How to Seek Asylum in Canada at the PanAm Games or Women’s World Cup

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Some World Cup and Games participants, whether they be athletes, coaches, technical or other support personnel, or even dignitaries, occasionally request asylum during an international sporting event like these 3 tournaments.

SkyDome aka Rogers Centre, where the opening ceremonies of the PanAm Games will take place by Taxiarchos228 at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Rogers Centre by Taxiarchos228 at the German Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

In the coming summer months of 2015, Canada will be a hotbed of sporting activity with 3 major events taking place:

  • The FIFA Women’s World Cup from June 6 to July 5 and across Canada;
  • The Pan American Games from July 10 to July 26 in Toronto;
  • And the Parapan American Games from August 7 to August 15, also in Toronto.

Some World Cup and Games participants, whether they be athletes, coaches, technical or other support personnel, or even dignitaries, occasionally request asylum during an international sporting event like these 3 tournaments. This is often a function of instability of some kind in their home country or due to political or other persecution or discrimination.

If you are associated with one of these sporting events and are considering applying for asylum in Canada, you first must determine your eligibility. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, or IRB, determines whether your refugee claim is legitimate or not. The following may disqualify you from applying for refugee status:

  • You have been recognized by another country to which you can return as a Convention Refugee (someone outside of their home country or country of residence who is unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution).
  • You have already been granted protected person status in Canada. The decision as to whether you are a protected person is made by both CIC and the IRB. A Protected Person is either: someone determined by the IRB to be a person in need of protection; a Convention Refugee; or someone who has received a positive decision on their Pre-Removal Risk Assessment, or PRRA, from CIC.
  • You arrived via the Canada-United States border. Canada and the USA have an agreement where a person landing in either country must claim refugee status in the first of either of the two countries they land in. That means you cannot cross the Canada-USA border and then claim refugee status in most cases. (There are a couple of exceptions to this “Safe Third Country Agreement.” To learn more, contact a lawyer.)
  • If you are inadmissible on security grounds, because of criminal activity, or because of human rights violations, you cannot claim refugee status in Canada.
  • You made a previous refugee claim which was either rejected by the IRB or not referred to the IRB.
  • You abandoned or you withdrew a previous refugee claim.
  • You are traveling from a Designated Country of Origin: If your country is on the Designated Countries of Origin list, then your claim will be processed much faster. Designated Countries of Origin, or DCOs, are those countries that do not normally produce refugees, respect human rights, and offer state protection. In other words, if you are applying for a refugee protection claim and you come from a Designated Country of Origin, it is likely your claim will be rejected, unless you have a convincing individual story. If your DCO refugee protection claim is rejected, you do not have right to appeal and you will not be able to apply for a work permit. Go here for a list of DCO countries.


Claiming Refugee Status in Canada

To claim refugee protection in Canada, you must take the following steps:

  • You must first notify a border services or immigration officer of your wish to apply for refugee protection.
  • You must fill out a series of forms and provide documentation to support your claim. Go here for more information. It includes a basis of claim form which you must fill out.
  • You will have to go to the IRB’s website and review your country’s National Documentation Package, or NDP. This is a collection of publically available documents that report on a given country’s social, political and other conditions and that assist the IRB in determining the validity of refugee claims from that particular country. You can also view paper copies of the NDP at any regional IRB office. As a refugee claimant, it is your responsibility to be familiar with your country’s NDP.
  • Your case may then be referred to the Refugee Protection Division, or RPD, a division of the IRB which hears claims for refugee protection, and then decides whether to accept them. If your case is referred to the RPD, then you will have to attend a hearing where you will have to explain the circumstances of your case, or in other words, tell your story.
  • The RPD will decide whether or not to grant you protected person status in Canada.
  • You may hire legal counsel to represent you in your proceedings before the RPD, and this is at your own expense.



Sojourner's House in Toronto By booledozer [Public domain or CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sojourner’s House, Toronto by booledozer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

Starting in 2014, the IRB and Non-Governmental Organizations, or NGOs, that specialize in helping refugees agreed on a free program to help educate refugee claimants on the process they will face. They are based in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. The Montreal sessions are in French only. They are usually held several times a month and give you information about:

  • How you can prepare for your upcoming refugee hearing;
  • What will happen at your hearing to familiarize you with the process;
  • Who will be the people who will participate in the process;
  • What mandatory deadlines you may face.

