Major Victory for Refugees and Immigration Lawyers in Canada as DCO Policy Struck Down
Last month saw a major victory for refugee claimants, immigration lawyers in Canada, and constitutional rights when Canada’s Federal Court ruled the Harper Conservatives’ “Designated Countries of Origin” (DCO) to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The DCO policy was introduced by Citizenship and Immigration Canada on December 15th, 2012, under the pretext of deterring illegitimate claims by refugees and asylum seekers so as to focus more resources on more urgent claims. By additionally denying appeals, the government had hoped to save resources by not allowing allegedly fraudulent claimants to tie up our tribunals in “endless appeals.” While there may be merit to reducing the bulk of asylum claimants by weeding out fraudulent claims, the method by which the government had chosen to do has been called out by many critics as being grossly discriminatory.
The system operated by assigning many developed countries—including the United States, Australia, many European Union nations, and other—as “designated countries of origin.” People arriving from these countries as refugee claimants would be processed more swiftly than usual, and almost always have their claims refused. Once refused, claimants from DCOs would be denied the right to appeal. According to Canada immigration officials, the countries selected as DCOs were chosen based on relative safety and unlikelihood to produce refugees, though any immigration lawyer in Canada may be swift to refute that logic.
The notion that citizens of developed nations cannot be oppressed is faulty at best, and the stereotype (or, as the government calls it, “informed statistical generalization”) that people come from less developed countries to abuse our generosity is offensive at best, and life-endangering at worst. One particular country on the DCO list is Hungary, a small country in central Europe, and a member of the European Union. In the last decade, Hungary has seen the rise of several neo-Nazi and anti-Romani groups, who have committed multiple murders and acts of violence against Romani people. Hungary was included on the list, and still, Romani attempting to flee to Canada have been denied despite the publicized violence they faced.
Many LGBTQ peoples have also fled persecution to Canada, only to have immigration officials deny them entry based on their country of origin.
By declaring the policy to be unconstitutional, the Federal Court has helped to further secure equal access to the same rights and freedoms for all people that seek refugee status within our borders. The decision was based on the notion that all refugee claims should be assessed and judged on their individual merits, and not on the nationality of the claimant.
This is a major step towards a fairer, more balanced system for immigration in Canada—which has faced numerous challenges under the Harper government. Now, every immigration lawyer in Canada is armed with that much more power to help refugees find safe asylum.