Court Upholds Denying Jewish Woman Refugee Status
Menu JTA Search

Court Upholds Denying Jewish Woman Refugee Status

A 65-year-old Jewish woman from Azerbaijan has lost another round in her effort to remain in Canada.

The Federal Court of Canada recently upheld a ruling by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board that denied refugee status to Antonina Grygorian on the grounds that, as a Jew, she could take advantage of Israel’s Law of Return and go to Israel instead.

“Canada’s refugee claims system is not just another quick fix to obtain landed status here,” Judge Marcel Joyal said in a six-page ruling.

“The basic principle of refugee law is to grant such status only to those requiring surrogate protection and not to those who have ready and automatic right to another country’s nationality,” the judge ruled.

The original board decision, issued more than a year ago, had alarmed immigration lawyers and Jewish communal officials, who said it could lead to resumption of the “none is too many” policy regarding Jewish immigrants that prevailed in Canada before World War II.

“If the federal court upholds this decision, there might never be a Jewish refugee in Canada again,” Irving Abella, past president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said after the original ruling.

Abella is the author of numerous books, including “None Is Too Many,” which documents Canada’s unwillingness to accept Jews in the 1920s and 1930s.

Although Grygorian has a daughter in Canada, the board ruled that she was not in genuine need of protection from persecution because such protection is available to her in Israel.

Israel is “where she has an absolute right of citizenship, where the authorities have no discretion to refuse her and where, by her own testimony, she has no fear of persecution,” the board ruled.

The board also noted that the Moscow-born woman could go to Russia, where she also has a potential, but not automatic, right of citizenship.

PAul Hardy, a spokesman for the board, said it “tries to discourage asylum shopping – looking for teh best places to go for your purposes.”

In the board’s view, “if you are indeed a refugee and you are being persecuted and in fear of your life, you should accept whatever haven is available,” he said.

Hardy said, however, that the board decision is not considered a legal precedent.

Board adjudicators “are independent decision-makers and they are not bound by this ruling,” he said.

David Matas, a Winnipeg-based immigration and refugee lawyer, said the board decision created “a lot of uncertainly and confusion” that may take years to untangle.

He added that Israel’s Law of Return applies only to Jews who willingly state an intent to immigrate there.

“It’s a matter of waiting to see whether the Canadian government is going to try to remove unwilling people to Israel, and whether the government of Israel will accept such people,” Matas said. “The sequence of events hasn’t worked itself out yet.”

If Israel won’t accept an unwilling Jewish refugee, that person “runs the risk of being deported back to his or her country of origin,” Matas said. “So the law could work in a very perverse way. It could violate the U.N. refugee convention by returning people fearing persecution back to the country of danger.”

Perry Romberg, acting director of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society of Canada, was among Jewish communal officials scrambling to make sense of the federal court ruling.

“It’s not just an immigration issue, it’s a larger issue for the Jewish community,” Romberg said.

“It almost feels like we’re being excluded from the benefits of the law because of the existence of the State of Israel,” he said.

“Does this ruling imply that Jewish refugees no longer have the option of Canada? We don’t know of any other community that has been singled out in this way.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund