I was disappointed to read an article (“Government changes will hurt gay refugees”) in Xtra that misleads readers about the nature of Canada’s refugee system, which is the most generous in the developed world.
Canada already resettles one out of ten resettled refugees worldwide per year. Nevertheless, our government is increasing the number of resettled refugees we accept by 20%, from 11,500 to 14,000 per year, which will make Canada by far the largest recipient per capita of resettled refugees in the world.
Unfortunately, we currently have huge backlogs and unacceptable wait times in Canada’s privately sponsored refugee program, due to a handful of sponsorship groups flooding the system with applications well beyond our capacity to process and resettle. This has led to wait times of as long as 7 years for sponsored refuges in some regions, such as East Africa. Moreover, our “Group of Five” resettlement program has been used to sponsor a growing number of relatives of Canadians who are not in need of refugee protection, effectively turning a program that should be helping the world’s most vulnerable people into an extended family sponsorship program.
The technical measures criticised in your article are designed to address these problems, by preventing sponsorship groups from irresponsibly increasing the backlog through the imposition of a reasonable limit on the number of new sponsorship applications that can be made in a given year by an organisation. Incidentally, these limits will not affect those sponsorship groups that focus on gay and lesbian refugees, such as the Rainbow Refugee Committee and the Metropolitan Community Church, as they and their partner groups sponsor far fewer refugees than the limit we are proposing, which will only affect a few very large groups.
Ending the abusive practice of using the “Group of Five” program for extended family reunification rather than refugee resettlement will mean that more, not fewer, resettlement opportunities will be available for legitimate refugees, including gay and lesbian refugees. This is because I suspect few or no families are currently using the “Group of Five” program to sponsor gay refugees, whereas bona fide victims of persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation will be ideal sponsorship candidates under a “Group of Five” program that focuses on United Nations Convention refugees.
Your article suggests that Canadian visa officers overseas will discriminate unfairly against gay refugees. This is insulting to the professionalism and impartiality of Canada’s highly trained visa officers, not to mention the quality assurance and oversight that ensures decisions are reasonable and conform to Canadian law, which does not discriminate between applicants on the basis of sexual orientation. To the contrary, our officers who deal with sexual orientation-based refugee claims typically receive special training and are highly sensitive to the difficulties faced by gays and lesbians in many underdeveloped countries.
The article also ignores the many steps that our Conservative Government has taken to help gay refugees. For example, our government has increased our resettlement target for Turkey, with the specific intention of helping resettle gay refugees who have fled to Turkey from neighbouring countries such as Iran and Iraq to escape persecution. And we have made it clear that we will accept any and all gay Iranian refugees that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees refers to us for resettlement.
I have publicly and proactively encouraged refugee sponsorship organizations, as well as gay and lesbian organizations across the country, to sponsor refugees from abroad who face violence and persecution due to their sexual orientation. Several of these organizations asked us for financial assistance, even though this program is designed to use private and not government resources. We responded by working with the Rainbow Refugee Committee to create an unprecedented program to help offset resettlement costs. You can read more about that program here: (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/releases/2011/2011-03-24.asp). I would encourage anyone interested in getting supporting this worthy project to contact the Rainbow Refugee Committee directly.
The priority our Government places on gay and lesbian refugee protection is clear and without precedent in Canadian immigration history. At the recent 60th anniversary meeting of the UNHCR in Geneva, I was one of the only ministers from around the world to raise specific concerns about persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation and to call for greater efforts to protect gay and lesbian refugees.
To suggest that our technical changes will hurt any refugees – specifically gay and lesbian refugees – is simply untrue. The changes criticized in the article will ensure that our expanding refugee programs give faster protection to real victims of persecution, including many gay and lesbian refugees.
The Honourable Jason Kenney, PC, MP
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism