Immigration legislative review and women

Comments, 4 February 1998



The report overall pays very little attention to gender. Hidden away in chapter 9 (on reviews) is an acknowledgement of this deficiency. "In the time available, we were unfortunately unable systematically to check the effect of our recommendations on equality between the sexes. Citizenship and Immigration Canada should undertake such an analysis before formulating its policy, revising the Act and Regulations and establishing its programs." (page 126).

In 1995 the Federal Government adopted a policy requiring gender-based analysis of future policies and legislation. It will be important to follow closely (and participate in) the process of developing this analysis.

Overseas versus inland
* The report proposes giving greater priority to overseas selection compared to the inland refugee determination system. It notes that the majority of refugees in refugee camps are women and children, while in-Canada claimants are in majority male.

* This fact is presented as an example of the proposition that those reaching Canada are not the "most needy". The implication is that women are by definition more needy - a questionable statement (particularly given that "needy" is undefined) and unwelcome if it is based on the stereotype of women as weak.

* Although the majority of claimants in Canada are male, a significant proportion are nevertheless women. Therefore, although it is to the advantage of women to improve the overseas process, women will suffer if it is at the expense of the inland process.

* The success of the overseas resettlement program depends very heavily on the availability of resources, an issue that the report does not address. Unless resources are guaranteed to the resettlement program, there is a danger that most (or all) resources will be eaten up in the inland process (which, as conceived, will require considerable resources).

Overseas process
* The recommendation that the successful establishment requirement be removed is very positive for women, who are currently discriminated against by the criterion. Factors such as official language skills, professional experience and education are all taken into account, to the disadvantage of refugee women who have less opportunity than men to acquire these skills and experiences. In addition, single women with children are often found to be unlikely to successfully establish.

* Having trained Protection Officers doing refugee interviews may allow for a greater degree of gender sensitivity than is sometimes the case at present. Similarly the use of NGO identification could be a way to ensure that refugee women, who often can travel to visa posts less easily than men, can be referred for resettlement.

* The broadening of the definition of persons to be protected provides an opportunity for incorporating instruments relating to women's rights in the definition. However, this would need to be pursued as it is not spelt out in the report. Furthermore there is no mention of the Gender Guidelines: it will be important to ensure that this advance is not lost.

In-Canada refugee determination
* The recommendation relating to Safe Third Country does not mention the need to take account of gender aspects. Women claimants should not be sent back to a country that does not recognize gender-related persecution, even if it could be shown that male claimants were offered protection.

* The timelines within which a person must make a claim (3 days to present oneself to the Protection Agency; 10 days to the make the claim) will hurt people making non-traditional claims, for example on the basis of domestic violence, female genital mutilation or other forms of gender-related persecution. As the courts have recognized, it is understandable that such persons may not immediately know that they can seek protection.

* The narrow timelines will also hurt women who have been raped or survived other forms of torture that they will be reluctant to talk about.

* The report proposes that claimants only be referred to counsel and NGOs after they have made their claim, implying that the only counselling available to claimants in the initial stage will be the Protection Agency. Women may be particularly affected by this, since they are generally less used to dealing with authority than men.

* The short timeline between making the claim and the interview (6 weeks) will be disadvantageous to women making gender-based claims, where information supporting the claim is often not readily available and requires extra research.

Right of Landing Fee
* The ROLF or Head Tax is to continue to be imposed on refugees. This fee is a particularly heavy burden on the poor, who are disproportionately women. Single women with children have significant difficulties beginning life in Canada with a heavy debt burden, which can easily amount to thousands of dollars if they are resettled from overseas and must also repay their travel loans.

Identity documents
* The report proposes that refugees without "satisfactory" identity documents wait 3 rather than 5 years before being landed. Women are disproportionately affected by this measure because they tend to have fewer identity documents than men. While 3 years is better than 5 years, it is still an unbearable wait (particularly for mothers separated from young children).

Family reunification
* In many cases husbands are accepted as refugees in Canada and subsequently apply to be reunited with their wives and children, who must wait through the often lengthy processing, perhaps at risk of persecution in the home country or in some precarious place of refuge. Although the report proposes that sponsored spouses and children be allowed to come to Canada immediately for processing here, perversely the same is not proposed for refugees. This will mean that women and children will continue to wait months if not years overseas before being able to reunite with their husband/father in Canada.

* The requirement that applicants meet 2 out 4 participation categories (work, study, community participation and family care) could easily lead to many women being refused citizenship. Family care-givers (usually women) are often fully occupied in the home and do not have the opportunity to qualify for one of the other 3 categories.

Family Class
* The bar on family sponsorship for anyone on welfare during the last 12 months will have a very negative impact on single mothers. For example, a woman separated from her husband during a war who comes to Canada with their young children may have no choice but to rely on welfare, but having found her husband again she will be unable to sponsor him (even though with him in Canada the family would be able to be self-sufficient).

* Proposed fees for children over 6 who do not speak an official language could lead to long separation of mothers from their children where they are unable to raise the money (in addition to processing fees).

* Reducing sponsorship periods for immediate family from 10 years to 3 is an extremely positive recommendation. Such a reduction would significantly reduce the potential for violence within families, which is aggravated by the relationship of dependency implied by sponsorship.

* The recognition of the need for provisions to address domestic violence within sponsorship is welcome. However, the recommendation proposes a heavy burden of proof which many women in abusive relationships will likely not be able to meet. Furthermore, the report does not address the situation of women where there is violence before they are landed (a situation which would be even more common in the proposed model where sponsored spouses are regularly processed in Canada). Since the report does away with humanitarian and compassionate consideration, women in abusive relationships and not yet landed would be faced with a choice of remaining in the relationship or being removed from Canada. The latter choice may be extremely difficult or even dangerous if they come from a culture where women who leave their husbands are not accepted.