Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As mentioned, my name is David Manicom, associate assistant deputy minister of strategic and program policy at the department. I am here today with Donald Cochrane and Jean-Marc Gionet, as already introduced.
I was here last July with some colleagues to speak to you about the programs and practices of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC, that pertain to protecting vulnerable populations. I am pleased to return today to speak to the committee's specific interest in the vulnerability of LGBTQ2 refugees.
As you know, there are several streams in the resettlement program through which refugees come to Canada. Under Canada's government-assisted refugee program, the United Nations refugee agency is responsible for identifying and referring for resettlement to Canada the most vulnerable refugees. These include individuals fleeing persecution based on their gender and/or sexual orientation.
Canada has a strong and longstanding relationship with the United Nations Refugee Agency. We rely on the agency as the international expert best placed to assess the vulnerability of refugees. The United Nations Refugee Agency uses objective criteria, established through consultation between all resettlement countries, including Canada, to determine vulnerability. It does not make distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender/sexual orientation, religious belief, class or political opinion.
Upon receiving the referrals, the government does not systematically track cases on the specific characteristics of an individual's claim. We know, however, that those identified as vulnerable by the UNHCR include many individuals who have fled persecution based on gender and sexual orientation. Of course, many individuals fleeing persecution on other grounds are members of this community.
The United Nations refugee agency refers cases for resettlement to countries, including Canada, based on seven categories: legal and/or physical protection needs; survivors of torture and/or violence; medical needs; women and girls at risk; family reunification; children and adolescents at risk; and lack of foreseeable alternative, durable solutions. Individuals who are persecuted based on their gender and/or sexual identity fall within the category of legal and/or physical protection needs, although you can understand that often there will be crossovers into other categories.
Our urgent protection program also exists to allow the UNHCR to quickly refer to Canada the refugees who are in imminent danger in the country to which they have fled. Canada makes available up to 100 cases a year—although this is a flexible envelope—through this program, including some individuals fleeing persecution based on gender and sexual orientation. These individuals often find themselves in particularly precarious situations as they await resettlement, as it may not be safe for them to remain in some countries of asylum. In many camp settings, there are challenges in ensuring the physical protection of individuals fleeing persecution based on gender and sexual orientation. Each of these urgent protection cases is referred directly to Canadian visa offices abroad by the United Nations refugee agency, and is processed on urgent timelines, sometimes within days, to ensure the refugee's arrival in the most expeditious manner.
Under Canada's private sponsorship of refugees program, private sponsors identify the refugees they wish to sponsor. Canada has for many years encouraged refugee sponsorship organizations as well as gay and lesbian organizations across the country to privately sponsor refugees from abroad who face violence and persecution, including due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This includes sponsorship through the pilot project with the Rainbow Refugee Society, which is the topic of your study today.
The department entered into a cost-sharing arrangement with the Rainbow Refugee Society based in Vancouver. Under this agreement, the department provides financial support directly to refugees via the resettlement assistance program, to support these refugees' initial costs when they first arrive in Canada, as well as three months of income support for each refugee. Private sponsors provide the remaining nine months of income support for each of them.
The initial intent was for this initiative to be temporary, aimed principally at building capacity and interest within the settlement community to augment resettlement efforts of individuals in the LGBTQ2 community. The agreement, which was initially intended to expire in 2015, has been extended to the end of March 2018.
To date, over 57 refugees have arrived in Canada through this arrangement, with about 18 more in process. These refugees are in addition to those LGBTQ2 persons we know anecdotally have also received support through sponsors who were not part of this agreement. We remain confident that this continuing support will further enhance the capacity of LGBTQ2 groups to sponsor refugees in partnership with sponsorship agreement holders. We also know that the efforts of LGBTQ2 groups will be buttressed by other Canadian sponsors who have also indicated their continued interest in offering protection to members of the LGBTQ2 community.
Moving forward, our objective is that LGBTQ2 groups will be able to meet the financial and social support responsibilities of private sponsorship in the same manner as Canada's other private sponsors.
In conclusion, Mr. Chair, by continuing to work with the UNHCR, as well as Canada's diverse and vibrant private sponsorship community, Canada will continue to play an important and leading role in protecting vulnerable individuals, including members of the LGBTQ2 community.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to appear before this committee once again.
We will be pleased to answer any questions that committee members may have.