The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Technology could help streamline, accelerate IRB’s refugee work

August 28 2018 28 August 2018

The Immigration and Refugee Board has a number of resource and efficiency issues, and adding another layer of bureaucracy is unlikely to improve the situation, the CBA’s Immigration Law Section says in a recent submission responding to an independent review of refugee determination procedures.

The report on the review proposes creating an Asylum System Management Board at the deputy minister level to recommend an annual plan for the asylum system.

Noting that the Immigration and Refugee Board is hailed internationally as a model for independent refugee determination, the Section says that a separate board world bring the refugee determination process under further government control, undermining the IRB’s independent decision-making.

“We agree that advance planning is essential, and we support efforts to better forecast the needs of our asylum system. In fact we urge longer-term planning than annually,” the Section writes. “However, the IRB is best placed to assess its own operational needs (including funding, staffing and process improvements.)”

Another important point is stability of legal aid funding for refugees, which has not kept pace with the recent dramatic increase in the number of refugee claimants. The Section suggests safeguarding legal aid funding in any changes to the refugee process and consulting the legal community on possible reforms.

The report identifies many operational inefficiencies, at least some of which can be attributed to vacancies in the Refugee Protection Division and the Refugee Appeal Division. The Section earlier recommended implementing a transparent, systematic and merit-based appointment process to fill vacancies, which would move quickly from candidate approval to appointment.

Other recommendations include:

  • Have IRB members screen more claims at the front end, and use Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada/Canada Border Services Agency hearings officers in the refugee determination process at the early pre-hearing stage in straightforward cases
  • Help claimants in their search for qualified legal counsel and implement mechanisms to streamline the process, for example, by eliminating restrictive timelines for hearings which contribute to wasteful hearing postponements based on availability of counsel
  • Issue work permits at the eligibility interview, without requiring another application, which places an unnecessary burden on the claimant to apply and on the IRCC to process it
  • Embrace technology – make better use of e-post Connect, create a pdf of national documentation packages, correspond with counsel by email, and develop a single portal for case management, using digital documentation, shared databases, cloud-based services, scheduling apps, etc.
  • Allow witnesses to testify via videoconference
  • Allow claimants to file claims on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in lieu of or in addition to protection claims. “At the very least, refugee claimants should be counselled by a lawyer at an earlier stage regarding the available options including, where the facts support it, filing a permanent resident application based on H&C grounds rather than a refugee protection claim.”

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