Legal scholar Efrat Arbel on Canada’s troubled treatment of refugees and the Canadian constitution
This week, the Federal Court of Canada will begin to hear arguments in a case brought forth by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and two individual refugee claimants, that challenges federal cuts made to health care coverage for refugee claimants.
Efrat Arbel, a postdoctoral research fellow at UBC Law and member of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, talks about the case, the state of refugee protection in Canada, and the Canadian constitution.
What is the basis for this legal challenge?
As a constitutionally minded nation, Canada has committed itself to ensure certain standards of rights protection. The federal government’s decision to cut basic health coverage to refugees fails to abide by these standards. The cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program violate the fundamental rights of refugees as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without any lawful justification. They threaten the rights to life and security of the person contrary to section 7 of the Charter, amount to cruel and unusual treatment contrary to section 12 of the Charter and discriminate against certain refugees in violation of section 15 of the Charter.
You co-authored a recent Harvard Law School report, titled Bordering on Failure, that examined Canada’s border policies and their effects on refugee claimants. What did the report find?
The report shows that Canada is systematically closing its borders to refugee claimants, meaning that the Canadian government is not only making it difficult for refugee claimants to prove their claims once they arrive in Canada, but also making it difficult for refugee claimants to reach Canada in the first place. Our research also indicates that these measures have promoted a rise in human smuggling across the Canada-U.S. border, raising serious security concerns.
Why should Canada be responsible for protecting refugees?
Protecting refugees is a legal obligation that Canada is bound to uphold under domestic and international law. The Bordering on Failure report shows that Canada is going out of its way to avoid this obligation. By closing its borders to refugee claimants, Canada not only denies numerous people the opportunity to seek refuge from persecution, but also restricts their ability to claim constitutional protection under the Charter. These measures, much like the cuts to refugee health care, call our core constitutional commitments into question.