Each year in Canada, Refugee Rights Day is commemorated on April 4. The day is a moment to celebrate the advances that have been made in the protection of refugee rights in Canada, most notably as a result of the Singh Decision in 1985. It is also an opportunity for us to strengthen our advocacy for refugees, refugee claimants, displaced persons, undocumented persons, and immigrants in our labour activism.
On April 4, 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of refugees. The Court decided that Section 7 of the Charter applies to everyone in Canada. The judgment states that everyone is entitled to “life, liberty, and security of the person,” regardless of their status as citizens, refugee applicants, or as undocumented persons.
This year’s Refugee Rights Day is especially relevant, as we are seeing the Singh decision in action with Canada’s acceptance of Ukrainian families escaping the Russian military’s senseless and horrifying war on Ukraine. Under the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel visa program, available for all individuals fleeing Ukraine, there is no limit to the number of people who can apply, and eligible individuals can stay, work, and go to school in Canada for up to three years.
The authorization is the right thing to do in Ukrainians’ time of need, and programs like this should be extended to all people escaping war and violence abroad. Indeed, Canada should accept refugees fleeing their countries for various reasons, whether it be violence, human rights violations, or any other protected ground.
As we remember the landmark Singh decision, and welcome a new wave of families affected by war, it is important for us to maintain our commitment to protect the rights of refugees and undocumented people. This should be reflected in the way we advocate for improved workers’ rights, and for the acceptance of all refugees, no matter their country of origin.