The Canadian Federal Court has ruled that denying certain refugee applicants the right to appeal is unconstitutional.
Canada’s discriminatory refugee policy mostly affected Eastern Europeans fleeing persecution, with the court ruling that the Canadian government violates equal rights under the law by denying refugees from so-called “safe countries” the right to appeal when their applications are turned down.
The ruling immediately allows refugees from 42 countries the right to appeal.
“The distinction drawn between the procedural advantages now accorded to non-DCO (Designated Countries of Origin) refugee claimants and the disadvantage suffered by DCO refugee claimants under (the policy) is discriminatory on its face,” said Justice Keith Boswell in his ruling. “It also serves to further marginalize, prejudice, and stereotype refugee claimants from DCO countries which are generally considered safe and ‘non-refugee producing’.”
Critics of the refugee policy often point to the big contrast between this policy and the country’s pilot investment immigration program targeting foreign millionaires. The investment immigration program requires would-be immigrants to invest at least US$1.5 million in Canada for a period of 15 years, and also prove to have a net worth of a minimum of US$7.6 million.
The ruling is said to be a big blow to the Harper government, which wants to overhaul the refugee system. The government in its defence stated that their refugee policy was not discriminatory because it allegedly used nationality only to inform “the relative safety of the countries they are from”.
The Canadian Romani Alliance says that racial profiling by border officials against Roma community members peaked in 2011, when visa restrictions were removed for Hungarian visitors. It was then that asylum claims from the Hungarian Roma, who were trying to escape life-threatening anti-Roma persecution, reached an all-time high of 4,400. But since Hungary had got listed as a “safe country”, Canada rejected most of these asylum claims.
“Even though Roma do not need a visa to come to Canada, they are kept out of the country. This is a form of discrimination, an example of racial profiling by the Canadian government,” says Gina Csanyi-Robah of the Canadian Romani Alliance.
The ruling has been welcomed by refugee groups. “This is a very important victory for refugees. Every refugee deserves to have their claims determined on their own merits,” says Jared Will of Refugee Lawyers Association.
The refugee policy before the ruling gave asylum seekers only 15 days to file their claims and did not allow them to work for six months.