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CIMM Committee Report

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION ENTITLED
LGBTQ+ at Risk Abroad: Canada's call to Action

Introduction

The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) for its twelfth report, entitled LGBTQ+ At Risk Abroad: Canada's Call to Action, which was tabled in the House of Commons on June 20, 2017[1]. The Government strongly supports the report and a majority of its recommendations. Helping vulnerable and marginalized populations across the globe remains at the core of Canada's Refugee Resettlement Program. The CIMM Study and the resulting Report provide the Government with an opportunity to think critically about the ways in which Canada does and can further help at-risk populations, including LGBTQ+ individuals.

Canada will be the second largest resettlement country globally this year, behind the United States, and has committed to resettling 25,000 refugees. While Canada's commitment doubles the average number of annual refugee admissions to Canada prior to 2015, global resettlement spaces will fall well short of the estimated 1.2 million persons identified by United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as in need of resettlement in 2017. The ultimate objective is for refugees to find solutions that allow them to rebuild their lives. Voluntary repatriation or local integration into the country of first asylum are solutions that should be carefully considered. Should these solutions not be available, resettlement may be the best option for some refugees. While resettlement is an important component of Canada's broader humanitarian assistance efforts, it is only available to a very small percentage of the world's vulnerable populations – less than one percent of all refugees identified by UNHCR. Resettlement cannot, therefore, be Canada's first and only response to addressing the protection needs of refugees.

At the same time, the Government recognizes the specific vulnerabilities faced by LGBTQ+ refugees. Due to the persecution threat that many LGBTQ+ refugees face, they are often reluctant to register for asylum or are unwilling to disclose the nature of their persecution due to ongoing fears for their safety that may be present in their country of asylum. Individuals in a number of countries around the world experience serious human rights abuses and other forms of persecution due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. These individuals can also be placed in a precarious situation as they await resettlement since it may not be safe to disclose that they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community in some countries of asylum.

The Government is, therefore, committed to continuing to work with organizations internationally, nationally and locally to further enhance its understanding of the needs of this vulnerable population to ensure their protection, including through safe resettlement and integration to Canada and advocacy efforts for the protection and promotion of the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons globally.

Canada's Refugee Resettlement Program

Individuals in a number of countries around the world experience serious human rights abuses and other forms of persecution due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Individuals fleeing persecution for reasons of their sexual orientation or gender identity can qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, specifically as a member of a particular social group.

The broad objectives of Canada's Refugee Resettlement Program are to save lives, offer protection to the displaced and persecuted, meet Canada's international legal obligations with respect to refugees, and respond to international crises by providing assistance to those in need of resettlement. Providing protection to vulnerable populations in the form of resettlement to Canada is a critical and often life-saving intervention for refugees who have urgent protection needs and compelling vulnerabilities. Resettlement also demonstrates to the world that Canada has a shared responsibility to help those who are displaced, persecuted and most in need of protection.

Canadian officials rely on UNHCR, private sponsors and other referral organizations to identify and refer refugees for resettlement. This ensures Canada's resettlement efforts focus on resettling the most vulnerable refugees, including priority populations and at-risk individuals, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, determined by UNHCR to be in need of resettlement based on their legal and/or physical protection needs.

Refugees can be resettled to Canada through one of three streams: (1) government-assisted refugees; (2) privately sponsored refugees and; (3) blended visa office-referred. Government-Assisted Refugees are referred by UNHCR or another designated referral agency and receive support from the Government (up to 12 months of income support and immediate and essential services). Recently, as part of Canada's commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, Canada asked the UNHCR to prioritize particularly vulnerable refugees, such as women at risk and persons identified as vulnerable due to membership in the LGBTQ+ community.

Privately sponsored refugees are referred by a Canadian sponsor, who must provide up to 12 months of income support as well as community and emotional support for one year. The Government has publicly and proactively encouraged refugee sponsorship organizations, as well as gay and lesbian organizations across the country, to privately sponsor refugees from abroad who face violence and persecution, including due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.  Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees are referred by UNHCR and receive six months of income support from the Government, as well as six months of income support and emotional and community support from their sponsors.

