Canadian Refugee Procedure/History of refugee procedure in Canada
< Canadian Refugee Procedure
History of the concept of the refugee
The term 'refugee' was first used in the 1600s in France. The concept's genealogy is entwined with the emergence of the modern view of state sovereignty at that time in Europe. This section traces the history of these two concepts and how the refugees of the 17th century differed from earlier exiles and moving persons.
The world today is divided into sovereign states. All individuals are to be organized into populations and divided territorially amongst these states. In this way, the international state system is both a way of organizing political power, and also a means of organizing people.[1] It was with the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that the inter-state legal and political relationships which undergird this system were first established, and the feudal society of the medieval world was superseded by this modern society of sovereign territorial states.[2] Key concepts of modern international relations emerged at this point, including the inviolability and fixity of borders and non-interference in the domestic affairs of foreign sovereign states. In this way, the concept of state sovereignty that emerged with the Peace of Westphalia helped build the modern concept of the state which partitions the world into a vast juxtaposition of independent territorial units.[3] One of the facets of this system was that territory was consolidated, unified, and centralized under a sovereign government and the population of the territory now owed final allegiance to the sovereign. The sovereign state could demand religious and sometimes linguistic conformity to ensure such allegiance.[4]
Within a few decades of the Peace of Westphalia, the term 'refugee' was coined. The word ‘refugee’ can be traced to its origins in the French word réfugié that was used to identify the Huguenots, hundreds of thousands[5] of Reformed Protestant French migrants who escaped the French Catholic monarch to move to non-Catholic European countries[6] around the time of Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.[7] This edict had previously allowed Protestant Huguenots to practice their religion openly.[8] With the revocation of the edict, the legal guarantees that had protected Protestant religious practice for a century ended. Calvinist churches were destroyed, Ministers were forcibly exiled, Protestants were forced to convert, and restrictions were put in place on their access to public office and the professions.[9] The term "refugee" was adopted into the English language as these Huguenots arrived in England.[10] Protestants in New France were similarly affected - forced to either abjure Protestantism, return to France, or leave for an English Protestant colony in the new world.[11]
While the term “refugee” was birthed at this point in the 17th century, related concepts, including those of refuge, migration, exodus, asylum, sanctuary, fugitives, exiles, and émigrés have long pre-dated the modern usage of the term "refugee". Eve Lester states that flight and requests for hospitality and asylum are concepts as old as life itself,[12] long predating the emergence of the nation-state as the dominant governing structure. Ancient Greece, for example, had a strictly governed system for offering sanctuary at dedicated shrines.[13] Indeed, the word "asylum" dates from this time and its Greek roots refer to the notion of someone who cannot or should not be seized.[14] Gil Loescher states that every major world religion contains teachings on the importance of providing protection to those in need.[15] Migration is a major theme of the Jewish Torah and rabbinical scholars have argued that the concept of non-refoulement has an analogue in ancient biblical Jewish legal principles of refugee protection.[16] The practice of extending benevolence and love to the vulnerable migrant fleeing harm can also be found in Koranic references.[17] For example, Prophet Muhammad and his followers took refuge at Medina after facing persecution from the rulers of Mecca.[18] Furthermore, there has been a long history of intra-European movement to flee persecution, war, religious intolerance, and governmental instability, as with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 or when many English persons escaped to France during the Interregnum of 1649-1660.[19]
What arguably distinguishes the phenomenon of the refugee from these earlier exiles and moving persons, was how the movements of refugees interacted with the newly emergent state system. In this way, it is no coincidence that the term "refugee" emerged at this time in the 17th century alongside the rise of the modern conception of the state. Indeed, Harsha Walia labels the very concept a "state-centric taxonomy only possible because of a prevailing assumption of the border as a legitimate institution of governance".[20] As Emma Haddad argues, the phenomenon of refugees was marked by its new scale, bureaucratized processes, clear definitions of insiders and outsiders occasioned by newly locked borders and assumptions about the nation state being a proper home for individuals, and the lack of obvious receiving countries as national identities increasingly superseded religious ones.[21] Rebecca Hamlin contrasts the concept of the refugee, which entails crossing an international border and appealing to a state for protection, with practices from earlier in European history when appeals for protection could be made to families, individuals, or religious leaders, not (just) a state.[10] This had consequences for the individuals themselves; in Arendt’s words, unlike their ‘happy predecessors in the religious wars’, the modern refugee was increasingly ‘welcomed nowhere and [could] be assimilated nowhere’.[22]
Refugee and population movements in pre-confederation Canada
Turning to Canada, (im)migration processes, of various sorts, including ones involving the search for refuge, have long been present in this territory. Asking about the history of refugee processes in Canadian history raises an ontological question about who should qualify as a refugee when one looks at population flows in centuries past. To the extent that refugees may be regarded as those with experiences marked by discrimination, displacement across borders, a severing of the bond between the individual and their government, and an overriding apprehension of persecution in their home community, persons meeting such criteria have a long history in this land. That said, the concept of the refugee is indeed a modern one, as described above, and applying it to population movements of pre-Confederation Canada is surely anachronistic. In Rebecca Hamlin's words, "to look back and place a refugee/migrant binary onto crossings of the past does not accurately reflect the realities of those events."[23] It is nonetheless of use to review some of the history of population movements in the territory of Canada, both indigenous and colonial.
To start, a multitude of indigenous laws and legal traditions have persisted in the territories of Canada, both prior to, and then alongside, this country's colonial legal order. As John Borrows writes, the earliest practitioners of law in North America were its Indigenous inhabitants.[24] These indigenous laws and legal traditions have been defined by their diversity, continuity, repression, survival, and adaptability.[25] In this vein, the First Nations in Canada have long faced questions about how to define and justify the conditions of community membership, and while today such questions are primarily viewed through the lens of immigration and citizenship in the Canadian legal regime, they may equally be viewed through the concepts of family law, house group membership, and kinship rights, among other regimes.[26] Bhatia writes, for example, about a number of First Nations' legal principles that relate to citizenship and welcoming the other,[25] such as the Dish With One Spoon wampum agreement, an Indigenous citizenship law made between Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Anishinaabe nations in 1701.[27]
Relatedly, movement and displacement of persons in the territory of Canada is also not new. Warfare between First Nations led to aboriginal persons fleeing aggression and moving to new regions. For example, in the 16th century, the Haudenosaunee embarked on campaigns to subjugate or disperse neighbouring groups while pursuing an ancient ideal that they “extend the rafters of the longhouse” by absorbing their neighbours into one nation and thereby produce a universal peace.[28] In 1649 the Haudenosaunee dispersed the French-allied Huron-Wendat from their homeland by destroying villages. Haudenosaunee dispersal campaigns then impacted the Petun, Neutral and Erie in the 1650s, with those nations dissolving and their members either joining together to form new communities or joining pre-existing Iroquoian nations as a result of the conflict.[29]
Forced displacement of indigenous persons also resulted from the actions of the colonial regimes that took hold in Canada, for example, with the physical displacement inherent in the reserve system, which abrogated many relationships with traditional territories, as well as related social, cultural, and political displacements.[30] In the words of the section of the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples on displacement and assimilation:
[The impact of colonialism on indigenous populations was profound.] Perhaps the most appropriate term to describe that impact is 'displacement'. Aboriginal peoples were displaced physically — they were denied access to their traditional territories and in many cases actually forced to move to new locations selected for them by colonial authorities. They were also displaced socially and culturally, subject to intensive missionary activity and the establishment of schools — which undermined their ability to pass on traditional values to their children, imposed male-oriented Victorian values, and attacked traditional activities such as significant dances and other ceremonies. In North America they were also displaced politically, forced by colonial laws to abandon or at least disguise traditional governing structures and processes in favour of colonial-style municipal institutions.[31]
European powers established their North American colonies on lands that they seized from these pre-existing Indigenous nations. In the words of Lawrence and Dua, borders in the Americas are European fictions, primarily restricting Native people's passage and that of people of colour.[32] British North America and the United States of America required the First Nations to subject themselves to these emergent colonies, even where pre-existing living arrangements did not neatly fit on one side of the border or the other. For example, Crees and Chippewas from Canada became considered "foreign Indians" in the United States and deportable "illegal immigrants" despite ties to lands in the present-day United States that pre-date that country's founding.[33] The subversive chant "we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us" is, for this situation, entirely apt.[34]
As Hamlin writes, the contemporary concept of a refugee is deeply linked to the modern colonial state.[35] We can see these logics of colonialism in Canada's history, both in terms of how First Nations were treated, but also with how the state responded to ethnic and national outsiders. In the 1700s, the British enacted deliberate policies to reinforce the British character of their North American possessions. This included the forced deportation of Acadians from present-day Nova Scotia. In 1755, Lieutenant-Governor Lawrence and his council decided that the Acadians should be dispersed among the several colonies on the continent through forced transhipment. More than 3000 Acadians were transported to southern British colonies in the present-day United States that year. As many as a third of the passengers died on the ships. Many Acadians sought refuge on Prince Edward Island and in Cape Breton; they gained only temporary respite. In 1758, another British expedition against Louisbourg forced its surrender, and 6000 more Acadians were forcibly removed from their homes.[36]
In the 1700s and 1800s, the British instituted policies to encourage immigration to British North America. The people that the British encouraged to relocate included persons who would rightfully be termed refugees today insofar as their experiences were marked by discrimination, displacement across borders, a severing of the bond between the individual and their government, and an overriding apprehension of persecution in their home community. For example, 50,000 United Empire Loyalists, supporters of the British in the American revolution, migrated north in response to American republicanism.[37] Many of them migrated northward either because they did not wish to become citizens of the new American republic or because they feared retribution for their public support for the British during the War of Independence.[38] The retribution meted out to loyalists in the United States included beatings, imprisonment, and other forms of harassment.[39] Among these loyalists who migrated northward were an estimated 2000 members of the aboriginal peoples bordering the Thirteen Colonies who had supported the British cause, believing that an alliance with the British offered the best hope for preserving their independence and protecting their territories from land-hungry colonists.[40] The loyalists also included thousands of free black persons, some of whom had heeded a British proclamation issued early in the war offering freedom to any slave who deserted his (sic) American master during the Revolution and volunteered to serve with the King's forces. Most of the new black arrivals responded to an offer made late in the conflict that guaranteed that all slaves who made formal claim to protection behind British lines would receive their freedom.[41] Upon arrival, many of these black loyalists faced the scourge of racism and dismal agricultural prospects in Nova Scotia, where they primarily settled, and, bitterly disappointed, 1,200 sailed for Sierra Leone to start afresh on the west coast of Africa in 1792.[41] Nonetheless, over the next century an estimated 30,000 African Americans came to Canada as the final stop on the underground railroad, seeking protection from slavery in that country.[42]
