What Do Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper Have in…

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
Director of Equality Program





The federal government is trying to roll back significant protections for refugees in an underhanded and undemocratic move.  For so many of us in Canada, we know that immigration is our strength, and protecting refugees is a source of pride. We also must defend refugee rights under our Charter and international law.

The new omnibus Budget Bill (Bill C-97) includes measures that would deprive asylum seekers of a full and fair independent hearing in Canada if they previously filed a claim in the US or certain other countries.

Before critical changes are made and fundamental rights removed, changes to our refugee laws need careful attention, critical consideration, and open discussion by members of Parliament and by the public. This discussion will almost certainly not happen if these changes are included in a Budget bill rammed through the Finance Committee.

A budget bill is supposed to focus on, well, the budget. Looking at Canada’s income and spending over the next year is an enormous task – but it is something the Finance Committee knows how to do. The Finance Committee has neither the time nor the expertise to properly consider and debate what changes to the refugee laws will do to people in Canada seeking asylum, and what harms may befall them if the government removes them. So who does have the time and expertise?

In a free and democratic country like Canada, each of us has the right to vote for our representative to propose, debate, and create (or object to) laws, to look closely at each one, and to hold the government to account.  Therefore, many politicians, including Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, have both at some point voiced their strong objection to omnibus budget bills. 

For the same reason, CCLA objects to steamrolling changes to refugee laws through an omnibus budget bill. It is undemocratic and unCanadian – and far more importantly, the consequences for people fleeing persecution, torture, or even death could be horrifying.

CCLA has joined forces with CARL, CCR, BCCLA and Amnesty International to oppose these measures. Please help us – and help demand, at a very minimum, that any changes to Canada’s refugee laws must undergo careful consideration by a Parliamentary committee with the appropriate time and expertise. In just 30 seconds, by using this link you can easily add your name to those opposing this measure – and a letter will be sent to the Prime Minister and other relevant members of Parliament.


If you want to learn more about CCLA’s other campaigns, challenges and initiatives, click here.

Also, contribute to CCLA so that we can continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms of all people in Canada, click here.

Letter to Prime Minister Regarding Refugee Measures in Budget…

Letter from Amnesty International Canada (English Branch), British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Council for Refugees

11 April 2019

The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

We are human rights and refugee-serving organizations and we strongly object to the inclusion of an unexpected, substantial and deeply troubling reform affecting the human rights of refugees in the omnibus Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-97.

The measure itself – depriving certain refugee claimants of access to full and independent refugee hearings – is harsh and unnecessary. Furthermore, stripping crucial and hard-won human rights protections from people in a budget bill is undemocratic and means that Parliamentarians will be deprived of the ability to properly consider the effects of the change on vulnerable people, and its unforeseen consequences on the refugee determination system.

We consider that removing the protections of an independent refugee determination hearing from refugee claimants as proposed in the Budget Implementation Act is likely to result in legal challenges, and will create further inefficiencies, delay and confusion in the system. These cases involve incredibly high stakes for the claimants, including questions of persecution and torture, of being able to live life freely in accordance with one’s identity and culture with protection for fundamental human rights, and even of questions of life and death. That is why Canada has long ensured that refugee claims are determined in a fair hearing before an independent tribunal. It is unacceptable to consider removing this protection in a budget process, in which it is impossible to give the proposed change its due consideration, whether or not this particular measure is considered separately in committee or in tandem with the rest of the budget.

The government’s claims that this measure combats some form of “country shopping” by refugees are simplistic and inaccurate. In the recent words of the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, himself a former Minister of Immigration, on CBC’s Power and Politics, “it is offensive.” We know from our collective experience that there are a wide range of legitimate reasons why refugee claimants may seek Canada’s protection after having filed a claim elsewhere. They must be given the opportunity to do so.

We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the government withdraw this measure from the Budget Implementation Act.. Significant changes to our refugee determination system impacting Canada’s international human rights obligations have no place buried in a budget bill.



Alex Neve
Secretary General
Amnesty International Canada (English Branch)


Josh Paterson
Executive Director
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association


Lobat Sadrehashemi
Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers


Michael Bryant
Executive Director and General Counsel
Canadian Civil Liberties Association


Janet Dench
Executive Director
Canadian Council for Refugees


cc:       Hon. Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance


Sex Offender Registries That Discriminate Against Those With Mental…

Cara Zwibel
Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program





Ontario’s highest court handed advocates a significant victory today, finding that the sex offender registration schemes in both Ontario and Canada discriminate against individuals with a mental illness.

