Toronto – April 1, 2019 – Each year on April 4, people across the country celebrate Refugee Rights Day to honour the progress that has been made in protecting refugees seeking a new life in Canada. According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who has left their home country due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted based on race, religion, nationality, or membership in a social or political group.
Refugee Day Rights Day is also a time to celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada’s Singh Decision, which established that the principles of life, liberty, and personal security – enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – apply to all persons in Canada. With this ruling, the Supreme Court changed how refugee claims are adjudicated, to a system where claimants can now access full hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Today, Canada accepts tens of thousands of refugees every year, and most of the claims processed by the Immigration and Refugee Board are accepted. However, there is currently a backlog of 64,000 cases that are pending adjudication, which suggests that much more needs to be done to ensure that all refugee claims are handled in a fair and timely fashion.
In addition, issues of inequity continue to prevent refugees from accessing an array of services in Canada. While the federal government has focused on private refugee sponsorships, the Canadian Council of Refugees notes that most refugees entering Canada under this stream are not afforded coverage for health care and must pay out of pocket for things like medications and prosthetics.
We also need to do better when it comes to fixing our immigration system. As it stands right now, far too many employers rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to fill labour shortages in this country, and workers who participate in the program lack access to permanent residence and citizenship. This is an unconscionable state of affairs, as our union believes that if you are good enough to work in Canada, you are good enough to live here.
On Refugee Rights Day, let us stand in solidarity with refugees and migrants seeking a better life in Canada. Let us remind our friends, family, and colleagues – as well as employers and governments - that all workers deserve respect and dignity on the job, regardless of where they come from. And let us reaffirm our commitment to achieve justice for migrants and refugees who simply want the same rights and access to opportunity that the rest of us enjoy.
Paul R. Meinema