The government in Canada also made explicit efforts to entice persons who can aptly be titled refugees to choose to come to the country. For example, John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, issued a proclamation in 1792 inviting Americans to emigrate to Upper Canada. This included a special appeal to the members of pacifist religious communities, including Quakers, Mennonites, and Dunkards, which promised them an exemption from military service.[43]
Early legal restrictions on immigration
From the point of view of western states, before the First World War (WWI) people used to enjoy a certain freedom of movement in the world and, as such, defining a refugee was not a major concern for the reigning powers.[44] In the 19th and early 20th centuries, displaced, persecuted, and poor populations in Europe and North America simply moved to new jobs and opportunities in other regions.[45] In Chetail's summary, the rise of the nation-state and its implicit corollary—territorial sovereignty—did not coincide with the introduction of border controls.[46] For a long time, restrictions were instead primarily imposed on the internal movement of both nationals and non-nationals within the territory of each state (mainly for tax purposes). In contrast, the admission of foreigners was traditionally viewed as a means of strengthening the power of a host state (primarily for demographic and economic reasons). Passports, for example, were not generally required for European and North American travel until the First World War.[47]
This is not to say that these open-door immigration practices of the past resulted in historical refugees enjoying the suite of rights set out in the modern Refugee Convention. For example, as Emma Borland writes, the French Huguenots of the 17th century did not receive an entirely welcoming reception in the United Kingdom and were not granted permanent residence.[48] Instead, the Huguenots kept the status of foreigner, rather than being considered ‘subjects’, and therefore only had limited rights in England at that time.[49] The concept of asylum also began to grow in importance in the 1800s as countries began to conclude bilateral treaties committing to extradite criminals, which otherwise limited the freedom of individuals to abscond from one state to another. States saw fit to exclude from such extradition regimes those who had perpetrated political crimes, on the basis that they should properly be granted asylum from prosecution.[50] The concept of a political asylee in Latin America was codified in a series of regional conventions dating from 1889.[51]
The laissez-faire attitude towards immigration which prevailed during most of the 19th century began to give way to greater immigration controls at the turn of the 20th century.[46] Thériault notes that the emergence of restrictive immigration policies in the 20th century coincided with the emergence of the welfare system. As states became more financially involved in the welfare of their population, they became increasingly concerned with the perceived additional burden of refugees.[52] Furthermore, increased global mobility at this time made racially-inflected concerns about immigration more acute.[53]
Pursuant to section 91(25) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal Parliament has jurisdiction over "Naturalization and Aliens." Canada's first post-Confederation immigration law, the 1869 Act respecting Immigration and Immigrants, initially reflected the laissez-faire zeitgeist by saying nothing about which classes of immigrants should be admitted and which categories should be proscribed.[54] However, even at that time, not all migrants were welcomed by Canadian society. While all British subjects at that time formally had the right to settle anywhere in the Empire, including the British Dominion of Canada,[55] as Jan Raska describes it, the Canadian government admitted migrants based on prevailing sociocultural, economic, and political views of the ‘desirable’ immigrant.[56] This includes those who would today be termed refugees, as exceptions to the country’s immigration restrictions were generally not made based on the reason why an individual wished to depart their home state. As James Hathaway puts it, "what mattered was not the motive for immigration, but rather the immigrant's potential to contribute to the development of Canada".[57] A number of the people that the Canadian government specifically sought to entice to come to Canada during this period could rightfully be thought of as refugees, including:
Over time, amendments to Canada's immigration legislation began to explicitly enshrine the country’s discriminatory policies in statute. Such amendments were in keeping with the rise of such order restrictions in other western countries at this time; indeed, by 1930 every independent state in the Western Hemisphere had passed legislation limiting migration on racial grounds.[62] That said, as Somani puts it, racism at the Canadian border was masked by a performance of legality as Canada was reluctant to incorporate racial restrictions into its immigration laws too overtly, lest this undermine the notion of a cohesive British empire and undermine geopolitical relationships, say with the Japanese, or lend support to independence movements, for example that in India.[63] To this end, Canadian policies which de facto discriminated on the grounds of class, race, sex, and disability[64] were couched in neutral language, as with a power accorded to Cabinet to exclude any class of immigrant where it deemed that such exclusion was “in the best interests of the country”.[65]
The specific exclusionary measures employed in Canada included:
Exceptions to these restrictive policies were made for those with temporary status in Canada, for example fifteen thousand Chinese men were brought to Canada to construct the country's first transcontinental railroad.[90] However, exceptions were generally not made based on the reason why an individual wished to depart their home state - indeed, until the 1970s, Canada made no formal distinction between refugees and other migrants.[65]
League of Nations era
It was in the wake of the First World War and the Russian Revolution that the term "refugee" came to be widely used. While the term "refugee" does date to the 17th century, it had not been widely used until this point. It was during the 1920s that the term "refugee" began to emerge with more frequency and long-standing "competitor terms", like asylum, protection, and hospitality, began to be "relegated to oblivion". As Hamlin describes it, the term refugee "was a product of this period."[91] Amidst rising public concern about this issue, and in response to an appeal from the International Committee of the Red Cross,[92] Member states of the League of Nations approved the creation of a refugee office in 1921 and appointed Fridtjof Nansen as the first High Commissioner for Refugees.[93] In 1922, Nansen created the so-called 'Nansen Passport' for Russian refugees.[94] This was an international identity certificate facilitating the movement and resettlement of refugees uprooted by the events of World War I, the Russian revolution, and the Armenian genocide in Turkey. This institutional innovation provided several million post-WWI European refugees with a way to seek protection and assistance.[93] It has also been pinpointed as the beginning of international refugee law.[95] In 1925, the Refugee Service of the International Labor Organization (ILO) took on responsibility for issuing these Nansen Passports. Five years later, the League of Nations entrusted this humanitarian aspect of refugee work to the Nansen International Office for Refugees, or International Refugee Office for short.[96][97]
Thériault states that at first it was generally assumed that the refugee problem was temporary and states voluntarily afforded refugees relatively generous benefits. However, by the late 1920s, European states began to recognize the enduring nature of the refugee problem and increasingly refused to integrate refugees. This led to a shift in international refugee law as efforts to have states adopt agreements that imposed substantial obligations, such as the 1922 and 1924 arrangements regarding the issuance of the Nansen Passport to Russian and Armenian refugees, began to meet with limited state interest.[98] Canada, for one, refused to sign onto any of these international initiatives.[99] The Canadian government steadfastly refused to recognize the Nansen Passport on the basis that Canada would only accept such passport bearers if they were returnable to another country in the event that they became criminals or insane, something that Kaprielian-Churchill describes as a smokescreen and means of rejecting refugees.[100] In fact, even once other countries strove to accommodate the Canadian demand for returnability, Canadian officials continued to refuse refugees, finding other grounds for rejection.[101] In 1931, Canadian officials spoke with pride that only "a dozen refugees" had been admitted to Canada on the League of Nations' Nansen Passport.[102]
In order to address the fact that the agreements underpinning the Nansen Passport lacked the status of treaty law,[103] the League of Nations convened an international conference in 1933 to negotiate a Convention Relating to the International Status of Refugees. Canada neither attended the conference nor subscribed to the ensuing agreement.[104] Nonetheless, this Convention is remembered as the first attempt to create a comprehensive legal framework for the protection of refugees.[105]
The stark limits on Canada's willingness to take in refugees can be illustrated by looking at the main refugee groups that sought sanctuary during this period. As Irving Abella and Petra Molnar write, xenophobia and anti-semitism permeated Canada and "there was little public support for, and much opposition to, the admission of refugees [to the end of the Second World War]".[42] For example, in the 1930s Canada restricted the admission of European Jews who sought safe haven from antisemitism and the emergence of fascism in Germany, but welcomed Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia in search of refuge given that they were considered to be more "desirable" immigrants.[56] Armenian refugees were also subject to Canada's exclusionary policies. The Ottoman Empire began the mass killing, relocation, and deportation of its Armenian population in 1915. This claimed more than 1 million lives and resulted in more than half a million displaced persons. While 80,000 Armenian refugees would receive sanctuary in France, and 23,000 in the United States, fewer than 1,300 were admitted to Canada.[106]
Canada justified its restrictive resettlement policies by employing a narrow definition of who qualified for refugee protection (to the extent that it discussed the categorization whatsoever). For example, when Jewish organizations in Canada asked the Canadian government for permission to resettle Jewish refugees displaced in Europe, the government demurred, claiming that, since many had left Russia with the consent of the authorities, they could not be considered refugees.[107] Canada also did not support efforts to expand the conception of who was entitled to refuge. In 1938, the US government brought together 30 countries for a conference on the subject of the worsening refugee situation in Europe. Canada was a reluctant participant, tarrying for months before accepting the US invitation to attend the Evian, France event. Valerie Knowles describes Canada's participation at the summer 1938 conference as having been "minimal" and states that it was to Canada's relief that the delegates at the conference accomplished little more than to produce a statement of lofty principles not actually necessitating more liberal immigration policies.[108] The Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (ICR) that was established that year, mandated to assist Jews from Germany and Austria, operated without Canadian involvement.[109] Evian's legacy is that it is seen as a key moment in what Hathaway has caled "the individualization of refugee law", because when the ICR was founded, it set forth a definition of a refugee that focused for the frist time on why people were beign displaced, something that would come to influence the 1951 Refugee Convention.[110]
Canada also appears to have disregarded the notion of refoulement in its deportation decisions. For example, in its zeal to expel Communists, Canada removed persons who would be persecuted in their home countries. Hans Kist reportedly died of torture in a German concentration camp after being sent to that country from Canada.[111] Kelley and Trebilcock write that many activitists sent to fascist countries such as Italy, Germany, Finland, and Croatia were also in danger of losing their lives upon return.[111]
That said, some people appropriately regarded as refugees did move to Canada during this time through Canada's regular immigration streams. In fact, Prime Minister Mackenzie King asserted that between 1932 and 1943 most of the immigrants who entered Canada were refugees.[112] For example, between 1923 and 1930 close to 20,000 Mennonites from Russia were permitted to settle in Canada. As Kelley and Trebilcock set out the history, German-speaking Mennonite refugees from Russia came to Canada to escape hardship they were experiencing following the Russian revolution. Their refusal to take up arms during the revolution had alienated and angered both sides of the conflict, and Mennonites increasingly became the victims of brutal assaults and intimidation, which continued after the civil war ended. Throughout the 1920s, land expropriation, official intolerance of their religion, and threats of forcible relocation to Siberia prompted thousands to seek a safe haven elsewhere.[113]
WWII-era refugee policies
Canadian refugee policy continued to be marked by antisemitism and xenophobia throughout the Second World War. Sanctuary was provided to many persons of favoured ethnicities, principally the British, and was denied to others.
