Mr Ignatieff, Don’t erode Human Rights in the name of efficiency

Dear Leader of the Opposition, Hon Mr. Ignatieff

Canada’s refugee system is far from perfect, but it is one of the best in the World. The UNHCR has held Canada’s system as an example for others to follow because it comes closer than many to providing a fair process that safeguards lives and human rights.

Rainbow Refugee Committee calls on the Liberals to take a firm stance that protects the lives and human rights of all potential refuges. In the rush to create a more efficient system, Bill C-11 on Refugee Reform eliminates some of the critical safeguards to fair and effective refugee protection: equality before the law, ensuring the first decision is the right one, independence from political interference, and reasonable access to legal council.

To ensure that Refugee Reform improves the system, and does not strip it of its core purpose of protecting lives and human rights, I urge the Liberal party take a principled stance:

Do not to allow Bill C-11 to pass with the “safe” country list provision.  This undermines principles of equality before the law.  The safe list has been criticized by the UNHCR. Countries that have one do not have more efficient systems—resources go into managing the list and handling challenges to the list. Allowing the CBSA to designate a certain percentage of claims for expedited processing solves the  problem of sudden surges of claims, without creating more problems of managing a “safe” list. Resourcing the removals process serves the same purpose, without undermining fairness.

Demand assurances of independence of decision makers. Yes, the current appointment process is slow and cumbersome. Appointing civil servants is not the solution—a better appointment process can maintain independence.

Do not legislate unrealistic time-lines. Fair decisions require good evidence. Claimants will arrive at 8 day interviews and 60 day hearings poorly prepared—potentially unrepresented, with inadequate documents.  Unfair rejections, and the need for appeals will result. If the first decision is the best decision—made indep principle that IRPA used.

Do not bar consideration on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds. This is a critical safety net.

Any efforts at refugee reform should address the features that need to be fixed:

  • A better process for recruiting and retaining good decision makers.
  • Implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division.
  • Adequate resources for the IRB to ensure timely processing.
  • Adequate resources for the CBSA to ensure timely removals.

Reforms must also uphold Canada’s commitments under the Geneva Convention and the Protocol.  Canadians take pride in our reputation as a country that respects and protects human rights and welcomes those fleeing persecution. The Liberals must take a strong stand to prevent Bill C-11 from eroding the very features of our refugee system that protect lives and human rights.

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