A group of Canadian women’s organizations have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to withdraw controversial changes to asylum laws in his government’s omnibus budget bill because of the harm they would cause to women targeted by harsh U.S. immigration policies.
Last year, the United States said it wouldn’t accept asylum claims based on fleeing domestic violence.
Canadian organizations that help vulnerable women said the American decision would mean any woman whose asylum claim was denied in the U.S. would also be denied full access to Canada’s refugee determination system under the Liberals’ budget bill.
The Liberals want to change Canadian laws to prevent asylum-seekers from making refugee claims in Canada if they have made similar claims in certain other countries, including the United States.
The new provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was tucked into a 392-page omnibus budget bill tabled last month.
An open letter to Trudeau from 46 groups, many of which support battered women and victims of violence, ask him to scrap the proposed restrictions that they call “deeply harmful” to female refugees.
“The proposed amendments are a step backward from Canada’s current refugee determination system, which has long recognized domestic violence as a basis on which women may seek Canada’s protection,” said Amanda Dale, director or the Feminist Alliance for International Action at a press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday.
“These amendments have the result that women who experience domestic violence will not benefit from the full and fair process to which refugee claimants are entitled under law.”
Trudeau has defended the changes to refugee rules by saying Canada has seen larger numbers of refugee claims because of global instability. Sustaining Canadians’ confidence in the country’s asylum system means ensuring those who enter Canada must do so according to the law, he told reporters last month.
The government has also said the new provisions are designed to prevent asylum seekers from “shopping” for asylum claims in multiple countries.
Lawyers and advocates who work with refugees decry the move as a devastating attack on refugee rights in Canada.
Women’s groups now joining the chorus of concern said the new law would mean Canada is, by extension, supporting the U.S. policy that blocks victims of gender-based violence from seeking asylum — something they say would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by denying claimants their right to due process.
The new provisions remove the ability for these claims to be heard by an independent tribunal or a court.
“Refugee women are not shopping for a better immigration deal, they are looking for protection,” said Ketty Nivyabandi of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
“If Canada is to be a leader globally in women’s rights, it must continue to recognize that many countries fail to protect women from domestic violence and this is why some women and girls seek asylum here.”
Asylum-seekers deemed ineligible to make claims in Canada would not necessarily be deported to their homelands. They would first undergo pre-removal risk assessments to determine if it is safe to send them to their countries of origin.
Border Security Minister Bill Blair told a committee of MPs Tuesday evening that all asylum seekers who fall under the new law would be given access to an expanded risk assessment, which would allow them a “hearing” before department officials where they could have legal representation.
But Lobat Sadrehashemi, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said there is nothing in the budget bill creating the process Blair outlined at committee. She said the groups are hopeful parliamentarians remove the refugee provisions from the rest of the budget bill.
“Of course, if they don’t, then there is the possibility of litigation,” she said.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press