It goes without saying that I wholeheartedly support this Bloc Québécois bill. It is a fairly simple bill, but it is important because it would implement the refugee appeal division. Once Bill C-291 has been passed and has received royal assent, three sections of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, sections 110, 111 and 171, will come into force. These three sections would come into force one year after this bill receives royal assent.
The Bloc Québécois has decided to introduce a bill to ensure full enforcement of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
A proper appeal process for refugee claimants ought to have been put in place as soon as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act 2002 took effect in 2002. This is one of the significant changes required to ensure that asylum seekers are treated fairly and equitably.
The creation of the refugee appeal division is a matter of justice. To persist in not making this change, as the two most recent governments have done, is to allow a situation that is unfair to asylum seekers to continue.
When the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was drafted, the refugee appeal division was seen as a fair compromise to satisfy the desire to move from two board members responsible for examining asylum claims to just one. Yet now we have the worst of both worlds. There is only one board member, not two, to examine the files, and there is no refugee appeal division.
The arbitrary aspect of the system is being magnified by the government's inaction and the piecemeal approach to implementing the new legislation. For four years now, the federal government has been stubbornly postponing the establishment of the refugee appeal division, as called for in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It is time for the Conservative government to comply with the legislation and implement the refugee appeal division.
The federal government claims that a safety net already exists, consisting of the opportunity to request a pre-removal risk assessment—also known as a PRRA—a judicial review by the Federal Court, or permanent resident status on humanitarian grounds. However, unlike a refugee appeal division, they do not offer any protection for refugees. The Federal Court provides only for a judicial review and does not provide for a review of the facts of a case.
There is also a flagrant lack of political will to establish the refugee appeal division, or RAD, which, I would remind the House, is already enshrined in the legislation. After their own legislation came into effect, the Liberals avoided establishing the RAD. Now that the Conservatives are in power, the former immigration minister still has not established the RAD, despite the positions his party took in the past.
In 2004, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration adopted a motion calling on the then Liberal government to establish the refugee appeal division or rapidly come up with a solution. Yet the government has consistently refused to comply with the committee's motion.
The Bloc Québécois tabled an almost identical bill in the 39th Parliament. Our bill was passed by the House on October 16, 2007 and sent to the Senate to be studied. The bill passed third reading stage in the other chamber. However, because of the elections in the fall of 2008, our bill did not receive royal assent and died on the order paper.
Many groups in civil society in Quebec, Canada and the international community are demanding that a refugee appeal division be established. These include the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Committee against Torture, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty international, the Civil Liberties Union, and the KAIROS group.
There are four reasons why the refugee appeal division should be established: efficiency, consistency of the law, justice, and political reasons that I will explain.
A specialized refugee appeal division is a much more efficient means of dealing with unsuccessful claimants than the Federal Court, an application for pre-removal risk assessment or requests on humanitarian grounds. The refugee appeals division can do a better job of correcting errors of law or fact.
The second reason is consistency of the law. An appeal division deciding on the merits of the case is the only body able to ensure consistency of jurisprudence both in the analysis of facts and in the interpretations of legal concepts in the largest administrative tribunal in Canada.
In other words, an appeal mechanism helps the system to make decisions by establishing precedents that will be applied to lower court rulings when the facts are exactly the same.
The third reason has to do with justice. The decision to refuse refugee status has extremely serious consequences, including death, torture and detention. As in matters of criminal law, the right to appeal to a higher court is essential for the proper administration of justice. Because human error occurs in any decision-making process, it should be standard practice to have an appeal process, especially to offset the fact that decisions are now made by a single board member.
As I said earlier, the fourth reason is political. By not establishing the refugee appeal division, the federal government is going against the will of Parliament—which is a serious matter—and of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, which has called for such an appeal division. As I said, this is a serious matter.
The Bloc Québécois is dismayed by the lack of justice shown by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration when dealing with refugees since the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into force in 2001.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to place this bill in context.
In 2001, during the first session of the 37th Parliament, the Minister of Immigration introduced Bill C-11 in this House, concerning persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger who apply to enter Canada and receive refugee protection.
Bill C-11 was designed to update the former Immigration Act, which had been passed in 1976 and amended more than 30 times.
Unlike Bill C-11, which was passed in 2002, the Immigration Act, 1976, did not provide for a refugee appeal division. To make up for the fact that there was no refugee appeal division, two board members examined refugee claims.
Claims were granted if one of the two board members ruled in favour of the claimant. However, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act cut the number of board members from two to one.
The refugee appeal division makes up for the absence of one board member and offsets the arbitrary power the remaining board member has in ruling on refugee claims. The Bloc Québécois considered this an acceptable compromise under the new act.
Why was the number of board members reduced from two to one? It would seem it was for the sake of efficiency.
On March 20, 2001, the former chair of the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board, Peter Showler, told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that:
In contrast to the present model, where claims are normally heard by two-member panels, the vast majority of protection decisions will be made by a single member. Single-member panels are a far more efficient means of determining claims. It is true that claimants will no longer enjoy the benefit of the doubt currently accorded them with two-member panels, and I think that should be noted. However, any perceived disadvantage is more than offset by the creation of the refugee appeal division, the RAD, where all refused claimants and the minister have a right of appeal on RPD decisions.
According to the former chair of the IRB, the presence of the refugee appeal division justified moving from two members to one for asylum claims. However, we still do not have an appeal division.
The act contains three sections to create an IRB-administered refugee appeal division. Citizenship and Immigration Canada briefly defines the refugee appeal division as follows:
The refugee appeal division will provide failed refugee claimants and the minister with the right to a paper appeal of a decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board. Unsuccessful refugee claimants have the right to apply for judicial review in the Federal Court.
More specifically, the three sections that create the refugee appeal division are as follows:
110. (1) A person or the Minister may appeal, in accordance with the rules of the Board, on a question of law, of fact or of mixed law and fact, to the Refugee Appeal Division against a decision of the Refugee Protection Division to allow or reject the person’s claim for refugee protection, or a decision of the Refugee Protection Division rejecting an application by the Minister for a determination that refugee protection has ceased or an application by the Minister to vacate a decision to allow a claim for refugee protection.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that these arguments have persuaded members of other parties, particularly the governing party, to vote in favour of Bill C-291.