Julie — not her real name — would probably think it odd that I consider her lucky.
After all, she has been to hell and back for having spoken openly about political change in her native Zimbabwe.
This young school teacher and her husband supported the Movement for Democratic Change and opposed Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
In May 1998, just six months after graduating from teachers college, her wedding was disrupted when two uninvited members of the ruling party arrived and tossed the groom in a pond. In September 1999, her home was invaded by a group of ZANU-PF militia who tied her husband up and then raped her. In April 2000, her house was broken into and all her belongings were stolen. In May 2000, she narrowly escaped the wrath of a gang of marauding youth members of the ruling party by running from the teacher’s residence and into a field. In February 2002, she heard screaming from the home of her colleague and fellow MDC supporter while he was being attacked by ZANU-PF members in his own home. Following this last incident, she fled to the U.S. where she joined her husband and made an asylum claim.
In January 2003, an asylum officer with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service wrote to Julie, telling her that “you have presented testimony that was believable, consistent and sufficiently detailed. Therefore, you are found to be credible”.
Incredibly, however, the officer concluded that “the events you described do not constitute past persecution.” and then refused her asylum claim.
This would have meant certain deportation back to Zimbabwe. But instead, in May 2006, Julie, her husband, and 8-week-old daughter entered Canada and made a refugee claim here.
In March 2008, Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board also found that Julie was being truthful but found that she and her husband did qualify for refugee protection. Last month they were granted permanent residence status here.
Her lawyer, Julian Jubenville, has represented many Zimbabweans like Julie who have been denied refugees status in the U.S. but who were ultimately afforded protection here. The 2008 American approval rate for such claims is approximately 46 er cent, while in Canada’s stood at 78 per cent.
This is among the reasons Jubenville is incensed that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney implemented measures on July 23 that would prevent nationals of Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, Iraq and Zimbabwe from making a refugee claim in Canada if they arrived here via the United States.
Canada has granted nationals of these countries a temporary suspension of removals because of the unstable situation back home.
In December 2004, Canada and the United States implemented the Safe Third Country Agreement whereby, generally, foreigners could only make a refugee claim in the country they first arrived in. If a refugee claimant arrived in America first, they could not make a claim here and vice versa. An exception was made for refugees such as Julie, who come from countries granted a temporary suspension of removals.
As of last week, this exception was eliminated.
Accordingly, if Julie tried to enter Canada from the U.S. to make a refugee claim today, she would be immediately turned back.
Given what Julie has gone through, I doubt she would consider herself luck. However, I do given the fact that the next Julie — and many others like her — will be denied access to the justice she found here in Canada.
Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at email@example.com.