Government Commitment to LGBTQ+ individuals at risk abroad

The Government is committed to the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights at home and abroad and is working hard to abolish discriminatory laws. The Government works closely with international bodies and civil society organizations to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons. Internationally, the Government works to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQ+ persons through bilateral and multilateral channels. In June of this year, Canada and Chile became co-chairs of the Equal Rights Coalition, an inter-governmental network formed to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world. Earlier this year, Canada committed $650 million in international assistance funding over the next 3 years for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which will include LGBTQ+ issues.

Canada also works through the Commonwealth Equality Network to promote principles of human dignity, equality and non-discrimination for all Commonwealth citizens. Earlier this year, the Government released public statements, both as the Government and through the Equal Rights Coalition, criticizing the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya. At the national level, the Government is working to enhance its development and co-ordination of an LGBTQ+ agenda by naming MP Randy Boissonnault as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ+ issues. The LGBTQ2 Secretariat was created in the Privy Council Office to support the work of the Special Advisor. Bill C-16 received Royal Assent amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination and amending the Criminal Code to extend protection against hate propaganda to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression.

While a single country cannot help everyone who could benefit from protection, Canada has and will continue to undertake significant efforts to address the protection needs of vulnerable populations across the globe. The Committee's Report has put forward several important recommendations, to which the Government responds below.

Theme 1: LGBTQ+ Training and Awareness

2: That Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada in partnership with the UNHCR encourage advanced sexual and gender diversity training for both Canadian and UNHCR officials, support a review of operational procedures to identify any institutionalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals seeking protection and support efforts to assess risks related to SOGIE in the vulnerability screening process.

6: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct a SOGIE analysis of its existing policies, and assess the feasibility of implementing a system to track the number of LGBTQ+ refugees that Canada accepts annually, without compromising the security, safety and privacy of the individual.

The Government of Canada supports these recommendations, with the exception of implementing a tracking system to track the number of LGBTQ+ refugees accepted by Canada. The Government recognizes the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ refugees and understands that the policy and programs it develops and implements affect people differently based on a variety of factors including age, gender and sexual orientation, which is why the Government committed in 1995 to using Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) in developing its policies and programs. The Government subsequently renewed its commitment to GBA+ in 2015 and continues work to strengthen its implementation across all federal departments. Status of Women Canada is the Government of Canada's centre of expertise on GBA+ and works to build GBA+ capacity by developing tools and resources, support GBA+ networks and awareness, and provide technical assistance and advice on GBA+.

GBA+ is an analytical tool used to assess how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. The “plus” in GBA+ acknowledges that GBA+ goes beyond biological (sex) and socio-cultural (gender) differences. We all have multiple identity factors that intersect to make us who we are; GBA+ also considers many other identity factors, like race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability. This analytical tool is increasingly applied to policies and programs within the Government, to support greater gender equality and to minimize circumstances that create or exacerbate gender-based vulnerabilities.

IRCC has its own departmental policy on gender-based analysis that specifically requires the application of GBA+ to all areas of the Department, including (but not limited to) policy and program development and service delivery protocols (e.g. operational manuals, officer training). As such, new policies, programs or procedures include analysis from a gender and intersectionality perspective and existing policies, programs and procedures benefit from this analysis as well, especially when they are reviewed or updated. 

Currently, IRCC provides annual training on refugee processing to its visa officers, a component of which is focused on gender-based decision-making. During this training officers learn about gender-based persecution including: severe gender discrimination; women who fear persecution as a result of severe gender discrimination by public authorities or private citizens, transgressing gender-discriminating customs; individuals who fear persecution for failing to conform to, or for transgressing gender-discriminating religious or customary laws and practices and persecution for being lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender or intersex; and individuals who fear persecution for being LGBTQ+.

Existing training for visa officers also includes sensitizing officers to the specific risks and barriers faced by LGBTQ+ refugees that may not apply to other vulnerable populations, including: unwillingness to indicate they are part of this community due to social stigma and the repercussions of openly discussing their sexuality; difficulty producing evidence of their status as they may have been living in secret; and vulnerability to harassment or extortion by state authorities. Visa officers learn about interview techniques, including best practices for communicating with survivors of torture, and other severe trauma.

