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Amnesty International disappointed in Supreme Court of Canada's refugee ruling

    October 30, 2014

    Amnesty International is disappointed in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the case of Febles v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. In a 5-2 split decision, the Court found that if someone committed a serious crime in the past, he or she is forever barred from seeking refugee protection – regardless of such factors as having served a full sentence, the lengthy passage of time, or complete rehabilitation. Amnesty International, represented by Power Law LLP, had intervened in the case in March 2014.

    The case was about who should be excluded from the Refugee Convention, for having committed a serious non-political crime prior to arriving in Canada. The Convention’s “exclusion provisions,” as they are known, are valid and important components of the international system of refugee protection. Nevertheless, given their extremely serious consequences – an absolute bar from the Convention’s protections and potential deportation to face persecution in another country – these provisions need to be interpreted restrictively, as the Supreme Court of Canada has indeed affirmed in previous cases such as Pushpanathan v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (1998) and Ezokola v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (2013).

    The majority in Febles properly acknowledged that the exclusion clauses should be consistent with the Refugee Convention’s broad humanitarian aims. However, in Amnesty International’s view, the interpretation subsequently adopted by the Court – which precludes decision-makers from looking at any factors apart from whether a serious non-political crime was committed – was in fact inconsistent with the humanitarian purposes of the Refugee Convention. And while the majority left a small degree of leeway for the interpretation of “seriousness” of the crime, such that individuals who have committed less grave crimes ought not be excluded, Amnesty International remains concerned about the human rights implications of this judgment. In effect, people who deserve refugee protection could nonetheless be returned to face persecution in their respective countries of origin.

    Justice Abella, who wrote the dissenting judgment, disagreed with the majority’s findings. In Amnesty International’s view, she correctly affirmed that “[t]here is little or no 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 relentlessly 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.”


    For further information, please contact Elizabeth Berton-Hunter, Media Relations 416-363-9933 ext 332