Canada's Refugee Status Determination System and the International Norm of Independence

Gerald P. Heckman

Abstract


Refugee protection decisions engage migrants’ fundamental life, liberty, and security of the person interests. As a result, refugee protection claimants enjoy institutional and procedural rights under conventional international law. These include the right to a fair adjudication of their protection claims by an independent tribunal. To be independent, a tribunal must meet the formal guarantees of security of tenure, financial security, and administrative independence and must actually be independent, in appearance and practice, from the executive and legislature, particularly in the appointments process. Refugee protection decisions must be made by first instance adjudicative bodies that either fully comply with the requirements of tribunal independence or whose decisions are subject to subsequent review by a tribunal that meets these requirements and has sufficient jurisdiction over the merits of the dispute. The Canadian refugee protection system fails, in certain respects, to meet international standards of independence. The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Protection Division enjoys statutory, objective badges of independence and appears to operate independently of the executive. However, the independence of Canadian officials engaged in eligibility determinations and in pre-removal risk assessments is very much in question because they have a closer relationship to executive law enforcement functions.

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