On May 1, 2017, the IRB released new guidelines entitled, Guideline 9: Proceedings before the IRB Involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression. This guideline will promote greater understanding of cases involving SOGIE and the harm individuals may face. The guideline also addresses the particular challenges individuals with diverse SOGIE may face due to their non-conformity with socially accepted norms. This Guideline aims to promote a greater understanding of the diversity and complexity that can be associated with having diverse SOGIE; provide parties with a clearer understanding of what to expect when appearing before the IRB; and establish guiding principles for decision-makers in adjudicating cases. In particular, identifying that there may be cases where corroborative evidence related to an individual's SOGIE may not be available, and decision-makers may have to rely solely on the individual's testimony.

UNHCR recognizes the particular vulnerabilities of LGBTQ+ individuals both within their own countries and as refugees in a country of asylum. The specific needs of the LGBTQ+ individuals of concern to UNHCR have been made part of the wide variety of mandatory protection training programs for UNHCR staff over the years, including the agency's policy to streamline age, gender and diversity issues in all aspects of its work.

In 2015, to increase awareness globally, UNHCR published "PROTECTING PERSONS WITH DIVERSE SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS AND GENDER IDENTITIES, A Global Report on UNHCR's Efforts to Protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Asylum-Seekers and Refugees.

One of the many recommendations stemming from the report was the implementation of a new training program for UNHCR staff and other protection and humanitarian workers in December 2015.  The training package currently used by the agency, and available through their website, is the most comprehensive of its kind globally for delivering protection to LGBTQ+ persons in forced displacement. Training includes content on sexual orientation and gender identity, the particular protection risks affecting displaced LGBTQ+ people and specific means to address them, and is expected to result in better delivery of protection to LGBTQ+ persons of concern by UNHCR and its partners.

Although persecution due to sexual orientation may be a reason for which an individual requires protection, IRCC is unable to proactively collect this information on a systematic basis because it relies on refugees voluntarily self-disclosing their LGBTQ+ status to Canadian visa officers. As noted by witnesses before the Committee, many LGBTQ+ refugees fear disclosing this information even to UNHCR because of the risk to their personal safety in their country of asylum. In exceptional cases, IRCC is aware of particular individuals who were admitted to Canada as refugees or asylum claimants due to their fear of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. However, this information is only available on a case-by-case basis, and should not be systemically tracked in order to respect the privacy of refugees and avoid creating additional vulnerabilities for these already at-risk populations.

Theme 2: Working with Partners

8: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada make the Rainbow Refugee Assistance program a regular, fully promoted, on-going program with multi-year funding, and be expanded to increase the number of LGBTQ+ and HIV+ individuals who can be assisted each year.

9: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continue collaboration with Sponsorship Agreement Holders and continue to determine that individuals brought to Canada under the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program be counted outside of the SAH allocations.

10: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure that key elements of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program are maintained such as (1) Sponsorship Circles,            (2) matching and mentorship, (3) application troubleshooting, and (4) collaboration with experienced civil society and settlement groups in Canada.

The Government agrees with Recommendations 9 and 10 and supports the consideration of Recommendation 8 following the sun-setting of the arrangement in March 2018 and subsequent determination of next steps.

IRCC continues to encourage and support refugee sponsorship organizations, as well as gay and lesbian organizations across the country, to privately sponsor refugees who face violence and persecution, including due to their sexual orientation.

IRCC has a long history of working closely with Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs) and holds regular meetings with SAH representatives where discussions take place allowing individual SAHs to share experiences while engaging in direct dialogue with IRCC.

IRCC will continue to work closely with SAHs to: foster a collaborative approach to the planning, development and implementation of the Private Sponsorship Program, enhance communication and coordination between IRCC, the SAH community, and the IRCC funded-refugee Sponsorship Training Program, and provide input and to suggest possible solutions related to policy, program and operational issues with respect to the Program.

Beginning in 2011, IRCC supported a cost-sharing arrangement with Rainbow Refugee Society for a pilot project, to facilitate the sponsorship of LGBTQ+ refugee cases being resettled to Canada under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, provide temporary capacity building support for the Rainbow Refugee Society, and sensitize Canada's sponsorship community to the protection needs of LGBTQ+ refugees. IRCC subsequently renewed the arrangement, with the current agreement set to end in March 2018.

