Streamlining Canada’s refugee determination process

By March 31, 2010

Robert Vineberg
Senior Fellow
Canada West Foundation

Robert Vineberg
Robert Vineberg

WINNIPEG, MB, Mar. 31, 2010/ — Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, yesterday introduced long overdue reforms to the refugee determination process in Canada (Bill C-11).

The need for the reform is the result of a federal government overreaction to the famous 1985 “Singh Decision,” in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the paper process for refugee determination, then in place, did not provide the opportunity for an oral presentation by the claimant and this constituted a denial of Charter rights.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the federal government created the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to ensure that all refugee claimants in Canada would have an in-person hearing before a panel of members of the Board. Unfortunately, besides the IRB members being Governor-in-Council or political appointees, the process soon became bogged down by the sheer volume of claimants.

Bogus claims

Legitimate refugees had to wait in line with all the bogus claims, resulting in waits of up to five years for a decision. The Supreme Court decision only required that claimants being refused entry would be entitled to an oral hearing. Unfortunately, a faster process to deal with legitimate claims was not set up at the same time.

Later reforms reduced waiting periods to the current 19 months and Minister Kenney’s new proposals aim to conclude refugee determination within 60 days. However, it is unclear how new cases can be dealt within this time period.

The government’s “backgrounder” on the current reforms states that “individuals who are determined to be eligible to make an asylum claim would meet with a public servant at the IRB within only eight days of being referred to the IRB. During this information-gathering interview, information on the claim would be collected, forms properly completed and a hearing scheduled before another public servant at the IRB within 60 days.”

The problem with this new proposed process is that the IRB is not in a position to meet these time standards. It only has offices in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and, while the bulk of refugee claimants are in those three cities, at the end of 2008 over 4,600 claimants were living outside of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The largest number of these claimants is in Alberta but there are over 100 claimants in every province except Newfoundland and PEI.

These claimants should be treated in the same way as claimants who live where the IRB offices are located. But they will either have to wait for an IRB officer to visit their city or they will be expected to travel to an IRB office, at their own expense or, perhaps, make their all-important claim by video conference. This is not satisfactory and not equitable.

However, there is a solution. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has some thirty offices across the country, from St. John’s to Victoria to Yellowknife.

Trained officers

If the initial refugee determination is going to be the responsibility of public servants, why not hand it over to the public servants with CIC? After all, CIC officers already do refugee selection abroad. CIC also has the network of offices and trained officers in every major community in Canada.

For this plan to work, the government will have amend Bill C-11 to provide that CIC officers make the initial refugee determination in Canada, with the IRB having responsibility to hear appeals, as is the case for all other immigrant decisions.

Making CIC officers responsible will also eliminate the possibility of conflict of interest in IRB appeal decisions. Will the IRB members, at appeal, be more likely to overturn a decision made by a CIC officer, who they do not know, or that of an IRB officer with whom they work closely?

Clearly, assigning responsibility for the initial refugee determination decision to CIC is the more cost effective and the fairer way to implement these important refugee reforms.

Robert Vineberg is a Senior Fellow with the Canada West Foundation. He was, formerly, the Director General, Prairies and Northern Territories Region, Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, April 1, Pembroke Observer, April 3, 2010

Please follow and like us: