3 min

Placing LGBTQ refugee lives at risk

On Feb 16, Bill C-31: Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act was introduced into Parliament. Bill C-31 is an omnibus refugee reform bill that brings together a number of refugee bills and replaces the former compromise refugee Bill C-11.
Although there are a number of issues with Bill C-31, we have chosen to identify three central features of the bill that are extremely troubling and problematic for refugees. In addition, we want to call attention to the impact of this bill, specifically on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) refugees.
The first problem with Bill C-31 is the designation “safe countries.” In fact, one minister would have the sole discretion to designate these “safe countries” without consultation. Refugees identified as coming from “safe countries” would have their claims fast tracked, with no access to appeal.
This creates a discriminatory, two-tiered refugee system. For LGBTQ refugees, this policy would have grave consequences. While there has been an increase in the inclusions of LGBTQ-specific human rights legislation across the globe, this legislation does not, in and of itself, fully protect all LGBTQ individuals in any given country.
Similar to (and sometimes overlapping with) gender-based persecution, the violence and persecution facing LGBTQ refugees oftentimes originates from powerful individuals and groups they meet in their everyday lives. This includes friends, family members and work colleagues.

In many cases state protection is not possible due to systemic forms of homophobia and transphobia within police and judiciary institutions. Every refugee claim based on sexual orientation must be context-specific and take into consideration a complex set of factors.

The second issue is the way in which Bill C-31 will result in the increased use of detention for refugees. For example, one minister has the power to identify “irregular arrivals” (when two or more refugees from the same country arrive together) and place these refugees into mandatory detention for a minimum of one year, without the right to have their case reviewed by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Not only would adults be detained in centres that are similar to medium security prisons, but children 16 and older would also be detained. Children less than 16 would be forced to choose between being detained with their parents or being put into state care. There is evidence that detention, even for short periods of time, has negative consequences on the mental health of individuals.
It is important to note that every group of “irregular arrivals” could include LGBTQ people. For example, when a group of refugee claimants arrived from Sri Lanka last year, it was likely there were LGBTQ individuals within that group. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees stated as recently as July 2010 that LGBTQ people from Sri Lanka were experiencing high rates of persecution.
Those seeking asylum based on their sexual orientation or gender identity must repeatedly explain why they are seeking refugee status to a variety of immigration officials. Therefore, LGBTQ refugees are compelled to continuously “out” themselves while in detention, increasing their exposure to homophobia and transphobia. Finally, it is possible that individuals who were imprisoned in their home countries due to their sexual orientation or gender identity could end up imprisoned again upon arrival in Canada.

The third problematic policy in the bill is something called the “cessation clause.” This would result in accepted refugees who have become permanent residents having their status taken away if the government deems that they are no longer in need of protection. This means that the permanent residency status for an accepted refugee becomes “conditional,” up until the point they become accepted as citizens.

This would affect all permanent residents, regardless of how long they have been living in Canada. For LGBTQ refugees, the possibility that the government could identify their countries of origin as now “safe” from persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity is very real. For example, the cessation clause could be invoked for LGBTQ people from Mexico who have gained refugee status because of persecution based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, even those who are presently permanent residents, no matter how long they have been living in Canada.

Bill C-31 clearly contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in addition to Canada’s international obligations with respect to refugee protection (the Geneva Convention) and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Bill C-31 has been opposed by a growing number of organizations, including the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Solidarity Across Borders, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, No One is Illegal, Human Rights Watch and the South Asian Women’s Community Centre.

Bill C-31 places human lives at risk. Unfortunately, the Canadian federal government is bulldozing Bill C-31 through Parliament as quickly as possible. We urge diverse queer and trans communities to oppose this bill and demand that it be withdrawn.

To send an email to your MP about Bill C-31, go to For more information about Bill C-31, go to
Signed by:
Action LGBTQ with Immigrants and Refugees (AGIR)
Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTT(e)Q)
Au-delà de l’Arc-en-ciel (ADA)
Arc-en-ciel d’Afrique
Conseil Québécois des Gais et Lesbiennes (CQGL)
Gay and Lesbian Asians of Montréal (GLAM)
Helem Montréal
By AGIR and other groups