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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada implementation of Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and women, peace and security

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is participating in the second generation of the Action Plan 2017-2022 as a supporting partner. The Department will promote and support the Action Plan as the lead department on international migration issues and in supporting and protecting women and girls through Canada’s immigration processing, programs, and services. IRCC also works with likeminded countries at the multilateral level on issues of global importance—such as migration and the resettlement, integration of refugees from conflict-affected countries, and initiatives to build the capacity of international organizations to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. IRCC recognizes that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to being targeted for sexual and gender-based violence in situations of conflict and state fragility. In keeping with the principles of Canada’s National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security (WPS), the Department has put in place a number of policies and programs designed to provide protection and support to women and girls displaced by situations of conflict and state fragility. IRCC also provides targeted settlement supports for populations that experience increased vulnerability, including women and refugees. These services address the settlement and integration barriers for this population – empowering women and girls so they can participate in Canada’s social, cultural, civic and economic life.

Contributions on the international stage

In December 2018, Canada joined a large majority of United Nations General Assembly Member States in adopting two Global Compacts, one on Refugees and one for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (Global Compact for Migration). The Compacts provide a compendium of best practices to provide guidance for States to consider when developing or updating migration-related policies and programs, as well as when implementing larger objectives to align with Canadian values, such as the respect for human rights and protection of the most vulnerable, including women and children on the move or forcibly displaced as a result of conflict. Almost 50% of international migrants are women, and gender considerations are, therefore, an important aspect of discussions, policies and actions taken in relation to migration. As States begin to implement both Compacts, Canada will continue to share and participate in and advocate for the development of gender-transformative and intersectional migration management practices and refugee responses within the international community.

Protecting refugees

IRCC places a high priority on the protection of refugee women and recognizes their unique protection needs. Through the Assistance to Women at Risk Program, Canada provides resettlement opportunities to women abroad in precarious or permanently unstable situations who do not have the formal protection of a family unit. This includes women who are experiencing significant difficulties, such as harassment by local authorities or members of their own communities.

IRCC provides assistance through the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) for 12 months to Government Assisted Refugees (GARs), assistance for 6 months to Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) refugees, and assistance for 3 months to LGBTQ+ refugees who are privately sponsored (through a cost sharing arrangement with Rainbow Refugee society). IRCC also provides assistance to refugees who are identified as having special needs through Joint Assistance Sponsorship (JAS) for up to 24 months.

Considerations in the asylum system regarding gender-related persecution

In addition to programs for resettling vulnerable women and girls from abroad, the in-Canada asylum system provides gender-specific protection to in-Canada refugee claimants who have fled conflicts or fragile states. The Department has developed specific program delivery instructions with respect to processing in-Canada claims for refugee protection of minors and other vulnerable persons. Provisions include ensuring a vulnerable person’s physical comfort; being sensitive to cultural and gender issues; and efforts to allow victims of sexual violence the option of choosing the gender of the interviewing officer.

Additionally, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), which hears asylum claims, has a set of guidelines specifically on how to treat vulnerable groups, including women refugee claimants fearing gender-related persecution. In May 2017, the IRB also announced a new Guideline to promote greater understanding of cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and the harm individuals may face due to their non-conformity with socially accepted norms. This Guideline aims to promote a greater understanding of the diversity and complexity that can be associated with having diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression; establish guiding principles for decision-makers in adjudicating cases; and provide parties with a clearer understanding of what to expect when appearing before the IRB.

Supporting settlement and integration in Canada

IRCC recognizes the significant contributions that newcomer women make to the economic, social, civic, and cultural life of Canada, and their key role in the settlement and integration of the family unit once they have arrived to Canada. Migration to Canada can bring many opportunities for women, but can also include distinct and multiple challenges such as navigating a new language, work transitions, childcare responsibilities, developing new networks, and shifts in family dynamics. Providing targeted settlement supports for vulnerable populations, including women and refugees, remains a priority area.

