By Rekha McNutt
In December 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ("SCC") released a very important decision on how Immigration Officers are supposed to evaluate cases in humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) applications. H&C applications are usually filed by individuals in Canada who do not have any other way of immigrating or remaining in Canada, and often face tremendous hardships of having to return to their home country. An H&C application is the last hope for many individuals and families.
In recent years, Officers have been routinely refusing applications when applicants face hardships in their country that is universally felt by everyone living in that country. As a result, even if the conditions in a particular country are deplorable, the applicants were being refused because the hardship felt too broadly by others living there.
Officers also limited their analysis to hardship that met the threshold of "unusual and undeserved" or "disproportionate". These terms are not found anywhere in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act ("IRPA") or Regulations.
This is why the SCC's decision in Kanthasamy is so important. Canada's highest court has provided very clear jurisprudence on how Immigration Officers are to evaluate H&C applications. Here are some excerpts from the decision that are particularly helpful.
The Court held that it was inappropriate to rely on the words “unusual and undeserved or disproportionate” as creating distinct thresholds for relief:
 The words “unusual and undeserved or disproportionate hardship” should therefore be treated as descriptive, not as creating three new thresholds for relief separate and apart from the humanitarian purpose of s. 25(1). As a result, what officers should not do, is look at s. 25(1) through the lens of the three adjectives as discrete and high thresholds, and use the language of “unusual and undeserved or disproportionate hardship” in a way that limits their ability to consider and give weight to all relevant humanitarian and compassionate considerations in a particular case. The three adjectives should be seen as instructive but not determinative, allowing s. 25(1) to respond more flexibly to the equitable goals of the provision.
The SCC held that a segmented approach to assessing humanitarian applications was inappropriate. The Court also held that the terms “unusual and undeserved or disproportionate” appeared nowhere in the legislation, and that it was inappropriate to strictly rely on those terms to discount the overall hardship to an applicant:
 Applying that standard, in my respectful view, the Officer failed to consider Jeyakannan Kanthasamy’s circumstances as a whole, and took an unduly narrow approach to the assessment of the circumstances raised in the application. She failed to give sufficiently serious consideration to his youth, his mental health and the evidence that he would suffer discrimination if he were returned to Sri Lanka. Instead, she took a segmented approach, assessed each factor to see whether it represented hardship that was “unusual and undeserved or disproportionate”, then appeared to discount each from her final conclusion because it failed to satisfy that threshold. Her literal obedience to those adjectives, which do not appear anywhere in s. 25(1), rather than looking at his circumstances as a whole, led her to see each of them as a distinct legal test, rather than as words designed to help reify the equitable purpose of the provision. This had the effect of improperly restricting her discretion and rendering her decision unreasonable.
The SCC held that it was an error to dismiss evidence of hardship simply because there is no evidence that an applicant is being personally targeted:
 This effectively resulted in the Officer concluding that, in the absence of evidence that Jeyakannan Kanthasamy would be personally targeted by discriminatory action, there was no evidence of discrimination. With respect, the Officer’s approach failed to account for the fact that discrimination can be inferred where an applicant shows that he or she is a member of a group that is discriminated against. Discrimination for the purpose of humanitarian and compassionate applications “could manifest in isolated incidents or permeate systemically”, and even “[a] series of discriminatory events that do not give rise to persecution must be considered cumulatively”: Jamie Chai Yun Liew and Donald Galloway, Immigration Law (2nd ed. 2015), at p. 413, citing Divakaran v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2011 FC 633 (CanLII).
