New bill further undermines refugees

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Canadian Council for Refugees

Media release

For immediate release

16 February 2012

New bill further undermines refugees

The Canadian Council for Refugees is seriously concerned with the proposed legislation to reform Canada’s refugee determination system, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.

“The bill is discriminatory and creates a two-tier system of refugee protection in Canada,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President.  “It also makes it dangerously vulnerable to political considerations, rather than ensuring a fair and independent decision about who is a refugee. Our refugee system needs to give everyone a fair hearing, based on the facts of their case and regardless of their country of origin.”

As with Bill C-11 in 2010, the CCR is concerned that the reforms the government proposes will particularly hurt certain claimants including women making gender-based claims, persons making refugee claims on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity, and members of particular minority groups.  In many countries that otherwise seem fairly peaceful and “safe”, there can be serious problems of persecution, discrimination and violence against such individuals often with the participation of state officials. Furthermore, the elimination of a proposed oversight mechanism for designated countries of origin under Bill C-11 renders Canada’s system of independent decision-making for refugees vulnerable to politicization.

Another concern is that the timelines imposed by the bill for the preparation of refugee hearings and for processing refugee claims overall will be too short to allow adequate preparation. 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 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 regrets the further limits on the proposed Refugee Appeal Division, making it inaccessible to many. While Bill C-11 proposed an appeal to counterbalance possible mistakes in a faster system, Bill C-31’s new combination of further accelerated timelines with more restrictive access to an appeal will mean that many mistakes will go uncorrected, risking the lives of refugees.

The CCR also deplores the proposal to limit access to applications for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate (H & C) grounds.  This eliminates yet another avenue for refugees to correct wrong decisions.  It is discriminatory (where people are excluded for their country of origin) and will potentially generate enormous quantities of litigation.

The CCR regrets the 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, as non-citizens in a foreign country, are easy targets for attack. Disparaging labels, especially coming from government, profoundly damage public perception of refugees, and non-citizens in general.

Canada is a model for countries around the world, known for welcoming people fleeing persecution. This important asset would be lost under the government’s new proposal, which emphasizes speed and categorizations over fairness and individual protection.

Contact:

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