The History of our Refugee System
We often hear Canada described as a country of immigrants. The Aboriginal First Nations are the original inhabitants; everyone else arrived over the last 500 Many were refugees, escaping persecution and harsh conditions in their homelands.
But it was not until 1976 and the adoption of a new Immigration Act that refugees were recognized as a special class of immigrants. In 1978 the Refugee Status Advisory Committee was created to decide on the validity of a refugee’s claim.
Janet Dench is the Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees. She tells Carmel Kilkenny about the evolution of Canada’s refugee history. From the dark days of the early 20th century when the doors were basically closed to Asian refugees, to the tragedy of the Second World War when Jewish refugees were rejected, to the honour of the Nansen Award in 1986.
While Canada was very involved in drafting the United Nations Convention on Refugees, it did not sign the document until 1969.
The 1970’s and ‘80’s might be described as a highpoint for refugees coming to Canada. Tibetan’s found a new home here and Ugandan’s came in the thousands, all fleeing Idi Amin’s rampage.
The Canadian response to the Vietnamese Boat People was rewarded with the Nansen Medal in 1986. 60,000 Vietnamese refugees were sponsored and welcomed by Canadians across the country. Given by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the citation reads: “In recognition of the Canadian people’s major and sustained contribution to the cause of refugees.”
This was the first use of the private sponsorship provision in the new immigration act. Unique in the world, it allows Canadian citizens, individuals or organizations, to sponsor people to come to Canada.
In December 2012, a new law made major changes to the refugee determination system, and there has since been a dramatic decrease in the number of people coming and seeking asylum.