Evidence of meeting #58 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was refugees.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Manicom  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Donald Cochrane  Senior Director, International Region, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Lisa Hébert  Coordinator, Capital Rainbow Refuge
Shahina Perveen  Program Participant, Canadian Citizen, Capital Rainbow Refuge
Eka Nasution  Director, Rainbow Foundation of Hope
Chad Wilkinson  Director, Rainbow Foundation of Hope
Sharalyn Jordan  Board Chair, Rainbow Refugee
Soubhi M.  Member, Rainbow Refugee

May 3rd, 2017 / 3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

I call the meeting to order.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on October 4, 2016, the committee will begin its study on the 2011 LGBTQ refugee pilot project.

From the Department of Citizenship and Immigration we have Mr. David Manicom, associate assistant deputy minister, strategic and program policy; Mr. Donald Cochrane, senior director, international region; and Mr. Jean-Marc Gionet, director, refugee affairs.

Welcome, gentlemen. We're starting a little bit late. We had an exciting QP today.

The floor is yours.

3:40 p.m.

David Manicom Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

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.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you, Mr. Manicom.

Ms. Zahid, you have seven minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thanks to the officials for coming today as we start this study.

Let me first say that I'm very supportive of the objectives of this program, and it is very apparent to me that members of the LGBTQ+ community face persecution and discrimination in many countries around the world because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity. Creating this program as a pilot project was an excellent initiative of the last government, and I thank them for leading on this. I hope with this study we can find ways to improve the program, and build on the important work it is doing right now.

Could you please discuss the number of refugees who have come to Canada under this program? Are these numbers meeting or exceeding forecasts and available caps? You mentioned a number, but is it exceeding or meeting the forecasts that were set before?

3:45 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

Since the beginning of the agreement, 69 cases have been identified for sponsorship. Of those, 57 persons have been resettled, 18 persons have not landed yet, and there were four persons whose cases were withdrawn. There were not formal established quotas, or numerical objectives to my knowledge. I would ask Mr. Gionet to correct me if I'm wrong. The intent was capacity building, to develop capacity within the community to further enhance Canada's ability to welcome and integrate members of the LGBTQ communities.

The program numbers are relatively modest, but we feel that the intent to build that capacity and therefore the objectives of the program have been met to date. We continue to look at it. Because it was designed as a temporary program, it has not had a formal evaluation. We're at the point now of determining what is the most promising way forward to ensure the success of our ability to integrate these individuals.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

For the cases you mentioned that have not landed yet, have they been processed? What stage are they at? Is there any issue getting them here?

3:45 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

No, most of the 69 cases identified for sponsorship have landed—57 persons. There are 18 persons in process, and they're at various stages of processing. I don't have the individual case-by-case details, but they would be expected to arrive in Canada in the coming weeks and months.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

I would like to discuss the awareness of this program within the LGBTQ+ community. I've heard the sense that it is not as high as it could be, leading to less uptake for the program than there otherwise could be. Could you comment on your understanding of the awareness of this program, and what steps the department has taken to advertise it?

3:45 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

I don't think that I am best placed to speak to the awareness of the program in the community. In fact, it is in creating agreements with organizations like this that we want to raise that awareness. We know that the organization has been working closely with a number of sponsorship agreement holders who have a history of welcoming members of the LGBTQ community. We do not see a direct link to only this program in Canada's welcoming of LGBTQ refugees.

Many sponsorship agreement holders have been very active in welcoming members of this community for many years, so this additional capacity building was designed to enhance that in areas of the country where the capacity was not strong. I would defer to others to speak to the awareness of the program in the community, but certainly we know anecdotally that a large number of members of the LGBTQ community are part of our refugee resettlement efforts.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Is there an awareness program out of Canada, initiated by IRCC, in the different parts of the world where the community members are coming from? Are there any other parts of the world where you are doing some awareness programs?

3:50 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

No. We wouldn't have awareness programs perhaps in the sense you are suggesting, Madam. We have been very proactive for many years in Geneva and globally with UNHCR in saying that if there are individuals whose vulnerability is linked to their sexual orientation or gender identity, Canada is ready and willing to accept those individuals in our government-assisted programs.

In our private sponsorship programs, the government quite consciously does not advocate with the private sponsorship community for a particular vulnerability. We don't say to the private sponsorship community that it should sponsor a religious minority, a political opinion minority, or a type of particular vulnerability in a particular country. The nature of our public-private partnership in that program is that the community identifies those individuals.

I think the answer is no. Because of the nature of our programming, we are not doing awareness raising globally outside of the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is active in all parts of the world in identifying those most vulnerable for resettlement.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

As we start this study, we will be hearing from witnesses. We have received some letters to this effect requesting that this pilot program be made permanent. Is this something the department is currently considering? Would it be feasible? If so, what would be the factors that would help to make such a decision?

3:50 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

This program is a funding program to a service-providing organization. We have no permanent funding arrangements under our grants and contributions programming. We have calls for proposals at regular intervals, to which we make Canadian funding available to those who are interested in providing the particular types of services that we have. To make the pilot project permanent would not necessarily mean funding one group on a permanent basis. The question I think would be, would we want long-term to have a program designed like this one with three months of support for one particular refugee vulnerability group?

We're looking at the various options for the best way to continue to meet the needs of LGBTQ refugees. The reason for the extending of the funding is that we can continue the conversation with the broader community to determine and provide advice to our minister on the best way forward to most fully integrate our support for LGBTQ refugees into our settlement programming. This is a relatively small pilot. Is making this sort of pilot as a separate envelope the right way to go, or is ensuring that we have across our settlement network appropriate supports, as we do in a number of service-providing organizations, unnecessary?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Thank you.

Ms. Rempel, you have seven minutes, please.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Thank you.

It's my understanding that in 2014 1,022 LGBTQ Iranians were resettled in Canada by the government. Is that correct?

3:50 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

We do not track LGBTQ refugees numerically.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

This statistic was cited in several news articles after being pulled from your departmental data, so is this in fact the correct number?

3:50 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

I do not believe we have that statistic from the department, but I would have to verify that. In our systems, we do not track refugees by sexual orientation or a number of other factors.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

A similar news article said that in 2016, 152 LGBTQ Iranians were resettled into Canada. Is that correct?

3:55 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

David Manicom

We do not have those statistics, to my knowledge.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

I would ask that you look twice at that, given that this was a statistic that was widely cited in many news articles.

3:55 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Given that I have to take these news article statistics as correct, there were news articles that were published subsequently that said that end-users, or people who are associated with the pilot project, were told that processing Syrian refugees was given a higher precedence than processing LGBTQ refugees from Iran. Is that correct?

3:55 p.m.

Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

No?