Asylum Seekers Tool Kit

The Canadian Bar Association, Immigration Law Section, has put together a resource for navigating the Canadian refugee system. The Toolkit provides brief, high-level guidance on Canadian refugee law and procedure, and other options for legally entering the country. The Toolkit breaks down the exceptions to the Safe Third-Country Agreement, talks about inland protection claims, and explains the refugee determination process. 

You can access the Toolkit here

The Refugee process is a very complex and legally challenging. It is important to understand whether your situation makes you a "refugee". Seek legal assistance early before embarking on this path. As always, we are happy to provide that assistance. Contact one of our lawyers for a consultation appointment if you are thinking about seeking asylum. 

 

Refugee (Asylum) Claims - Understanding the Process

There has been a lot of news coverage about the influx of refugees (asylum seekers) into Canada via the United States, particularly into Quebec. This post is meant to explore who is entitled to make such a claim in Canada and what claimants can expect.

Eligibility to make the claim

Canada and the US have entered into what's called a "safe third country agreement". Essentially, both countries consider the other to be relatively equal in terms of refugee protection and the refugee process. As such, there is an expectation for claimants to make their refugee claim in the first of these two countries. 

The practical consequence of this agreement is that it prevents individuals crossing from the US into Canada at a land border from making a claim in Canada. 

There are exceptions to this agreement:

  • If the claimant has family in Canada
  • If the claim is made at an in-land office
  • If the claim is made at an airport

There are other eligibility factors as well, but this is the main issue affecting those entering Canada at a land border from the US. The eligibility determination is the first step in determining whether someone will be allowed to make a claim in Canada.

Eligible Claimants

Once a claimant is deemed eligible to make a refugee claim, they are provided a hearing date within 45-60 days depending on where their claim was made. 

Claimants are instructed to complete medical exams, and once that is in the system, they are eligible for open work permits. 

A successful claim

It is imperative that a thorough legal opinion be sought before a claim is made to determine the likelihood of success. A "refugee" or "protected person" is a very specific defined term. Not everyone escaping horrible conditions in their country of origin will meet these definitions. A refugee-type risk is a personal risk to the individual, and one that is not generally faced by the general population. There are a number of grounds of persecution that must be proved to meet this definition. 

A refugee claim is extremely technical and involves complicated legal principles. Corroborating evidence in support of a claim is also crucial. A failure to grasp those issues from the outset can result in disastrous consequences. These are matters that must be thought of and planned as far in advance as possible in light of how quickly hearings are held. 

Claimants really only have one opportunity to prove their case.

Your claim might not meet the legal definitions of Refugees. But maybe you have a humanitarian claim which is a better option. Proper legal counsel is required to assess what is best. 

The Hearing 

A refugee hearing is presided by a Member of the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) who questions the claimant and reviews the documentary evidence. The Member will then render a decision on whether the claimant meets the definition of a Convention Refugee or Protected Person. 

Post-hearing

If the outcome of the hearing is positive, then the claimant can apply for permanent residence. 

If the outcome is negative, an appeal right to the Refugee Appeal Division may exist. Alternatively, a Judicial Review application to the Federal Court might be the only option. 

If no appeals are available (or are unlikely to succeed), then Claimants need to be aware of imminent deportation. Those who entered via the US (having met an exception to the safe third country rule) can be returned to the US. The other option is to remove failed claimants to their country of origin.

This deportation process can happen extremely quickly after a negative decision. The risk of deportation exists for the first 12 months following a negative refugee claim or appeal. 

There is also a 12-month bar to filing a humanitarian & compassionate application (unless there are children or serious medical issues involved). 

These post-hearing risks are something that you must be aware of and forms part of an assessment we do as lawyers to properly advise our clients as to the best course of action. Again, this is what makes an initial consultation vital to the refugee process.

Credibility vs. Plausibility in Refugee Claims

I recently appeared before the Federal Court on a judicial review of a negative Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) decision. The claimant was a Cuban national accused of flouting Cuba's currency controls. 

The Applicant was self-represented at his refugee hearing before the Refugee Protection Division (RPD). As such, the corroborative evidence was far from idea. However, the RPD did find him to be detailed and consistent in his evidence. The RPD rejected the claimant's documents alleging they could not be independently verified to be authentic. However, the RPD made no actual efforts to verify the documents. The RPD also made a host of negative plausibility findings, which it said disposed of the claim in light of the lack of verifiable corroborative documents.

The claimant exercised his appeal rights to the RAD, which agreed that the RPD had no basis to find the claimant's documents to be fraudulent. However, the RAD simply dismissed the claimant's corroborative documents as "not helpful", without elaborating on why it was so. The RAD then adopted and affirmed the RPD's negative plausibility findings and rejected the appeal.

We then sought judicial review at the Federal Court. The crux of the argument was the difference between credibility findings and plausibility findings. The Courts have consistently held that plausibility findings must only be made in the clearest of cases. Justice Fothergill allowed the Judicial Review, finding that the RAD's negative plausibility findings were not reasonable, and had no basis in the evidence. 

The important take away from this one is to ask whether negative plausibility findings were reasonably made by a decision-maker. Simply because certain events may seem implausible in the Canadian context (or Western culture), does not render them impossible in countries like Cuba. 

The matter will now be returned to the RAD for a new decision to be made by a different Member. Now comes the task of putting forth any further evidence on the claimant's behalf and addressing the issues raised at first instance by the RPD and RAD.

Fulltext of the decision available here

Expedited Refugee Claims

The Refugee Protection Division (RPD), which adjudicates refugee claims made in Canada, is permitted to designate certain countries for expedited processing. 

On December 1, 2016, the Acting Deputy Chairperson of the RPD designated Eritrea for expedited processing "to enable the RPD to meet its mandate of making refugee status determinations fairly and efficiently by accepting claims without a hearing in appropriate circumstances."

Syria and Iraq were previously designated for expedited processing.

 

1F(b) - Exclusion from Refugee Protection

By: Rekha McNutt

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) recently released a decision on the interpretation of Article 1F(b) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees ("Refugee Convention"). The case is Febles v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2014 SCC 68.

Facts:

This case involved a refugee claimant from Cuba. He had previously been granted refugee status in the United States. While living in the US, the Applicant was convicted and served time in jail for two assaults with a deadly weapon. The US therefore revoked his refugee status and issued a removal warrant.

The Applicant then came to Canada, and made a refugee claim.

Issue:

The only issue in this case was whether Article 1F(b) of the Refugee Convention (adopted into our immigration law under s.98 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act - "IRPA") barred the Applicant from refugee protection because of his past crimes.

Decision:

Article 1F(b) of the Refugee Convention reads:

F. The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that:
(b) he has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee;

In the past, courts had at times interpreted this section to be limited in application to those who were fugitives from justice, and not those who had served their sentence. The Applicant in this case attempted to argue that, because he had in fact completed his sentence (and therefore not a fugitive), he should not be excluded from protection under Article 1F(b).

The SCC disagreed. Relevant portions of the Court's decision, as written by McLaughlin C.J. are reproduced here (highlighting mine):

[14]                          Despite its facial clarity, the meaning of the phrase “has committed a serious non-political crime” is the subject of debate by courts and academic writers.  While there are many variations of these debates, the main issue in the present case is whether “has committed a serious . . . crime” is confined to matters relating to the crime committed, or should be read as also referring to matters or events after the commission of the crime, such as whether the claimant is a fugitive from justice or is unmeritorious or dangerous at the time of the application for refugee protection.  If Article 1F(b) is read as including consideration of matters occurring after the commission of the crime, people who have committed a serious crime in the past may nevertheless qualify as refugees because they have served their sentence or because of redeeming conduct subsequent to the crime.
[15]                      ... lead me to conclude that the phrase “has committed a serious . . . crime” refers to the crime at the time it was committed.  Article 1F(b), in excluding from refugee protection people who have committed serious crimes in the past, does not exempt from this exclusion persons who are not fugitives from justice, or because of their rehabilitation, expiation or non-dangerousness at the time they claim refugee protection
... 
[22]                          I agree.  I cannot accept Mr. Febles’ argument that Articles 1F(a) and 1F(c) support the view that the exclusion from refugee protection under Article 1F(b) is confined to fugitives.  There is nothing in the wording of these provisions or in the jurisprudence to support this contention...
... 
[35]                          I cannot accept the arguments of Mr. Febles and the UNHCR on the purposes of Article 1F(b).  I conclude that Article 1F(b) serves one main purpose — to exclude persons who have committed a serious crime.  This exclusion is central to the balance the Refugee Convention strikes between helping victims of oppression by allowing them to start new lives in other countries and protecting the interests of receiving countries.  Article 1F(b) is not directed solely at fugitives and neither is it directed solely at some subset of serious criminals who are undeserving at the time of the refugee application.  Rather, in excluding all claimants who have committed serious non‑political crimes, Article 1F(b) expresses the contracting states’ agreement that such persons by definition would be undeserving of refugee protection by reason of their serious criminality.
... 
(6)         Conclusion on the Scope of Article 1F(b)
[60]                          Article 1F(b) excludes anyone who has ever committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee.  Its application is not limited to fugitives, and neither is the seriousness of the crime to be balanced against factors extraneous to the crime such as present or future danger to the host society or post-crime rehabilitation or expiation.

The SCC then went on to discuss how to assess the seriousness of a crime. Historically, Canada has considered a crime "serious" if the same crime in Canada is possibly (not actually) punishable by a period of imprisonment of at least 10 years. On this issue, the Court stated:

[62]                          The Federal Court of Appeal in Chan v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2000 CanLII 17150 (FCA), [2000] 4 F.C. 390 (C.A.), and Jayasekara has taken the view that where a maximum sentence of ten years or more could have been imposed had the crime been committed in Canada, the crime will generally be considered serious.  I agree.  However, this generalization should not be understood as a rigid presumption that is impossible to rebut.  Where a provision of the Canadian Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, has a large sentencing range, the upper end being ten years or more and the lower end being quite low, a claimant whose crime would fall at the less serious end of the range in Canada should not be presumptively excluded.  Article 1F(b) is designed to exclude only those whose crimes are serious.  The UNHCR has suggested that a presumption of serious crime might be raised by evidence of commission of any of the following offences: homicide, rape, child molesting, wounding, arson, drugs trafficking, and armed robbery (G. S. Goodwin-Gill, The Refugee in International Law (3rd ed. 2007), at p. 179).  These are good examples of crimes that are sufficiently serious to presumptively warrant exclusion from refugee protection. However, as indicated, the presumption may be rebutted in a particular case.  While consideration of whether a maximum sentence of ten years or more could have been imposed had the crime been committed in Canada is a useful guideline, and crimes attracting a maximum sentence of ten years or more in Canada will generally be sufficiently serious to warrant exclusion, the ten-year rule should not be applied in a mechanistic, decontextualized, or unjust manner.

Justices Abella and Cromwell dissented, with reasons.