25 November 2004

Hon. Judy Sgro, PC, MP
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1

Dear Minister,

    I am writing to draw your attention to a number of distortions and errors which we were shocked to discover attributed to you in the November 11 Globe and Mail article bearing the highly prejudicial title of “Minister targets bogus refugees.”  We are aware that the article may have misrepresented your comments (in fact, the CCR Executive Director was misquoted in the article).  However, as far as we know, you have not disassociated yourself from the comments, damaging though they are.  Since the distortions reflect and serve to perpetuate persistent misconceptions about refugees and Canada’s refugee determination system, we believe that it is extremely important to correct the errors.

Refused refugee claimants are not “bogus” claimants
It is wrong to suggest that claimants who are found not to be refugees are “bogus” or abusing the system.  Some refused claimants have fled human rights abuses, such as generalized violence in a context of war or persistent discrimination, but they are not given Canada’s protection because the refugee definition is too narrow.  Your government knows this and has a system of temporary suspension of removals to countries where there is generalized risk in order to offer protection to people fleeing such risk.  We believe that some refugee claimants who are refused are in fact refugees, and have been wrongly refused.  Because your government has failed to implement the Refugee Appeal Division, which is part of the law passed by Parliament in 2001, such wrong decisions go uncorrected.  Finally, people who make refugee claims because they are fleeing extreme poverty do not deserve to be called “abusers” or “bogus”: it would be more reasonable to describe them as victims of a world that permits such dramatic inequalities in wealth and opportunity.  Canada may not be able to accept all such people but they deserve our respect and compassion not demeaning labels.

Claimants from so-called stable democracies may still be refugees
It is wrong to suggest that a claim is not well-founded simply because the claimant comes from a country considered to have a “stable democracy.”  Serious human rights violations persist in many “democratic” countries.  Turkey has faced obstacles in its attempts to join the European Union because of its record of human rights abuses, including the use of torture.  60% of claimants from Turkey were accepted in 2003.  Mexico may be a pleasant holiday destination for Canadians but it is also a country whose citizens’ basic rights are frequently abused, including through the use of torture, which Human Rights Watch describes as commonplace.  More than one in four claimants from Mexico were accepted in 2003.

Need for government to respect the independence of the Immigration and Refugee Board
The Immigration and Refugee Board is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal.  Like the courts, it needs to be protected from political interference that may undermine its independence.  The suggestion that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration considers claimants from certain countries to be abusing the refugee determination system may be seen to put improper pressure on Board members (whose re-appointment depends on the Minister) to reject such claimants.

Importance of having facts correct
Discussion of the refugee system is frequently distorted by incorrect facts.  The government needs to do more to ensure that there is informed debate.  The acceptance rate in1989 was 76% (not 84% as quoted in the article) and the number of claims referred to the IRB in 2003 was 31,937 (not 42,000 as stated in the article).

Refugee claimants do not have multiple avenues of appeal: there is currently NO appeal on the merits available to refugees
It is false to say that refugee claimants can “appeal and appeal and appeal.”  The law provides for only one appeal on the merits and your government has failed to implement this appeal.  It is true that claimants can apply for judicial review at the Federal Court, but this is not an appeal on the merits: it is a narrow review.  Applicants must be granted leave (or permission) by the Court and some claimants can be deported even before a decision is made.  The Pre-Removal Risk Assessment is not an appeal since only new evidence can be presented by refused claimants.  A humanitarian and compassionate application has nothing to do with an appeal and, in any event, applicants can be deported before a decision is rendered.

Those who are opposed to refugees always use the acceptance rate against refugees
When the acceptance rate of refugee claimants was relatively high in the early 90s, critics denounced the system as being too generous.  Now that the acceptance rate has gone down, critics say that there are too many non-refugees in the system.  Perhaps those really concerned about refugees should ask why the acceptance rate has gone down, even though there continue to be millions of refugees in need of protection around the world.  Is it because the negative climate in Canada encourages decision-makers to reject more claimants?  Is it because Canada’s interdiction activities overseas prevent more and more people, especially refugees fleeing situations of war and generalized risk, from getting here to ask for our protection?

The government has a responsibility to promote public support for refugee protection
As a signatory to the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the Canadian government has a responsibility to educate the public about our obligations and to encourage Canadians to support refugees and the system that protects them.  When representatives of the government mislead the public about the refugee determination system, they undermine public confidence in the mechanism that protects refugees and foster hostitility towards refugee claimants.  This is particularly important because of the international context of doors closing on refugees, and the domestic context of persistent prejudices against refugees who claim our protection.  We believe that the government should launch a public campaign to promote understanding of and support for refugees and immigrants, in line with the Declaration from the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

The role of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is to protect refugees’ interests
On 12 December 2003, Prime Minister Paul Martin divided up immigration responsibilities between the new Canada Border Services Agency, mandated to deal with immigration enforcement, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  The announcement clearly stated that: “Protecting the interests of immigrants and refugees remains the responsibility of Citizenship and Immigration.”  We regret that this responsibility has not been consistently upheld.  As Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, you have the ability to speak out in support of refugees and the refugee protection system but too often you have chosen to speak out on behalf of immigration enforcement and against the interests of refugees and immigrants.

We request that you issue a correction to set the record straight.  If, on the other hand, you disagree with our points above, we would like to meet with you to discuss these important matters.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Summers