The Paradox of Refugee Protection in Canada: Law and Bureaucratic Politics of Efficiency
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Over the course of the past few decades, access to refugee rights has been both expanded and restricted across the liberal democratic world. On the one hand, groups that previously had no ground for protection, such as domestically-abused women and sexual minorities, are now commonly considered legitimate refugees by liberal states. On the other hand, access to refugee systems and rights in the liberal world has become increasingly more restricted. This dissertation takes Canada as the site of its study to examine the paradoxical developments in access to refugee protection in the past thirty years. I draw on archival, interview, media and organizational data to argue that the Canadian refugee protection regime is a dynamic, complex and conflictual articulation of an expansionist and humanitarian impetus as well as a pragmatic and restrictionist compulsion. I suggest that these contradictory impulses are symptomatic of the paradoxical project of state-controlled refugee protection: the paradox of ensuring universal equality of rights through the exclusionary mechanisms of the nation-state. I further argue that the Canadian regime of refugee protection remains relatively stable despite its internal contradictions, by placing its conflictual impulses in systematic and structural arrangements. First, while expansions are primarily, although not exclusively, achieved in the field of legislation and jurisprudence, restrictions are, in large part, accomplished in administrative and bureaucratic fields. Second, while expansions in refugee rights emerge around tightly bounded categories of Convention refugees, gender-based claimants, and sexual orientation and gender identity refugees, restrictions concern ever-shifting, institutionally manufactured, and often nationally demarcated groups of excludable claimants. I suggest that these articulated arrangements maintain state-controlled refugee protection in place despite its internal paradoxes and keep refugee protection a promise that is never fully fulfilled.