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What is Refugee Rights Day?

Refugee Rights Day is celebrated each year in Canada on April 4th. It is an opportunity to bring attention to the advances made in the protection of refugee rights in Canada as a result of the Singh Decision. Refugee Rights Day is also a time to learn about the threats and challenges to these rights.

What is the "Singh Decision"?

In the historic Supreme Court’s 1985 Singh Decision, the Court found that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of refugees. The Court decided that the word 'everyone’ (in Section 7) includes refugee claimants in the sentence: 'Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.' 

Refugee claimants are thus entitled to an oral hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and international law.

The Singh decision changed the fate of many people arriving in Canada to seek asylum.

Summary of the Singh Decision

Seven appellants, a Guyanese citizen and six citizens of India, all bearing by coincidence the name Singh, had individually made refugee claims in Canada. All claimed refugee status under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (ratified by Canada).

They claimed that if they were removed from Canada, they would face persecution in their home countries, particularly because of their political views. Based on the Immigration Act, 1976, the Minister of Employment and Immigration decided that none of these persons were Convention refugees.

All of them applied to the Immigration Appeal Board to reconsider their refugee claims, but the Board denied each of the applications for appeal.

As a result, the seven appellants requested a judicial review of the Board's decision by the Federal Court of Appeal. The Court also dismissed their applications.

The appellants argued that they were denied their rights without being heard. They were denied the opportunity to present their refugee claims, to present their case, and to know what they needed to prove.

After that, the Supreme Court considered the Singh case. The Court overturned the decisions of the Federal Court of Appeal and the Board of Immigration Appeals and ordered the Board to grant the seven applicants a full hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

The impacts of the Singh Decision

  • The Singh decision resulted in a reform of Canada's refugee processing system.

  • Four years after the Singh case, the federal government created the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), an independent administrative tribunal responsible for making decisions on immigration and refugee matters in accordance with the law.

  • Refugee claimants now have access to at least one oral hearing.

  • The recognition of the fundamental rights of refugees protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has led to a more humane approach to immigration law in Canada.


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