A Canadian Federal Court judge has told the country’s refugee board that it must not rely on stereotypes about lesbians and gays when assessing refugee claims.
A Canadian Federal Court judge has stated that the country’s refugee board must not rely on stereotypes about lesbians and gays when assessing refugee claims in a ruling which gave a Nigerian man a second chance at asylum.
Francis Ojo Ogunrinde, 40, had been living in Canada since 2007 after fleeing what he said was homophobic persecution in his homeland.
But despite supplying the board with a letter from a lover and proof he had participated in a program to assist gay men in living openly, it found in early 2010 that he was neither gay nor a credible claimant for asylum.
In late 2010, Ogunrinde sought an assessment from Citizenship and Immigration Canada of the risks he would face if returned home as a gay man, and supplied additional evidence from friends and associates confirming he was gay - including a letter from a former lover in Nigeria who confirmed he was wanted by police over their relationship.
People assessed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to be at risk of persecution, death or torture are usually offered permanent residency, and sex between men is a serious crime in Nigeria which is punishable by death in the Muslim north of the country under sharia law.
However a senior immigration official with Citizenship and Immigration Canada wrote back to him, saying that, while conditions for homosexuals in Nigeria were unfavorable, he had not supplied sufficient evidence that he was gay.
But in a June 15 decision, Judge James Russell overturned the immigration official’s decision, finding that it had been based on a stereotyped view of how gay and lesbian people should behave.
‘It is inappropriate for officers to rely on stereotypes when evaluating whether or not a person has established any ground of risk, including sexual orientation,’ Russell wrote.
Russell wrote that he was mindful of the difficulties immigration officials had in determining such cases.
‘[But] at the same time, the acts and behaviors which establish a claimant’s homosexuality are inherently private,’ Russell wrote.
‘When evaluating claims based on sexual orientation, officers must be mindful of the inherent difficulties in proving that a claimant has engaged in any particular sexual activities.’
Immigration lawyer Michael Batista told Canada’s National Post newspaper that the decision highlighted the need for immigration officials to be given specific training and guidelines for assessing claims of persecution based on sexuality.
‘This is clearly an area that the Federal Court has repeatedly addressed in overturning decisions,' Battista said, ‘I don’t know why they haven’t developed guidelines.’
A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration and Canada confirmed to the National Post that it provided officials with no specific guidelines or training around sexuality, but said all officials who conducted pre-removal risk assessments were trained ‘to ensure consistency in the application of the law.’