Proposed changes to refugee determination based on erroneous presumptions

  • June 20, 2019

The CBA’s Immigration Law Section doesn’t like anything about the government’s proposed amendments to Canada’s refugee determination system – not the suggested changes themselves, and certainly not the way they were presented – as part of C-97, the omnibus federal budget implementation bill.

The CBA’s objection to omnibus bills predates the current government, and is based on the fact that putting new legislation or proposed amendments to existing laws in a budget bill “hinders opportunities for public or parliamentary scrutiny.” It says a budget bill should be limited to matters directly related to finance, taxation or spending.

“Legislation that will severely restrict the ability of vulnerable refugee claimants to have their cases heard and thoroughly adjudicated deserves careful deliberation and expert review,” the Section says in a submission to the Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

The Section urges the government to withdraw the proposed amendments, as they would have a “detrimental impact on refugee claimants who have previously filed a claim for refugee status” in a country with which Canada has an information-sharing agreement – currently the U.S., the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Among other things, the Section notes that there’s no provision in the amendments for evaluating whether other countries have comparable refugee determination systems, or even respect for international human rights.

The changes proposed in Bill C-97 would mean that anyone who has made a refugee claim in any of the information-sharing countries would not be able to make a claim in Canada. The Section says this change is both unnecessary – the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already prohibits claimants found to be refugees in other countries from filing a claim in Canada – and over-broad, since individuals would be barred from making a refugee claim in Canada regardless of the outcome of their claim in another country, or even if a decision hadn’t been rendered.

The proposed amendments are based on “erroneous presumptions,” the Section says: for example, presuming that someone who’d filed a claim in another country had received a fair hearing, or that the refugee determination systems in other countries conform to the same principles as Canada’s.

“This erroneous presumption could result in devastating consequences, particularly for women and children fleeing domestic and violence,” the Section says, noting that while Canada has protected women and children in those circumstances for two decades, they are not recognized as a persecuted group in the U.S.

The Section points out that people can “decide to leave a country before a decision is made on their refugee claim for any number of reasons that have no bearing on the validity of their claim” – draconian detention policies, for example, or processing times.

Under the proposed amendments, instead of getting a hearing before the Immigration Refugee Board, ineligible refugee claimants will have access only to a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment, which the Section says is not an appropriate substitute for a number of reasons, and which is unlikely to result in quicker processing.

Given these and other “serious concerns, the CBA Section urges the government to withdraw the amendments to the refugee determination system proposed in Bill C-97.”