THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS
First Session, Thirty-eighth Parliament, 2004-05
Hearings: OTTAWA, Monday, May 2, 2005 4 p.m. - Issue No. 11 - Ninth meeting on:
Examine and report upon Canadas obligations in regards to the rights
and freedoms of children.
MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE
The Honourable A. Raynell Andreychuk, Chair
The Honourable Landon Pearson, Deputy Chair
The Honourable Senators:
*Austin, P.C., (or Rompkey, P.C.), Carstairs, P.C., Christensen, Ferretti Barth, *Kinsella, (or Stratton),
LeBreton, Munson, Oliver, Poy
*Ex officio members
Changes in membership of the committee:
Pursuant to rule 85(4), membership of the committee was amended as follows:
The name of the Honourable Senator Pepin, substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Baker, P.C. (April 19,
The name of the Honourable Senator Baker P.C., substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Pepin (April 27,
The name of the Honourable Senator Munson, substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Losier-Cool (April 28,
The name of the Honourable Senator Christensen, substituted for that of the Honourable Senator Baker, P.C.
(April 28, 2005).
United Nations High Commission to Refugees:
Jahanshah Assadi, Representative in Canada; Rana Khan,
OTTAWA, Monday, May 2, 2005
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 4 p.m. to examine and report upon Canada's
international obligations in regards to the rights and freedoms of children.
Senator Landon Pearson (Acting Chairman) in the chair.
The Acting Chairman: We are happy to welcome Mr. Assadi and Ms. Khan from the United Nations High
Commission to Refugees. Some of our members have commitments to attend other committees, but they may join us
later. Our members, generally, are most attentive. It is important for us to have your evidence on the record.
Please proceed with your opening statement, if you have one, and then we will have some questions.
Mr. Jahanshah Assadi, UNHCR Representative in Canada, United Nations High
Commission to Refugees: Thank you very much, Senator Pearson, for your kind words of welcome. It is always a
pleasure to appear before this committee. As you indicated, I am joined by my colleague, our legal officer, Ms.
Rana Khan, our central person in Canada who deals with issues relating to children. Both of us are extremely
honoured to be here before this distinguished gathering.
We welcome this opportunity to participate in your study on Canada's international obligations in regards to
the rights and freedoms of children.
As you know, Madam Chairman, UNHCR is the UN agency mandated to provide international protection to refugees
and to supervise the application of the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees. Currently some
154 countries are signatories to this convention. We also work with governments to solve refugee problems by
seeking durable solutions to their plight. UNHCR has been in Canada since 1976, close to three decades, and we
value the close cooperation we have always enjoyed with the Government of Canada and Parliament.
UNHCR's interest in this special study concerns the areas relating to the protection of refugee and
asylum-seeking children. In this regard, I should point out that the policies and programs for the protection of
girls and boys are based on the refugee convention and are also guided by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of
the Child and other relevant human rights instruments.
In addition to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada is also a signatory to other international
instruments for child protection, notably the 1980 Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child
Abduction and the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country
Adoptions. More recently, Canada has ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in
Armed Conflict and has signed, but not yet ratified, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child
Prostitution and Child Pornography.
These various international legal instruments help to supplement and re-enforce the legal regime for the
protection of children of concern to UNHCR.
As in many other aspects of refugee status determination processes, Canada has been a rightful leader to
promoting the best practices in children's rights. There are a number of positive aspects in Canadian
legislation, policy and practice that I would like to cite here today.
The first is the Immigration and Refugee Board's ground breaking 1996 Guidelines on Child Refugee Claimants
to assist decision makers in determining children's claims.
The second is the provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of 2002 that incorporates the best
interests of the child principle in decisions concerning humanitarian and compassionate applications, the right
to education, the detention of children and consideration of stay of removal orders at the Immigration Appeal
A third example is the explicit provision in IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, that detention
of asylum-seeking minors is to be resorted to as a measure of last resort.
The fourth is the specific reference to unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors in the exception provisions of
the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States of America.
