I have been privileged to serve my country as a Governor in Council appointee twice – as a full-time Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board in 1996-1998 and part-time Member of the Parole Board in 2013-2016. I served well. So when the IRB’s Legacy Task Force invited me to join their select group, charged with clearing a backlog of tens of thousands of claims, I accepted.
After training at the Toronto office in mid-December 2018, I was equipped for scheduling secure videoconference hearings from Kingston, starting in mid-January, and also assigned three paper files. I made a positive decision on one, convinced the claimant had a well-founded fear of persecution should he return to Syria. Short hearings were scheduled for the others because, after careful review, I had questions needing answers. That is what this job is about – familiarizing yourself with relevant Canadian laws, updating yourself regularly on country conditions, examining each file conscientiously and making a timely and fair decision on whether someone has a legitimate claim to refugee status. The claimant, by the way, always gets the benefit of the doubt. And that is as it should be.
They told me I was doing a good job. But, unbeknownst to me, an IRB lawyer – and she knows who she is – circulated an email complaint about my suitability. A senior Co-ordinating Member responded, writing the Board had no concerns. That’s when the shyster – on whose authority? – took it upon herself to communicate with another pettifogger, a man who makes his living advocating for just about anyone claiming to be a refugee. He roiled up his fellow-travellers and penned a poison pen letter, then stirred up his media mates. Despite the Board’s oft-touted commitment to ‘natural justice,’ with full disclosure of information to everyone, I was kept blissfully unaware of this skulduggery – until New Year’s Eve. That’s when – nice timing, eh? – I was peremptorily told my contract wouldn’t be continued because of a “controversy,” no details otherwise provided.
I requested a written explanation. It arrived 25 January 2019. Meanwhile, again without my knowledge, the Board had been communicating with a TV reporter over the previous two weeks. His rather jaundiced broadcast was crafted to publicly pillory me.
What was the “controversy” about? Having witnessed serious problems with how the refugee determination process was handled in the late 1990s, I wrote a hard-hitting exposé, published in 2001. Now any op-ed is inherently argumentative, provoking public debate, sometimes even securing positive change. Just read the others published on this page. Since the IRB underwent “significant legislative and regulatory changes” in 2002, following implementation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, my epistle seemingly did the trick.
All the Board’s hiring protocols were correctly followed before a contract was offered, as Richard Wex, the IRB’s chairman, was told when he later checked. Furthermore, the IRB had my curriculum vitae. And an Access to Information request confirmed the 2001 commentary so much fuss has been made over is easily located in my personnel records. Certainly, I made no attempt to hide it. Since the senior managers who offered me a job insisted I abstain from newspaper writing as a condition of employment – which I agreed to – they were obviously familiar with my résumé and media profile.
No matter. I was canned. Since then I have tried to confirm who leaked information from inside the Board to a caitiff outside. I have a pretty good idea, of course, but the Board is protecting its resident fink(s), claiming solicitor-client privilege. ‘Natural justice’ apparently exists only for those wanting to get into this country – not for someone born here.
I pride myself on being a fair, capable and independent decision-maker. Even the Board confirmed my recent work was done “competently.” Like most Canadians, I support a liberal refugee policy. After all, my parents were victims of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Ukraine – I wouldn’t be here if Canada had not granted them asylum. Members play a critical role, duty-bound to attentively review all claims, each case’s outcome determined on its individual merits. However during my recent, if unexpectedly short sojourn at the Board, I sensed Members are pressured to expedite claims from certain countries, following only the most cursory of reviews.
Welcome news for ‘refugee lobbyists’ but not good tidings for Canada.
Ready to accept the IRB’s invitation to serve Canada again I didn’t anticipate being soiled for wanting to. If you have doubts about how refugee claims are handled from now on don’t blame me. I’m no longer on guard for thee. Which begs the question – who is?
Lubomyr Luciuk remains a professor of political geography at The Royal Military College of Canada