The cost-sharing arrangement with IRCC requires that Rainbow Refugee Society partner with an experienced SAH, and that the SAH be the party signing the Sponsorship Undertaking with IRCC. IRCC encourages the continued development of partnerships and collaboration with civil society and settlement groups to support the resettlement, settlement and integration of refugees sponsored through the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program and LGBTQ+ newcomers more broadly. Further, IRCC encourages the Rainbow Refugee Society's development and sharing of best practices amongst the sponsorship community, and would continue to encourage the Rainbow Refugee Society to work with sponsorship partners to maintain key elements of their programming including mentoring other groups seeking to undertake sexual minority sponsorships, raising money in support of LGBTQ+ refugees through its Sponsorship Circles, and further assisting refugees and sponsors with the application process.

Through the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program, 79 persons have been sponsored by SAHs in collaboration with Rainbow Refugee Society from 2011 to March 2017. Approximately half of these cases were identified by Rainbow Refugee Society and the other half were referred by UNHCR and arrived through the existing Blended Visa Office-Referred stream.  72% of the cases sponsored under the umbrella of the cost-sharing arrangement with Rainbow Refugee Society were sponsored by two SAHs who already have a long history of sponsoring LGBTQ+ cases. All privately sponsored refugees admitted to Canada, with the assistance of Rainbow Refugee Society, up until March 2018 will be outside of the limits on the number of refugee sponsorship applications that can be submitted by SAHs.

The Government is committed to providing protection to the world's most vulnerable refugees, including those who are persecuted based on their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity. We intend to work closely with the Rainbow Refugee Society and other stakeholders over the coming months to determine the best way to ensure that ongoing and sustainable programming can continue.

Theme 3: Need for Advocacy

13: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and GAC work with non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, such as Rainbow Refugee Society, to develop a strategy on LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing persecution.

14: That the Government of Canada continue to defend LGBTQ+ rights on the world stage and use diplomatic channels to work toward eliminating institutionalized homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

15: That the Government of Canada work to re-establish global funding initiatives to LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations in Canada and abroad.

The Government agrees with these recommendations. Upon taking office in November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mandated the Minister of Foreign Affairs to expand Canadian diplomacy and leadership on global issues, foremost among them the advancement of human rights internationally. As part of this approach, the Government has placed great emphasis on the issues of respect for diversity and inclusion in its foreign policy and international assistance. More specifically, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) promotes the human rights of LGBTQ+ individuals through a number of diplomatic means, such as bilateral relations; advocacy in multilateral fora; and international assistance.

Canada regularly raises the issue of respect for the human rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in bilateral discussions with other governments, and through UN mechanisms such as the Universal Period Review. In addition, GAC's network of missions abroad supports the efforts of local civil society and the private sector to advance respect for human rights in country-specific contexts. This ensures that local voices are front and center. The Government has made LGBTQ+ efforts a priority theme of engagement abroad. Such initiatives cover a wide range of activities, supported through the Canada Fund for Local initiatives (CFLI) and the Post Initiative Fund (PIF). Projects implemented by over thirty of Canada's missions abroad include:

  • Promoting LGBTQ+ rights through campaigns to combat violence and discrimination;
  • Eliminating stigma and discrimination in healthcare for transgender people;
  • Sensitizing police, lawyers, paralegals, and journalists to LGBTQ+ human rights;
  • Support for activities that increase the visibility of local LGBTQ+ communities, including events associated with LGBTQ+ Pride and the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; and
  • Improving access to transitional justice for LGBTQ+ victims of armed conflict.

GAC also advances respect for human rights through renewed robust engagement in multilateral forums. Canada actively participates as an observer at the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC) and is fully engaged in the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, the key multilateral institutions mandated specifically to consider and discuss human rights issues. Within these forums, Canada strongly supported the creation of a UN Independent Expert on Protection Against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.  Canada also advocates for respect of the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons in forums such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States and the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In addition, Canada has participated in new efforts to advocate for the rights of LGBTQ+ persons around the world by becoming a founding member (in July 2016) – and now co-chairing (since June 2017) with Chile – the Equal Rights Coalition, the first-ever intergovernmental network to support LGBTQ+ rights globally. 

International assistance serves as a vehicle through which Canada can recognize, promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons. On June 9, 2017, the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie unveiled Canada's first Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). The policy emphasizes values of diversity, inclusion and equality for all, and calls for a focus on those who face intersectional exclusion and discrimination including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other factors.

