Many refugee claimants are not based on situations where the state is the agent of persecution. Rather, the source of risk is a quasi-governmental authority or private actors. In such cases, the issue turns to one of the adequacy of state protection.
Ward v. Canada
The leading decision on the issue of state protection in the context of refugee and pre-removal risk assessment decisions is the Supreme Court of Canada decision Canada (Attorney General) v. Ward,  2 S.C.R. 689. There, the Supreme Court of Canada held that a state’s inability to protect its citizens is the crucial element in determining whether a claimant’s fear of persecution is well-founded as it determines the reasonableness of his or her unwillingness to seek the protection of his or her state of nationality.
Specifically, the Court noted that:
Having established that the claimant has a fear, the Board is, in my view, entitled to presume that persecution will be likely, and the fear well-founded, if there is an absence of state protection. The presumption goes to the heart of the inquiry, which is whether there is a likelihood of persecution. But I see nothing wrong with this, if the Board is satisfied that there is a legitimate fear, and an established inability of the state to assuage those fears through effective protection
The Court went on to note that:
Only situations in which state protection “might reasonably have been forthcoming”, will the claimant’s failure to approach the state for protection defeat his claim. Put another way, the claimant will not meet the definition of “Convention refugee” where it is objectively unreasonable for the claimant not to have sought the protection of his home authorities; otherwise, the claimant need not literally approach the state. [My emphasis]
The issue that arises, then, is how, in a practical sense, a claimant makes proof of a state’s inability to protect its nationals as well as the reasonable nature of the claimant’s refusal actually to seek out this protection.
Ward involved a somewhat unique case where the refugee claimant’s home state conceded that it could not protect the claimant. However, for cases where such an admission was not forthcoming, the Supreme Court noted that:
Where such an admission is not available, however, clear and convincing confirmation of a state’s inability to protect must be provided For example, a claimant might advance testimony of similarly situated individuals let down by the state protection arrangement or the claimant’s testimony of past personal incidents in which state protection did not materialize. Absent some evidence, the claim should fail, as nations should be presumed capable of protecting their citizens. Security of nationals is, after all, the essence of sovereignty. Absent a situation of complete breakdown of state apparatus, such as that recognized in Lebanon in Zalzali, it should be assumed that the state is capable of protecting a claimant.
Is there a Subjective Fear of Persecution?
Before the Refugee Protection Division can engage in a state protection analysis, it must first analyze whether a refugee claimant has a subjective fear, and what that fear is. Thus, in Cobian Flores v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 503, the Federal Court noted that:
[S]ave in exceptional cases, the analysis of the availability of state protection should not be carried out without first establishing the existence of a subjective fear of persecution. The panel responsible for questions of fact should therefore analyze the issue of the subjective fear of persecution, or, in other words, should make a finding as to the refugee claimant’s credibility and the plausibility of his or her account, before addressing the objective fear component which includes an analysis of the availability of state protection.
The reason that it is necessary to analyze whether and what the subjective fear of persecution is before analyzing whether there is adequate state protection is because one has to determine exactly what the state is trying to protect an individual from in order to determine whether that protection is adequate. As noted by the Court in Velasco Moreno v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 993:
In my view, a negative determination of the Refugee Protection Division which turns on the issue of state protection must be scrutinized with particular care where the member chooses to make no credibility finding concerning the applicant’s allegations of a subjective fear.
However, the judge sitting in judicial review must be satisfied that the applicant’s allegations, usually in the personal information form and the transcript of the refugee hearing, were treated as true by the decision-maker.Only then can a proper review be made of the member’s state protection analysis. The state protection issue should not be a means of avoiding a clear determination
Effort vs. Results
In Galogaza v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 FC 407, the Federal Court noted that:
A state’s efforts, on their own, do not establish that protection was actually available to the claimant:
[E]vidence of a state’s efforts does not help answer the main question that arises in cases of state protection – that is, looking at the evidence as a whole, including the evidence relating to the state’s capacity to protect its citizens, has the claimant shown that he or she likely faces a reasonable chance of persecution in the country of origin? To answer that question, the Board has to decide whether the evidence relating to the state resources actually available to the applicants indicated that they would probably not encounter a reasonable chance of persecution if they returned to [their country of origin] (Moczo v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 734, at para 10; Beri v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 854, at para 46).
There is some uncertainty on this issue, and in Mudrak v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 FC 188, the Federal Court certified the following question:
Whether the Refugee Protection Board commits a reviewable error if it fails to determine whether protection measures introduced in a democratic state to protect minorities have been demonstrated to provide operational adequacy of state protection in order to conclude that adequate state protection exists?
In the same decision, the Court also certified:
Whether refugee protection claimants are required to complain to policing oversight agencies in a democratic state as a requirement of accessing state protection, when no risk of harm arises from doing so?
Other Cases Interpreting Ward
The level of state protection that must be available is “adequate”. (Carillo, 2008 FCA 94)
In Da Souza v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), the claimant was a woman from St. Vincent. Her claim was based on her abusive ex-partner. She produced a letter from a police sergeant in St. Vincents. In the letter, this officer noted that Sonia did not ever report incidents to the police. The PRRA officer thus rejected her claim on the basis that the claimant never sought police protection. The Court, however, rejected this decision, noting that the fact that a claimant did not approach the state for protection will not automatically defeat a claim. The Officer was required to analyze whether the state would be able to protect effectively. The Court noted that if it was not objectively unreasonable for the claimant to not seek state protection, then she did not need to go to the authorities.
Where a refugee claimant provides evidence that contradicts the presumption of state protection, then the Refugee Protection Division must consider this evidence. If it discounts contradictory evidence, then it must explain why (Flores Alcazar v. Canada, 2011 FC 173). However, the onus remains on the applicant to rebut the presumption of adequate state protection, on a balance of probabilities (Carillo v. Canada, above).
Agencies other than Police
The Federal Court has repeatedly emphasized that the police force is presumed to be the main institution responsible for providing state protection. Shelters, counsellors and hotlines may be of assistance, but they have neither the mandate nor the capacity to provide protection (Aurelien v. Canada, 2013 FC 707).