Ottawa has slowly — and quietly — stepped up
efforts to strip permanent resident status from former refugees who were
granted asylum in Canada and later returned to the country where they
once faced persecution.
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
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
“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
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
Source: Immigration and Refugee Board