Canada Denies Visas To Ugandan Gay Rights Activists: Fair or Not?

By Andy Semotiuk | May 26, 2014

Toronto immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk: An interesting piece from the Toronto Starhighlights a decision by Immigration Canada which has raised the ire of some gay rights activists:

Canada has refused to issue visitor visas to 10 Ugandan activists invited to Toronto’sWorld Pride human rights conference in June over concerns they would stay to seek asylum.

Gay rights advocates say the decisions by the Canadian visa posts in Nairobi and London speak to the hypocrisy of the Stephen Harper government, which, in February, joined other Western nations in condemning Uganda for passing one of the world’s harshest anti-homosexuality laws.

“We are shocked and appalled. These individuals from Uganda are some of the most courageous heroes,” said Andrea Houston of #ENDhatelaws, a coalition founded in response to homophobia/transphobia across the globe, amid the controversy over anti-gay laws passed in Russia prior to the Winter Olympics.

“They are here to share their stories and have every intention to go home after the conference, because they all have work to do in Uganda. The assumption is they are here to claim asylum. The question is: Why can’t they, coming from the most hostile place in the world to LGBTQ people?”

There are two principles being balanced here. One is the fight against prejudice world wide. The second is the right of Canada to control the number of individuals who are allowed to come here and claim asylum in this country.Visas DeniedIt is clear that Canada cannot support every persecuted individual in the world and bring them in as refugees. Our country must have the right to decide who can and cannot come here to make a refugee claim.

The belief that these individuals from Uganda will claim refugee status rather than return home may indeed be a reasonable decision. Immigration officers make such decisions all the time, after viewing the circumstances of each applicant.

That all 10 of these applicants were refused visas does invite suspicion that the decision was motivated by more than a simple concern about their return to Uganda at the end of their authorized stay. However, without evidence to the contrary, no one can say immigration officers weren’t following standard protocols.

What qualifies as “refugee status?”

Finally, it’s interesting to note the question from an activist in the above article: “The assumption is they are here to claim asylum. The question is: Why can’t they, coming from the most hostile place in the world to LGBTQ people?”

Unfortunately, this proves the point of the immigration officials’ decision. One cannot make a refugee claim when they are in the country from which they are attempting to seek asylum. This is a common misunderstanding. A person must be outsideof the hostile country first. This is why immigration authorities are careful to look over the applications of people who hail from such a place – in this case, Uganda. It is a red flag that the person may request refugee status as soon as they reach Canada.

For more on refugee claims and how they work, be sure to watch my video here. Go to 2:22 for the pertinent information:

Andy Semotiuk is a Canadian and US immigration lawyer with immigration law firm Pace Law Firm. You can learn more about Andy at My Work Visa.