Immigration board short of staff as backlog grows
The Globe and Mail
OTTAWA — The number of immigrants and refugees waiting for permission to stay in Canada has grown since the Conservatives took power last February, the chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada told a Commons committee yesterday.
“This year, the IRB has a complement of 156 members. As of today, we have 40 vacancies,” Jean-Guy Fleury said at a meeting of a parliamentary immigration committee.
When he appeared before the committee in May, Mr. Fleury said he was optimistic that the backlog of cases would drop below 20,000. And it did fall to 19,800 a short time later, he said yesterday.
But, because there are not enough people to hear cases, it has since climbed to 20,500 and Mr. Fleury said he expects it will quickly hit 24,500.
The government, meanwhile, has made just eight new appointments and 12 reappointments since the January election, he said.
“In the absence of appointments and reappointments, I cannot fulfill my promises to this committee on processing times and innovative reforms,” Mr. Fleury said.
Lesley Harmer, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Monte Solberg, said the minister has taken several steps to get the positions filled.
“We have brought in reforms that have reduced the process for applicants down from eight months to four months,” Ms. Harmer said.
“As well, at the minister's urging, to cast the net wide and ensure potential candidates are informed, an advertisement was placed in the Canada Gazette and national newspapers to draw in a new pool of applicants for openings on the board. This resulted in more than 350 new candidates. We're also continuing to look for ways to reform the system and get competent, professional members on the board.”
But opposition members who sit on the immigration committee said Mr. Solberg must act quickly to fill the vacancies.
“I think it is a very serious issue,” said Bill Siksay, the NDP immigration critic. “The vacancies mean that the work's not getting done, that important decisions aren't being made, that people are being left in limbo.”
Mr. Fleury said he has met with the minister about eight times since the election and that the only reason for those meetings is to discuss appointments, Mr. Siksay said. “So I think that the minister is a barrier in all of this.”
Liberal immigration critic, Raymonde Folco, a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board, said the backlog that her party started to reduce is now increasing again.
“I know from experience that it takes an awful lot of people to take care of these hundreds and hundreds of refugee claimants who come in every year,” Ms. Folco said.
“Just in terms of mathematics, when you divide the number of immigration judges we have now by the number of cases that come in, you realize that gives such a load to people that they can't support it.”
Meili Faille, the Bloc's immigration critic, also blamed the minister and the Conservative government for the problem.
There have been many complaints from lawyers, Ms. Faille said, “but also from people in our constituencies where their hearings are being postponed and delayed and what the IRB revealed to us this morning is that backlogs are increasing since the Conservatives have been in place.”