Canada to accept 250 human rights defenders a year as refugees in need of protection

Published by Brent Patterson on

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The Canadian government is in the process of establishing a dedicated refugee stream for human rights defenders.

This past June (on World Refugee Day), Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced: “This year, we will launch a dedicated refugee stream for human rights defenders at risk, which will enable Canada to become one of the first countries to offer dedicated protection spaces to this population of refugees.”

And CTV has reported: “The stream – the first of its kind in the world, according to the UN refugee agency – will accommodate 250 people a year, plus their families, and focus on people at heightened risk, such as women, journalists and LGBTQ2 rights advocates.”

The July 2021 statement about this from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada can be read here. A 4-minute video of federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino speaking about the launch of this program can also be seen here. In that interview, the Minister is asked if there is flexibility with the annual cap of 250 defenders.

In advance of the September 20 federal election, the Liberal Party also promised in their platform (on page 65):

“Establish Canada as a safe haven for those facing persecution by leading the world in providing safe resettlement to those fleeing political or security crises, especially human rights defenders, journalists, feminists, LGBTQ2 activists, members of religious or ethnic minorities at risk, and other persecuted groups who remain under threat.”

It adds: “We will expand the new immigration stream for human rights defenders and work with civil society groups to ensure safe passage and resettlement of people under threat, including from Afghanistan.”

It’s not clear if the promise to “expand” this new stream means an increase beyond the 250 human rights defenders each year.

In 2019, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada received 9,298 refugee claims from Mexico (5,634 claims), Colombia (3,197), Honduras (300) and Guatemala (167). A total of 1,699 of those applications (about 18%) were accepted. In 2020 alone, 125 land and environmental rights defenders were killed in just these four countries.

This past February, PBI-Canada asked: Could Canada implement a relocation program for human rights defenders as Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland have done?

Along with the permanent program now being promised, a temporary relocation program for 3-6 month stays would also be a welcome addition to the range of protection strategies for at-risk human rights defenders.

We have also supported the calls for mandatory due diligence legislation in Canada, stronger powers for the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, and a Binding Treaty on human rights and transnational corporations to help address the human rights violations by Canadian corporations and foreign policy priorities that contribute to the situations in which defenders need to flee from their home countries.

We will continue to follow and report on this new program.

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