Lesson Three: Refugees in Canada

By: Doriane Ossene

Doriane Ossene

Education Collaborator

Doriane’s background includes education in France and learning a lot about Canada through her studies at York University in International Studies and Canadian studies, which she will be graduating from in 2023. She is passionate about stories people don’t know about and loves making them known. Her dream is to work in a field that supports underrepresented communities, in Canada and around the world.

Suggested Subject Areas


Grade Level

Adaptable across 9-12

Learning Goals

Lesson Outline 

Note: the following lesson directly addresses students while giving them instructions on how to proceed through the learning (i.e. the “you” is the student).

Before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
According to the previous lessons and from your personal observations on the topic, what has been the role of immigration in growing the population of Canada? How has immigration impacted Canada to date?
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Given the role of immigration in the growth of the Canadian population, how do you think Canada should respond to the arrival of refugees? How should they be received? What supports do you think should exist for them? 
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Read the following abstract from the post “Effects of the Famine 2: Emigration” via the website Ireland Story:

“One of the most obvious effects of the famine was emigration. Although the famine itself probably resulted in about 1 million deaths, the resultant emigration caused the population to drop by a further 3 million. About 1 million of these are estimated to have emigrated in the immediate famine period, with the depression that followed continuing the decline until the second half of the 20th century. These migrants largely ended up in North America, with some in Australia and in Britain.

Between 1845 and 1855, 1.5 million people left for good. In 1845, emigration was at the pre-famine rate of 50,000 per year. In 1846 100,000 left. It peaked in 1847, when 250,000 left. Over the next 5 years it averaged 200,000 per year, before the numbers fell off. By 1855, the rate was down to 70,000 per year.”

How do you think the Great Famine in Ireland impacted the flow of refugees coming to Canada between 1845 and 1851?
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Revisit the timeline below from the previous lesson (from “Canada’s Immigration History: Milestones and Stories,” Caldararu, A. et. al). This time, while you read, consider two groups of refugees who came to Canada before the UDHR was adopted in 1948.

Consider two groups of refugees who came to Canada during the time covered in the above timeline.

Using your knowledge and/or quick research, mention at least one reason why you think they might leave their country of origin, and why they might have come to Canada specifically. 

Use the table below to record your answer.

Country of originReason for leaving their country of origin (push factor)Reason for going to Canada (pull factor)
Proclamation of the Declaration

Watch the following video, “Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Explained by a Canadian Lawyer” also available on Defining Moments Canada’s YouTube channel:

Reflect on the meaning and content of Article 14 using a method of your choosing (it can be a drawing, a list, your own wording of the article, etc.). What does Article 14 mean, in your understanding? What is it saying?
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Why do you think Article 14 is important?
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What would you expect from countries in regards to respecting and implementing Article 14 of the Declaration?
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The Declaration in Practice
With the help of the timeline above, name the first group of refugees who came to Canada after the proclamation of the UDHR. Based on what you remember from the previous lesson and/or some additional research, explain why they came to Canada. What was the historical event that caused them to become refugees?
Answer here:

According to this Pier 21 exhibition on immigration history in Canada, in what decade did Canadian law begin to distinguish between the terms of “refugees” and “immigrants”?

Circle the correct answer below.

Why do you think this distinction was made, and why is this distinction significant? Why is it important to have a distinct category for refugees?
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Using the last table from  the chapter “Canada’s Immigration History: Milestones and Stories,” what impacts did this distinction have on immigration policies in Canada?

You can use the previous activities and the other tables from the chapter mentioned in this question to support your answer.
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Applying the Law
What practical needs (needs that are related to their daily life) do you think individuals and families might have when they are refugees leaving their home country to arrive in another? 
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From your perspective, how might the arrival of refugees impact social systems such as housing and employment? What would refugees need from those systems to have supportive experiences building a life in Canada?
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Watch the following video, which tells the story of a Syrian family who found refuge in Canada, including their experiences within the first few months of arriving. It is only one example among thousands every year.

What are some positive experiences this family had when coming to Canada?
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What are some of the challenges this family faced when coming to Canada?
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Explore the Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship website to see elements of the application process for refugees seeking to come to Canada. You do not need to create an account or an application to explore the page.

What observations do you have about the application process for refugee status, based on what you see on the Government of Canada website?
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Based on the website, what are some differences and similarities regarding the expectations of the Declaration and its actual real-life application in Canada when it comes to refugees? Would you consider each a success or failure?

Use the table below to record your answer. You can add more lines as you wish if necessary.

Differences between the Declaration and its applicationSimilarities between the Declaration and its application

Take some time to study the following paragraphs from the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (2001):

Note: you will need to click “Next Page” once you reach the bottom of the page to continue reading through the Act.

As you read, consider the following question. You can take notes while you read and come back to answer at the end, or you can answer it a bit at a time throughout.

What are the significant protections included for refugees? Are there elements you were surprised to see were not included, based on the principles of the UDHR? What are the possible gaps of this Act?
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What are some suggestions you have for actions that could be taken nationally or locally, by governments, non-profits, or other organizations, to fill the gaps that you identified in Canada’s protection of refugees? You can reference resources available in your area, or use programs available in other areas, regions, provinces or countries.
Answer here:

As we studied during the previous lessons, immigration in Canada includes the categories of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, whose rights are all discussed in the UDHR. As we will see in the next lesson, the categories and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers are closely linked and can sometimes be confused by the general public.

Optional Enrichment

You can watch the following video as an example of the confusion mentioned above:

For more information on the topic and refugee treatment as they enter Canada, you can read “On the Road to Abolishing Immigration Detention in Canada,” written by Hanna Gros.


Branch, Legislative Services. “Consolidated Federal Laws of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.” Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, November 30, 2023.

Caldararu, Alexandru, Julie Clements, Rennais Gayle, Christina Hamer, Maria MacMinn Varvos, and Lynn Sutankayo. “Canada’s Immigration History: Milestones and Stories.” Canadian Settlement in Action History and Future, December 21, 2021.

CBC News: The National. “Struggling to Adapt: One Syrian Refugee Family’s Story.” YouTube, May 30, 2016.

Defining Moments Canada. “Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Explained by a Canadian Lawyer .” YouTube, October 7, 2023.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Government of Canada.”, November 8, 2023.

Johnston, Wesley. Effects of the famine: Emigration. Accessed January 1, 2024.

Van Dyk, Lindsay. “Visit.” Canadian Immigration Acts and Legislation | Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Accessed October 16, 2023.