Thank you very much.
On behalf of Rainbow Refugee Society, thank you for the opportunity to address the committee.
Sharalyn Jordan and I are joining you from the unceded and traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.
Rainbow Refugee Society is the proud steward of the national rainbow refugee assistance partnership. With our collaborators in the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge, we have created LGBTQI supportive sponsorship circles in 25 communities across Canada. Our testimony reflects 22 years of direct work with people seeking refuge from persecution related to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
In a global context where the persecution against sexual and gender diversity is pervasive, backlashes against LGBTQI communities are on the rise, particularly in war zones. Canada must fulfill its international human rights commitments to provide fast and accessible pathways to safety and communities of belonging for LGBTQI refugees, irrespective of their ethnic background, race, country of origin or geographical location.
How do we measure human life? Is the life of an LGBTQI person from Ukraine more valued or more worthy of protection than the life of a queer person fleeing Uganda, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia or Afghanistan? Our experience shows that they face vastly unequal possibilities for pathways to safety.
An LGBTQI person from Ukraine can get to Canada faster on a temporary visa and be eligible for settlement services, while an LGBTQI person in Afghanistan does not have this option and there is resistance in providing them with TRPs for travel. Rainbow Refugee, as the steward of the RRAP, saw first-hand, massive discrepancies in processing times and standards between applicants for sponsorship from Africa and South Asian countries compared with those from Europe or the Middle East. In 2017, Ugandans who fled the “kill the gays” bill faced six- to eight-year wait times, Afghanis in Pakistan five years, while other regions could process applications in one to two years. In view of this disparity, Rainbow Refugee advocated for equity in processing times and safer pathways for LGBTQI refugees in Kenya.
In 2019, with IRCC, we piloted a pathway using the BVOR program. By 2020 initiatives to equalize processing times were starting to work, but we fear that resource allocation for the return to operational capacity after COVID will again reinforce racism.
We have also seen discrepancies in how applications are processed. The assumptions visa officers bring to their scrutiny reflects unconscious bias, overt stereotyping or ethnocentrism. Officers supply western expectations based on LGBTQI identity and communities as if they were universal, treat bisexuality as if not a fully queer category, or may scrutinize applications for fraud based on nationality alone.
Further, we cannot forget that the refugee pathways do not start when people arrive in Canada. Canada's policies, like interdictions and the safe third country agreement, prevent people who need protection from reaching or crossing our borders. These measures make refugees more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and make it more dangerous, particularly so for LGBTQI refugees from global south countries.
The IRCC collaborates with CBSA, an institution with the power to stop people from entering the country, detain or deport. We have noticed that refugees from African countries are far more likely to be detained. Anti-Black racism is further exacerbated for those who are gender diverse or trans. An officer's evaluation of who is a threat or who is unlikely to appear is prone to unconscious bias or stereotyping as well.
CBSA powers to detain and deport people have a major negative impact on LGBTQI refugees that lasts into settlement. People are afraid to call police out of fear that their information will be shared with CBSA. Some endure violence rather than call. Transwomen of colour are disproportionately impacted, yet CBSA remains unaccountable to any civilian oversight body. Any effort to address systemic racism in our immigration and refugee system must create civilian oversight for CBSA.
To conclude, systemic racism profoundly constrains the life chances of queer and trans refugees, and is manifested in policies, pathway scrutiny and supports that enable or constrain mobility and settlement. Systemic racism cannot be measured against intentions. We must look at the impact of the policies and their implementation. The IRCC's commitment to enacting anti-racism must bring an intersectional approach that includes LGBTQI refugees and addresses disparities in pathways and emergency response, bias and assumptions in the scrutiny of applications, and border policies and practices.
Thank you. Both Sharalyn and I look forward to your questions later on.