Peter Showler, past Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board (“IRB”), has discussed the problem of patronage at the IRB in his new book “Refugee Sandwich” and in an interview with The Lawyer’s Weekly publication. The Refugee Protection Division (“RPD”) is the largest division within the IRB.
Showler has charged that successive Conservative and Liberal regimes have “larded the board with political partisans whose incompetence has ... resulted in genuine refugees being deported to their homelands to face persecution or possibly even death”.
Now a failed refugee, who had claimed asylum against Egypt, alleging persecution because he was a Christian, is claiming that he was tortured upon his return to Egypt. If this allegation is established, it will underline the difficulties facing refugee decision makers and highlight the importance of appointing decision makers purely on the basis of merit.
Merit based appointments make sense, however it would appear that appointments to the IRB are a major way for a new government to thank its political friends. During his tenure (which ended in 2002) Showler estimates more than half of appointees to the IRB were individuals with ties to the Liberal Party.
Such appointments are made by the party in power – Liberals and Conservatives. The practice continues to this day, despite any protestation to the contrary or pretension to the façade of purely merit based appointments.
As Showler notes, the vast majority of these appointees had no prior experience with immigration and refugees before their appointments. His own estimate indicated that only about 10 to 15 per cent of the board’s members had such experience.
Additionally, while these appointees are making quasi-judicial decisions, the majority are not lawyers and do not have formal legal training.
Worse still, Showler found that a substantial number (“15 to 20 per cent”) were “really completely inappropriate”, that “should not have been on the board” and Showler would have fired them the next day if he could have.
Unfortunately, Showler finds that “Strong candidates without political credentials are repeatedly passed over and many potential candidates do not bother to apply.”
The small RPD contingent in Calgaryis an exception to most of Showler’s concerns. I know this because I was a Refugee Protection Officer here from 2002-2004. Out of 6 full time members and one part time Member (at the time), two were former refugees themselves, three were lawyers or had legal training, and at least 4 had direct previous experience with immigration and refugees, including experience with the UNHCR prior to their appointments to the Board. Undoubtedly, however, the majority of them had ties to the party in power.
Scandal has beset Board members, including Mr. Stevan Ellis in Toronto. Mr. Ellis is now infamous for making an offer to a Korean woman to trade sexual favours for a positive decision on her refugee matter – and was videotaped in the process.
It’s ironic. All too often refugee claimants testify of corruption and bribery in their own countries - before an individual not necessarily chosen on merit, but because of his or her connections to the party in power.
Hopefully, this government will adopt the suggestions of Mr. Showler and move to an appointment system based completely on merit.
Note: this article was published with some changes in the Calgary Herald on Saturday, January 13, 2007. Link here.