Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays

More on ongoing refugee determination delays, beyond IRB unfilled positions:

Despite law that requires all refugee hearings to be heard within 60 days once a claim is initially deemed eligible by an immigration officer, more and more asylum hearings like Ahmad’s have been suspended indefinitely because of delays at the Canada Border Services Agency in issuing clearances of what is known as front-end security screening.

According to the refugee board, only 46 per cent of asylum claims were heard within the statutory timeline in April, far below the 84 per cent mark two years ago.

Failures to observe the scheduling timelines are caused by delays in security clearances, operational limitations or unavailability of interpreters or counsel.

However, the proportion of hearing cancellations due to delays in obtaining a security clearance has ballooned from just 6 per cent two years ago to a peak of 55 per cent in December, meaning more than half of cancelled hearings were due to border officials’ inability to meet timelines for assessing if a claimant poses threats to Canada due to criminal or security concerns.

Although cancellations due to a pending security clearance were down to just 13 per cent in April, cases cancelled due to so-called operational limitations such as unavailability of refugee judges was up to 32 per cent from 8 per cent in 2015 and 13 per cent in 2016.

In the first four months of this year, 1,769 refugee hearings were cancelled because claimants’ security clearances were not ready. The border agency performed 12,997 security checks for refugees in 2015 and 19,449 last year.

“The (former) Conservative government has put in place a system with strict timelines without the resources to meet the timelines,” said Ahmad’s lawyer, Max Berger.

“Lots of claimants are devastated. They are psyched to tell their stories and have their date in (refugee) courts. The hidden cost is the delays in their family reunification.”

The refugee board said the border agency is responsible for informing it that security screening has been completed. The board doesn’t receive the actual security screening report but only a confirmation if a hearing can go ahead.

“Security screening is done to ensure that individuals who might pose a risk to Canada would not be granted protection and could not use the refugee determination process to gain admittance to Canada,” said Line-Alice Guibert-Wolff, a spokesperson for the board.

“In those cases where confirmation of security screening has not been received in time for the initially scheduled hearing, the (refugee board) will remove the hearing from the schedule and set a new date and time for the hearing as soon as feasible upon confirmation of the security screening.”

It is not known how long it takes to schedule a new hearing but claimants often are given a “target” date six months later.

“Front-end securing screening for an individual refugee claimant may take time depending on complexity or requirements for additional research,” said border agency spokesperson Patrizia Giolti.

“While there is no one specific factor that may impact the (security clearance) processing workload and timelines, 2016 has seen a significant increase over the previous year, in the number of asylum claims.”

The agency has started to give the refugee board two weeks’ notice if a screening is expected to be completed in time for a hearing and has brought in additional staff to work over the summer to perform security screening to address the backlog, said Giolti.

Calling the situation a “nightmare,” lawyer Raoul Boulakia said he has had a case where a refugee judge felt there was compelling reasons to grant asylum to a persecuted Afghan journalist and was ready to proceed with a hearing. However, the case was held up without a completed security clearance.

Recently, the refugee board has introduced a “50/50” policy by postponing 50 per cent of all new asylum cases to deal what’s known as legacy cases, which were put on the back-burner after December 2012, when the then Tory government overhauled the system to impose the statutory timeline to expedite the processing of refugee claims.

By delaying the hearings without injecting more resources, Boulakia said the problem is simply snowballing and gets worse down the road.

Source: Thousands of refugee cases suspended due to border agency delays | 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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