Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unaccountability at the IRB

It's not often that I can report agreement with the ubiquitous Jason Kenney and his puppy, neo-con Alykhan Velshi, but they do have a point in the Pobric case.

Briefly: in an act of supreme arrogance, Immigration Review Board adjudicator Lee Ann King has ruled that an immigration hearing in the case of a convicted killer from Bosnia will be closed to the public.

Elvir Pobric escaped from prison in 1996 and slipped into Canada in 1999, at which time he applied for refugee status. Apparently his conviction became known only later--there was an Interpol warrant, and a relative of one of his victims alerted the authorities here.

The police picked him up on April 28. The current hearing is to determine whether he will be released or held in custody pending a decision about deportation.

In a second, equally arrogant move, King declined to give any reasons for her decision to bar the public and the media.

One can only surmise the motives of Jason Kenney: one suspects that his interests do not extend to the notion of government accountability, given his personal intervention, contrary to the very fundamentals of administrative law, to deny a grant to a Canadian Muslim group for exercising its freedom of speech. But accountability is indeed the key issue here.

The IRB is and should remain an arms-length agency, free from political interference. That means that its officials have no direct accountability to the government or to Parliament. Yet that makes it pretty much a law unto itself, although its decisions are subject to judicial review. But should it not be accountable and transparent to the public whom it serves?

"Accountability" and "transparency" are buzzwords, of course, meaning what our current rulers want them to mean. There are many, many shades and nuances. And privacy, in the case of IRB hearings, is not an insignificant matter. Nonetheless, there is clearly a compelling public interest in this case that should far outweigh Pobric's privacy rights.

The man, not to put too fine a point on it, is a convicted cold-blooded killer, who stands at least a chance of being released and allowed to vanish into the general population. That the public is excluded from the hearing is bad enough: that a minor official should not even have to give reasons for her extraordinary decision is an outrage.

Kenney is right to call for a judicial review, whatever his reasons. It may not prevent the man from moving in next door to you under another name, but it's all we have, and the sooner it takes place the better. In the longer term, the terms of reference of the IRB obviously need to be reviewed: justice, as always, should be seen to be done.


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