Toronto – April 3, 2014 – When the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its landmark 1985 decision in the case Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration, Canada took a momentous leap forward in the developing legal areas of Constitutional law and refugee rights. In the Singh case, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that guarantees within the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and security applied to everyone in Canada – including refugees.
As a matter of fundamental justice, the case placed refugee rights squarely into the broader mainstream discussion of rights, and continued the positive discussion that frames our support for refugees not as charitable relief, but as a deep-seated element of the Canadian psyche. Our shared responsibility to provide a safe haven to those who have suffered, or fear persecution, on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, sexual orientation – or simply because they are fleeing a war – is one that Canadians have taken seriously.
The vast majority of the world’s refugees are from the Global South, are racialized, and are not protected by meaningful legislation. There is nothing new about these facts. However, with draconian legislation emerging in a variety of countries, not only do we see refugees who are fleeing because of their race or religion. The number of people who have had to escape their own country because of their sexual orientation has also increased substantially. Unfortunately, for over a decade, as lights increasingly shine on the growing facet of refugees, Canadian refugee and immigration laws have moved in the opposite direction with horrendous results.
In a time when Canada should be moving towards stronger protections for all refugees, the Harper Conservatives have done the opposite by ruthlessly demolishing protections for refugees. As recently as 2012, the federal government enacted Bill C-31, which has resulted in refugees being faced with impossibly tight timelines for preparations of their case; the Minister, as opposed to academic experts, deciding which countries are "Designated Countries of Origin" from which refugee claims are automatically suspect; and the possible detention for months on end of "Irregular Arrival" refugees, including children, whose identity documents are missing or difficult to immediately verify. Moreover, this legislation has had a catastrophic effect on Irregular Arrival refugees and those from Designated Countries of Origin in that they no longer have access to an appeal process.
The ruthless indignation shown by Prime Minister Harper to some of the world's most vulnerable human beings diminishes each and every one of us as Canadians. As Canada's leading union, we will continue to work towards a Canada that is accepting, fair, and socially just towards refugees and newcomers. April 4, Refugee Rights Day, is not only a meaningful reminder of this, but is also an opportunity to double our efforts, alongside our national network of community partners, to ensure that we are once again a country that prides itself on its compassion and where we can once again celebrate great victories such as the Singh case.
Paul R. Meinema