New guidelines for evaluating LGBT refugee claimants should stop inappropriate and irrelevant questioning by Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada adjudicators, people who work with asylum seekers say.
"It's revolutionary," Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan said. "It basically puts LGBTQ people and their refugee claims at the same level as a political opinion or a religious persecution case, meaning that their sexuality is not put on trial the way it has been up until today."
The Immigration and Refugee Board released the guidelines, the first for dealing with such cases, on Monday.
A 12-page document covers terminology, appropriate language, challenges faced by individuals with diverse sexual and gender identities, the importance of protecting sensitive information, principles for assessing credibility and avoiding stereotyping.
Khan said about 30 per cent of his cases so far this year involve asylum seekers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer and are fleeing persecution in their home countries.
His clients have sometimes faced uncomfortable and inappropriate lines of questioning from board members at refugee determination hearings, he said.
For example, some adjudicators asked clients how they performed certain sexual acts, he said, which is irrelevant to the heart of the matter: the persecution people face.
"Last year, this one member kept asking my client how many times she had sex with her female partner and that somehow the amount of sex that she had … goes to whether she's really a lesbian or not," he said.
"When these kind of graphic questions are asked, you're trivializing and you're putting sexuality on trial."
Mike Tutthill, executive director of the Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg, has worked with 20 asylum seekers on filing sexuality and gender-based refugee claims this year, and the document addresses many of their concerns, he said.
"One of the things that I think was interesting was [guidance around] not basing findings on the fact that people may have been involved in heterosexual encounters previous to coming out," he said.
He also was pleased to see the IRB acknowledge that sexual orientation and gender identities are expressed differently across different cultures.
"It was also great to see the list of cumulative discrimination people face: access to employment, health care, housing, social services, looking to sex work as means for financial support," he said.
"These are common intersections of persecution for LGBT folks around the world."
The majority of refugee board adjudicators are neither lawyers nor legally trained, so providing direction and making sure there's consistency is important, Khan said.
He hopes the guidelines put an end to IRB members asking "whatever they feel like."
"It brings more human rights into a refugee hearing — context that was missing," Khan said.