The fifth is the one-year window of opportunity, so to speak, that allows refugees in Canada to be joined by
dependent family members living abroad. This regulation has greatly facilitated family reunion, particularly of
spouses and children who have been separated from the refugee applicant in Canada by permitting them to be
resettled as refugees without having to meet the more difficult family class sponsorship requirements.
A sixth example is the provision for appointment of a designated representative for separated minors at
Immigration and Refugee Board proceedings.
Finally, another example in 2003 was the creation, by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, of a
national working group with the participation of UNHCR, child welfare agencies and NGOs to address the
protection concerns of children in the immigration process.
These are but a number of positive examples of Canada's track record and leadership at home as well as
I would also mention our deep appreciation to you Senator Pearson for your leadership in developing Canada's
action plan, A Canada Fit for Children, which identifies among its priorities the special protection and
assistance needs of refugees and asylum-seeking children.
On the international stage as well as on the domestic stage, Canada is among the most outspoken advocates of
refugee children's rights. The protection and aid of war-affected children is a high priority for the Canadian
International Development Agency, CIDA, that recently contributed $34 million to UNHCR's global operations, for
which we are very grateful.
Along with these many positive initiatives, there are, however, in Canada, gaps with regard to the protection
and care of refugee and asylum-seeking children. By addressing these gaps, Canada will make further strides in
meeting the best-practice threshold it has established and would be in keeping with its international
obligations under the CRC.
Most of these gaps touch upon the treatment of separated children, commonly referred to as unaccompanied
minors. This is a distinctly vulnerable category of children because they are separated from their parents and
families. They therefore have a strong claim on our concern since they are deprived of the most fundamental
aspect of childhood, namely, family support.
The honourable members of this committee may wish to note the following issues that UNHCR has brought to the
attention of the Government of Canada on this subject.
The first issue is with regard to a national policy on separated asylum-seeking children. UNHCR is of the
view that the adoption of a national policy on separated children seeking asylum in Canada would allow for
assistance and protection to be provided in a more systematic, comprehensive and integrated way. In the context
of a national policy, we recommend a more consistent approach to the definition of a separated child. The
Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as being under 18. The age range for child protection in
Canada, however, varies from under 19 in British Columbia to under 16 in Ontario. The cut-off age for care in
Ontario is of particular concern as this province receives the majority of separated children seeking asylum in
Canada. That means that 16- and 17-year-old refugee claimants who are separated from their parents can often be
left to fend for themselves.
The adoption, therefore, of a nationwide policy and definition for a separated minor with acceptance of 18
years as the age below which certain minimum standards of care and treatment will be delivered to minors in
Canada will help to narrow the protection gaps resulting from these regional disparities. By doing so, Canada's
approach would also be in line with the CRC.
Connected with the age issue is the need for clear understanding of the nature and scope of guardianship
arrangements. The appointment of a legal guardian is an important element in identifying and responding to the
needs of separated, asylum-seeking children by ensuring that the child's best interests are taken into account
in all proceedings affecting that child. hildren are not able to navigate the complex asylum system and need
help to access education, legal and medical services, especially pending the consideration of an asylum claim
and until a durable solution has been found for the child.
As such, UNHCR considers that the appointment of a guardian as soon as possible after a separated minor is
identified is a fundamental aspect of child protection. It should be borne in mind that the role of the
designated representative, however welcome, does not cover the totality of a child's guardianship needs for the
reasons I have just mentioned.
Another recommendation is a consistent approach for referral to child welfare authorities. Referral to child
welfare agencies should take place as soon as possible after arrival once a child has been identified as being a
separated child, and a clear mechanism for doing so should be established. Particular attention needs to be paid
to properly identifying separated children, including those accompanied or met in Canada by adults other than
their own parents.
