NDP MP Joins Refugee Lawyers In Criticism Complaint System Following Allegations Against IRB Decisionmakers
The Board Members at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) hold a sensitive position; they are empowered to decide whether or not refugee claimants will face risk in their home countries, and may be permitted to stay in Canada. Their decisions can significantly impact the lives of vulnerable claimants and their families.
Yet there are reports of IRB decision-makers behaving inappropriately during refugee hearings and causing emotional distress for claimants. Following these allegations, NDP MP and Immigration Critic Jenny Kwan lent her voice to refugee lawyers in calling for a parliamentary review of how the IRB handles complaints. Several lawyers have also raised concerns over the complaint system’s ineffectiveness and lack of transparency.
Alleged Sexism, Incompetence
Complaints have been filed against two IRB judges for their unprofessional treatment of claimants. Former IRB decisionmaker Michael Sterlin is alleged to have made irrelevant, aggressive, and sexist remarks to a refugee claimant who later attempted suicide because she was so distraught following her humiliating hearing. But the IRB dismissed the complaint. Complaints against the second judge, Natalka Cassano, allege incompetence during hearings. One refugee lawyer referred to Castano’s treatment of herself and her client as aggressive and incompetent.
Six months after the lawyer filed a complaint against Cassano, the former chairperson of the IRB responded with a letter agreeing that this behaviour led to an unfair hearing for the claimant. The letter stated appropriate actions would be taken to prevent this from happening in the future. But after requesting details about the progress of the complaint and the actions of the IRB, the lawyer has yet to hear anything more.
Call for Increased Transparency
Both Kwan and immigration lawyers are calling for an independent complaint system so that complaints can be handled fairly and with complete transparency. The current lack of independence in the complaint system (an IRB chairperson handles complaints) increases the likelihood of a biased resolution. Greater transparency and impartiality are a must.
However, IRB did make changes to its complaints system in December 2017, opening an Office of Integrity and promising to publish complaint details annually. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said these changes will lead to a more independent complaint process that is more efficient, fair, and transparent.
Although these two cases of IRB adjudicators paint a less-than-glowing picture of refugee and immigration hearings, not all decisionmakers act unprofessionally. However, those who hold this power over claimants’ futures should be well-informed, open-minded, and compassionate when dealing with claimants. Whether or not they can prove their cases, and no matter what circumstances brought them to the hearings, claimants still deserve to be treated fairly.