Judy Sgro says it is taking far too long for people seeking asylum in Canada to get an answer
Elizabeth Thompson, Vancouver Sun, Feb. 23
OTTAWA — The federal government is planning to overhaul Canada’s refugee determination system to streamline it and make appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board less partisan and based more on merit, says Citizenship and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro.
Speaking in her first policy interview since being named to the job Dec. 12, Sgro said Canada’s current refugee determination system is plagued by backlogs and it is taking far too long for those seeking asylum in Canada to get an answer.
“People shouldn’t have to be here four and five years until all decisions have been done,” said Sgro. “I think we have an obligation to try to have that decision done, ideally it would be six months.”
Among the changes that Sgro wants to see is in the way Canada chooses members of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), the body that rules on applications for refugee status. There has been criticism that IRB positions have too often been doled out as patronage appointments.
That’s about to end, says Sgro.
“I think we should ensure that we have the very best that we can on a board that makes decisions on people’s lives.”
Sgro will announce in the next few weeks just how she plans to introduce a merit-based selection process. Once it goes into place, existing board members will have to face the selection process as their appointments come up for renewal, she said.
There is no separate body to hear appeals of IRB decisions, a situation that worries refugee advocates. Those dissatisfied with an IRB ruling can appeal to the Federal Court, but the court can only hear appeals based on errors of law — not cases where the applicant wants to appeal based on the facts of the case.
Sgro said she is examining “a variety of ways” to streamline the refugee determination process, a process she says is not “particularly reflective” or “particularly fair.”
“I think it is imperative that we have a decision that is fair, one that stands up to intense scrutiny but one that Canadians would recognize as a fair system. But it’s also important that we’re fair to the people who are looking for help and that they get a thorough review and that they know that they have had that.”
That could take time and is not going to be in place before the next election, she said.
Sgro said people can expect her to be quite different from her predecessor.
“I think the style is very different than Denis Coderre’s. I’m a workaholic and I take things on with a passion.”
Sgro’s mantra is common sense with compassion — principles she wants to see her officials exercise at every level. She is also shifting the focus of the department — putting a priority on a five-year strategy to increase immigration to Canada, to helping immigrants settle into Canadian society more quickly and looking at the role cities play in that process.
“It used to take three years for people when they came in the 1960s and even in the 1970s to settle into Canada,” Sgro explained. “They’re now saying it takes anywhere from 10 to 13 years to do that and that’s much too long.”
One priority is helping professionals prepare for immigrating to Canada and to give them a better idea of what credentials they will need.
“If they are coming here with a particular skill we need to do more on their home country in order to help them prepare so when they do arrive it doesn’t take 10 years and we don’t have people driving taxi cabs that have a doctor’s licence. That at a minimum they are able to link into one of our hospitals and at least be in a medical environment while they do what is necessary.”
“But that is going to require the associations and the employers and government to remove those roadblocks.”
Sgro also envisions a “going to Canada portal” to help prospective immigrants learn more about the country before they arrive.
“Ultimately there should be a link with all of our provinces and the cities through that linkage would be able to sell themselves through that portal so that when people come they can settle better.”
Sgro has already begun consultations on a new five-year immigration policy during meetings in Vancouver and Victoria. Next month, she plans a seven day, cross-country marathon talking to Canadians about what they want to see in this country’s immigration policy.
“It’s also an opportunity for us to let Canadians know about the serious issues that are facing us in the next 10 years, the next 20 years,” said Sgro. “That all of our growth is going to come through immigration. We’ve got a plummeting birth rate and an aging population … Nobody’s going to be around to buy the houses that we all are enjoying right now if we don’t have the growth in the country that has to happen.”