At the beginning of the war, Canada began to allow for the admission of British children in danger overseas. The government agreed to the admission of 5,000 British children and their mothers and more than 4,500 British children and 1,000 mothers came to Canada. The movement was abruptly terminated in 1940 when two ships carrying children to Canada were torpedoed.[114]
Entry for non-British persons was not facilitated in the same way. For example, a visible manifestation of the antisemitism which marked Canada's immigration and refugee policy at this time was the 1939 decision to deny admission to 930 Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis seeking asylum from Nazi Germany. These refugees were instead sent back to what awaited them in Germany. When, later in the war, in 1943, Canada did announce that it intended to admit some Jewish refugees who had made their way to the Iberian peninsula, this is said to have "ignited a storm of protest from anti-refugee interests". Quebec opposition leader Maurice Duplessis held rallies in which he charged that that provincial and federal Liberals were set to allow the "International Zionist Brotherhood" to, in his words, settle 100,000 Jewish refugees in Quebec in return for election financing.[115] Ultimately, Canada admitted 5,000 Jewish refugees during the Second World War, something Trebilcock and Kelley call one of the worst records of any democracy in providing assistance to the persecuted Jews of Europe.[116] In contrast, the US welcomed 240,000, Britain 85,000, China 25,000, Argentina and Brazil over 25,000 each, and Mexico and Colombia received some 40,000 between them.[42] When Canadian immigration officials were asked how many Jews the country would admit after the war, their famous response was, “None is too many.”[117]
Measures were also employed to exclude and restrict persons considered "enemy aliens" during the Second World War. Regulations under the War Measures Act restricted entry by Japanese immigrants, provided for the deportation of Canadian citizens of Japanese descent,[118] and effected the internment of Japanese persons.[42] In February 1942 the government ordered the expulsion of some 22,000 Japanese Canadians from a 100-mile swath of the Pacific Coast. The majority were relocated in the interior of British Columbia, often in detention camps in isolated ghost towns. Japanese Canadians were forced to remain in these detention camps until the end of the war. Then, after the conclusion of hostilities, about 4,000 would surrender to pressure and leave Canada for Japan under the federal government's "repatriation" scheme. Of these, more than half were Canadian-born and two-thirds were Canadian citizens.[108]
During the war, the British government also transported 2,500 "enemy aliens" to Canada. For the most part, these were German and Austrian nationals, many of them highly educated Jews, who had been living in Great Britain when the war erupted. Valerie Knowles describes their reception in Canada as follows:
The Canadian government agreed to receive these male civilian internees in the belief that it would be assisting hard-pressed Britain by accepting custody of a number of "potentially dangerous enemy aliens". Canadian authorities were therefore astonished to see a large assortment of teenage boys, university students, priests, and rabbis step ashore at Quebec. Despite their misgivings, however, the Canadians proceeded to place all in camps that resembled maximum security prisons. And it was here that scientists, theologians, musicians, teachers, artists, and writers, among others, would be forced to bide their time for months to come.[115]
Knowles notes that, fortunately for these prisoners, the British government soon realized that it had done a possibly grave injustice to many of the internees and initiated steps to have them released. In 1945, Canada reclassified these one-time prisoners as "Interned Refugees (Friendly Aliens) from the United Kingdom" and invited them to become Canadian citizens. 972 chose to do so.[119]
United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO)
In 1943, with the end of World War II in sight, the allied powers began to lay the foundations of a post-war refugee regime. In that year, they established the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) in preparation for the liberation of Europe.[120] The War had created a refugee crisis of at least 10 million stateless persons in Europe alone.[121] At war’s end, there were over a million displaced persons and refugees in crowded shelters maintained by United Nations agencies in Europe. Some of these people were concentration camp survivors, others were individuals who had been dispatched to labour camps in Germany and Austria, and still others were those refusing to be repatriated to communist regimes.[122] Canada provided funding to the UNRRA, which operated more than 800 displaced persons camps in Europe;[123] distributed about $4 billion worth of goods, food, medicine, and tools, at a time of severe global shortage; and also assisted displaced persons in returning to their home countries in Europe in 1945-46.[124] The UNRRA was also focused on the repatriation of displaced persons back to their homeland.
The activities of the UNRRA immediately began to be enmeshed in Cold War politics. The organization was faced with large numbers of displaced persons who were reluctant to return to countries where communist parties were taking a firm hold. Many Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic persons were thus residing in camps, asking to be referred to a non-communist country, as opposed to their country of citizenship. Soviet officials objected to any willingness to countenance such demands. In response, in December 1946 Western governments decided to stop funding the UNRRA and to transfer the task of organizing resettlement work from the UNRRA to a new entity, the International Refugee Organization. Unlike the UNRRA, the IRO had no Soviet participation[93] and its chief function was not repatriation, but instead the overseas resettlement of refugees and displaced persons.[125] As Shauna Labman writes, it was at this point that the focus of refugee law and institutions shifted from an individual's inability to return home to their unwillingness to return home.[120] In retrospect, this move to accommodate those with objections to returning to communist countries represented a sea-change in the international approach to refugees. Previously, international organizations had dealt only with specific groups of refugees, such as Russian or German refugees, and, in Gil Loescher's words, governments had never attempted to formulate a general definition of the term 'refugee'. For the first time, therefore, with the establishment of the IRO, the international community was making refugee eligibility dependent on the individual rather than group membership and accepted the individual's right to flee from political persecution to a safe country.[125]
To achieve its mandate, the IRO had its own specialized staff, a fleet of more than 40 ships, and, most importantly, the political and economic support of the developed world. With the opening up of this IRO resettlement program, the number of repatriations to Eastern Europe was reduced to a small trickle and the IRO began operations that would relocate more than 1 million Europeans to the Americas, Israel, Southern Africa, and Oceania.[126] After the Second World War, the Canadian government began to receive more pressure both domestically and internationally to fulfill its humanitarian responsibility of hosting displaced persons.[127] In 1946, the Canadian government signed an order-in-council that allowed Canadians to sponsor displaced family members in Europe.[128] In 1947, Canada began to accept refugee referrals from the International Refugee Organization.[129] Canada also deployed its own immigration officers overseas for the purposes of selecting from among the displaced persons.[130] Collectively, these arrivals comprised what was called the Displaced Persons Movement, which successfully resettled 186,154 persons to Canada over the course of six years.[128] Of these, 100,000 entered Canada between 1947 and 1951 through what were termed labour-sponsored movements whereby an employer could show the government that a job could not be filled locally and the government in turn would have the IRO refer two or three potential immigrants from among available refugees for each needed labourer.[131] During the four and a half years of IRO operations, Canada would accept 12% of all refugees resettled by the organization, when compared to Australia at 18%, Israel at 13%, and Britain at 8%.[125] The terminology used at this time is not consistent: at times 'displaced persons' were contrasted with refugees in that displaced persons were those willing to return to their country of nationality post-war whereas refugees were not;[132] at times the terms 'refugee' and 'displaced person' were used as synonyms; and at times the term 'displaced persons' was used to refer to what we now think of as 'internally displaced persons', in contrast to 'refugees' who had fled across a border from their home state.[133]
When announcing the government's willingness to allow the movement of war survivors to Canada on May 1 1947, Prime Minister Mackenzie King articulated the government's position as follows: "It is not a 'fundamental human right' of any alien to enter Canada. It is a privilege. It is a matter of domestic policy. Immigration is subject to the control of the parliament of Canada."[134] Despite such protestations to the contrary, this speech is seen as the beginning of Canada accommodating the concept of human rights enshrined in the then-new United Nations Charter. For example, in deference to the UN Charter, Mackenzie King announced that the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 would be repealed and that Chinese residents of Canada would be able to apply for naturalization.[135] Similarly, it was at this time that Canada was involved in discussions about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which would emerge in 1948 recognizing that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”[136] 1947 also saw the birth of the modern concept of Canadian citizenship, with the coming into force of the Canadian Citizenship Act that January.[137] The new Citizenship Act merged the pre-existing legal concepts of “nationality” and “citizenship” into a single status, that of “Canadian citizen”, and in so doing sought to create a unifying symbol for Canadians.[138] Despite this growing accommodation to human rights rhetoric, King's realpolitik was reflected in Canada's actions: the tens of thousands of displaced persons that Canada accepted during this post-war period were "carefully selected, and most of them would have satisfied our standards if they had been applying as immigrants", according to one contemporary author.[139]
