Published On Tue Dec 20 2011
Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter
Refugee judges who failed an exam and screening for their same jobs in a revamped asylum system are being given a second chance to redeem themselves, the Star has learned.
Last summer the federal government sought to fill 105 new civil servant positions, which will replace the current system of independent adjudicators who decide whether a person's claim for asylum in Canada is valid.
After more than half of 63 current tribunal judges who applied for the civil servant jobs failed, the Immigration and Refugee Board in late November launched a new round of screening and exams.
The previous competition was open to all federal civil servants, including refugee judges, as well as the general public. This latest round, however, will only be open to those currently on the federal government payroll, including judges who previously failed.
The board's decision to reopen the competition has raised questions about the fairness of the process, where individuals who have been doing the job for years and failed are given a second chance while members of the public are not.
Under the old system judges were typically appointed for two- and three-year renewable terms, with most current judges being appointed by the Conservative government since it came into power in 2006.
Peter Showler, who teaches refugee law at the University of Ottawa, praised the high evaluation standards of the first competition, but said it would have been wiser for the board to ban the failed candidates from the new selection.
"Given the logistics and time constraints the board is confronted with, it is a reasonable and responsible action (to limit eligibility)," said Showler, a former refugee board chair.
The problem "is the perception that the failed candidates were given a second kick at the can and others were not."
The Immigration and Refugee Board said it launched the new process after preliminary results from the first competition showed there would not be enough successful candidates in the pool to fill all the positions.
Board spokesperson Anna Pape said the new process will apply "similar assessment tools" to evaluate candidates.
"This is a second selection process and while the same elements will be assessed, the actual selection techniques will be different."
But at least one failed applicant who is not a current judge called it unfair that he is now excluded from the new competition, while current judges who failed get another chance.
"Obviously, the board realized that it wasn't done right as it knocked out so many current members, and decided to redo it," said the former IRB member, who served on the board for over 10 years and adjudicated 2,000 cases.
"They put us through a strenuous process, but they only correct it for some but not all? It is not fair," added the man, who passed the multiple-choice test but failed the written exam.
Of the 63 current refugee judges who took part in the summer competition, only 10 passed and another nine who passed the tests are awaiting final interviews.
Among the others, one was screened out immediately, 24 failed the multiple-choice test and written exam, six did not show up for the exams, seven were eliminated at interviews and six withdrew from the process.
Critics have also raised concerns over the possibility of greater political interference as the power of decision-making in refugee claims is transferred to federal civil service employees.
"The government is not going to directly tell you how to decide on a claim, but you know you are a government employee and you are accountable to your employer," said Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. "It is an actual fact, not just a perception."
Current board members earn $104,300 to $122,600 a year; the new civil servants will earn between $86,074 and $98,417.