'Profoundly unfair:' Frustration mounts over immigration lottery that brings parents, grandparents to Canada

'Profoundly unfair:' Frustration mounts over immigration lottery that brings parents, grandparents to Canada

Hundreds of Canadians frustrated by the government's shift to a lottery system to sponsor their parents and grandparents as immigrants to Canada are hoping to prompt change through an electronic petition.

Petition e-739, which closes for signatures this afternoon, calls on the Liberal government to take a phased-in approach and give priority to qualified sponsors who have made repeated applications.

This year the government moved from a first-come, first-served process to one where potential applicants were randomly selected by draw. The change was announced in December 2016 by then immigration minister John McCallum, just weeks before the deadline under the old system.

Brad Fach, a Cambridge, Ont., software engineer who launched the petition, was shocked to learn of the sudden change after he and his wife spent much time and money preparing the required forms and documentation to apply for her mother and father to emigrate from Belgium. He said the government has reduced a sensitive, emotional process to an undignified, "botched" system.

"I believe it mocks a very serious issue of family reunification, and is the wrong way to go," he told CBC News. 

Last week, the government announced that 95,000 people had filed an online form to win one of 10,000 spots to apply for sponsorship under the new lottery system. That put the chances at roughly one in 10.

Under the previous system, the first completed applications turned in to the immigration processing office when it opened in January were accepted. The switch to a lottery system aimed to make it more fair and transparent, according to the government, as the old process favoured those who were geographically close to the centre or had the financial means to pay for couriers or legal representatives to help get them to the front of the queue.

Fach rejects that rationale. To qualify as a sponsor for parents or grandparents, he said, you must be in strong financial shape.

"You need money regardless, so you already have an advantage over the rest of the population. To claim that this somehow levels the playing field is complete crap," he said.

Give 'ray of hope'

Fach believes the new system is flawed because the online form to enter the lottery required only basic information, not details to ensure applicants were qualified and met financial requirements to sponsor their parents or grandparents. 

If the government remains committed to the lottery, Fach said, it should at least devise a system that accounts for waiting time to give people a "ray of hope" they will eventually be invited to apply as sponsors.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel likened the lottery to an "abdication of responsibility," leaving the system to chance instead of making improvements in a systemic, purposeful way.

"It almost seems like we're giving up. We're giving up on process efficiencies, and it's luck of the draw on whether you get into Canada or not," she said.

Rempel said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen must look through a "sober, management lens" to improve processes that match up with new legislation and immigration priorities.

"That's going to be a tall order, because they've changed this so much and they've got so many problems now," she said.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the parent and grandparent program is the only immigration category where the fate of applicants is up to the "luck of the draw."

"I think that is fundamentally wrong," she said.

Kwan said the Liberal government speaks about how family reunification contributes to the family unit and social fabric of the community, yet the system places "huge limitations" on the process.

She urged the government to lift the cap on applicants, increase the number of parents and grandparents allowed in through the program, and invest in proper resources to process applications.

"The government tried to fix problems by creating a new set of problems," she said of the lottery.

Conversation to continue

Marwan Tabbara, Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Kitchener South-Hespeler, who sponsored the petition and sits on the Commons immigration committee, said the government is always looking for potential improvements.

"I still think the conversation doesn't end here," he said. "This is why I welcome the petition, because it keeps pressure on the department and on the government to say, 'We have a concern here and it should be looked at further.'"

Electronic petitions that garner at least 500 signatures and are sponsored by an MP can be tabled in Parliament and require the government to provide a written response, posted online, within 45 days.

As of last night, the petition on the immigration lottery had more than 1,000 signatures.