Canada has announced a new refugee stream for individuals that fight to defend human rights. IRCC has committed to permanently resettling up to 250 human rights defenders and their families each year. The stream will have a particular focus on those who are at heightened risk, such as women, journalists, and LGBTQ2 human rights defenders. Canada is the first country to extend protection to journalists via an immigration stream.
“Often at great personal risk, human rights defenders hold the perpetrators of human rights violations to account and shine a light on stories that otherwise go untold. Through this new refugee stream, the Government of Canada stands with human rights defenders by offering them protection and a safe home in the face of real dangers, because offering refuge to the world’s most vulnerable speaks to who we are as Canadians.”The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Who are human rights defenders?
Global Affairs Canada defines a human rights defender (HRD) as “persons who peacefully act to promote or protect human rights, by calling attention to violations and abuses by any actor, including governments, businesses, individuals, groups, and non-state actors.” These individuals may also work to identify problematic practices to decrease the likelihood of more serious widespread conflicts arising. Many HRDs often put their own lives in danger in their fight for justice; in their work, HRDs may face arbitrary arrest, detention, threats, torture, enforced disappearance, and assassinations.
Record number of jailed journalists globally
This announcement comes following a record breaking number of journalists jailed globally in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 reporting and political instability, journalists have been arrested in unprecedented numbers around the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported at least 274 journalists jailed due to their work on December 1, 2020. The CPJ attributed this higher-than-average number to lack of global leadership on democratic values. In particular, Donald Trump’s cozy relationship with dictators and poor treatment of the press worked to perpetuate this issue; some authoritarian leaders used Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric to justify the jailing of journalists on these arbitrary charges. These numbers account only for journalists held in custody, and do not account for those classified as “missing” or “abducted”.
Who can currently apply for refugee status in Canada?
Canada may extend protection to some individuals in Canada that fear persecution upon leaving. This may include torture, risk to their life, or of cruel or unusual treatment or punishment. To be eligible to claim refugee status, applicants must be within Canada and not subject to a removal order.
What is the difference between a convention refugee and persons in need of protection?
A convention refugee is someone that risks being persecuted due to their race, region, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group (e.g., women, sexual orientation). However, individuals that do not meet this criterion may be considered as a person in need of protection. Like convention refugees, persons in need of protection cannot safely return to their home country due to risk to their life, of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, and danger of torture. Those who do not meet the requirements of a convention refugee may apply under this program.
This announcement follows IRCC’s June 2021 statement, which promised to increased the number of protected persons in Canada from 23,500 to 45,000.