In G. v. Ontario (Attorney General), the Ontario Court of Appeal was asked to look at the provincial and federal sex offender registries and consider whether it is appropriate that those registries include individuals found “not criminally responsible” of sexual offences as a result of a mental disorder (“NCR accused”). The evidence before the Court showed that while a person found guilty of a sexual offence has multiple “exit ramps” to avoid registration or get off the sex offender registry, it is much more difficult for an NCR accused to do so – they have far fewer “exit ramps” available to them.

The facts in the case were compelling: the appellant, G, was convicted of two sexual offences in respect of his wife at the time. The charges arose out of incidents that occurred when G was in a manic state brought on by bipolar affective disorder. Prior to the incidents, G had no history of mental illness and no criminal record, and while his wife involved the police at the time to ensure her safety, she was generally supportive of G and understood his acts were a result of his mental illness. After the Court’s finding that G was not criminally responsible, he lived in the community under terms dictated by the Ontario Review Board (ORB). He was later absolutely discharged and had been continuing to receive treatment and take medication. As the Court of Appeal noted “The appellant has not been under the authority of the ORB for 15 years. There is no suggestion that, in those 15 years, the appellant has engaged in criminal activity, much less criminal activity involving sexual misconduct. By all accounts, he lives a law-abiding and productive life.” For the appellant, his status on the sex offender registries was a source of significant stress and concern.

In 1991, Canada’s Parliament reformed our criminal law to recognize the unique needs and circumstances of people who commit criminal offences as a result of a mental disorder. The law replaced indefinite detention with treatment and established a system of provincial expert review boards to consider the appropriate disposition for an NCR accused, including whether and when they could be “absolutely discharged” and no longer under the criminal law’s jurisdiction. The approach recognizes that those who commit offences as a result of mental illness are not morally culpable and that their need for treatment must figure prominently in any decisions that affect their liberty. Several years later in 2000, Ontario’s government enacted its sex offender registration law (Christopher’s Law) and the federal government followed suit in 2004. Both of these laws require registration of individuals who have committed certain sexual offences, regardless of whether they were convicted after being found guilty, or found not criminally responsible. Significantly, those found guilty may be absolutely discharged by the sentencing judge, in which case there is no conviction and no requirement to register (the first “exit ramp”). Further, even those convicted may be able to apply for a pardon or record suspension and get off the registry earlier than would otherwise be possible (the second “exit ramp”). Neither of these avenues is open to an NCR accused. In fact, even after an NCR accused has been absolutely discharged by the Review Board, they may remain on the registry for many years, or for the rest of their lives. The Appellant, CCLA and other interveners argued in this case that this amounts to discrimination and should be struck down. Fortunately, the Court of Appeal agreed.  

The Court recognized that despite the important goals of sex offender registration legislation, there was no explanation for why those found guilty fared better than those found NCR. The key difference between the two groups was a mental illness or disability, a prohibited ground of discrimination under s. 15(1) of the Charter. As a result, the Court found that the registration schemes are unconstitutional as applied to NCR accused who have been absolutely discharged by a Review Board. However, in what has become a far too common practice, the Court suspended the declaration of invalidity for twelve months to allow the two governments to determine how to address the issue. CCLA will keep monitoring this issue.   


You can read ONCA’s decision here and our factum here

Making Youth Voices Matter

Rayne Fisher-Quann
Executive Director, March for Our Education

Hi! My name is Rayne Fisher-Quann and I’m the founder and executive director of March for Our Education. We’re an advocacy group dedicated to fighting for the rights of young people and marginalized groups in Ontario who stand to suffer as a result of education cuts and curriculum changes. We believe that education is, full stop, the most important contributor to the safety, health, and progress of our population, and we view it as a human right that education be modern, equal-minded, and up to date.

We started in the summer of 2018, right after Doug Ford announced his changes to the sexual education curriculum and the Indigenous curriculum. We quickly put together a rally that drew over 2000 people to Queen’s Park to stand for sex ed and Indigenous education. When we didn’t see a response, we decided that young people needed to have their voice heard: so we started organizing a walkout with a few other groups. The movement blew up, and in just three weeks, our walkout became the largest organized high school protest in Canada’s history.

We believe in the power of young people and we believe in their right to be heard. There is nothing more important than making youth feel like their voices matter: after all, we’re the future of this province and it almost seems ridiculous that we don’t have a say in what comes next. We are a movement built on young women, and while that meant that getting the respect we deserve was a little harder, we think that there is no more powerful force on earth than that of smart, motivated, educated teenage girls. We’re going to change the world.