PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE IMMIGRATION ACT
In January 1999, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration released
an overview of proposed changes to Canada's refugee and immigration policies(1).
The following are some comments from a gender perspective.
The proposals lack a gender analysis, even though federal rules require
a gender-based analysis of future laws. Many of the proposals will affect
women differently from men. It is important that a careful gender analysis
be conducted in a timely way so that the results can be taken into account
when final decisions are being made.
The government should include in its overall directions for reform and
the underlying principles articulated in the Act a commitment to gender
equality and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
The document does not consider the impact of financial barriers, including
the $975 Right of Landing Fee. The various fees and costs are discriminatory
against women, whose average income is less than men. The Right of Landing
Fee should be abolished.
The proposed 30 day limit on making a claim is a violation of international
standards and would be particularly dangerous for women. Women are less
likely than men to have access to information and counsel; women may be
caught in abusive relationships; women who have survived sexual violence
may need time before they are willing to talk about it; women who have
escaped persecution in the form of domestic violence risk not learning
about their right to make a claim early. For these kinds of reasons, gender-based
claims made by women are frequently made more than 30 days after arrival
in Canada. Claims should never be rejected on the basis of a timelimit.
The timing of the claim should continue to be one factor to be considered
along with other relevant information by those making the refugee determination.
The mandate of the Immigration and Refugee Board is to be expanded to include
grounds for non-refoulement other than the refugee definition. It
will be important to ensure that the instruments under which the IRB will
consider risk of return include instruments relating to gender-specific
risks, notably the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
The proposal to give priority processing to claims from "safe countries
of origin" will risk prejudicing women's claims in particular, since often
it is women in situations of domestic violence (as well as gay men/lesbians
for their sexual orientation) that are persecuted in countries generally
considered "safe". There should be no designation of "safe countries of
The proposed elimination of any possibility of making a second refugee
claim will hurt women who never had an opportunity in the first claim to
explain their persecution because the spouse was the principal applicant.
In the absence of an appeal, the second claim currently offers many women
her own chance to claim Canada's protection (and many such claims are successful).
An appeal should be introduced to allow errors to be corrected and new
information introduced. There should not be a barrier to second claims
On the identity documents for landing issue, it is proposed that the waiting
period be reduced from 5 to 3 years (for Somalis and Afghans only). Women
and children are particularly affected, since they are less likely than
men to have documents. Women also often feel unsafe while awaiting their
permanent residence, and are likely to be reluctant to leave abusive relationships
because of the insecurity of their status. Reducing the waiting period
to three years is no solution. The identity requirement for landing should
be dropped for refugees (who are anyway questioned closely about their
identity by the IRB, whenever there is any doubt).
The government proposes to reinforce its interdiction measures aimed at
preventing "improperly documented" travellers from reaching Canada. The
more the government interdicts, the harder and more expensive it becomes
for refugees fleeing persecution to break through the government's defences
to find protection in Canada. Women, especially women with children, are
ever less likely to be able to make it through (and they are already significantly
in the minority in terms of arrivals). The government should study the
impact of its interdiction measures on refugee women trying to seek Canada's
The proposals include a commitment to shift the balance in resettlement
decisions away from "successful establishment" and towards protection concerns.
This is positive since potential for "successful establishment" is evaluated
using criteria that are unfavourable to women (e.g. education, professional
experience and training). However, the "successful establishment" test
is to be kept, without addressing the problem of gender bias. The "successful
establishment" test should be dropped.
The proposal to include for resettlement extended family members is good.
Single women in particular are often integrated into families, frequently
playing a role as care-giver, and may be left dangerously isolated if the
family is resettled without them. The proposal needs to be developed in
a way that ensures the protection of these women. The proposal should also
be expanded to apply to the extended family of refugees recognized in Canada.
One of the barriers to resettlement faced by women is access to Canadian
visa officers (e.g. it may not be safe or easy for women to travel to the
visa post). Partnerships with NGOs should present an opportunity to address
this problem, at least in part. These partnerships should be given the
specific goal of increasing access for women refugees.
The proposals contain nothing to speed up family reunification for refugees
recognized in Canada. The very long delays put women in particular at risk,
since they are often left waiting in situations of risk in the home country,
or in precarious existences in a third country, often with the responsibility
of the children. The government should allow for spouses and children of
recognized refugees to travel immediately to Canada to await processing
for landing here.
The proposal to increase the age of dependent children to 22 is positive,
and will be particularly important for young women, who in many cultures
cannot safely be left behind on their own. However, greater flexibility
needs to be introduced so that daughters over 22 do not continue to be
put at risk.
Plans to reduce the length of spousal sponsorship (and sponsorship of children)
should be developed. The sponsorship arrangement puts sponsored women in
an extremely vulnerable position, since it makes them dependent on their
husband, and needs to be curtailed as much as possible.
The proposal to suspend sponsorship obligations if either the sponsor or
sponsored person is convicted of spousal violence is a welcome recognition
of the need to address this problem. However, it will be of limited actual
help, because convictions are rare and take a long time to achieve. What
is needed is a mechanism for ending the sponsorship obligations on the
basis of any evidence of spousal violence.
1. Building on a Strong Foundation for the 21st
Century: New Directions for Immigration and Refugee Policy and Legislation
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