Refugee changes be­lie Trudeau’s vow to pro­tect women

Toronto Star - - TORONTO STAR - 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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