Jump directly to the Content


Refugee Board Criticized for Testing Religious Knowledge

Canadian federal judge says a religious refugee’s knowledge “cannot be equated to faith.”

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) is under fire once again for its treatment of applicants for religious refugee status.

Haixhin Zhang applied for refugee protection in 2008 after coming to Canada from China the year before on a traveler's visa. He claimed he was first introduced to Christianity in China in 2005; he first joined a church while he was in Canada.

At Zhang's hearing, IRB adjudicator Leonard Favreau ruled Zhang joined a church in Canada to support a fraudulent refugee claim because Zhang only knew the names of two of Jesus' apostles, two of the gospels, and one prayer—the Lord's Prayer, which he recited incorrectly.

Federal judge Douglas Campbell recently ruled the IRB should abandon its policy of testing the religious knowledge of applicants like Zhang. Campbell called the policy "fundamentally flawed" and sent Zhang's case back to the IRB to be reviewed by another adjudicator.

"First, religious knowledge cannot be equated to faith," Campbell said at the hearing. "And second, the quality and quantity of religious knowledge necessary to prove faith is unverifiable."

Campbell also pointed out the IRB's questioning allows adjudicators to be their own experts, making the practice "highly subjective" and open to abuse.

This is far from the first time the IRB has been rebuked for its religious quizzes. Last September, the IRB was rebuked by the Federal Court of Canada after another adjudicator denied refugee status to a Catholic Chinese immigrant in part because the applicant did not know the name of Jesus' grandmother and said the Communion elements were a representation of Jesus' body (instead of the actual body). His case was also sent back for a hearing in front of another adjudicator.

Recently the Federal Court also twice chastised the IRB for its questioning of two separate refugee claimants who said their practice of Falun Gong would lead to persecution if they returned to China. Both cases were given new hearings.

Such cases have not been limited to Canada. Last year, Christianity Todayreported a ruling from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that stated an immigration judge cannot quiz asylum seekers on religious doctrine to test the credibility of their faith. The case in question was a Chinese Christian who was denied asylum because he said Thanksgiving was a Christian holiday and "knew little about the difference between the Old and New Testaments."

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month

Read These Next