2016 is ending and we can collectively agree it’s been a shitty year. Cops are spying on journalists, our Prime Minister has turned his back on the young people who elected him, comedians are being punished for their jokes, and icons from Prince to Bowie to Muhammad Ali to Carrie Fisher have left us. In the legal world it’s been an ongoing ugly parade and with the year FINALLY coming to an end, it’s time for a recap of some of the major legal issues affecting us this past year.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

The ongoing crisis in Aleppo has led to tons of refugees fleeing Syria. Unlike the US where debates regarding the refugee crisis were fraught with concerns about terrorism and an emphasis on keeping victims of Aleppo out, the Trudeau government took the moral high ground and pledged to welcome twenty-five thousand Syrian refugees. The Canadian government ended up going above and beyond this pledge and have thus far taken in thirty-eight thousand seven hundred and thirteen Syrian refugees.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

On February 3, 2016, Federal Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Canada’s behalf. Canada’s participation in the treaty was negotiated by the Harper government before its colossal defeat by the Liberals in 2015. Whether Parliament ratifies the agreement thus legally binding Canada remains to be seen.

Uber Crisis

Montreal taxi protest (photo Chris Zacchia)

Quebec cities were rife with cab drivers protesting Uber, a car service that is not bound by the ridiculous and expensive rules that must be obeyed by taxi drivers and company owners that specify everything from pricing and car specs to what the driver wears. In September 2016 Uber made a deal with the Quebec government which included Uber acquiring 300 taxi permits and obliging drivers to get a class 4C license and insurance. With the cab industry in Montreal already flooded, it remains to be seen whether this tentative deal will create peace between taxi companies and Uber.

Panama Papers

In April 2016 the decryption of the Panama Papers revealed the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to have helped many of the world’s wealthiest people hide their assets from governments. Those named included terrorists, CEOs, politicians, and athletes. Canadian tycoon and political wannabe Kevin O’Leary is dismissive of the papers, possibly because he too is hiding wealth from Canadian taxpayers for his own benefit.

Anti-Vaxxers and Naturopathic Remedies

David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life for failing to get their son medical attention for bacterial meningitis. As the Stephans are anti-vaxxers distrustful of modern medicine, their 19-month old boy Ezekiel was instead treated with echinacea, garlic, onions, hot peppers and horseradish. By the time he was brought to a hospital it was too late and the boy died. David Stephan has since been sentenced to 4 months in prison while Collet to 3 months of house arrest. They have been ordered to bring their kids to a medical doctor once a year and a nurse every 3 months.


Quebec Culture Minister Hélène David announced modifications to Quebec language laws that would force businesses with trademarked non-French names to add French to their signs. Though the proposal is clearly in retaliation for the government’s legal defeat against Best Buy in 2014, it remains to be seen whether the changes will go through in a province exhausted and fed up with language and cultural debates.

Ghomeshi Verdict

In May 2016 former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi signed a peace bond to settle a sexual assault trial. Though for many this is a slap on the wrist, his former victim Kathryn Borel celebrated the bond as a public acknowledgment of Ghomeshi’s guilt. The 12 month long bond guarantees Ghomeshi will go to prison should he violate its terms and does not limit the prosecution from going after him for other sexual assaults.

Mike Ward

Mike Ward (photo Cem Ertekin)

In July 2016 Montreal Comedian Mike Ward was ordered to pay $42 000 to a disabled kid and his mother for making fun of him in one of his jokes. The verdict, which Ward has sworn to appeal, has turned the Quebec Human Rights Commission from a means of social justice to one of censorship. No one has questioned why the kid went after Ward and not the bullies who used his joke to hurt him, but it’s likely due to Ward’s celebrity status and wealth.

Pitbull Ban

Following the death of a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman after she was mauled by a dog, the City of Montreal has adopted a ban on dangerous breeds. The ban is hugely unpopular and has resulted in protests, the latest being the SPCA’s refusal to take in dogs following the Quebec Court of Appeal’s reinstatement of the ban after the Superior Court overturned it.

STM Fines

On September 7, 2016 the Municipal Court of Montreal ruled that fines given by STM rent-a-cops to people unable to produce their transfer is unconstitutional. The STM has vowed to appeal the decision.

Judge Robin Camp

In November 2016, Judge Robin Camp was recommended for removal from the bench by the Canadian Judicial Council following an inquiry into his conduct during a rape trial. Though the judge promised to reform, his behavior demonstrated such contempt for victims of sexual assault the Council ruled no amount of sensitivity training would repair his damage to the judiciary’s reputation.

