Refugee advocates stage protest in downtown Vancouver against Bill C-31
Former refugees, lawyers and advocacy groups took part in a rally in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board offices in downtown Vancouver today (April 4) to protest Bill C-31, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The rally organized by the group Movement in Defence of Human Rights of Immigrants and Refugees, coincided with Refugee Rights Day, which in Canada marks the anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that affirmed the rights of refugee claimants.
Rob Hughes, a lawyer and member of the Rainbow Refugee Committee, a support group for LGBT refugees, was among the participants at the rally.
“There are…probably dozens and dozens of people that go through the refugee claims process, claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity, every year that we’re assisting,” Hughes told reporters.
“Unfortunately in many countries in the world, there is continuing persecution because of people’s gender identity and gender expression.”
Hughes said the group has been working with LGBT refugees from throughout Latin America and Africa.
“I think what’s happening is with the increased visibility in the many countries is that there’s been a reaction among conservative forces in society against that, and many government are reacting to that,” he said.
“We’d made incredible gains in human rights in Canada over the last generation, but that’s not the case in the rest of the world. Things are slower to change and there is that backlash that’s happening.”
Immigration lawyer Peter Edelmann outlined some of the changes he said will occur under Bill C-31, including what he called an “unrealistic” timeline for some refugee applications, a provision that would allow the cessation of permanent residency status in the cases of some former refugees, and the ability for the immigration minister to determine the criteria for which countries will be designated as ‘safe’.
“Being from a designated country is going to have very serious consequences for people,” he told the crowd, arguing that parliamentarians “do not have the time to understand this” before the late June deadline the government is aiming to pass the bill by.
Ana Curic, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, told the Straight in a phone interview earlier this week that any decision regarding the removal of permanent resident status would be made by the Immigration and Refugee Board in cases where the refugee’s application is deemed to be fraudulent.
“The minister does not have the ability to make this decision—it’s ultimately the independent Immigration and Refugee Board who does, and there are already provisions in the current law that allow refugee status and permanent residence to be revoked by the IRB if it is found that someone obtained their refugee status through fraudulent means,” she told the Straight.
She noted that the designation of “safe” countries will be determined through criteria including high numbers of withdrawn or abandoned claims from refugee applicants from that country, and factors such as whether the country demonstrates respect for human rights and has independent, non-governmental organizations.
In addition to the rally in Vancouver today, members of the group No One Is Illegal also staged a series of sit-ins at the offices of Conservative members of Parliament across the country in protest of Bill C-31. A group of about 20 protesters occupied an office in the Immigration and Refugee Board building in Vancouver this morning, according to Harsha Walia.
Bill C-31, which is currently in second reading, will receive a final day of debate before members of Parliament vote on sending the bill to committee.