How cessation affects refugees in Canada

Immigration advocates say changes to Canada's cessation policy threaten the future of refugees who have spent years building lives in Canada.
Bahareh Esfand came to Canada from Iran as the wife of a political refugee. Citizenship and Immigration Canada is trying to take away her permanent resident status because of a trip back to Iran to visit her mother. (Jason Proctor)

Over the next couple of weeks on The 180, we're going to take a look beyond the headlines at some of the issues facing the refugee system in Canada. 

This week, we're looking at a process called cessation that immigration advocates say threatens the future of refugees who have spent years building lives in Canada. It allows the government to say a person's refugee status has ceased under certain circumstances, including having "voluntarily re-availed" themselves of the protection of the country they fled by returning. Cessation is a long-standing part of Canadian law, but in 2012, the government changed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act so that even refugees who have become permanent residents can lose that status and be forced to leave the country if a cessation determination is made. 

CBC repoter Jason Proctor took a deeper look at a case involving Bahareh Esfand, a Coquitlam, B.C. woman whose husband fled Iran as a political refugee in 2006. She visited her ailing mother in Iran in 2007 and 2011 before the law was changed, but since the law applies retroactively, she may now have to leave Canada. 

Douglas Cannon is Bahareh Esfand's lawyer. Until 2013, he had never dealt with a cessation case, but he says it has now consumed his practice. He says that increase is because the Canada Border Services Agency has made cessation a priority and set a target of 875 cases a year. He spoke to Jim Brown about the policy and what it means for his clients. 

(The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.)

This whole idea of a goal, or a quota, of cessation cases, seems very hard for me to wrap my head around. 

It's deeply offensive, actually. It's designed to go after a result without there actually being a good reason to achieve that result. This is, in the simplest way, a program or policy that has no purpose. It is costly, it's expensive, it solves no problem...yet it seems to be based in an ideology that refugees are giving the impression that they just don't appreciate Canada very much, and that's simply not true. 

What message do you think this law is sending to refugees and to their family members here in Canada? 

The first message it's sending to refugees is - if you thought your future in Canada was secure, think again. And that has a detrimental and devastating impact on people's abilities to get on with their lives. When Canada chooses - and it has made this choice - when it chooses to protect refugees...they don't want them to be sitting on the sidelines. They want them to be getting involved in their communities. They want them to be investing in their future in Canada. They want them to learn English or French, improve their education, become part of the community. And if you don't have a hope that you are going to be allowed to stay...people don't make that kind of an investment. They sit on the sidelines and wait. 

How would you like to see this policy change? 

Well, I think it simply needs to be eradicated. There's no underlying principle served by offering refugees the opportunity to become permanent residents - which is another choice that Canada makes - and then saying, at some point in the future, right up to the moment before you become a Canadian citizen, if you don't need our protection there, then get out. Essentially, the government has forgotten why they gave them permanent residence in the first place. Cessation has been a long-standing part of refugee law, my research, it has never been applied anywhere in the world to permanent residents. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.


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