The founding of the UNHCR, negotiation of the Refugee Convention, and growing refugee intake
The International Refugee Organization had a time-limited mandate. The assumption of the international community was that refugees and displaced persons were a creation of war, hence an end to the fighting would mean an end to the existence of such individuals.[140] However, as the IRO's June 1950 termination date neared, refugees continued to abound in Europe. Indeed, they were increasingly arriving across Western European borders from the Eastern Bloc.[141] As a result, on December 3, 1949, the UN General Assembly decided to establish the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).[18] A year later, on December 14, 1950, the Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was passed by the UN General Assembly, which defined the UNHCR's mandate to provide for the protection of refugees and forcibly displaced people and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local assimilation, or resettlement to a third country.[142] The UNHCR began its work on January 1, 1951 with a staff of 99 and a budget of $300,000.[143] At that point, the IRO was engaged in an extended wind up of its operations, which it completed by 1952.[144] The UNHCR, too, was intended to be temporary, with the UN General Assembly giving the organization a 3-year mandate to address the needs of displaced Europeans from World War II.[145]
At the same time, negotiation of what would become the foundational treaty for modern refugee protection, the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, was underway. The preparatory work for the Convention started in 1948,[146] with the initiation of the UN Secretary-General’s ‘Study on Statelessness’.[147] The first round of negotiations in the drafting of the Refugee Convention then began through what was termed the Ad Hoc Committee on Statelessness and Related Problems, which was appointed by the UN Economic and Social Council on 8 August 1949.[148] The Ad Hoc Committee was said to comprise a small circle of government representatives possessing ‘special competence’ on the subject, in the words of the relevant ECOSOC resolution.[149] It was mandated to consider, and act on, the recommendations made in the Secretary-General’s ‘Study on Statelessness’.[147] Cold War politics were felt during these discussions largely through the absence of the eastern block countries—the USSR and Poland first ‘walked out’ and then boycotted the Ad Hoc Committee in protest of the participation of (Nationalist) China.[150] The committee, chaired by Canadian Leslie Chance, met from 16 January to 16 February 1950, and prepared the first draft of a refugee convention.[151]
The Ad Hoc Committee then provided its report to the Social Committee of the UN Economic and Social Council. Discussions among the 15 country representatives on the Social Committee then took place over the course of eight meetings from 31 July to 10 August 1950.[148] A draft text was voted on by ECOSOC, and the text then passed to the UN General Assembly. On December 14, 1950, the General Assembly debated and then adopted a draft of the text by 41 votes to 5, with 10 abstentions.[152]
From there, a committee entitled the UN Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons was formed to conduct the final negotiations on the Convention.[153] The much-discussed travaux préparatoires of the Refugee Convention are from these meetings, which ran from July 2 to July 25, 1951, with the Convention being signed three days later on July 28.[154] Cold War politics played an important role in the countries that participated in this conference—other than Yugoslavia, no Soviet bloc country attended the meetings.[155] Pursuant to this Refugee Convention, refugee status was a label held by individuals on the grounds of their personal circumstances. This contrasted with earlier definitions that had generally applied to all nationals of a particular state or persons of a particular ethnic group from that state, and in so doing required the asylum seeker to provide a more personalized account of their experiences as well as the general situation in the country of origin. Thereby, the scope of protection was narrowed and the importance of individual screenings increased.[156]
Canada was seen to be a leader at the conference drafting the Convention: it was one of twenty-six countries to send a delegate to participate in the conference;[56] a Canadian, Leslie Chance, chaired the conference;[157] Canada was the country in the Americas that presented the most proposals during the process of drafting the Convention, voicing comments during discussions that were otherwise dominated by the European states; and Canada was a part of the working group vested with the responsibility of drafting arguably the key part of the Convention - the definition of a refugee in Art. 1 of the document.[158] Canadian chairman Leslie Chance reported “we have been regarded throughout as taking a forward attitude.”[159] As an aside, Chance's statement could be regarded as somewhat self-serving given the shifting positions Canada took at the conference, for example arguing, contra France and the United Kingdom, for the inclusion of temporal and geographical limitations in the Convention, prior to flipping that position and arguing against such restrictions.[160] In any event, Canada did ultimately advocate at the conference "in favour of the widest possible definition" and took the position that "the purpose of the Convention was to protect refugees, not states."[161]
Commonwealth states like Australia and Britain ratified the resultant Convention.[162] Unlike those countries, Canada declined to do so. By way of explanation, then Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson announced that the government was concerned the Convention would give the refugee “the right to be represented in the hearing of his appeal against deportation” and, further, that the Convention would “grant rights to communists or to other persons who believed in the destruction of fundamental human rights and freedoms.”[159] The Canadian government also noted with concern that, "some sections of the Convention appeared to prohibit states from deporting 'bona fide' refugees, even on grounds of national security".[163] This reflected the RCMP’s belief that the Convention would restrict Canada’s right to deport refugees on security grounds and the government’s suspicion that the International Refugee Organization was infiltrated by communists.[164] Without Canada, the Refugee Convention entered into force on April 22, 1954.[165]
Despite not signing the Convention, in the ensuing years Canada inexorably became more involved in refugee matters:
Non-discrimination measures
The 1952 Immigration Act empowered Cabinet to limit the admission of migrants by reason of a large number of grounds that allowed for Canada's discriminatory policies, including:
(i) nationality, citizenship, ethnic group, occupation, class or geographical area of origin,
(ii) peculiar customs, habits, modes of life or methods of holding property,
(iii) unsuitability having regard to the climatic, economic, social, industrial, educational, labour, health or other conditions or requirements existing ... in Canada ... or
(iv) probable inability to become readily assimilated or to assume the duties and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship ...[178]
By the 1960s, values were changing across Canada, and around the world, and Canada’s racially-based, Eurocentric approach to immigration and refugee policy was becoming less and less aligned with how the country both viewed itself and wished itself to be seen. Canada’s unofficial ban on black immigrants was costing it diplomatic legitimacy with newly independent former colonies and, by 1961, Britain began to pressure Canada to change its policies as it had an open door to immigrants, such as those from the West Indies, that were barred entry into Canada.[179] Further, this race-based approach clearly contradicted the then-new Canadian Bill of Rights.[180]
Canada began to repeatedly liberalize who it was prepared to admit, for example admitting 325 tubercular refugees and their families around 1960, the first time that Canada had waived its health requirements for refugees.[61] In 1962, Prime Minister Diefenbaker's Immigration Minister tabled new regulations in the House that eliminated racial discrimination as a major feature of Canada's immigration policy. With this revision, historian Valerie Knowles states that the last vestige of discrimination which remained in the immigration regulations was a provision that allowed immigrants from Europe and the Americas to sponsor a wider range of relatives, something that was inserted at the last moment because of a fear that there would be an influx of sponsorships by persons from India.[181] In 1965, Canada ratified the four Geneva Conventions which form the basis of international humanitarian law,[182] including the 1949 Geneva Convention Relating to the Protection of Individuals in Times of War which includes a provision that refugees should not be considered enemy aliens if they had formerly had the nationality of an enemy power.[183] Then, in 1966 Lester B. Pearson's government created the Department of Manpower and Immigration and mandated it with the responsibility of processing refugees without “discrimination by race, country or religion”.[159] That department set to work and in 1967 all vestiges of discrimination were removed from the immigration regulations, if not the statutes themselves, and the government implemented its much-vaunted 'points system' in the regulations to guide the selection of many categories of immigrants.[75]
Immigration Appeal Board Act
Immigration Appeal Boards, each consisting of three staff members from the immigration department, had been a feature of the Immigration Act since the 1950s. 1962 regulations expanded the jurisdiction of these boards to include appeals from all deportation decisions under the Act.[184] In this way, while immigration to Canada continued to be considered a privilege, and not a right, basic due process protections were coming to be seen as properly extended to aliens. Specifically, as Trebilcock and Kelley note, it was coming to be accepted that the rules governing admission or deportation of aliens should be reasonably well specified and transparent, and that deportation decisions should generally be open to challenge before a neutral tribunal.[185] That said, at this point, the Immigration Appeal Boards played what Trebilcock and Kelley describe as “a very minor role” in immigration decisions because their jurisdiction was limited to questions of law, and in view of the large discretionary powers granted to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, errors of law were quite rare.[186] Furthermore, given that the boards were controlled by immigration as officials, they could be considered neither neutral nor independent.
