EZOKOLA V. CANADA
Amnesty International was represented in this case by Michael Bossin, Chantal Tie, and Laïla Demirdache.
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
Mr. Ezokola had a long career working as a financial attaché for the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), eventually leading the Permanent Mission of the DRC at the United Nations in New York City. In 2008, he resigned from his position at the UN and fled to Canada with his family, seeking refugee protection. He stated that he could no longer work for a government he considered corrupt, violent, and antidemocratic.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) determined that Mr. Ezokola was barred from making a claim for refugee status, finding that his work for the government of DRC made him complicit in the crimes against humanity committed by the government. There were never any allegations that Mr. Ezokola was personally responsible for any crimes, nor that he made statements intended to minimize or camouflage the criminal activity of the Congolese government.
Mr. Ezokola’s case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court was tasked with determining the proper meaning of Article 1(F)(a) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), which provides that when there are serious reasons for considering that a person has committed a serious international crime, that person will be excluded from being able to receive refugee protection. Article 1(F)(a) is incorporated into Canadian law through section 98 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). In Mr. Ezokola’s case, the Court considered whether Mr. Ezekola’s work for the Congolese government made him complicit so as to warrant being excluded from refugee protection in Canada.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S INTERVENTION
Amnesty International intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in this case to argue that the exclusion clauses in section 98 of the IRPA must be interpreted and applied consistently with established international law, and applied with the utmost caution.
Amnesty International argued that because the Refugee Convention was designed to protect people fleeing from persecution, individuals who contribute to serious crimes against others should not be allowed to exploit the refugee protection system to their advantage. However, mere membership in an organization – in this case the Congolese government – is insufficient to warrant a person’s exclusion from refugee protection. Instead, a person seeking protection should receive an individualized assessment to determine their level of individual responsibility for criminal acts.
STATUS OF THE CASE
Amnesty International welcomed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that the IRB had “overextended the concept of complicity to capture individuals based on mere association or passive acquiescence.” To warrant exclusion, the Court clarified that a higher threshold applies, and that individuals can only be excluded for complicity in international crimes if there are “serious reasons for considering that he or she voluntarily made a knowing and significant contribution to the crimes” alleged to have been committed by the group or organization [emphasis added].
The Supreme Court’s decision brought Canada’s interpretation of the Refugee Convention in the IRPA into line with international law, which states that it is not enough to simply belong to a group that commits criminal offences; it is necessary to voluntarily and knowingly make significant contributions to those crimes.
“Canadian Test for Exclusion Brought into Line with International Law” (19 July 2013)
“Great news for refugee protection in Canada” (23 July 2013)