Over the past 18 months, the Government has launched and completed a number of other initiatives to advance human rights, including those of LGBTQ+ persons, both at home and abroad.

  • All of Canada's Heads of Missions are now officially mandated to promote and protect human rights, as reflected in new commitments in their Performance Management Agreements.
  • Canada is providing $15 million to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ($5 million/year for 3 years, i.e., 2016-17 – 2018-19) in core funding as a way to strengthen the international human rights system.
  • GAC is now proactively publishing online Canada's human rights recommendations to other countries in the context of the UN Universal Periodic Review Process, including recommendations on LGBTQ+ rights. According to data from NGO Universal Periodic Review Info, Canada has made more LGBTQ+ related recommendations to states than any other country through the UPR process.
  • Canada's Guidelines on Supporting Human Rights Defenders is a practical tool to help Canadian officials provide human rights defenders, including LGBTQ+ rights defenders, with the support that they need to be more effective advocates, and to do so safely.
  • In June 2017, the Government launched a comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence. Led by Status of Women Canada, the Strategy lays the foundation for greater action and is based on three pillars that will improve Canada's overall response to Gender-based Violence: prevention, support for survivors and their families, and promotion of responsive legal and justice systems. It will fill important gaps in support for diverse populations, including women and girls, Indigenous people, LGBTQ2 members, gender non-conforming people, those living in northern, rural, and remote communities, people with disabilities, newcomers, children and youth, and seniors.

Canada is fully committed to implementing the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at home and abroad. The SDGs are based on the principles of "universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential […]". At their core, the SDGs aim to ensure that no one is left behind, and provide an unprecedented opportunity to advance equality for all, including LGBTQ+ persons.

In May 2016, Canada launched extensive public consultations on its international assistance. The consultations were part of a comprehensive policy review designed to align with the SDGs and refocus Canada's international assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable people, and supporting fragile states. The Government held over 300 consultations in                65 countries, engaged over 15,000 people and partners, including LGBTQ+ persons and organizations, and received more than 10,000 contributions. As a result of these consultations, the Government of Canada noted a number of important takeaways related to LGBTQ+ programming, that will inform the implementation of FIAP including:

  • Ensure that GAC's feminist approach integrates a “comprehensive understanding of sexual orientation and gender.”
  • Mainstream LGBTQ+ issues across development programming, and integrate an intersectional approach that takes into account overlapping layers of discrimination.
  • Consult and meaningfully integrate the views and perspectives of LGBTQ+ persons.
  • Ensure that Canada's work to advance the health and rights of women includes a strong focus on LGBTQ+ persons (in particular, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender women).
  • Invest in building the capacity of civil society organizations, law enforcement institutions, judiciaries and human rights commissions, and raise awareness of the importance of advancing the rights of LGBTQ+ persons.

  • Work with local organizations that are advancing LGBTQ+ rights in order to ensure that programming responses are context-relevant.
  • Provide core funding to smaller LGBTQ+ civil society organizations from the global south.
  • Collaborate with global LGBTQ+ networks working to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ persons.

Canada has also recently committed $650 million in funding over the next three years for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programming. This includes support to advocacy for women, youth, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ civil society groups, and support for comprehensive sexuality education – an area where we can explicitly address LGBTQ+ issues. 

In addition to working internationally to support and further the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, the Government works with partners both nationally and internationally as the cornerstone of our successful resettlement program. The Government's strategy for resettlement is closely linked with UNHCR to provide safety to the most vulnerable and marginalized, and work with GAC to provide Humanitarian Assistance.

In 2016, Canada provided $157.1 million to UNHCR through grants, including $10 million devoted to support the submission of Syrian refugee cases for resettlement to Canada, including LGBTQ+ individuals. In September 2016, in line with commitments to increased humanitarian assistance funding, the Prime Minister announced multi-year support to the UNHCR ($37.8 million 2017-2019).

The Government engaged with key Canadian and international stakeholders, including the Rainbow Railroad Society over the summer and fall of 2017 to help inform refugee resettlement policy for LGBTQ+ refugees. Results from this engagement are being used to inform how the Government can further support LGBTQ+ refugees.

Theme 4: Processing of LGBTQ+ Refugees

1: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada commit to reducing processing times for resettlement to no more than 12 months for refugees at serious risk and strengthening ways to provide timely assistance to refugees facing immediate risk such as through the Urgent Protection Program and the use of Temporary Resident Permits.

5: That the Immigration and Refugee Board accelerate and streamline the processing of legacy refugee claims and that the Government of Canada collaborate with the IRB to find efficiencies and additional resource needs for the IRB so that they can effectively process the legacy refugee claims.

4: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada continue to partner with civil society organizations in Canada, such as Rainbow Refugee Society, to help identify, assess, and facilitate the expedited processing of LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing persecution.

11: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider developing a multi-year agreement with the UNHCR in collaboration with civil society organizations in Canada, such as Rainbow Refugee Society, to increase the resettlement of LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

12: That the Government of Canada maintain or increase the Privately Sponsored Refugee and Blended Visa Office Referred levels to ensure the continued sponsorship of individuals fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression which will support decreasing processing times.

The Government of Canada supports these recommendations. The Government is concerned about the precarious situation of refugees in their host country as they await resettlement to Canada and the resulting impacts on individuals' emotional, mental and physical health. The Government of Canada continues to be committed to working with multiple partners and stakeholders in support of the resettlement of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.

While IRCC aims to process refugee cases in a timely manner, processing times are dependent on a number of factors, which can in some cases cause delays. These include: respecting the number of applications that can be processed in a given year as approved in the annual Immigration Levels Plan; the size of the refugee application inventory in each overseas visa office; the relative complexity of admissibility screening to be completed (i.e., medical examinations, security and criminality checks); the ability of visa officers to contact applicants (i.e., some refugees may be inaccessible to visa officers due to security considerations or poor communications infrastructure in the country of asylum); and other operational factors, including the ability to obtain exit permits for refugees in their country of asylum, flight availability, etc.

In 2017, the Government has prioritized reducing backlogs for privately sponsored refugees, with the objective of reducing wait times for new applications for Privately Sponsored Refugees to about 12 months in 2019 (wait times may vary by visa office). To achieve this commitment the Government has increased its Privately Sponsored Refugee target to 16,000 in 2017, more than tripling the average number of privately sponsored refugees admitted prior to 2015.

Within Canada, in order to accelerate the processing of legacy refugee claims, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) has announced the formation of a Legacy Task Force which will work to eliminate the backlog of legacy claims over the next two years. The team will enable the IRB to significantly increase the rate at which it can process legacy claims while allowing the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) to continue to focus on new claims and current inventory. The RPD will also redeploy a portion of its national capacity to finalizing its oldest pending claims.

Starting in July 2017, certain claims identified by the RPD as straightforward can be scheduled for a short hearing before an RPD member. The expectation is that a substantial majority of these claims will be finalized at the end of the short hearing. Countries which have an acceptance rate at the RPD of approximately 80 percent or higher will be the first to be considered for inclusion in the new short hearing process. In addition, RPD will also begin accepting claims without a hearing in appropriate circumstances, as per IRB's Policy on the Expedited Processing of Refugee Claims.

IRCC recognizes that there are some refugees who are facing immediate and imminent threats to their life, liberty or physical safety and who may need to be resettled to Canada in an expedited and urgent fashion. For these individuals the Government is able to use the Urgent Protection Program or temporary residence permit (TRP). The Urgent Protection Program ensures that Canada is able to respond to extremely urgent requests for resettlement of refugees under immediate threat of being returned home, expulsion or facing direct threats to their lives. When Canada is made aware of such situations, the Government is able to respond by providing urgent resettlement for approximately 100 refugee cases per year through the program. Canada stands by its close collaboration with UNHCR as the international expert is best placed to identify individuals in urgent need of protection under this program.

A visa officer may also issue a temporary resident permit (TRP) if required, which can be used to facilitate travel in urgent situations, on an exceptional basis. A TRP may be issued to a foreign national who, in the opinion of an officer, should be permitted to travel to Canada but who is inadmissible or does not meet the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protections Act (IRPA).  A TRP can provide a means to travel to Canada as a temporary resident, when a permanent solution is not appropriate or available.

