LGBTQ2S+ refugees in Canada: Getting here and staying

By: Callum Denault

Published on: August 13, 2022

Photo: Callum Denault

“Courage is the road to freedom. I woke up in complete freedom today.” This is what transgender pole vaulter Balian Buschbaum—formerly Yvonne Buschbaum—said when he woke up from his gender reassignment surgery. It takes courage to be a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) community. It also takes courage to leave your home in order to find a place like Canada, where the LGBTQ2S+ can live in safety.

Even in 2022, same-sex marriage is illegal in 72 countries and only fully legal in 24 nations. It is easy to imagine that at least a few people out of the world’s roughly 281 million migrants have left their home countries in search of a place more welcoming towards the LGBTQ2S+.

One organization that helps LGBTQ2S+ refugees and newcomers is Ferreira-Wells Immigration Services. David LeBlanc, managing director for Ferreira-Wells, said his organization gets inquiries from several nations where members of the LGBTQ2S+ are at risk of being killed by either state execution or mob violence. 

Immigrating to Canada 

Canada has a point-based merit system that decides if a person is eligible to immigrate to Canada or not, based on how likely it is they can adapt to living in Canada. This system counts for age, education, work skills, relatives in Canada, and other points that affect someone’s adaptability. LeBlanc said having relatives improves one’s odds of making it into Canada.

LeBlanc said the system is heavily biased against letting older people into Canada. Out of 110 points, people lose five points when they turn 30, and then 10 points every year past their 40s. 

LeBlanc said in the last six years since this system has been in effect, Ferreira-Wells only had one person without any age points who was still eligible to immigrate. He was a man in his 50s who had a PhD, fluency in English, and had previously worked in Canada for seven years, granting him high education and English points along with maximum adaptability points outside of his age.

“Someone asked me, ‘is it a lottery?’” LeBlanc recounted. “I said, ‘No, it’s a swimsuit competition.’”

Getting a visa and entering Canada

While newcomers from some countries like Australia and the U.K. are exempt from needing a visa, LeBlanc said people from all “refugee-generating countries” need visas. This includes visitor visas, intracompany transfers, and works permits which are typically done through Labour Market Impact Assessments.

“There’s a whole bunch of people under the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia that have been given international scholarships that are allowed to come and study,” said LeBlanc. “Many come to the [University of Toronto] and other places, and sometimes when they land here, they end up meeting the man of their dreams.”

A condition of these student visas and scholarships is that people travelling to Canada for education are specifically not allowed to apply to stay here. LeBlanc added the Department of Foreign Affairs is aware of this precondition on student visas.

Students can apply as a refugee during their temporary stay in Canada, or be sponsored by a family member. If they are eligible for a sponsorship or refugee status, these are ways people on student visas can permanently stay in Canada, even if they are not allowed to immigrate here conventionally.

Entering Canada with refugee status

To enter Canada as a refugee, it is important to be registered as a refugee either with your own country’s government, or with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The UNHRC has a list of webpages for different countries, with information on how to either seek asylum in a certain country or find a way to leave your homeland. If your country is not on that list, the UNHRC recommends you check out their FAQ page, or browse a larger list of countries put on the right hand side of this webpage.

LeBlanc said it is not generally possible to get refugee status through the internet or phone calls, saying it needs to be done in person at the UNHRC office. 

Photo: Slaytina (Pexels) 

Sponsoring a newcomer

The Canadian government no longer requires people sponsored by a spouse to live with that person. For people who are living with abusive sponsors, the Canadian government assures them they will not lose their status in Canada if they leave their abusive spouse. Permanent residents have rights, and people with a temporary status in Canada have options to remain here even after leaving an abusive sponsor.

You can sponsor a family member to come to Canada if you are either a citizen, permanent resident, or registered as an Indigenous Person under the Indian Act. 

On top of sponsoring family members, you can also sponsor refugees through certain community organizations. The person being sponsored must already have refugee status, either with the UNHRC or the country they are currently living in. The Community Sponsor does not have to be incorporated under federal or provincial law, and they can co-sponsor by partnering with an individual person or another organization.

Common law partners must have “bullet-proof” evidence the two of them have been living together for the majority of at least a one-year timespan, LeBlanc said.

Having a joint lease is the strongest proof, along with other documents that prove the two people are living together in the same home, such as a joint bank account, receiving mail at the same address, and the two partners going to the same gym.

While family members can provide witness accounts that two common law partners are living together, these accounts may be deemed “self-serving documents” and not be counted as evidence. This is because it is considered likely a newcomer’s parents or other loved ones would write them any document they ask for, even if it is untrue.

On the other hand, LeBlanc said accounts from people who are less personally involved with the common law partners can provide strong evidence, such as the superintendent of a building confirming the two people live in the same apartment.

Since couples risk losing their status as common law partners if they spend too much time away from each other, LeBlanc suggested some couples consider getting married even if it means overlooking some reasons they would have to not marry. The act of marriage allows couples to live in separate addresses for part of the time they are together.

“It always looks funny though, if they’re married and not together now,” he added.

For international students, being married allows them to study abroad for longer periods of time without losing their status. On the other hand, common law partners risk breaking their year of cohabitation and therefore have to keep trips outside Canada very brief. 

Federal cases and lawyers

LeBlanc said people at Ferreira-Wells are consultants and not lawyers. This means they can assist with most legal problems in Ontario, but are unable to help in cases that reach the federal government.

When certain types of refusals are referred to Federal Court, it is a rare circumstance where consultants like Ferreira-Wells cannot attend the hearing. At these times, Ferreira-Wells refers to a few lawyers LeBlanc described as, “extremely well known and caring, compassionate, and brilliant at what they do.”

You can also find a lawyer through the Law Society of Ontario’s referral service.

LeBlanc said consultants already attend most of the tribunals that are held outside Federal Court, because the Federal Court is the only jurisdiction consultants cannot appear in. He added LGBTQ2S+ candidates and refugees, “simply don’t [need lawyers]. They need good counsel.”

Like or share this post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *