Creation of ombud’s office urged to tackle immigration snafus

Not sure that adding another layer is necessarily the best approach compared to reviewing the overall processing system and making adjustments as necessary:

….These cases are problems critics say an ombudsman at the immigration department could easily fix, saving taxpayers money for reprocessing and potential litigation, and immigration applicants the agony of having their lives thrown into disarray.

“These are the majority of problems people have day-to-day that could be resolved if there is the will to cut through the red tape,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Raoul Boulakia.

“Immigration cases are expensive to litigate. In some cases, the court would not intervene and the process takes so long. Having an ombudsman’s office would be terrific.”

The idea of establishing a public complaints office at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been floating around for years but never got traction because of the lack of organized efforts among applicants and Ottawa’s short-sighted arrogance to cater to foreign nationals with no voting power.

However, with the new Liberal government’s emphasis on transparency and accountability, critics say an ombudsman could aptly look at these systemic challenges and find solutions.

While Immigration Minister John McCallum agreed that “obviously there is enormous room for improvement” for his department’s service delivery, he is noncommittal to the idea.

“That’s what a lot of my job is about. We are trying to reduce processing times and improve services. The idea of an ombudsman is an interesting idea, but it might be a little bit duplicating of what my office and I are trying to do, and it would add costs. Our objective is similar,” he told the Star.

“If having an ombudsman would assist that task, I would consider it … if it’s value-added. Right now, people can go to their MPs, the MPs might bring it to me and we work on it. We certainly spend a huge amount of time dealing with these problems and cases trying to get the best outcomes.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union that represents the 5,000 immigration department employees, said frontline services have suffered after 10 years of cuts — staffing was down by 5.3 per cent while workload increased — under the previous government. That led to minimum service and sometimes tainted decision-making, the union said.

“Our members are caught between a lack of resources and instructions. They are being told you have two minutes to respond to a phone call, basically. That’s not worthy of client service in our mind,” said Chris Aylward, national executive vice-president of the union.

“It is nice for the minister to say he’s all for increasing the service and service delivery, but in order to increase service delivery, you have to make sure the resources, tools and training are there.”

The union is all for the establishment of an impartial office if it serves both the clients and its members instead of creating an additional administrative burden and more work under existing resources, Aylward added.

Queen’s University professor Sharry Aiken, who specializes in migrant law and policy, said an ombudsman could best handle administrative issues that emerge in application processing as a result of “misunderstanding, poor representation and human error” that could easily be fixed.

Currently, members of parliament are overwhelmed by constituents’ requests for assistance on immigration files for relatives and friends looking for updates on applications, and immigration cases are inundating the court system and tribunals.

Aiken said the cost of setting up a well-equipped ombudsman’s office at the immigration department could easily be offset by the savings in resources in other jurisdictions and improved operational efficiency. Meanwhile, the courts and tribunals should still handle cases involving errors in law, she added.

“The office would need the authority and resources to deal with these cases and circumstances,” said Aiken, who co-chairs the Canadian Council for Refugees’ legal affairs team. She said the danger of setting up an ombud’s office without proper resources is it would get swamped and couldn’t investigate complaints in-depth.

Source: Creation of ombud’s office urged to tackle immigration snafus | Toronto Star

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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