Trans woman required to identify as ‘male’ by Immigration Canada: ‘It was agony’

As a refugee claimant only, based on their foreign passport. If their claim is accepted, Canadian documents allow for gender identity.

Given the apparent inconsistencies between the IRB and IRCC regarding the policy and its implementation, expect this will change but given the large numbers of temporary residents (students, workers) this would apply to, implementation may be more complex than it would appear:

The last thing Naomi Chen’s wife said to her before she fled Hong Kong was “don’t cry too much — Canada is the place where you can live as who you are.”

But this, it turns out, was untrue for Chen, a trans woman who says she was persecuted in Hong Kong because of her gender.

After arriving in Toronto Chen made a refugee claim and was then told by Canadian immigration officials she must be identified as “male” on her refugee protection claimant document, her only valid piece of identification in Canada.

Global News has agreed to use a pseudonym for Chen because of fears she could be persecuted if sent back to Hong Kong.

“I was stunned. I was crying. I was distressed,” Chen said. “This is not something I expected.”

According to government policy, all information on an asylum seeker’s immigration documents “must reflect what is indicated on their foreign passport.”

This is true even in cases such as Chen’s, where a person receives hormone therapy, has undergone sex reassignment surgery, and where their lived gender no longer conforms with the sex they were assigned at birth.

It’s also true for all temporary resident documents issued by the government, including work and study permits.

“It’s discrimination,” Chen said.

Since coming to Canada, Chen has felt isolated and dreads leaving her apartment because she might be asked to show her ID that says she’s a man, essentially outing her as a trans woman.

She also said being misgendered by the Canadian government makes her feel less valued than other people.

“I’m so afraid to live as a woman here,” she said.

Right to self-identify

The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on: sex, race, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Ontario Human Rights Code also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender identity.

“A person’s self-defined gender identity is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom,” reads an Ontario Human Rights Commission policy on preventing discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

“For legal and social purposes, a person whose gender identity is different from their birth-assigned sex should be treated according to their lived gender.”

The federal government allows citizens, permanent residents and refugees whose claims are accepted, meaning they’re allowed to stay in Canada permanently, to change their sex or “gender identifier” on official travel documents, such as a passport or permanent resident card, by completing a one-page form.

Yet for refugee claimants whose cases have not yet been decided — even those whose claims are based solely on alleged persecution due to their status as an intersex or LGBTQ2 person — the only way they can change their documents to reflect their lived gender is if they first change the information on their foreign passport, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s policy.

But this is impossible in Chen’s case because she fled Hong Kong due to the persecution she experienced there, including the alleged theft of her business by family members after she came out as a trans woman.

Chen married a woman in Hong Kong before she transitioned. And because same-sex marriage is illegal in Hong Kong, even if she were able to change her original passport, which she can’t, she fears this would invalidate her marriage.

“It’s simply unconscionable that the Canadian government would knowingly contribute to a process that discriminates against individuals based on their gender identity and gender expression,” said Chen’s lawyer, Ashley Fisch.

Fisch also believes the government’s policy violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms by failing to provide “equal treatment under the law” for trans and gender diverse refugee claimants and by perpetuating the types of hardships they’re forced to endure in other countries.

“I just feel sorry for the poor woman,” said Amanda Ryan, outreach committee chair for Gender Mosaic, an Ottawa-based trans support organization.

Ryan believes recent changes to federal human rights law could be a basis for extending the right to self-identify to refugee claimants and temporary residents. She said education — both in and outside government — is key to expanding protections for the trans community.

“When you start talking to people and they start learning about trans issues, there’s an awful lot of sympathy and understanding for us,” Ryan said.

“People that don’t have to deal with a trans person simply don’t have that information. That’s ignorance in the true sense of the word.”

Trans and intersex refugees at greater risk

After arriving in Canada and undergoing initial screening to determine if they are eligible to make an asylum claim, would-be refugees are given their refugee ID, which must conform with their foreign passport.

