Conservative MP and immigration critic Michelle Rempel is calling for an “overhaul” to the way Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) handles complaints following a Global News investigation that revealed allegations of “sexist” and “aggressive” behaviour by powerful refugee judges.
In a tweet posted early Thursday morning, Rempel called the allegations contained in the Global News story “gross.” She is calling for a review of the complaints system and “if necessary, a review of the role of these judges and of the appointment process.”
“I was disgusted,” said Rempel, describing how she felt after reading the Global News story. “I think the system, from the sound of what the allegations are, has failed the complainant and it’s hard as parliamentarians to look at that.”
The allegations stem from complaints made by several lawyers.
In one case, immigration lawyer Asiya Hirji alleged former IRB decision-maker Michael Sterlin behaved in a “sexist” and “aggressive” manner when deciding the refugee claim of a young Ukrainian woman forced into the sex trade after moving to Canada.
In another complaint, lawyer Nastaran Roushan alleged a current refugee judge, Natalka Cassano, displayed a “pattern of incompetence” and acted aggressively towards herself and a claimant during a refugee hearing.
Rempel has informed Parliament that she believes this issue needs to be studied. This comes less than 48 hours after NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan called for a similar study.
“I filed a notice of motion with the Citizenship and Immigration Committee to study the complaint system at the IRB,” Rempel said. “And to also look at the training IRB decision-makers undergo to look at things like gender and sensitivity training.”
Rempel also tweeted she was “standing up” for the young Ukrainian woman and “against a system that has failed her.”
As for the outcome of the complaints, Hirji says the IRB dismissed her complaint about Sterlin in the case of the young Ukrainian woman.
Six months after Roushan filed her complaint against Cassano, former IRB chairperson Mario Dion sent her a letter saying the decision maker’s behaviour during the hearing resulted in a “lack of fairness.” He called the issue a “serious concern” and said “appropriate measures” would be taken to make sure it didn’t happen again.
But Roushan has no idea what these measures are. She asked Dion to provide a copy of the investigation report and to confirm whether Cassano would continue hearing cases.
No one from the IRB has responded to her questions in more than a month, she says.
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In both cases, the claimants were approved for refugee protection when their cases were reviewed by another judge.
Meanwhile, Rempel says the parliamentary committee should also look at the ways of improving how the IRB appoints judges. She says the system needs to be “de-politicized” to ensure the most qualified people are given these important jobs.