Canada: One Woman’s Asylum From Domestic Violence

Photo By: Concha García Hernández [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)Photo By: Concha García Hernández [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

A female asylum seeker could breathe a sigh of relief this week after a federal judge allowed her application for judicial review. She sought refuge in Canada to escape from her violent ex-husband. The Refugee Protection Division [RPD], the Refugee Appeal Division [RAD] and a pre-removal risk assessment [PRRA] officer had previously denied her claims due to negative credibility inferences. However, numerous incidents allegedly occurred in Tanzania, after the RAD hearing but before the PRRA application, to support the applicant’s stance — that her ex-husband continued to seek her out and threaten her friends and family that helped her escape. 

A person in need of protection must prove a risk of persecution and a lack of state protection in their own country. Due to the nature of refugee cases, the RPD frequently has to make credibility assessments based on letters, affidavits and documents originating outside of Canada. In these cases there are no additional witnesses to cross-examine, and no expert witness to verify the veracity of documents. Because of this, the RPD has a large degree of discretion. However, decisions must still be intelligible, transparent and justified. Without those three things, a decision will be deemed unreasonable and sent back for redetermination.

The Federal Court judgment released Monday sorted out the officer’s unreasonable decision to deny the Applicant a PRRA. The Applicant had presented evidence of her ex-husband’s threatening behaviour, and of the lack of state protection for domestic violence victims in Tanzania. The PRRA officer put little weight on this evidence without properly justifying why. The officer denied the PRRA application, citing insufficient evidence to demonstrate a risk of danger.

On appeal to the Federal Court, Justice Grammond found major problems with the officer’s reasons. He wrote that the PRRA officer did not make an appropriate assessment of the risk of persecution, or of the availability of state protection. The officer seems to have misinterpreted the Applicant’s evidence and cherry-picked sentences from supporting documents to show that “the [Tanzanian] government is trying to bring about change” when it comes to dealing with domestic violence victims.

The Federal judge pointed out that the officer applied the wrong test for determining state protection. Although this is a clear error, the true injustice in my opinion is that the officer glossed over the sad and shocking evidence of female oppression in Tanzania.

According to the United States Department of State 2016 report on human rights in Tanzania, “[d]omestic violence against women remained widespread, and police rarely investigated such cases”. The report, relied on by the PRRA officer, mentioned cultural, family and social pressures women faced to keep abuse and domestic violence under wraps. It also claims that many accused abusers “were set free because of corruption in the judicial system, lack of evidence, poor investigation, and poor evidence preservation.” It almost appears as if the PRRA officer did not read the entire report.

One of the Applicant’s friends claimed in an affidavit that the alleged abuser is a police officer himself. How is the state to protect a woman if the person threatening her is part of the very force supposed to be protecting her? Luckily, the Federal Court sent the PRRA matter back for redetermination, so the applicant has another chance at proving her need of protection.

Women’s issues are not just about what happens to women in Western, developed nations. They illuminate the objectification, oppression and punishment that women face all around the world. One of the first steps to reconciling a history of gender-based persecution is acknowledging when violent incidents happen, opening our arms to victims, and recognizing that we still have a long way to go.

This post was written by a CCLA-PBSC Rights Watch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.