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Open Letter: Canada must do more to welcome Russian LGBT refugees

OPEN LETTER

9 September 2013

The Honourable Chris Alexander, P.C., M.P.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1
Email: Minister@cic.gc.ca

RE: Russian LGBT Asylum Seekers to Canada

Dear Minister Alexander,

I would like to commend your statement, made 12 August 2013, that refugee claimants from Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community will be taken “very seriously” by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. The political and social climate in Russia is increasingly hostile toward LGBT people, and Canada, as a global leader in advancing the human rights of the LGBT community, must be responsive.

I am gravely concerned about a new law that has recently been proposed at the federal level in Russia. The Associated Press has reported that, if passed, this law would make the “fact of non-traditional sexual orientation” a basis for denying LGBT people custody of their own children. This chilling bill is the latest in an escalating series of legislative measures intended to dehumanize LGBT people and, ultimately, strip them of their most basic human rights. First, LGBT people were barred from adopting children; second, all people were barred from speaking favourably about LGBT people and identities in all public spaces; and now, LGBT parents risk having their children torn from them simply because of who they are. Violence against the LGBT community has intensified throughout this period, and perpetrators have been granted complete impunity from Russian government officials and law enforcement.

As Canada’s only national LGBT human rights organization, we are increasingly hearing from LGBT parents in Russia who are terrified that their families may soon become illegal, and that they will lose custody of their own children. These parents are turning to Canada as a place of refuge, yet I am extremely concerned that Canada’s immigration and refugee system is not prepared to respond to this humanitarian crisis.

Canada’s immigration and refugee system does not allow same-sex couples to list each other as spouses or non-accompanying family members where their country of origin does not recognize their relationship. Similarly, Canada’s system does not allow parents to list dependent children unless that parental relationship has been officially recognized by the country of origin. In the case of Russia, same-sex relationship are not recognized by the state, non-biological parents in same-sex relationships are prohibited from adopting their partner’s biological children, and, potentially very soon, even the relationship between LGBT parents and their biological children may not be legally recognized by Russia. Canada’s immigration and refugee system creates significant barriers to LGBT families attempting to claim asylum in this country. This is particularly true if, as is often the case with couples and families fleeing persecution, LGBT families are split up or forced to travel separately.

I urge you to do more than wait and watch as the rights of Russian LGBT people are rapidly stripped away:

  • The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and subsequent regulations must be amended to recognize LGBT spouses and parents who are not recognized by their countries of origin, but would be recognized here in Canada;
  • While legislative steps are pursued, interim measures must be put in place to ensure that LGBT families are granted equitable access to Canada’s immigration and refugee system in the short-term; and
  • Officials from the Canada Border Services Agency and the Immigration and Refugee Board must receive immediate directives and ongoing training to assist them in welcoming and processing the claims of LGBT asylum seekers, particularly those arriving from Russia.

Your statement last month was encouraging, but it is not nearly enough. Canada must take all possible measures to provide support and to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Russia, as well as with those in the 77 other countries around the world where it is illegal to be LGBT.

I look forward to your response and to your swift attention to this matter.

 

Yours sincerely,

[Original Signed]

Helen Kennedy
Executive Director