Protecting refugees is not a matter of generosity – it is a legal obligation, under international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Forty years ago, in 1969, Canada signed the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees committing the country to respect the basic rights of refugees, including the right not to be sent back to persecution.
Canada, like other countries, often faces challenges in living up to its obligations. Canada cannot control when and how many refugees will need our protection. It is often difficult to determine who needs protection: this is why each claim for protection must be examined carefully and fairly.
Not all claimants need our protection, but this does not mean that they are “abusing” the system. Many claimants found not to be refugees have left behind situations of violence, injustice or deprivation, but are not recognized as refugees because the definition is very narrow. For example, a person can be fleeing a vicious war and still not qualify as a refugee. Or they may be fleeing a situation of extreme poverty related to discrimination. Whatever their reasons, those who make claims are people with few options, since no one who has power and privilege would want to be a refugee claimant – a status that is frequently demeaning and with few rights. To accuse them of “abuse” is to victimize the weak.