Claimants must then submit their formal claim to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

The required paperwork asks claimants what sex appears on their foreign passport. However, contrary to Immigration Canada’s policy, claimants are told they can self-identify on IRB documents if their passport does not conform with their lived gender.

IRB adjudicators are instructed to refer to claimants by their preferred pronouns, including in written decisions, even if this does not match their foreign passport. The Board’s guidelines also acknowledge that not recognizing a person’s lived gender can lead to serious consequences.

“Trans and intersex individuals may be particularly vulnerable to systemic discrimination and acts of violence due to their non-conformity with socially accepted norms,” the guidelines say.

Dr. June Lam, a psychiatrist at the adult gender identity clinic at Toronto’s Centre of Addiction and Mental Health, said misgendering trans and gender diverse people can contribute to negative mental health outcomes, including increased suicidal thoughts and actions.

“It’s like we’re recreating the systemic oppression that they’re trying to escape by coming to Canada,” Lam said.

“These barriers really reinforce that even our society views their life, their identity as less valuable.”

While Lam believes Canada is generally a much safer place for LGBTQ2 people than many other countries around the world, he said being forced to use an ID that outs someone as having a different birth-assigned sex than their lived gender puts them at greater risk of physical and psychological harm.

He also cites research that found having a government-issued ID that reflects a person’s lived gender significantly reduces the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and actions among trans and gender diverse people.

“It’s almost like transgender folks have to proove themselves over and over again before our government and our society believes they are who they are,” he said.

Policy sometimes ignored

When Chen was first issued her refugee ID she was told in person by the Canada Border Services Agency that it must conform with her Hong Kong passport, in accordance with government policy.

Chen’s lawyer then sent a letter to the government requesting the ID be reissued with her correct gender, but the request was denied.

“We regret to inform you that refugee claimants are not able to request a change in gender,” a manager from Immigration Canada wrote.

But nearly identical requests have been accepted in the past, said Adrienne Smith, a Toronto immigration lawyer who specializes in LGBTQ2 refugee claims.

Smith knows this because the letter Chen’s lawyer sent the government was based on a template she wrote several years ago. Smith said she’s used this letter on multiple occasions to persuade immigration officials to issue documents in a claimant’s lived gender.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Smith said. “A trans refugee claimant shouldn’t need to have a lawyer that understands trans-specific issues in order to get access to a basic right.”

Global News asked the government to explain why refugee claimants’ documents must reflect the information on their foreign passports and whether this policy systemically discriminates against trans and non-binary asylum seekers. The government did not answer either of these questions.

The government also did not say whether it believes that insisting that non- Canadian citizens and temporary residents be issued documents that don’t align with their lived gender violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Everyone should be free to lead happy and authentic lives in Canada, regardless of how they identify, or who they love,” said Kevin Lemkay, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

Lemkay said the minister has made reviewing gender identity requirements for government-issued documents a priority. This includes the refugee protection claimant document.

The government has also passed legislation, including changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act, that make it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity and expression, while introducing the “X” gender marker on passports and permanent resident cards.

“We remain steadfast in our dedication to inclusion and equality,” Lemkay said.

Despite being misgendered by the government, Chen is determined to remain in Canada. She believes Canada is a place where she can live a life free from the type of persecution she experienced in Hong Kong.

She also hopes that one day she’ll be reunited with her wife — who was denied an entry visa to Canada because of questions about the purpose of her visit, and who does not have a Hong Kong passport, which would exempt her from visa requirements — and that they’ll be able to live together in a same-sex marriage.

“I came to Canada for the freedom of my soul,” Chen said.

Source: Trans woman required to identify as ‘male’ by Immigration Canada: ‘It was agony’

Ontario overestimated cost of services to irregular border crossers, AG finds

In contrast to Quebec, which estimated correctly:

Ontario significantly overstated the costs of providing services to asylum seekers coming into Canada from the United States, the province’s auditor general said Wednesday.

In a special report, Bonnie Lysyk said the $200 million estimate given by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2018 represented the cost of providing services to all refugee claimants, not just so-called “irregular” border crossers.

She said the minister of social services at the time, Lisa MacLeod, was given inaccurate information by civil servants.

“The accuracy of information provided by the ministry to the minister for the public announcement was far off the mark,” Lysyk said in a statement Wednesday.

“Senior government officials need to ensure the accuracy of the information provided to government for public announcements and decision-making.”

MacLeod had formally requested $200 million from Ottawa to cover costs she said were incurred by the province and its municipalities as a result of an influx of asylum seekers arriving from the U.S.

Lysyk said her office found the Ontario government spent roughly $81 million on services for irregular asylum seekers between April 1, 2017 — when the federal government first started tracking their arrival — and July 31, 2018.

More costs were incurred until the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lysyk said.

She recommended Ontario seek an immigration agreement with the federal government that includes compensation for providing services to refugee claimants, including irregular border crossers.

The current deal does not, and the federal government has given $15.6 million in compensation to Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region for their expenses during the April 2017 to August 2018 period, she said.

Quebec, which has a separate cost-sharing agreement with Ottawa, incurred $300 million in costs and has received $286 million in compensation, Lysyk said.

When asked about the report Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said his government did not intentionally mislead the public and was simply relying on the information provided.

Ford blamed the federal government for leaving the province to shoulder the costs of what he called “illegal immigration,” and suggested the auditor general should do another report to examine more recent expenses related to the issue.

“Where’s the money? We need the money,” the premier said. “Every single day, it’s costing us more and more and more.”

Opposition legislators criticized the government for using inflated numbers to make policy decisions.

“The auditor general’s report makes clear that the claims Doug Ford and Lisa MacLeod made about the cost of accommodating asylum seekers in Ontario were pure fiction,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

“Shame on them for making stuff up to fan the flames of division instead of uniting us like they should have been.”

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said the Ford government has a record of “continually overstating, overstepping, and exaggerating.”

Ford previously came under fire for saying his government inherited a $15 billion deficit from the Liberals, and later revising that number down by about half, to $7.4 billion.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the debate over the costs of services for irregular border crossers took place at a time when many governments were “playing politics with immigration.”

“The government inflated this number … to provide cover for what in this case is a divisive political agenda, which I think was to question immigration policy in this country. And I think it’s wrong,” he said.

Canada’s Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S. says asylum seekers are required to make their claims in the first “safe” country where they arrive, which means those who try to enter Canada at an official land crossing are sent back to make their claim in the U.S.

The agreement does not cover those who come in through unofficial crossings, known as “irregular” asylum seekers.

The auditor says 36 per cent of refugee claimants in Ontario in recent years entered at unofficial points.

Federal data show 26,415 asylum claims were filed in Ontario in 2019, which could include some filed by irregular border crossers.

The province provides services such as temporary housing, settlement services and language training.

Source: Ontario overestimated cost of services to irregular border crossers, AG finds

Mexico Deports Most of Its Detained Migrant Population

Of note, reflecting in part the effect of the Trump administration cutting off Central American access to the American asylum system:

On Sunday, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) announced the repatriation of 3,653 Central American migrants. The measure comes after growing concern over Covid-19 spreading in INM detention facilities throughout Mexico.

Mexico recently has faced issues attempting to deport Central American citizens back to their home countries. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador closed their borders to citizens and aliens.

The INM said: “In the face of the health emergency caused by Covid-19, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Institute of Migration (INM), acts responsibly and safeguards the integrity of the population in the context of migration by seeking to fully guarantee their human rights.”

Guatemalan nationals were sent back by bus and Honduran and Salvadoran migrants were transported by aircraft to their countries of origin. The International Organization for Migrants administered the flight arrangements to Central America.

In March, the INM had 3,579 foreign nationals housed throughout its 65 detention facilities and shelters. As of Sunday, the number had decreased to 106 migrants — a 97 percent reduction in the detained migrant population.

The remaining aliens gave their consent to stay in Mexican custody. Religious organizations have assisted with shelter accommodations for migrants choosing to stay in Mexico.

The United Nations, the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, and dozens of other activist organizations supported the mass release of foreign nationals from INM custody.

Additionally, the INM expressed its support of Mexican nationals being repatriated from the United States to prevent the spread of Covid-19 amongst their countrymen.

And Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations announced that it had been able to repatriate more than 129 Mexican people from Honduras and 30 from El Salvador.

Source: Mexico Deports Most of Its Detained Migrant Population

More resources needed for federal agencies processing refugee claims: AG

No surprise here, reflecting some long-term and ongoing issues:

Canada’s refugee and asylum system will continue to be overwhelmed if additional resources are not committed to the three federal agencies responsible for processing refugee claims, the country’s auditor general said Tuesday.

“We project that if the number of asylum claimants remains steady at around 50,000 per year, the wait time for protection decisions will increase to five years by 2024 — more than double the current wait time,” interim Auditor General Sylvain Ricard said in his spring report.

The current backlog, the auditor general said, is “worse than in 2012,” when a mountain of unresolved claims led the Harper government to reform the system.

The federal watchdog said in December last year that some 71,380 people were waiting for their claims to be heard. In March 2010, that number was 59,000.

Canada was the ninth-largest recipient of refugee and asylum claimants in 2017, with some 50,400 claims filed, a number that jumped to 55,000 in 2018.

About 40,000 of those asylum claimants came via the United States, with most crossing into Quebec.

The surge of claimants has put additional pressure on a system that has long grappled with processing delays, the auditor general’s office said — a crunch that is expected to continue if funding levels and processing capacity remains the same.

“Overall we found Canada’s refugee determination system was not equipped to process claims according to the required timelines,” the report notes.

Long wait times

At the end of December 2018, the auditor general’s office said the average wait time for a decision in Canada was two years. As of 2012, refugee claimants are supposed to have a hearing scheduled within 60 days of their arrival in Canada. 

In the March 2019 budget, the Trudeau government pledged $1.18 billion over five years for Canada’s strained refugee claimant system.

“Budget 2019 did provide additional resources to enhance the capacity of the system but it was not clear exactly how it’s going to deal with the backlog and reduce the wait times for claimants,” said Carol McCalla, the principal director of the auditor general’s report on processing asylum claims.

About 65 per cent of claimants have seen their hearings delayed at least once, the auditor general said — an action that led to an additional five-month delay, on average. 

About 25 per cent of claims made saw multiple delays, the auditor general said, noting most of the holdups were “due to administrative issues within the government’s control.” 

In almost half of the cases, hearings were delayed because a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada was unavailable. 

Another 10 per cent of cases were stalled because security screens were still being processed, even though the necessary paperwork had already been filed in one in five of the cases delayed for security reasons.

CBSA has since reallocated resources to “significantly improve the timeliness of security screening,” the auditor general’s report noted.

Canada’s refugee processing system isn’t utilizing available fast-tracks, either — processes that allow the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to decide certain claims by simply reviewing a file rather than hold a hearing. 

The auditor general found the board only expedited about 25 per cent of eligible cases, even though 87 per cent of the remaining eligible cases eventually received a positive outcome. 

“Moreover, we found the Board did not process expedited claims more quickly,” the report said. “On average decisions for expedited claims took about the same amount of time as regular claims.” 

The board, the auditor general noted, announced changes to its expediting processing system in January.

Missing security checks

Processing delays weren’t the only issue flagged by Canada’s auditor general Tuesday. 

Canada’s federal watchdog also found poor quality assurance checks between Canada Border Services Agency and the federal immigration department meant about 400 applicants (or 0.5 per cent) were not subjected to the necessary criminal or identity checks because of system errors or failure to take claimants’ fingerprints. 

“Neither organization systematically tracked whether a criminal records check was always completed because of poor data quality,” the report reads, adding those records are “important for public safety and the integrity of the refugee determination system.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office said initial screening by CBSA of individuals arriving in Canada include biometric and biographic screening.

“This layer of screening screens out individuals with serious criminality. No individuals with serious criminality or security concerns were allowed into admitted to Canada,” Goodale’s office said.

“With respect to the layer of biometric screening examined by the Auditor General, the only new piece of information captured by this layer of screening is whether or not an individual had previously claimed asylum in another country.”

Poor data quality wasn’t the only concern flagged by the auditor general’s office.

Canada’s federal watchdog said poor communication between the three organizations responsible for Canada’s asylum claim system was made worse by the fact the CBSA, the federal immigration department and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada use “different information technology systems, with limited interoperability.” 

As a result, the auditor general said it found “important gaps in which information was not shared, such as changes to hearing dates.”

“The system needs to be more flexible to be able to be scalable to increases in demand. As well, improvements are needed in how it uses its resources to share the information and processes the claims more efficiently,” McCalla said.

All three organizations also remain heavily dependent on paper and faxes to share specific claim information, the auditor general said, with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada relying “almost exclusively on paper files in its work.” 

“Collecting and sharing information securely and efficiently are critical to the proper processing of asylum claims, especially when claim volumes are high,” the report noted.

In response to the auditor general’s report, all three organizations pledged to improve their quality assurance programs. “Through regular monitoring, issues such as missing, delayed, incomplete, or ineligible claimant information will be identified and addressed in a timely manner by the responsible organization,” reads a statement attributed to the organizations in the report.

Additional work will also be done to improve the department and agency’s technological capabilities, they said, including an eventual shift to digital processing.

Source: More resources needed for federal agencies processing refugee claims: AG

Mexican Asylum Claims Skyrocket Since the Trudeau Government Eliminated Visa for Mexican Nationals

The numbers have increased dramatically although without the IRCC background documents, we do not know whether this extent was predicted or not. But there was a clear trade-off between economic and political considerations and maintaining the visa requirement.

The previous Conservative government faced similar pressures from the EU with respect to the visa requirements then in place for Bulgaria and Romania but were defeated before they had to make a similar decision (EU visa standoff strains allies Canada needs to pass trade deal. The Conservative government did drop the visa requirement for Czech nationals facing this pressure. The Liberal government dropped the visa requirement for Bulgaria and Romania (only Romania figures in the top 25 asylum claimant countries):

After the Trudeau government changed Canada’s visa rules, the number of Mexican refugee claimants in Canada skyrocketed.

2,445 Mexican visitors to Canada failed to leave and instead applied for refugee status in Canada during the first ten months of 2018, according to new data from Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada (IRCC) .

The number of Mexican asylum claimants to Canada in on track to rise almost 75% above the previous year’s total, or an 840% increase from 2016’s total.

In July 2016, the Trudeau government removed the visitor visa for Mexicans travelling to Canada —  a visa imposed by the Harper government back in 2009 to end a surge of Mexicans claiming refugee status — despite the fact that the visa significantly reduced the number of asylum claims.

In 2016, the number of Mexican asylum seekers jumped to 260 from 111 the previous year, then surged to 1,515 in 2017, and continued to climb dramatically in 2018, rising to 2,445 claims in the first 10 months.

Number of Annual Asylum Claims from Mexican Nationals

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
7,153 9,454 7,581 1,197 649 321 84 80 111 260 1,515 2,445

Source: Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada

“Our Government took a pivotal step towards rebuilding and strengthening our relationship with Mexico, which was damaged considerably under the previous government,” said Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s spokesperson Mathieu Genest in an email.

“The visa lift has helped expand trade and business opportunities, increase investment and tourism, and strengthen people-to-people ties that benefit both countries. In 2017 alone, the increase in business travellers and tourists generated more than $600 million in economic benefits for Canada.”

Not everyone shares the Trudeau government’s optimism.

Toronto Immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann pointed out that, “the decision was definitely not consistent with traditional immigration policy.”

“This was completely anticipated by anyone who knows anything about it. It was done for purely political reasons. Mexico is a full participant in NAFTA and didn’t want to feel like the poor cousin of the trio. The cost was anticipated and was undertaken as the ‘cost of doing (international) business,’” said Mamann in an email.

“I would bet that any report by the CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency) or CIC (the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now know as Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada or IRCC) that was requested by the government at that time would have warned of a significant increase in refugees claims,” he said.

Prior to the Harper government’s policy that made it mandatory for Mexicans travelling to Canada to get a travel visa, only a small fraction of the thousands of Mexicans asking for refugee status were deemed by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to be legitimate claimants. In 2008, for instance, Mexico comprised 26% of all asylum claims in Canada.

About 90% of those claims were eventually either rejected or abandoned.

“It would be inappropriate to speculate on asylum claims before the IRB,” said Genest about the low success rate of past Mexican refugee claimants being a concern with the latest spike in claims.

“The IRB is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that operates at arms-length from the government to assess and make decisions on all refugee claims. Each case is evaluated on its own merits, and those with a well-founded fear of persecution are permitted to stay and those who are found to not have a legitimate claim are removed.”

Canada’s asylum system costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year.

Trump Claims There Is a Crisis at the Border. What’s the Reality?

Good analysis of the numbers:

President Trump has frequently called the situation at the southern border with Mexico a crisis and insists that building his long-promised border wall will fix it. Here are some of Mr. Trump’s most common assertions of a crisis, and the reality of what we know about immigrants and the border.

“We can’t have people pouring into our country like they have over the last 10 years.”

THE REALITY Illegal border crossings have been declining for nearly two decades. In 2017, border-crossing apprehensions were at their lowest point since 1971.

Total number of arrests for illegally crossing the Mexican border

Undetected illegal border crossings have dropped at an even faster rate, from 851,000 in 2006 to approximately 62,000 in 2016, according to estimates by the Department of Homeland Security.

However, there is one group of migrants that is on the rise: families. A record number of families have tried to cross the border in recent months, overwhelming officials at the border and creating a new kind of humanitarian crisis.

Number of arrests for illegally crossing the Mexican border

Asylum claims have also jumped, with many migrant families telling officials that they fear returning to their home countries. Seeking asylum is one way to legally migrate to the United States, but only 21 percent of asylum claims were granted in 2018, and many cases can take years to be resolved.

“Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.”

THE REALITY It is true that the majority of heroin enters the United States through the southern border, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. But the D.E.A. also saysthat most heroin is brought into the country in vehicles entering through legal border crossings, not through the areas where walls are proposed or already exist.

Most drugs are seized at ports of entry, not along the open border

There are more than two dozen ports of entry along the southern border. Barriers are already present in Border Patrol sectors with the highest volumes of heroin seizures.

“Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”

THE REALITY It is difficult to assess the president’s claims that illegal immigration leads to more crime because few law enforcement agencies release crime data that includes immigration status. However, several studies have found no link between immigration and crime, and some have found lower crime rates among immigrants.

Texas, which has the longest border with Mexico and has one of the largest populations of undocumented immigrants of any state, keeps track of immigration status as part of its crime data. The Cato Institute, a libertarian research center, analyzed the Texas data in a 2015 study and found that the rate of crime among undocumented immigrants was generally lower than among native-born Americans.

Conviction rates are lower for immigrant populations in Texas

Some critics of the study argued that the reason undocumented immigrant conviction rates were low was because immigrants were deported after they served their sentences, which prevented them from committing another crime in the United States, reducing their rate of crime relative to native-born Americans.

Alex Nowrasteh, senior immigration policy analyst at the institute, addressed the complaint by comparing first-time criminal conviction rates among undocumented immigrants in Texas and native-born Americans in Texas. He found that undocumented immigrants still committed crimes at a rate “32 percent below that of native-born Americans.”

President Trump frequently tells the stories of Americans who have been killed by undocumented immigrants as examples of criminal behavior. These terrible crimes have happened, but there is no comprehensive data that shows whether these killings are happening at crisis levels.