55 U. Toronto Fac. L. Rev. 1 (1997)
The Immutable Refugees: Sexual Orientation in Canada (A.G.) v. Ward

handle is hein.journals/utflr55 and id is 7 raw text is: The Immutable Refugees:
Sexual Orientation in Canada (A.G.) v. Ward*
NICOLE LAVIOLETTE
International refugee law has been structured so that claimants must fit themselves
into narrowly defined categories: the Canadian Immigration Act requires that
refugee claimants establish a well-founded fear of persecution based on one of the
enumerated grounds, namely race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular
social group, or political opinion. As sexual orientation is not enumerated, many
lesbian and gay asylum seekers have attempted to establish their claim on the basis
of membership in a particular social group. The 1993 Supreme Court decision in
Canada (A.G.) v. Ward has clarified that sexual orientation is a ground upon which
a refugee claimant may claim membership in a particular social group because it is
an innate or unchangeable characteristic. The decision in Ward, while a positive
development, inappropriately classifies sexual orientation as an immutable per-
sonal characteristic. It suggests that lesbians and gay men are deserving of inter-
national protection only because they cannot change the personal attribute for
which they are persecuted. Instead, refugee status should be granted because les-
bians and gay men have a common social identity which is ascribed an inferior
social and political status by their persecutors.
Selon l'tat actuel du droit international relatif aux rifugigs, les demandeurs d'asile
doivent d~montrer qu'ils appartiennent d une des categories pricises et itroites de
r6fugiks pour se voir attribuer ce statut. En vertu de la Loi sur l'immigration du
Canada, le demandeur d'asile doit ddmontrer qu'il craint avec raison d'etre perse-
cutg dufait de sa race, de sa religion, de sa nationalitg, de son appartenance a un
groupe social ou de ses opinions politiques. Comme l'orientation sexuelle ne fait
pas partie des motifs inumdrds, plusieurs personnes gaies et lesbiennes ont tentJ de
fonder leurs demandes d'asile sur 'l'appartenance a un groupe social.' En 1993,
dans Canada (A.G.) v. Ward, la Cour supreme a precise que l'orientation sexuelle
constituait un motif permettant d un demandeur d' tablir qu'il appartient a un
groupe social parce qu'il s'agit d'une caract~ristique innie ou immuable. Bien
qu'elle constitue une evolution positive du droit dans ce domaine, cette decision
erre toutefois en qualiflant lorientation sexuelle de caractiristique personnelle
immuable. Cette qualification suggere que les personnes gaies et lesbiennes ne
This article was completed in 1996 as a directed research project at the University of Ottawa
Faculty of Law. I wish to thank Professor John Manwaring for his much appreciated encouragement
and thoughtful feedback, and Professor Cynthia Petersen and Michael Bossin for their helpful com-
ments. I am also grateful to Lisa Hdbert for her help in editing an early draft. Revision of this article
was made possible by the support of Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington, from whom I received a
J.S.D. Tory Writing Award.
-Nicole LaViolette, B.A. (Carleton), LL.B. (Ottawa), is currently a law clerk for Madam Justice
Desjardins at the Federal Court of Appeal in Ottawa. Before her studies in law, she worked as a leg-
islative assistant to a Member of Parliament.
University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review / Volume 55 Number 1 / Winter 1997
1

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