In 1999, during the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, the political cartoonist of the Winnipeg Free Press drew a cartoon depicting the pictographs for major sports. It included the symbols for seven real sports and added a new one: a runner carrying a suitcase. He labeled it “defections.”
Making a refugee claim during a major sporting event is not a new phenomenon in Canada. There have been spectators and participants who have made refugee claims at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg in 1967 and, again, in 1999; at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, at the Victoria Commonwealth Games in 1994 and at the Francophone Games, hosted by Ottawa and Hull in 2001. Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canada Border Service Agency officials plan for the likelihood of claims being made and have procedures in place to deal with such cases.
So the news that four people who came to Canada, ostensibly to watch the Vancouver Olympics, have made refugee claims should not come as a shock to anyone. Canada is an exceedingly attractive country to most people in the world and the opportunity to come to Canada is an opportunity to try to stay.
The Immigration and Refugee Board reports that some thirty six thousand refugee claims were filed in 2008-09. Given the thousands of athletes and officials and hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Olympics, it is almost a statistical certainty that some refugee claims would be made. Some might be legitimate and others may not be.
It is the job of the Immigration and Refugee Board to decide which are well-founded claims and which are not and due process will take its course. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Canada is generally obliged to hear all refugee claims made within her territory.
Some may say, we should keep all potential claimants out of Canada, but that is an impossible task, unless we close our border to all visitors and never hold an international sporting event. Indeed, Section 53 of the Olympic Charter requires countries to accept the Olympic identity and accreditation card as “a document which establishes the identity of its holder and confers upon the latter the right to take part in the Olympic Games.
Together with a passport or other official travel documents of the holder, the Olympic identity and accreditation card authorises entry into the country of the host city. It allows the holder to stay and perform his Olympic function for the duration of the Olympic Games, including a period not exceeding one month before and one month after the Olympic Games.”
So the price of holding the Olympics is allowing the International Olympic Committee to decide which athletes and officials come into Canada for a period of up to two months. If a few of the participants or visiting spectators make a refugee claim, let’s not get too excited about it.
They are really paying Canada the ultimate compliment!
Posted By: Robert Vineberg