 Here, however, the Officer required Jeyakannan Kanthasamy to present direct evidence that he would face such a risk of discrimination if deported. This not only undermines the humanitarian purpose of s. 25(1), it reflects an anemic view of discrimination that this Court largely eschewed decades ago: Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia, 1989 CanLII 2 (SCC),  1 S.C.R. 143, at pp. 173-74; British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. BCGSEU, 1999 CanLII 652 (SCC),  3 S.C.R. 3; Quebec (Attorney General) v. A, 2013 SCC 5 (CanLII),  1 S.C.R. 61, at paras. 318-19 and 321-38. [emphasis added]
Finally, the SCC held that applicants need only show that they would likely be affected by adverse country conditions:
 As these passages suggest, applicants need only show that they would likely be affected by adverse conditions such as discrimination. Evidence of discrimination experienced by others who share the applicant’s identity is therefore clearly relevant under s. 25(1), whether or not the applicant has evidence of being personally targeted, and reasonable inferences can be drawn from those experiences. Rennie J. persuasively explained the reasons for permitting reasonable inferences in such circumstances in Aboubacar v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2014 FC 714 (CanLII):
While claims for humanitarian and compassionate relief under section 25 must be supported by evidence, there are circumstances where the conditions in the country of origin are such that they support a reasoned inference as to the challenges a particular applicant would face on return . . . . This is not speculation, rather it is a reasoned inference, of a non-speculative nature, as to the hardship an individual would face, and thus provides an evidentiary foundation for a meaningful, individualized analysis . . . . [para. 12 (CanLII)]
The Court also provided guidance on how the best interests of children (an important factor to be given significant weight in an H&C application) is to be treated:
 The “best interests” principle is “highly contextual” because of the “multitude of factors that may impinge on the child’s best interest”: Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General), 2004 SCC 4 (CanLII),  1 S.C.R. 76, at para. 11; Gordon v. Goertz, 1996 CanLII 191 (SCC),  2 S.C.R. 27, at para. 20. It must therefore be applied in a manner responsive to each child’s particular age, capacity, needs and maturity: see A.C. v. Manitoba (Director of Child and Family Services), 2009 SCC 30 (CanLII),  2 S.C.R. 181, at para. 89. The child’s level of development will guide its precise application in the context of a particular case.
 Protecting children through the “best interests of the child” principle is widely understood and accepted in Canada’s legal system: A.B. v. Bragg Communications Inc., 2012 SCC 46 (CanLII),  2 S.C.R. 567, at para. 17. It means “[d]eciding what . . . appears most likely in the circumstances to be conducive to the kind of environment in which a particular child has the best opportunity for receiving the needed care and attention”: MacGyver v. Richards (1995), 1995 CanLII 8886 (ON CA), 22 O.R. (3d) 481 (C.A.), at p. 489.
 International human rights instruments to which Canada is a signatory, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, also stress the centrality of the best interests of a child: Can. T.S. 1992 No. 3; Baker, at para. 71. Article 3(1) of the Convention in particular confirms the primacy of the best interests principle:
In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
 Even before it was expressly included in s. 25(1), this Court in Baker identified the “best interests” principle as an “important” part of the evaluation of humanitarian and compassionate grounds. As this Court said in Baker:
. . . attentiveness and sensitivity to the importance of the rights of children, to their best interests, and to the hardship that may be caused to them by a negative decision is essential for [a humanitarian and compassionate] decision to be made in a reasonable manner. . . .
. . . for the exercise of the discretion to fall within the standard of reasonableness, the decision-maker should consider children’s best interests as an important factor, give them substantial weight, and be alert, alive and sensitive to them. That is not to say that children’s best interests must always outweigh other considerations, or that there will not be other reasons for denying [a humanitarian and compassionate] claim even when children’s interests are given this consideration. However, where the interests of children are minimized, in a manner inconsistent with Canada’s humanitarian and compassionate tradition and the Minister’s guidelines, the decision will be unreasonable. [paras. 74-75]
 It is difficult to see how a child can be more “directly affected” than where he or she is the applicant. In my view, the status of the applicant as a child triggers not only the requirement that the “best interests” be treated as a significant factor in the analysis, it should also influence the manner in which the child’s other circumstances are evaluated. And since “[c]hildren will rarely, if ever, be deserving of any hardship”, the concept of “unusual or undeserved hardship” is presumptively inapplicable to the assessment of the hardship invoked by a child to support his or her application for humanitarian and compassionate relief: Hawthorne, at para. 9. Because children may experience greater hardship than adults faced with a comparable situation, circumstances which may not warrant humanitarian and compassionate relief when applied to an adult, may nonetheless entitle a child to relief: see Kim v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 149 (CanLII),  2 F.C.R. 448 (F.C.), at para. 58; UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection No. 8: Child Asylum Claims under Articles 1(A)2 and 1(F) of the 1951 Convention and/or 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, HCR/GIP/09/08, December 22, 2009.
It remains to be seen how CIC (or now IRCC) will interpret this jurisprudence in assessing H&C applications. I suspect refusals will continue and that we will see further guidance from the Federal Court on judicial review.