And the bill would set up a new, more robust appeals system, allowing those who are turned down to introduce new evidence before they are ejected from Canada.
Kenney wants to get rid of the backlog of 63,000 refugee claimants who often have to wait up to two years before their legal limbo is cleared up. He also wants to close loopholes in the system that allow posers to stay in Canada for years.
The package will be controversial, especially the proposal to name some countries as "safe" and then fast-track applicants from those countries. Experts warn that some legitimate claimants from supposedly safe countries could fall through the cracks.
But the government hopes to garner support for the program by promising enough safeguards in the new system to respect every applicant's rights, and also by increasing its resettlement of refugees from overseas camps and urban slums.
"Millions of people have fled violence and persecution to seek refuge outside their home countries and we would like to do more to provide them with protection in Canada," Kenney said in a statement, flanked by refugee advocates and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Canada.
The government will sponsor 500 of the new places. The other 2,000 places will be under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, which allows church and community groups as well as individuals to bring in designated refugees.
Ottawa will also increase funding to resettle this group, adding $9 million a year to an existing budget of $45 million - the first permanent funding increase in a decade.
He announced the increase in UN-designated refugees as a way to "balance" the crackdown on refugee claimants within Canada.