Immigration is part of the Equality program. You can find more information about it on its main program page.

CCLA Urges Senate Committee to Recommend Complaints Review Mechanism of CBSA

By on April 1, 2014

On March 31, 2014, the CCLA’s General Counsel Sukanya Pillay appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence to participate in the Senate’s study on the policies and practices of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).  The CCLA focused on five areas of concern:

(1)   the need for an independent review mechanism;

(2)   the note-taking practices of CBSA officers while conducting interviews;

(3)   the treatment of individuals detained in Immigration Holding Centres and in Correctional Facilities;

(4)   the barriers to access to justice for detained individuals; and

(5)   the broad discretion afforded to CBSA officers in initiating inadmissibility applications and release conditions.

The CBSA enjoys sweeping law enforcement powers and engages in information and intelligence sharing with the RCMP, CSIS and foreign agencies. These powers can be highly intrusive and have the potential to seriously affect the lives of individuals. However, unlike the RCMP, CSIS and other law enforcement agencies, the CBSA currently has no independent external review of its practices. CCLA argued that the CBSA must be subject to the same independent review mechanism recommended by Justice O’Connor in the second Arar Commission Report, for the RCMP.  Such a mechanism would include both independent complaints investigation and self-initiated review, in order to ensure compliance with Canadian constitutional safeguards and international law. CCLA appeared on the panel, along with a witness from the BCCLA, Josh Paterson who is executive director.

To read CCLA’s submissions, click here. To watch a webcast of the Senate Committee Hearing, click here.

The CCLA submitted to the Committee that CBSA officers conducting interviews must take careful notes, which are free of bias and provide context, because these notes can form the basis for IRB hearings and other proceedings down the road. Refugees and asylum-seekers are among the most vulnerable people on the planet and CBSA officials also need to ensure they do not intimidate refugee claimants during interviews. Given the serious repercussions for the individual emanating from CBSA interviews, the CCLA recommended that all CBSA interviews be videotaped.

The CCLA expressed its serious concern to the Committee regarding the treatment of individuals held in Immigration Holding Centres and in Correctional facilities, in particular those individuals with mental health issues. The CCLA recommended that the Committee consider detention conditions in its study.

The CCLA is also deeply concerned about prolonged and indefinite detention under the authority of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), as well as the practical implications of detention, such as transferring individuals away from family and legal counsel. Geographic separation from a person’s lawyer can lead to significant barriers to access to justice.

Finally, the IRPA grants broad discretion to CBSA officers to refer potentially inadmissible persons to the Minister . The CCLA expressed concern for this broad discretion and its potential abuse, especially given that there is no appropriate oversight mechanism in place.

CCLA concerned about DNA testing of Migrant Workers

By on December 13, 2013

According to recent reports, a large number of migrant workers were approached by police and asked to provide DNA samples as part of an investigation into a sexual assault.  Although police reportedly had a description of the suspect, the group of individuals asked to give a DNA sample was diverse, ranging in age “from 21 to 61, with heights from five feet to six-foot-five, weighing between 130 pounds and 310 pounds.” The individuals’ only common feature, according to reports, is the colour of their skin.

CCLA is concerned about policing on the basis of racial characteristics and the use of random DNA tests, which are a highly invasive measure – and is looking into this matter.

To read more about CCLA’s work on racial profiling, click here.

To read more about CCLA’s work concerning random DNA testing, click here.

This Human Rights Day, Canada must renew its role as a leader for refugee rights

By on December 10, 2013

Today – December 10th – is International Human Rights Day.  

One important way we can support and promote the protection of individuals who have suffered or may suffer international human rights abuses, is to make sure that persons who make it safely to Canada arrive to open doors, a proper and fair refugee determination process, and assistance for those who need it, including healthcare.

Today, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association joins a number of prominent Canadians and organizations in recognizing the importance of refugee rights, and calling for a return to Canada’s humanitarian traditions.  Please find the signed statement below.

