Singh v. Canada: The Charter Applies to Refugee Claimants

17th Aug 2010 Comments Off on Singh v. Canada: The Charter Applies to Refugee Claimants

Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration was a 1985 Supreme Court of Canada decision that is to this day arguably the most significant decision that Canada’s Supreme Court has made in the area of Canadian immigration and refugee law.

The Facts

The Appellants were a mixture of Sikh and Guyanese individuals who sought refugee status in Canada during the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the time, the Immigration and Refugee Board did not yet exist.  Rather, asylum claimants submitted refugee claims directly to Canada’s immigration department, who would determine whether someone was a refugee based on advice received from the Refugee Status Advisory Committee.  If the claimant was unsuccessful, they could appeal to the Immigration Appeal Board.  Both the initial claim and the appeal were based on written submissions, and at the initial petition for asylum a claimant would also be questioned under oath by an immigration officer.  Applicants were not allowed to make oral appeals.  Nor could they respond to arguments made against them by the Refugee Status Advisory Committee.

The Appellants in Singh argued that the lack of a hearing violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision was a split one, although all six justices determined that the previous approach which denied an oral hearing could not stand.  Three of the justices based their decision on the Charter.  Three based it on Canada’s Bill of Rights. 

The key and lasting holdings of the Supreme Court of Canada were  that while non-citizens do not have a right to enter or remain in Canada, a refugee who does not have a safe haven elsewhere is entitled to rely on Canada’s willingness to live up to the obligations it has undertaken as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and that the principles of fundamental justice demand,

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