Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning. My name is Shereen Benzvy Miller. As of early May, I am the deputy chairperson of the refugee protection division at the Immigration and Refugee Board, or the IRB. I'm accompanied by Greg Kipling, director general of policy, planning, and corporate affairs at the IRB. Thank you for inviting us this morning to discuss this summer's influx of refugee claimants in Quebec.
Several agencies are involved in dealing with this, so where does the IRB fit in? What does this sudden influx mean for the IRB?
The IRB is Canada's largest independent administrative tribunal. It only becomes involved in the process, as my colleague Mr. MacDonald suggested, once we get a referral from the IRCC or from the CBSA. They are at the front lines.
Before specifically discussing the influx of refugee claimants in Quebec and the response of the Refugee Protection Division, I would like to give you an overview of our mandate and the environment in which we operate.
Our mandate guides all the decisions we make in the processing of refugee claims and rulings on those issues, including with respect to the recent increase of refugee claimants in Quebec.
Our work essentially consists in determining whether a person has standing to be a refugee or whether they are a person in need of protection under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in the 1985 Singh decision, ruled that legal rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to everyone—in other words, every person in Canada, including refugee claimants. In addition, the court stated that refugee claimants have the right to a refugee hearing when a serious issue of credibility is raised. That is why the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada was created in 1989.
Mr. Justice La Forest, in a 1995 Supreme Court of Canada decision, stated that the refugee status determination is “probably one of the most difficult judicial or quasi-judicial events existing in Canada”.
The adjudication of refugee claims is a complex matter for several reasons.
One, refugee protection division members are making profound decisions of life or death, often with incomplete or limited evidence.
Two, many of the claimants who appear before the board are vulnerable and suffer from mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of the trauma suffered in their homeland. So far in 2017, 93% of claimants required the assistance of an interpreter. We have the capacity to provide this service in 240 languages and dialects.
Three, in addition, the RPD members must be up to date on the developments of the law and must be experts on the country conditions of 126 countries so far in 2017, most of which are constantly in flux.
Last, the courts have consistently held that the RPD must ensure a high level of procedural fairness, due in part to the importance of the decision being made.
It is in that context that the Refugee Protection Division developed its approach to respond to the influx of refugee claimants crossing the Quebec border. The fact that many of those refugee claimants are living in temporary tents and do not have work permits has created a number of problems, both for the refugee claimants and for the Refugee Protection Division's processing of refugee claims.
First, since a large number of those refugee claimants were in a very precarious situation in Canada, fairness required that the Refugee Protection Division use all means available to process the refugee claims quickly. That means we have to prioritize the processing of as many cases as possible, to the extent that our resources permit, while meeting our overall mandate. Therefore, on August 11, we immediately created a response team, which will be active from September until the end of November.
We have appointed 17 of our members to that team and immediately took measures to hire new members so as not to impede our capacity to deal with the number of cases we normally receive on an ongoing basis.
The response team has both operational and adjudicative thrusts. I'd like to underline that this response has not diminished in any way IRB's ongoing commitment to one of the key objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which is the security of Canadian society. For example, the IRB has a publicly accessible policy that requires that the RPD not accept a refugee claim until CBSA has had a reasonable opportunity to complete its security screening. This policy remains in place for all claims, including those heard through the response team. There are other processes related to security matters that I would be happy to discuss during the question period, if they are of interest.
Since July 1, more than 8,000 claims were referred to the RPD. Before this, we were projecting an intake of 40,000 cases for this fiscal year. The strain on the organization to handle this many people's hearings is enormous, as our capacity to hear cases this fiscal year, following a plan of action for efficiency and internal reallocation of funds, is roughly 2,000 per month, or 24,000 per year.
Naturally, claimants whose hearings are not brought before a decision-maker of the response team in the next two months will wait to be scheduled like other claimants. Wait times before the Lacolle arrivals were already at approximately 16 months per person. Intake in the eastern region, in the month of September alone, was equal to the eastern region's intake for all of 2016.
To date, the response team has processed nearly 300 claims, and it expects to process up to 1,500 of them during its three-month term. Those decisions represent only a small portion of refugee claims compared to the thousands of decisions rendered every year, and they account for only a fraction of refugee claims that have been submitted to us since July.
In general, we will ensure to take advantage of all the opportunities and leverage technology, as well as our employees' expertise, to deal with the current situation.
Greg and I look forward to your questions. Thank you for having us.