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1993 – LGBTQ as refugees

January 27, 2010

A refugee is defined under the UN Convention related to the status of refugees as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Many countries do not accept refugee claims based on sexual orientation; however, in 1993 Canada became one of the few countries to accept sexual minority refugee claims.

 In a 1993 Supreme Court decision, Ward v. Canada, the court systematically defined the term “membership in a particular social group” in a way that included sexual orientation as a class of refugee. Since the 1993 Ward decision, the Canadian Immigrant and Refugee Board has accepted hundreds of sexual minority refugee claimants to Canada.

 Although the process of proving a real fear of persecution based on reasons of sexual orientation is extremely difficult, the acceptance of this class of refugee is historically revealing. In just under 25 years, the climate of Canada in terms of upholding the rights of the LGBTQ community has shifted dramatically to a point where members of the LGBTQ international community can now find a safe-haven from persecution within our borders.  Vast improvements must be made to the current system however, the Ward decision marks a landmark shift in the conceptualization of refugee status in Canada.

Members of Rainbow Refugee, a Vancouver organization assisting and advocating on behalf of sexual minority refugees, march in the Vancouver Gay Pride parade. Their signs suggest that improvements should be made in the process of granting refugee status based on sexual orientation in Canada. Image by: Elasaad, Heba. “Gay Refugees Seek Legal Clarity.” Thunderbird. December 5, 2007.

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