Refugee board turns down offer to hold hearings at U of O court
University had offered Ian G. Scott court room for pilot project
The Immigration and Refugee Board has turned down an offer from the University of Ottawa that would have allowed some refugee determination hearings to be heard in the nation's capital.
The local office of the board is closing at the end of March and all remaining hearings are being transferred to Montreal.
People who work with refugees in Ottawa had argued against the closure, saying the added costs of travelling and staying in Montreal was too much of a burden for many refugee claimants.
"All of this combined with the various issues that those people might be dealing with, including the stress of having to present your story, knowing that it impacts the future of your status in Canada is a huge imposition," said refugee lawyer Jamie Liew.
But the board turned down the offer, said assistant dean Amanda Turnbull.
"I think it's just a very close-minded decision. We've offered them the opportunity to try something out, and it's just been a closed book," she said.
Board spokesman Robert Gervais said they reviewed the proposal but said there were security issues and that there would still be additional costs for the board.
"This decision is consistent with Board practice in most of the country, where persons from areas with relatively small numbers of claims must travel to a larger centre to have their claims heard," wrote Gervais in an emailed response.
Liew said it is a lost opportunity.
"We're wondering if it's good enough for all these courts, why is it not good enough for the Immigration and Refugee Board? We're certainly not asking them to have all their hearings here in this courtroom, but to think about using this as a venue for vulnerable persons," said Liew.