PRESS RELEASE: CARL welcomes Supreme Court of Canada decision bringing refugee exclusion law in line with international standards

July 19, 2013

For Immediate Release 

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Ezokola v. Canada, released today.  The decision reverses a disturbing trend in Canadian refugee law and brings Canada in line with international standards on the exclusion of refugees.

The case concerns the interpretation of Article 1F(a) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which denies  refugee protection where claimants themselves have committed or are complicit in the commission of international crimes.  In recent years, some Federal Court judges and members of the Immigration and Refugee Board have cast a very wide net, excluding refugees solely on the basis of vague and tangential association with organizations that committed international crimes.  For example, Mr. Ezokola was a trade envoy for the Congolese government, which was responsible for egregious international war crimes, but Mr. Ezokola was never alleged to have personally participated in the commission of any criminal offences.

Today the Supreme Court has reined in both the Federal Court of Appeal and the Immigration and Refugee Board.  The Court firmly rejected the guilt-by-association approach to exclusion.  It emphasized the international community's “profound concern for refugees” and held that before refugee status is denied on the basis of involvement in international crimes, a claimant must have made a “significant contribution to the crime or criminal purpose of a group”. 

Acting as intervener in this case, CARL argued that Canada’s approach to exclusion requires a fair and principled approach which aligns exclusion with established principles of international criminal law, while simultaneously safeguarding the basic protection objectives of the Refugee Convention.

Professor Jennifer Bond, who represented CARL in this case, stated that, “this decision is not about giving a break to war criminals.  It will have no impact on Canada's ability to deny refugee status to those who have actually been involved in serious international crimes or on Canada’s ability to prosecute them under criminal law.  Rather, the Supreme Court recognized that under the current approach to exclusion, many innocent individuals who are deserving of protection as refugees and who are not war criminals, are nevertheless being denied protection unjustly”.

Lorne Waldman, President of CARL, agreed. “It is a firm rejection of guilt-by-association. The new test requires that the individual voluntarily and knowingly made a significant contribution to the organization’s crime or criminal purpose. This is an important shift in direction and sends a strong message to the courts and government that refugee protection should not be denied on nebulous, speculative, and moralistic grounds.”


Jennifer Bond: | 613.612.6204 

Lorne Waldman:      | 416.482.6501  

Andrew Brouwer: | 416.977.8111 (ext. 5147)