The READY Tours are available through the following NGOs:

  • In Toronto: READY Tours are hosted by the Coalition of Service Providers for Refugee Claimants in Southern Ontario, and the Canadian Red Cross First Contact Program, in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, and the IRB’s Refugee Protection Division, or IRB-RPD. The location is 74 Victoria Street, which is located between Yonge and Church streets and Adelaide and Richmond streets.  The sessions are held twice a month. For next month’s session dates. For information on how to register for a Ready Tour session.
  • In Vancouver: READY Tours are hosted by Kinbrace, a Refugee Housing & Support NGO, along with the UNHCR, and the IRB-RPD. They pioneered the READY Tour concept, starting in 2008, which is now available in Toronto and Montreal as of 2014. They provide a Refugee Hearing Protection Guide, or RPH Guide, in 4 languages: English, Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic. For a link to the guide. The tours are held on the 2nd floor at 300 West Georgia Street, next to the Vancouver Central Public Library. It is free but you must be registered and confirmed to participate. For more information on how to register.
  • In Montreal: READY Tours are hosted by the Praida-YMCA Day Centre for Refugee Claimants. Please note that the sessions are in French. They are located at 4039 Tupper Street near the Atwater Metro. The centre is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. For more information. For contact information.


Claimant’s Kit

A claimant’s kit is a series of guides and forms you are required to fill out that will help you better understand the refugee claim process and how decisions are made by the IRB. The Claimant’s Guide provides basic information about the following:

  • How the IRB makes decisions over refugee claims in Canada;
  • What exactly the Refugee Protection Division, and the IRB does;
  • What you need to do as a refugee claimant.

The IRB is an independent tribunal that decides on refugee protection claims in Canada. To qualify you must either be:

  • A UN Convention Refugee: these are people with a valid fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a specific social group. The social group can include: sexual orientation, gender identity, domestic violence, or HIV status.
  • A person in need of protection: these are people who can prove or show that if they return to their home country they will face danger of torture, or risk to their life, or a risk of cruel and unusual punishment.


How to Claim

How to make a claim for refugee protection:

  • You can make your claim at any port of entry into Canada or, if already in Canada, at an inland office, which is any CIC or CBSA office inside Canada.
  • The claim will be taken by an officer with CIC or with the CBSA, and they will decide whether your claim is eligible to be referred to the IRB. If it is referred to the IRB, it will be sent to the Refugee Protection Division, or RPD, to start the claim process.
  • If you make your claim at a port of entry, you will be given a Basis of Claim, or BOC, form to fill out. This form is where you give information about yourself and why you are claiming refugee protection in Canada. As well, you will be given a Notice to Appear at a Hearing which tells where to go for your hearing with the RPD. You must give your completed Basis of Claim form to the RPD no later than 15 days after your claim was sent to the RPD.
  • If you make your claim at an inland office, you must give a completed Basis of Claim, or BOC form to the official deciding your case. They will then give you a Notice to Appear at a Hearing with details of where the IRB will hold your hearing.
  • In both cases you will be given an application package with additional forms to fill out.
  • The next step in the process will be your hearing. You have the option of hiring legal counsel to represent you, at your own expense.


Your Responsibilities as a Refugee Claimant

Additional responsibilities that you have as a refugee claimant are:

  • You must make sure the RPD receives any requires documents on time.
  • You must provide any required additional documents to support your claim without delay.
  • You are responsible for choosing any legal counsel you wish to represent you and for ensuring that your counsel is available at the Hearing date set for you.
  • You must read any and all documents that the RPD sends you and answer any questions that may be contained within these documents.
  • You must give your address and phone number to the CBSA or CIC officer when they interview you at the inland office or port of entry, or give them to the IRB no later than 10 days after you receive your Notice to Appear at a Hearing.
  • If you move, you must give your new address to the RPD and the CIC or CBSA depending which of the two you are dealing with.
  • You must give your counsel’s address and phone number to the RPD, and update that information if you change counsel.

To request any changes to your hearing, you must:

  • Tell the RPD at least 10 days before your hearing if you wish to change the official language of your hearing (either English or French).
  • Tell the RPD at least 10 days before your hearing if you wish to change the language or dialect to be interpreted at your hearing.
  • You may ask the RPD to change the location of your hearing at least 20 days before the hearing. Please note that the RPD only changes locations under certain circumstances.
  • You may ask the RPD to change the time and/or date of your hearing at least 3 working days before your hearing.

