A Dangerous Step Backwards: The Implications of Conditional Permanent Resident Status for Sponsored Immigrant Women in Abusive Relationships

Pam Hrick

Abstract


Canadian jurists and policy makers have recognized that domestic violence is pervasive across economic, social, and cultural classes in Canada.2 Through the development of jurisprudence, such as in Lavallee, and reform to the criminal law, such as the institution of a prohibition on spousal rape, they have also acknowledged the ways in which some of the laws of this country have failed to protect or offer legal recourse to women who are in relationships of violence.

This paper argues that the federal government’s recent proposal to create a conditional permanent resident status for certain sponsored immigrants has the potential to fall into a category of laws that fails to protect women in abusive relationships. The intention of the federal government to affect this change to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations3 was first announced in the Canada Gazette in March 2011,4 with the proposed regulatory text being published in March 2012.5 This measure is situated in the context of significant reforms that are changing the landscape of Canada’s immigration policies. Initiatives such as the imposition of a five-year bar on sponsored individuals sponsoring family members to come to Canada6 are affecting the rights and privileges formerly afforded to this group of individuals.

It is essential to examine the context of the abuse of immigrant women in intimate partner relationships in order to understand the effects that conditional permanent residence may have on sponsored immigrant women.7 Part I of this paper explores some of the factors that contribute to the particular vulnerability of immigrant women to domestic abuse. Part II briefly examines how Canada’s current immigration laws, far from protecting women from abuse, operate to discourage immigrant women sponsored as spouses or partners from leaving abusive relationships. It is in this context that the federal government has recently proposed to create a conditional permanent resident status, which is outlined in Part III, for certain sponsored spouses and partners in an attempt to deter marriage fraud within the immigration system. Part IV assesses the possible impact of this status in light of the rights guaranteed to immigrant women under sections 7 and 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.8 This analysis will demonstrate the potential for conditional status to further exacerbate the already heightened vulnerability immigrant women experience with respect to domestic violence. It will also highlight issues that the federal government will need to address if it chooses to move forward with its proposal.

Taking into consideration the context in which conditional permanent residence would be implemented, as well its possible effects, the federal government should abandon this proposal. Alternatively, if the government is determined to move forward with this measure, it should carefully consider the effects conditional status will likely have on immigrant women in abusive relationships.


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