We understand that the provinces have jurisdiction to administer most of the primary elements of care to
minors in areas such as health care, education and other social services, and that provincial child care
authorities have expertise in assessing the needs of unaccompanied minors. In this regard, UNHCR appreciates and
is encouraged by the partnerships that the federal and provincial governments or NGOs make in finding solutions
to the protection gaps for separated child refugee claimants in Canada.
With respect to training, officials who come into contact with separated refugee and asylum-seeking children
will necessarily need special child sensitivity training. This applies to UNHCR's own staff as well. Port of
entry officials, for example, making eligibility decisions should know how to apply the best interests of the
child principle as it relates to issues of detention, care and reception and referral to the asylum process.
Similarly, other officials involved, legal representatives, guardians and interpreters will need to be
conversant with the best interests principle, as well as have a sound understanding of the principles and
standards of the CRC in order to be able to fully apply and implement these standards.
Adequate familiarity with other relevant international instruments and knowledge of the children's country of
origin and culture will also go a long way in ensuring no stone is left unturned in addressing the unique needs
of children. It should be noted that UNHCR has been involved in child-specific training sessions with
immigration and IRB officials, and we look forward to contributing to the development of further specialized
training on the needs and rights of separated children.
With respect to detention, UNHCR is of the view that refugee and asylum-seeking children should not be
detained as a matter of principle. Nevertheless, in order to harmonize the legislative intent of the 2002
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to detain children as a measure of last resort, UNHCR has urged that all
alternative arrangements be exhausted prior to placement in detention. Occasionally, some minors continue to be
detained, often without proper access to education, counselling and recreation.
Regarding the return of rejected child asylum seekers, in UNHCR's view, the return of rejected child asylum
seekers to their country of origin should only occur after a comprehensive, pre-removal risk review has been
undertaken showing the child would not be at risk if returned to his or her country of origin. Should return be
determined to be in the best interests of the separated child, this should be properly arranged with the
appropriate safeguards in place and should take place under safe conditions. That may require family tracing and
counselling for the child as well as for his or her family or the involvement of specialized social services
personnel. Therefore, enhanced policy guidelines on the issue of return of rejected, separated children to their
country of origin are certainly advisable.
Regarding child trafficking, a particularly vulnerable group of separated children are those trafficked
across borders for exploitative work. These children are at great risk of abuse because of their age and
vulnerability, and they need to be promptly identified in order that protection and care can be provided to
them. In this regard, UNHCR encourages the adoption of legislation and measures to protect victims of
trafficking in Canada. We have appeared before and continue to actively consult members of the Interdepartmental
Working Group on Trafficking in Persons on the development of a comprehensive protection regime for trafficked
persons in Canada.
Finally, there is the question of statistical data. The lack of reliable data on separated children in Canada
continues to be a challenge. There is a need for the authorities at all levels to collect such data and make it
available to UNHCR and concerned non-governmental agencies. UNHCR has encouraged CIC, CBSA and the IRB, in
particular, to collect data which reflects, at a minimum, the child's sex, age and country of origin. There is
also scope for more in-depth research on the qualitative experiences of separated children in Canada.
In concluding my presentation, I would, once again, thank this distinguished committee for the interest in
the situation of refugee and asylum-seeking children, especially the situation of separated children.
The Acting Chairman: Thank you for a clear presentation. I am sure that my colleagues have questions,
but I should like to ask one brief question at the start.
It is unusual to have, in Canada, a UN organization that is unlike UNICEF Canada or the Canadian Committee
for UNICEF, or UNAC, the United Nations organization. For our general audience, could you tell us why the UN
High Commission for Refugees has a presence here?
Mr. Assadi: You are absolutely correct. Many countries in the industrialized world have sister
agencies working through national associations. Those agencies essentially work to help the nationals of those
countries. Canada does not need help from UNICEF, the World Food Program or other such agencies to help its
Refugees are a different phenomenon. They are found in both the developing world and industrialized
countries. While the vast majority of world's 12 million refugees are to be found in the developing world, you
need only pick up newspapers in London, Paris, Geneva and Rome to know that refugee issues, asylum issues, are
very much on the agenda of those countries. Therefore, UNHCR, by virtue of its mandate under the 51 Convention,
which provides us with a supervisory function with respect to state practice. It does not limit itself to
developed countries. We go where the refugees are, be it developing countries or industrialized countries.