To address these challenges, the Settlement Program funds a range of targeted settlement services that can be accessed by newcomer and refugee women, including a pilot project to support employment programming for visible minority women, as well as additional supports such as mentoring, information and orientation on rights and responsibilities in Canada, women’s only employment and language training, and gender-based violence prevention support. Many of the organizations that deliver settlement programming in the area of violence prevention have strong community partnerships in place with local transition houses, police, and key emergency services to ensure holistic programming for victims of abuse. These include activities and information to mitigate the risks of exposure to gender-based violence by strengthening knowledge of Canadian laws, social cohesion and community connections. These services are provided through online resources, publications, a variety of in-person services, as well as through referrals to important community supports. In addition, child-minding and transportation services are offered to ensure that women, who are often the primary caregivers, are able to access these integration services.

IRCC funded Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) services delivered to government assisted refugees upon arrival in Canada include referrals, when appropriate, to specialized services such as Centers for Victims of Trauma and/or Torture, as well as orientation to Canadian laws, including informing clients that in Canada women and men have the same rights and opportunities and abuse of any sort (e.g., physical, psychological or sexual) is a crime.

As with the in-Canada asylum process, the Department has developed specific program delivery instructions with respect to the resettlement of minors and other vulnerable persons.

In support of the Syrian resettlement effort, Canada funded enhancements to support the unique settlement needs of Syrian refugee women. These included additional conversation circles specifically for women to enable them to establish valuable social connections, learn about available community supports, practice their new language skills, and reduce isolation.

Actions to address gender-based violence to support newcomers to Canada

IRCC is a key partner in the federal action plan to end gender-based violence announced in June 2017, It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. The strategy builds on federal initiatives already under way and coordinates existing programs. Under the strategy, IRCC received $1.5 million in funding over five years to further enhance the Settlement Program. This funding is being used to deliver targeted services for newcomer women and youth with place-based interventions as well as training for front-line settlement workers to assist in identifying abuse and making appropriate referrals for newcomers, including those in smaller cities and rural communities. IRCC also works closely with the federal department Women and Gender Equality on additional initiatives such as Engaging Men and Boys to address GBV as well as sharing promising practices with Settlement Provider Organizations.

IRCC resettles vulnerable refugees who have been forced to flee their home country due to persecution or massive conflict, including LGBTQ2 individuals who are often at heightened risk due to their sexual orientation or identity. The Department offers specialized settlement supports to all LGBTQ2 immigrants, including refugees upon arrival in Canada. The Department continues to work with LGBTQ2 stakeholders in Canada to collaboratively improve the available supports and ensure the refugee resettlement program includes an adequate LGBTQ2 lens.

In April 2017, IRCC removed a regulatory requirement that applied to some sponsored spouses or partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to live with their sponsor for two years as a condition to maintaining their permanent resident status. Previously, conditional permanent residence was in place for sponsored spouses or partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who were in a relationship of two years or less and had no children in common at the time of their sponsorship application. Sponsored spouses or partners were required to live with their sponsor for two years or risk losing their permanent resident status. Eliminating conditional permanent residence addresses concerns that vulnerable sponsored spouses or partners may stay in abusive relationships out of fear of losing their permanent resident status. This change is aligned with overall government efforts to support gender equality and combat gender-based violence.

Actions to reduce vulnerability in the immigration system

IRCC has taken other steps designed to reduce vulnerability in the immigration system. In June 2015, a regulatory amendment to increase the minimum age of a recognized spouse from 16 to 18 in all permanent and temporary immigration programs came into effect. This was intended to decrease the number of potentially vulnerable young spouses immigrating to Canada who may not have the capacity to act in their own best interest, and could prevent some forced marriages from occurring. At the same time, regulations came into force to ensure that marriages that were conducted by proxy, telephone, fax, Internet or other similar forms (i.e. marriages where one or both parties were not physically present at the marriage ceremony), would no longer be recognized within permanent and temporary immigration programs.

Integration of gender considerations in IRCC’s policies and programs

IRCC is committed to integrating Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) to assess the potential impacts of its policies, programs, services and other initiatives on diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people, taking into account gender and other identity factors (e.g. race, ethnicity and religion).

IRCC has awarded a contract to a non-governmental organization to develop gender-based violence training for IRCC officers processing immigration applications, as well as for IRCC Client Support Centre Staff.  Once fully developed and launched, this training is intended to increase employee awareness of different forms of gender-based violence and equip them with tools to identify and appropriately address cases of abuse.  It will complement existing general training and guidance for these employees with more comprehensive training dedicated solely to the topic of gender-based violence and tailored to the immigration and newcomer context, to help ensure a trauma-informed approach to addressing these cases.  This training aligns with the Government’s commitment to addressing gender-based violence, in contribution to the federal GBV Strategy to support victims across Canada, including migrants and newcomers.

