Canada's growing culture of refugee exclusion

Almost 25,000 refugees fight exclusion claims every year, according to a report by two law professors from the University of British Columbia, Ashal Kaushal and Catherine Dauvergne, entitled “The Growing Culture of Exclusion: Trends in Canadian Refugee Exclusions.

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Chingcuanco’s portrait of Kim Villagante, another artist involved in the We Are Jose art project. More can be found on

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter

Because of  the complicated routes refugees have to take in order to gain a stake in Canada, Figueroa applied for residency through Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds – which factors in the best interests of the family and how settled they are in the country. The application was approved “in principle,” Figueroa said, in 2004. However, he still has to be cleared of the deportation order to be able to stay peacefully in Canada.

The designation of terrorist is a lot trickier to handle, as terrorism and crimes against humanity have been conflated by the Canadian court system since 9/11, Kaushal and Dauvergne said in their report. “This ignores the legitimate uses of violent resistance under international law,” they stated.

The lines were blurred in a 2001 case, when a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka, Manickavasagam Suresh, faced charges of terrorism. He fundraised for the World Tamil Movement, which supports the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealem (LTTE), deemed a terrorist organization by 32 countries.

The Supreme Court refused to consider experts’ testimonies on differentiating between the LTTE’s attacks on civilians and their movement towards self-determination.  Worse, the Suresh case set a precedent for Canadian courts to be able to persecute individuals for an organization’s acts with little proof of what that person was responsible for – in essence,one becomes guilty by association.

At Figueroa’s court hearing, Immigration Refugee Board adjudicator Otto Nupponen exemplified the broad definition of terrorism in the Suresh case as grounds to deport Figueroa. Nupponen acknowledged that “there’s some legitimacy” to the FMLN’s goal to eliminate death squads, and that it “hardly can be said” that it is a terrorist organization now. He also admitted that Figueroa merely convinced people to “understand new and potentially better political realities"  –  but that he is still inadmissible.

Falling through the cracks

Susan Wong faces another level of refugee exclusion, as her father became a denied refugee claimant when Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney implemented cuts to health care for refugees this past May.

Among the cuts to Interim Federal Health are treatments and medications for prenatal care, emergency cases and chronic diseases – people having heart attacks would not be treated. A recently formed group, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, has since rallied in front of MP’s offices, delivered petitions, and banded with other medical professionals to protest the cuts. They assert that the cuts are “unjust” and would cost more to tax payers in the long run.

As to why these cuts were made, Pavlich commented:

"Changes were made to the IFHP because the program had expanded over time beyond its original intent, both in terms of coverage and eligibility...These sensible changes will ensure that bona fide refugees continue to receive comprehensive health care coverage, while illegal immigrants and asylum seekers coming from safe, democratic countries no longer receive health benefits that are superior to what is generally available to Canadians."

Jason Wong was diagnosed with cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease at the exact same time the cuts were introduced. He was directly affected by the slashed services.

Despite the cuts, Susan Wong said that the most “scarring” experience of it all was how her father was treated by CBSA officers when she was around 15 years old.

“My parents didn’t speak English and they dragged my dad out of our house,” she said. “This guy shoved my mom so hard she had fallen and my dad was literally gripping to the sides of the apartment door.” Her father did not have shoes on, so she hesitantly threw him a pair when the officers separated them.

He has since been forced to report to the CBSA once a month but has been granted a more lenient timeframe of once every three months since he was diagnosed with fatal diseases.

As the Wong family are already considered low-income, Susan has to work extra hard to keep her father alive. He has only recently been granted a legal work permit, after almost three decades of residing in Vancouver, with the help of No One Is Illegal and the Wong’s local MP, Peter Julian.

Asked what she would say to Jason Kenney given the chance, Wong sighed, paused and swallowed some tears.

“I would tell him that he’s... made my family’s life a living hell,” she said.

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