Canada's refugee board is likely to look favourably on claims of persecution by gay asylum-seekers from Russia, the Immigration Minister says.
Chris Alexander said Monday in Surrey, B.C., that Russia has taken the wrong path in restricting the fundamental rights of its gay community, and that any refugee claims "related to this particular issue will of course be looked at very seriously by our very generous system."
Russia has passed a new law banning gay "propaganda" – a catch-all that prohibits gay pride events and providing information to minors on "non-traditional" relationships, and exposes those who express pro-gay views to prosecution. Foreigners can be hit with fines of about $3,000, and 15 days in a Russian jail.
Lawyer Rob Hughes, who is representing two gay Russian men claiming refugee status in Canada, says he expects more Russians to make claims based on sexual orientation.
"It's quite encouraging … It is very positive news," he added about Mr. Alexander's statement. "People are not feeling safe there."
Mr. Hughes, who focuses on sexual orientation and gender-based claims, says his two clients told him numerous people in Russia have expressed interest about seeking asylum in Canada.
"On the other hand, because of the cost and visa requirements to get here, I don't think it will be floodgates," he said. "And certainly with my experience with LGBT refugee claimants … it's never been like a boat load of people coming here to Canada. It's always singly, or possibly a couple."
Canada accepts gay asylum-seekers in the same way as it accepts members of any other persecuted group, like a religious or ethnic minority. Asylum-seekers can file a claim after they arrive in Canada because they face persecution by their government, or because they are persecuted by others and the government does not offer protection.
Canada also resettles refugees living in camps abroad, and former immigration minister Jason Kenney, now the Employment and Social Development Minister, adopted a policy of trying to resettle gay refugees fleeing Iran and Iraq. Mr. Kenney said in January he "cannot think of a more obvious case of persecution."
There are typically between 140 and 225 Russians a year who arrive in Canada and claim refugee status, and about half are usually accepted. The Immigration and Refugee Board said it does not keep reliable detailed statistics on how many claim asylum because they are fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation.