By Sukhram Ramkissoon
A 41-year-old woman, who I will refer to as Norma (not her real name) is a citizen of a tiny island in the Caribbean measuring only 389 square kilometers and a population with slightly over 100,000 citizens. Norma was recently granted refugee protection in Canada as a person who was a victim of sexual abuse by a close family member from the age of 15 until she was 22 when she fled the country.
She entered Canada as a visitor in April 2006 and after 8 years (2015) she filed a humanitarian application to regularise her status; however, she did not disclose that she was the victim of abuse. This application was rejected in early 2017. She then consulted a new representative and filed a second humanitarian application disclosing that she was the victim of abuse and in support of this application forwarded a psychological report disclosing full details about her sexual abuse, fear, trauma, shame, and embarrassment. Norma stated that this was the first time she disclosed to any person the abuse she suffered by her family member, as she was too ashamed and embarrassed. This second application was also rejected in 2020 and Norma was informed that she was the subject of a warrant issued by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Norma attended CBSA to have the warrant executed in November 2021 and at the time, she expressed a fear of returning to her home country. She was advised by the officer to submit a claim for refugee protection in Canada and have the relevant forms emailed to them directly. She then immediately contacted our firm to assist her in the preparation of her claim for protection, and submitted the same in early December 2021.
I represented her at her recent hearing and filed several supporting documents, including, a psychological assessment which indicated that Norma met the diagnostic criteria for chronic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder secondary to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her family member. She also provided letters of counselling she received from other reputable agencies in Toronto.
At her recent hearing, she testified in a very emotional manner about her horrific experiences of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse she suffered for seven years at the hands of a very close family member. She stated that she fears if she returns to her home country, she will be the victim of abuse at the hands of the agent of persecution as she will be forced to live with him in the same house because she had no other family members with whom she can reside and be safe from him.
In granting refugee protection, the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) member stated that he found Norma to be a credible witness and accepted her evidence. There is a presumption that when a claimant promises to tell the truth, they tell the truth unless there is a reason to doubt the credibility. The member stated that he found no reason to doubt her credibility and accepted her evidence.
Norma’s allegations in her claim were consistent with the objective evidence about the conditions in her country. It is of interest to note that Norma made her claim after residing in Canada for about 15 years, which is a very long time for a person who has a fear of returning to their country. However, the member stated that Norma had given a reasonable explanation for the delay in claiming protection.
The member found that Norma testified in a forthright, spontaneous, and detailed manner, and the accepted her evidence as reasonable and credible – she did not disclose her abuse she suffered to anyone in her family, including her mother, and so there could not be corroborating documents. The member concluded that Norma has a subjective fear of persecution if she were to return to her country today and her fear is objectively well-founded.
The member also found that based on Norma’s evidence there is serious risk, perhaps even a likelihood that if she were to return to her country today, despite being away for over 15 years and despite being an adult who has been supporting herself for all these years. The member also found that Norma would not be able to establish herself in an independent household on her own whilst in her country as she never worked outside the household except essentially in school and athletics.
In Canada, Norma testified that she consistently worked and has intentionally sought out what she described as male coded work. She has always looked for physically challenging work to demonstrate to herself and others that she is a very strong person, and this would be work that would not be available to her in her country. It was specifically noted in Norma’s reasons that, according to the US Country Report, there are legal restrictions against women working in certain occupations including construction and factory work.
The US Country Report also notes that sexual harassment is widespread. Domestic violence against women remains a serious and pervasive problem and the government occasionally offered sexual abuse awareness training.
The member stated that if Norma were to return to her country, which is geographically and population-wise so small that it would be impossible for her to live someplace where the agent of persecution could not find her nor meet her. The population is so small that no matter where Norma goes, there is a serious risk, if not a likelihood, that the agent of persecution would simply be able to find her just simply being on the street.
The member after considering all the evidence and the Chairperson’s Guidelines regarding claims of gender-based persecution, found that Norma is a Convention Refugee under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and accepted her claim for protection.
SUKHRAM RAMKISSOON is a member CICC and specialises in Immigration Matters at No. 3089 Bathurst Street, Suite 219A, Toronto, Ontario Phone 416 789 5756.