Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the committee for inviting me here, because I think this issue is very important.
I'll present my points in two parts: the refugee advisory division proposal itself--I think the short form is RAD--and also other aspects of the refugee determination system. I think you have to look at the RAD in the whole context to get the full view.
First, I'd like to say there's widespread support in Canada for allowing a reasonable number of genuine refugees to resettle in our country. My own family includes boat people from Vietnam. My wife is from Vietnam. So I'm quite sympathetic to this position.
By the same token, many Canadians feel considerable unease about how well the system is working. An Ipsos Reid poll, for example, found that 71% of those surveyed thought we needed a major rethink, while only 29% thought the system was working well.
In 1997 the government-commissioned study “Not Just Numbers”, subtitled “Immigration Legislative Review”, noted that “…public confidence in the fairness, consistency and efficiency of our program–particularly with regard to the in-Canada determination of refugee status–is flagging badly.” That was written more than 10 years ago, but I think the same issues they identified are still there.
The main reason the RAD has not been implemented is quite clear, and it was fully reviewed in the committee’s meeting of October 8. No one objects to having some provision for a review of the merits of the case of an asylum seeker whose case has been turned down by the refugee board. At the same time, it is quite clear that to create the RAD before cleaning up the existing series of virtually endless appeals and reviews would only make a bad situation worse.
As witnesses who appeared before this committee pointed out on October 8, the various appeals and reviews currently available to failed claimants can enable them to avoid removal from Canada for years and even decades. Until this situation has been rectified, it would make no sense to add yet another opportunity to delay departure.
There is another related point that was raised on October 8 that although there's no provision at the moment for review purely on the merits of the case, in fact almost all cases, for instance, taken to the Federal Court, which deals with legal points and process, do get into and can get into the merits of the case. It's hard to separate the two.
Creating the RAD at this juncture might be seen as a positive outcome by immigration lawyers bent on keeping their clients in the country as long as possible, but I think Canadians in general would regard a decision to do so as ill-advised.
It's no accident that all six ministers of immigration who have been in office since the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into place in 2002--three Liberals and three Conservatives--have refused to implement the RAD for the reasons I have just described. And I think it's notable that none of the three former Liberal ministers--Denis Coderre, Judy Sgro, and Joe Volpe--supported the bill to implement the RAD when it was put to a vote in the House on April 21 of this year. I think Joe Volpe spoke out strongly against its implementation when it was reviewed by a Senate committee.
In the circumstances, efforts by refugee lawyers and activists to have the RAD created before the existing problems are dealt with should be firmly resisted. To implement it now would make the situation worse than it is already. What we need is a total overhaul of all parts of the appeal and review system.
I'll just comment quickly on a couple of other issues of the refugee determination system.
One of the major problems with the current system is the extent to which we've expanded the interpretation of what it is to be a refugee to the point where it goes well beyond the meaning intended in the UN convention on refugees. The Canadian representative to the UNHCR, in Geneva at a meeting on October 7, 1991, summarized the situation accurately when he stated that to expand--