Canada is not only a destination for asylum seekers but it is also a country that provides resettlement
opportunities to refugees who are selected for admission to Canada from refugee camps around the world. In
addition to our monitoring work, our resettlement work, we are involved in the type of work we are doing today,
which is advocacy, assistance with legislation, public information and awareness. Given the sensitivity of the
issues throughout the world, both in industrialized countries and developing countries, refugees unfortunately
are to be found virtually everywhere today. UNHCR's work is everywhere.
Senator LeBreton: In your presentation you mentioned the establishment in the year 2003 of a national
working group. I would like a little more information on how large this group is, how representative, who are
some of the people in it and exactly how does it function with UNHCR? Could you expand on that?
Ms. Rana Khan, Legal Officer, United Nations High Commission to Refugees: Good
afternoon members of the committee. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration, in collaboration with UNHCR
and some prominent NGOs, established a working group to review the issue of separated children in immigration
processes. Some of the other members of the committee are the Red Cross, World Vision, and I believe Save the
Children and the International Bureau for Children's Rights, which is based in Montreal.
The committee met approximately three times a year. It was not a formal committee. We met first to discuss
the gaps that existed in the processes; some of the issues that were of concern to the department, such as
children who were being trafficked; issues of child abduction by parents making asylum claims in Canada; as well
as the need for the development of a national policy on immigration issues.
Regrettably, we have not met as often in 2004. That, I believe, was due to the creation of the Canada Border
Services Agency and all the changes that it brought. The committee is still alive. We hope to meet again this
year and continue working on some of those issues.
Senator LeBreton: What would be the desired outcome? You talked about meeting three times a year and
not meeting much in 2004. What is the mandate or the goal or what is the desired outcome of this working group?
Where will this information or these recommendations end up in order to be acted upon?
Ms. Khan: When the committee was struck it only involved the Department of Citizenship and
Immigration. They retained the authority to develop policy for all CBSA functions. The hope was that we would
develop a national policy that would cover all the issues of concern for separated children on immigration
issues. First, we had the hope that we would come up with the parameters of a national policy and, second, we
were working towards the development of consistent and accurate statistics for the proper identification of
children entering Canada to make asylum claims. We were successful to some extent in getting better statistics,
because the focus was turned to that issue.
We were also working towards consistency in the referral of these children to child welfare agencies in the
provinces. We hoped that, by having a national committee, some of those recommendations dealing with separated
children would trickle down to the various provinces. A lot of work on this issue has been done in Ontario and
British Columbia, but other than that, not much other work is going on with regard to this issue.
Senator LeBreton: Is it fair to say there have been some trickle down results, but not as many as you
originally hoped for?
Ms. Khan: That is fair.
Senator LeBreton: There have been stories in the papers these past few days about the issue of human
smuggling and trafficking. I know that this is a huge concern, and I am sure it is for UNHCR. A practical
question is: How do you get a handle on this? How do you get information? Do you work with the police? How do
you manage to get these children into the system so that they can be rescued? How many, on a percentage basis,
are you able to help, and how many do you think you may miss?
Mr. Assadi: Those are important points. For us, smuggling and trafficking is a problem that is a
worldwide phenomenon. In Canada, we have established a small working group of NGOs, academics, that also
consults the government, to put together reliable data about who the victims are and how they can be protected.
A challenge would be to widen our perception so that is not limited to being a problem of law enforcement,
but one where we try to protect the victims who, in turn, could provide valuable information to law enforcement
authorities. The U.S. has come up with a couple of new ideas as to how they can both protect the victims and be
able to deal with it as a law enforcement manner. A number of European countries have also taken some steps.
