A veteran immigration commissioner tasked with assessing the mountains of asylum claims filed by migrants in Montreal has just lost his job, after denouncing the interference of federal managers in the process concerning the decision to accept or not an applicant in the country.
Lamine Diallo was one of the most experienced members of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in Montreal. He began to rule on asylum applications in 1994. As an administrative judge, he had to decide: were the migrants before him really refugees to be protected, who risked persecution or death in their country? Or were they making up a false story of persecution to circumvent the regular immigration system?
“It’s rewarding and important work. Very important. It should not be taken lightly! We work like crazy, because we have to prepare, ”he says in an interview with The Press.
After working as a commissioner from 1994 to 2002, he had to leave for the private sector, because the law then set a limit to the number of consecutive terms. But in 2017, asylum applications exploded in Canada. It was the year of Justin Trudeau’s famous tweet urging refugees to come to the country, and the year of US President Donald Trump’s restrictive measures targeting nationals of various countries.
The following year, Lamine Diallo was called back to the Commission to help reduce the ever-growing backlog of cases. He went back to work, under an employment contract that had to be renewed every six months. “We had a heavy workload. We have worked. We did what we could do,” he recalls.
The productivity involved
He could see that the Commission had changed. While Quebec recorded record numbers of irregular entries via Roxham Road, the watchword was to process a lot of files, quickly.
Last September, says Lamine Diallo, a manager told him to close a file and refuse asylum to a person who was claiming Canada’s protection, in order to be able to move on to the next one. However, he had not yet been able to analyze the evidence. For him, it was an unacceptable interference in his work. He flatly refused. “The file was not in order. That’s all,” he said, without giving further details given the confidentiality of the process.
“It’s productivity. We are talking about productivity. Adjust, adjust, adjust,” says Mr. Diallo.
“Me, I didn’t do it and I paid for it,” he notes.
The definition of a commissioner is an independent decision maker. We have to decide on something tangible.
Lamine Diallo, former immigration commissioner
It is very rare for an administrative judge like him to come out of his reserve to publicly explain the internal functioning of the Commission.
Mr. Diallo was suspended. He has not sat since September. Recently, the Commission informed him that it was terminating his employment because of “deficiencies in performance” and his “refusal to cooperate with the action plan presented by his superior”. His most recent performance review, in 2019, had gone well. He had been reappointed smoothly every six months since returning to work in 2018.
A connection to Roxham Road
Me Stéphane Handfield, the lawyer representing Mr. Diallo, believes that the explosion in the number of asylum applications leads to interference in the independent decision-making process of the commissioners. The system is unable to adequately process such a volume of files, because the load becomes insurmountable, according to him.
“There is an interference, and it is linked to the workload, to the massive arrival of asylum seekers via Roxham road. They want to do things quickly, at the risk of cutting corners,” says Me Handfield.
The Press reported in October that in Quebec, 47% of the commissioners responsible for evaluating asylum applications say that their independence has been violated at least once, while 27% have at least once rendered a decision contrary to what they really thought, according to a poll conducted by their union.
The Commission says it is not in a position to comment on the case of Mr. Diallo, for reasons of protection of privacy. But she ensures to keep an eye on the performance of each commissioner and act accordingly.
“When performance issues are identified (for example, when a member does not render decisions in a timely manner or renders decisions that are not of the required quality), the IRB provides coaching, training and other measures to help employees. Termination of employment and the fact of not renewing a contract are measures of last resort which are considered only in cases where the other measures taken to correct the situation have been ineffective or when the employee refuses the plan put in place. place to correct their performance,” said Mylene Estrada-del Rosario, spokesperson for the organization.
Lamine Diallo affirms for his part that his long experience has taught him to judge each case on the merits and to analyze the evidence in depth. Even if it’s long. “You can take 20 cases, and each one is different. You cannot think that because two cases come from the same country, the story is the same! he says.
Over the course of his career, he has already refused the asylum request of a man he considered unreliable, and who later turned out to be a real terrorist.
Anonymized judgments signed by him and published by the Commission demonstrate the voluminous evidence he had to take into account to unmask other deceptions. In one case dating back to 2020, for example, a careful examination of the background of a family allegedly from Djibouti led Mr. Diallo to conclude that they had made “fraudulent allegations” and changed the country from which they said they were. originary according to circumstances, adjusting its history.
Mr. Diallo also granted refugee status to countless migrants who were genuinely persecuted, and who were able to rebuild their lives in Canada afterwards.
“It’s adorable, the work I was doing. You can’t imagine what it’s like when you look at someone and say, “Welcome to Canada.” When you see the reaction of a man, a woman, the eyes of her child. There is nothing comparable,” he says.
- Number of asylum claims settled by the IRB during the 2021-2022 fiscal year, a record
Source: Immigration and Refugee Board