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Buried in a Budget Bill: A Retraction of Refugee Rights

Shaista Article 1 Photo
Angela Johnston/CBC
June 27, 2019

A clandestine clause in Canada’s latest Budget Implementation Act denies refugee claimants who have sought asylum in any country holding “information sharing agreements”(1) with Canada, the right to a hearing here. This ineligibility provision subordinates the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), the established government authority on assessing asylum applications, which consequently renounces review of refugee cases by Canadian jurisprudence. Following the Safe Third Country Agreement with the US, it will further extend to countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand. What purpose does Canada’s lauded humane and rights-based system serve if it inadvertently submits to another country’s disposition? 

Canada commemorated World Refugee Day on June 20th by rushing to pass Bill C-97 before Parliament’s final sitting on June 21, concomitantly prohibiting thousands of refugee claimants from having their pleas fairly considered by the IRB. Border Security Minister Bill Blair has called the decision a response to “asylum shopping”(2), with concern for regulation of migratory movement as there has been a rise in arrival of asylum-seekers to Canada in the last two years. Ensuring border security is a critical government duty and an efficient asylum system is an important part of this. Canada has set the global standard for a just and effective immigration system bolstered with legitimate security protocol. However, in an effort to further improve this, the latest provision overlooks the fate it imposes on asylum seekers, who may be forced to return to the crisis they fled.

Beyond the irreconcilability of burying a clause proposing drastic changes to the refugee determination system in an omnibus budget bill under purview of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance as opposed to the Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, the hasty and constricted committee hearings forsake due democratic assessment. The approval of Bill C-97 will enforce regulations that contradict the non-discrimination pledged by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15) and explicitly endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada(1)

Ergo, the provision proposes the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) as an alternative to the review of asylum applications by the IRB. A paper-based review that circumvents proper interpersonal interviews and IRB hearing standards, the PRRA functions on the “same protective objectives as the refugee determination process at the IRB” (3) and Minister Blair has reassured that it will be enhanced to incorporate the right to a hearing before deportation. However, the PRRA falls short of conferring sufficient justice as PRRA evaluators lack the knowledge, expertise and training of IRB officials(1). Furthermore, PRRA decisions cannot be appealed whereas initial refusal by IRB can be brought to the Refugee Appeal Division. 

While it is reassuring that Canada seeks to maintain procedural fairness towards refugees, the last time a similar situation arose where the Parliament created a right of appeal for refused IRB claimants in 2002, it took the Government 10 years to establish the Refugee Appeal Division in 2012(4). Thus, the concern is that despite positive intentions for eventual development, history suggests that it could be a significantly lengthy interim period before the consolidation of the right to a hearing pre-removal. During this time, the fates of asylum claimants remain precarious. 

The great mental and physical cost of abandoning one’s home can be exacerbated when one is unable to voice the need for international protection to an independent tribunal. Embroiling asylum seekers in an arduous risk assessment process increases their alienation once here, given that it will take longer to get any, let alone adequate, resources for survival in the interim. Superseding this is the inhumane prospect of returning refugees to zones of conflict. 

With the first senate reading (4) of the protracted 364 page Bill having occurred on April 8, pertinent stakeholders were still foraging their way through it as parliament’s final sitting fast approached. This resulted in insufficient time for significant resolvement efforts to be planned and enacted given the accelerated implementation endeavor. This article, along with briefs from immigration lawyers and advocates serves to aid awareness, engagement and response to concern for the human rights of refugees.

Suggestions for overturning this amendment are difficult to make since the bill has already passed the House and currently awaits passage in the Senate(5), however, the case of the Refugee Appeal Division is a reminder that controversial laws or propositions have been objected to in the past. Thus, at this stage it is critical for MPs to be aware of a clause that impinges on the rights of refugees and push for action at the senate level. The government should at least remove such a provision from a budget act and table independent legislation that allows for democratic processes to effectively deliberate and consequently modify or reject this amendment. Additionally, in the short term, the Government should create an enhanced PRRA that will protect the rights of refugees to a hearing, should this bill pass. Without such actions, the resultant disavowal of seeking asylum will not be a Canadian border security and crime solution, it will be a Canadian human rights violation.

Further actions

Learn more about personal experiences:

Learn more about private sponsorship which allows a group of 5 or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents to sponsor a refugee living abroad to come to Canada:

Sign Amnesty International’s petition to rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement:

Call the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to object to the anti-refugee inclusions of this bill:

Raise awareness – share this article on social media as well as campaigns by Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, Canadian Council of Churches and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

Show support by attending a World Refugee Day event happening in your community – Amnesty International has a calendar of these!


[1] The Canadian Association Of Refugee Lawyers. “Brief Of The Canadian Association Of Refugee Lawyers Re: Bill C-97 – Budget Implementation Act”. May 7, 2019. Accessed May 20 2019.

[2] Wright, Teresa. “Refugee advocates ‘shocked and dismayed’ over asylum changes in budget bill”. CTV News. April 9, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019.

[3] UNHCR Canada. “UNHCR’s Statement to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology – 29 May 2019”. May 29, 2019. Accessed June 19 2019.

[4] House of Commons Canada. “Bill C-97”. March 19, 2019. Accessed May 20, 2019.

[5] Aiello, Rachel. “Last-minute push: A guide to the government bills left to pass this Parliament”. CTV News. June 18, 2019. Accessed June 26, 2019.