The CIMM Report linked Recommendation 4 to internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Government recognizes that internally displaced persons are also very vulnerable; however, while refugee law – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its    1967 Protocol – provides the main framework for protection and assistance for refugees that are outside their country of nationality, there is no equivalent international convention for those that are internally displaced. The primary responsibility for protecting IDPs rests with the national authorities of the country. In exceptional cases, the Government has legal mechanisms to extend protection to vulnerable groups or individuals through public policies. Public policies give the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship discretionary authority to overcome the requirements of the IRPA in exceptional circumstances, including to address the diverse needs of persons in need of humanitarian assistance around the world. The decision to create a public policy is weighed carefully, as each situation involves creating a special program in often complex and dangerous circumstances. The Government used a public policy in 2016 in order to implement its commitment to resettle 1,200 survivors of Daesh by the end of 2017.

Due to the numerous challenges of resettling IDPs, the Government focuses the majority of its protection efforts for IDPs through avenues that aim to bring an end to conflict, such as diplomatic and other engagement. The Government supports and is engaged in a coordinated interagency approach to IDP protection and assistance. The Government participates in global policy discussions on internal displacement and contributes to resolutions at the United Nations, in particular at the Commission on Human Rights on aspects of IDP protection and assistance.

Canada's humanitarian assistance programming is context-specific and needs-based and is provided through experienced humanitarian partners that are able to identify and reach the most vulnerable. In 2016 Canada allocated $3 million to UNHCR's operations, which supports both the Afghan refugee response and other beneficiaries, such as IDPs.

The Government has supported internally displaced populations through its development programs supporting, for example, development assistance for IDPs in Colombia through the joint UNHCR-UNDP Transnational Solutions Initiative. Between 2012 and 2016, Canada, along with other partners, has helped contribute USD $12.2M towards IDP protection in Colombia through the Transnational Solutions Initiative.

To assist with the resettlement of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, the Government of Canada currently uses multi-year levels planning with UNHCR. Multi-year resettlement commitments are established based on a number of factors. These include: resettlement priorities identified by UNHCR; international policy considerations; operational implications; stakeholder views, refugee protection needs; and, current Government priorities.

UNHCR prioritizes those most vulnerable and at risk individuals for resettlement from within the general refugee population, without making distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinion. LGBTQ+ individuals are already included in the most vulnerable populations identified and selected for resettlement by the UNHCR under its legal and/or physical protection needs resettlement submission category. Through ongoing discussions, Canada has signaled its willingness to resettle vulnerable populations identified by UNHCR including LGBTQ+. Referrals for resettlement of vulnerable populations fluctuate on an annual basis based on global events.

While multi-year commitments account for a portion of the Government Assisted Refugee stream levels space allocated to the Resettlement Program in any given year, space is also reserved for other cases identified by UNHCR as well as privately sponsored refugees. The Privately Sponsored Refugee stream is not limited by the Government's multi-year commitments, which allows private sponsors to submit applications for any vulnerable or persecuted persons including individuals fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

The Government recognizes the opportunity presented by the interest Canadians have expressed in assisting refugees. To this end, IRCC has begun increasing targets for the Blended Visa Office-Referred and Private Sponsorship of Refugee streams – the Government's            2017 target of 1,500 Blended Visa Office-Referred refugees and 16,000 privately sponsored refugees more than triples pre-2015 levels for private sponsorship. These targets reflect the importance the Government affords to refugee resettlement and affirms a commitment by the Government of Canada to be a global leader on the issue of refugee protection.

Theme 5: LGBTQ+ Specific Needs

3: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct a needs assessment to identify the settlement needs of LGBTQ+ newcomers, including those arriving under the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program.

7: That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review its medical inadmissibility and excessive demand provisions to ensure that the rights of LGBTQ+ and HIV+ individuals and others are upheld.

The Government of Canada supports these recommendations. The Government is aware of LGBTQ+ specific needs and works with multiple organizations to ensure these needs are being considered in IRCC's programs.

The settlement and integration needs of newcomers who face multiple barriers to settlement, including refugees resettled through the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program and LGBTQ+ newcomers more broadly, will continue to be an area of focus for IRCC.

On an individual level, all eligible newcomers can access needs assessments and referrals through IRCC's Settlement Program. These are conducted between an IRCC-funded service provider organization and a newcomer, to assess individual needs across a broad spectrum of services. This includes both IRCC-funded settlement services (information and orientation, language training, employment-related services, community connections) and non-IRCC-funded services, including housing, health, financial, and other support services.  As a result of the assessment, newcomers receive a “settlement plan” and referrals to the services identified in the plan. 