In honour of international human rights, we invite you to share this message widely – through posts, blogs, phone, email, facebook, twitter, and otherwise.  And please invite your family, friends and colleagues to share it further.


December 10th celebrates international human rights and the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family. Refugees are part of the human family and entitled to the same rights.

These rights include the rights to asylum, to liberty, to protection from torture, to an adequate standard of living, to healthcare, to be reunited with family and to the protection of the best interests of children.

Sadly, respect for the rights of refugees is waning. At a time when serious human rights abuses are taking place in every region of the world and displacing millions of people, countries are building administrative walls, closing doors, denying protection.

Canada is failing to respect refugees’ human rights too. Once a world leader in refugee protection, Canada is closing its doors. Fewer refugees are being resettled to Canada. The federal government recently made dramatic cuts to basic healthcare for refugees. Refugee claimants race an unbeatable clock to gather evidence. Some refugees now face mandatory detention and a five-year bar on being reunited with their family in Canada. Others have even less time to present their cases and are denied the right to an appeal because their countries of origin have been arbitrarily deemed “safe”. We live in a climate of fear and negative rhetoric. Canada is now a less welcoming country.

Canada can and must do better. As Canadians we are at our best when we treat refugees fairly and with respect and compassion. We must return to the better parts of our tradition of welcoming refugees. Our country has been strengthened by the contributions of the many refugees who have come here from around the world – by boat, by plane and on foot. We have learned to appreciate the beauty and values of different cultures. We have been inspired by the ideals of brave men, women and children escaping brutal dictatorships and injustices. In return for safety and a warm welcome, refugees have become active members of our communities. They have helped sensitize Canadians about the countries from which they have fled. All of these gifts have made us richer.

As Canadians we are proud of our history of welcoming strangers. We are proud to keep our doors open to those fleeing grave human rights abuses, and we pledge that we will strive to keep those doors open now and into the future. As we celebrate universal human rights on December 10th, we call on Canada to renew its role as a leader for refugee rights. Canada must be fair to refugees, respect their basic rights and open doors that have closed.


Sukanya Pillay, Acting Executive Director and Interim General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Warren Allmand, Former Solicitor General

Sara Angel, visual arts journalist

Lloyd Axworthy, President, University of Winnipeg, former Foreign Affairs Minister

Dr. Philip Berger, Chief, Department of Family & Community Medicine, St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto

Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, Founder and Board Member of Jewish Refugee Action Network (JRAN)

Jean-Marc Biron, SJ, Jesuits in French Canada Provincial Superior

Peter Bisson, SJ, Jesuits in English Canada Provincial Superior

Hélène-Andrée Bizier, historian and essayist

Alan Broadbent, Chairman and Founder of the Maytree Foundation

Iona V. Campagnolo, former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia

Jim Cuddy, musician

Bernie Farber, former CEO Canadian Jewish Congress, human rights advocate, Senior VP Gemini Power Corp

Charles Foran, author and Past President PEN Canada

Zsuzsi Gartner, author

Julius H. Grey, lawyer and human rights advocate

John Greyson, filmmaker, associate professor York University

Rawi Hage, novelist

Lawrence Hill, author

Miranda Hill, author

The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate, Anglican Church of Canada

The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

Peter Krausz, artist

Michele Landsberg, journalist and author

Peter Leuprecht, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN for human rights in Cambodia

Dr. Tarek Loubani, refugee and emergency physician

Annabel Lyon, author

Guy Maddin, Distinguished Filmmaker in Residence, University of Manitoba

Dow Marmur, Rabbi Emeritus, Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto

Dr. Ryan Meili, Director, Upstream: Institute for a Healthy Society

Susan Musgrave, poet and novelist

Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada

Maya Ombasic, author

Ratna Omidvar, President of the Maytree Foundation

The Right Rev. Gary Paterson, Moderator, United Church of Canada

Sarah Polley, actress and film director

Anna Porter, author and publisher

Vivienne Poy, retired Senator & Chancellor Emerita of the University of Toronto

Bill Richardson, author, broadcaster, librettist

Andreas Schroeder, author and broadcaster

The Rev. Dr. David Sutherland, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada

