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Vulnerability and the Quest for Protection: A Review of Canadian Migration Case Law

Although the concept of vulnerability has become increasingly prevalent in both domestic and international migration policy in recent years, its precise meaning and implications remain ambiguous and under-examined. Without a coherent understanding of what makes individuals vulnerable, the concept can either act as a justification for additional consideration or reinforce stereotypes of disempowerment. To address this lack of clarity, this article presents the results of an extensive review of Canadian case law. Drawing on data from over 750 cases primarily from the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Federal Court of Canada, this study sought to examine how the concept of vulnerability is used by both decision-makers and parties to cases involving migrants seeking legal status and various forms of protection (including, but not limited to, asylum) under national or international law in Canada. Although an analysis of case law necessarily produces only a partial image of the landscape, this review identified two understandings of vulnerability at play: a procedural one associated with the need to ensure access to justice and a fair hearing, and a substantive one where vulnerability is linked to the categorization of particular groups. In both instances, the recognized importance of the concept is offset by its narrow and inconsistent application and a failure to acknowledge the role that the institutions and mechanisms of “protection” play in creating and perpetuating vulnerability.

Download here: (laws-11-00020.pdf)

Author: Anna Purkey