Refugee claims can be fairer and faster: Report

Posted by admin on Sep 10th, 2009

By Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service. September 10, 2009

OTTAWA — The unacceptably slow system for judging refugee claims made within Canada can be revamped to be fair, fast and final, says a former chairman of the Immigration and Refugee Board. In a report released Thursday, Peter Showler proposes reforms that, contrary to what the federal Conservative government is contemplating, do not include fast-tracking claims from people fleeing countries where residents are generally deemed to be safe from persecution. Showler argues fast-tracking claims from such countries “ignores the human rights reality of many democratic countries.”

His proposed reforms would reduce the length of time for removing failed claimants to an average of 13 months, down from the four to six years it takes under the current review-riddled process.

Showler’s formula would limit the role of the Federal Court of Canada in reviewing refugee board decisions and tighten the rules under which refugees can try to remain in Canada on “humanitarian and compassionate grounds” or seek an assessment of the risks they face if they were forced to return to their home country.

The report lands as the government drafts legislation that could be introduced in Parliament within weeks to speed the refugee claims process and stem the flow of “bogus” refugee claims clogging the system.

Fast-tracking claimants from “safe” countries is among the measures being readied for the package, which is aimed at tackling the backlog of 60,000 refugee claims.

If Parliament is dissolved for a fall election, however, the Tories’ are expected to roll out their proposals for immigration and refugee reforms during the campaign.

The government put the spotlight on the refugee issue earlier this summer by slapping visa requirements on visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic on grounds refugee claims from those were mushrooming out of control.

Showler rejects the idea of fast-tracking from selected safe or nominally democratic countries as good refugee policy.

“Even claimants from the United States who are deserters from the Iraq war can raise difficult legal issues and exceptions that must be considered,” he said in a statement accompanying the report. “These are issues that are most appropriately decided by a fast, fair and final hearing and not by a list that would automatically deny Canada’s protection.”

Showler’s report echoes complaints made by the government and all opposition parties the long delays in handling claimants hurt legitimate refugees, attract fraudulent claimants and damage Canada’s reputation for protecting individuals escaping violence, torture and death.

“Removal within 13 months discourages migrants or unscrupulous consultants from using the asylum system inappropriately,” it said.

Showler, who was IRB chairman from 1999 to 2002, is director of the Refugee Forum at the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre.

The Maytree Foundation sponsored his study.

Showler proposes replacing the current IRB, which is staffed with political appointees, with a Refugee Tribunal that would include a refugee claim division and a refugee appeal division.

The members of those divisions would be highly competent experts — at least half of which would be lawyers — selected by an independent committee.

Under the proposed timetable, refugee claims would be decided in six months, reviewed in four months and a failed claimant would be removed within three months of being rejected.

The case would only go to the Federal Court of Canada for review if there were an issue of law at stake.

Refugee claimants currently wait up to 18 months for a first decision from the IRB.

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