Refugee board notice ‘smacks of political interference,’ lawyer says

Posted by admin on Jan 12th, 2011

By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News January 12, 2011

Refugee advocates are questioning whether political interference from Ottawa prompted a senior Immigration and Refugee Board manager to issue a rare notice last month highlighting a ruling that rejected the claim of a young Tamil migrant.

The November ruling found the human rights situation in Sri Lanka had improved and that the likelihood Tamils, particularly young males, would be persecuted if they returned to the country had dropped.

A senior IRB manager subsequently called attention to the ruling in a notice to all refugee-claim adjudicators in December. The notice deemed the ruling to be “persuasive” and encouraged adjudicators to follow it in similar cases.

Douglas Cannon, a Vancouver lawyer who has represented many Tamil migrants, including those who arrived aboard the MV Sun Sea in August, said Tuesday the fact the directive was released at a time when human smuggling is a hot political issue in Ottawa raises questions about the impartiality of the IRB.

“It smacks of political interference,” Cannon said. “It comes across as a process that is being manipulated.”

Cannon said the directive could affect the refugee claims of Tamil migrants from the Sun Sea and another ship, the Ocean Lady, that came arrived in 2009.

None of those migrants’ refugee claims have yet been heard.

The rare “Notice of Identification of Persuasive Decision” was issued Dec. 17 by Ken Sandhu, deputy chairman of the IRB’s refugee protection division. Sandhu, who is based in Ottawa and is a government appointee, referred all questions Tuesday to Melissa Anderson, an IRB spokeswoman.

Anderson said from time to time IRB managers will identify decisions that could serve as models for future decisions, but stressed that so-called “persuasive decisions” are not policy and that each refugee claim is still decided on its own merits.

“We’re an independent, sometimes fiercely independent, administrative tribunal,” she said.

The November ruling dealt with the case of a Tamil man in his 20s who claimed that he would be persecuted by the Sri Lankan army, government officials and paramilitary agents if he were sent home because of his association with a social group of young male Tamils in the northern part of the country.

However, an IRB adjudicator ruled that the political landscape in Sri Lanka had “radically changed” since a civil war ended there in May 2009. “The evidence leads me to conclude that the changes in Sri Lanka are meaningful and durable and that the claimant’s fear of persecution … is not well founded.”

But David Poopalapillai, a spokesman for the Canadian Tamil Congress, said Tuesday that murders, kidnappings and abductions persist against the minority Tamils and called the ruling “hasty.”

“How do you say the situation is back to normal?” he said. “Had they looked into the country conditions much deeper than what they have done they would have understood.”

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