My name is Claudette Cardinal. To begin, allow me to thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk to you about our concerns over the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment Process, otherwise referred to as the PRRA. My colleague, Richard Goldman, will be assisting me in this presentation.
This brief is being jointly presented by three organizations: Amnistie internationale, and the Table de concertation, which is a Quebec-wide coalition of 140 groups serving refugees and immigrants, as well as the Centre justice et foi, a Jesuit centre for social analysis in Quebec.
For several years, our three organizations have been greatly concerned about the low acceptance rate for the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment, PRRA. In 2005, the national acceptance rate was 3% out of over 6800 decisions. In Quebec, the rate was just 1%, and did not increase in 2006. Our concern is based on the collective belief that no person should be returned to a country where they might face persecution, as provided for in the Refugee Convention, also known as the Geneva Convention, or face torture or cruel and unusual punishment, as provided for in the Convention Against Torture.
In analyzing files of refused refugees who have called upon our organizations for support, we have come across examples of practices that lead us to believe that there are systemic problems with the PRRA process. These problems include: dismissing apparently trustworthy evidence without providing the reasoning for doing so; arbitrary choices among documentary evidence; failure to independently consider credibility once the IRB has made a negative finding; raising of the evidentiary threshold far beyond that required by statute and jurisprudence.
Our submission clearly outlines these problems, which are supported by real life and concrete examples. We'll spare you full reading of our submission. Since I used to be a lecturer at a Montreal university, I will take for granted that you have all read and become familiar with the document. I would also invite those who have not had the chance already to become familiar with the Canadian process in seeking asylum. It is well explained in the first pages of our document. Our introduction also dispels many wrong and commonly held notions, such as the one repeated by one of the four or five ministers of this department over the last three years. It has been wrongly repeated that an applicant would have 52 possibilities to appeal a negative decision. Mr. Goldman will also talk to you about some other commonly held notions.
I, for one, wish to talk to you about one of my frustrations that is also shared by many others who fight to promote justice. Last Friday, I had the privilege of hearing Mme Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, speak. I also saw the television interview she gave. She was asked whether or not Canadians were doing everything possible to protect persons in danger. She replied that given all of the resources available to Canada, the bar should be very high. I believe that in most cases, we do not reach the bar. On the topic of the United Nations, Ms. Arbour talked about inaction and bureaucratic red tape. Don't these also qualify the work we do, from time to time?
Allow me to cite other examples of cases of applicants which have ended in Canada sending asylum seekers back to their country of origin. These are examples of cases which occurred as I was researching and drafting this presentation. Therefore, these cases are very recent, and as the saying goes, hot off the press.
The Pakistani gentleman whose case is referred to beginning on page 4 of our document went into hiding in a city far from his original home with his wife and children as soon as he returned to Pakistan. Last week his Montreal lawyer was able to contact the man's wife, and she indicated that within a very short time upon their arrival in Pakistan they began to receive death threats and threats that the children would be kidnapped.
I must say that when they returned to Pakistan, they did not go to the city where this man had originally been tortured. They went far away, to another place, and yet somehow authorities or the people who were opposed to them knew they were back and found out where they were and were threatening him and his children.
He had to flee the country and seek refuge in another country, where he will never be able to find full-time or permanent work. His situation is very iffy, but at least the pressure on his family decreased once he left.
So it's thus a misconception on the part of PRRA officers to believe in many instances that authorities and/or those responsible for persecution are unaware of a refused asylum seeker's return to his or her country of origin.
Yet despite all of this, this gentleman is still hopeful that his application for permanent residency, which he filed before he left Canada, will be granted.
Another case in which Amnesty International was involved concerned a former Mauritanian slave working as a peaceful advocate for the rights of Mauritanian slaves. When his country banned slavery, he travelled across the country informing former slaves of their rights. He was detained and tortured three times but, the third time, he managed to escape and make his way to Canada.
Two of his brothers, who were also human rights workers, were admitted into France as refugees. Although this man, who had applied for refugee status here, and his brothers had similar cases, Canada decided to deny the former's claim and send him back to his country of origin. Fortunately, after his removal, the Federal Court authorized a judicial review; however, the gentleman had already left. His whereabouts are unknown. We do not even know whether he is still alive.
I have one final example to illustrate the capricious decisions of PRRA officers. I want to tell you about a Mauritanian woman who filed a number of documents as new evidence in her PRRA application.
In a recent decision, the PRRA officer rejected documents from a Mauritanian court, saying that there was only a French translation and that the original document, written in Arabic, had not been provided. The officer also rejected evidence regarding two specific events that the woman related as new evidence of her fears, claiming that there was no mention of these events in the personal information form or PIF. However, that was not true, because not only had these events been detailed in the PIF, the IRB had also referred to them. Although the officer had listed a letter of support from Amnesty International's Canadian section (French-speaking) as new evidence, the officer failed to refer to it in his analysis.
With all due respect, I must point out that this contravenes a Federal Court decision. Not all the facts are the same, but the principle still applies. In the Thang v. Canada (Solicitor General) decision of March 2004, Justice O'Reilly stated:
The officer listed numerous documents that she had considered in making her decision. However, absent from the list was a document specially prepared by Amnesty International supporting Mr. Thang's application.
There is a presumption that decision-makers have considered all of the evidence before them, even if they do not refer specifically to each item. However, the more central a document is to the issue to be decided, the greater the obligation on the decision-maker to deal with it specifically. This is particularly so when the document contradicts the decision-maker's own conclusions. Here, the document at issue is a specific, detailed analysis of the applicant's personal circumstances, conducted by a credible source who arrived at a conclusion contrary to the officer's findings. The officer had a duty to at least refer to the report in her reasons.
The report in question came from the Canadian section (English-speaking). The Canadian section (French-speaking) is much smaller and receives approximately one hundred requests for assistance each year. Not all are from failed refugee claimants, but a vast majority are.
However, every year, I can write a specific letter of support for only 10 or 12 of those individuals, in other words, barely 10% of applicants subject to a removal order, because of the stringent standards imposed by Amnesty International's head office. We don't support someone just because we want to: we must comply with very strict criteria. I must tell you that this woman is scheduled to be sent back to Mauritania on February 27. As in other cases, some of the evidence in her file was rejected outright; it was not even taken into consideration.
If I may, before giving the floor to my colleague, I would like to share with you an off-the-cuff remark by a political advisor to one of the last four or five ministers. One day when I called the minister's office to ask for the minister's support regarding a very specific case and to prevent the individual in question from being removed, the political advisor said that I had no idea of the number of cases in the minister's office, that there were so many problems and that there was no rhyme or reason to it. In my opinion, if there are so many problems, perhaps it is time to fix the system.