York University marks Refugee Rights Day, April 4

York University will host a celebration of Refugee Rights Day in Canada on Thursday, April 4 from 12 to 2:30 p.m. in Room 014 (McLaughlin College Junior Common Room), McLaughlin College Building, Keele Campus. The event includes a panel discussion, reception and the launch of an art exhibit.

The panel, which will lead off the event will feature speakers discussing the origins and contemporary relevance of Refugee Rights Day and refugee policy in Canada. As part of their comments, they will reflect on their engagement in refugee activism while at York University. The panel will feature:

  • Human Rights and Refugee Lawyer Geraldine Sadoway,
  • John Carlaw, project lead, York University Syria Response and Refugee Initiative (SRRI) and a Graduate Fellow at the Centre for Refugee Studies,
  • Humaima Ashfaque, student ambassador, SRRI, and the Refugee Initiative & Student Refugee Program Coordinator, World University Service Canada (WUSC) Keele Campus Committee,
  • Edwar Dommar, a member of Amnesty International at York, WUSC Keele and a Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge Volunteer.

The panel will be chaired by Michaela Hynie, professor in the Faculty of Health and the Centre for Refugee Studies.

Members of the panel. From left, John Carlaw, Edward Dommar, Humaima Ashfaque and Michaela Hynie (Chair)

The event will also acknowledge the efforts of York-based refugee sponsors and students engaged in refugee issues through as well as York’s long-standing World University Service Canada (WUSC) local committees and the University’s Syria Response and Refugee Initiative (SRRI), which is a Syrian refugee resettlement and education project (2015-19) hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies. (SSRI is concluding this month).

The day holds special significance for the two York undergraduate student panellists who have been heavily engaged in refugee support and human rights advocacy.

“Refugee Rights Day is an extremely important event to me because, I am a newcomer to Canada who arrived two years ago and I know how difficult it could be for refugees to integrate into a new country, adapt to a new culture and to have their rights and opinions respected,” says Dommar. “This day is also very special as it allows me to reflect on all my experiences and my contributions to the (SRRI) project.”

“As a Student Refugee Program Coordinator at WUSC Keele Committee, it is important for the community to provide safe space for refugee youth on campus, as it makes the refugee youth feel safe and welcomed,” says Ashfaque. “Working with the Refugees Welcome Here! Campaign, it clearly sends the message that we are supporting refugees and working strongly alongside them,” she adds. “The campaign advocates for welcoming communities through fighting fiction with facts and publicly advocating for fairness for refugees.”

Geraldine Sadoway

For her contribution to the panel, Sadoway will discuss the Singh decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on April 4, 1985, which she regards as “Canada’s ‘persons case’ for refugees,” as well as the decision’s contemporary importance.

The event also marks the formal launch at 2 p.m. of the mixed media exhibition The Road Less Travelled. The launch will begin with remarks from Nergis Canefe, a professor of political science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Canefe is also affiliated with the Centre for Refugee Studies. The Road Less Travelled will be displayed in the McLaughlin College Art Gallery (001 McLaughlin College) throughout the month of April.

James Simeon
James Simeon

“We commemorate Refugee Rights Day in Canada each year to reflect on the significance and importance of ‘everyone’s’ most fundamental human rights as found in Section 7 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person,” says McLaughlin College Head and Professor James Simeon, who will deliver welcoming and opening remarks along with Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Interim Dean JJ McMurtry. 

“This meant ‘everyone’ who is on Canadian soil, that is, all persons were protected by the Charter, including, refugees,” adds Simeon.

Jennifer Hyndman

“Given the asylum seekers currently walking across the US-Canada border to make a claim (not at ports of entry), the importance of the Singh decision and its protections 35 years on is key,” adds Centre for Refugee Studies Director Jennifer Hyndman.

As part of his remarks, Carlaw will speak about evolving policies surrounding refugee resettlement in Canada and the project’s work in partnership with the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge through which 10 York groups have sponsored Syrian refugees to come to Canada.

“Though there remains a tremendous amount still to be done in a world where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are a record 68.5 million people displaced globally, and there are few spots for resettlement, it’s an honour and it is important to mark the contributions our sponsor groups have made, as well as the Keele and Glendon WUSC committees whose work will continue,” says Carlaw. “It’s especially important to thank and recognize the many student groups and leaders who are positively leading the way and will be doing so for years to come.”

This event is hosted by McLaughlin College, the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) and its Syria Response and Refugee Initiative, with co-sponsors the Department of Sociology and Centre for Public Policy (Osgoode Hall Law School), York University.

York’s event is also part of a series events organized by the Toronto Refugee Rights Month Planning Committee, a group organizing and highlighting a month-long series of events. At the coalition’s request, the City of Toronto has agreed to recognize April as Refugee Rights Month.