Processing system branded as 'corrupt':
REFUGEES: fake applicants accused of abusing system; [1* Edition]
The Vancouver Sun
Mar 17, 1992.pg.A.1
Canada's refugee processing is a national embarrassment that is grossly abused by fake applicants and is soaring in cost, some former insiders say.
“The system is corrupt and the immigration board has become a wretched monster that's out of control,” said David Anderson, former immigration appeal board member and former leader of the B.C. Liberal party.
But current insiders argue it's a well-run system served by hard-working employees dedicated to admitting only genuine refugees.
“I think by careful analysis I can fulfil my mandate to decide if a person fits the category of refugee,” said Emer Robles, assistant deputy chairman of the immigration and refugee board in Vancouver. “I enjoy being able to say yes to genuine refugees.”
He said board members sometimes sit late into the night to finish difficult cases and the workload is so up to date that currently only 17 cases have decisions outstanding.
The board made headlines recently when two Toronto members, Ralph Snow and Naomi Goldie, were fired for passing mocking notes about an Iranian claimant who alleged he'd been tortured. A third Toronto member, Anna Ker, was removed from her job after accusations she'd tried to influence other members to turn down claimants. Vancouver member Charles Groos was criticized in a federal court of appeal judgment for his “bias” against a Sri Lankan claimant.
These four members have not publicly responded to the criticism because the board has a longstanding “no comment” policy.
However, former members such as Anderson, Bruce Howard, and Charles Campbell have no such restraints.
Anderson said the members fired for note-passing during torture testimony were not suffering from “compassion fatigue,” as some people have suggested.
“Perjury fatigue is more like it because they've seen the rule of law subverted so often,” said Anderson, 42, a member from 1984 until 1989.
Anderson felt Snow was probably frustrated because the system allows so many people falsely claiming persecution (the United Nations definition of a refugee) to be accepted as refugees here.
“(Board chairman) Gordon Fairweather says Snow's behavior was dreadful but he's just papering over the problem – the whole system is corrupt,” said Anderson. “Members like Snow know that compassion and the rule of law are being subverted.”
He pointed to the huge difference between Canada's refugee acceptance rate of 64 per cent and the far lower rates of other western countries – for instance, 21 per cent in Britain, 14 per cent in the U.S. and seven per cent in Australia.
“Clearly something is wrong,” he said. “Either everyone else in the world is wrong or we're out of line and I think it's us. There's too much pressure on our board members to deal with cases, to let people in, the underlying premise is that if someone lied well enough to get here then they'll do well.”
Many of his remarks were endorsed by former Liberal MP Bruce Howard, a board member from 1980 to 1989, who described his last few years as very frustrating because the appeal process delayed deportations for years and the use of false documents was widespread.
Howard, 69, said when Canada makes the refugee route so easy, people use it rather than apply as regular immigrants.
“Any changes in our system are known around the world in days.
Regular immigrants tell me they hate to see our country cheapened like this. They find our refugee system embarrassing. It makes me so sad.”
Campbell, a long-time critic of the system who is now in his 80s and retired in 1983 after 10 years on the board, eight years as vice-chairman, said a key problem is “virtually having to accept the evidence of every claimant.”
He said some current board members tell him they “are shocked by its cost and inefficiency and there's substantial discontent.”
Anderson said the costs of the board are out of control, noting that although the new board has a heavier workload than the old one, the annual budget has soared to about $86 million compared to $4.5-million when he joined in 1984.
(The immigration and refugee board was established Jan. 1, 1989, to replace the immigration appeal board. The old board handled only appeals and another section of the immigration department dealt with refugee determination.)
Board members are appointed for two- to five-year renewable terms by cabinet, with the job having no written description or requiring any specific qualifications. Two members are required to sit at every hearing; the approval of only one is needed for a claimant to be accepted.
The board's 19 Vancouver members come from very diverse backgrounds, but most have multicultural connections. For instance, assistant deputy chairman Robles was born in the Philippines, Roxana Aune was born in Costa Rica, Henry Neufeld worked with refugees in Thailand, Narinder Dhir is active in the Indo-Canadian community, and Gordon King served with a Baptist mission in Bolivia.
Occupations of the members, eight of whom are women, include three lawyers, two nurses, a former MP, a former Mountie, a Baptist minister, an English instructor and a professor of religious studies.
Most have done community service with organizations such as the Canadian Multiculturalism Council, B.C. Human Rights Commission, MOSAIC, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, and the Inland Refugee Society of B.C.
Because of the members' determination to stand judicially above controversy, they will not comment individually on criticism of the board.
“I feel I'm serving my community and Canadian society and I have pride in the fact that I and my colleagues are a cross-section of backgrounds and religions,” said 46-year-old Robles, whose previous job was as a legal assistant.
He and B.C.'s regional director, Roy Gatland, pointed to the board's documentation centre stuffed with information on conditions in countries all over the world. This centre, they said, plus the assistance of legal staff, aids board members in their decisions.
As well, there's a three-week training program for new members on everything from administrative law to refugee definitions, plus frequent training sessions on subjects such as gender bias and expert witnesses.
But Anderson said: “That fiddly little training program designed by Mr. Fairweather is just not good enough. And the legal department is fine for assistance but there's far too much reliance on it by the weaker members.”
Robles agreed that members are assisted by documentation and legal advice – “but our decisions are made on the evidence.”
He said there is stress in the job, with hearings starting at 8:30 a.m. and continuing until 5 p.m. or much later if necessary.
“And we're dealing with the life of a person – it's a tremendous responsibility to decide on the future of an 18-year-old who came here without his parents,” Robles said.
To minimize stress, he said, he carefully schedules cases so the workload is equally distributed.
As for allegations of political appointments – one current Vancouver member is former Conservative MP Robert Brisco, a chiropractor – Robles said members are appointed on the basis of integrity and ability.
“I'm very proud of the people we have.”
The immigration and refugee board was established Jan. 1, 1989, to replace the immigration appeal board.
It's divided into two sections: one deals with initial refugee applications, the other with appeals of claimants whose applications have been rejected.
Members appointed by cabinet total 276 – about 50 of whom were added last fall – and they're paid between $71,300 and $83,000 annually. Nineteen members are based in Vancouver.
The current budget is $86 million, up from $11.8 million only four years ago. However, the old board handled only appeals and another section of the immigration department dealt with refugee determination.
Last year the board dealt with 26,941 cases, up from 13,969 in 1983.
The board holds hearings in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.