IRCC is committed to addressing the following broad Action Plan objectives/actions which are of relevance to its work:

The bulk of IRCC’s work is mainly through domestic policy and programs, but IRCC also works with likeminded countries at the multilateral level on issues of global importance. In doing so, the Department contributes in important ways toward the empowerment, inclusion and protection of women and girls around the world – while taking into account gender and intersecting identity factors such as age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and ability.

The following activities that IRCC undertakes reflect IRCC’s commitment to advancing the Action Plan in its capacity as a supporting partner organizationFootnote 1:

Objective 1

Gender is integrated in relevant IRCC program and application processes when IRCC programs (domestic and abroad) are developed or revised to ensure all efforts are made to meet relevant Action Plan objectives and to ensure a gender-responsive approach to applicants, refugees and other newcomers.


Refugee Resettlement Program

A-1.1 Maintain high priority on the protection of refugee women, and recognize their unique needs through the Assistance to Women at Risk program, and continue to resettle the most vulnerable groups, including refugee women and girls from abroad.

Settlement Program

A-1.2 Continue to fund and implement a range of targeted settlement services that can be accessed by newcomer women, including refugees, such as mentoring, information and orientation on rights and responsibilities, employment, language supports, and family and gender-based violence prevention support, as well as support services which include childcare, transportation assistance, translation, interpretation, temporary crisis counseling, and provisions for addressing disabilities, to reduce barriers to access settlement services.

A-1.3 As part of the “It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence” (GBV Strategy), implement enhancements to the Settlement Program to offer place-based services for newcomers who may face challenges in accessing gender-based violence supports and to provide training for front-line settlement workers to help identify gender-based violence and make appropriate referrals to support immigrant and refugee women and girls.

A-1.4 Establish a framework to assess vulnerability of women, girls, men, boys and gender-diverse people.


Refugee Resettlement Program

I-1.1 Number of applicants (and/or dependents including spouses) who came to Canada through the Women at Risk Program.

Settlement Program

I-1.2 Number of new settlement services based on gender violence interventions for newcomer women and families (such as activities to mitigate the risks of exposure to gender-based violence by strengthening knowledge of Canadian laws, social cohesion, and referrals to essential community supports specializing in violence prevention).

I-1.3 Number of female clients who access each component of the Settlement Program (information and orientation, needs assessment and referral, language training, employment related services, community connections, and support services.

I-1.4 Percentage of newcomers and settlement workers who receive interventions funded by the GBV Strategy enhancement to the Settlement Program that report increased knowledge of gender-based violence and awareness of available services.

I-1.5 Creation and implementation of a policy framework for defining vulnerability.

Objective 2

IRCC employees are aware of women, peace and security issues and make gender-based considerations in the application of program and provision of services.


A-2.1 Continue to provide the training sessions on gender persecution and persecution based on sexual orientation as part of specific staff training before they go overseas to missions abroad to process the refugee caseload.

A-2.2 Encourage all IRCC staff and senior management to complete the Status of Women Canada’s GBA+ online introduction course, which provides a foundational understanding of applying gender and identity considerations to policies and programs.


I-2.1. Number of courses or training sessions given with a module on gender and decision-making (ex. Foreign Service Development Program training, Locally Engaged Officers training, refugee training, etc.).

I-2.2 Number of staff who complete the Status of Women Canada’s GBA+ online introduction course.

I-2.3 Number of staff (overseas Locally Engaged Staff or other IRCC) who participated in the “gender and decision-making” training session.

Objective 3

Promoting gender-based initiatives in international fora.


A-3.1 Support gender-based initiatives in the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Migration and other agreements, fora or frameworks.

Indicators and Results

I-3.1 Number of initiatives implemented under the Global Compacts that focus specifically on gender or that directly contribute to a gender-responsive implementation of either Compact.

I-3.2 IRCC engagements in bilateral and multilateral fora where Action Plan objectives were considered.

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