BY SARAH BERMAN, GUIDEBOOK MAGAZINE
The Canadian Council for Refugees held a webinar on March 20, warning members about the rising risk of “cessation” and “vacation.”
Laura Best, a citizenship lawyer based in Vancouver, explains that the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) is increasingly asking the Immigration and Refugee Board for refugee status to be “ceased” if a refugee has in some way accepted the protection of their country of origin. To a lesser extent, CBSA is also investigating refugees for misrepresentations and omissions in their asylum documents. (This is known as “vacation”—though it has nothing to do with travel. The root word is “vacate.”)
In the past, a cessation case could be brought against a refugee if the situation in their home country rapidly changed (ie. they were no longer facing persecution) or if they returned to their country of origin by their own free will.
However, a new “aggressive approach” in the Lower Mainland has launched more cases seeking to strip refugee status and permanent residence. Earlier this year, the national media reported that the CBSA for the first time has set a minimum of 875 cessation or vacation cases in 2014. The internal office bulletin was revealed through Canadian Access to Information law.
“In Vancouver and across the country we‘ve seen an increase in the number of cases brought against all types of refugees,” Best says. Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, has seen an increase from her post in Montreal, too. “In the last few months, we’ve seen a big upsurge in cases where applications are being made against people who have ‘re-availed’ themselves of the protection of their country of origin.”
Travel documents ‘expose’ refugees to cessation
One of the most common ways border services bring cessation cases against refugees is through travel on foreign passports. “Often refugees want to do that, because Canadian refugee travel documents are hard to obtain,” says Dench.
By visiting one’s country of origin—even for a short interval of time years after an asylum claim—refugees are said to “re-avail” themselves, or accept the protection of their home country’s government.
These rules don’t just apply to the country from which refugees are seeking asylum. Refugees who travel to a neighbouring country on an old passport, even to visit sick or dying loved ones, “expose” themselves to cessation, according to Dench.
In another case, Dench says a refugee claimant thought he required a passport to submit with his permanent residency and citizenship applications. Applying for a foreign passport can also trigger a cessation application.
“Refugees are often being asked for passports. … When you’re applying for citizenship, you have to provide proof of language capacity,” Dench explains. “The company that accepts testing may ask for passport. It’s possible for somebody who is not aware of these rules, might simply apply for one.”
CBSA seeking cessation long after resettlement
No matter when a refugee arrived in Canada, CBSA may choose to open up a cessation case based on changes in the political situation of a refugee’s home country. “The problem we’re seeing is the cases they’re bringing against refugees are disconnected from the reasons for changing the law on cessation,” Best says.
Ministers and MPs in the House of Commons have made public statements assuring refugees would not be served cessation applications many years after settling in Canada. But in practice, according to Best, this is exactly the type of refugees that are being targeted.
Best defended the case of Asad Stanizai, an Afghani man who fled the Taliban, only to have a cessation case brought against him more than a decade after arriving in Canada. Stanizai had visited relatives after the fall of the Taliban—ten years after being granted refugee status.
“The change in the law means that suddenly the government is saying, ‘We are reserving the right to kick you out if you are no longer a refugee,’” says Dench of the Stanizai case. “It seems like people who have been applying for citizenship have had to disclose what their travel has been. If you say you have been back to your country of origin, the government may use it to launch a cessation application.”
“It’s a very compromising situation,” Dench concludes.
“It was never the government’s intent, from the beginnings of the bill in itself, to suggest or in any way have it interpreted that refugees who came to this country who were successful in their applications would actually potentially have those applications or the identified refugee status removed because of what may transpire in the country three, four, five years down the road.”
—MP Rick Dykstra
Advice for refugees
“If you’re going to make a visit back, be aware of the risks involved,” Dench explains. “We recommend talking to a lawyer or somebody who is well aware of the legal issues.” Here are some basic ways to prevent a cessation application, courtesy of Laura Best’s webinar on March 20, 2014.
1. Permanent residency is not permanent. There is no time limit on a cessation hearing.
2. Avoid steps that could result in cessation. For example: obtaining or renewing a non-Canadian passport or visiting a country of origin.
3. Apply for citizenship as soon as possible.
4. Travel on a Canadian Travel Document, not an old passport.
5. Know when cases are flagged. For example: at the border or when citizenship documents are submitted.
6. If you receive a cessation application, seek legal counsel immediately.
This article was first published in Guidebook Magazine. Photo credit: Canadian Council for Refugees..