Does absence of corroborating documentation has impact on refugee crediblity?
A family of four, who are citizens of Mexico, had applied for refugee status in Canada. They claim to have been victims of physical abuse, threats, and harassment by Triana Aguirre's husband, who is associated with a drug cartel in Mexico. The abuse started in 2003 and escalated in December 2005 when the husband assaulted and attempted to rape Triana Aguirre's sister. Triana Aguirre and her family fled to her mother's house but were unable to retrieve their belongings and found their family dog shot dead with a warning message on the wall. They then fled to Juarez, Chihuahua, but faced more violence, including a pistol-whipping of Triana Aguirre's son by her husband. They ultimately arrived in Canada on January 13, 2006, seeking refugee status. However, the Immigration and Refugee Board denied their claim, and they are seeking a judicial review of that decision.
They are seeking a judicial review of a decision made by the Immigration and Refugee Board that determined they were not convention refugees or persons in need of protection. The Board found inconsistencies, omissions, and speculations in their testimony, which led to questions of credibility. The Board noted that some individuals in abusive relationships may have difficulties leaving their partners, but found that the delay in efforts to obtain documents was due to a lack of interest in pursuing their refugee claim. The Board also considered omissions and discrepancies in the port-of-entry notes, including the failure to mention taking refuge at the mother's residence or the assault on the son. Finally, the Board considered the allegation that shots were fired at the principal applicant's vehicle to be speculative.
The two issues in question are whether the Board erred in basing its credibility assessment on the absence of corroborating documentation and in not considering the applicants’ explanation for the absence, and whether the Board erred in making a credibility finding by relying on omissions and discrepancies in the port-of-entry notes. The standard of review for this application is reasonableness, as questions of fact and credibility are within the expertise of the Board and thus attract a high standard of deference.
The applicants had fled Mexico because they were the victims of domestic violence, and they claimed they feared persecution if they returned. However, the IRB did not accept their claim because they could not produce some specific documents, including denunciations made to the authorities, a medical report, and a public denunciation made in a local newspaper.
While the absence of corroborating documentation may be a valid consideration for a board to undertake, the failure to provide such documents cannot be the sole basis for impugning credibility. The applicants are presumed to be telling the truth in an IRB hearing, and the absence of documentation cannot be related to their credibility if there is no evidence to contradict their claims. The Board, however, seemed to have focused on the applicants' failure to provide documentation as its primary basis for finding them not credible. The Board's credibility analysis began with the applicants' failure to provide the requested documents, and it went on to find the explanations provided by the applicants for their delay and lack of success in securing documentation unsatisfactory. The Board concluded that the applicants had demonstrated a lack of interest in pursuing their claim for refugee status, and it drew a negative inference as to their credibility.
Federal Court stated that the applicants had fled Mexico within a month and had relocated twice before departing the country. This situation resulted in the principal applicant's self-alienation from her past in Mexico. These factors may have made it difficult for the applicants to provide the requested documentation.
The Federal Court found that the Board erred in basing its credibility assessment solely on the absence of corroborating documentation and not considering the applicants' explanation for the absence. The applicants are presumed to be telling the truth in an IRB hearing, and the Board should have considered whether there was evidence to contradict their claims rather than focusing on their failure to provide specific documents. The court found that the Board should have given more weight to the applicants' explanation for the lack of corroborating documentation, considering the difficult circumstances under which they fled Mexico.
"Triana Aguirre v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2008 FC 571"