Family Reference Letters

Steven MeurrensImmigration Trends

Many applicants for various types of applications will request that family letters provide reference letters.

The Federal Court has repeatedly held that visa officers should not discount reference letters from family and friends. For example, in n Magonza v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2019 FC 14, Justice Grammond wrote:

[44] Immigration decision‑makers have on a number of occasions discounted evidence provided by members of the family of an applicant, for the sole reason that these persons, having an interest in the well‑being of the applicant, would have a propensity to make false statements. This Court has repeatedly held that this is unreasonable. In doing so, the Court has shown its awareness of the challenges of obtaining evidence of persecution. In the vast majority of cases, the family and friends of the applicant are the main, if not the only first‑hand witnesses of past incidents of persecution. If their evidence is presumed to be unreliable from the outset, many real cases of persecution will be hard, if not impossible to prove. Thus, while decision‑makers are allowed to take self‑interest into account when assessing such statements, this Court has often held that it is a reviewable error to dismiss entirely such evidence for the sole reason that it is self‑interested. In Cruz Ugalde v Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), 2011 FC 458 at para 28, Justice Yves de Montigny (now of the Federal Court of Appeal) wrote:

[…] I do not believe it was reasonable for the Officer to award this evidence low probative value simply because it came from the Applicants’ family members. Presumably, the Officer would have preferred letters written by individuals who had no ties to the Applicants and who were not invested in the Applicants’ well‑being. However, it is not reasonable to expect that anyone unconnected to the Applicants would have been able to furnish this kind of evidence regarding what had happened to the Applicants in Mexico. The Applicants’ family members were the individuals who observed their alleged persecution, so these family members are the people best‑positioned to give evidence relating to those events. In addition, since the family members were themselves targeted after the Applicants’ departure, it is appropriate that they offer first-hand descriptions of the events that they experienced. Therefore, it was unreasonable of the Officer to distrust this evidence simply because it came from individuals connected to the Applicants.

As Justice Go noted in Thiyageswaran v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2023 FC 1476, whether there is corroroborating evidence can be material.