On July 23, Canada’s federal court ruled that by denying refugees from countries deemed to be “safe,” the Canadian government was violating their Charter rights.
While the ruling will not directly impact the refugee sponsorship initiatives taking place across the Anglican Church of Canada, it will likely reduce the number of refugee claimants forced to seek out church sanctuary to avoid deportation, according to an Anglican priest.
The ruling strikes down a law passed in 2012 allowing the Canadian government to limit the claims process for applicants arriving from certain “designated countries of origin” (DCO) deemed to be unlikely to produce refugees. The ruling, written by Justice Keith Boswell, argues that the law “serves to further marginalize, prejudice and stereotype refugee claimants from DCO countries that are generally considered safe and ‘non-refugee producing.'”
Ultimately, Boswell says, the law unjustifiably discriminates against claimants based on their country of origin.
While the federal government has already said it will appeal the ruling, the Rev. Jeffrey Metcalfe, a priest from the diocese of Québec who has for some years been involved in the Canadian Sanctuary Network, an ecumenical organization that shelters refugees facing deportation, said that if upheld, it will make a big difference for those working with newly arrived refugee claimants.
“Sanctuary itself has been, by and large, a stopgap measure for precisely these kinds of situations,” he said, citing the case of a Roma family from Hungary (a “safe” country, according to the DCO list) whose refugee claim was rejected due to negligence on the part of their lawyer and who were forced into hiding to avoid deportation. “What this ruling does, essentially, is make it so that theoretically [refugees] do get access now to a merit-based appeal.”
The problem with the expedited claims process for applicants from designated countries of origin, Metcalfe explained, is that refugees have only one chance to make their case: “If there are mistakes—and in all systems there are mistakes—there is no way to correct [them].”
Metcalfe is hopeful that the ruling, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will mean a fairer process for refugee claimants. But he also believes it vindicates the work Anglicans have done behind the scenes to protect claimants who may have been unjustly denied refugee status.
“I think that this speaks for the importance of the church’s work in relation to sanctuary—because essentially the courts are catching up with a kind of moral imperative that the churches have picked up through sanctuary,” he said.
The head of the diocese of New Westminster’s refugee unit, the Rev. Christopher McGee, said the ruling “doesn’t directly affect” the Anglican Church of Canada’s refugee sponsorship initiatives, because most of the refugees sponsored by the church have already been designated as such before they arrive.
When it comes to refugees being sponsored, they are “typically refugees that are in camps, that are somehow—though not always—connected to the United Nation High Commission for Refugees and been given a [refugee] designation internationally.”
But McGee welcomed the court’s decision. “I think it’s a very just ruling. I appreciate the decision because I think that it’s unfair to not treat all refugee claimants equally, and if we have someone who has a legitimate need for appeal, that should be heard, regardless of the country of origin.”