Certainly, it is something that we are concerned about because, as I said in my statement, children can
easily be exploited, especially girls. Almost everyone comes out a loser here. The only ones who gain are those
who stand to benefit from trafficking, which are the traffickers and smugglers themselves.
It is a global phenomenon in a number of regional fora. We talked about this most recently in Vancouver at
the regional conference on immigration, which was chaired by the deputy immigration minister. We talked about
the question of trafficking. The UNHCR talked about protecting the victims of trafficking, especially children.
It is a difficult and a major subject. Information is sketchy, but we do our best to make sure, to the extent
possible, that we are able to lend some advice to the government with respect to how best to protect the
victims, while at the same time seeing it from a law enforcement as well as a humanitarian vantage point.
Senator LeBreton: I mentioned law enforcement because I wondered where the information comes from.
When these people are approaching our shores, how do we know who they are and where they are coming from? That
is why I mentioned the law enforcement agencies, and whether, through Interpol or cross-border cooperation the
police are able to discern that some of these people may be on their way, so that organizations such as yours
and other government agencies can step in to assist these people before they become more victimized than they
Mr. Assadi: I would not want to speak on behalf of the government as to how it gets its information or
intelligence. I am not privy to that kind of detailed information. We are certainly familiar with the work of
the Immigration and Refugee Board since we have observer status at the IRB. When we listen to the stories that
refugees or asylum seekers tell the IRB, we will sometimes find a trafficking or smuggling component. We do hear
from the asylum seeker directly or through family members when we observe their asylum hearings at the IRB
level. However, I think the question of to how it gathers its intelligence with respect to trafficking is worth
putting to the government.
Our interest, as I said, is in those children who are seeking asylum and who are exploited and victimized
and, who, at the end of the day, turn out not to be refugees and have to be returned. They will have lost out on
Senator Ferretti Barth: I am concerned about the fate of refugee children in Canada because all ties
with their family of origin have been severed.
A number of organizations have been established to help refugee children, but we are not too clear about what
they actually do, aside from the fact that they have taken in 50,000 children and placed either 5,000 or 10,000
of them in institutions.
That concerns me quite a lot because we have no background on these children who arrive in Canada as
refugees. Mr. Assadi, do you have any statistics that you might share with us on refugee children who are not
accompanied by a parent or adult when they arrive in Canada?
Mr. Assadi: Yes, I can give you some statistics. I will read them directly from my notes to make my numbers
In 2004, according to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, a total of 748 unaccompanied minor
asylum seekers sought asylum in Canada: 350 female and 398 male.
The top 10 source countries for these claimants included Mexico, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, China, St.
Vincent and the Grenadines, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India and the U.S.
The overall number of claims made by applicants 17 or younger in 2004 was 5,306. Applications by minors up to
the age of 11 totalled 3,584, comprised of 1,724 females and 1,860 males. However, the main statistic that you
were interested in, which was for the unaccompanied minor, for 2004 was 748.
Senator Ferretti Barth: What happens to these children after they have arrived in the country? Is
there any contact at all between the refugee child in Canada and the family members back in his or her native
Mr. Assadi: As for the second part of your question, I can ask Ms. Khan to give you an answer.
Senator Ferretti Barth: Ms Khan spoke of a committee that met three times a year. Do the members of
this committee represent different institutions that deal with refugee children or are they all volunteers?
Why does this committee meet only three times a year, given the scope of this problem? I think that is
unacceptable. There is no follow up whatsoever to the activities undertaken by agencies that take in children
from various world nations. What is being done to help these children? Have we formulated an action plan of some
Ms. Assadi: I will ask my associate Ms. Khan to answer your question.
Ms. Khan: Thank you for your question. UNHCR would very much agree with the sentiments that you are
expressing. It is for this reason that we have been advocating actively in the last few years. We have always
taken a strong position for the protection of separated children and refugee children in general as part of our
general protection mandate. In Canada, in particular, we have been very active on this issue since 1999 with the
arrival of the children from China off the coast of British Columbia.
