Asylum outcomes vary widely among refugee judges, study finds

Good reporting by Nicholas Keung.

The IRB should not be so dismissive of the analysis and may benefit from reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow for similar examples where cognitive bias has resulted in different decisions. No system is completely immune:

Despite recent reforms to the refugee system, whether an asylum claim is approved or denied has remained the luck of the draw, according to a new report.

Based on Immigration and Refugee Board data, Osgoode Hall law professor Sean Rehaag looked at all 7,818 asylum decisions made in 2015 by 92 board members under the new system. He found their decisions vary widely on claims from the same country.

The former Conservative government made these new decision-makers government employees — replacing the old political appointees — with the hope of making the system free from political influence based on the adjudicators’ political affiliation.

“It’s striking that the refugee determination system is making life-and-death decisions and the outcomes of the claims vary depending on who is making the decision,” Rehaag said of his findings in the report to be released Wednesday.

In 2015, a total of 8,268 new claims were processed; 279 were withdrawn and 160 were deemed abandoned with claimants absent from their hearings. Of the 7,818 decisions rendered, 65 per cent of the claims were granted and 35 per cent were denied.

While some decision-makers rarely granted refugee status, Rehaag said others accepted most of the cases they heard.

Member Gloria Moreno, for example, had a grant rate of 27.3 per cent out of 22 decisions, the lowest of all adjudicators, followed by David Young, who only accepted 32.9 per cent in 79 decisions.

At the other end of the spectrum, 98.5 of James Waters’ 65 decisions were positive, with Maria Vega in a close second at 92.9 per cent.

Although some of the differences may be due to the members’ specialization in particular types of cases such as geographic regions with especially high or low refugee claim recognition rates, Rehaag compared decisions by different adjudicators on claims from the same country and found the variations unjustified.

Rehaag said his findings speak to the importance of allowing universal access for failed claimants to appeal to the refugee appeal tribunal.

The IRB, however, said outcomes of decisions vary because decision makers render impartial decisions in accordance with the law based on the evidence presented.

“It’s important to note that there are no ‘expected recognition rates’ at the board . . . each case is unique and determined on the basis of its individual merit,” said IRB spokesperson Anna Pape, adding that failed refugees are entitled to have decisions reviewed by the Federal Court of Canada.

The Liberal government has dropped its constitutional challenge to the designated-country-of-origin regime established by its Tory predecessor, intended to deny appeals by claimants from countries presumed to be safe and capable of protecting their nationals.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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