Civil rights and legal orgs urge Trudeau to drop asylum-eligibility changes

The groups are also upset that these measures were buried in a nearly 400-page omnibus budget bill

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adjusts his tie as he leaves a cabinet meeting on route to vote in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A group of civil-society and legal organizations is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to withdraw changes to asylum laws included in a Liberal budget bill tabled this week, calling them harsh and unnecessary.

Amnesty International, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian and B.C. civil-liberties associations and the Canadian Council for Refugees have written a joint letter to Trudeau saying the proposed legal changes would strip crucial and hard-won human-rights protections from vulnerable refugees.

“These cases involve incredibly high stakes for the claimants, including questions of persecution and torture, of being able to live life freely in accordance with one’s identity and culture with protection for fundamental human rights and even questions of life and death,” states the letter. “That is why Canada has long ensured that refugee claims are determined in a fair hearing before an independent tribunal.”

The changes would prevent asylum-seekers from making refugee claims in Canada if they have made similar claims in certain other countries, namely the United States — a move Border Security Minister Bill Blair says is aimed at preventing “asylum-shopping.”

READ MORE: Trudeau defends changes to asylum laws that have refugee workers alarmed

Refugee advocates and lawyers have said these changes would have a devastating impact on people seeking asylum in Canada because it would remove their ability to plead their cases in full oral hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The letter to Trudeau echoes these concerns, calling Blair’s justification for the changes “simplistic and inaccurate” and ”offensive.”

“We know from our collective experience that there are a wide range of legitimate reasons why refugee claimants may seek Canada’s protection after having filed a claim elsewhere. They must be given the opportunity to do so,” it says.

The groups are also upset that these measures were buried in a nearly 400-page omnibus budget bill, calling that an undemocratic move that prevents parliamentarians from being able to fully consider the effects and potential unforeseen consequences these measures could have on the refugee system.

They urge Trudeau to withdraw the proposed refugee eligibility changes, which they say would likely result in legal challenges.

Since 2017, over 41,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Canada via the Canada-U.S. border at unofficial entry points. Blair’s office says the proposed legal changes are meant to deter these “irregular” migrants and maintain the integrity of Canada’s asylum system.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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