Wielding new powers that came in with changes to immigration law in 2012, the federal government is now actively pursuing reopening asylum files under what’s known as a “cessation application” and forcing refugees whose circumstances have changed to leave Canada.
The number of people who had their protection “ceased” in 2014 was almost five times the number in 2012 — rising from 24 to 116 — according to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), which is mandated to decide if the individuals are still refugees or not.
An internal document obtained by the Canadian Council for Refugees under an access to information request showed the Conservative government has set an annual target of 875 applications to strip refugee status.
Officials dispute that there’s a target.
Advocates say the government initiative has created anxiety and fear among former refugees, who may sometimes travel back to their homeland to visit ailing relatives or visit for longer periods after conditions in the country improve.
The law does not quantify how often and long a refugee might visit and stay in their homeland to constitute what, in government parlance, is called “re-availment.” But Ottawa says individuals are deemed to have “re-availed” themselves to the country they fled if they apply for and obtain a national passport or a renewed passport voluntarily.
“Even if you are a permanent resident, you are no longer secure and can still lose your status any time. Everyone just wonders what is going to happen next. Anyone can be swept off in the government’s frenzy to take people’s status away,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the refugee council.
“Canada used to be proud of being an immigrant-welcoming nation. Now, it has become a country proud of stopping people from coming, delaying their citizenship, and taking away their status.”
Although cessation applications within the asylum system aren’t new, they were relatively rare before 2012. Under the old rules, loss of permanent resident status wasn’t automatic when refugees “re-availed” themselves. So few such actions were initiated.
The law already had provisions allowing authorities to “vacate” a refugee’s protected status and revoke permanent residency if the person was criminally convicted or found to have lied in their asylum claim.
The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said cessation and vacation cases were identified as a key priority in 2013, in order to improve the “integrity” of the refugee system.
“The Agency relies on its frontline staff to refer potential cases to hearing officers. In addition to frontline staff, the CBSA looks to its partners, namely Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the IRB, to help prioritize cases and move forward on those cases where the government feels it will achieve the greatest success,” said CBSA spokesperson Wendy Atkin.
“Training was provided at ports of entry and to CIC to ensure frontline staff are well informed of the initiative, know what to look for when assessing potential cases, and what evidence is required . . . It is expected referrals of cases to hearings will increase as this capacity continues to be implemented and strengthened.”
Milan Kumar Karki was granted refugee protection in Canada in 2002 based on his claim that he had been persecuted by the Nepalese regime for his human rights advocacy work. He became a permanent resident the following year, and his citizenship application has been in process since 2010.
In January, the Toronto man received a notice from border officials that a cessation application has been initiated against him.
Karki “has voluntarily re-availed himself of the protection of his country of nationality, Nepal, by obtaining a new Nepalese passport after being accepted as a refugee in Canada which he used to travel numerous times to Nepal and elsewhere,” the agency wrote.
“In so doing, the respondent has demonstrated that he no longer required Canada’s surrogate protection.”
Using information culled from Karki’s citizenship application and spousal sponsorship for his Nepalese wife, officials said the 37-year-old had returned to Nepal for numerous extended stays, got married, took up residence with his current spouse and maintained an immigration consulting business.
“He has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution,” said CBSA.
Karki, who defected during a human rights conference in Vancouver sponsored by the Canadian government, said his aging parents still live in Nepal because Canada has rejected his application to sponsor them here.
“The political situation in Nepal has changed and I no longer fear to go back. Refugees are not always refugees. They came because of the problems they faced at the moment,” Karki said.
“The Canadian government is just using the new law to get rid of people who already got their status and have settled in Canada. They have now made it harder for people to get citizenship. Unless you are a citizen, you are not safe.”
Individuals facing cessation actions are heard by the refugee board and can appeal the decision at the federal court. However, failed appellants are banned from applying to stay on humanitarian grounds within a year — under the 2012 changes in the law — and must leave the country.
Cessation of refugee status
Year / Allowed / Rejected / Withdrawn /Total
2010 /14 / 0 / 4 / 18
2011 / 22 / 0 / 5 /27
2012 / 24/ 0 / 6 / 30
2013 / 41 / 5 / 1 / 47
2014 /116 / 18 / 21 / 155
Source: Immigration and Refugee Board