Minister’s comments prejudiced Roma refugee’s case, lawyer argues

Posted by admin on Mar 22nd, 2010

Mon Mar 22 2010, TORONTO STAR

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s controversial comments on “bogus” refugee claims by Czech Roma have come back to haunt him. A Roma refugee facing deportation told the Federal Court of Canada Monday that the outspoken minister’s public criticisms have prejudiced asylum cases before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and immigration officials charged with deportees’ pre-removal risk assessments. “Bias is an insidious poison that infiltrates the minds of the decision-makers,” said immigration lawyer Max Berger, who represents Zaneta Dunova. “The only way to cure the problem is a strong and sharp statement from this court, chastising the statements made by the minister.”

Kenney’s comments last year, reported widely in the media, have contributed to the drastic decrease in the acceptance rate among Roma refugees from the Czech Republic, Berger argued in an attempt to overturn Dunova’s imminent deportation. He argued the risk assessment officer was biased against Roma refugees and thus, in June, deemed the 26-year-old woman safe to be deported to her homeland.

“These comments not only ignore evidence of acceptance by the Immigration and Refugee Board but also undermine the operation of the minister’s own refugee board,” Berger said in his submission.

The lawyer said 94 per cent of Czech refugees were granted refugee status in 2008, with another 81 per cent accepted in the first quarter of last year, just before Kenney said in Paris in April that “it is hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe.”

Canada imposed visa restrictions on Czech visitors in July. Between July and September 2009, acceptance of Czech refugee claims plummeted to 30 per cent, said Berger.

Dunova first came to Canada with her parents in 1997 as a 12-year-old, but the family withdrew the claim the same year and returned home.

In February 2009, she returned to Canada with her common-law husband and two children after a series of attacks by neo-Nazi skinheads, suffering a black eye, broken nose and bruises on her body.

In his submission, Berger cited the opinions of several legal experts who questioned Kenney’s political influence into the refugee board’s independence.

“When the minister pronounces on the validity, or lack thereof, of refugee claimants from any country without having heard the particular case and knowing the individual circumstances, there is the risk that individual decision makers whose jobs ultimately depend on the minister’s decision to appoint and reappoint, will be unduly influenced,” said University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin.

Calling the bias argument a “red herring,” government lawyer Amina Riaz said the acceptance rate for Roma refugees were “sensationalized and inflated” because it only compared asylum claims rejected or accepted by the refugee board and excluded the many cases that were “withdrawn or abandoned.”

Riaz also argued that acceptance rates based on decisions by the refugee board have no relevance to pre-removal risk assessments determined by officials with Citizenship and Immigration Canada; both operate independently and separately.

“The impromptu response was made (by the minister) in the heat of a media scrum,” said Riaz, adding that Kenney was only trying to urge the Czech Republic to crack down on unscrupulous immigration consultants.

Justice Paul Crampton has reserved decision.

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