In March 1967, the Immigration Appeal Board Act changed this. This Act emerged from what was called the Sedgwick Report, drawn up by Joseph Sedgwick, Q.C., a one-man board of inquiry which had been commissioned by the government to study a series of highly controversial deportations. Chief among the recommendations was the establishment of a completely independent immigration appeal board.[187] The principal features of the newly reconstituted Board were:
The 1967 changes to the Immigration Appeal Board are said to have proceduralized and judicialized immigration policy to an unprecedented degree and to have presaged calls for similar due process protections in the determination of refugee claims.[191] That said, the Board had a statutory limit of 7 to 9 judges[192] (later increased to 10) and was unable to keep pace with the scale of removals being ordered.[193] Almost immediately, the Board was swamped with a backlog that, at existing case processing rates, was expected to take decades to go through.[194] For example, as of August 1973 the IAB had a backlog of 17,000 cases, which it was deciding at a rate of 100 cases per month.[195] In effect, anybody wanting to achieve de facto permanent residence in Canada only needed to lodge an appeal of their deportation with the Immigration Appeal Board to be added to the Board's backlog, which began to extend into the 21st century.[193] As a result, in 1973 the government amended the Immigration Appeal Board Act to abolish the universal right of appeal for all persons in Canada. Instead, only permanent residents, valid visa holders, and persons claiming to be refugees or Canadian citizens were given a right of appeal.[195] In order to clear the backlog, the government also instituted a one-time amnesty program, which more than 39,000 people availed themselves of, including a significant number of US draft dodgers.[196]
Negotiation of the 1967 Refugee Protocol
In the late 1960s, negotiations were underway to expand the temporal and geographic scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention. This initiative was driven by decolonization in Africa and the scale of the emerging refugee phenomenon there. To wit, in the early 1960s, 150,000 Tutsi refugees fled Rwanda for Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire; more than 80,000 refugees from Zaire could be found in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania by 1966; the first Sudanese war that ended in 1972 created 170,000 refugees; and there were 250,000 refugees from Rhodesia in Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana by the end of the 1970s. Estimates put the total refugee population of Africa at 400,000 in 1964, a figure that had reached one million by the end of the decade.[197] At the same time, many newly independent African states saw the the 1951 Convention as one that reflected European experience - and by its terms was limited to those fleeing persecution ‘as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951'. The Organization of African Unity's move to negotiate a regional refugee convention for Africa was feared by the UNHCR as something that could limit its authority and undermine the (supposedly) universal regime it shepherded.[198] The 1967 Protocol was UNHCR's response. As articulated by the UNHCR, the motivation behind this initiative was to ensure that the de facto racial distinctions built into the 1951 Convention yielded to a growing anti-discrimination postcolonial zeitgeist:
The Convention had led to an unfortunate discrimination among the different groups of refugees, in particular with regard to the African refugees. Such discrimination conflicted with the Statute of his Office and was contrary to the universal spirit of the Convention itself.[199]
The resultant protocol was signed at New York in January 1967. It entered into force that October. The changes that the protocol made to the 1951 Refuge Convention were straightforward: extending the territorial and temporal scope of the Refugee Convention to cover refugees outside of Europe and those displaced for newly emerging reasons.[200] Canada was a laggard in signing the instrument. It initially refused to commit to the initiative to negotiate a protocol to the Refugee Convention on the basis that it was preparing what it termed its White Paper on Immigration.[201] In 1966 Canada released its White Paper on Immigration to, in researcher Clare Glassco's words, "test the waters" for making more fundamental changes to the immigration regime.[202] Despite this, it would be three years until Canada would come to sign onto the 1967 Refugee Protocol.
Canada's ratification of the Refugee Convention and Protocol
Among many initiatives, the 1966 White Paper on Immigration committed to the establishment of an immigration admissions policy that would be free from discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, or ethnicity. Further, the Paper proposed both the introduction of a refugee determination process within Canada’s borders, as well as the ratification of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. As immigration official E.P. Beasley noted in 1966, in reference to the need for a clear refugee policy, in his view Canada had “become a country of first asylum,” and, thus, “the time may have come to set forth in legislation machinery and a methodology for determining these individual cases more precisely and more fairly.”[202] The concept of a "first country of asylum" in this context refers to a situation where Canada is the first country that grants protection to an individual, as opposed to resettling individuals who have already found temporary protection elsewhere.[203] At this time, Canada was increasingly seeing itself as a country of first asylum as Cold War crises caused thousands to seek safe haven in the West.[56]
In May 1969 Canada ratified the 1957 Agreement relating to Refugee Seamen.[204] Then, a month later, in June 1969 Canada ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as well as the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.[205] Despite these ratifications, and while access to the Immigration Appeal Board continued to be available for those who had been ordered deported from Canada, no statute-based, official refugee policy existed in Canada for affirmative claims until the implementation of the 1976 Immigration Act.[206] Instead, in 1973 the Canadian government established its first formal administrative structure to deal with refugee claimants. An interdepartmental committee comprised of representatives from the Departments of External Affairs and Manpower and Immigration met to assess individual claims and forward their recommendations to the Minister of Manpower and Immigration who had the authority to decide whether a refugee claimant would remain in Canada or be deported.[56] At this point, inland claims occurred at the level of hundreds per year. Individual orders-in-council granted a person status in Canada at the Minister’s discretion and were based in part on humanitarian, economic, and political considerations.[56]
This in-Canada assessment system complemented the overseas assessments then ongoing. Canada had issued a “Guideline for Determination of Refugee Status” in 1970 to give immigration officers criteria for selecting refugees overseas.[207] That year Cabinet also approved what was termed the Oppressed Minority policy, which provided for the selection of oppressed people who were not Convention refugees because they were still in their home countries.[208]
Establishment of the Federal Court and increasing judicial scrutiny of immigration decisions
Immigration law during the first century of Canada as a nation has been said to have been implemented in a "highly discretionary and largely unaccountable" manner.[209] It had previously been the case that the Immigration Act included a very strong privative clause, which courts had largely respected. The 1910 Act stated that "no court, and no judge or officer thereof shall have jurisdiction to review, quash, reverse, restrain or otherwise interfere with any proceeding, decision or order of the Minister or of any Board of Inquiry, or officer in charge ... relating to the detention or deportation of any rejected immigrant ... upon any ground whatsoever, unless such person is a Canadian citizen or has Canadian domicile."[210] As Trebilcock and Kelley summarize, courts of the day, on the whole, respected these limitations imposed upon them.[211] The comments of one Quebec Superior Court judge on this privative clause from a 1921 decision are illustrative:
... what Parliament intended, and what Parliament actually provided in the language of this statute, was that all questions as to the entry of immigrants into Canada should be determined exclusively by the machinery of the Department of Immigration, namely by the board of inquiry and immigration officers, subject only to an appeal to the Minister, and without any powers of review or control by the Courts ... ... no Court or Judge may interfere with the proceedings of a board of inquiry, either on the grounds of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the law, or of the regulations, nor on account of admission of illegal evidence, nor of error in weighing the evidence heard, nor on account of any informality or omissions which may fairly be classed as a matter of procedure, or of departmental regulation.[212]
This began to shift so that principles of fairness and due process began to assume an increasing importance in the system. The scope of the privative clause in the Act was reduced and in 1971, the Federal Court was established. This court would come to have a significant effect on immigration enforcement practices in Canada given that it not only inherited the previous Exchequer Court’s jurisdiction, it was also accorded the power to review decisions of all federal boards, commissions, and tribunals.[213] Its immigration caseload would come to account for a large majority of its work and caused long queues of cases seeking judicial review. In the years preceding the implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division at the IRB in 2012, judicial review of inland refugee matters made up around half of the Federal Court’s caseload.[214] Raphael Girard also credits the court's decisions with, in all likelihood, embedding principles of procedural fairness and transparency of decision making in the immigration Ministry's day-to-day operations.[215]
1976 Immigration Act
The revised Immigration Act introduced into Parliament in 1976, and brought into force two years later, was a watershed moment for Canadian immigration policy. It overhauled the statute for the first time more than two decades, expunged the last vestiges of open discrimination in the Act, for example by lifting a ban prohibiting gay men and women from immigrating,[56] and, after a broad national debate, introduced a series of objectives into the statute which largely remain to this day. It did all of this through provisions that, with their detail and specificity, served to constrain executive decision making.[216] It was with the introduction of the 1976 Immigration Act into Parliament that the government reinforced its willingness to assume its international share in refugee resettlement.[102] It was this legislation that, for the first time, incorporated Canada's Refugee Convention obligations into statutory form.[217] The new Act recognized Convention refugees as a class of immigrants that could be selected abroad for permanent residence in Canada.[218] The legislation also gave legal standing to the pre-existing ad hoc committee for advising the Minister of Immigration on individual refugee claims from people at the border or in Canada, the Refugee Status Advisory Committee (RSAC).[218]
The RSAC process was as follows: those who sought refugee stats in Canada had to first present themselves to an immigration officer. If they were found to be inadmissible (as was usually the case), then they would be sent to an immigration inquiry for a determination about whether they should be removed from the country. It was at this point that the individual could request refugee status, in which case the removal order was stayed and the person was brought before a senior immigration officer for an interview regarding the substance of the refugee claim. The senior immigration officer then sent the transcript of the interview to the RSAC. The RSAC reviewed the application and made a recommendation to the Minister as to whether to accept or deny the claim for protection.[219] The program was very small: it processed only a few hundred claims per year throughout the late 1970s.[220] In the year that the revised Immigration Act came into force, for example, 4,130 refugees were admitted to Canada, all of whom were fleeing communism.[221]
Those who were not granted refugee status by the RSAC or the Minister had recourse to make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Such applications were considered by what was termed the Special Review Committee, which acted in an advisory capacity to the Minister.[219] The system did also include limited appeal rights to the Immigration Appeal Board.[222] The IAB reviewed the documentary record and was authorized to grant an oral hearing on the merits of the claim for any applicant who, on the basis of the documentary record, showed that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the claim could be established.[219] Under this system, in its last year of operation, about nine percent of claimants determined by the Minister not to be refugees were determined by the Board to be refugees.[223]
At the same time that Canada incorporated its obligations under the Refugee Convention and Protocol into domestic law, a series of international efforts to expand the scope of those treaties were underway. Some were successful, for example Canada ratified the Protocol to the Agreement relating to Refugee Seamen in 1975.[224] Other efforts were fruitless. In 1967 the United Nations adopted a Declaration on Territorial Asylum[225] which provided, in Article 3, that no person entitled to invoke Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be subjected to measures such as rejection at the frontier. A conference was then held in 1977 to embody this, and other provisions, in a revised convention, a proposed UN Convention on Territorial Asylum.[226] While a draft was produced,[227] the conference ultimately ended in failure.[228]
In the 1970s, most refugees that Canada accepted came via overseas resettlement, not an in-Canada asylum process. In the early 1970s Canada accepted its first non-European refugees by resettling a group of 228 Tibetan refugees and developing a “Tibetan Refugee Program” to host them.[229] Tibetan refugee hosting opened the doorway to other refugee resettlement, as Canada accepted about 7,000 ethnic South Asians expelled from Uganda under the dictatorship of Idi Amin in 1972-73, the first non-white refugees admitted to Canada in large numbers.[230] Canada then admitted 7,000 Chilean refugees fleeing Pinochet’s regime in 1973 and about 10,000 Lebanese refugees fleeing the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1978.[231] In the 1970s, the U.S. was the largest source country of immigration, in part because of the large numbers of draft dodgers and deserters unwilling to fight in Vietnam who found refuge in Canada.[61] Historian Valerie Knowles states that it is impossible to arrive at hard numbers for the number of draft resister and deserters who escaped to Canada during the Vietnam War, but estimates range from 30,000-40,000 from the Canadian Council for Refugees to between 80,000-200,000 according to Mark Fruitkin, a "draft resister" and author.[232] Later that decade, from 1978 and 1981, 60,000 refugees from Southeast Asia were accepted - a figure that represents 25 percent of the number of immigrants admitted in these years.[174] During this time, Canada resettled more refugees from overseas than any other country on a per capita measurement.[233] Canadian immigration officials also travelled to El Salvador to interview prisoners at risk from paramilitary death squads there and grant refuge in Canda to some of those at risk, an example of processing claims in another country.[234]
That said, decisions to accept these groups of individuals were ad hoc and highly political; for example, fearing that most of the Chilean political refugees were too left wing, and not wishing to alienate either the American or new Chilean administrations, the Canadian government restricted the numbers, which is what limited Canada to only accepting about 7,000 Chileans during that 30-year conflict.[42] Similarly, while Canada accepted some Ugandan Asian refugees, there was marked public opposition to the move, with a poll in 1972 indicating that only 45 percent of Canadians approved of the government's decision; some in the government came to view this initiative as having cost the government seats in that year's election.[235]
To address demands from civil society to have more of a role in refugee sponsorship, and criticism about government refugee sponsorship decisions, in 1978 Canada established a Private Sponsorship Program through which citizens could assist fully or partially in privately sponsoring new refugees.[236] To date more than 300,000 refugees have come to Canada through this program.[237]
Background to the founding of the Immigration and Refugee Board
The background to the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada lay in concerns about the rigour, capacity, independence, and fairness of the pre-existing refugee status determination system in the 1980s.
