When can military deserters can claim refugee status?
In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada in Ezokola v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) created a new test for determining complicity in Article 1F(a) exclusion cases.
Article 1F(a) of the 1951 Refugee Convention provides that:
The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that:
(a) He has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;
The issue that Ezokola addressed is how broad Article 1F(a) is. It if it interpreted too narrowly, then Canada risks creating safe havens for perpetrators of international crimes. If it is read too broadly, then the humanitarian aims of the 1951 Refugee Convention would be imperilled.
On October 30, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada (the “Supreme Court“) rendered its decision in Febles v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration Canada), 2014 SCC 68 (“Febles“). This was the first time to my knowledge that the SCC has addressed Canada’s interpretation of Article 1F(b) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Can. T.S. 1969 No. 6 (the “1951 Refugee Convention“), incorporated into s. 98 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA” or the “Act“) (other than in obiter).
Febles provides an opportune time to both summarize the principles articulated in it, as well as other significant Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal cases involving Article 1F(b) of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Image from the Aditus Foundation
Refugee practitioners colloquially refer to their clients as being either s. 96 or s. 97 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”) refugees. Section 96 of IRPA provides that a person who is recognized by the Geneva Convention as being a convention refugee shall be conferred refugee protection. Section 97, meanwhile, provides that a person who is in need of protection shall also be afforded refugee protection in Canada.
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As the political situations in several Latin American countries decreases, there has been a steady increase in the number of refugee cases being decided on the issue of personalized vs. generalized risk.
Section 97(1)(b)(ii) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that a person in need of protection is a person in Canada whose removal to another country would subject them personally to a risk to their life or to a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if the risk would be faced by the person in every part of that country and is not faced generally by other individuals in or from that country.
The Federal Court has grappled with how to distinguish between personalized and generalized risk.
As noted in Prophète v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2008 FC 331, the difficulty in analyzing personalized risk in situations of generalized human rights violations, civil war, and failed states lies in determining the dividing line between a risk that is “personalized” and one that is “general”. What, for example, is the risk to an individual who has been targeted in the past and who may be targeted in the future but whose risk situation is similar to a segment of the larger population? In Prophète, for example, Madam Justice Tremblay-Lamer, after much deliberation, determined that s. 97 can be interpreted to include a sub-group within the larger one that faces an even more acute risk.
Further complicating the issue is that there are varying definitions of what the word “generalized” means. In Osorio v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2005 FC 1459, Justice Snider reiterated that there is nothing which requires the Immigration and Refugee Board to interpret the word “generally” as applying to all citizens. She added: “The word ‘generally’ is commonly used to mean ‘prevalent’ or ‘widespread’. Parliament deliberately chose to include the word ‘generally’ in subsection 97(1)(b)(ii), thereby leaving to the Board the issue of deciding whether a particular group meets the definition. Provided that its conclusion is reasonable, as it is here, I see no need to intervene.
In Baires Sanchez v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), Justice Crampton further tightened the screws when he stated that in order to show that a risk is not generalized applicants must establish that the risk of actual or threatened similar violence is not faced generally by other individuals in or from that country, and that applicants must demonstrate that the respective risks that they face are not prevalent or widespread in their respective countries of origin, in the sense of being a risk faced by a significant subset of the population.
Currently, one of the leading case on the matter is Portillo v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FC 678. There, the Federal Court articulated a two-step test for determining generalized vs. personalized test. The Refugee Protection Division (the “RPD“) must first appropriately determine the nature of the risk faced by the claimant which requires an assessment of whether the claimant faces an ongoing or future risk, what that risk is, whether it is one of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment and the basis for the risk. Second, the correctly described risk faced by the claimant must then be compared to that faced by a significant group in the country at issue to determine whether the risks are of the same nature and degree. As well, it will typically be the case that where an individual is subject to a personal risk to his life or risks cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, then that risk is no longer general.
Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides:
No credible basis
107(2) If the Refugee Protection Division is of the opinion, in rejecting a claim, that there was no credible or trustworthy evidence on which it could have made a favourable decision, it shall state in its reasons for the decision that there is no credible basis for the claim.
107.1 If the Refugee Protection Division rejects a claim for refugee protection, it must state in its reasons for the decision that the claim is manifestly unfounded if it is of the opinion that the claim is clearly fraudulent.
A finding of “no credible basis” may only be made where there is no credible or trustworthy evidence on which the Refugee Protection Division (the “RPD“) could make a positive finding. It is a high threshold that limits an applicant’s subsequent procedural rights. Before determining that an applicant’s refugee claim has no credible basis, the RPD must look to the objective documentary evidence for any trustworthy or credible support for an Applicant’s claim.
A lack of credibility is not the same as saying that a claim has no credible basis.
Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Singh, 2016 FCA 300
In Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Singh, the Federal Court of Appeal answered the question of whether the RPD could still determine that a claim was manifestly uncredible after it had determined that an individual was excluded from refugee protection under Article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention because because of serious criminality or human rights abuses. Specifically, the Federal Court of Appeal asked:
Considering the authority of the Refugee Protection Division under subsection 107(2) and section 107.1 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to determine that a claim has no credible basis or is manifestly unfounded, is the Refugee Protection Division precluded from making such a determination after it has found that the claimant is excluded under section F of Article 1 of the Refugee Convention?
The Federal Court of Appeal answered the question in the affirmative.
An area of refugee law that often frustrates refugee claimants is the requirement that they show that there was no reasonable internal flight alternative to claiming refugee status in Canada.
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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?
Ultimately, however, the Federal Court of Appeal refused to certify these two questions as it found that they were improperly certified.
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).