Refugee Status for Fear of Being Killed by Police Based on Race: U.S. Citizen Seeks Asylum in Canada

A United States citizen applying for refugee status in Canada based on fear for his life due to his race hopes to be one of the very few refugee applicants who is granted refugee status. Whether his application will be granted will be determined on whether his fear is “well-founded.”

Photo by Pat Wellenbach (AP).

Kyle Lyndell Canty, age 30, is a United States citizen from New York, and is currently in the process of applying for refugee status in Canada.  Canty, represented himself as he argued his case on October 23, 2015, before Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board in Vancouver.  The crux of Canty’s argument was that he is “afraid of being killed by the police in [the United States] because he is black.”

Canty, who is originally from New York, has lived in six different states, and claims that he has had numerous encounters with the police – none of which have been good.  He claims that the reason behind the harassment is simply because of his African-American race.

[Canty, in his argument before Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board in Vancouver,] argued that black people in the United States are “being exterminated at an alarming rate,” due to the actions of the police.

He argued that black people in the United States are “being exterminated at an alarming rate”, due to the actions of police.  He does not feel comfortable in the presence of any United States officer.  He believes that his fears are well-founded and should be taken seriously.

Canty originally went to Canada in September as a tourist and told the border agents that he was there to take photographs.  Once he was in Vancouver, he then decided that he wanted to stay there and apply for protection as a refugee.

Usually when the word refugee is mentioned, a United States citizen as a refugee is not one that would normally come to mind.  More often than not, when you hear of individuals seeking refugee status or asylum, these are individuals are from countries experiencing the negative effects of civil wars and are seeking safety—i.e. Syria and Uganda.

The question raised in Canty’s cse is whether his fear is one that is well-founded in order for him to qualify as a refugee or for asylum.

The question raised in Canty’s case is whether his fear is one that is well-founded in order for him to qualify as a refugee or for asylum.  If his fear is one that is well founded to qualify him as a refugee or for asylum, it must be determined what process is currently in place for someone, such as Canty, in seeking refugee status as a United States Citizen?

First, we have to determine the difference between applying as a refugee and asylum. In order to apply for refugee status, one must be outside the borders of the country in which they want to seek such status.  If the individual has already made it inside the boarder of the county, they can apply for asylum status.

The second step in claiming refugee protection, is notifying a border services or immigration officer.  You will then be required to fill out several Citizen and Immigration Canada (CIC) forms and Basis of Claim Forms (BOC).   If your claim is referred to the Refugee Protection Division (RPD), you will be required to attend a hearing to explain your circumstances and tell your story.

[In] order to seek refugee status in Canada, the person must “prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country based on – race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

Next, one must demonstrate that their claim is a “well-founded” fear.  According to Melissa Anderson, a IRB spokesperson, in order to seek refugee status in Canada, the person must “prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country based on—race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

Canty told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, that he is in fear of his life and that black people are “being exterminated at an alarming rate” in the United States.  Canty argues that this is a well-founded fear, sufficient enough to qualify him to seek refugee status.

To back up his argument of his “well-founded fear,” Canty brought forward evidence that cited the police shooting of Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner in police custody.  He also submitted videos of his own interactions with the police, numerous other media reports, and the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees handbook for determining refugee status.

Canty seems to have argued a very good case to the best of his abilities through self-representation, and the evidence of his well-founded fear of persecution.  Will his case-in-chief be one that is strong enough to persuade Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board?

In 2013, there were only three United States citizens who were granted asylum in Canada.

United States citizens whom seek refugee status and asylum are very rare.  On average “no more than 10 U.S. citizens are granted asylum by the IRB in Canada each year.”  In 2013, there were only three United States citizens who were granted asylum in Canada.  This year, so far, only two out of the seventy-one applications have been granted asylum.

The low numbers of granted asylum could possibly be because, to other countries from the outside looking in, Americans are not usually seen as oppressed. But this argument could go either way depending on whom you ask.

In a 2015 survey conducted by PBS NewsHour and Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion, they asked United States Citizens—“Do African Americans and Whites have the same opportunity in equal justice?”—50% of White individuals answered “yes” and 46% answered “no.” While 11% of African-Americans answered “yes” and 87% answered “no.”  It seems as though the low numbers granted asylum have a lot to do with the high pedestal other countries place Americans on, although many United States citizens would disagree on the subject of controversial topics.

Canty’s request for asylum and refugee status—when looking at the numbers—his chances of approval are very slim, but it’s not impossible.  Last year, Canada granted asylum to Denise Harvey, a Florida woman who had been sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for having sexual relations with a sixteen-year-old.

Harvey, 47, was convicted in 2008 for “unlawful sexual activity with a minor.”  In 2009, Harvey fled to Canada with her husband and son.  In 2011, she was arrested by Canadian Police, after her arrest she sought refugee protection, “claiming her 30-year sentence was ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”  She also insisted that she did not commit any of the crimes she had been convicted of.

In Canada, sixteen is the age of consent, under the Tackling Violent Crime Act, so under Canada laws, Harvey, did nothing illegal.  In conclusion, the IRB decided that the thirty-year imprisonment Harvey was facing was “cruel and unusual punishment by Canada’s standards” and she was granted asylum.

The only thing that could possibly get in the way of Canty seeking asylum under refugee status is his criminal past.

Canty is hoping that his case will end similar to that of Denise Harvey.  He stands strong by his “well-founded fear” argument and believes that the evidence he brought fourth will be enough to persuade the IRB.  The only thing that could possibly get in the way of Canty seeking asylum under refugee status is his criminal past.

Canty reportedly acknowledges his criminal past, which includes jaywalking, issuing threats, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and being arrested for trespassing.  Canty claims that his criminal past is the result of harassment by police because of his race.  In an interview with CBC News-Canada, about his trespassing arrest, he stated, “I got bothered because I’m black. This is a history of false arrest. My name is ruined because of the false arrest.”

Canty has no intention of returning to the United States to try and clear his name of these criminal charges.

Canty has no intention of returning to the United States to try and clear his name of these criminal charges.  He tells CBC, that he is in fear of his life and that “[He] already know[s] the outcome.”

In an interview with CBC, Canty talks about the United States being corrupt because of the consistent killings of black people.  Canty is not oblivious to the fact that Canada’s criminal justice system may not be “entirely free of racial bias.”  But he thinks it will be an improvement from what he has had to deal with in the United States.  Since being in Canada, he has been able to interact with the police officers on a friendlier level and he feels comfortable in their presence.

Cases in which the individual who is seeking refugee status as a United States citizen, is mind-boggling to some and not widely accepted.  But, it seems very reasonable to the individuals that apply and to the very few that actually get granted.

There does not seem to be a trend as to who gets granted asylum or refugee status and who does not – just make sure to have a well-prepared and convincing argument.

There does not seem to be a trend as to who gets granted asylum or refugee status and who does not—just make sure to have a well-prepared and convincing argument.  All Canty can do now is wait.

If his request is approved, he can apply to be a permanent resident, but if denied, he could potentially be removed from the country.  If granted, Canty wants to own a photography business and open up a training center for martial arts.  He is currently residing at a homeless shelter in Vancouver.

If his request is not approved, he plans on going through the appeal process.

Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus
About Amaka Madu, Senior Staff Writer Emeritus (18 Articles)
Amaka Madu is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Political Science. Following her first year of law school, Amaka interned at the North Carolina Court of Appeals with Honorable Judge Tyson and during the second half of her summer, she participated in the Baylor Academy of the Advocate study abroad program in St. Andrews, Scotland. Amaka also currently serves as Secretary for Campbell University’s Black Law Student Association.
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