About the Issue

Every person living in Canada – with the exception of indigenous persons – is here as a result of immigration. Recent immigrants have come to Canada for a variety of reasons, including escape from persecution or war, economic opportunities, seeking safety and freedom, and relief from starvation or other disasters. However, while Canada’s early settlers were themselves immigrants – British, French, and later British Loyalists – to this country, Canada has had many immigration policies over the years that excluded and restricted immigration, in particular on the basis of race, ethnic origin, and religion. Notorious among these are the Chinese “Head Tax”, the Continuous Passage law that effectively excluded immigration from Asia, and the exclusion and refusal of Jewish refugees attempting to flee Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. In the decades following the Second World War, Canada opened its doors to displaced persons, and to tens of thousands of refugees from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, Latin America, and Vietnam. Indeed, in 1986, Canada became the only country to receive the UNHCR’s Nansen Award, an award generally bestowed to a person or group for its outstanding work on behalf of the forcibly displaced. However, since 2012, new laws and policies have drastically altered the landscape of Canada’s refugee and immigration policies, restricting and undermining refugee protections, restricting certain kinds of immigration, and increasing the vulnerability of many immigrants and temporary migrant workers.

Why This Matters

The many changes to Canada’s refugee and immigration policies since 2012 have had a serious impact on refugees, migrant workers, immigrants, and long-term residents of Canada. Protections for refugees are based on the principle that no country should send or return (“refouler”) refugees to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened. This is a foundational principle in international law, and underlies the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Canada is a party. In addition, the Convention recognizes that refugees escape their countries of origin seeking safety, often in desperate circumstances, and should not be penalized for the manner of their arrival. However, in 2012, new legislation in Canada (introduced as Bill C-31) changed this country’s refugee determination process, resulting in the removal of many asylum seekers to their countries of origin, where they may face a real risk of persecution and violence. These changes also discriminated against certain categories of refugees, and penalized them for their arrival – a violation of basic human rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canada’s international obligations. These and other deliberate policies have discouraged many refugees from seeking safe haven in Canada. Further, in 2012, the government also cut health benefits to refugee claimants and asylum seekers. These cuts affected the elderly, sick people, pregnant women and children. It deprives them of access to healthcare, funding for life-saving medications such as insulin and cardiac drugs, basic pre-natal, post-natal and obstetric care, or in certain instances, for any medical care at all. A recent Federal Court decision deemed these cuts unconstitutional, however the government has responded to the court’s decision selectively. In the case of temporary migrant worker programs, their program expansions have, unfortunately, featured limited and inaccessible protections. As a result, a migrant worker with an injury or an employment-based claim may be removed from Canada with no effective recourse to the compensation they deserve. Numerous other new laws and policies have attempted to criminalize people (Including refugees) who assist (other) refugees to enter Canada; created programs and legislation to restrict certain kinds of immigration; made certain immigrants more vulnerable; and treated certain immigrants, migrant workers and undocumented persons as if they were dangerous criminals.

Our Work

  • CCLA wrote to (former) Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to express deep concerns regarding cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which reduces and denies basic healthcare to refugees and asylum seekers, and does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. CCLA has also participated annually in the National Day of Action to protest the cuts to refugee healthcare services. CCLA responded publicly to the significant decision of the Federal Court that found the cuts unconstitutional. CCLA continue to monitor the situation, including the government’s selective response to the court’s decision.
  • Participated in a panel discussion and meeting to address concerns about Canada Border Services Agency, police, and other bodies stopping migrant workers while driving, in workplaces, and on the street, to ask for identification.
  • Intervened and successfully argued at the Supreme Court of Canada in the matter Ezokola v Canada, that it is not justifiable in Canadian or international law to exclude an individual from admissibility in a country merely because he or she was a member of a group guilty of war crimes — as  ‘guilt by association’ violates fundamental criminal law principles.
  • Made oral and written submissions on Bill C-43 to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. The bill’s provisions facilitated the removal of certain sentenced people from Canada with no appeal and no humanitarian relief, granted the Minister discretion to keep non-citizens out of Canada, with no statutory limits on the Minister’s discretion.
  • Intervened in the case of Espinoza v Tigchelaar Berry Farms concerning the coerced removal the actions taken by an employer against a temporary migrant worker, under authority provided by the government. The employer had terminated the employee and effectively removed him from Canada. The workers’ claims were struck, and the case did not proceed on the merits.

Our Impact

CCLA created a campaign to oppose Bill C-31 (and its predecessors) by raising public awareness, engaging the public on its concerns around the bill, and addressing these issues in Parliament. Bill C-31 and its predecessor bills introduced the notion of mandatory, automatic detention for certain groups of “designated” refugees, despite the fact that they had been accused of no wrongdoing. In the earlier bills, children were to be automatically detained along with adults in the designated group, and the period of mandatory detention was for one a year. The final version of Bill C-31 exempted children under the age of 16 from the mandatory group detention; however, in reality, children could still be detained or placed with a detained parent behind bars. The final version also shortened the time period for mandatory detention from one year, to two weeks (in theory), or six and a half months. Bill C-31 also changed Canada’s refugee determination system by requiring certain categories of refugee claimants to attend the refugee determination hearing, bringing all medical, psychological, political and other evidence of the risk they face. These hearings occur within unfair, unrealistically short timelines, with no appeal, and no effective opportunity for review to correct any possible errors or biases. As a result of these changes, many refugees have been removed from Canada and sent back to countries in which they face a real risk of persecution, violence, or worse. These and other deliberate policies have discouraged many asylum seekers from seeking safe haven in Canada. The new legislation also impacts “designated” persons by banning them from applying for permanent resident status or acquiring refugee travel documents for five years, barring the possibility of family reunification for long periods. These changes violate basic human rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canada’s domestic legal and international obligations. CCLA created a campaign to oppose Bill C-31 (and its predecessors) by raising public awareness, engaging the public on its concerns around the bill, and addressing its issues in Parliament. CCLA’s campaign included a slideshow, illustrating what it would be like to put individuals from different ages and backgrounds, including babies and children, behind bars, noting that the bill would detain people who had been accused of no wrongdoing. CCLA’s campaign also included “jail cell” protests in Ottawa and Toronto, op-eds in newspapers across Canada, press conferences, and engagement with mainstream and ethnic media sources. In addition, CCLA made oral and written submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and presented written submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

In Focus

CCLA has intervened in the cases of R v Appulonappa, Hernandez, J.P. and G.J, and B306, to challenge certain provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would criminalize and penalize individuals (some refugees themselves) for assisting (other) refugees to enter Canada. The act of providing such assistance to people in danger is being termed, under a very broad interpretation of the law, “human smuggling” or “people smuggling.” However, most of the individuals whose cases are before the Court are themselves claiming refugee status, or were assisting refugees, or both. Most of these individuals are not accused of any crime, and are not believed to have made a profit, or to have engaged in late-night border-running. These individuals are being penalized as “smugglers” for having assisted themselves as refugees and/or other refugees travelling with them to safety. CCLA has intervened in the case to argue that if “smuggling” is interpreted so broadly that it encompasses any person who assists another to enter Canada, this could capture a refugee mother who brings her child with her, a refugee husband and wife who assist each other, or a humanitarian worker saving someone’s life. CCLA has argued that such laws would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with Canada’s international obligations to protect refugees. CCLA intervened in the BC Court of Appeal in R v Appulonappa, and is currently intervening in the above-mentioned cases in the Supreme Court of Canada.  

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