Toronto Star

Refugee changes belie Trudeau’s vow to protect women

- DEEPA MATTOO OPINION Deepa Mattoo is the executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorat­ive Clinic.

This week, Vancouver hosted 6,000 leaders, hailing from more than 150 countries, gathering to discuss strategies, aimed at advancing fundamenta­l human rights for women. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance.

When announcing the conference, Trudeau said, “Prioritizi­ng the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women is not optional, but in fact, foundation­al to drive change and progress for all, and this is reflected in our new feminist foreign policy.”

His new budget, however, does not reflect this sentiment.

The federal budget introduced in April includes an amendment to the Immigratio­n and Refugee Protection Act, a provision hidden in a 392-page omnibus bill. The provision disqualifi­es refugee claimants from an independen­t hearing before the Immigratio­n and Refugee Board, if they have initiated claims in certain countries, including the United States. These claimants can include women who have experience­d gender-based violence.

How can Prime Minister Trudeau plan to advance human rights protection­s for women while simultaneo­usly creating further barriers to safety for female refugees?

Women refugees already occupy a precarious position in the global community. Gender-based persecutio­n is the No. 1 reason female refugee claimants seek asylum in Canada. About half of these women flee to escape domestic violence when they are unable to find protection within their home country.

The Barbra Schlifer Clinic works with women in similar positions, daily. Women who come to Canada hoping to find the aid and resources they need, instead find systemic barriers and a hostile legislatur­e. While the Liberal government touts policies of open borders and inclusivit­y, its legislativ­e acts are anything but.

The proposed changes for asylum seekers mean any asylum claimant who has previously attempted to seek protection within the United States will be denied a full and independen­t hearing. Instead, a government official will now review their claims.

These changes severely limit the individual’s ability to advance their claims, call witnesses and challenge government evidence. This creates a risk of deportatio­n for both women and children who have faced gender-based violence in their home countries, women and children who risk returning to the same peril. Many Central American women who are seeking protection from domestic violence travel by land through the United States to reach Canada. After arriving in the United States, many must file a U.S. refugee claim or face immediate deportatio­n home.

But, their U.S. refugee claims are ill-fated. The Trump administra­tion’s policies ignore domestic violence as valid grounds for an asylum claim. Canada, in contrast, has long recognized a woman’s right to seek asylum based on domestic violence if her home country fails to protect her.

If the prime minister is sincere in his commitment to the rights of women, he must abandon the harmful restrictio­ns of the rights of refugees that his government is attempting to pass into law. He must recommit to a refugee system that ensures the fair and independen­t determinat­ion of every asylum seeker's claim.

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