Determining eligibility: Assessing credibility
This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.
Applicants rarely present documentary evidence in support of a claim of persecution. Officers will have to rely on their judgment and knowledge to determine whether a claim is credible. The standard of proof when assessing the facts of a refugee claim is based on the balance of probabilities, that is >50% or more likely than not. The “legal test” to establish the risk of persecution (i.e. whether there is a “well-founded fear”), is “reasonable chance” (<50% or serious possibility). The threshold for both is higher than “mere possibility”.
In other words, the Convention refugee applicant must establish the facts underlying their claim of persecution on a balance of probabilities, but need only show that there is a reasonable chance that they would face persecution in the future.
The applicant should receive the benefit of the doubt
Given the nature of the refugee experience, it is hardly possible for a refugee to “prove” every part of their story. Therefore, it is frequently necessary to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.
It is important to consider the story in the totality of the circumstances in order to establish a standard of reasonableness. The officer should maintain an objective and open mind when hearing the applicant’s story and when, subsequently, evaluating the evidence provided by the applicant.
Officers should be well-informed when evaluating credibility
The credibility of the applicant has to be evaluated in light of what is generally known about the conditions and laws in the applicant’s country of origin, as well as the experiences of persons in similar situations in that country. However, if this extrinsic information will be used to question or refute the refugee’s story, the source and information must be provided to the refugee and the applicant must be given the opportunity to address these concerns.
Note: Visa officers are entitled to make findings based on inferences and plausibility. However, there is a difference between reasonable inference and pure conjecture (a mere guess). An inference is a deduction from the evidence (e.g. reliable country of origin information), and if it is a reasonable deduction, it may have the validity of legal proof. In a series of judgements, the Federal Court of Canada made it clear that if the applicant presents documentary evidence, this evidence must be reviewed to measure the plausibility of the applicant’s story against what is known about the conditions in the country where the claim arose. In addition, while doing this examination, officers must be careful not to judge actions which appear implausible from Canadian standards (see Ghirmatsion v. Canada (MCI), 2011 FC 519). Such actions might be plausible when considered within the claimant’s milieu.
Clearly identify areas where credibility is in question
If an application is refused essentially because of a lack of credibility, clear reasons must be given and these must be linked to the program requirements. Those aspects of the story that appear not to be credible must be clearly identified and the reasons for such conclusions must be clearly articulated.
Address applicant with credibility concerns
Applicants should be questioned about the contradictions in their story. Moreover, any explanation provided by the applicant should be addressed by the officer and they must consider whether the explanation is reasonable in all circumstances. Also, any unresolved inconsistency or concerns regarding an explanation are to be raised by the officer.
Note: The Federal Court held that this examination by the visa officer must hold up to a standard of a “probing examination”, which includes justification, transparency and intelligibility. Therefore, if credibility concerns arise, for example the officer does not believe the applicant belongs to a certain region or a certain group, the officer should ask a series of probing questions and follow-up questions. The officer must then record clearly all his/her questions, follow-up questions and the applicant’s answers in the case notes (see Ghirmatsion v. Canada (MCI), 2011 FC 519).
Do not show undue eagerness in attempting to find contradictions
Officers should not be over-vigilant by microscopically examining the applicant. This is especially so where an interpreter is being used. Officers must not search through the evidence looking for inconsistencies or for evidence that lacks credibility thereby “building a case” against the applicant’s credibility.
Avoid relying on demeanour as a measure of credibility
The demeanour of the applicant (the comportment, attitude or behaviour of the applicant during the interview) is not an infallible guide to assess whether the truth is told; it is often an unreliable measure of credibility. Individual personality traits or cultural differences could cause the applicant to give a misleading impression. Nervousness, trauma or even cultural differences may play a role in creating confusion or misunderstandings. All of these characteristics have to be taken into account when assessing the credibility of the applicant.
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