The Immigration and Refugee Board has set out ground-breaking guidelines to help LGBTQ refugee claimants fleeing persecution make their case to stay in Canada.

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The Immigration and Refugee Board has set out ground-breaking guidelines to help LGBTQ refugee claimants fleeing persecution make their case to stay in Canada.

"This is the first time in Canadian immigration and refugee law that LGBT people’s rights have been safeguarded," said Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan, who has represented many LGBTQ refugee claimants. "These guidelines provide guidance to adjudicating board members in refugee claims in how they should assess and examine LGBT refugee claimants’ refugee claims."

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>As a gay man, Samer Habib says he would face persecution in the military and by his own family if he were to return to Egypt.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

As a gay man, Samer Habib says he would face persecution in the military and by his own family if he were to return to Egypt.

The guidelines issued May 1 are designed to "help promote greater understanding of cases involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) and the harm individuals may face due to their non-conformity with socially accepted SOGIE norms." They apply to decision-makers and other personnel who are involved in processing or adjudicating cases before the board.

The guidelines should prevent a refugee claimant who’s not heterosexual from being grilled on intimate details of their sex lives, Khan said.

"For example, a board member would no longer be able to ask probingly graphic questions about the sexual habits of a claimant, which was akin to an inquisition where one’s sexuality was put in trial," Khan said.

He recalled one hearing where a board member asked a client how often they engaged in oral sex and to describe it in graphic detail. The guidelines should restrain the actions of a board member in what they can and can’t ask of an LGBTQ claimant, Khan said.

"This guides the mind of adjudicating board members to the heart of the matter — what kind of mistreatment refugee claimants could face in their country and future," he said.

Knowing about the guidelines is some comfort to Samer Habib, a gay man from Egypt whose refugee protection hearing is happening Friday.

"To delve into very intimate details, even if you’re in fear for your life — it would still feel uncomfortable talking about that," said Habib, who came to Canada as a student in 2011. "Knowing there are certain limits, that is a good thing."

He’s still nervous about the hearing, which will decide whether he can stay in Canada, where he is openly gay, in a relationship with a man and working full time.

"I’m terrified. It’s like going into a dark cave and I don’t know if I will ever get out," the 23-year-old Habib said.

After graduating in 2014, he applied to the provincial nominee program to become a permanent resident. He was approved by the province in January, but was told it could take 16 months for the federal government to process his application. He can’t wait that long.

"My passport expires next month, and I can’t renew it here." He would have to return to Egypt where, as a gay man, he faces persecution in the military and by his own family, he said.

As soon as Habib presents his passport in Egypt, he would be flagged for mandatory military service, which includes anal exams for those suspected of being gay.

"Even if I try to act straight, I can’t fake who I am," he said.

After working up the courage to reveal his sexual orientation to his dad over the phone from Canada, it didn’t go well, Habib said.

"He said if I tell anyone, he would silence me. That’s what scared me."

Habib said he found out about the new LGBTQ guidelines Tuesday night.

"Reading it made me feel like there’s going to be a bit more integrity in the process and it will be a lot more fair for gay men," he said.

"What jumped out for me is they’re not going to be using stereotypes as much — someone could say you’re supposed to look this way or act this way, stuff like that. They understand a bit more what a gay refugee claimant goes through."

He said he has all the facts and evidence to back up his claim of having a real fear of persecution if he’s returned to Egypt, but he isn’t sure that will be enough to convince an adjudicator.

"It’s all up to one person’s opinion and what they think about me and my situation."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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