Opposing Bill C-31 on Regugee Rights Day April 4 2012 – MEDIA RELEASE

BILL C-31 ENDANGERS REFUGEES ESCAPING SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED PERSECUTION

April 4th is Refugee Rights Day in Canada—marking the day the Supreme Court recognized the rights of refugees to fair hearings, and other Charter rights ensured to Canadians. Bill C-31, currently before parliament, threatens these rights.

Rainbow Refugee is deeply concerned that Bill C-31 undermines the chances for LGBT refugee claimants to receive a fair decision. Canada was among the first countries to grant refugee protection to people facing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Twenty-one countries now do so. This protection is vital in a world where lesbian gay bi trans people face criminal sanctions in no fewer than 76 countries, and the death penalty in at least five.

If Bill C-31 passes, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney will be able to create a list of “designated” countries, presumed safe. People from these designated countries will not have the right of appeal. In a brief to parliamentarians, Rainbow Refugee states, “A “safe” country list cannot accommodate the current state complexity and flux in persecution and protection of lesbian gay gi trans (LGBT) people. Extreme forms of homophobic and transphobic violence often co-exist with constitutional protection for LGBT people on paper, particularly in newer democracies. South Africa recognizes same-sex marriage. Yet, human rights organizations there report ten cases a week in which lesbians have been targeted for “corrective rape” and police have done nothing to investigate.”   As Rainbow Refugee founder Chris Morrissey argues “It is precisely when country conditions appear safe on paper that LGBT refugee decisions are most complex, and the safety net of an appeal is most critical.”

Research on LGBT refugee settlement conducted by Dr. Sharalyn Jordan, Assistant Professor of Counselling Psychology at Simon Fraser University, and an active member of Rainbow Refugee, suggests that the expedited timelines proposed in Bill C-31 may undermine the ability of LGBT claimants to present their case. Jordan points out “LGBT refugees have left countries where they have been under surveillance, arrested, imprisoned, extorted, assaulted, and for some, tortured, because of their sexuality or gender identity. Survival has required remaining hidden and vigilant.  These survival tactics do not disappear on arrival. Shame related to stigma, and the impacts of sexual trauma can interfere with claimants’ ability to give a clear, coherent account.” Proving a sexual orientation or gender identity that they have struggled to keep secret is challenging for LGBT claimants. Rainbow Refugee remarks that refugee claimants have been sent back to harm because they have been unable to prove their identity, or demonstrate that the harms they face constitute persecution. Bill C-31 shortens the time refugee claimants have to prepare a written claim from 28 days, to 15 days.  Hearings will be scheduled only 30 days later for people from designated countries, and 45 days later for others.  The expedited time-frame proposed in the background to C-31 will not give LGBT claimants a fair chance to obtain competent legal counsel, prepare themselves, or their evidence. Rainbow Refugee fears that many LGBT claimants will be inadequately prepared for hearings, resulting in poor decisions and unfair rejections.

Humanitarian and Compassionate consideration is an important means of protecting people who are in danger, but whose circumstances may not meet the criteria for Convention Refugee protection.  This is the case for people fleeing homophobic or transphobic violence in countries where protection for LGBT persons is uneven and hard to access. However, Bill C-31 eliminates this safety net by placing a 12 month Ban on applications for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds and Pre-Removal Risk Assessment for refugee claimants who receive a negative decision. 

On April 4th, Refugee Rights Day, Rainbow Refugee (Vancouver, BC) is joining AGIR (Montreal, PQ) to lauch a facebook campaign, Where does Bill C-31 leave queer refugees?

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