Activists condemn proposed change to Canada's asylum law

Activists condemn proposed change to Canada's asylum law
Refugee advocates and legal experts have sounded the alarm about a proposed change to Canada's asylum system.
2 min read
23 April, 2019
This would dismantle "the entire system of refugee status determination" [Getty]

Refugee advocates and legal experts have sounded the alarm about a proposed change to Canada's asylum system, warning that the government's plan would limit refugee rights.

The Canadian government introduced an amendment to Immigration and Refugee Act, as part of its new budget bill, which would prevent people who previously made an asylum claim in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand from having a full refugee status determination hearing.

Justin Trudeau's government says the change is part of its effort "to better manage, discourage and prevent irregular migration" to Canada, where thousands of asylum seekers have entered, through US border, over the last few years.

The Canadian government defended the amendment saying it was "consistent with international law" and that "Canada remains the gold standard for refugee determination systems".

In its 2019 budget, Canada said it plans to invest $88 million over five years to implement its so-called Border Enforcement Strategy and to process refugee applications and enforce removal orders.

The budget also stated that Ottawa plans to set up three new judicial positions "to help ensure efficient and timely processing of asylum claimants seeking judicial review".

The head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR] office in Canada has also publicly defended the government's proposed change last week, saying it keeps the country "in line with international law".

It "still upholds a welcoming approach", Jean-Nicolas Beuze said.

Sharry Aiken, a law professor at Queen's University in Ontario, criticised the move, saying the change may preclude "people who are genuine refugees from having a hearing on the merits of their case."

Canada is "taking one step down the road of dismantling the entire system of refugee status determination", she added.

As things stand, people applying for refugee protection in Canada must give evidence that they have a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their country of origin due to their religion, race, or political stance, among other reasons.

Currently, refugee-protection applicants get an oral hearing before a Canadian official at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), an independent tribunal that arbitrates refugee cases.

However, under the new proposed amendment, claimants will no longer have access to that hearing if they have already applied for refugee protection in one of the countries that Ottawa says has a similar refugee system.

By this token, they will have what's called a pre-removal risk assessment, a process described by refugee law experts as being substandard than the refugee hearings at the IRB.