United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
for Canada’s fifth periodic review. May 1st, 2006.

Five years ago, the Canadian Council for Refugees appeared before this Committee to raise the issue of the denial of family reunification for refugee families without identity documents. At that time between 10 and 15 thousand Convention Refugees, primarily women and children from Somalia and Afghanistan were affected. In the concluding observations, this committee highlighted the practice and viewed with concern the plight of thousands of Convention refugees who could not be given permanent resident status and who could not be reunited with their families. (Para. 37)

Fortunately, this issue has been resolved through litigation and changes made in the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. But we want to thank you for the concern you expressed to Canada, which played a role in the settlement of the case, to the satisfaction of the refugee communities in Canada.

Unfortunately, the Canadian government is far from consistent in paying due attention to the observations of UN human rights committees, as illustrated by the continuing concerns related to family reunification we are highlighting today.

In June of 1995 the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended to Canada:

  “That every feasible measure be taken to facilitate and speed up the reunification of family in classes where one or more members of the family have been considered eligible for refugee status in Canada”.

Unfortunately, in the eleven years since that recommendation, Canada has failed to act. In Canada’s last review before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the committee regretted Canada’s failure to follow up on the family reunification recommendation, and we are here today on this same issue.

Today we would like to draw your attention to some new, and some old immigration practices, denying family reunification to immigrants and refugees, in some cases for many years, in others, forever.

All of these practices are symptomatic of the failure of Canada to give families, particularly refugee families, the protection owed to them as the fundamental unit of society. Canada routinely fails to examine and modify immigration practices, policies and procedures in light of the right to family unity, or considerations of the best interests of children.

Issue Number 1: Excluded family member - IRPA regulation 117(9)(d)

Your committee has already identified the denial of family reunification under these circumstances in the list of issues for the Fifth Report. This provision prohibits family reunification if the sponsor failed to declare the person in a previous immigration application. There is no appeal available for these cases, and the provision applies without consideration of the circumstances which led to the nondisclosure, and without any consideration of the best interests of children affected. Families are separated forever. We have put a face to the problem and provided you with examples of the people who have been caught by this section in our background document, and the terrible consequences for them. We urge you to read their compelling stories.

The Canadian government says, and the courts have so far agreed, that the discretionary relief available under section 25 of IRPA (known as humanitarian and compassionate consideration) is a sufficient safeguard for families and children. We do not agree. This is an entirely discretionary remedy.  No one knows about this possibility, it is not advertised, there is no form to fill in to apply for it, immigration officers do not advise people of this option and are themselves often unfamiliar with the process. There is no culture of overseas front-line immigration officers using humanitarian and compassionate discretion; indeed the power is not even delegated to them but to their managers. It is entirely inappropriate to leave the determination of such important human rights issues to the discretion of visa officers who are working outside the legislation and regulations, have no experience, guidelines, processes or procedures and no training in human rights.

We urge this Committee to recommend the repeal of IRPA Reg. 117(9)(d) and allow normal admission criteria, with full appeal rights to the Immigration Appeal Division, which already has the authority to consider the best interests of children and all the other circumstances of the case, including humanitarian and compassionate considerations. There is no justification for leaving the determination of important human rights to the “discretion” of visa officers.

Issue Number 2: Discrimination against the poor by denial of family reunification based on economic status.

There are currently four provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which are blatantly discriminatory on the grounds of social status. These four sections deny human rights to people who are poor, by depriving them of family reunification.

In Canada, bringing a family member to Canada generally means “sponsoring” the person. This is done through what amounts to an enforceable bond that guarantees the dependent will not draw on Canadian social services for up to ten years. It is called a sponsorship undertaking. The rights violations arise from the enforcement of the bond and the prohibitions on sponsorship, which include the exclusion of a person who is, or is likely to rely on social assistance.

It works like this:

Issue Number 3: Excessive processing times lead to significant delays in family reunification

The Canadian Council for Refugees has for many years been concerned about delays in family reunification, particularly for refugees, and has brought these concerns to the Canadian Government and Parliament, the Canadian public, to this Committee and to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Unfortunately, over the years the delays have become worse, not better.  It is simply not acceptable for it to take more than 40 months to process one in five applications for refugee family reunification in Abidjan, the visa post responsible for West and Central Africa. Particularly because this time period is in addition to the time it takes to process the original refugee application and for the application to be transferred to the visa office. Canada has failed to provide adequate resources to the most critical visa posts responsible for refugee family reunification, and they simply cannot handle the volume. Processing delays are exacerbated by inflexible requests for documents, which are often not available.

Requests for DNA testing to prove relationships, where documents are unavailable or deemed unsatisfactory, also contribute to delays. In some cases they represent an insurmountable barrier, because the tests are so expensive. They also lead to the exclusion of non-biological social and legal family relationships.

Canada continues to fail to give families, particularly refugee families, the protection owed to them because they have failed to introduce a process which speedily provides for refugee family reunification. Keeping refugee families separated for four to five years is not protecting refugee families; indeed it is destroying them. The CCR recommends that family members of Convention refugees in Canada be granted temporary entry permits, and that their immigration processing be done in Canada.

Delays aside, there is also one group of Convention Refugees who have no way of being reunited with their families, and that is refugee children. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act contains no provisions to reunite refugee children with their families in Canada.

Issue Number 4: Discrimination in the provision of social safety-net benefits on the basis of immigration status

Immigration status has become a key determinant in access to social safety net benefits, even where they are funded by payroll deductions, which the person has contributed to. Two such benefits are the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the one time Energy Cost Benefit. Both of these benefits are designed to assist the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, the lowest income earners, with the cost of child rearing and home energy costs.  The Canada Child Tax Benefit in particular would make a substantial difference for those children living in poverty.  Yet, various categories of non-citizen parents are denied these benefits, including when their children are Canadian citizens. In Canada’s last review, this Committee recommended the Child benefit be available to all low income children by prohibiting the provincial claw-back (Para. 44). Children denied the Child Tax Benefit on account of their parent’s immigration status require the same protection.

In addition, seasonal agricultural workers have deductions taken out of their pay to fund Employment Insurance Benefits, without themselves being able to benefit from this scheme. It seems particularly unfair that non-citizen seasonal agricultural workers are being asked to subsidize Employment Benefits for Canadians, given their labor insecurity, working conditions, lack of union representation and low wages. It is estimated that approximately 11 million dollars is collected from these workers annually.


Unfortunately, rights in Canada are all too often dependent on immigration status. The direct discrimination which underlies the deprivation of the rights we have highlighted, combined with discrimination on the basis of social status, deprives many refugees and other non-citizens of some of their most basic economic, social and cultural rights.

The Canadian Council for Refugees urges this Committee to recognize that people with different immigration status are equally human, and are equally entitled to human rights.