My name is Paul Aterman. Since January of this year, I have been the acting chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Last year, the four divisions of the board—the refugee protection division or RPD, the refugee appeal division or RAD, the immigration division, and the immigration appeal division—made a total of 43,153 decisions. Those decisions were rendered by the IRB's 224 members. Those members, whether they're appointed by the Governor in Council, in the case of the IAD or the RAD, or hired as public servants, as is the case for the RPD and the immigration division, are expected to behave professionally, fairly, and with integrity.
I'd like to emphasize that their job is not an easy one; it is stressful. The pressure to produce fair decisions quickly is unrelenting for all four divisions. On the refugee side, that pressure is only growing. This year we received 47,000 refugee claims, more than double what we received last year.
Most of the decisions that these members make can have life-altering consequences for the people who are at the centre of those cases. Members need to know the law inside out. They have to demonstrate sensitivity, empathy, stamina, and self-control. I can tell you that the vast majority of the members at the board conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism. That said, as part of a broader and ongoing effort to make the board more accountable, in 2017 we revised our member complaints procedure.
Before I elaborate on the changes to that process, let me first address the board's recruitment, selection, training, and performance management programs.
There is a rigorous selection process in place for members. Candidates are first evaluated based on their experience. Their skills as adjudicators are assessed through a written exam, an interview, a reference check and a security clearance validation.
As an example, in a competition for members of the Refugee Protection Division, the RPD, in 2015, 484 candidates applied and only 51 of them, or 10%, qualified for appointment.
All new members must undergo a period of in-depth training—including full training on substantive issues and on effective communication with stakeholders—before they can rule on cases.
Part of the training can vary by division depending on specific issues covered in the cases heard. Other parts of the training are common to all the divisions. For instance, members receive training to raise their awareness of problems faced by the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
All members, both new and experienced, regularly participate in professional development workshops to keep abreast of the important and relevant issues, including updates on federal court cases.
In addition to the training that they receive as members to do their jobs, all members are required to take certain training, training that is mandatory for all board employees, for example, training on values and ethics, and on the creation of a respectful and harassment-free workplace.
I'd like to now turn to the oversight of member conduct. The board has a detailed code of conduct and it applies to all members. In other words, all members need to adhere to the principles of good faith, fairness, accountability, dignity, respect, transparency, openness, discretion, cultural sensitivity, and loyalty to the organization. We monitor compliance with the code as part of a member's annual performance appraisal.
When we conduct performance appraisals, managers will often observe hearings or they will conduct an ad hoc review of the audio recording of a hearing that a member has done. They do this, amongst other reasons, in order to assess how members treat the people who appear before them. They also read decisions issued by members, and again, one of the reasons that they do this is to ensure that the decisions are clear and accessible, and that they're also respectful to the parties who presented their case. Managers also look at statistical indicators of performance, such as the number of cases that were finalized and how quickly they were done.
In assessing the performance of members, the board has to respect their decision-making independence. In other words, nobody at the board will tell a member how to decide in an individual case. That would be contrary to the law. At any point, if a person feels that a member has not respected the code of conduct in the way in which they managed the case, that person can file a complaint under the board's complaints process.
I'd like to stress that the purpose of the code of conduct is to set standards for how a member conducts him or herself. The code and the complaints process are not there to deal with what the member decided, in other words, whether the decision was right or wrong in law. That's a matter for the Federal Court to decide, not for the board.
Now, stakeholders have criticized the complaints process. They've said that the process lacked transparency, was too complicated, it didn't provide for enough oversight, and it was difficult to access. The board agreed that there was a need to improve the process. In 2016, the previous chair, Mario Dion, now the Ethics Commissioner, decided to review our existing complaints mechanism. In 2017, we consulted with stakeholders. We sought their input. Some of that input is reflected in a revised member complaints procedure that was developed to ensure a more centralized, simple, objective, and accessible process. That process has been in place for two months now. It came into effect in December of 2017.
With regard to what has changed, first, the complaints process is centralized in the IRB's Office of Integrity rather than dealing with complaints in each of the regional offices. The purpose behind that is to ensure greater consistency in how complaints are dealt with.
Second, it's a much simpler process. The complaints go directly to the director of integrity. The director of integrity reports directly to the chairperson. The management of complaints is no longer diffused and delegated to regional managers, and there are no longer multiple levels of review. Responsibility for complaints resides immediately with the chairperson, and it's the chairperson who decides on all complaints.
Third, the Office of Integrity, which is the investigative arm of the chairperson, is independent from the divisions. The director of integrity investigates the allegations and the complaint and prepares a report. The report contains findings of fact, analysis, and suggested conclusions. The report goes directly to the chair. The chair decides whether or not to accept those conclusions, and decides whether or not there was a breach of the code. The chair also has the discretion to have a qualified outside party investigate a complaint in exceptional circumstances.
Fourth, this process is now much more accessible and transparent. Anybody, whether they are a participant in the hearing room or not, can file a complaint against a member where they believe there has been a breach of the code. To that end, we've made the complaint form much more easy to access on our website. We've taken such measures as asking CBSA to post information in immigration detention centres and jails, so people who are detained under the act also know what their rights are under the complaints process.
Fifth, the process requires the chairperson to provide the member, the complainant, and the member's manager with detailed reasons as to why a complaint is founded or not.
Sixth, the public reporting on the process will be more transparent. The Office of Integrity will post an annual report on the board's website. It will be sufficiently detailed to list all the complaints and their outcomes, in such a manner that the reader can look at the report and understand the issue, the complaint, and what the board did about it. That's as opposed to simply saying whether the complaint was founded or not founded.
In order to protect privacy, the report will omit any information that could identify specific individuals. As part of our regular monitoring and evaluation of our policies, we will undertake a review of the complaints process after a full year of its implementation. I'd like to emphasize that it's not a review which will be conducted by the board. We will go outside the organization to hire a third party who has expertise in administrative law and how tribunals work in order to obtain that evaluation.
I can indicate that the board would be happy to return here in 2019 to report on that. My view is that this new process will allow the board to deal more transparently and more effectively with complaints under the code.
Thank you. I'd welcome your questions.