Proposed Refugee Reform Undermines Fairness to Refugees

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Canadian Council for Refugees

For immediate release
30 March 2010

Proposed Refugee Reform Undermines Fairness to Refugees

The Canadian Council for Refugees today raised some serious concerns with certain aspects of the refugee reform announced today by the government.

“The introduction of a list of “safe countries of origin” is a mistake,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President.  “The refugee system needs to give everyone a fair hearing, based on the facts of their individual case.  Instead the government is proposing a two-tier system, which denies some claimants access to the appeal based on nationality.”

The CCR is concerned that claimants that will be particularly hurt include women making gender-based claims, and persons claiming on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity.  In many countries that otherwise seem fairly peaceful and “safe”, there can be serious problems of persecution on these grounds. Yet, these claimants will not get access to an appeal, as would other claimants.

The CCR also considers it a mistake to turn first-instance decision making over to civil servants, because they lack the necessary independence.  Canada has become a model for countries around the world with its current system of initial refugee decisions made by a fully independent board member – this important asset would be lost under the government’s proposal. Systems using civil servants in other countries have proved unsuccessful, with a large number of cases overturned on appeal.

Another concern is the proposal to have hearings within two months of the making of the claim. While many refugees will welcome an early hearing, for some it will represent a serious disadvantage, notably refugees who have experienced serious trauma such as torture, refugees who cannot have the relevant documentation sent to Canada quickly enough and refugees who need to build trust in order to be able to testify freely (such as women and persons claiming on the basis of sexual orientation who have experienced sexual assault).

The CCR also deplores the proposal to bar access to applications for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate (H & C) grounds.  This is an important recourse to cover humanitarian considerations not addressed in the refugee system, such as the best interests of a child. Contrary to the Minister’s statement, the filing of an H & C application does not suspend a person's removal from Canada.

The proposals contain some interesting aspects, such as an Assisted Voluntary Returns Program, something that the CCR has long recommended. However, there needs to be a meaningful period of consultation and openness from the government to changes. Unusually for this kind of legislative reform, the government has not consulted interested groups such as the CCR before tabling, so the need for broad consultation by Parliament is even greater.

The CCR also welcomes the government’s commitment to making available the necessary resources for the system to function. However, it is to be noted that with those increased resources the current system could offer the same savings in time, without decreasing fairness to refugee claimants.

The CCR regrets the government’s continuing use of language such as “bogus claims”, which is extremely damaging. Not everyone who makes a claim needs protection but that doesn’t make them “abusers”. They may have compelling reasons for leaving their country, even though they may not meet the narrow refugee definition.

Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in society and are easy targets for attack, as non-citizens in a foreign country. Disparaging labels, especially coming from government, profoundly damage public perception of refugees, and non-citizens in general.

Contact:

Colleen French, Communication Coordinator, (514) 277-7223, ext. 1