To begin with, throughout the 1980s there were concerns about the rigour of Canada's asylum system and about potential abuse of the system. In the words of Deborah Anker, in the early 1980s the government undertook to amend what it painted as a fragile asylum system being taken advantage of by ‘illegitimate’ immigrants.[238] Such concerns about the integrity of the system were exemplified by the Reform Party platform in the 1980s which invoked what has been labelled "inflammatory language" about "immigration abuses, bogus refugees, [and] improper selection of immigrants".[239] One response to these concerns, implemented in the mid-1980s, was what Deborah Anker describes as a series of restrictive measures, including the elimination of employment authorization and various social services for refugee claimants, and a new practice of returning refugee claimants travelling from the US to that country until their Canadian hearing date approached.[238]
There were also concerns about the capacity of the pre-IRB system as a result of a growing number of refugee claims that were being made during the decade. Rebecca Hamlin states that Canada signed the above-noted international treaties making commitments to refugee protection before it began to consider itself to be a country of first asylum and before asylum seekers started coming to its shores in significant numbers.[240] In 1980 Canada received what today looks like a very modest 1,488 refugee claims.[222] By the middle of the 1980s, however, such a large number of people were making in-country asylum claims that the system had become completely overloaded, with 8,260 claims being made in 1985.[222] This increase in Canada mirrored similar increases elsewhere in the world, for example, while in 1976 Western European nations received 20,000 asylum seekers, in 1980 there were 158,000 such applicants and by 1986, more than 200,000 claims were being made annually.[241]
In response to these growing numbers, as well as concerns about political interests potentially affecting decision-making on claims, in 1982 decision-making was transferred to a newly reorganized Refugee Status Advisory Committee,[242] which for the first time was made clearly independent of the immigration department, with its own Chairman and an increased budget. This allowed it to, for the first time, compile authoritative and independent documentation on refugee-producing situations around the world.[218] This system involved only written submissions, assessed by the committee in private, with the committee ultimately making recommendations to the Minister of Immigration,[243] although in 1983 a pilot to provide such claimants with an oral hearing began in Toronto and Montreal.[56] The Committee consisted equally of members from private life, the Department of Immigration, and the Department of External Affairs.[244] As such, concerns about the independence of the refugee determination process from Canada's foreign policy persisted. The granting refugee status could be seen to make a statement about the state of origin, and Canada had a history of restricting the grant of refugee status on political grounds, focusing it in particular on Communist states and demonstrating a reluctance to recognize refugees from newly emerging post-Colonial states, lest such grants of refugee protection be perceived as an admission that western powers' policies and actions had been the cause of refugee flows.[245]
This impetus for change was bolstered by a series of court decisions which undermined the extant framework for the refugee system. To that point, the system had distinguished between "in status" and "out-of-status" persons, contemplating refugee claims only for those individuals under inquiry for having violated the Immigration Act.[246] In 1985, the Federal Court held that distinction to be unfair and inoperative.[247] Furthermore, another 1985 decision, Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration, established that where the credibility of a claimant is at stake, an oral hearing before the then-Immigration Appeal Board was required. In so ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada set aside the previous system under which an application for an oral hearing had to be made.[248] The Singh decision is often seen as a watershed that enforced Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections for migrants on arrival on Canadian soil, thereby requiring an overhaul of the refugee determination process to ensure that fair oral hearings started to be offered as a matter of course.[222]
One immediate response to the Singh decision was to expand access to oral hearings and to increase the capacity of the system in order to facilitate such access. In 1985, Bill C-55 modified the IAB to ensure that all refugees had the opportunity to have an oral hearing during their appeal and the bill increased the number of IAB members from eighteen up to fifty.[249] A longer-term implication of this decision has arguably been the increasing 'juridification' of the refugee system.[250] Colin Scott defines juridification as the “process by which relations hitherto governed by other values and expectations come to be subjected to legal values and rules”.[251] The reasons offered for decisions by the Refugee Status Advisory Committee in the 1980s were scant; as refugee lawyer David Matas describes it, the reasons often consisted of "merely a few sentences" which "seldom related the findings of fact on which their conclusions were based".[252] In short, he states, what were offered were conclusions, as opposed to reasons. The reasons offered by the revised system would generally be more fulsome. This transition was consistent with international trends at the time - for example, it was not until 1984 that the Home Secretary in the UK was even required to give reasons for an asylum decision.[253]
To address this constellation of challenges, the Canadian governments of the day commissioned a series of major studies, principally the 1983 Robinson Report entitled Illegal Migrants in Canada, the 1984 Ratushny Report entitled A New Refugee Status Determination Process for Canada, and the 1985 report by Rabbi Gunther Plaut entitled Refugee Determination in Canada. Each of these reports recommend approaches for a new asylum determination system that would address both the right to be heard, and balance the competing interests of fairness and efficiency.[222] What ultimately emerged from these reports and the related legislative machinations of the 1980s was a new asylum system centred around a tribunal model. The relevant legislation, Bill C-55, or the Refugee Reform Act, was introduced in the House of Commons in 1986. There was lengthy debate about the legislation and it was not passed until 1988.[222] The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada emerged from this legislation, and it represented a fresh start for asylum policy-making in Canada. The IRB came into existence as an independent administrative tribunal on January 1, 1989 with 115 members.[254] At that time, the IRB consisted of two divisions: the Convention Refugee Determination Division and the Immigration Appeal Division. Gordon Fairweather, a former Attorney General of New Brunswick and the first Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, was appointed as the first Chairman of the IRB.[56]
Features and aspects of the new system included:
As part of the transition to the new system, the government instituted a one-time expedited review program for people with pending asylum applications. This was designed to "clear the decks" and allow for a fresh start in asylum policy-making.[220] It essentially amounted to a general amnesty for refugee claimants who had entered Canada before 21 May 1986, one where individuals were permitted to stay in Canada and become permanent residents if they were already employed or likely to secure employment in the near future and had no medical, security, or criminal concerns.[56] While under the previous system 30% of applicants had been accepted,[258] under the expedited review program, acceptance rates were much higher - approximately 85% of the 28,000 applicants processed in 1986, for example, were accepted. All told, a backlog of 125,000 cases accumulated between the Singh decision and the coming into effect of the reformed refugee determination system in 1989, cases which were addressed through this expedited review program.[215]
International human rights law and broader interpretations of the refugee definition
With the end of the Cold War, the nature of who was recognized as a refugee began to shift - the concept went from being primarily about flight from Communism to a broader human rights-based conception of who was entitled to protection. The newfound IRB began to interpret the Refugee Convention in a way that was characterized as "expansive" and "progressive". In 1991, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to recognize sexual orientation-related persecution as a basis for claiming asylum.[259] In 1993, the Immigration Act was amended to give the Chairperson the authority to issue guidelines.[260] Canada then issued guidelines on the handling of gender-based asylum claims in 1993, something that was associated with a growing acceptance of claims related to gender-based persecution.[261] In 1996, the IRB adopted guidelines on child refugee claimants, reportedly the first such policy initiative of its kind adopted by any state system.[262] Much later, in May 2017, the Board, for the first time, implemented guidelines on the adjudication of claims involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE).[263]
These progressive interpretations of Canada's refugee obligations have been influenced by Canada's human rights obligations and international human rights procedures that refugee claimants may access. Claimants can bring individual complaints to seven UN treaty bodies, as well as to the special procedures established by the UN Human Rights Council, in particular, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. The Committee against Torture is by far the most solicited UN treaty body and between 80 per cent and 90 per cent of all individual complaints submitted thereto concern alleged violations of the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in Article 3 of the Convention.[264]
Furthermore, at this point unsuccessful refugee claimants were able to apply for post-determination review by an immigration official to evaluate whether removal would result in compelling personal risk. This review assessed "risk to life, inhumane treatment, or extreme sanctions," and could provide protection to persons not covered by the 1951 Convention and Protocol.[265] Approximately 2-3% of such applications were accepted.[266] As discussed below, this process eventually became the foundation for what is now s. 97 of the IRPA.
