Canadian Law Group

Canada ends 2012 Policy that prejudiced Asylum Seekers and Refugees from “safe countries”

On May 17, 2019, the Canadian government announced revisions to its asylum (“refugee”) system. Effectively, the government ‘reversed’ an initiative from the Harper-era (Stephen Harper was Canada’s last Conservative Prime Minister) which did not afford refugees and asylum seekers the same rights based on their country of origin.  

The so-called “safe country” policy which was introduced in 2012 was meant to target the increasing number of asylum claims from Mexico, Eastern Europe, and even the United States. A “designated country of origin list” (DCO) was created, deeming some countries “safe,” and a faster processing and removal system was created for claimants that were from countries on the list. 

The Canadian government has now removed all 42 countries from the DCO list, suspending the policy, until it can be repealed by new law. The 2012 policy was aiming to discourage refugee claims from individuals that came to Canada for economic opportunities, rather than fleeing their countries of origin. In effect, only 12% of claims were from DCO countries from January 1, 2013 to March 31, 2019.

The Federal Court of Canada has chipped away at the DCO policy, finding some parts of it to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Claimants from the DCO list “were previously subject to a 6-month bar on work permits, a bar on appeals at the Refugee Appeals Division, limited access to the Interim Federal Health Program and a 26-month bar on the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment” according to an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) News Release.

The previous government did not invest in additional resources to manage the new system when they created the policy in 2012 ultimately leading to an additional burden on the asylum system. The DCO policy did not meet its stated objectives of discouraging misuse of the asylum system or expediting processing from DCO countries. 

The 2012 policy made matters even worse given the large number of claimants crossing into Canada from the U.S.A. in the Trump era. Many of our out of status clients in the USA consider claiming refugee status in Canada, which is not often possible given the Safe Third Country Agreement in effect between the U.S. and Canada. We must advise them that the changes to the DCO policy will have no effect on their ability to do so, and we continue to help these needy clients to find more productive and promising ways to move to Canada.

For more information regarding the new policy dismantling the DCO list, please contact our global mobility expert: