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Jamaicans as refugees in Canada

Published:Tuesday | April 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Deidre S. Powell

Dear Miss Powell,

I was so happy to see your article about marriage in Canada; I couldn't wait to write you. I have been dating someone of the same sex for the past seven years, but been afraid to let people in Jamaica know about our relationship. We are both professionals and we heard that we could apply to Canada as refugees, so that we can get married and live a normal life without people judging and harassing us. Can we claim refugee status? Please don't publish my name or initials, as you know what could happen to me. Thanks.


Dear Anonymous,

While I understand your fears, I must say that the views on homosexuality in Jamaica, although not perfect, have been changing over the years and the international community does not readily view homosexual Jamaicans as being at an automatic risk of persecution. Your strongest argument for this case is the fact that homosexuality is still on the law books as being illegal. Nonetheless, if you plan to make such a claim, you would have to show tangible and special reasons in order to qualify as a refugee to Canada, or be sponsored by a recognised agency as a refugee. A Canadian visa officer will evaluate your case to see whether you meet the requirements of Canada's Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Pro-gram and can be admitted to Canada. You must remember that you will need to also pass the medical, criminal and security checks too.


I must also point out to you that a refugee is defined as someone who has fled his or her own country, "by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution for reason of race, religion, and nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion". Therefore, in order to apply for refugee status in Canada, you must first be outside of Jamaica and unwilling or unable to return to Jamaica, because of a "credible and well-founded fear" of returning. You will need to demonstrate that if you were to return to Jamaica and your homosexual relations were made public, that you would be personally subjected to personal harm, danger, torture, cruel and unusual treatment and that you will not receive protection from the Government of Jamaica.

Your claim would be greatly scrutinised, especially in light of the fact that Portia Simpson Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica, was recently nominated as one of Time's most influential persons in the world, for promoting equal rights for gays and lesbians in Jamaica.

In the past, there have been some successful applications made by Jamaicans as refugees, however, these persons were already here in Canada, showed convincing evidence that they had reasonable fear of persecution and rebutted presumption of State protection.

In your particular situation, you are still in Jamaica and while I understand your fears, since you are a professional, you may in fact be able to qualify to immigrate via more practical avenues. You may want to contact an immigration lawyer to explore your other options.

Best of Luck!

Deidre S. Powell is a lawyer, mediator and notary public who is a member of the Jamaican and Ontario, Canada, bars,with main office located in Ottawa, Ontario. Her areas of practice are in immigration, personal injury, family and administration of estates. She is on the roster of mediators for Ottawa, Toronto and the Dispute Resolution Foundation of Jamaica. Email: Subject line: Immigration