To answer your question, the committee that was struck by Department of Citizenship and Immigration was,
primarily, to look at the gaps in services, protection and policy. It was to try to develop policy on these
issues. It was sort of a policy, think-tank type of group.
As to what protections are currently in place, there are some on which I will expand, but there are many
One of the biggest issues, as Mr. Assadi mentioned, is that Ontario receives a large number of separated
children. That province also has an age discrepancy relative to who is considered to be a child. In Ontario, a
child who can access child welfare services must be under 16. Children who are 16 to 18 have absolutely nothing
in Ontario. We have been working diligently in collaboration with NGO partners in the provincial government to
set up a de facto guardian to act as a case manager by having the Red Cross develop a project for taking care of
separated children of the ages of 16 and 17. The project is ready. Once they have been identified, the guardian
would walk them through the process from beginning to end during their stay in Canada.
However, I would point out that the project has not been funded, so it is not in place.
Children under 16 can be referred once they have been identified. There is a big gap relative to whether they
have been identified. Many children have not been identified, so they fall into an area that none of us knows
about. We do not know how many are coming in and what is happening to them. Once they are identified, they are
referred to the child welfare agencies.
Senator Ferretti Barth: What do they do? Where do they put these people? Where they put these children
once they are identified?
Ms. Khan: Once they are identified, they will be placed in foster homes in Ontario. In fact, that is
the best option right now because for the 16 and 17-year-olds there is nothing. They are going into the streets,
and that is quite frightening. When a child welfare agency is contacted, they are providing them with a home and
getting them a designated representative, a lawyer who takes them through the refugee process at the immigration
There is still no policy, as Mr. Assadi mentioned, on return of rejected asylum seekers. When asylum seekers
who are children are rejected, they can be returned without any prior study of whether it is safe for them to be
returned, who they are being returned to, et cetera.
Senator Ferretti Barth: One other matter concerns me. A twelve-year-old child who comes to Canada as a
refugee will be cared for by agencies, but he will be cut off from his birth family.
Is there some way for that child to reestablish some form of contact with his family? It is very important
that we do something for these children, because they do have relatives somewhere in the world who may be
interested in getting some news about their fate.
We cannot afford to wait for the recommendations of a committee that meets only three times a year. We need
to take immediate action to address this very real problem. The plight of these refugee children is less than
ideal. The agencies and institutions that care for these children must be more proactive and put some pressure
on the government to act.
Ms. Khan: We would agree with you wholeheartedly on that.
Senator Ferretti Barth: We want to know where you stand on this issue in order to formulate our
recommendations. There must be a very clear will to act on your part.
Mr. Assadi: You can rest assured that we do have that strong will. We have been discussing the
situation with agencies in Ontario and we do take this matter very seriously.
Of the 26,000 refugees who sought asylum in Canada, 748 were children. This is a major problem and the UN
High Commission for Refugees is doing everything in its power to remedy the situation.
The Acting Chairman: To give them credit, they are there as advocates rather than service providers.
My experience is you do an excellent job. It's up to us to respond to the advocacy and to make our governments
respond as well. Senator Christensen.
Senator Christensen: What constitutes the age of a minor when we're dealing with refugees and children
coming in. I know you were saying there are the difficulties because the different provinces and territories
have different age of majority.
Is there a specific age set under the Convention on the Rights of the Child worldwide that would be
recognized, or is it depending on where they're coming to?
Mr. Assadi: The suggestion we have made is that given the regional disparities in British Columbia
it is 19 and in Ontario it is 16 and under there be a national policy both with the age in question, which we
suggest would be 18, which would bring Canada in line with the CRC zone criteria in terms of age, and that a
national policy on the wider issues that we have discussed today be also implemented.
The short answer to your question is we would suggest 18 because that is in keeping with international
standard that is enshrined in the CRC.
Senator Christensen: Such as the United States or other receiving countries, 18 would be the
Mr. Assadi: We would advocate the CRC's age limit, which is 18 and under.
Senator Christensen: But we have not agreed to that in Canada as yet.
Mr. Assadi: No. As I said, different provinces will have different age limits. We will suggest a
uniform approach to what age will kick-start services for helping and assisting separated children.
Senator Christensen: There was a third country agreement signed between Canada and the United States
in 2004, and that is for refugee claimants that are coming from Canada into the United States appearing at a
land border will not be granted entry under refugee claims.
However, there are exceptions to that, and specifically, they are with unaccompanied minors. Can you explain
how that particularly works?
Mr. Assadi: Yes. You are absolutely correct. On December 29, 2004, the safe third country agreement
between the U.S. and Canada came into effect.
Essentially, the agreement says that if you can file an application for asylum in the U.S. you need not come
to Canada, and vice versa, unless you fall into certain categories of exceptions. Most of the exceptions have to
do with family, relatives in either of the two countries. Fortunately, it also covers unaccompanied minors as
well where unaccompanied minors would be able to access the asylum process in either of the two countries. That
is something that we are pleased about.
It also has to do with, if you have an anchor relative in either the U.S. or Canada and the status of that
anchor relative these are all details I will not go into. The provisions which allow unaccompanied minors to
be considered as part of the exception categories is something that we're very pleased with.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I want to ask, of the 700 plus children that are coming to Canada, what percentage
of them are orphans? Of those who have families, what percentage has suffered abuse from those families? Do we
Mr. Assadi: This is a very good question which brings me to the last point in my presentation where I
touched upon the gaps with respect to statistical data and statistical information. As you heard from my
presentation, we are encouraging the government to register basic data respecting the child's gender, age, and
However, this is about more than just statistics. As you are implying, it gives us a clearer picture of the
nature of the problem and the difficulties and challenges that the child has faced. Is that child an orphan,
truly an orphan? Does the child have one parent? Does the child have another family member who in his or her
culture and who might, de facto, be considered a parent? Has the child been raised by a grandmother or an aunt?
This is the kind of information we want. Hopefully, when statistical gathering has improved and becomes more
comprehensive, these types of valid questions can be addressed as part of the overall exercise.
Senator Ferretti Barth: I have another short question.
What are the biggest problems these children face when they arrive in Canada?
Mr. Assadi: In general?
Senator Ferretti Barth: What are the most serious problems that refugee children encounter when they
arrive in Canada? I apologize, but I was not here when you made your opening remarks.
Mr. Assadi: I can read you the highlights of my presentation in English. I have listed several areas
in which gaps have been identified.
We talked about national policy on separated, asylum-seeking children. We need a comprehensive policy and
training for those working with separated children.
I am referring to training for government staff who work with separated children.
The reference was to detention, trafficking, return of rejected asylum seekers, and the absence of
The Chairman: I think, in a sense, Senator Ferretti Barth is interested in the personal issues, the
kind of issues that arise when a child comes in as an unaccompanied minor and is met by some elderly gentleman
who claims to be his or her uncle and the child is whipped off. Our concern is the exploitation of these
unaccompanied children. Would you comment on that?
Ms Khan: We have been advocating for appropriate identification when these children come to the
border. That ties into the point about training. There is effective training available on how to assess the best
interests of the child. In other words, to look at the child as a whole that needs protection and guidance, not
just in the legal process, but in terms of emotional guidance, psychological guidance, freedom from detention
and freedom from exploiters.
Therefore, a priority would be that officials dealing with separated children have an appropriate
understanding of how to identify the child. Is the child a refugee claimant? Is he or she a victim of
trafficking, or smuggling? Is the child separated or being met by a family member or a parent? The
identification issue is very important at the outset because, once a child has been identified, then the
appropriate action will be taken. The appropriate action would be referral to the authority, if the child is the
right age where the province has the capacity to deal with the child. There is referral to medical personnel or
psychologists, if they are victims of trauma or torture or other forms of abuse. There is referral to a lawyer
for appropriate legal advice, if they are trying to access the immigration and refugee process.
