Refugees in Canada Face Higher Risk of Loss of Status and Deportation


Amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) passed by the Canadian government in 2012 have recently come under fire as a result of accusations that suggest the amendments make refugees in Canada vulnerable.With the changes to the IRPA, any person who was granted refugee status in Canada but who is not yet a Canadian citizen could be vulnerable to loss of refugee status and deportation.

The changes to the IRPA, which have been described as “arbitrary, draconian and absurd” by the Canadian Council for Refugees, may put refugees in Canada at risk.  Under the new laws, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) can decide that an individual no longer meets the definition of a refugee.  This decision now results in the revocation of a refugee’s Canadian permanent residency and deportation.  Prior to the 2012 amendments, if a permanent resident in Canada who held refugee status was deemed to no longer be a refugee by the IRB, permanent residency status would not be lost. 

At the time the amendment to the IRPA was passed, the then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney claimed that refugee status would only be revoked and permanent residency status lost in cases where there is clear evidence the person defrauded the system.  Since then, the loss of refugee status has become far more common, with a steady increase in the number of refugees being referred to the IRB for review and possible removal of status.

The most common ways that refugee status can be lost are on grounds of cessation or vacation.  Cessation applies when the government finds that the refugee has voluntarily re-availed themselves of the protection of their country of origin and received that protection.  The Canadian Council for Refugees claims that the notion of cessation is being too loosely interpreted by the IRB, as short visits back to a refugee’s home country, even those for valid reasons like attending funerals or caring for elderly relatives, are now grounds for cessation of refugee status.  Acts as simple as applying for a new passport from or briefly returning to the refugee’s country of origin could cause the loss of refugee status and deportation.  Less commonly, refugee status can also be lost on a vacation basis, which applies in cases where the refugee is thought to have obtained their refugee status based on misrepresentation.

The cessation and vacation of refugee status represents one of the “Enforcement and Intelligence” priorities identified by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) for the 2013-2014 year, and the number of refugees being referred to the IRB from the CBSA is growing.  The CBSA initiated less than 40 referrals to the IRB for cessation or vacation annually from 2009-2012, but these numbers grew rapidly in 2013 and 2014.  During 2013, the CBSA referred 178 applications to the IRB for cessation of refugee status, and by the end of March, the CBSA had already referred 148 applications in the first 3 months of 2014 alone.  A leaked internal communication from the CBSA indicated that the agency has a target of 875 refugee cessation referrals per year, which has sparked backlash as each case should be reviewed based on its unique conditions, not in response to quotas.

The controversy related to the increase in refugee status cessation has revolved around the contradictions between the government’s actions and the ideals of refugee protection.  According to The Canadian Council of Refugees, “the purpose of refugee status in Canadian law is to provide protection to people who are not safe in their country of origin. The current use of cessation, however, means that refugee status is perversely a source of insecurity.”  After these changes to the IRPA, a person with refugee status in Canada could be more fragile than individuals who are residing in Canada through other immigration programs.

FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration follow FWCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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