Refugees are people who have been forced from their homes by human
rights abuses. All refugees have a right to protection, wherever they
are. Saying that some refugees are more deserving than others is the
same as saying that some human beings are of less value than others.
Canada has legal obligations towards refugees in Canada under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention against Torture.1 The Supreme Court of Canada has also confirmed that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights of asylum seekers to fundamental justice.2 Not everyone who makes a claim in Canada will be found to be a refugee,
but all need to be heard to ensure that no one is sent back to face
persecution ot torture. Canada does not have the same legal obligations
towards refugees outside Canada who apply for resettlement.
We should not expect refugees to wait passively for someone to help
them. Refugees do what they can to save their lives and the lives of
their families. Refugees are survivors - and of those who make it to
Canada, most have already survived a lot!
the contrary, international law recognizes that refugees often have no
choice but to enter a country of asylum illegally. The Refuge
Convention therefore prohibits governments from penalizing refugees who
enter or remain illegally in their territory.3
measures include visa requirements and identity checks by airlines and
other carriers. Used by many governments – including the
Canadian government – to prevent people from arriving on their territory, these measures force refugees to use smugglers and false documents to reach safety.
Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in the first half of the twentieth
century used false documents to reach safety and were later recognized
many refugees fleeing persecution, a false travel document is the only
means of escape. Repressive governments often refuse to issue
passports to known political dissidents – or imprison them if they
apply. Sometimes refugees are stripped of their identification as
they flee from conflict or have no time to collect their documents
before fleeing for safety.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
status determination is an inherently difficult process. Placing
speed above other criteria in the process leads to poor decisions.
other countries with a refugee determination system, including the
United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and South
Africa, Canada does not give refused claimants an appeal on the merits
of their case, even though a refugee appeal was legislated in the 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. As a result, wrong decisions in Canada often go uncorrected and refugees face forced return to persecution.5
status determination processing times are determined by how effectively
the government manages the process. One cause of increased
processing times is government failure to make timely appointments of
members to the Immigration and Refugee Board. In 2006-07, the
Immigration and Refugee Board finalized 23% fewer claims than projected,6 due to a shortage of board members.
Only a small minority of refugees and asylum seekers make claims in the world’s richest countries, including Canada.7 In 2006, Tanzania alone hosted more refugees than Canada, France, Australia, the
United States, Germany, Spain and Japan combined.8
While Syria, Chad, Kenya, Thailand, China, Iran and Jordan each hosted more
than 250,000 refugees in 2006, Canada hosted only 43,500.9
donates far less per capita in support for refugees abroad than
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland.
For example, in 2006 Norway donated over 9 times more money per
capita than Canada to international refugee aid agencies.10 Per capita, Canada was only the twelfth largest donor to international refugee aid agencies in 2006.11
Refugee claimants are not threats to security – they are seeking security and protection from threats to their own lives.
claimants all go through a front-end security screening, in place since
November 2001. Through this process, the Canadian Security
Intelligence Service (CSIS) checks all refugee claimants on arrival in
Canada. Since the screening was put in place, the number of
claimants found to represent any kind of security concern has been
is far more difficult to enter Canada as a refugee than as a visitor,
because the refugee determination process involves security checks by
CSIS and the RCMP, fingerprinting and interviews. It is not likely that
a person intending to commit a violent act would expose themselves to
such detailed examinations.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act excludes refugee claimants if they are found to be inadmissible on the
basis of security, serious criminality, organized criminality or human
Terence Corcoran, The National Post
make significant positive contributions to Canadian society. The
Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (2003) found that
immigrants tend to establish themselves more easily if they are
supported by their families.14
to a 2007 Statistics Canada study, family class immigrants are less
likely to be low-income than skilled workers immediately after they
arrive in Canada.15
contribute to society in many ways. We make a fundamental error
if we rank the value of one’s contribution, whether immigrant or native
born, purely in economic terms. In our complex economy, all contributions are necessary and valued irrespective of income level. People contribute in many other ways,
as caregivers, leaders, artists, community workers and elders.
about immigrant integration are not new. Generation after
generation, people have worried about whether the most recent
immigrants will integrate as well as previous immigrants.
hundred years ago, Canada was actually quite diverse, with First
Nations peoples, a significant Chinese population especially in the
West and African Canadians who had been living in Canada for generations,
in addition to people of different European heritages. Due to
racism this diversity was denied and has tended to be forgotten.
