Canada has legal obligations to all refugees, whatever the country of origin.  Of course, in some countries citizens can find protection against persecution – this is recognized in Canada’s refugee determination system which presumes that state protection is available in countries that are fully developed democracies.  However, it is not a simple matter to identify which countries can protect their citizens, and there may be changes over time and exceptions to the general rule.

Furthermore, formally labelling some countries in this way risks causing diplomatic offence to countries that are not so labelled.  It is an inconvenient truth that good trading partners can still be the source of serious human rights abuses.

The core of Canada’s refugee determination system is excellent and does not need to be reformed: a first level determination made through a hearing by an independent quasi-judicial tribunal.  It is this strong core that has made Canada’s system a model internationally.

To make this system work well the government needs to appoint qualified members in sufficient numbers and implement the law as approved by Parliament, giving claimants access to the appeal.

There are certainly other improvements that could be made to the overall system to make it fairer, simpler and more efficient.  However, the core elements should not be changed.

“There are no quick fixes in the refugee business. It is a difficult and serious job deciding who has a legitimate fear of persecution and who does not. It requires independent and qualified decision makers and an effective appeal system to catch inevitable mistakes.  Just and reliable decisions provide a solid foundation for the prompt removal of undeserving claimants. A quick fix system of hasty and shoddy decisions leads to endless judicial reviews, blatant injustice and ultimately, more delay.”  – Peter Showler, Director, Refugee Forum (University of Ottawa), former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board.6


European countries have introduced numerous measures that bar or deter claimants, whether or not they are refugees.  As a result, many refugees have been wrongly refused protection and are destitute, detained or deported. 

For example, the UK has seen the numbers of claims go down, but there has been an accompanying increase in reports of refugees’ rights being abused, including asylum-seeking children “denied fundamental protections”7 and women subject to sexual violence in the UK as a result of destitution.8  The UK has changed its asylum system four times in seven years, spending enormous amounts of money – and they still do not have a system that produces fair and consistent refugee decisions.

Many refugees arrive with  very little and it does cost money to adjudicate their claim.  However, refugee claimants also contribute to the Canadian economy: it is unfair to consider only the costs, and not the benefits.  A significant proportion of claimants work and pay the same taxes as Canadians, even though they are not eligible for all the benefits Canadians are entitled to.9  Over the longer term, once established in Canada, refugees, like other immigrants, make great contributions to Canada’s economy, culture and history.




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6. No quick fix for refugees, Peter Showler, The Ottawa Citizen, 15 May 2009,

7. Does every child matter? Children seeking asylum in Britain, Report by Refugee and Migrant Justice, 10 March 2009,  The report found that children face a “hostile legal process” and are regularly locked up and left without adult support.

8. "Refugee Council response to asylum statistics out today", UK Refugee Council, Press release, 24 February 2009,

9. For example, refugee claimants are not entitled to provincial health care coverage (only emergency health care under the Interim Federal Health Program) nor to child tax benefits.  There are many other services and benefits not enjoyed by refugee claimants, even though their taxes are contributing towards them.