Please note that the RPD can declare your claim as abandoned if:

  • You do not provide a completed BOC form during the required time period.
  • You do not provide up-to-date and correct contact information.
  • You do not go to your refugee protection claim hearing.
  • You do not go to your special hearing on why you abandoned your claim, should you be required to attend such a meeting.

Remember, a refugee protection claim is perhaps the most stringent process to enter Canada. You must ensure you fill out all documentation correctly and attend all required hearings to give your claim the best possible chance. Legal counsel and/or immigration advice may also provide helpful, as well as the READY Tour sessions in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.


Update: Cuban Rowers Defect During Pan Am Games

Rowing at Guantanamo By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Christopher Mobley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

Four Cubans have defected from the Cuban delegation at the Pan Am Games. Orlando Sotolongo, Manuel Suarez, Liosmel Ramo and Wilber Turro are rowers who were expected to compete in Saint Catherines on July 11th, but instead are believed to have fled to the US. Under US law, Cuban citizens typically are allowed to apply for permanent residence 366 days after landing in the US. However, whether or not that will remain true now that Cuba and the US are reestablishing diplomatic relations is an open question. Another consideration for these four Pan Am athletes is the Canadian-US “Safe Third Country Agreement.” Because these Cuban men were in Canada when they defected, it is possible that, under this agreement, US authorities could deny them entry, or residence, and send them back to Canada.


Commentary on Pan Am Asylum Seekers

On the one hand:

In case anyone thought that major sports events were just that – athletes competing with each other in a sweaty fight to the finish – think again. No way Jose, or anyone else from anywhere else in the world. It’s about a free ticket into Canada, didn’t you know? All you have to do is whine about how a policeman searched the trunk of your car back in Djibouti or Dar-as-Salaam, or God knows where, and bingo! You’re a full-fledged victim and you get a pass into the best darn country on the planet. So not only do our hard-working security forces have to keep on the lookout for terrorist crazies ready to set off a bomb any place they can, now they have to help athletes from around the world get their bogus refugee claims in order, so they can live off of welfare in good old Canada.

How did we become the dumping ground for bogus refugees from around the world? Politicians looking for an extra vote anywhere they could find one, realized that so-called New Canadians were fertile hunting grounds. They opened up the floodgates and it won’t be long before Canadians – the kind born and bred here in our country – are an endangered species!! So how about we do something really radical? Let athletes come here to be athletes. If they have a problem with their own government, let them settle it back home. Or apply from their home countries and not from a 3 star hotel in downtown Toronto. In Australia, refugees can end up waiting for months in refugee camps. If you’re seriously persecuted then you won’t mind being confined in a camp where the authorities provide you with shelter, food and water, and basic medical care. If you’re a bogus refugee claimant, then you’ll head to Canada instead, and avoid Australia’s tougher asylum laws.

On the other hand:

Canada is not a detention centre or a labour camp. Canada is a federation built upon the foundation of Human Rights, and we are an open and generous society that strives to be free of discrimination. Much as those on the far right would love to turn back the clock to the days when old white males were in charge of everything – No we’re not talking about Stephen Harper’s Cabinet although we could be – Canada today is at the top of most quality of life indexes precisely because of our inclusiveness. That diversity is the foundation that shapes our lives today, but it is not just about getting the best and the brightest to come work and live here. It’s about committing ourselves to helping build a better world and showing the same compassion that has made us respected around the world. And that respect was earned, not from the barrel of a gun, but rather when we took in refugees from Uganda in the 70s, and from Southeast Asia in the early 80s: over 60,000 so-called “boat people.” And other refugees like those from Iraq in the early 90s. By contrast, Canada is now taking in barely 10,000 refugees a year while the UN Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that over 51 million displaced persons were forced to flee from their home countries in 2014. Sweden took in 75,000 refugees and they are less than a third the size of Canada.

Canada must do better than that and needs a policy framework that does not label the displaced and dispossessed as “bogus”, because it happens to play well to angry old men. Inclusiveness is not a marketing ploy that to help bring software engineers or skilled labour to Canada. It is a legal and binding commitment that shapes how we treat each other and those in desperate need of help. There is nothing bogus about their plight. To achieve a peaceful, open, and diverse world, Canada must once again lead on the issue of refugees.


A correction has been made to his article regarding the Safe Third Country Agreement. IMMIgroup thanks Douglas Lehrer for his correction.

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