The Department also recognizes the importance of a broader assessment of LGBTQ+ newcomers' needs as part of the Settlement Program's priority-setting process. The current complement of federally-funded settlement services is the result of a 2015 National Call for Proposals, which included extensive consultations with stakeholders as part of a three-year priority-setting cycle that established the key priorities of the Settlement Program. These priorities included programming adapted to the needs of clients who may face significant barriers to settlement, such as specialized resources and services to address the barriers faced by newcomers from sexual minority communities. As a result of these priorities, IRCC funds targeted services that support LGBTQ+ newcomers, which include providing newcomers with information about LGBTQ+ rights and exploring LGBTQ+ identity within a cultural context, as well as training for service providers to help them better serve LGBTQ+ newcomers.

Many settlement service provider organizations have established strong partnerships with other integral community resources and supports that are well-placed to serve the needs of this population.  Some specific examples of federally-funded settlement supports for the LGBTQ+ newcomer community include:

  • DIVERSEcity which is delivered in Surrey, North Delta, and Langley, British Columbia. This program supports LGBTQ+ newcomers and assists them in navigating other available community resources.
  • The 519 in Toronto provides LGBTQ+ newcomers (both youth and adults) and their community with settlement services and support.
  • The Association for New Canadians in St. John's, Newfoundland, hosts an annual Health Fair in which information is provided to attendees (including youth) related to LGBTQ+ issues, Planned Parenthood, and health/mental health.
  • The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants is funded by IRCC to deliver the Access & Equity project. One of the objectives of this initiative is to enhance the knowledge and skills of settlement sector professionals that serve LGBTQ+ newcomers using a range of professional development activities, tools and resources for organizations to create positive and inclusive spaces for newcomers. 

The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is engaging with a broad range of Canadians to build a national vision for settlement and integration. Through these consultations, the diverse settlement and integration needs of newcomers, including those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, have been raised, and will inform funding priorities and help guide IRCC in fostering a welcoming society where newcomers can be involved in all aspects of life in Canada and contribute to Canada's success.

In addition to Settlement Programming, specific supports for refugees, including for LGBTQ+ refugees, are delivered through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) to Government-Assisted Refugees and other eligible clients when they first arrive in Canada. RAP SPOs conduct a global needs assessment for the purpose of creating a Referral Plan to link clients to settlement and broader community services that can include LGBTQ+ supports in the community.  IRCC is currently funding a RAP SPO to develop and deliver youth and LGBTQ+ specific RAP orientation and information classes across Canada in collaboration with other RAP SPOs.

For Privately Sponsored Refugees, a sponsor's ability to provide necessary supports is assessed as part of the application process, including those supports relevant to any specific vulnerabilities, such as being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. As permanent residents, privately sponsored refugees, including those sponsored by the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program, can avail themselves of the settlement supports offered by SPOs and IRCC is working with the sponsorship community to ensure that sponsors are aware of those services and supports that are available.

Under paragraph 38(1)(c) of the Act, foreign nationals are inadmissible to Canada on health grounds if they have a health condition that might reasonably be expected to pose an excessive demand on health or social services. Under Subsection 38(2) of the Act, Convention refugees applying for resettlement to Canada, protected persons and some persons being sponsored as members of the family class are exempt from paragraph 38(1)(c).

IRCC is currently reviewing the policy on inadmissibility due to excessive demand on health and social services. Key stakeholders including provinces and territories, and HIV and disability advocates specifically; HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario; the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network & Coalition; and des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le syndrome d'immunodéficience acquise (COCQ-SIDA), have been engaged in the review process. The potential impacts of the policy on HIV-positive clients and concerns around discrimination are two of the aspects under review.



[1] For the purpose of consistency, this Government Response is using the acronym “LGBTQ+” as per the CIMM study. The Government of Canada promotes the use of “LGBTQ2”, which recognizes two-spirit identity within Canada's Indigenous communities. Nationally and internationally several different variations are used as organizations choose acronyms that are representative of their organizations and clients. Other commonly used acronyms include, but are not limited to: LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQ and LGBT2SQ+.