Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on private member's Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171).
This is not the first time that I have discussed this type of legislation, and I want to thank the member for Jeanne-Le Ber for reintroducing the bill. This legislation was introduced in the last Parliament by another member and the House passed it in the last Parliament. It then went on to the Senate where, with a few amendments, it was also passed. Unfortunately, it did not have an opportunity before the last election to come back to the House to have those amendments approved, and therefore, the bill died without having completed the full parliamentary process. The fact is we are now debating that bill as amended by the Senate in the last Parliament. We are talking about it yet again.
The bill calls for the implementation of legislation that in fact was passed by Parliament back in 2001. It calls for the implementation of the refugee appeal division, which is a feature of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that was passed here in the House after a lengthy process back in 2001. When the Liberal government of the day implemented that legislation, it refused to implement the provisions dealing with the refugee appeal division. Those sections that are named in the current bill we are discussing today were never implemented. The Conservative government has also refused to implement the provisions regarding the refugee appeal division.
We are now in this bizarre situation where we are debating a bill to implement legislation that has already been passed by the House of Commons and the Senate. The bill has been largely implemented, except for one part. One of the strange features of my time here in Parliament is that we actually would need to debate legislation to implement legislation that we had already fully debated and passed in this place a number of years ago, but that, in fact, is what this is about, because of the government's refusal to abide by the will of Parliament, by the decisions of parliamentarians, on the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act back in 2001. This is disturbing because the refugee appeal division emerged out of the debate and discourse and the committee hearings in 2001 on the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
It emerged as a compromise because the government of the day wanted to reduce Immigration and Refugee Board panels from two members to one member. It was thought that to serve the needs of fairness and justice, a one member panel only represented the interpretation of one person and that increased the likelihood of mistakes, errors and inconsistencies. It was thought that some other appeal process was necessary to balance that reduction in the panel from two members to one member. A compromise was struck. Members of Parliament agreed to the reduction of the panels from two members to one but also insisted that the refugee appeal division, the RAD, be a part of the legislation in order to give people a recourse to appeal a decision made by a panel in a refugee determination case.
That was a very important piece of the process. It showed Parliament perhaps at its best by reviewing legislation, finding the problems, responding to the needs that the government of the day addressed, and finding a compromise and implementing that compromise. Yet after the fact, the government went ahead and reduced the panels from two members to one, but refused to implement the other procedure that would have ensured some fairness and some justice. The government refused to implement the refugee appeal division. That speaks rather badly of the government of the day and its respect for the parliamentary process that we engage in here daily.
If the Conservative government had respect for the kind of process we go through in this place, it would move immediately to implement the refugee appeal division. New Democrats would certainly proceed that way. We have been strong supporters of the implementation of the RAD.
I remember speaking to people at the Canadian Council for Refugees a number of years ago when I was acting as citizenship and immigration critic for the NDP and indulging a fantasy that some day I would be the minister of citizenship and immigration. I gave notice then, and I will do it again, that should I ever become minister of citizenship and immigration, I would expect the folks working in that department and the minister's office to blow the dust off the pile of paper in the corner of the office that is the refugee appeal division file and put it on my desk. One of the first things I would do would be to implement the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act without delay because it would bring a measure of fairness that is required. It would also respect the parliamentary process.
This is not an extra piece of process; it is an essential piece of the refugee determination process. There are many concerns about that process. I have mentioned already that in Canada when a person goes before the IRB, that person goes before a one member panel, which means that his or her future is in the hands of a single person.
Many of the folks who serve on the IRB do great diligence in that job and are very concerned about the process and the work they do. However, the reality is that one person can make mistakes. One person can have a blind spot. When there were two members on the panel, through the discourse they engaged in at a hearing, those blind spots could be exposed and could see the light of day, but with a one member panel that is not as possible.
When a single person determines the fate of a refugee claimant, a bad decision can mean that the person is removed from Canada ultimately and sent back to a situation where the person faces danger and threats to his or her life. The basis of the whole refugee process is to protect people from that kind of threat. Therefore, a one person panel is a very serious problem with our current refugee determination process.
We have seen over the years that the IRB process can be very inconsistent. Different panel members make different decisions based on the same facts. There is a huge inconsistency in IRB decisions. This is another reason that a separate refugee appeal division is so important to that process. It would strive for more consistency in the process.
Everyone knows that mistakes are made in any decision-making process. That is why appeals in the refugee appeal division are very important. We also know there are often difficulties finding, and being able to afford, appropriate representation. There are difficulties dealing with a legal process that people may not be familiar with because of cultural and language differences and their newness in Canada. There are often difficulties with the hearing process itself. There are times when not every bit of information is examined and due process does not take place in the course of hearings. That is another reason that a separate appeal in the refugee appeal division is very necessary.
There have been calls from international organizations for Canada to implement an appeal. While Canada is known around the world for having a positive refugee policy, it is also known that the lack of an appeal is one of the significant shortcomings in the refugee process in Canada. We have been criticized by a number of international organizations for the lack of an appeal on the merits of a case.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights commented:
Given that even the best decision-makers may err in passing judgment, and given the potential risk to life which may result from such an error, an appeal on the merits of a negative determination constitutes a necessary element of international protection.
That was its reflection on the lack of an appeal before a refugee appeal division in Canada.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees wrote to the Canadian government to express concern about the non-implementation of the RAD. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees considers an appeal procedure to be a fundamental, necessary part of any refugee status determination process.
This is not frivolous. It is not an expensive proposition. The previous government and the current government have indicated the expenses related to it. It is a necessary provision. I hope that I never have to stand in this House again to call upon the government to implement legislation that was in fact passed here in 2001 and is already part of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. We need the refugee appeal division and we need it to be implemented now.