July 09, 2007 08:05 PM
OTTAWA – Immigration Minister Diane Finley will have more control over the appointment of refugee adjudicators, under a new process instituted Monday for selecting members of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The move was immediately slammed by opposition critics and refugee advocates, who predicted the Harper government will stack the IRB with Tory "cronies" who want to make it harder for refugees to find safe haven in Canada.
"I certainly think this opens up the door to greater interference in the selection process," said Liberal immigration critic Omar Alghabra.
Alghabra said he expects more adjudicators will be affiliated with the Conservative party and will also likely "share conservative ideology" on refugees. He noted that the Tories' predecessor parties, Reform and Canadian Alliance, "had a history of being unfriendly towards refugees and immigrants."
However, Finley said in a news release that the new selection process "will strengthen the merit-based competency" of IRB appointees "while increasing transparency and fairness."
The new process is based on recommendations from the Public Appointments Commission Secretariat, which the Harper government asked last fall to review the appointment process. The secretariat reported in January and the government has indicated ever since that it intended to adopt all the recommendations, despite widespread criticism.
The former chairman of the IRB, Jean-Guy Fleury, resigned last winter to protest the imminent changes.
Under the new process, two previous arm's-length advisory panels have been merged into one new selection advisory board. Of the seven members on the new board, three are jointly appointed by the minister and the IRB chairman from outside the IRB.
All applicants will also have to pass a written exam to be eligible for appointment.
Winnipeg immigration lawyer David Matas said reforms were implemented only a few years ago by the previous Liberal government to depoliticize appointments to the IRB. The Tories, he said, appear intent on re-politicizing the appointments.
Matas said the motivation appears to be "patronage or ideology or both."
He noted that the refugee determination system had been working well until the Tories decided to tinker with the selection process, grinding appointments to a halt.
Indeed, when the Harper government took power in early 2006, there were only five vacancies on the IRB and the backlog of claims had been reduced to zero for the first time in a decade.
As of last month, there were 45 vacancies in the IRB's 127-member refugee protection division. The backlog had grown to about 8,000 cases and was growing by almost 1,000 a month.
NDP MP Olivia Chow said the new selection process is designed to produce "blue cronies rather than red cronies" on the IRB. Given the troubles at the board, she said replacing Liberal patronage appointments with Tory patronage appointments is "like worrying about the colour of the carpet when the house is burning down."