The Budget Bill and Proposed Changes to Eligible Refugee Claims in Canada


by Rekha McNutt

The Liberal government’s Bill C-97 (the budget bill), released today, contained some fairly significant changes Canada’s refugee system. Specifically, the proposed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would disallow certain individuals from making eligible refugee claims in Canada.

At present, Canada has virtually no restrictions on allowing foreign nationals to make a refugee claim in Canada even if they have made such a claim in another country. Some individuals arriving at a Canadian land border crossing from the United States are restricted from making a claim at such a port of entry because of the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. That agreement contemplates that individuals must seek to make their refugee claim in the first country that is party to the Safe Third Country Agreement. There are of course exceptions to the Safe Third Country Agreement, including:

  • claimants who have family members in Canada

  • claimants who are unaccompanied minors

  • claimants who hold a valid Canadian visa or travel document

  • a person who does not require a visa to travel to Canada, but who required a visa to enter the United States (if the claimant does not require Visa Canada or the United States, the agreement applies)

  • where public interest justifies adjudicating a claim in Canada; and

  • person’s return to Canada after being denied admission to the United States

The amendment proposed in the budget bill would prevent foreign nationals from making an eligible refugee claim in Canada if they have previously made such a claim in another country with which Canada has entered into an agreement or arrangement to facilitate information sharing for purposes of enforcing immigration and citizenship laws. The proposed amendment reads as follows:

(c.1) the claimant has, before making a claim for refugee protection in Canada, made a claim for refugee protection to a country other than Canada, 20 and the fact of its having been made has been confirmed in accordance with an agreement or arrangement entered into by Canada and that country for the purpose of facilitating information sharing to assist in the administration and enforcement of their immigration and citizenship laws;

It is important to note that the United States is not the only country with which Canada facilitates information sharing for citizenship or immigration purposes. Other countries include the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. As such, anyone who has made a refugee claim in one of these countries would be ineligible to make a claim in Canada. The proposed amendment does not appear to distinguish claims made at lawful ports of entry (land or airport) or by irregular arrivals.

It appears that ineligible refugee claimants may still have access to a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (“PRRA”) before their removal from Canada.

The final important detail to note about these changes is that, if passed, would apply retroactively to any claims made on or after April 8, 2019. The only exception will be those claims where substantial evidence has been heard by the Refugee Protection Division.

The full text of Bill C-97 can be found here.