Wednesday, 12 July 2017

LGBTQ Refugees Support Group in Toronto to Meet with New Legacy Task Force

By Neil Armstrong

Sebastian Commock of The 519, coordinator of the Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy and Alliance. Photo contributed

A new support group for LGBTQ refugees who have legacy claims – many of whom are from the Caribbean and Africa – is gaining some momentum in its advocacy work.

The Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy and Alliance (#CLRAA) was formed in March of this year. There are approximately 70 people actively involved, but about 150 in total, inclusive of those who live outside of the Greater Toronto Area.

During the week of July 17, the group is to meet with the Head of the two-month-old Legacy Task Force, Gaétan Cousineau, who extended the invitation.
He is the former deputy chairperson of the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) and was the president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse). 

The invitation comes after the CLRAA wrote a letter to Mario Dion, Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), on June 16 inquiring about the recently announced legacy task force. They received a response from Cousineau on June 30 inviting them to a meeting.

“The objectives of this group are: to bring attention to legacy claimants and the issues they face, provide support for the group, and implement a plan of action that will bring an end to the current predicament faced by these individuals,” says Sebastian Commock, a staff member at The 519, a City of Toronto agency committed to the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ community.

Commock says the group has a plan of action and so far it has completed three of the ten actions.

“First, we contacted the Immigration Minister by means of a mailed letter. We received a response and was redirected to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).”

Additionally, they recently started a social media campaign on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The accounts can be found under the name “Canadian Legacy Refugees.”

“The objective of this campaign is to sensitize the community and general public about the issues faced by the legacy claimants, and ultimately get them as allies so that when we start the online petition we will have no issues getting signatures,” says Commock, who is looking forward to a positive outcome of the meeting with the head of the legacy task force.

In April, the IRB announced the formation of the legacy task force which will provide dedicated support to the elimination of its backlog of legacy claims.

The task force has a two-year mandate to complete its work. It began its work on May 8, 2017 and will be funded with existing resources. 

The creation of a dedicated team will enable the IRB to significantly increase the rate at which it can process legacy claims while allowing the RPD to continue to focus on new claims and current inventory, says the IRB’s website. 

The new system caseload is subject to regulated time limits.

On June 20, World Refugee Day, the IRB issued a news release and produced a YouTube video asking refugees who made a claim to the IRB before December 15, 2012 to contact the IRB and update their information on the Intention to Proceed Form as needed. If they had questions, they were urged to contact the Legacy Office  at 1-833-534-2292.

“The IRB recognizes the challenges facing legacy claimants waiting in the backlog for several years that is the reason that we have worked hard to find existing internal resources (in the absence of additional funding) and make it a priority to substantively eliminate the legacy cases within two years,” says the IRB.

Refugee claims referred to the IRB before December 15, 2012– are what the IRB calls "legacy claims.” 

It says although most of these claims were heard before the new refugee determination system took effect on December 15, 2012, there are some claims that have not yet been heard.
Legacy claimants will be contacted at their address on record with the IRB to inquire about their intention to proceed with their claim and to provide the claimant an opportunity to update their information with the IRB. If you wish to be contacted regarding a hearing date now you may do so by completing the Intention to Proceed Form and following the instructions for forwarding it to your region, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, notes the IRB’s website.

The IRB says those who no longer wish to claim refugee protection in Canada may complete a withdrawal notice and follow the instructions for forwarding it to their region, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.

In September 2016, the IRB told the Weekly Gleaner that its capacity to resolve legacy Refugee Protection Division claims had been impacted by a growing intake of new refugee protection claims, which must be scheduled for a hearing within legislated time limits (30, 45 or 60 days from referral)‎.

New referrals increased by 22%, going from 13,200 in 2014-15 to 17,000 in 2015-16.

“RPD legacy claims, which were referred before December 15, 2012, are not subject to legislated time limits and are scheduled as capacity allows. There were just under 5,800 RPD legacy claims as of the end of August 2016,” it said.

“As of September 2015, the RPD was fully staffed for the first time with a total of 94 funded public servant decision-maker positions. In addition, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) was able to reallocate funds internally earlier this year to increase the total number of RPD decision makers to 113. This will permit the hearing of approximately ‎17,500 new refugee protection claims within the legislated time limits,” said Anna Pape, senior communications advisor at the IRB.

She said, however, given the rising intake over the past year and ongoing resource constraints, there is also a pending inventory of new system intake (new referrals, Refugee Appeal Division and Federal Court returns) of about 12,400 cases, of which 7000 are in excess of a healthy rolling inventory.

The IRB initiated a staffing process to create an inventory of public servant RPD decision-makers who can be hired, when resources permit, to deal with both the pending inventory of new system intake (new referrals, Refugee Appeal Division and Federal Court returns) and legacy claims.

“Despite limited capacity and growing new intake, through the introduction of expedited processes and other strategies, in 2015-16, the RPD decided approximately 1,950 legacy claims and 13,440 new intake claims,” Pape said.

She said in 2015-16, more than half of all new system cases decided were finalized within 3 months.

The IRB recognizes the importance of timely processing and appreciates the difficulties this situation can present for legacy claimants, she said.

On July 6, 2017, the Toronto Star reporting on a protest held by some refugee claimants – in a story entitled “‘Forgotten refugees’ say they’re tired of waiting for their cases to be heard” – said the IRB has “dedicated $3 million yearly to address the backlog by hiring more than 20 retired refugee judges to focus on these drawn-out cases, the majority of which were filed in 2011 and 2012, and some even earlier.”

It reported that Pape said legacy claim hearings will start on Sept. 18 and a team of decision-makers will hear between 42 and 53 cases a week.

Last year, several Caribbean and African LGBTQ refugee claimants who have been in Canada since 2011 and 2012 shared their frustration at the long wait time to resolve their situation with the Weekly Gleaner. Many felt that their lives were in limbo.

El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer, represents many Caribbean clients who have legacy cases – most are Jamaicans.

About 30-40% of Khaki’s client base is Caribbean and of this, about 50% is Jamaican.

He said the Caribbean cases are usually, almost all of them are either sexual orientation or gender-based, so LGBT people or women fleeing some kind of domestic violence situation.

“Out of Jamaica, it’s mostly sexual orientation. Out of my Jamaican cases, I would say 98-95% are sexual orientation and only 5 or 10% are domestic violence-related,” Khaki said.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has recommended the regularization of legacy claimants.

It recommends that a regulatory class be created for legacy claimants, that legacy claimants be landed if they apply and meet minimum requirements (e.g. they have worked for at least 6 months or have been in some form of education for at least 6 months in Canada), and that applicants for this class not be required to withdraw their claims.

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