Bill C-55 (Canada) (1989)


With the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision in Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration (1985) that oral hearings were required in every case for the determination of refugee status, there was an immediate need to restructure the hearing process. The first Bill C-55 (1986), proposed as an amendment to the Immigration Act of 1976, dramatically increased the maximum number of potential refugee-claim adjudicators. The maximum number of members of the Immigration Appeal Board (IAB) was raised from 18 to 50, and of vice-chairs from five to 13. The new administrative machinery was nevertheless unable to meet the backlog of hearings, which extended to more than three years. At the same time, many immigrants claimed refugee status in the hope that the backlog of cases might lead to grants of amnesty. There were concerns on both sides of the political spectrum, leading to a bitter and protracted debate over Canada’s immigration policy. On the Right, there was widespread concern over unregulated immigration and abuse of the system; on the Left, over human rights and procedural fairness.
While the backlog of hearings mounted, there were two celebrated cases, one in which ships carrying undocumented Tamils (1986) and Sikhs (1987) landed on Canadian shores and another concerning an influx of refugee claimants from Portugal and Turkey. A second Bill C-55 (the Refugee Reform Bill, introduced 1987) restructured the process for determining refugee status, replacing the IAB with the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which had two divisions, the Immigration Appeals Division (IAD) and the Convention Refugee Determination Division (CRDD). It also provided for a two-stage hearing process. In the first stage, which sought to eliminate patently unfounded claims, a preliminary joint inquiry by an independent adjudicator and a CRDD member would first determine a claimant’s admissibility. The second stage of the process involved a full hearing before two members of the Convention Refugee Determination Division. The companion Bill C-84 (introduced 1987) increased penalties for smuggling refugees, levied heavy fines for transporting undocumented aliens, and extended government powers of search, detention, and deportation. Both measures were widely opposed by liberals and more than 100 organizations, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Inter-Church Committee on Refugees, and the Canadian Bar Association. The major criticisms were that no hearing was guaranteed before the IRB at the first stage of eligibility screening and that provisions for a “safe country” while awaiting the results of the hearing were not adequate. Both measures were passed in 1988 and became effective in 1989.

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