Funding uncertainty could stall LGBT refugee resettlement, advocates say

The Liberal government says it's committed to bringing more LGBT refugees to Canada, but advocates say funding uncertainty, lengthy processing and lack of specialized training for visa officers are threatening resettlement efforts.

Trudeau adviser says 'we have more work to do as a government' to make supports equitable

In this Monday, May 1, 2017 file photo, a gay rights activist holding a rainbow umbrella is detained by police during a rally marking May Day in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia. (Dmitri Lovetsky/Associated Press)

The Liberal government says it's committed to bringing more LGBT refugees to Canada, but advocates say funding uncertainty, lengthy processing and lack of specialized training for visa officers are threatening resettlement efforts.

Next year, Canada will bring in about 43,000 refugees, among them lesbian, gay, transgender and other people facing persecution based on sexual orientation.

Sharalyn Jordan, chair of the B.C-based Rainbow Refugee, said lives are at risk in nearly 80 countries which outlaw certain sexual orientation. Her organization has resettled 95 sponsored LGBT refugees with the assistance of federal funding.

But she's worried that money will soon dry up.

"The uncertainty means we can't go forward with this work and potentially ends the sponsorship of LGBT refugees,"Jordan told CBC News.

"This is work that creates safety for some of the world's most vulnerable refugees, people who are persecuted not only in their own country, but often the other country they flee to is just as dangerous."

Members of the LGBT community who are also migrants or refugees, demonstrate to demand better recognition in The Hague in September 2017. (Remko De Waal/AFP/Getty Images)

In its response to the committee report, the government did not make any guarantees, but said it would consider funding and next steps beyond March 2018.

Canada is regarded as a champion of human rights protection around the world, and she said there is mounting global pressure for the government to do more.

"There are very few countries that can be safer places, safer havens, for LGBT refugees and Canada is one of them," she said. "Other countries like the U.S. that used to play the role have cut back. They're not a welcome space for refugees anymore and it's important for Canada to take on that role."

Jordan said LGBT refugees have specialized community support needs, from finding a safe place to pray for a gay Muslim man to adequate housing for a transgender refugee in transition.

'We have more work to do'

Randy Boissonnault, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's special adviser on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit and queer issues, said the government could more to ensure specialized supports are in place.

"I think we have more work to do as a government to make sure the settlement supports are equitable for LGBTQ refugees and that's what the secretariat and I are working on to make sure that takes place," he told CBC News.

People walk under a giant rainbow flag as they take part in the Gay Pride parade in Entebbe on August 8, 2015. At the most recent pride parade, several LGBT rights activists were arrested. (Isaac Kasamani/AFP/Getty Images)

He said the government wants LGBT people around the world to know they are welcome in Canada.

"That doesn't mean tomorrow we can have 100,000 LGBTQ2 refugees. We don't have the capacity for that," he told CBC News. "We have to send a clear signal and also manage expectations. That is sometimes a difficult balance to achieve but we're working on it."

New guidelines

Earlier this year, the Immigration and Refugee Board issued new guidelines on handling issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity to promote a greater understanding of the diversity and complexity of individuals and the potential harms they face.

Canadian Council for Refugees director Janet Dench said she is disappointed in the government's lack of commitment to strengthen policy and training for visa officers, which she said is inconsistent across the country and around the world.

"Sometimes Canadian officials are not suitably sensitive to the realities of LGBT individuals," she said.

MPs on the immigration committee carried out a lengthy study on the LGBT refugee issue and tabled a report with 15 recommendations in June. One called on the government to assess the feasibility of implementing a system to track the number of LGBTQ refugees that Canada accepts annually, "without compromising the security, safety and privacy of the individual."

In a response to the committee, the government rejected that proposal.

Dench said refugees should be identified and prioritized based on the greatest need.

"While we want to see LGBT refugees protected, we're opposed to discrimination, politicization of the selection process. We're not in favour of specific groups saying these ones are going to come in front of those ones," she said.