25 November 2004
Hon. Judy Sgro, PC, MP
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.