Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am pleased to examine the bill I have introduced, Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171).
At the outset, I would like to recall the text of the motion.
Whereas: The Refugee Appeal Division is included in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; Parliament has passed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and can therefore expect that it be implemented; and The House of Commons and parliamentarians have a right to expect that the Government of Canada will honour its commitments; The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration requests that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration implement the Refugee Appeal Division without delay.
That motion was unanimously agreed to by this committee, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, on December 14, 2004. Nearly five years ago, the four political parties around the table believed that the Refugee Appeal Division should be implemented without delay. I am convinced—and this is my greatest wish—that the same political parties meeting here today will consider that five years of waiting is much too long when they believe that something should be implemented without delay. Bill C-291 must be passed soon.
In the House, I have had occasion to name a number of organizations that formally supported this bill. I won't name them all again, but I would like to single out a number of organizations that themselves represent a number more, or that represent a number of people. They are as follows: Amnesty International, the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association, the Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Fédération des femmes du Québec and the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.
Bill C-291 has received the widespread, not to say unanimous approval of the organizations involved in the advocacy of immigrant and refugee rights and from the legal community.
The reasons for this bill are very simple and can be divided into two categories. The first category concerns natural justice. The second is important for reasons of efficiency.
I'll start with the issue of natural justice. As you are no doubt aware, Mr. Chairman, in our Canadian legal system, it is still possible to appeal from court decisions. The same is true in the case of crimes and much less serious disputes, that is to say the consequences of which for individuals are much less significant than the consequences related to deportation to the country of origin of a person who seeks asylum in Canada because his life is in danger.
And yet there is currently no opportunity to file an appeal on the merits with the Refugee Appeal Division. These are decisions that may have serious consequences for the lives of individuals. These individuals may be sent to torture or even death. If provision is made for appeals to be instituted in cases where the lives of individuals are not threatened, it should be possible to do the same in these cases.
This is a matter of natural justice, and there must be an end to the arbitrary attitude that currently reigns. Arbitrariness arises in any organization composed of human beings. Human beings inevitably make mistakes and are not perfect. That is why our justice system provides for the possibility of appeal.
Although this is not true of the majority of board members, there are some who are simply incompetent. This may be seen from the refusal rates of some, which approach 100%. One seriously wonders whether some are not simply racist.
I would like to encourage members to do the following simulation in their heads. Imagine you are appearing before a judge—and I hope you never will—because a charge has been laid against you, and you learn that this judge convicts 98% of the individuals who appear before him. You inevitably think that this is all a masquerade, that you have no chance. And yet we tolerate that for refugees.
At the other extreme, some board members have acceptance rates of nearly 100%. As a result, individuals who are not refugees within the meaning of the act file claims and are lucky to be dealing with a fairly easy-going member who allows their claims and lets them enter the country as refugees.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to recall that there is no possibility of appeal on the merits. Of course there are a number of other mechanisms based on related matters, but none of them makes it possible to institute a genuine appeal on the merits. The pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), enables a claimant whose claim has been refused to present new evidence before being deported. However, if the work has been done well at the time the refugee claim is filed, if all evidence has been submitted and there is no new evidence to provide, the PRRA provides no remedy.
As to the possibility of seeking a judicial review in Federal Court, first, it must be emphasized that this procedure is rarely allowed and, second, even where it is, it can only concern the formal aspect, the legality of the decision. In no case can a refused claimant or even the minister—because the Refugee Appeal Division could be used by the minister—ask the Federal Court to rule on the merits of the case.
Lastly, the permanent residence application on compassionate grounds is not a viable avenue either. By its very nature, it is a purely discretionary option, and thus just as arbitrary, and those who file such an application may always be deported before the decision is even rendered.
Mr. Chairman, with respect to natural justice, the Refugee Appeal Division will permit coherence among decisions. There's currently no way to know from the outset, in a definitely reasonable manner, what the board members' decisions will be. We have the example of two Palestinian brothers who were in the same situation and who filed identical claims. The claim of one of them was allowed by one board member, while that of the other was refused by another. This makes the system completely inefficient.
I now come to the question of efficiency. One may think that there will be fewer applications for judicial review with a Refugee Appeal Division. Lawyers currently use this mechanism, this option, somewhat out of despair, because they feel that their client has been a victim of an error. This is virtually the only method they see, but it does not work very well. Judicial review is a very costly method. These are very busy, unspecialized courts, unlike what a Refugee Appeal Division would be.
Lastly, the enhanced predictability of board members' decisions should result in fewer frivolous claims being received at the outset, since the minister would also be able to appeal from decisions. As a result, the lawyers of individuals whose claims have no chance of being allowed will no doubt be advised not to file them, since that would be pointless. We currently hear more and more about the board member “lottery”: you file a claim, you throw the dice and, if you are lucky, you get a good board member and your claim will be allowed, whereas if you're dealing with a bad board member, it will be refused. This is what must be stopped.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to recall that Parliament has ruled on this matter on a number of occasions. It did so for the first time in 2001 by passing the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Then, in 2004, it unanimously supported a motion introduced by the four parties requesting that the Refugee Appeal Division be implemented, and immediately, as I recall.
In the last Parliament, Bill C-280, the intent of which was exactly the same, passed through all stages in the House of Commons. It was also passed in the Senate. Unfortunately, as you know, Mr. Chairman, the bill died on the Order Paper, because the House of Commons lacked the time to adopt the Senate's amendments.
I encourage all members of this committee to be consistent with the position they adopted in 2004 and to give their unanimous support to Bill C-291.