Monday, January 15, 2007

Refugee board sex scandal demonstrates need for independent appeal: NDP

OTTAWA - Reports of sexual harassment of a young female Korean immigrant by a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada clearly demonstrates the need for an independent appeal process, said NDP Immigration Critic Bill Siksay and Deputy Critic Olivia Chow.

"As an immigrant woman, I was outraged by reports of sexual harassment by a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board," said Chow, MP for Trinity-Spadina which is home to thousands of immigrants and refugees.

"This is not just an isolated tale of abuse by a Liberal crony appointee, but a stain on our country for which the Government must hold itself responsible. It is a terrible indictment of our tattered and frayed immigration and refugee system. This sordid episode is a sign of a badly broken immigration system in Canada, which was neglected by four successive Liberal governments. Clearly, the neglect continues with the Harper Conservatives. Enough is enough!"

According to Siksay, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, the NDP has been advocating an independent refugee and immigration appeal process for years, to help protect against this kind of egregious abuse.

"Four years ago in 2001, the House of Commons approved one such independent appeal process -- the Refugee Appeal Division, but neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have acted on that House direction," said Siksay.

"There can be no more excuses, nor more delays. The need has been demonstrated time and again, and it would be inexcusable for the Government to delay any further, when a clear remedy exists and has already achieved House of Commons approval. Everyone in this country deserves better."

A refugee judge has been charged by the RCMP after a South Korean woman alleged he offered to assist her in her refugee claim in return for sexual favours.

The woman and her boyfriend secretly videotaped a conversation she had with a man she said was 47-year-old Stevan Ellis, a Toronto-based adjudicator with the Immigration and Refugee Board.

A copy of the tape was sent to IRB chair Jean-Guy Fleury, who suspended Ellis and forwarded the information to the RCMP.

Ellis, who has adjudicated 1,279 refugee claims over his tenure, has also been banned from IRB premises.

The RCMP charged Ellis with breach of trust, knowingly making or issuing a false document or statement, or accepting or agreeing to accept a bribe or other benefit in respect to a refugee application.

Several weeks ago, Toronto Starreporter Nicholas Keung reported that the woman and her boyfriend, Brad Tripp, met with the Mounties to give a statement on her allegations of sexual misconduct against Ellis and a copy of the videotape that was broadcast by CTV.

On the tape, Ellis, a lawyer and former Toronto city councillor, told the woman known as Kim: "Let see what I can do. I'm going to work on it. I really want to be friends with you."
He allegedly suggested he could approve her refugee claim if she had an affair with him, but warned her not to tell her boyfriend.

The couple told the Star that a copy of the tape had been mailed to IRB chair Fleury two weeks previous.

In a statement posted on the IRB website, Fleury said he became aware of "allegations of a serious breach of the member's code of conduct" and removed Ellis from hearing cases, pending an internal review.

"The allegations of misconduct in this instance are very serious," wrote Fleury, who was not available for an interview.
"Canadians have a right to demand that the IRB's processes are conducted in an ethnical and fair manner. There is no tolerance for abuse of any kind in this institution."

Tripp told the Star that Ellis first met Kim at a refugee hearing in July and subsequently visited the restaurant where she was a waitress five times — but only twice while she was there.

"The first time, she called and told me the refugee judge was here. I thought that was coincident. But at the second time, he actually asked her out for a coffee to discuss her case," recalled Tripp, who has been seeing Kim for 15 months. "We talked to some people and thought it was odd and we decided to record it."

This is believed to be the first time allegations involving sexual favours between an IRB member and a claimant have occurred since the board's inception in 1989.

Ellis, a two-term member of the old Toronto city council, was named to the IRB in October 2000 and renewed in 2002, two years before rules were changed to "professionalize" the board and eliminate patronage appointments of people poorly qualified for the job.

Refugee lawyers who have dealt with him describe him as professional and knowledgeable, though a "maverick" at times.

"He's less formal in his manner than other members and ... he's said he's been in private practice before and he doesn't wave the rule book at you," said one.

Acceptance rates for South Korean refugee claimants are low — about 11 per cent compared with an overall 40 per cent of the 20,000 annual claims.

Kim, 25, came to Canada in 2004, claiming she'd been a victim of domestic violence, the grounds most commonly used by South Koreans, said Soh Young Jeong, a reporter with the Korea Times, a Toronto-based community paper.

toronto star

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