SUMMARY OF BILL C-97
Bill C-97, the Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1, was tabled in the House of Commons in April 2019 as an omnibus Bill to implement budgetary provisions. It made amendments to various legislation including the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).
Clause 306 of the Bill amends section 101(1) of the IRPA, which outlines the limited circumstances under which a claim for refugee protection in Canada is ineligible for referral to the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Clause 306 adds an additional ground of ineligibility: a claim will be ineligible for referral to the RPD if the claimant has made a claim for refugee protection to a country other than Canada before making a claim for refugee protection in Canada. This is in accordance with Canada’s information-sharing agreements with Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Any claimant in Canada who has made a previous claim in one of these countries would be ineligible to have their claims referred to the RPD, and the only possibility of refugee protection would be through a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA).
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S CONCERNS WITH THE PROPOSED LAW
In our submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, Amnesty International urged that clause 306 be withdrawn and not reintroduced. We also urged the Committee to withdraw the other IRPA amendment provisions.
First, clause 306 is inconsistent with international refugee law. It runs counter to Canada’s obligations under the Refugee Convention by narrowing the scope of claims that are eligible to seek refugee protection. Automatic bars to considerations of asylum claims, such as the one introduced by Bill C-97, are not in conformity with the Convention. As well, failure to claim protection in another country is not grounds, within the Convention, to refuse to recognize refugee status. Article 3 of the Refugee Convention also prohibits discrimination among refugees on the grounds of race, religion, or country of origin. Bill C-97 discriminates between those claimants who have made a protection claim in a given category of states and those who have not. This is an analogous ground of discrimination contrary to the spirit of the Convention.
Second, this provision of Bill C-97 creates a two-tier system of refugee protection: some claimants will have access to the IRB (an independent, quasi-judicial body) and others will have their claims decided by a PRRA officer (a system internal to the government). The UNHCR recommends there be a single central authority to determine refugee claims, and Bill C-97 erodes the status of the IRB as such an authority. There are also several substantive distinctions between the IRB and the PRRA.
Third, Bill C-97 will have Canada rely on the refugee status determination procedures in countries with which Canada has information-sharing agreements, without any requirement concerning the quality of these procedures in those countries. Essentially, Canada would be shifting its sovereign, international legal obligations to the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. This is concerning given that refugee protections in these countries, with particular emphasis on Australia and the United States, are not uniformly consistent with international law.
Rather than there being a class exemption against those who have made a prior claim, Amnesty International is of the view that each claim for refugee protection should be evaluated on an individual basis.
STATUS OF BILL
Bill C-97 was passed without the removal of clause 306 and received Royal Assent on 21 June 2019.