Backgrounder - Detention, removals and the new Assisted Voluntary Returns Program

Detention and removal are key tools to maintaining the integrity of the asylum system. As the Auditor General of Canada has said, “By detaining and removing those who would enter Canada illegally or who pose a threat to Canadians, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) contributes to the safety and security of Canadians. In its detention and removal of those who are inadmissible, it also plays a key role in maintaining the integrity of Canada’s immigration and refugee programs and ensuring fairness for those who come to this country lawfully.

The role of detention and removals under the proposed measures would continue to be vital. Timely removal following a final negative decision on a claim is crucial to the success of a reformed asylum system.

It currently takes an average of 4.5 years for a failed asylum claimant to begin the refugee process, exhaust all legal avenues and be removed from Canada. In extreme cases, some failed claimants have remained in Canada for more than 10 years.

Far too many failed claimants do not respect their obligation to leave Canada once they have exhausted all legal avenues. As a result, there are more than 15,000 failed asylum claimants ready to be removed from Canada, and another 38,000 whose whereabouts are unknown and who are subject to an immigration warrant.

Under the proposed changes, the objective would be to remove failed asylum claimants within 12 months following a final negative decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Protection Division or, if the case is appealed, the IRB’s new Refugee Appeal Division.

This would help the reformed system work as intended and act as a deterrent to those who would seek to make an unfounded asylum claim as a means to enter Canada and potentially remain for years.

To respond to these challenges, the CBSA plans to:

  • hire additional enforcement officers;
  • continue to detain those failed asylum claimants who are likely to flee to avoid removal; and
  • implement an Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) pilot program.

Hiring additional enforcement officers

Under the proposed measures, the CBSA would hire approximately 100 additional officers to pursue the timely removal of failed asylum claimants who have exhausted all legal avenues. It would also continue to focus on high risk individuals such as criminals and security threats within the asylum system.


Under the current system, CBSA officers may detain individuals if there are grounds to believe they are unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding, including removal, if they pose a danger to the public or if their identity is in question. The use of detention for certain failed asylum claimants, when the risk of flight is high and there are no reasonable alternatives to mitigate that risk, would continue under the proposed measures. Detention is a key tool for ensuring that failed asylum claimants do not evade removal from Canada.

For more information on detention and removals, please visit the CBSA website at

Assisted Voluntary Returns Pilot Program

Currently, asylum claimants who have received a negative decision and have exhausted all other processes are given a time-limited opportunity to leave Canada prior to the CBSA taking action to enforce their removal orders. Unfortunately, thousands do not respect their obligation to leave each year.

This can be costly, both for the Government and for the individual. Removal costs generally range between $1,500 and $15,000, but can cost as much as $300,000 for charter aircraft removals of certain cases. If detention is required, the average cost is approximately $200 a day. For the failed asylum claimant, removal can mean a permanent ban from Canada.

Modelled on successful programs in a number of other countries, the proposed four-year Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) pilot program would address these issues by providing greater education to claimants on their rights and obligations throughout the refugee determination process and incentives to leave in a timely manner.

The CBSA would partner with an independent and trusted service provider to provide assistance and work with other countries to secure travel documents (e.g., entry visas). The financial incentive for failed claimants includes a plane ticket home and up to $2,000 in reintegration assistance, which would be administered by the trusted service providers in the country of origin. Reintegration assistance could support education, vocational training, job placements or business pursuits, but would not involve direct cash contributions to the failed asylum claimant.

The program would run in the Greater Toronto Area and would initially be available for failed asylum claimants returning to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America as the majority of these claimants already land in Toronto. Starting in 2013-2014, the Assisted Voluntary Returns Program would begin to be available for individuals returning to all countries. Participation in the program would be limited to failed asylum claimants who meet the requirements, including having made an asylum claim under the new system, having no criminal record and abiding by all reporting requirements.

One of the largest obstacles to removing someone from Canada is obtaining travel documents, such as a passport. In order to qualify for the AVR pilot program, claimants would be asked at the time they make their claim to either provide travel documents or to complete an application for travel documents. Failure to cooperate with this request would result in ineligibility for the AVR pilot program.

AVR is a proven concept that provides for timely and cost-effective removals. In addition to savings for the removals program, further savings could be expected from fewer and shorter detentions as more individuals willingly leave Canada.

The AVR program has been successfully adopted by numerous countries around the world, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

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