Canada also introduced special measures to address the situations of claimants who were not being recognized through regular procedures. For example, in January 1997 the government introduced the Undocumented Convention Refugees in Canada Class (UCRCC), which offered a means for some refugees from Somalia and Afghanistan who were unable to satisfactorily establish their identity to become permanent residents, but imposing a five year wait from refugee determination.[61]
Growing claim numbers and efficiency measures
The arguably corollary to this broadened definition of a refugee was an increasing difficulty of distinguishing refugees from other migrants.[267] Such challenges, the individualistic status determination model employed in Canada, as well as a ballooning number of claims, soon resulted in backlogs. Soon after the IRB started in 1989, the number of asylum seekers reaching Canada went up, from a rate of several thousand a year, to reach 37,000 in 1992.[268] This happened concomitant to several global crises, including the implosion of the former Yugoslavia in 1991-92, which saw a number of persons come to Canada and claim asylum. At this point, Canada also fast tracked the admission of more than 25,000 refugees from Bosnia through its resettlement program.[269]
Bill C-86, passed by the Senate in December 1992, was a response to the influx of claimants, one perceived to be primarily concerned with boosting the system's efficiency. That bill eliminated a screening system for claims at the IRB and transferred authority for determining whether an applicant was eligible to claim refugee status from the Board to senior immigration officers at the immigration department.[270] Specifically, the Immigration Act had previously included a procedure whereby all applicants had a hearing before a panel of two in which a claimant had the burden of proving that they were eligible to have their claim determined and that there was a credible basis for the claim.[271] If either of the two panel members were persuaded, then the claim would be heard at a full hearing before the CRDD. As of October 1989, 5% of claims had been determined to lack a credible basis pursuant to this process.[272] In the name of efficiency, Bill C-86 transferred the eligibility determination step to the department and abandoned the screening process designed to eliminate claims with “no credible basis”.[273]
Changes were also made to the process for seeking judicial review of the Board's decisions. Until 1993, panels of the Federal Court of Appeal had been conducting the judicial reviews, where they granted leave. In that year, amendments to the Immigration Act vested single judges of the Federal Court of Canada, Trial Division, with original judicial review jurisdiction over decisions of the Convention Refugee Determination Division.[274] The move from multi-member panels to single judges for judicial reviews was yet another efficiency measure implemented for this high volume system.
Finally, the position of the Refugee Hearing Officer continued to be seen as an important part of the efficiency and integrity of the system. This position assisted CRDD Members by conducting research and being responsible for questioning during hearings. In 1995, the position was renamed to be called a Refugee Claim Officer.[260]
Growing claim numbers and deterrence measures
There was a time when the refugee "problem" was thought to be solvable.[275] The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was originally set up for only three years. The office was renewed by the UN General Assembly thereafter, but only for successive five-year periods. This UNHCR's temporary nature, and repeated renewals, continued until December 2003. At that time, the UNGA removed the temporal limitation and created a framework for refugee protection set to continue indefinitely, "until the refugee problem is solved".[275] In Shauna Labman's words, the removal of the temporal limitation on UNHCR's mandate speaks to the recognition of the increasing unlikelihood of such a resolution.[275] Ebbing expectations of any permanent solution to refugee issues have come at the same time as refugee numbers have grown, asylum claimants have come from further afield, and concomitant refugee status determination costs have increased. This has been driven by reductions in the cost of international air travel, and the end of the Cold War, and with it a sharp reduction in the number of countries placing limits on the ability of nationals to leave their state (viz. the fall of the Berlin Wall).[168]
In response, in Bríd Ní Ghráinne's words, states have begun to employ increasingly "creative" means to constrain refugee flows and restrict the number of individuals they recognize as refugees.[276] Such measures have included curtailing the entry of refugees onto their territories through what she terms “relatively invisible—and hence politically expedient—​non-entrée measures”[276] which have been deployed by Canada to an increasing extent in recent decades. Canada's geographic location, buffered by the U.S., Mexico, and three oceans, has long made it difficult for irregular migrants to reach its territory.[277] As the number of claimants in the country has risen in recent decades, Canada has increasing turned towards the following non-entrée measures:
Furthermore, measures have been implemented to streamline the asylum process for those in Canada and make claiming asylum in Canada less desirable:
Such measures have often been implemented in Canada in recent decades in response to claim backlogs and perceived crisis situations. An example of such a crisis emerged in the late 1980s when the federal government recalled Parliament for an emergency session to amend the Immigration Act after 174 Sikh persons arrived by lifeboat near the fishing village of Charlesville, Nova Scotia.[56] At that time, the Canadian Employment and Immigration Advisory Council reported that most business and labour leaders felt the government had "lost control of the border".[303] Parliament's resultant law, Bill C-84, the Refugee Deterrents and Detention Act, was considered to be a restrictive piece of legislation.[304]
Rebecca Hamlin situates the rise of this regime to deter asylum claims in the following way: "the rise of the regime of deterrence is, in part, a story of unintended consequences, because international commitments made by each country in a particular political moment came back to haunt future generations of policymakers. Had these countries' leaders anticipated the financial, security, and political challenges of the present-day situation, they might not have been as willing to make commitments that, at the time, were largely an abstraction."[240]
The 2002 move from the Immigration Act to the IRPA
In the late 1990s, the federal government began a process to overhaul the then-Immigration Act, including with a lengthy public consultation period.[305] It commissioned a report entitled Not Just Numbers: A Canadian Framework for Future Immigration which set out priorities for the reformed system, some of which were accepted and others (like removing jurisdiction for determining refugee status from the IRB and transferring it to civil servants[306]) which were not. The resulting Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”) was an entirely new statute and represented the first complete revision of immigration legislation in Canada since 1978.[307] The shift from the Immigration Act to the IRPA in June 2002 also marked a new era of asylum policy in Canada - one that has been described as being focused on relieving administrative burdens. In the drafting and development of the IRPA, considerable public attention was been devoted to the question of whether to have one act governing immigration matters and a separate act governing refugee law. The idea, motivated by concern about the fundamental differences between immigration and refugee law, and advocated for in the Not Just Numbers report, was ultimately rejected; however, the Act's new title and the establishment of a separate division of the legislation devoted to refugees reflect this concern.[308] Highlights of the new legislative framework include the following:
While the above overhaul of the system represented considerable change, it is also notable that some of the changes argued for in the Not Just Numbers report were ultimately rejected. For example, that report had recommended that the processing of overseas and inland refugee claims be unified within a single system with shared decision-makers for both. Having a single system reflected a desire for more consistent decision-making on refuge status, but, in Shauna Labman's words, "[brushed over] the additional necessity of the selection aspect in overseas resettlement."[325] The proposal was not adopted.
Post-IRPA measures
Following the introduction of the IRPA, a number of measures were taken which had a continued focus on system integrity, efficiency, and reducing backlogs at the RPD. These included:
Reverse-order questioning: The year following the introduction of the IRPA, in 2003, the IRB Chairperson issued Guideline 7 on the Conduct of a Hearing, which created a new order for questioning during an RPD hearing. The new order of questioning in a hearing of a claim for refugee protection was that, if the Minister is not a party, any witness, including the claimant, would be questioned first by the RPD and then by the claimant’s counsel.[326]
Refugee reform in 2010 and 2012
Two pieces of legislation made significant changes to the refugee system in 2010 and 2012, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (BRRA, 2010) and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act (PCISA, June 2012). Key portions of PCISA were originally part of the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act (Human Smugglers Act), which was introduced as Bill C-49 in October 2010. After a Canadian federal election in May 2011 caused Bill C-49 to die on the order paper, the newly formed majority government re-introduced the provisions as Bill C-4 in June 2011. This Human Smugglers Act was then incorporated into Bill C-31, PCISA, in June 2012.[334]
As Neil Yeates describes it, the thrust of these reforms was for faster processing of claims, with a view that bona fide claimants would be more quickly approved, and failed claimants, after access to the new Refugee Appeal Division of the IRB, would be more quickly removed from Canada.[335] Various changes were made to assist this, including:
The current version of the Refugee Protection Division rules came into force on October 26, 2012 following the coming-into-force of this legislation.[351] The Immigration and Refugee Board, in its public comments, emphasized these rules and the importance of decisions being guided by them. This aligned with comments at the time from the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney of this sort: "I think most Canadians intuitively understand that broad public support for immigration, and, frankly, diversity in our society is contingent on having a well-managed, rules-based, fair immigration system. I think they understand that we all have a stake in maintaining such a system".[239] Following the coming into force of this new legislation and RPD rules in 2012, there was a 49 percent decline in asylum claims.[352]
2010s refugee protection initiatives
Resettlement programs
Canada actively resettles thousands of refugees per year within a voluntary burden-sharing scheme. This act places Canada near the top of a small group of approximately thirty countries worldwide willing to offer refugee protection through resettlement in addition to the promise of non-refoulement in the Refugee Convention.[353] Three states have traditionally been the leaders in resettlement: Canada, Australia, and the United States. Combined, they have tended to receive approximately 90 percent of the UNHCR's resettlement referrals.[354] By way of example, in the 2017 calendar year, the United States resettled 33,400 refugees, while Canada resettled 26,600 refugees, and Australia resettled 15,100 refugees.[355] In line with this tradition, Canada launched a program to resettle more than 25,000 Syrian refugees in 2015.
