That, in the opinion of this House, the Immigration and Refugee Board should be dismantled and its functions subsumed into the Department of Citizenship and Immigration where refugee claims would be heard and decided by well trained and accountable immigration officers.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address private member's Motion No. 120 which calls for the dismantling of the Immigration and Refugee Board. I will refer to the board as the IRB from here on in.
This motion is in response to more than two years of inaction on the part of the department of immigration and its political management by the current government. For more than two years the former minister and his replacement have skirted issues and generally avoided questions, all the while refusing to take responsibility for the inadequacies which exist within the immigration portfolio.
Under the current Liberal regime the government has brought forward legislation which has juggled the status quo and made minuscule changes. However, it has not addressed the legitimate concerns of Canadians who want the system fixed.
It must be hard for old style politicians to see past the trough of political patronage and grasp the concept of populous opinion. Since the time of Confederation the political machine in Canada has been rife with corruption and the harbour of patronage. The latest Liberal instalment is yet another chapter in the patronage book. Many initiatives are undertaken to accommodate campaign contributors, regardless of the cost to public funds or public safety.
The government is out of touch with the average Canadian, so I will take this opportunity to inform it of how rank and file Canadians view the shortcomings of the current immigration system.
Canadians are a remarkable people. Their selfless commitment to helping those less fortunate has gained the admiration of the world. Canadians want to provide a safe refuge for those who, through no fault of their own, are in legitimate danger of persecution. This is our home and we are happy to share it with those in need.
However, this responsibility has its limits. No one likes to be taken advantage of and that is exactly what is occurring today. Some of those who have come to our land seeking asylum are fugitives, war criminals or people who have not been straightforward in disclosing their situation or their past. The current system does not allow for thorough scrutiny, resulting in heightened risk to Canadians.
This situation did not arrive overnight. There has been a long stream of inept decision making which has brought our humanitarian efforts to the disastrous state which exists today. Contrary to routine embellishment by ministers of immigration, past and present, there is plenty that can be done to rectify the situation. It involves some creativity, hard work and may upset some of those who have been getting fat off overburdened taxpayers. These criteria alone would cause the minister to run away in fear, yet we with a Reform backbone are willing to make the changes in the interest of Canadians.
Let us look at the function and makeup of the IRB. The IRB was created in response to the Supreme Court of Canada's 1985 ruling in the case of Singh v. the Minister of Employment and Immigration. The supreme court, under the direction of Chief Justice Bertha Wilson, had ruled in Singh that all refugee claimants were to be granted all hearings in accordance with standards of fundamental justice and that the prior practice violated those standards. The board was also empowered to hear the appeals of those who had been ordered removed from Canada.
The decision was predicated on the theory that the IRB would be a determining body able to sort out those seeking asylum under the United Nations definition of a conventional refugee from those simply seeking entrance to Canada. From this point on the trouble starts.
Let me start by addressing the makeup of the board. The IRB, which is comprised of over 235 amply remunerated appointees, is both larger and better paid than is appropriate. The body incurs an operating cost of over $80 million a year, not including the cost to legal aid and social services which result from their decisions.
By dismantling the IRB and subsuming its function into the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the system would become more accountable, more cost effective, more ethical and would fulfil our humanitarian obligations.
Like all other appointed quasi-judicial bodies, the IRB is autonomous in its decision making practices. As the minister of immigration is so fond of saying, it is at arm's length to the government.
Unfortunately it was not an acceptable form of recall. This process could take as long as five years and fall outside the mandate of an elected government. Those making decisions on behalf of Canadians should be directly accountable for their actions. Without the direction of the House of Commons, the IRB is pursuing its own mandate regardless of the wants and needs of Canadians.
Many of those who land in Canada as refugees should have been considered immigrants, others should have been denied entry altogether. As Canadians we have an obligation to accommodate only those who qualify as convention refugees under the definition outlined by the United Nations.
