--> Getting It Right: Changing the Rules - But Soon Enough?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Changing the Rules - But Soon Enough?

Through the spring, the Federal government worked on significant changes to the way the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) is governed and appointed.

And just one week after the shocking death of Surrey school principal, Shemina Hirji, in the days following her wedding, these rules came into force.

On July 11, Diane Finlay, the Minister of Immigration, tightened up the methods of appointments to the IRB in an effort to make, in her words, the body “more open and accountable”.

This, of course, is in stark contrast to years of blatant political appointments to the Board, which hears a variety of cases, including those of refugees and immigrants who face deportation.

For years, controversy dogged the IRB, whose members, while political favourites, had little or no experience with highly complicated criminal and immigration case law and theory.

In 1997, the Review Board heard the appeal of Paul Cheema, the husband of the slain Hirji and the prime suspect, according to police reports.

At that time, revealed yesterday in Immigration Canada documents, due to “community and family support” he was allowed to remain in Canada, despite trying to murder the mother of his ex-fiance.

The new rules built on work started in 2004, in the dying days of the Federal Liberal government, which initiated a panel to review applicants for the Board.

The panel was a great idea – but the method of appointing people to it was a terrifying stroke of Liberal brilliance. Under the Liberal system, the chairperson was appointed by the Minister and then that chairperson had sole authority to grant membership to the panel.

No matter how good the chairperson, it was a system just begging out for corruption.

Finlay’s changes are subtle. The first has to do with an exam that all panel applicants need to write. Prior to last week, applicants could fail the test, but still be appointed if the chairperson wanted them badly enough. That has been changed to pass/fail. If you fail, you can’t be appointed.

The second change is around the make up of the panel itself. Gone are the days of the backroom nods through a politically appointed chairperson. The panel is now made up of the IRB chairperson and three panelists appointed jointly by the chairperson and the Minister.

Three more, with at least two of them being senior managers within the IRB, will be appointed by the chairperson alone.

But while Federal Liberals in Ottawa decry the new rules brought in by Minister Finlay, a significant case for why the new structure is necessary is staring them in the face.

The question still to be answered is how many other politically influential criminals won appeal when they really should have been sent away?