Court rules denial of appeals for ‘safe country’ refugees unconstitutional

In a ruling Thursday, the court said Ottawa’s designation by country of origin or DCO discriminates against asylum seekers who come from countries on this list by denying them access to appeals.

The Star | By NICHOLAS KEUNG Immigration reporter

In a ruling Thursday, the federal court said Ottawa’s designation by country of origin discriminates against asylum seekers who come from countries on this list by denying them access to appeals.   (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In a ruling Thursday, the federal court said Ottawa’s designation by country of origin discriminates against asylum seekers who come from countries on this list by denying them access to appeals.   (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In a major blow to the Harper government, the Federal Court has ruled that denying appeals to refugees from countries on Canada’s so-called “safe countries” list is unconstitutional.

In a ruling Thursday, the court said Ottawa’s designation by country of origin or DCO discriminates against asylum seekers who come from countries on this list by denying them access to appeals.

“The distinction drawn between the procedural advantage now accorded to non-DCO refugee claimants and the disadvantage suffered by DCO refugee claimants . . . is discriminatory on its face,” wrote Justice Keith M. Boswell in a 118-page decision.

“It also serves to further marginalize, prejudice, and stereotype refugee claimants from DCO countries which are generally considered safe and ‘non-refugee producing.’

“Moreover, it perpetuates a stereotype that refugee claimants from DCO countries are somehow queue-jumpers or ‘bogus’ claimants who only come here to take advantage of Canada’s refugee system and its generosity.”

It is yet another devastating hit to the Conservative government which recently also lost two cases on constitutional grounds over the ban of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and on health cuts for refugees.

“This is another Charter loss for the (Stephen) Harper government,” noted Lorne Waldman, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, a party to the legal challenge against the DCO regime.

The government said it will appeal the decision and ask the court to set it aside while it is under appeal.