WHEN THE IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD considered the refugee claim of Jkwon Jaheim Corneille and his mother Jeannette Corneille, Jkwon was only eight years old. During the hearing his mother maintained that she and Jkwon were persecuted in their native St. Lucia because Jeannette is a lesbian, and thus that she and he should be allowed to remain in Canada where they would be protected from such persecution. The claim of both mother and son were heard together.
Homosexuality is illegal for males in Saint Lucia. The island nation is the only UN member in the Americas to formally oppose the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, and it maintains on the books some antiquated and discriminatory laws respecting same sex relationships. Still homosexuality is not illegal for females in St. Lucia.
Jkwon’s mother acted as his designated representative at the hearing, as he was a minor who was deemed to be unable to appreciate the nature of the proceedings, but both she and Jkwon testified. In his testimony Jkwon spoke about the violent victimization of his mother, the gibes and derision he had experienced at school, and the nightmares he had as a result of their treatment. The Board was also presented with an independent letter describing Jkwon having been beaten at school.
The Board disbelieved Jeannette’s testimony. Jkwon’s was discounted because of his age. The value of the letter was determined to be minimal because reference had not been made to it in the written outline of Jeannette’s claim filed when refugee status was first requested. In the circumstances, the claim was rejected.
In reviewing the Board’s decision, however, Federal Court Justice O’Reilly found that the Board had failed to consider Jkwon’s testimony independently of that of his mother. While what she had said had been rejected as untrue, the Court stated that that did not mean that Jkwon’s testimony was untrue. The Court described St. Lucia as an “overtly homophobic country”. It concluded that despite doubts about his mother’s credibility, Jkwon’s testimony might have supported a conclusion that he could be persecuted if it had been assessed properly, independent of his mother’s.
In the end the refusal of Jkwon’s claim was set aside and another panel of the Board was ordered to reconsider his claim. The decision reminds us that, where multiple refugee claims are heard together, each claim must be assessed independently. It also reminds us that, as difficult as it may be for them at the time, it is valuable for minors to testify as to their own experiences at their refugee hearings, and to file as much corroborating documentation as possible.
You can find the decision in the Corneille case here.