Groups say federal government’s new restrictions put women at risk

OTTAWA (8 May 2019) – Today, over 45 women’s organizations from across Canada condemned what they called an alarming clawback of the human rights of refugees in the recent federal budget bill. The groups are calling on the government and Parliament to drop the proposed change from the budget bill.

The new restriction will deny refugee claimants an independent hearing of their asylum claim if they previously filed a claim in the United States and certain other countries. The groups stated that this will harm women and children seeking refugee protection from domestic violence and gender-based persecution in their home countries. The letter states:

“It is shocking that the government would make this change, knowing it will directly and immediately harm women and children. […]  The Trump administration has closed the door on asylum for women and children fleeing domestic violence in countries that will not protect them; this bill means that Canada is by extension supporting this US policy and violating the human rights of women and girls seeking asylum.”

The letter noted that that in 2018, U.S. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions ruled that women fleeing domestic violence are not refugees under U.S. law– even if they were from a country that offered women no protection from such harm. Canada, by contrast, has recognized domestic violence as a form of gender-based persecution for more than two decades.

Raji Mangat, litigation director of West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF), stated: “Canada’s long-standing commitment to ensuring that refugees fleeing domestic violence get a meaningful process is all but erased by these proposed changes. The government should withdraw this deeply harmful restriction on refugee rights.”

The letter stated that instead of offering additional protection and support for women who are fleeing gender-based violence to establish their case – an area in which the Immigration and Refugee Board is a worldwide leader – the new restriction takes away protections. It means that women who have made these claims in the United States prior to entering Canada will not have an opportunity to present their case in a full, independent hearing – unlike refugee claimants who have not made a claim anywhere else.

Ketty Nivyabandi, a representative of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, stated: Women are not shopping for a better immigration deal—they are looking for protection. If Canada is to be a leader globally on women’s rights, it must continue to recognize that many countries fail to protect women from domestic violence—and this is why some women and girls seek asylum here.  The new restriction is unjust, and rolls back the clock on women’s rights.” 

Suki Beavers, Project Director of the National Association of Women and the Law, added: “We urge the Government to respect the rights of refugees, including the rights of women refugees, and to provide them with a fair and equal chance to seek Canada’s protection.  It is Canada’s moral and legal duty to fully protect women and children when they arrive in our country, and we are counting on MPs and Senators take these human rights and women’s rights obligations very seriously.” 

The restrictions in the Budget bill were originally planned to be considered by the Finance Committee, but late last week, they were hived off for review by the Citizenship and Immigration Committee. The committee will hold hearings this week.

 Note to editors: Karen Musalo, U.S. expert on gender asylum claims in the United States will testify at the Citizenship and Immigration Committee on these restrictions on Wednesday, May 8th at 4:30pm, Room 025-B, West Block. Prof. Musalo is Bank of America Chair in International Law, is the founding director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.


 Link to open letter and list of signatories (English only):


 About the organizations quoted this release:

• The National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) is an incorporated not-for-profit feminist organization that promotes the equality rights of women in Canada through legal education, research, and law reform advocacy.

• The Nobel Women’s Initiative is a worldwide organization led by women Nobel Peace Prize laureates that works to magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.

• West Coast LEAF is a BC-based organization dedicated to using the law as a strategy to work towards an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination.

• FAFIA is an alliance of equality-seeking organizations committed to making international agreements on women’s human rights a reality in women’s everyday lives in Canada.