Canadian Council for Refugees
Media release

For immediate release
12 September 2019

Many Canadian organizations call on political leaders to respect dignity of refugees and migrants during federal election campaign

Organizations and community leaders across Canada are calling on the leaders of federal political parties to respect the dignity of refugees and vulnerable migrants during the upcoming election campaign. Over 170 Canadian organizations from diverse sectors have signed an open letter.

Sent to all federal parties in June, the letter was drafted by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and The Canadian Council of Churches as an expression of the organizations’ concern about how refugees and migrants in Canada may be characterized during the 2019 federal election campaign. The letter calls on leaders to engage in discussions about migration in ways that recognize:

  • our shared humanity
  • that Canada finds opportunity through diversity
  • that refugees strengthen our communities and help build our economy, and
  • that Canada has legal obligations to respect and uphold the human rights of those fleeing persecution.

The organizations who signed on from across Canada (credit unions, faith-based organizations, labour unions, newcomer serving organizations and many other organizations) shared their fear that Canada might see an increase in racist, xenophobic and toxic anti-refugee language in the political debates.

“It is a worldwide phenomenon, using vulnerable migrants and refugees as political ammunition - especially during election campaigns. We are disturbed that we are now seeing it in Canada as well. This is a destructive approach which feeds xenophobia and racism and we can not allow that to happen”, said Claire Roque, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “All our leaders, our candidates and our political parties have a role to play in preventing this from happening here, in Canada.”

“We are encouraged to see the magnitude and diversity of organizations across Canada that are united in rejecting of the politics of hate and fear,” said Justin Mohammed, Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada. “It is always incumbent upon our political leaders to engage in a respectful, responsible dialogue about migrants and refugees, but it will be particularly important to do so throughout the upcoming federal election campaign.”

“Today, organizations from coast to coast – representing tens of thousands of people –are calling on candidates and party leaders to commit to civil discourse when discussing refugees and migrants in the upcoming election. Canadians expect the ideas and words expressed to reflect respect for our shared humanity,” said Maureen Silcoff, President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

“Refugees and migrants are leaving homes that have been destroyed, communities where they are under constant threat, economies where they cannot feed their families, or lands where climate catastrophes have destroyed their livelihood. The least we can do is to speak about them and their lives with respect and dignity, and to honour their humanity,” said Peter Noteboom, General Secretary of The Canadian Council of Churches.

“We know that newcomers, including refugees, are strong contributors to local economies, and that the fabric of our society is strengthened by the new ideas and diverse experiences they bring. As a sponsor of refugees to Canada, Vancity encourages other business leaders to join us in this work, and for everyone across the country to welcome refugees as our newest neighbours,” said Catherine Ludgate, Vancity Senior manager of community investment.

“Canada’s labour movement has a long and proud history of welcoming and settling refugees. With the rise in racism and xenophobia in Canada and around the world, we are calling on Canadians to continue to open their hearts and homes to the world’s most vulnerable. We must stand strong and united against hatred and fear,” said Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“Canada is at its best when we welcome people of different religious and cultural backgrounds and it is a point of our collective pride. We must stand with refugees and for our Canadian value of generosity over politics,” said Sharmarke Dubow, City Councillor, City of Victoria, BC.

[The text of the open letter follows below]
*updated on 10 October with the number of signatories

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Milen Minchev, Communication Coordinator, 514-277-7223, ext.1, 514-602-2098 (cell),

Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada:  (613) 744-7667 ext. 236, email:


Open letter: discourse on refugees and migrants in upcoming elections

4 June 2019
To the leaders of all federal political parties

We are writing because we are concerned about how refugees and migrants in Canada may be characterized during the upcoming federal election campaign.

We welcome thoughtful discussion on complex issues related to migration, and recognize that there are many legitimate perspectives.

We are also conscious that refugees and migrants are easily victimized in political debates. In many countries around the world, especially during election campaigns, refugees and migrants have been talked about in ways that insult their dignity and humanity, contribute to xenophobia and racism, and are frequently grounded in distortion and misinformation.

We believe that every leader, every candidate, and every political party, has a role to play in preventing this from happening in Canada. We therefore ask you to engage in discussions about migration in ways that recognize:

  • Our shared humanity,
  • That Canada finds opportunity through diversity,
  • That refugees strengthen our communities,
  • That refugees help build our economy,
  • That Canada has legal obligations to respect and uphold the human rights of those fleeing persecution

We believe that how we respond to refugees, and how we talk about vulnerable migrants, is an important part of our collective identity.

We want to be a country that welcomes refugees, that respects the dignity and human rights of vulnerable migrants, and that treats them fairly.

We know Canadians value compassion, equality and safety for all.

In the upcoming federal election campaign, we call on you to demonstrate your leadership by respecting these principles and speaking out when they are undermined by others.

Canadian Council for Refugees
Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers
The Canadian Council of Churches

[You can find the complete list of signatories here]