Seafood and Civil Liability

In May 2016 Simon-Pierre Canuel ingested salmon at a bistro in Sherbrooke sending him into anaphylactic shock. He is now suing the restaurant and waiters for $415,000 though his negligence regarding his food allergy and rumours that he has tried to scam restaurants in the past make it unlikely he will get the full amount.

This past year has been full of legal debates that are as fascinating as they are numerous and outrageous. For every dispute brought before courts and councils we come closer to what we all strive for: a just society.

In 2017, let’s aim for just that.

With the escalation of the conflict in Syria, the developed world has faced increasing pressure to accept the ensuing refugees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has used the refugee crisis as an opportunity to reestablish Canada’s reputation as a country of compassion and generosity, a reputation that faltered under Stephen Harper.

The Liberal government pledged to accept twenty five thousand Syrian refugees by February 2016. All of Canada watched as our Prime Minister greeted some of them at the airport with coats.

Though a poll conducted for Global News claimed that fifty four percent of Canadians support the federal government’s plan, there have been concerns about the toll refugees will take on our country’s already overstretched health and social services and the security risk new arrivals will bring.

Canada’s refugee system is governed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), the , and the UN Convention against Torture. These rules set parameters with regards to who can claim asylum in Canada and for what reasons. According to the IRPA, if a person has a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, they can apply for asylum in Canada.

Though neither the IRPA nor the Convention on the Status of Refugees mention gender or LGBTI status directly as a basis for an asylum claim, asylum has been granted by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada on such grounds as lawmakers interpret “a particular social group” as including them. The Trudeau government has even gone insofar as to specify that women and LGBTI people (which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people) will be considered as low security, vulnerable refugees along with complete families and will be prioritized under Canada’s plan.

The cost of an asylum application is free. Processing of claims generally takes about two months, though there are exceptions. If you come from a country Canada considers safe such as Mexico, you can get a hearing with the Immigration and Refugee Board in as little as one month.

trudeau refugees

Refugees are meticulously screened to make sure they don’t pose a security risk, and anyone found to have violated human or international rights and/or been convicted of a crime that in Canada would result in a sentence of ten years or more is considered inadmissible.

They are also required to provide proof of a medical exam. If the exam shows that their condition would put Canadians at risk and/or make them an undue burden on the health care system, they risk the denial of their application.

According to Émilie Le Huy, a Montreal based attorney who occasionally handles refugee cases, refugee claims are decided on the basis of four criteria:

  1. The personal credibility of the claimant, which will be established by an interview with immigration officials, and through the examination of all previous declarations made at the border or airport. In addition, claimants have to provide proof of identity, and failure to do so could result in their being detained until their identity can be confirmed.
  2. Whether the person has genuine fear of persecution or cruel and unusual treatment or punishment based on the aforementioned reasons.
  3. Whether or not the person asked for help from the authorities of their home country. That means that the Refugee Board will look at whether the claimant went to the police or other law enforcement for help. If going to the authorities in the claimant’s home country is impossible because, for example, the home government is the one doing the persecuting, it will be up to the claimant to prove it.
  4. Flight alternatives. This means that if there is somewhere other than Canada that a claimant could go, Canadian immigration officials will ask why the claimant didn’t go there. This is particularly common in cases where the claimant has dual citizenship. If there’s somewhere else a refugee claimant can go in order to be safe from the persecution they fear, the authorities will encourage him to go there instead.

Though these four criteria are important, it’s the question of credibility that rules the day. Asylum claims are decided by a single administrative judge who is a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. If the judge doesn’t believe you, you won’t be granted asylum.

Opportunities for appeal are limited. A claimant can file a judicial review with the Federal Court of Canada and some can file an appeal with the Refugee Appeal Division.

The Federal Court of Canada looks at requests for review with one criterion: reasonability. If they decide the rejection of the asylum claim by the Refugee Board was a reasonable one, they’ll respect the Board’s decision and maintain the rejection.

If the Refugee Appeal Division agrees to look at your case, they can do it with or without a hearing, and can examine only evidence from the first claim. The only new evidence the Appeal Division is allowed to look at is that which was not reasonably available or obtainable when the first claim was rejected.

Whether your claim is rejected by the Appeal Division or the Federal Court, the result is the same: you have to leave Canada (if you made the request from within the country) or remain in your home country. You’re free to file a refugee claim elsewhere, but it’s going to be tough because governments tend to take into account previous refugee claims when assessing applications for asylum.

Despite the government’s pledge to help refugees, the focus seems solely on helping those fleeing Syria. Those not targeted by the government’s plan find themselves at the mercy of immigration judges who seem to go into refugee hearings prepared to disbelieve and discredit those fleeing everything from gay bashing to domestic abuse. To all those knitting tuques and offering free language tutoring to those unsafe at home and desperate, now is the time to remember that refugees don’t just come from Syria.