Linda Svendsen, author and producer

Timothy Taylor, novelist and journalist

Madeleine Thien, novelist, Simon Fraser University writer-in-residence

Béatrice Vaugrante, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada – francophone section

Wesli (Wesley Louissaint), musician

The Very Rev. the Hon. Lois M. Wilson, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, former President of the World Council of Churches

Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress


By on July 19, 2013

Today the Supreme Court of Canada released its judgment in Ezokola v Canada, available here   The decision is a victory for refugee protection and international criminal responsibility as well as for Canadian principles of asylum, criminal law, and fundamental justice.

CCLA applauds the decision for correctly recognizing, as CCLA argued in its intervention, that any decision to exclude an individual from asylum must be based upon “serious reasons for considering” that the individual did commit the crimes which permit exclusion pursuant to Article 1F(a) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”).  It is not justifiable in Canadian law or in international law to exclude an individual merely because he or she was a member of a group guilty of war crimes — ‘guilt by association’ violates fundamental criminal law principles.

In this case, Rachidi Ezokola was an employee of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, during a time when the DRC had committed crimes against humanity.  The issue before the Court was whether Mr Ezokola was also guilty of crimes against humanity and therefore whether he should be excluded from refugee status in Canada. The Supreme Court today recognized in its decision that an individualized assessment of Mr. Ezokola’s actual actions is required to determine whether in fact there are serious reasons for considering he is culpable, as opposed to tainting him “guilty by association”.  CCLA had argued for this, and is very pleased with the well-reasoned decision of the Court which considered Canadian and international legal commitments to protecting legitimate refugees, prosecuting and denying asylum to those who have committed heinous crimes, and upholding fundamental criminal law principles.

The Court also denounced the  ”personal and knowing participation test” previously used in Canada, as casting too broad a net and capturing individuals who may not have actually committed any culpable acts, and in doing so, the Court has directed that Canadian assessments of Article 1F(a) exclusion clause are brought in line with international legal approaches.

The Court wisely called for a strict reading of Article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention which would ensure that bona fide refugees are not unjustly excluded, while ensuring that refugees who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity do not enjoy impunity behind a veil of asylum.  The CCLA had argued that Article 1F(a) must be interpreted in this manner to ensure that legitimate refugees are not excluded — a result as unjust in refugee law as would be a wrongful conviction of an innocent person in criminal law — that the standard of proof for determining that there are “serious reasons for considering” any individual criminally responsibly must be “sufficiently high”, and  that section 7 of the Charter would require that a proper legal analysis be conducted to determine whether an individual had engaged in culpable complicity of crimes and whether there were any defences prior to any decision to exclude pursuant to Article 1F(a).

The Court has ordered that Mr Ezokola’s claim be considered before a new panel of the Refugee Protection Division, who will decide his case in line with the Courts reasons and the factors set out to determine whether the individual’s conduct meets the mens rea and actus reus for complicity, in line with factors that CCLA also submitted to the court including (i) the size and nature of the organization; (ii) the part of the organization with which the individual was most directly concerned; (iii) the claimant’s duties and activities within the organization; (iv) the claimant’s position and rank within the organization; (v) the length of time the individual was within the organization; (vi) the method by which the claimant was recruited and the claimant’s opportunity to leave the organization.  The Court recognized that these factors are not exhaustive.

To read CCLA’s factum in Ezokola click here

World Refugee Day June 20 2013

By on June 20, 2013

World Refugee Day was established by the UN General Assembly in late 2000 and is marked each year on 20 June.

The following statement was made by António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in honour of World Refugee Day 2013

“I have come to Jordan on this World Refugee Day to stand by the people of Syria in their time of acute need. I also want to salute Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and all the countries in the region for being generous havens that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

In all the years I have worked on behalf of refugees, this is the most worrying I have ever witnessed. The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable. Today, there are over 1.6 million registered Syrian refugees. More than one million of them arrived just in the last six months, and thousands more come every day, seeking places to stay, sustenance, someone who will listen and help them heal.

