Friday, 28 July 2017

Refugees Support Group Hopeful after Meeting with Head of New Legacy Task Force

- Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship says there is 'light at the end of the tunnel' for legacy cases

By Neil Armstrong

Sebastian Commock, member of the executive committee of the Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy Alliance.  Photo contributed

The Canadian Legacy Refugee Advocacy Alliance (CLRAA), a support group for LGBTQ refugees who have legacy claims – many of whom are from the Caribbean and Africa – is very optimistic after meeting the head of newly formed legacy task force.

Sebastian Commock, an executive member of the group, met with Gaétan Cousineau, head of the legacy task force set up by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) on July 19.

As of this week, 450 refugee claimants will receive notices of their hearing dates and times, which start on September 18.

Commock said Cousineau clarified that there are about 3,500 principal legacy cases, not 5,600. Some individuals have children, partners, who are considered a part of the legacy claims which accounts for the 5,600 in total being affected.

“They say they are trying different mediums to get in ouch with clients, and I’m feeling very confident in this individual,” says Commock.

The CLRAA, which was formed in March, had written to Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, seeking information about the legacy task force and outlining the situation of legacy claimants.

They were redirected to the IRB and after writing a letter to its Chair, Mario Dion, received an invitation to a meeting with Cousineau.

In the letter, CLRAA indicated that a considerable number of legacy claimants have been waiting in excess of five years for a hearing and how their lives were impacted in four areas: health and wellbeing, employment, family relationships, and education.

Cousineau 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).

“We went in asking for amnesty and he said that’s not something that he would be able to argue on. While a lot of our cases would probably qualify for that he’s not able to make a determination on that,” says Commock.

He asked about the possibility of not having hearings for some of the claimants based on the evidence and documentation they submitted but Cousineau noted that some of the cases are considered difficult and it was highly unlikely there could be any determination without a hearing.

Several members of CLRAA were concerned about documentation that they submitted several years ago and wondered if they had to update them.

The answer was no, but if they think that new documents will help their case they can go ahead but it’s not a requirement.

“We also asked about the fact that a hearing is something to determine if you stay or if you go back home, and in an event that one fails their claim, how is that handled. He did say that they would put extra effort in ensuring gets the perfect or fair opportunity to prove their case, so if it takes five hours for you to prove your case we will give you the time.”

The head of the legacy task force asked that legacy claimants get in touch with the IRB to indicate their intention to proceed, with Legal Aid which may still be able to fund their case, and with their counsel.

In April, the IRB announced the formation of the legacy task force which would 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.

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.

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, representing many Caribbean clients who have legacy cases – most of whom are Jamaicans – said almost all of the cases 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.

While answering a question at an event organized by Operation Black Vote Canada and the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals on July 27 at KPMG in Toronto, the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship said changes to the refugee system made by former minister, Jason Kenney, in 2012 have really disadvantaged some refugee claimants.

He noted that until today a lot of them haven’t had hearings or due process.

“Through no fault of their own these people’s lives are in limbo and they’re called legacy refugees.

"There used to be about 20,000. We’ve reduced them to about 5-6,000 people. And I have been very, very, involved in this issue,” said Hussen, noting that he meets the Chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, Mario Dion, almost on a monthly basis.

“Finally we were able to do two things that I think will be able to clear this issue once and for all. We found money to be able to clear those cases cause 5,600 people who have individual cases on top of the piling numbers we have from this year’s asylum claims.”

Hussen said they have also found a team – the legacy task force – that will nothing but focus on the legacy cases.

“So they’re going to process legacy cases and they have the money to do that, and my understanding from Mario Dion is that all the 5,600 cases will be cleared in less than two years so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

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