A Canadian Perspective on the Subjective Component of the Bipartite Test for "Persecution": Time for Re-Evaluation

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Canadian decision makers refer so regularly to the bipartite nature of the test for persecution in refugee claims that one rarely gives the matter a second thought. After all, the Supreme Court of Canada in Ward clearly affirmed that a refugee claimant must subjectively fear persecution, and this fear must be well-founded in an objective sense.

In this article, the authors focus on the meaning and validity of the subjective aspect of the bipartite test. It is especially appropriate to do so at this time, given the introduction of the term "person in need of protection" in section 97 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and recent Federal Court decisions holding that the subjective fear is not a requirement in section 97 cases.

Looking at the issue of subjective fear from historical, psychological, and legal perspectives, the authors argue: (a) that the drafters of the UN Convention never intended claimants to be "subjectively afraid" in order to qualify for protection; (b) determining an asylum seeker's state of mind presents a minefield of potential problems for decision makers; and (c) given the new IRPA provisions dealing with persons in need of protection, the question is not whether there is a bipartite test for determining well-founded fear, but whether, indeed, there ought to be such a test.


Les decisionnaires Canadiens font si souvent allusion au caractere bipartite du test de la persecution dans les cas de revendications du statut de refugie que l'on ne s'arrete presque jamais pour reconsiderer la chose. Apres tout, n'est-il pas vrai que la Cour supreme du Canada a affirme tres clairement, dans le cas de Ward, qu'un revendicateur doit avoir une crainte subjective de la persecution, et que cette crainte doit etre bien-fondee de facon objective?

Dans cet article, les auteurs se penchent sur le sens a donner a l'aspect subjectif du test bipartite et a sa validite. Il est tout specialement pertinent de poser ces questions dans les circonstances presentes, etant donne que le terme << personne a proteger >> a ete inclus a l'article 97 de la Loi sur l'immigration et la protection des refugies, et au vu des decisions recentes de la Cour federale declarant que la peur subjective n'est pas une condition requise dans les cas vises par l'article 97.

Examinant la question de la peur subjective du point de vue historique, psychologique et legal, les auteurs soutiennent que : (a) les auteurs de la Convention des Nations Unies n'avaient jamais voulu dire que les revendicateurs devaient << avoir une crainte subjective >> pour etre qualifies pour la protection ; (b) essayer de determiner l'etat d'esprit d'un demandeur du droit d'asile est un exercice truffe d'embuches pour les decisionnaires; et (c) vu les dispositions recentes de la LIPR concernant les personnes ayant un besoin de protection, la vraie question n'est pas de savoir s'il existe un test bipartite pour determiner la peur bien-fondee, mais plutot si un tel test doit exister.


In a recent decision, the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) accepted that a young, female claimant from Estonia had been the victim of trafficking. (1) She had been tricked into going to Italy where she thought she would find work as a domestic. Instead, her testimony was that upon arrival in Italy, she was taken and held against her will by a group of men involved in organized criminal activity. The RPD accepted the claimant's allegation that she was forced into prostitution in Italy. (2) It accepted "that the claimant was greatly traumatized by this prostitution ring". (3) It also accepted that she had "clearly run afoul of a group of criminals in Estonia," after she escaped from her captors in Italy and returned home. (4)

In a report filed at the claimant's hearing, a clinical psychologist stated that the claimant "reported a constellation of psychological and somatic symptoms that are entirely consistent with individuals who have experienced severe psychological stressors, such as forced confinement, repeated rapes, and forced prostitution. …