March 2004

Canadians pride themselves on belonging to a country built on immigration, with a tradition of protecting refugees. The Canadian Council for Refugees highlights below some areas where action is needed before Canadians can justifiably feel proud.


Security measures taken in the wake of the September 11 attacks have eroded basic rights in Canada, with some of the worst impacts being experienced by refugees and immigrants. The Canadian government has used the broad powers of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to detain, arrest and deport people based on mere suspicion or secret evidence. Muslims and Arabs are overwhelmingly the victims. In August 2003, 23 Pakistani and Indian men were arrested and detained as suspected terrorists under Operation Thread. It soon became clear that the suspicions were unfounded, but by then the detainees had been publicly labelled "terrorist suspects."(1) Since 2001 there has been increased use of "security certificates", which allow the government to make accusations without showing the accused, or even their lawyer, the evidence against them.(2) The trend is towards an expansion of powers under the security certificate: a right of review for permanent residents was withdrawn in 2002,(3) incoming Prime Minister Paul Martin reduced the number of Ministers required to sign a certificate from two to one,(4) and Bill C-18, introduced by the government in October 2002, expanded the security certificate process to naturalized citizens (the Bill died on the order paper in 2003 but may be re-introduced).


· Appoint an independent ombudsperson to investigate complaints against immigration officials, including complaints of racial profiling.

· Reform or eliminate the security certificate process to make it conform to due process rights.


Protection of refugees in Canada has suffered a number of setbacks in recent years. In 2002 the government brought in the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act without implementing the Refugee Appeal Division.(5) On the other hand, the new Act reduced the number of decision-makers in a refugee hearing from two to one. As a result, the fate of a refugee claimant in Canada is now determined by one person, without any appeal on the merits. Refugee claimants, whose lives may be at risk, have fewer rights of appeal than Canadians contesting a parking ticket.

In December 2002, the governments of Canada and the USA signed a "safe third country" agreement.(6) The effect of this agreement, not yet implemented, will be to largely close the door to refugee claimants at the US-Canada border, without regard to what might happen to those forced to claim asylum in the US. Even before the implementation of this agreement, Canada began forcing claimants back in January 2003, through a policy of "direct backs". Claimants directed back were in theory entitled to return to Canada at a later date, but in practice many, especially Muslim men, were detained by the US authorities and some were therefore unable to return to Canada.(7)

Detention of refugee claimants in Canada has increased since 2002, with the law facilitating the detention of claimants without identity documents, even though there are often compelling reasons why refugees cannot carry ID. In any week, approximately 290 refugee claimants are in immigration detention in Canada.(8)

While refugee resettlement is officially encouraged, in practice resources allocated to processing refugees overseas for resettlement in Canada are inadequate. As a result, private groups in Canada wishing to sponsor refugees routinely wait years for the application to be processed, leaving the sponsored refugees at risk in a camp or other vulnerable situation, and the sponsors frustrated.(9)


· Implement the Refugee Appeal Division contained in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

· Cancel the safe third country agreement.

· Cease direct backs unless assurances are received from the US authorities that the claimants will be able to return for their appointment.

· Cease detention of refugee claimants on the basis of lack of identity documents.

· Increase resources for the processing of refugees for resettlement to Canada.


Reuniting families is one of the objectives of Canada's immigration program. The law, however, keeps some families separated. Since 2002, the rules have made it much more difficult to remain in Canada while being sponsored by family members.(10) As a result, people have been forced to leave Canada, separating them from their spouse and children, so that they can apply to be reunited with their family from outside Canada. The new rules also bar mothers or fathers from sponsoring their children if they are on social assistance, thus denying children the basic right to be with their parents.(11) Unaccompanied minors who are found to be refugees in Canada can apply for permanent residence for themselves, but not for their parents and siblings, meaning that there is no avenue for family reunification for these separated children.(12)


· Allow for in-Canada processing of all applications for family sponsorship of spouses and children.

· Eliminate the bar on sponsorship based on receipt of social assistance in the case of applications to sponsor children.

· Allow children recognized as refugees in Canada to include parents and siblings on their application for permanent residence.


A key to integration for newcomers is the acquisition of permanent status. However, some refugees and immigrants find themselves in limbo, remaining in Canada for years without access to permanent residence (this group includes people recognized as refugees, people who cannot be removed because of the generalized situation of risk in their country of origin and other people living for years without status in Canada).

Settlement services offer important assistance to newcomers adapting to life in Canada. These services are chronically underfunded. The budget is not tied to the number of immigrants, meaning that there are fewer services per immigrant when rates of immigration go up. Government-funded services also have strict rules of eligibility meaning that some newcomers who need the services (such as refugee claimants, or immigrants who have been in Canada for several years) are not covered.

Access to employment is crucial to integration. Despite the fact that Canada is a country of immigration, immigrants face many barriers to full employment, including racism, non-recognition of foreign credentials and inadequate programs to assist newcomers in accessing the Canadian labour market.


· Amend the law so that persons recognized as refugees automatically become permanent residents.

· Facilitate the granting of permanent residence to persons who have been resident in Canada for at least 3 years.

· Increase funding for settlement services and make the eligibility criteria more flexible.

· Give high priority to measures aimed at facilitating access to employment for all newcomers seeking to enter the labour market.

1. This episode was widely covered in the media. See for example, "Bin Laden agents among 19 arrested, lawyers say", Globe and Mail, 27 August 2003; "Terror suspects pose no risk, Immigration decides", Globe and Mail, 26 September 2003; "'Our dreams are now dust': Former terror suspects patch up lives in Pakistan", Toronto Star, 8 February 2004.

2.  The provisions relating to security certificates are found in sections 76-84 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In November 2001, Citizenship and Immigration reported three people detained under security certificates. Two years later, six men are known to be held on security certificates.

3.   Section 39 of the old Immigration Act provided for a review by the Security Intelligence Review Committee before a security certificate could be issued against a permanent resident. This review is dropped in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which has the same security certificate process for permanent residents as for other non-Canadians.

4. Order in Council 2003-2063, 2003-12-12.

5.  Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Refugee Appeal Division Implementation Delayed, News Release, 29 April 2002.

6. The full name of the agreement is Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America Regarding Asylum Claims Made at Land Borders. Reference to the signing of the agreement is included in the Smart Border Action Plan: Status Report, October 3, 2003, available on the DFAIT website.

7 See Canadian Council for Refugees, Forced returns of refugee claimants to the US by the Canadian government: Questions and Answers, March 2003, and other documents at

8.  Statistics provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now the Canada Border Services Agency, for the period from 15 June 2003 to 27 December 2003, show detentions of refugee claimants averaging 291 a week.

9.  The most recent posted statistics on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website show that 50% of privately sponsored refugees wait more than 14 months for a final decision (the statistics are for 2002).

10.   Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations sections 123-129 create the "Spouse or common-law partner in Canada Class" but specifically exclude persons who do not have temporary resident status in Canada. The creation of this class has been accompanied by a more restrictive attitude towards applications for humanitarian and compassionate consideration by persons in Canada who do not have temporary status.

11.   Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 133(1)(k).

12.  Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 176(1), 1(3) (definition of "family member")