03/12/2012 06:34 EDT | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Refugee system 'a disgrace,' advocate says

Being recognized as a refugee in Canada can be more of a roll of the dice than a fair process, a woman who has worked with refugee claimants for more than 20 years says.

"I don’t think that’s justice," Mary Jo Leddy told CBC News.

“It's a disgrace to our country," the director of Romero House in Toronto said in response to an analysis of data for 2011 from the Immigration and Refugee Board that shows an inconsistent approval rate among the IRB's adjudicators.

Leddy, who has attended hundreds of hearings, said while there are "very competent" board members, "there are some who are simply terrible. That’s what makes it a lottery."

Rob Shropshire, interim executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees, an umbrella organization dedicated to the protection of refugees, said the inconsistencies are an "ongoing problem that needs to be fixed."

"There's nothing in the system that would catch the errors," he said, "and when you have one person accepting no one, it would suggest mistakes are being made."

Advocates especially want the system of using political patronage to fill board positions to stop.

Those who are deciding on the future of people’s lives need to be “independent and competent, especially well-informed decision-makers,” Leddy said.

The current government deserves credit for bringing in an appeal process in Bill-C31, which comes into effect this year, Shropshire said. However, he added, concerns remain about the very tight timelines to prepare cases and the lack of access to appeal a decision by people from designated countries of origin or safe countries.

Currently, claimants can be in Canada for years before their case is heard before the IRB and a decision handed down. Under Bill C-31, refugees from safe countries could be processed within three months and other claims could be heard and decided on in less than a year.

While Canada signed the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention, Shropshire said, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to enter this country as a refugee.

"There are still refugees," he said, adding that advocates who support refugees want an independent decision-making process where adjudicators are hired on merit and there’s an appeal process for everyone to catch errors.

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