The United Nations definition of a convention refugee is one who, because of a membership in a particular political or social group, religion, race or nationality, cannot return to his or her own country for fear of serious persecution. The UN estimates that in 1993 there were over 20 million displaced persons in the world. Of these only 60,000 remain genuine refugees. 1994-95 reflects the same kind of statistics.
The UN reports that 25,000 of the 60,000 who were in need of immediate resettlement were settled worldwide. Canada accepted 25,000 refugees in 1993. Therefore either Canada settled every single refugee in the world or the formula for determining the status is flawed. I believe it to be the latter.
A clear definition has been laid down by the UN. Unfortunately the IRB interpretation of that definition has created considerable uncertainty regarding the determination of refugee status. The average acceptance rate for industrialized countries has traditionally hovered around 14 per cent. Canada's acceptance rate is presently hovering between 70 per cent and 90 per cent. Clearly the definition of refugee has undergone radical expansion in Canada.
Some may argue the merits of having such a high approval rate. However, the ramifications of these practices is far reaching and not as noble as one may think. I will address this issue later in my speech.
The IRB has redefined its mandate and practices outside that of its inception and that of any other practice exercised by signatories of the UN convention.
There must be a clear formula for refugee determination and it must be followed in all cases. Unless a nation has proven itself to be a systematic violator of the terms of the UN treaty, then that nation should be considered a safe third country for the purposes of refugee determination.
Currently the majority of cases heard by the IRB involve inland claimants, those people who enter Canada and seek refugee status. Many of these people have paid their way to Canada and only seek refugee status because of Canada's liberal practices. Canada operates under the legal fiction that there are no safe third countries. As such, virtually all migrants regardless of their previous country of residence, are granted refugee hearings on request. I can point to the United States, England, Germany and even Israel, that according to Canada, are refugee producing nations.
I believe it is entirely appropriate and does not contravene the decision to deny claimants refugee hearings who come from safe third countries. This is in accordance with the UN definition. This opinion is shared by Canadians but not by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The practices of the IRB have caused two streams of immigration into Canada; those who qualify as immigrants and those who slip through as refugees. There are two losers in this scenario: the legitimate refugee who is not granted access to Canada and the taxpayer who is forced to support huge bills which result from appeals, legal aid and social assistance. Claimants that do not have a legitimate claim to seek asylum in Canada carry a huge price tag.
The average cost to the taxpayer per claimant in terms of legal aid, court time and social assistance is between $30,000 and $60,000, multiplied by 25,000 refugee claimants accepted annually, the bill is well over $1 billion. This amount comes close to matching the total budget of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. With that budget the UNHRC manages to care for, resettle and repatriate five million displaced persons a year.
In other words, Canada spends the same amount of money on a few thousand cases as the UN does on five million. There is definitely a problem. The primary goal of Canada's refugee system is to provide humanitarian relief. Therefore, a reduced emphasis on
inland processing is needed in order to focus a greater reliance on overseas selection.
Overseas claimants are confined to refugee camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed soldiers. These people have been denied the most basic of human needs, yet their plight is forsaken by those who abuse the Canadian refugee system.
In addition to the humanitarian gains inherent in this approach, costs to the taxpayer would be substantially reduced. Contrary to the exorbitant costs attributed to inland claimants, the cost of resettling overseas claimants averages between $2,500 to $3,000 per claim. This is fair, it is ethical and it is what the IRB was established to do, help those most in need.
We may ask ourselves why dismantle the IRB, why not just change its mandate? I do not believe it is that simple. The IRB is a hotbed for political patronage appointments. Merit is not always a factor or a motive. The IRB is unresponsive to the interests of Canadians and has become a representative of special interests from the immigration industry perpetuating a system which drains public moneys for its own gain; the more the merrier as long as the taxpayer is paying. This is accomplished by broadening the definition of refugees beyond either what the people of Canada or the United Nations for that matter have ever proposed.
In many instances IRB members have been confused between the terms of persecution and prosecution by allowing fugitives, terrorists, outlaws and political dissidents into Canada under the guise of refugees. Some of these undesirables are believed to be channelled through Canadian social assistance funds back to the political regimes which perpetuate violence, genocide and drugs, not the element which tugs at the heart strings of generous Canadians. I believe Canadians have been duped into believing otherwise.