Inside Syria, the scale of human suffering is beyond comprehension. The Syria we once knew is no more. In the heart of a turbulent region, the country was host to over one million Iraqi and half a million Palestinian refugees. I think of the Syrians I met over the years during many visits to see Iraqi refugees. Never could they have imagined that such violence would overtake them – that they would become refugees themselves – desperate, destitute and forsaken.

I worry that an entire nation is being left to self-destruct as it empties itself of its people. I am dismayed to hear of the trauma children face. Nightmares define their waking lives as much as they haunt their sleep. School is a distant memory.

Here in Jordan, over 500,000 registered Syrian refugees live in safety now. The Zaatari Refugee Camp has become Jordan’s fifth largest city and the second largest refugee camp in the world. There is hardly a town or a city in Jordan that is not host to Syrians. It is much the same in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. This hospitality is a remarkable demonstration of humanity against a backdrop of depravity.

With no clear political resolution in sight, this civil war is in real danger of sliding into a regional conflict. It is no longer fantasy to foresee an explosion in the Middle East that the world would not be able to cope with.

We will continue to do everything we can to aid and alleviate the suffering of Syrians. But the cascade of death and destruction is spreading fast, and I repeat my call on those with political responsibilities to overcome their divisions and come together to do everything in their power to stop this war.”

CCLA Addresses States at UPR Pre-Session

By on March 25, 2013

This morning in Geneva, CCLA addressed State Delegations at a pre-session of the Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”), organized by the organization UPR-Info. CCLA’s intervention was to update States on our concerns about Canada’s ongoing human rights record, in anticipation of Canada’s Second Universal Periodic Review.  Canada, like all member States of the United Nations, participates in the Universal Periodic Review  process,  in which States make recommendations to each other on steps to further adherence to international law commitments, and the State Under Review (in this case, Canada) has the option to “accept” or “reject” recommendations, and to undertake “voluntary commitments”.  The purpose of the 2nd UPR of Canada incorporates examining progress on Canada’s commitments made during the first UPR in 2009.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, CCLA General Counsel and Executive Director, addressed the State delegations this morning on behalf of CCLA.  She was part of a delegation of Canadian NGOs who took the floor during the Pre-Session this morning.

Later in the day, CCLA participated in a “working lunch” at the Canadian Permanent Mission to the UN, with other Canadian NGOs.

To read CCLA’s statement to the UPR Pre-Session click here:  STATEMENT OF CCLA – UPR 2013 Pre-Session

For background information on the upcoming Second UPR of Canada click here:  To read a copy of CCLA’s WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS to the UPR Process please click here: click here.

Supreme Court Affirms Principle of Individualized Sentencing

By on March 18, 2013

CCLA welcomes the decision released today by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Pham, affirming the central role that the principle of individualized sentencing should play: that the personal circumstances of an offender are relevant in determining their sentence. The central question on appeal was whether a judge should exercise his or her discretion to take collateral immigration consequences into account in the sentencing process, namely the loss of a right to appeal a deportation order. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a permanent resident sentenced to a term of imprisonment of two years or more loses the right to appeal a removal order issued against him or her.

Mr. Pham, a Vietnamese citizen and permanent resident of Canada, was charged and convicted with unlawfully producing marijuana and possessing it for the purposes of trafficking. At his sentencing hearing, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment triggering a loss of appeal rights against a removal order issued against him. Neither the Crown nor Mr. Pham’s counsel had raised this issue before the sentencing judge.  On appeal, however, the Crown conceded that it would have agreed to a sentence of two years less one day. Despite this, the majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal denied Mr. Pham’s appeal to have his sentence reduced by one day. The Supreme Court reversed this decision, allowing the appeal and reducing Mr. Pham’s sentence from two years to two years less a day. The Court noted that collateral immigration consequences may be just as relevant in sentencing as the collateral consequences of other legislation or of circumstances specific to the offender.

