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Great news for refugee protection in Canada

    July 23, 2013
    Amnesty's Legal Coordinator, Anna Shea (left) with the team of lawyers Laïla Demirdache, Chantal Tie and Michael Bossin

    Your support for Amnesty International has helped us achieve a legal victory in Canada that could have far reaching and live-saving implications for refugees who seek asylum in Canada and elsewhere.

    In July 2013, Canada’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada, ruled in the case of Rachidi Ekanza Ezokola, a case that grapples with the thorny issue of who can be excluded from refugee status. Their unanimous decision has brought Canada’s interpretation fully into line with international law.

    Amnesty’s first-rate team of pro bono lawyers, comprised of Michael Bossin, Laïla Demirdache and Chantal Tie, assisted by our Legal Coordinator Anna Shea, laid out our position in arguments before the Court back in January 2013. We've waited six months for the decision.

    Mr. Ezokola's case was all about the proper interpretation of "exclusion clauses" in the refugee system. The key question was to determine when someone’s connection to human rights violations would become grounds for preventing them from making a legitimate claim to be a refugee in Canada, even though that person themselves may clearly be at risk of harm should they not be able to flee their country.

    This, of course, is a difficult and often contentious issue.

    Mr. Ezokola's case before the Supreme Court of Canada pits the important human rights obligation of protecting refugees up squarely against the equally important human rights obligation of ensuring accountability for serious international crimes.

    Here is the essence of the case:  Mr. Ezokola had a long career with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country that has been involved in a decades-long war that has led to the death of millions of civilians. In 2008, Mr Ezokola resigned from his position at the Permanent Mission of the DRC at the UN in New York and fled to Canada with his family, seeking refugee protection.  He stated that he could no longer work for a government which he considered corrupt, violent and anti-democratic.

    The Immigration and Refugee Board in Canada determined that he could not claim refugee status, because having been employed by a government that committed terrible crimes, he was complicit in those atrocities. There has never been any allegation 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 eventually made it to the SCC.

    The Supreme Court’s unanimous 9-0 decision, released on July 19, 2013, is very much in line with the argument advanced by Amnesty International, and strongly reaffirms a refugee rights framework to be used in assessing these types of cases.

    In Amnesty International’s view, Canada’s highest court has successfully brought this country’s interpretation of the United Nations Refugee Convention into line with international law.

    The ruling provides a new, stricter test for who can be excluded from refugee protection, and makes it necessary to show that the person voluntarily and knowingly made a significant contribution to those crimes.

    This decision is good news for asylum-seekers in Canada, and – given the influential nature of Supreme Court of Canada decisions – will likely have a positive influence on refugee protection around the world.

    Thank you for keeping Amnesty International strong through your ongoing activism and financial support, and making it possible for us to achieve important human rights victories like this landmark decision for refugees.

    Learn more about the decision in a blog by Amnesty's Refugee Coordinator Gloria Nafziger and Legal Coordinator Anna Shea

    Read the Supreme Court’s decision

    Read Amnesty International's legal briefing and intervention at the Supreme Court