We are recommending the appointment of a guardian for separated children who would be able to identify them
and, upon identification, make sure there is a comprehensive plan of protection and services for them.
Where there is not an effective identification process, these children are coming into the country and,
although some are being detained, but the numbers are quite low. If they are not detained, and they are able to
enter Canada, and they have not been identified appropriately, then they go into society and we do not know who
they are meeting. We do not know what types of services they are accessing and we do not know whose hands they
are falling into.
Shelter, education, legal services, medical care, psychological and social counselling, an entire bag of
services is not engaged if they are not properly identified
Senator Ferretti Barth: How many children can get enter into Canada?
Ms Khan: Are you referring to a quota?
Mr. Assadi: There is no quota on children arriving and seeking asylum here.
Senator Ferretti Barth: As an immigrant, you know there are quotas respecting various ethnic groups
so many Greeks, Italians and so on so I thought there could be a quota respecting children, too.
The Chairman: Certain children arrive in this country unexpectedly. They arrive at the airport and ask
for asylum. However, under the program you mentioned, we undertake to accept a certain number of children from
refugee camps for resettlement in Canada. Our listeners, I am sure, would like to know the dimension of that
program. How many children are resettled?
Mr. Assadi: We consider Canada's resettlement program, that is, bringing refugees from overseas camps
to Canada, to be quite generous. Canada, together with the United States and Australia, has some of the biggest
resettlement programs. One aspect of Canada's resettlement program is that Canada is responsive to UNHCR's
special protection submissions, where we submit vulnerable individuals to Canada for resettlement.
Since the great majority of the world's refugees are women and children, it would also follow that those who
are in fact often most vulnerable are precisely these women and children. Canada has a pretty good track record
of providing resettlement opportunities to vulnerable, at-risk, if you will, refugees, including children.
Therefore, I have nothing but praise for Canada's resettlement program, particularly with respect to those
vulnerable categories that are in special need of resettlement.
The Acting Chairman: Will some of those recommended for resettlement be unaccompanied minors?
Mr. Assadi: In general, the resettlement of unaccompanied minors is undertaken carefully and
cautiously. You want to ensure that families are not separated. Claims by parents will occur at a later date
stating that the child was their son or daughter. Family reunification or links are an important factor in our
decision to submit someone in a camp in Africa or Asia to Canada or any other country for resettlement. We look
to the best interests of child, and each case is separate. We look at each one on a case-by-case basis. If it is
determined that the best interests of the child is resettlement, and if we have considered thoroughly all of the
factors, including family relationships, then we will submit cases for resettlement to Canada or to other
resettlement countries. We would take extra care in doing so because we want to ensure that we get it right.
The Acting Chairman: I know of cases where a child has been resettled and assigned to child care
workers who do not know the child's language, creating some associated problems. In consideration of the best
interests of the child, it is important for all of us, as we proceed through this study, to understand what tool
should be used to determine those best interests. Is that tool based on the Conventions of the Rights of the
Child and, therefore, multidimensional? Is there a tool that can determine the best interests of the child?
Mr. Assadi: We have such a tool. We have our own standards of what constitutes a child that we would
like to see resettled. The UNHCR has its own guidelines, but our guidelines must fit the criteria of the
receiving country. It is not sufficient to say that these are our guidelines and that the UNHCR thinks the child
should be resettled. Canada, U.S. and Australia also need policies that will tally with our requirements.
Canada has been responsive in emergency submissions, in uniting a child with blood relatives in Canada or in
resettling a child with de facto family members in Canada. Family links are important, as is trying to maintain
some sense of family unity and support, combined with the emergency status or vulnerability of the case. These
factors combine to make a case eligible for resettlement and to be accepted by the receiving country. As you
suggested, the task of resettling unaccompanied children is difficult and sensitive. We have to make sure we get
The Acting Chairman: I agree.
Thank you for your testimony this afternoon which is important to have on our record as we proceed to explore
our responsibility respecting children's rights and freedoms.
Mr. Assadi: Thank you.
The committee adjourned.