Human Rights Day Statement: What About Refugee Rights?

Activists, former politicians, and national church leaders found something to agree on this morning. All were among the 47 distinguished signatories of a Human Rights Day statement urging the government to change their refugee policies. 

The statement was released today by individuals and organizations across Canada including the Maytree Foundation and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. While the document doesn’t go into detail on Canada’s specific recent abuses, it makes reference to the severe impact of Bill C-31 and the Interim Federal Health Program cuts.

If you would like to be counted alongside Canadian heavyweights like Sarah Polley, Lloyd Axworthy, and the heads of the Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and Lutheran churches, please share this statement (use #cdnrfg on Twitter) and see our Proud to Protect Refugees page for more ways to take action.   

Read the statement below:

This Human Rights Day Canada must renew its role as a leader for refugee rights

December 10 celebrates international human rights and the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family. Refugees are part of the human family and entitled to the same rights.

These rights include the rights to asylum, to liberty, to protection from torture, to an adequate standard of living, to healthcare, to be reunited with family and to protection of the best interests of children.

Sadly, respect for the rights of refugees is waning. At a time when serious human rights abuses are taking place in every region of the world and displacing millions of people, countries are building administrative walls, closing doors, denying protection.

Canada is failing to respect refugees’ human rights too. Once a world leader in refugee protection, Canada is closing its doors. Fewer refugees are being resettled to Canada. The federal government recently made dramatic cuts to basic health care for refugees. Refugee claimants race an unbeatable clock to gather evidence. Some refugees now face mandatory detention and a 5 year bar on being reunited with their family in Canada. Others have even less time to present their case and are denied the right to an appeal because their countries of origin have been arbitrarily deemed “safe.” We live in a climate of fear and negative rhetoric. Canada is now a less welcoming country.

Canada can and must do better. As Canadians we are at our best when we treat refugees fairly and with respect and compassion. We must return to the better parts of our tradition of welcoming refugees. Our country has been strengthened by the contributions of the many refugees who have come here from around the world – by boat, by plane and on foot. We have learned to appreciate the beauty and values of different cultures. We have been inspired by the ideals of brave men, women and children escaping brutal dictatorships and injustices. In return for safety and a warm welcome, refugees have become active members of our communities. They have helped sensitize Canadians about the countries from which they have fled. All of these gifts have made us richer.

As Canadians we are proud of our history of welcoming strangers. We are proud to keep our doors open to those fleeing grave human rights abuses, and we pledge that we will strive to keep those doors open now and into the future. As we celebrate universal human rights on 10 December, we call on Canada to renew its role as a leader for refugee rights. Canada must be fair to refugees, respect their basic rights and open doors that have closed.

Signed,

Warren Allmand, Former Solicitor General
Sara Angel, visual arts journalist
Lloyd Axworthy, President, University of Winnipeg, former Foreign Affairs Minister
Dr. Philip Berger, Chief, Department of Family & Community Medicine, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto
Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, Founder and Board Member of Jewish Refugee Action Network (JRAN)
Jean-Marc Biron, SJ, Jesuits in French Canada Provincial Superior
Peter Bisson, SJ, Jesuits in English Canada Provincial Superior
Hélène-Andrée Bizier, historian and essayist
Alan Broadbent, Chairman and Founder of the Maytree Foundation
Iona V. Campagnolo, former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia
Jim Cuddy, musician
Bernie Farber, former CEO Canadian Jewish Congress, human rights advocate, Senior VP Gemini Power Corp
Charles Foran, author and Past President PEN Canada
Zsuzsi Gartner, author
Julius H. Grey, lawyer and human rights advocate
John Greyson, filmmaker, associate professor York University
Rawi Hage, novelist
Lawrence Hill, author
Miranda Hill, author
The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate, Anglican Church of Canada
The Rev. Susan C. Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Peter Krausz, artist
Michele Landsberg, journalist and author
Peter Leuprecht, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN for human rights in Cambodia
Dr. Tarek Loubani, refugee and emergency physician
Annabel Lyon, author
Guy Maddin, Distinguished Filmmaker in Residence, University of Manitoba
Dow Marmur, Rabbi Emeritus, Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto
Dr. Ryan Meili, Director, Upstream: Institute for a Healthy Society
Susan Musgrave, poet and novelist
Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada
Maya Ombasic, author
Ratna Omidvar, President of the Maytree Foundation
The Right Rev. Gary Paterson, Moderator, United Church of Canada
Sarah Polley, actress and film director
Anna Porter, author and publisher
Vivienne Poy, retired Senator & Chancellor Emerita of the University of Toronto
Bill Richardson, author, broadcaster, librettist
Andreas Schroeder, author and broadcaster
The Rev. Dr. David Sutherland, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada
Linda Svendsen, author and producer
Timothy Taylor, novelist and journalist
Madeleine Thien, novelist, Simon Fraser University writer-in-residence
Béatrice Vaugrante, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada - francophone section
Wesli (Wesley Louissaint), musician
The Very Rev. the Hon. Lois M. Wilson, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, former President of the World Council of Churches
Hassan Yussuff, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress

Ashley Chapman is CPJ’s former policy intern.

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