Among the early immigrants arriving in large numbers, some European
groups were seen as big challenges to integration. Ukrainians,
for example, were seen by many as alien because of perceived
differences in race (Slav), language, religion (Orthodox) and
customs. In 1901 a Member of Parliament told the House of Commons
that the assimilation of Ukrainians “means the intermarriage of your
sons and daughters with those who are of an alien race and of alien
Diversity is not something to be feared: diversity is Canada’s strength.
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister
are rightly proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our human
rights commitments, but our record is not spotless. For example,
Canada has been criticized by the United Nations Committee against
Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee for not recognizing our
responsibility as a signatory to the Convention against Torture not to
return a person to a country where there is a risk of torture, without
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly criticized
Canada for its slowness in reuniting refugee families, in violation of
the Convention on the Rights of the Child which requires States to deal
expeditiously with requests for family reunification.19
2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights identified a series
of flaws in Canada’s refugee determination system, including the lack
of appeal.20 Many of these flaws have not
been addressed, as is shown in the finding of the UN Committee against
Torture in the case of Mr. Falcon Rios. The Committee found that
the Canadian refugee claim process had not been effective in assessing
his risk of torture.21
REFERENCES AND ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
1 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 33; Convention against Torture, Article 3.
2 Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration.  1 SCR 177.
3 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 31. This is reflected in Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (s. 133) which exempts refugees from prosecution for using false documents.
4 UNHCR. Identity Documents for Refugees. Document EC/SCP/33.
Claimants can seek judicial review at the Federal Court of a negative
determination, but only with leave (or permission) and the Federal
Court can only correct certain types of error. This means that the
refugee determination may be wrong, but it still not be overturned by
the Federal Court. The other recourses available to refugee
claimants are not reviews of the initial determination: the Pre-Removal
Risk Assessment (PRRA) will only consider new evidence; and the
Humanitarian and Compassionate application will not revisit the refugee
determination (and the claimant may be deported while the application
is pending). For more details, see: CCR. The Refugee Appeal: Is no one listening? March 2005 and other information at the RAD page.
6 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Departmental Performance Report 2006-07.
According to the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI),
countries with per capita incomes over $10,000 US (Canada included)
host a mere 5% of the world's refugees. USCRI. World Refugee Survey 2007. p.13, Table 13.
8 USCRI. World Refugee Survey 2007. p. 13, Table 12.
9 USCRI. World Refugee Survey 2007. p. 13, Table 12.
10 USCRI. World Refugee Survey 2007. p. 15, Table 15.
11 USCRI. World Refugee Survey 2007. p. 15, Table 15.
For the years 2003-2006, only 7 out of a total of 99,980 claims were
found ineligible on grounds of security. Calculated by the
Canadian Council for Refugees from statistics provided by Citizenship
and Immigration Canada.
13 Terence Corcoran. "Immigration report worth ignoring". The National Post. 14 March 2006.
14 Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC): Process, progress and prospects. 4 Sept. 2003. p. 35.
15 Picot, Garnett , Feng Hou and Simon Coulombe. Chronic Low Income and Low-income Dynamics Among Recent Immigrants. Statistics Canada Analytical Studies Branch Paper Series. Volume 2007, Number 294, pp. 7, 24.
16 Frank Oliver, House of Commons Debates, 12 April 1901. Frank Oliver went on to become the immigration minister.
17 "Address by the Prime Minister at the World Urban Forum", 19 June 2006.
18 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture: Canada. CAT/C/CR/34/CAN. 7 July 2005, para.s 5 (a) and (b); OHCHR; OHCHR. Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee for Human Rights: Canada. CCPR/C/CAN/CO/5, para. 15.
19 Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child : Canada. CRC/C/15/Add.37, para.s 15, 24.; Consideration of Reports Submitted by States¨Parties under Article 44 of the Convention, Concluding Observations: Canada. CRC/C/15/Add.215, para. 47
20 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Report on the situation of human rights of asylum seekers within the Canadian refugee determination system. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.106, Doc. 40.
21 CAT.Case No. 133/1999: Falcon Ríos v. Canada.