CCLA appeared before the Court to argue that the collateral immigration consequences of a sentence should be considered at sentencing and that the criminal law should be flexible enough to allow the judiciary to fashion appropriate and individualized responses to criminal conduct on a case-by-case basis. CCLA also argued that the failure to consider the collateral immigration consequences of a sentence for a non-citizen could be a violation of the right to equality under the Charter. The Supreme Court affirmed, similarly, that “if the personal circumstances of the offender are different, different sentences will be justified.”

CCLA thanks Matthew S. Estabrooks and D. Lynne Watt of Gowlings Ottawa for their excellent work in this case.

For the Supreme Court’s decision, click here.

For CCLA’s factum in the case, click here.

Upcoming Toronto Event: Voting Rights for Permanent Residents in Municipal Elections: Citizen Engagement or Citizenship Devaluation?

By on March 6, 2013

Hundreds of thousands of Toronto residents pay local taxes and use city services, but have no say in who represents them, because they are not yet Canadian citizens.

Recently, the City of Toronto’s Community Development and Recreation Committee put forward a request to review “the opportunity to have permanent residents in Toronto be given the right to vote in municipal elections.”

Join the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office for a panel discussion on the merits of this proposal.

March 20, 2013
10:00 – 11:45 a.m.

Novella Room, Bram & Bluma Appel Salon, Toronto Reference Library
789 Yonge Street, Toronto

• Matthew Mendelsohn, Director, Mowat Centre

• Michael Pal, Research Fellow, Mowat Centre
• Jehad Aliweiwi, Executive Director, Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office
• Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
• Myer Siemiatycki, Professor of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University

Register at:

CCLA at McGill Law: Civil Liberties at the Movies: “Last Chance,” a film by Paul Emile d’Entremont

By on February 27, 2013

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association at McGill Law presents…

Civil Liberties at the Movies: Last Chance, a film by Paul Emile d’Entremont

From the National Film Board:  Last Chance tells the stories of 5 asylum seekers who flee their native countries to escape homophobic violence. They face hurdles integrating into Canada, fear deportation and anxiously await a decision that will change their lives forever.

Discussion to follow.

When: Thursday, March 21st, 6-9 pm

Where: Moot Court (Room 100), McGill University Faculty of Law, 3644 Peel Street, Montreal

Our Facebook event:
Link to the trailer:

CCLA Denounces Use of Controversial Provision to Designate Romanian Asylum Seekers as “Irregular Arrivals”

By on December 6, 2012

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association denounces the designation of a group of Romanian asylum seekersas “irregular arrivals.”  The use of the controversial provision exposes the group of asylum seekers to detention and discrimination in access to citizenship, family reconciliation even in the context where they would obtain refugee status.

Earlier this year, CCLA spoke out to suggest that the provisions ought not to give the Minister the discretion to order “group detention”Detention of individuals should be based on the dangers that they present and not their mode of arrival to Canada.

CCLA is also concerned that the designation creates a two-tiered system of refugees, delaying the process of integration into Canadian society by denying permanent residency by 5 years even when asylum seekers are found to be legitimate refugees.

“Mass detentions are as objectionable as mass arrests”, says Nathalie Des Rosiers, CCLA’s General Counsel, “the designation punishes victims of smuggling as opposed to smugglers, on the ground that victims will be deterred from coming to Canada.  People in desperate situations will not be deterred from attempting to escape, and it is wrong to punish them for attempting to do so. This is not in keeping with our traditional humanitarian commitment to refugees, our international commitments, and our Charter.”

“Canada has been well-served economically by the refugees that it has welcomed in the past, there is no reason to decide the renege this heritage now. It is an insult to people who came because of desperate circumstances, and may have needed help in the beginning of their stay but have greatly contributed to Canada.”
>>To read CCLA’s letter to the Minister, click here.