Refugee Rights Day is commemorated each April 4th to reflect on the impact of the Singh decision regarding the protection of refugee rights in Canada. On April 4th, 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered the historic Singh Decision in recognition of refugee claimants Harnhajan Singh, Sadhu Singh Thandi, Paramjit Singh Mann, Kewal Singh, Charanjit Singh Gill, Indrani and Satnam Singh. The Supreme Court found that the refugee determination procedures established in the Immigration Act,1976 did not provide the claimants fundamental justice. It violated Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” The Court also ruled a violation of Section 2(e) of the Bill of Rights which provides: “…. no law of Canada shall be construed or applied so as to … (e) deprive a person of the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations.”
According to a statement issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there could be up to 12 million stateless people worldwide. This is a direct result of the continuing and current civil conflicts around the world. Many experience internal displacement and eventually flee their home countries to escape persecution, imprisonment and death. Without any guarantee to stay in the receiving country or return to their home country, refugees would have to get through suspicion and intolerance along the process. While recuperating from trauma, refugees continue to suffer in silence.
Canada is one of 145 States Parties who signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol in 1969. Like other States Parties, Canada has international obligations and humanitarian traditions to maintain. Regrettably, the Harper government recently passed Bill C-31 that unconstitutionally attacks, undermines and threatens the core of the Singh decision. This Bill was expected to protect refugee rights yet failed even more to represent the spirit and the letter of the Geneva Convention. What is more disturbing is that Bill C-31 gives Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney a dangerously broad concentration of distorted control with no mechanism of judicial accountability and democratic governance.
As Canada’s largest and inclusive private-sector union, we rekindle our firm position as advocates and activists who fearlessly fight for the rights of our refugee sisters and brothers. On Refugee Rights Day, we must all remember that their basic human rights shall supersede any threat or uncertainty the Harper government may impose at any given time.