Sanctuary city movements
Many people do not file for asylum but live in the margins of society as undocumented self-settled migrants fearing arrest, deportation, and other punitive measures.[356] The 1906 Immigration Act made it the duty of municipal authorities to report select categories of removable immigrants, including those who had become a charge upon public funds or upon any charitable institution.[357] This duty was subsequently removed from Canada’s immigration legislation. Nonetheless, persons without legal immigration status in Canada, whether that of a refugee, refugee claimant, or otherwise, have faced difficulties accessing government and private services lest immigration documents be demanded or they be referred to immigration authorities and deported. In Canada, since 2013, Toronto, London, Vancouver,[358] and Hamilton have all declared themselves sanctuary cities.[359] These sanctuary city policies have generally involved ordinances ensuring access to municipal services for the undocumented, though without going so far as prohibiting information-sharing with federal border enforcement authorities altogether.
Irregular border crossing controversy
Since the Board's 1989 founding, the number of people making refugee claims has increased greatly, both in Canada and internationally. Looking at the numbers globally, during decade of the 1980s, there were 2.3 million applications for asylum lodged worldwide, mostly in western Europe, the United States, and Canada. During the 1990s, this number grew to 6.1 million applications filed, and the list of receiving nations grew to include Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, and southern Europe. During the 2000s, there were 5.5 million new applications filed worldwide, and countries such as Ireland, Greece, Poland, and South Africa became popular new destinations.[360] Today, roughly one million individuals apply for asylum globally each year,[361] with those classified as refugees representing 7–8 per cent of the global migrant population.[362] Similarly, in Canada, while the volume of new claims has gone through cycles, volume has trended upwards over time. Soon after the IRB started in 1989, the number of asylum seekers reaching Canada went up from a rate of several thousand a year to reach 37,000 in 1992.[268] Since then, three notable case decision backlogs have occurred: in 2002 with over 57,000 claims, in 2009 with over 62,000 pending claims,[363] and post-2017, where the Board had 90,000 claims awaiting decision.[364] States and UNHCR rendered 1.5 million decisions on individual asylum claims in 2017[365] and as of 2018 there were 3.5 million asylum seekers in the world.[366]
In this context, persons crossing irregularly from the United States into Canada became a significant political issue starting around 2017 and controversy has continued in years subsequent.[239] Such crossings occurred primarily at Roxham Road on the Quebec-New York border and at Emerson, Manitoba. In order to evade the restrictions put in place by the Safe Third Country Agreement, since 2017 more than 59,000 people have crossed the Canada-US border in an irregular manner and claimed asylum in Canada,[367] including 20,593 claimants in 2017, 19,419 claimants in 2018, and then 16,077 claimants in 2019.[367] The total number of asylum claims in Canada similarly rose over this period, going from 23,870 in 2016, to 50,390 in 2017, to 55,040 in 2018, to 64,045 in 2019.[368]
The resources dedicated worldwide to Refugee Status Determination (RSD) have been appropriately described as immense. For example, although exact figures are difficult to determine, academics note that the combined cost of RSD performed by states and UNHCR exceeds the total cost of direct humanitarian assistance provided to refugees by UNHCR.[369] In fact, Thériault has estimated that the Global North alone spends $20 billion on RSD,[370] a number which is a multiple of the UNHCR’s budget,[371] and, by his estimate, four times the budget made available to agencies that are responsible for the care of the refugee population in the Global South, despite the fact that 85% of refugees reside there.
Around the world, irregular arrivals generally have higher success rates for asylum claims than those who apply after arriving on some other temporary visa. For example, in Australia, the historical average success rate for asylum seekers who arrive by boat has been more than 80 per cent. The academic Daniel Ghezelbash states that this is largely due to the effectiveness of visa regimes in identifying persons with potential asylum claims and not giving them a visa which would allow them to travel to the country by regular means.[372] Despite the comparative bona fides of such claimants, the journeys undertaken by claimants arriving in the country irregularly, and necessitated by state deterrence measures, can be hazardous. For example, several crossers have lost limbs to frostbite after walking for hours in freezing temperatures and Mavis Otuteye, a 57-year-old Ghanaian grandmother, was found dead from hypothermia in a ditch near the Canada-US border in 2017.[373]
This increase in border crossings between the United States and Canada had political consequences. On one hand, it triggered calls and legal action to suspend or end the Safe Third Country Agreement, though a legal challenge to the agreement was denied by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2021.[374] On the other hand, as of 2017, polls indicated that 70 percent of Canadians felt that security along the Canada-US border should increase.[375] In their 2019 platform, the Conservative Party of Canada committed to prioritizing "economic migration" and favouring those facing "true persecution" over "bogus" refugee claimants.[239] Procedural changes to the immigration system which can be identified as a response to the irregular crossings ensued, among them changes to which claimants are eligible for a hearing before the IRB and an expansion in IRB capacity:
In April 2019, amendments were made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in Bill C-97, the Budget Implementation Act. These changes introduced new grounds of ineligibility for refugee claimants where a person is ineligible to make a refugee claim in Canada if they have previously requested asylum in a country with which Canada has an information-sharing agreement or arrangement. In practice this means that if they made a previous claim in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand (the "five eyes countries") they are ineligible to claim refugee status in Canada via the Immigration and Refugee Board. Idil Atak describes this omnibus Bill as having been "adopted hastily in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election" as part of the government's measures to respond to the irregular border crossing controversy.[376] Those found to be ineligible to make a claim to the IRB may submit applications for a pre-removal risk assessment instead.[377]
One of the effects of this increase in refugee claims has been a growing backlog of claims to process at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. In its 2019-20 departmental plan, the IRB noted that "an inventory of more than 75,000 claims has accumulated, representing more than two years of work at current funding levels".[378] The Board responded to this growing inventory in multiple ways. First, one of the federal government initiatives in response to the irregular border crossing controversy was to temporarily expand the processing capacity of the IRB in response to the surge in claims. The government increased resources at the Refugee Protection Division so that it could deal with up to 50,000 asylum claims by 2021.[379] Second, the Board changed how it scheduled and prioritized claims. The Regulations allow exceptions to the time limit for the RPD to hold a hearing because of operation limitations.[380] To deal with the backlog, the IRB began to prioritize older cases for scheduling before newer cases and abandoned the case processing timelines in the Regulations. Previously, when IRCC or CBSA referred a file to the RPD, the claimant was also provided a hearing date; the RPD then postponed that hearing for lack of capacity to hold it within the time limit. As of August 29, 2018, claimants were no longer provided a hearing date at the time of referral.[381]
Covid-19
In 2020, in response to the Covid-19 virus, fifty-seven countries shut their borders to asylum seekers.[382] At first, the Canadian government announced that all claimants arriving outside ports of entry would be screened for the virus and then quarantined if the test results were positive. The Canadian government changed its position days later, announcing that all claimants would be returned to the United States.[383] As part of this, the two countries reached a temporary agreement which allows Canada to send back individuals entering Canada from the US to make an asylum claim.[384] The agreement applies between official ports of entry along the land border and at air and marine ports of entry. The government also designated Roxham Road as a port of entry for the purposes of the Safe Third Country Agreement and began returning refugee claimants to the US at this point.[385]
The pandemic saw a number of states temporarily suspend asylum procedures.[386] Canada was one of them. The Refugee Protection Division shut down all hearings for several months as a result of the pandemic, resuming them in the summer of 2020. Referrals of claims to the IRB by IRCC and CBSA were delayed or suspended for far longer.[387]
The Covid-19 pandemic also saw the Canadian government implement one of its periodic amnesty campaigns for asylum seekers, in this case a program that became colloquially known as the Guardian Angels initiative which granted permanent residence status to asylum seekers who were involved with front-line caregiving during the pandemic.
Conclusion
The next chapters in the story of refugee protection procedure in Canada remain to be written. What can be said is that the concept of the ‘refugee’ is as old as the state system, and, in the words of academic Eve Lester, it will remain with us for as long as the state system remains.[12] As Emma Haddad writes, refugees are the consequence of erecting political boundaries and failing to protect all individuals as citizens, hence pushing insiders outside. So long as these conditions pertain - there are political borders constructing separate states and creating clear definitions of insiders and outsiders, and failures of protection - there will be refugees.[388]
References
  1. Haddad, E. (2008). The Refugee in International Society: Between Sovereigns (Cambridge Studies in International Relations). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511491351, page 48.
  2. Haddad, E. (2008). The Refugee in International Society: Between Sovereigns (Cambridge Studies in International Relations). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511491351, page 49.
  3. Chetail, V. (2019). International Migration Law. London, England: Oxford University Press, page 16.
  4. Haddad, E. (2008). The Refugee in International Society: Between Sovereigns (Cambridge Studies in International Relations). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511491351, page 50.
  5. Reports of the number of people who left France at this time vary. Julia Morris cites a figure of 1 million in Julia Morris, The Value of Refugees: UNHCR and the Growth of the Global Refugee Industry, Journal of Refugee Studies, 11 January 2021, https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/10.1093/jrs/feaa135 at page 4. Emma Haddad writes "From the 1670s to the start of the eighteenth century it is estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 French Protestants left France as refugees to seek protection abroad" in Haddad, E. (2008). The Refugee in International Society: Between Sovereigns (Cambridge Studies in International Relations). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511491351 at page 52. In contrast, Hazal Barbaros writes: “The number of immigrants varies according to sources. To begin with, the total number of members of the Reformed Church of France is estimated to be around 900,000. Some sources indicate that the most likely number of emigrants is 200,000 approximately, whereas the others give hyper-inflated figures like 800,000 which basically means France was deprived of nearly the whole of its Protestant population. Concerning those who chose England as their destination, the number is approximated to be between 40,000 to 50,000.” See Hazal Barbaros, Post Tenebras Lux: The Huguenot Diaspora in Early Modern London and its Reflections in Refugee Wills, Master’s Thesis, August 2021, Department of History, İhsan Doğramacı Bilkent University, Ankara, <​http://repository.bilkent.edu.tr/bitstream/handle/11693/76474/10412602.pdf?sequence=1​> (Accessed August 28, 2021), pages 9-10 of document.
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Last edited on 18 October 2021, at 22:52
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