Under current guidelines refugee hearings conducted by the IRB are to be non-confrontational. In other words, board members and staff must take pains to avoid engaging in questioning, introducing evidence or employing a tone that would suggest to the claimant the onus of providing proof of legitimacy lies with them.
It is a privilege to be granted access to the best country in the world. There needs to be a system of determining refugees which is thorough, efficient, cost effective and fair. The IRB is not, hence the fact that it must be dismantled.
The House may ask what will serve in its place. I am glad that question was asked because no responsible piece of legislation should be presented unless it is well researched and includes a plan of implementation. I assure the House this motion includes both.
I am proposing the IRB be entirely dismantled and replaced by a body of well trained immigration officers who have the ability individually to determine refugee claims. These officers would receive intensive training in refugee acceptance guidelines. This measure would establish government policies and procedures which would need to be followed in each and every case.
The performance of these officers would be scrutinized and regularly reviewed by departmental officials under the jurisdiction of the deputy minister of immigration and citizenship, thereby implementing the element of accountability which has been absent from the present model.
Some may argue replacing the IRB with a body of trained immigration officials directly accountable to the deputy minister will lead to political intervention in the determination process. There could be a valid argument here. However, Reform proposes that members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees monitor refugee acceptance guidelines in Canada and act as a check and balance on the process.
Our mandate to accept and resettle convention refugees is obligatory as signatories of the treaty. The UNHCR would be able to inform the minister and Canadians of questionable trends in refugee processing.
This intervention would end the pandering of the immigration industry interest which is so prevalent thus far. Immigration officers would be empowered to investigate and question the legitimacy of all claimants in the interest of Canadians. The decision of verifying and accepting a claim would be rendered by individual hearing officers rather than by an IRB member, a patronage appointment.
This method of intervention would ensure full disclosure of information, including that which is incriminating. Why should we provide asylum to those who have committed crimes in other lands? I know the Liberals prefer to see that, as they have often expressed, but unfortunately most Canadians do not agree with that. There are far too many needy claimants in the world to take risks on those with chequered pasts.
By empowering our immigration officials with fact finding abilities there is a greater chance of weeding out those who are not deserving of asylum in Canada.
The IRB is ineffective in determining refugee claimants as described in the UN definition of a convention refugee. The IRB has a history of catering to the immigration industry, lining the pockets of immigration lawyers, advocacy groups and organizations with hard earned taxpayer dollars.
The IRB has broadened the Canadian definition of a refugee to the point that anyone entering Canada has a nine out of ten shot at refugee status. Of all who reach Canada, only 1 per cent are ever deported. This is a joke that undermines the immigration and refugee system in the eyes of Canadians.
The IRB has repeatedly cost the Canadian taxpayer, the board itself, $80 million a year. That is a disgusting display of partisan patronage which must stop now.
One would think the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration would embrace a plan such as this. It would restore integrity and accountability to a portfolio which is severely lacking. It would demonstrate to the Canadian public that she cares about the situation and responsible with their hard earned tax dollars. It would portray her as a minister concerned with the safety of Canadians, dedicated to Canada's humanitarian obligations.
There is only one problem. She would have to fire all her friends and those of the previous minister, which I do not think would happen. That is a serious obstacle for this minister and the entire Liberal Party. The only jobs, jobs, jobs they care about are patronage jobs.
We on this side of the House see things a whole lot differently. We want to take the immigration system and make it effective, accountable and ethical. We want governments to implement programs which serve Canadians without the added expense of patronage jobs. We want the refugee determination process to be conducted by well trained, non-partisan immigration officials. This is not a Christmas wish list. This is the bare minimum which is to be expected from a responsible government.
Our plan would result in the number of persons accepted as convention refugees through the inland process being be sharply reduced.
I am bringing forward a motion which is in the best interest of Canadians by implementing a more effective system of refugee determination without the pomp and circumstance of bloated patronage appointments and the pandering to special interest demands.