BY SUKHRAM RAMKISSOON
A reader of this column phoned me the other day to discuss a problem which his gay friend is experiencing. He said his friend who lives in Trinidad is “harassed, beaten and discriminated against ” by people ” back home.” The caller said he remembered that about 30 years ago, thousands of Trinidadians came to Canada and applied to remain in the country as refugees and he wanted to know what steps his friend can take to obtain refugee status in Canada.
Yes, thousands of people from Trinidad did come to Canada to claim refugee protection in the 1980s. However, since then, there have been changes in Canada’s immigration laws and policies with respect to refugees. In the past it often took years for a decision to be made on a refugee claim. Currently, a decision is made within a few months.
But let us look at the process which his friend will have to follow with respect to a refugee claim.
First of all, let’s look at the term ” Convention Refugee” in the Immigration Act,
- A Convention Refugee is a person who, by reasonofa well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,
(a) is outside each of their countries of nationality and is unable or, by reason of that fear, unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of each of those countries;
Yes, a gay person falls under “membership in a particular social group” by reason of his sexual orientation.
However, when the hordes of persons came to Canada from Trinidad in 1988 seeking refugee status, they did not require a visa to enter the country. But as a result of that mass movement at the time, the Canadian Government imposed visa restrictions on nationals of Trinidad and Tobago. So before his friend can enter Canada, he would have to overcome the hurdle of obtaining a visitor’s visa.
If successful, then upon entering Canada, he can make a claim for refugee protection at the airport or the port of entry. Or, as soon as possible, he can approach the Inland Immigration Office responsible for processing refugee claims. (In Toronto he can go to the office at 5343 Dundas Street West in Etobicoke.)
He will be required to complete a number of forms, including a Basis of Claim form which must be submitted at the time he is making this claim for an officer to determine his eligibility to do so.
When this is done, he will be told to attend a hearing within two or three months to present his case before a member of the Refugee Protection Division .
At this hearing he will have to prove his case by producing evidence of persecution in a credible and forthright manner. He will also have to establish his identity as a gay person and furnish evidentiary documents such as country reports, press clippings and articles about the treatment of gays in Trinidad and the lack of state protection for such people in that country.
There may also be a representative of the Minster of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship at the hearing who will attempt to establish that the claimant should not be granted protection as gays and lesbians do not face any harm or persecution in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Minister may also present statistics, articles and UN reports in support of his case.
So have apart from presenting documentary evidence regarding his persecution, this claimaint will also have to establish clearly that there is not state protection for gays in Trinidad and Tobago.
If after the conclusion of the hearing the panel is satisfied the claimant meets the test for refugee protection he will be granted protection in Canada, if not he has the right to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division.
What I have presented in this column is just basic information with respect to a refugee claim of ” a member in a particular social group” and it is not a substitute for legal advice.
SUKHRAM RAMKISSOON is a member of ICCRC and specializes in Immigration Matters at No. 3089 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario. M6A 2A4 Phone 416 789 5756.