Amnesty International was represented in this case by Jennifer Klinck, Perri Ravon, Justin Dubois, and Michael Sabet.
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
Mr. Febles was a Cuban refugee living in the USA when he was convicted of committing a serious non-political crime. He served his complete sentence in the United States. Because of his conviction, the United States revoked his refugee status and issue a warrant for Mr. Febles’ removal to Cuba when he completed his sentence. Before being removed, Mr. Febles fled the United States to Canada where he made a claim for refugee protection.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada determined that because of his previous conviction, Mr. Febles was barred from receiving refugee protection in Canada under Article 1(F)(b) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), which is incorporated into Canadian law through section 98 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Article 1(F)(b) provides that where there are serious reasons for considering that an individual has committed a serious non-political crime, that person will barred from accessing refugee protection.
Mr. Febles appealed this decision all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court had to determine whether, under Article 1(F)(b), a person who has committed a serious crime will forever be barred from refugee protection, regardless of the passage of time, or whether the person has expressed regret and served a sentence, and has been completely rehabilitated.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S INTERVENTION
In our intervention before the Supreme Court of Canada, Amnesty International argued that Article 1(F)(b) must be interpreted in accordance with Canada’s international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention. Under international law, the purpose of excluding individuals from being able to access refugee protection is to prevent them from evading justice by exploiting the refugee system to their advantage. Where an individual has been brought to justice for previous criminal acts – e.g. by serving a prison sentence – Article 1(F)(b) should no longer be a bar to seeking protection from persecution.
STATUS OF THE CASE
In a disappointing judgment, the Supreme Court held that any person who has committed a serious non-political crime will be permanently barred from receiving refugee protection in Canada, regardless of mitigating factors such as passage of time, the serving of a sentence, and an individual’s rehabilitation.
This interpretation of Article 1(F)(b) is inconsistent with the broader humanitarian aims of the Refugee Convention, and opens up the possibility that individuals truly deserving of protection will be returned to countries where they face persecution. As Abella J put it in her dissenting judgment, “[t]here is little authority for the proposition that everyone who has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge remains permanently undeserving of the Refugee Convention’s protection regardless of their supervening personal circumstances. Such a relentless exclusionary – and literal – approach would contradict both the ‘good faith’ approach to interpretation required by the Vienna Convention as well as the Refugee Convention’s human rights purpose”
“Important Refugee Law Case at the Supreme Court of Canada” (31 March 2014)
“Amnesty International disappointed in Supreme Court of Canada’s refugee ruling” (30 October 2014)