Morley Law Office

Canadian Immigration Lawyer Kingston

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What’s Sauce for the Goose is not Sauce for the Gosling

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.

Schizophrenia and Deportation

CLEARLY, SCHIZOPHRENIA IS A SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS.  What has not been so clear is what that fact should mean for those who suffer from it and are facing deportation at an immigration hearing.  The rules respecting immigration boards in Canada require that a special “designated representative” be appointed to represent a person who is “unable, in the opinion of the applicable division [of the Board], to appreciate the nature of the proceedings”.  The idea is that such a designated representative can assist the person concerned by retaining a lawyer for him or her, if necessary, and by instructing the lawyer.

The question before the Federal Court of Appeal in Hillary was whether the mere fact that a tribunal knows someone appearing before it suffers from schizophrenia means the tribunal has to appoint a designated representative to assist that person when that person already has a lawyer.  That may sound like a complicated and rather particular question, but the fact is that the issue comes up quite regularly before the Immigration and Refugee Board, because so many of those with serious mental illnesses drift to the margins of society, fail to take out Canadian citizenship, and become substance abusers and petty criminals, or worse.

Wayne Anthony Hillary was just such a person.  He came to Canada from Jamaica when he was 13 years old and, upon arrival, was conferred permanent resident status.   In the nearly 30 years since then he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, developed a crack cocaine addiction, became HIV positive and accumulated a series of convictions.  There were some procedural twists and turns after that which are, for the purposes of our story, irrelevant.  Suffice it to say Mr. Hillary was ordered deported and had an appeal hearing at which he testified, with the assistance of a lawyer.  While the panel hearing the case knew he was schizophrenic, at risk and needed supervision, no request for a designated representative to assist him at the hearing was made by Mr. Hillary or his lawyer.  In order to protect the fairness of the process was the Board obligated to make inquiries as to whether a designated representative should be appointed to assist him?

According to the Federal Court of Appeal the answer to this question is “no”.  The Federal Court of Appeal concluded that there could be circumstances in which a tribunal was under “a duty to form an opinion about a person’s level of comprehension”, but it could only be required to intervene if, given the “entire context”, not to appoint one would be unreasonable.  Removal order appeals, which are sometimes known as deportation appeals, are “adversarial”, the Court stated, and it concluded that it was not the tribunal that was obliged to raise the issue of a designated representative, but Mr. Hillary’s own counsel.  “This Court”, it said, “is in no position to second guess counsel’s strategy”.

As a consequence, Mr. Hillary was out of luck.  As his counsel before the tribunal did not raise the issue of the need for a designated representative, and the tribunal itself was not obliged to do so, Mr. Hillary had a fair hearing, in the view of the Federal Court of Appeal.  His deportation order remained active and in effect, and he was not entitled to another hearing to challenge his removal.  He was subject to removal to Jamaica; separation from those of his family, mental health supports and friends as were unable to join him there; and a ban from returning to Canada.

I myself have represented many people before the Board in just these circumstances, people who are mentally ill and fighting a battle to remain in Canada.  While my clients have had substantial success, including once again just this month, there is no doubting that these cases can be difficult, and that having experience in one’s corner to deal with the multitude of procedural and substantive issues to which they give rise is an asset.  If you or someone you care about is in this situation, it is important that you get some help.

To read the full case, the citation for which is Hillary v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2011 FCA 51, click here.