Recent changes to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act have resulted in a dramatic increase in applications to strip refugees of their status, according to a new report by the Canadian Council for Refugees.
The issue, which appears particularly pronounced in Vancouver, has created a climate of fear among refugees – some now permanent residents – who face the possibility of losing status and being deported from Canada, the report states. The CCR calls the process "arbitrary, draconian and absurd."
While the Immigration and Refugee Board's authority to cease an individual's refugee protection, or permanent resident status, is not new, changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act adopted in 2012 mean a person automatically loses permanent residency if the IRB decides he or she is no longer a refugee. This can be done through cessation (if, for example, a refugee has "voluntarily re-availed" himself or herself of the protection of their country or origin) or vacation (if it is determined the person obtained refugee status through misrepresentation).
Prior to the 2012 law change, a cessation decision could not lead to loss of permanent residency. In 2013, the Canada Border Services Agency referred to the IRB's Refugee Protection Division (RPD) 178 applications to cease refugee protection in Canada; from 2009-2012, it referred less than 40 per year, according to IRB statistics. There were 148 cessation applications pending at the end of March.
A September, 2013, operational bulletin from the CBSA, obtained by Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland under Access to Information Act legislation, revealed the agency has set a target of referring at least 875 vacation or cessation cases to the RPD each year.
Peter Edelmann, a Vancouver-based immigration and refugee lawyer whose firm represents about a half-dozen clients affected by the change in law, said he is troubled by what he calls an "arbitrary target."
"I think it is deeply problematic to give targets for enforcement in any area, as it unduly fetters the discretion of the officers who are making decisions that will have devastating consequences in the lives of the persons involved," he said. "The decision to initiate enforcement actions, much like the decision to lay criminal charges, should never be based on pressure to meet an arbitrary target, but should only be based on whether the enforcement action is appropriate in the circumstances."
In an e-mail, Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesman Rémi Larivière said Canada has "one of the most fair and generous immigration asylum systems in the world," and the 2012 changes are intended to crack down on fraudulent cases.
"The actions of some asylum claimants who re-avail themselves of the protection of their home countries, in which they claimed they would face persecution, soon after obtaining asylum in Canada suggests that some are taking advantage of our asylum system," he said. "Individuals who face the cessation of protected person status have demonstrated that they no longer need protection from Canada by voluntarily returning to their country of persecution or acquiring protection from another country."
The CCR's report includes profiles of six people, five of whom currently reside in Metro Vancouver. They include a woman threatened with cessation of refugee protection after stating on her Canadian citizenship application that she had returned to her home country of origin four times times to care for sick or elderly family members and attend a funeral. The woman has lived in Metro Vancouver for more than 10 years and works in a supervisory position at a freight company. Her common-law partner and four-year-old child are both Canadian citizens.
"All the ones we have profiled are cases of people we have absolutely no reason to think there was anything fraudulent about the obtaining of their status," said Janet Dench, executive director of the CCR. "They don't at all meet what [former citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney] gave as the rationale for this change. To us, it looks like the intended goal of Parliament was not what is taking place."
The CBSA said in an e-mail it has "significantly increased the number of cessation and vacation cases under review, but this effort has not yet resulted in increased referrals to the RPD. In 2013, the CBSA initiated 449 cessation cases and 1,103 vacation cases for review, the agency said.