Canada: Saudi Arabian Refugee Fleeing Gender Discrimination Allowed to Remain in Canada

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1 Feb 1993

The Saudi Arabian woman known publicly as "Nada," has been authorized by the Canadian Employment and Immigration Minister Bernard Valcourt to request permanent residence status in Canada. Nada arrived in Canada on April 5, 1991 seeking asylum as a refugee on the basis of gender discrimination she faced in her home country. On September 24, 1991 the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board ruled that Nada was not a refugee. In writing the decision, Commissioner Louis Dorion of the Immigration and Refugee Board suggested that Nada would "do well to comply with the laws of general application she criticizes... or to show consideration for the feelings of her father who, like all the members of his large family, were opposed to the liberalism of his daughter...."

The laws in question are discriminatory on the basis of sex and therefore inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, under which Canada is obligated to condemn discrimination against women in all forms and to pursue by all means the elimination of such discrimination. Discrimination against women is also prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Saudi Arabia, women are subject to strictly enforced codes of dress which provide that in public a woman must always cover her head, face and body. Women must also be accompanied in public at all times by a man or boy of the household. For her commitment to independence and equality, Nada was persecuted in Saudi Arabia by almost constant ridicule, threats of violence, and violence.

For over a year, Nada has lived in hiding in Canada under constant threat of arrest and deportation to Saudi Arabia. Minister Valcourt's decision will allow her to remain in Canada and give her a chance to resume a normal life. In announcing his decision, Minister Valcourt noted his concern for the international reputation of Canada with respect to human rights. He also announced that the Commission of Immigration and Refugee Status will soon issue guidelines for the consideration of women who fear persecution based on their gender as refugees. Minister Valcourt noted Canada's support in 1985 for the ruling of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees that states are free to adopt the interpretation that women asylum-seekers who face persecution due to having transgressed social mores of the society in which they live may be considered as a "particular social group." The UN definition of refugee is a person unwilling to return to his or her country owing to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to and/or call Mr. Bernard Valcourt, the Canadian Employment and Immigration Minister, welcoming his intervention on behalf of Nada and his broader efforts to address the issue of refugee status on grounds of gender discrimination. Letters, faxes, and telephone calls should be directed to:

The Honorable Bernard Valcourt
Minister of Employment and Immigration
140 Promenade du Portage, Phase IV, 14th Floor
Hull, Québec, K1A 0J9
Telephone: 819-994-2482
Fax: 819-994-0448