Refugee board to reopen cases after complaints against member

Posted by admin on Nov 12th, 2006

Refugee board to reopen cases after complaints against member. MARINA JIMINEZ. From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

The Immigration and Refugee Board will be reopening about two dozen refugee cases following complaints of sexual misconduct against a Toronto board member who is no longer hearing cases or permitted access to its offices. Lloyd Fournier was escorted from the tribunal’s Toronto premises in September and told he could no longer adjudicate asylum claims following an alleged incident of sexual harassment of a Spanish interpreter, The Globe and Mail has learned. IRB spokeswoman Dominique Forget would not divulge details, except to say it was an internal matter, an “employer-employee issue” that is being investigated.

“Mr. Fournier has been removed from the premises. There were cases he had started but not concluded. So for reasons of procedural fairness, we have decided for those cases to be reheard,” she said. Mr. Fournier, appointed to the board in June of 2001 by then-immigration minister Elinor Caplan, also had a consensual relationship with a lawyer,
Debra Shelly.

Rocco Galati, acting for Mr. Fournier, said that after his client began dating Ms. Shelly, he recused himself from any refugee cases involving her or her firm. Mr. Fournier also denies the allegations of sexual misconduct, Mr. Galati said, and believes his dismissal is “payback” because of earlier disagreements he had with board officials. “IRB managers tried to reprimand him over his conduct involving two positive decisions, one involving a Roma case, and another involving a gay Hungarian,” Mr. Galati said. “In the case of the Roma claimant, they had to issue a written apology and purge his file of the allegations that he didn’t conduct the hearing properly.”

Geraldine MacDonald, president of the Refugee Lawyers Association, said that while there is no ban on board members dating lawyers, to avoid the appearance of conflict they should recuse themselves from cases where the lawyer is representing a refugee claimant. “If the code of conduct for IRB members doesn’t specify this, this is a good time to address this issue,” she said.

Ms. Shelly refused to comment for this story.

The investigation of Mr. Fournier — as well as the misconduct of two other board members — has brought more public criticism of the tribunal, which is labouring under a shortage of members and trying to overcome its reputation for patronage appointments and unqualified adjudicators. Steve Ellis, 47, a Toronto IRB member, was suspended last month after allegations that he offered to assist a South Korean woman in her refugee claim in return for sexual favours. He has since been charged by the RCMP, and the board has ordered an internal investigation into the incident and the possible reopening of cases he heard. Yves Bourbonnais, who was with the IRB’s appellate division, was sentenced to six years in prison in June for involvement in influence-peddling rings that demanded bribes as much as $15,000 from new immigrants and asylum seekers to guarantee their stay in Canada. He pleaded guilty to 30 charges of conspiracy and obstructing

The board made public statements about the Ellis and Bourbonnais cases, but has chosen not to divulge details of the investigation into Mr. Fournier. “The chair can decide if it’s in the public interest to go public,” Ms. Forget said, “and in the case of Mr. Fournier, these
allegations are private; he cannot speak to them.”

A lawyer who did not want to be identified told The Globe that three interpreters were interviewed by IRB officials this year, after an alleged incident of sexual harassment. Mr. Fournier’s relationship with the female lawyer, which has now ended, has been an open secret at the board for several months. Mr. Fournier is a former accountant who worked in international business development and served on a social justice committee for his church in Brampton, north of Toronto. According to reports, he was a onetime vice-president of the Brampton Liberal Association who also sought the party’s federal nomination in his riding.

In recent years at the IRB, he heard cases involving claimants from Central and South America. Mr. Bourbonnais was appointed by then prime minister Jean Chrétien in 1996, while Mr. Ellis was named in October of 2000.

Last year, the board received 10 complaints against adjudicators. Seven of those were dismissed, one was abandoned and the other two are under investigation.

The federal government has been criticized over the years for failing to implement a merit-based process to select board members. Under the Liberals, many defeated political candidates and party workers were appointed to the $100,000-a-year positions, although in 2004 a merit-based selection process was introduced.

The Conservative government has made few appointments, a cause of concern to Jean-Guy Fleury, the IRB’s chairman, who recently told the standing committee on citizenship and immigration that it was unusual to have two members under suspension. Mr. Fleury also told the committee he doesn’t have the power to suspend a member or withhold his salary while a complaint is being investigated; that is up to the government.

Bill Siksay, NDP MP for the British Columbia riding of Burnaby-Douglas and the party’s immigration critic, said the Fournier case highlights the need for a transparent process to deal with complaints against IRB members. “It’s life and death for refugees who come before the IRB and we need to ensure this process is beyond reproach. We need codes of conduct that are clear.” With a dearth of new appointments, having two members on leave only adds to the sense of crisis facing the board, said Guidy Mamann, a Toronto immigration lawyer. Currently, the board has about 116 members and 40 vacancies.

“People are living in fear of their jobs,” Mr. Mamann said. “It is in the IRB’s interest not to be forthcoming about internal problems. But they should be.”

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