Author: Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB
Last Updated On: June 17, 2024

Does Canadian Citizenship Cancel Refugee Status?

Cancellation of Refugee Status Because of Citizenship

Fatima, a 43-year-old Afghan woman, filed a refugee claim in Canada and eventually became a proud Canadian citizen. Now, Fatima wonders if her citizenship cancels her refugee status and if she remains protected in Canada. This article explores the intricate relationship between Canadian citizenship and refugee status.

Who is a Protected Person in Canada?

A protected person in Canada has successfully claimed refugee status. When Canada accepts a refugee claim, the claimant becomes a protected person. This status provides safety and protection from persecution or danger in the claimant’s home country. Most protected persons can apply for permanent residence. The process of protection could be the outcome of refugee resettlement, refugee claims in Canada (IRB decisions), or PRRA applications.

Moreover, there are two main categories of protected persons: Convention refugees and persons needing protection. Convention refugees fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group membership. Persons in need of protection face a risk of torture, risk to life, or risk of cruel and unusual treatment if they return to their home country.

I encourage you to read my other article on Protected Persons in Canada for a detailed explanation of protected person status.

Who is a Canadian Citizen?

Canadian citizenship can be granted in two primary ways: by birth or naturalization. First, those born in Canada automatically receive citizenship (exceptions exist). This rule applies if you are born abroad to at least one Canadian parent.

Second, naturalization is the process for immigrants. One can become a naturalized citizen after meeting residency requirements and passing a citizenship test. This includes demonstrating knowledge of Canada and proficiency in English or French. For example, a typical refugee claimant receives protection. They will then apply for permanent residency. Eventually, they could apply for citizenship to become naturalized citizens.

Canadian citizens enjoy various rights, such as voting and obtaining a passport. Citizenship also entails responsibilities, like obeying laws and participating in the democratic process.

For a detailed comparison, read my article on naturalized versus born citizens.

Cessation and Vacation of Refugee Status

Sometimes, a person could lose their refugee claim because of Cessation or Vacation. Let’s explore these two concepts.

Cessation of Refugee Status

Cessation refers to the end of a person’s refugee protection status. Under section 108 of IRPA, refugee protection ceases when certain conditions are met, such as:

  • Voluntarily re-availing oneself of the protection of the country of nationality.
  • Re-acquiring nationality.
  • Acquiring a new nationality and enjoying the protection of the country of that new nationality.
  • Re-establishing oneself in the country one left or outside of which one remained owing to fear of persecution.
  • The reasons for which the person sought refugee protection have ceased to exist.

Consequences of Cessation: When refugee protection ceases, the individual may lose their status as a protected person. This could lead to loss of permanent resident status and potential removal from Canada.

Vacation of Refugee Status

Vacation is the process of nullifying a previous decision that granted refugee protection. Under section 109 of the IRPA, the Minister can apply to vacate the decision if it was obtained through misrepresentation or withholding of material facts.

Consequences of Vacation: If the refugee status is vacated, it is as though the individual was never granted protection. This results in the immediate loss of refugee protection and related benefits, such as permanent resident status. The person becomes subject to removal from Canada.

Loss of Refugee Status Because of Citizenship under IRPA

Paragraph 108(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) states that refugee protection ends when a person acquires a new nationality and enjoys that country’s security.

A108(1)(c) A claim for refugee protection shall be rejected, and a person is not a Convention refugee or a person in need of protection in any of the following circumstances: the person has acquired a new nationality and enjoys the protection of the country of that new nationality;

This section implies that Canadian citizenship terminates a person’s refugee status. The rationale is that the person no longer needs international protection. They now have the security and rights provided by Canadian citizenship. However, this section is for the cessation of refugee protection. In other words, it advises the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to reject a person’s refugee status if they acquire citizenship of a country. Does this section also mean Canadian citizenship automatically cancels a person’s protected status?

Insights from Canada v. Zaric and Canaj v. Canada

The case of Canada v. Zaric (2015 FC 837 (CanLII), [2016] 1 FCR 407) provides significant insights into refugee status and Canadian citizenship. Zaric became a Canadian citizen but had allegedly committed crimes in Bosnia. The Minister sought to vacate his refugee status, claiming misrepresentation.

The Federal Court held that refugee status does not automatically end upon acquiring Canadian citizenship. Section 109 of IRPA allows the Minister to vacate refugee status even after citizenship is granted. This decision emphasizes that Canadian citizenship does not nullify previous refugee protection without due process.

Similarly, in Canaj v. Canada (2024 FC 173 (CanLII)), the applicants argued against the jurisdiction of the Refugee Protection Division after becoming Canadian citizens. However, the court upheld the RPD’s jurisdiction, referencing Zaric. The court clarified that citizenship does not inherently protect against vacation hearings under section 109 of IRPA.

These decisions affirm that Canadian citizenship does not automatically cancel refugee status when the Minister applies to vacate a person’s refugee status because of misrepresentation.

In his 2016 commentary “Is Canadian Citizenship a ‘clean slate’?“, Felipe Morales argues that Judge Fothergill’s reasoning in Zaric creates legal ambiguities. Citizenship should grant a “clean slate,” but the decision suggests otherwise. This stance undermines the stability and equal status of naturalized citizens. Morales contends that this legal approach devalues the naturalization process and could require cancelling refugee status before revoking citizenship. This interpretation may create a precedent that complicates the clear legal status of Canadian citizens who were formerly refugees.

Exploring the Ontario Court of Appeal’s Point of View

The Ontario Court of Appeal held a distinct view in Canada (Attorney General) v. Villanueva-Vera (2012 ONCA 657 (CanLII)). This case involved a refugee who became a Canadian citizen. The court ruled that refugee status ceases upon acquiring Canadian citizenship. They reasoned that citizenship grants full protection under Canadian laws. Hence, the need for international protection ends. The court emphasized that the rationale for refugee protection disappears when one gains a new nationality and its protection. This perspective supports a clear termination of refugee status upon naturalization, contrasting with the Federal Court’s view in Zaric.

Conclusion: Synthesizing Court Decisions on Refugee Status and Citizenship

The most recent case, Canaj v. Canada, reinforces that refugee status can still be reviewed for vacation even after acquiring citizenship. This decision aligns with the Federal Court’s stance in Zaric, asserting that refugee protection does not automatically cease with citizenship. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Villanueva-Vera held that refugee status ends upon naturalization. These differing views highlight ongoing legal debates. Ultimately, the latest Canaj decision suggests a broader interpretation, allowing for refugee status reviews post-citizenship, emphasizing that Canadian citizenship does not create an absolute shield against vacation hearings.

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    • Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness) v. Zaric, 2015 FC 837 (CanLII), [2016] 1 FCR 407.
    • Canaj v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2024 FC 173 (CanLII).
    • Canada (Attorney General) v. Villanueva-Vera, 2012 ONCA 657 (CanLII).
    • Felipe Morales, “Is Canadian Citizenship a ‘clean slate’?”
    • Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)

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    Al ParsaiAl Parsai, LLM, MA, RCIC-IRB
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    Adjunct Professor – Queen’s University – Faculty of Law
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB

    Al Parsai is a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University (Osgood Hall Law School). A respected member of CICC, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.