di Domenico Conte
TORONTO - On March 20, 2019, Canadian Federal Court Justice Keith Boswell ruled that Canada's treatment of refugees from Designated Countries of Origin (DCO – “safe third country”) was unconstitutional.
The current system, which distinguishes refugees from DCOs from other refugees, was introduced by Harper in 2012 as Bill-C31. The Trudeau government, while initially objecting to the disparity in the treatment of refugees, have maintained the law.
The disparities include different dead- lines for status hearings, a 180-day delay in requesting a work permit, ineffective health coverage, no access to the RAD (Refugee Appeal Division), a much longer wait time for a PRRA (Pre-Removal Risk Assessment), and the lack of free legal assistance.
All of which are immediately offered to other refugees. Over time, the Federal Court succeeded in bringing about more equity, guaranteeing refugees from DCOs the possibility of having access to a RAD appeal, and ordering the Canadian government to provide adequate health coverage for all refugees without distinction of nationality.
After all, it's a matter of human rights ... On the subject of human rights, the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) had suggested remedies to prevent Canada from treating asylum seekers from the DCOs differently.
The UNHRC agreed to DCO status, provided that this did not constitute a form of discrimination but rather as a means to expedite the processing of applicants.
They agreed to the DCO, provided cases were evaluated without discrimination and in consideration of the fact that a country could be safe for most of its population, but could be unsafe for people in particular circumstances. Unfortunately, Canada has discriminated and continues to discriminate against refugees coming from DCOs. In order to demonstrate how, let's clarify the process for granting an applicant refugee status.
The process consists of three deter- minations: confirmation of identity, assessment of merit, and consideration of the coun- try of origin. Usually the request for status is refused when the case has no merit, ie., the panelist is not convinced of the reasons that led the applicants to ask for refuge in Canada. But what happens when the first two de- terminations are favourable and the appli- cant comes from a DCO? A very current example is the case of the Demitri family.
Immigration Canada claims that their story is credible and their fear of reprisals from organized crime is valid, but being from a DCO, Italy, their country should protect them. Yet, the Demitri family has been in process for 6 years.
Why push people through long and expensive legal proceedings, when the request will be refused because of the applicants country of origin? When does an refugee applicant from a DCO have access to a fair hearing under this system?
The national and international pressures being brought to bear on behalf of the Demitri, the Italian and Canadian communities that demand status for this family, the interest of national and international media, and even arguments around the best interests of the Demitri children which Canada is com- mitted to protecting as a UN member country and through various international agreements, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, Canada continues to attend UN-funded human rights and democracy summits.