Liberals accused of ‘housecleaning’ of Tory appointees at refugee board

Leave it to others to comment, particularly those with experience in dealing with the IRB.

Like all GiC appointments, there is a strong political element (and has always been).

The delay in appointments appears to be characteristic of the government, partially due to its commitment to increased diversity in appointments, but one that affects the timeliness of decision-making.

The in-depth study, 2016 Refugee Claim Data and IRB Member Recognition Rates | Canadian Council for Refugees, shows a variation in acceptance rates among members, as happens to a certain extent in all such processes:

A slew of seasoned decision-makers tasked with hearing refugee and immigration appeals have either left or will depart from their job in what some call the Liberals’ “housecleaning” of Conservative appointees.

In light of what some critics call inadequate funding and a growing backlog stemming from the recent spike in asylum-seekers crossing into Canada via the United States, the loss of the adjudicators on the immigration and refugee appeals tribunals is expected to toss the system into disarray.

“Our concern is the government is continuing to have a governor-in-council appointment process that is political and discretionary instead of going for a transparent process to appoint the most suitable candidates who are competent, judicious, fair-minded and efficient,” said Raoul Boulakia of the Refugee Lawyers’ Association of Ontario.

“The efficiency and quality of the decisions could be compromised if the people who are brought in do not have the expertise and are not judicious.”

The Immigration and Refugee Board, which oversees both appeals tribunals, said 14 appointees have left their job since last August and another 39 will have their appointments expire by the end of this year. The board confirmed a total of 42 people applied for reappointments to the tribunals, but would not say how many have been successful.

Currently, 23 of the 58 positions at the refugee appeals tribunal are unfilled while the immigration appeals division has six vacancies out of the full complement of 44 appointments.

Like the court system, the refugee and immigration appeals tribunals require adjudicators to have stronger knowledge and experience with the administration of the law in order to review decisions by lower-level refugee judges or immigration officials, who are civil servants.

While failed refugee claimants — and sometimes the immigration minister — can appeal to the refugee tribunal any questionable decisions made by asylum judges, rejected immigration applicants in sponsorships or those facing removal orders can take their cases to the immigration appeals tribunal.

As of the end of December, the immigration appeals tribunal had a backlog of 10,206 cases and a processing time of 20.4 months (compared to 17 months in 2013), while the refugee appeals division had 1,938 cases in the inventory with the average processing time at 124 days (compared to 65 days in 2013), said the refugee board.

Under the old system by the former Conservative government, existing adjudicators seeking reappointment to the tribunals would have all their previous decisions evaluated in terms of quality and quantity before being recommended by the board chair based on their track records.

However, last summer, the Liberal government, which ran an election campaign on transparency and bipartisanship, rolled out a new process for those already sitting on the tribunals by requiring them to reapply for their appointment and pass an online test.

They are then interviewed by a hiring committee made up of the refugee board chair and one representative each from the Prime Minister’s Office, Privy Council Office and the Immigration Department. The composition of the committee opens the door for partisan selection, Boulakia said.

The Privy Council said the government’s new approach to governor-in-council appointments supports “open, transparent and merit-based appointments.”

“All candidates seeking appointment to a GIC position with the Immigration and Refugee Board, be they incumbents or new candidates, are subject to a rigorous selection process developed for the position, which includes inputs and insights from the independent bodies, including the chair of the refugee board,” said Mistu Mukherjee, a spokesperson for the PCO.

“The results of these assessments, made against public and merit-based criteria, are provided to the minister. The minister makes appointment recommendation from this list of highly-qualified candidates.”

Adjudicators who took the test said the questions had nothing to do with immigration and refugee laws and complained they had no way to review the exam or find out why they might have failed.

“The process is partisan and not based on merits. They are cleaning out anyone who was appointed by the previous government, whether they are really affiliated with the Conservatives or not,” complained one adjudicator, who underwent the process and asked not to be identified for fear of repercussion.

“This is complex, technical work. It takes a long time for new members to learn the stuff. This purge means people’s (immigration) status is going to be uncertain for longer. It is going to further affect people’s ability to bring their family members to Canada. This is going to have a huge impact in people’s lives.”

Although it is a common practice for a new government to fill board and tribunal appointments with their party supporters, another affected adjudicator said the test is “flawed” and the process is “rigged.”

“What happens is you feel you are shackled to a political party with your job security resting on the whim of that party. But you are not supposed to get involved in any politics. It is just so wrong when you are not assessed by your performance and good judgment but by who you know,” said the source, whose appointment was not renewed.

“Our political leader has said to refugees, ‘Come to Canada and we will welcome you.’ It’s like an open invitation, but some people who come here are not really who they say they are. With more refugees coming, everybody will be appealing and rushing to the appeals tribunals when they are turned down. This is all about cleaning house.”

Refugee board spokesperson Anna Pape said it is not a requirement for appointees to have experience in refugee and immigration matters and “(complete) training” is provided to all new decision-makers, regardless of their education or experience.

Source: Liberals accused of ‘housecleaning’ of Tory appointees at refugee board | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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