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Petra Molnar - Refugee Law Lab, Osgoode Hall Law School. Toronto, ON, CA

Petra Molnar

Associate Director | Refugee Law Lab, Osgoode Hall Law School

Toronto, ON, CANADA

Refugee and migration issues; technology and human rights; immigration detention; and the relationship between law, society, and culture



Petra Molnar Publication Petra Molnar Publication Petra Molnar Publication



loading image CTV News Interview, June 22, 2018 loading image


Petra Molnar of Trump's Executive Orders and Family Reunification (June 24, 2018) CTV News Interview, June 22, 2018 Asylum seekers to Canada, are attitudes hardening or softening? - Crossroads Jan 05 2014




I am a migration researcher and lawyer in Toronto, Canada and Athens, Greece. I focus on the issues of technology and human rights; immigration detention; and the politics of refugee, immigration, and international human rights law. I am a current fellow at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center and am working on my book Artificial Borders (The New Press 2024).

I hold a Juris Doctorate from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and an an LL.M in International Law from the University of Cambridge.

Industry Expertise (7)

International Affairs

Legal Services

Government Relations

Political Organization



Information Technology and Services

Areas of Expertise (7)

Technology and human rights

Anthropology of Migration

Ethnography and Ethnographic Writing

Women's Rights

Refugee and Human Rights Issues

International Law of Human Rights


Accomplishments (3)

John Yaremko Award in Human Rights (professional)


John Yaremko Award in Human Rights to be awarded to an outstanding student in any year who, in the opinion of the faculty, merits special recognition for academic achievement in the area of human rights

Ting Sum Tang Memorial Prize in Canadian or International Human Rights Law (professional)


Ting Sum Tang Memorial Prize in Canadian or International Human Rights Law to be awarded to the student taking the highest place in a course relating to Canadian or International Human Rights Law

University of Oxford Bob Johnson Graduate Scholarship (professional)


Awarded by the Faculty of International Development at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford

Education (3)

University of Toronto Faculty of Law: Juris Doctorate, Law

York University: Master of Arts, Social Anthropology

Diploma in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies

University of Cambridge: LLM, International Law

Affiliations (5)

  • Canadian Association for Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS), Executive Committee
  • Refugee Research Network - Asylum and Detention Research Cluster
  • Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
  • ESPMI Network Advisory Committee
  • Refugee Law Lab, Osgoode Hall Law School

Languages (6)

  • English
  • French
  • Czech
  • Slovak
  • Arabic
  • Spanish

Media Appearances (11)

Surveillance Won't Stop the Corona Virus

New York Times  print


Access to adequate health care, including protective equipment and sufficient testing, will do more good than another hackathon

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Trump's Immigration Policy and Child Separation

CTV News  tv


Trump's recent "zero tolerance" policy has been ripping children away from their parents at the US-Mexico Border. Petra Molnar, lawyer at the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, speaks to the human rights implications of these policies and the long term effects on migrant children and their families.

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US Immigration Policy Debate and Family Separation

CTV News  tv


Now that the White House has officially ended its family separation policy, critics of the system are urging reunification of children with their parents. But details on how, when, and if they can happen are scarce and murky. Petra Molnar, a lawyer and researcher with the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto, has more.

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World Refugee Day - What does it all mean? (Syndicated radio)

Radio Canada International  radio


On World Refugee Day 2018, Petra Molnar, lawyer at the International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto, speaks about the global refugee crisis, Canada's role, and what we can expect going forward.

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Refugee advocates deliver ‘toy pile of shame’ to Canadian immigration minister’s office

Global News  print


A group of refugee advocates delivered a "toy pile of shame" to Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on Wednesday. The group is calling for an end to the Safe Third Country agreement Canada has with the United States. “This is a very visceral representation of the criminalization of migrants. But at the end of the day, it’s also part and parcel of other repressive policies that are happening internationally,” said lawyer Petra Molnar.

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Trump's Rise Obligates Us To Question So-Called Canadian Values

Huffington Post  online


Public discussion is powerfully shaped by the images and ideas projected by politicians and the media about borders, security and incoming "floods" of migrants. Public responses are grounded in the visceral fear that the old and golden way of life is over and that we now live in uncertain and dangerous times. In particular, the bodies of migrants carry the burden of our fears and they have become useful in bolstering increasingly violent migration management regimes across the world. Canada is by no means immune to these dangerous conflations and scare tactics. Hours after the announcement of the Trump presidency, conservative party leadership candidate Kelly Leitch stated that the victory sends an "exciting message" that is needed in Canada. This is the same candidate that continues to call for screening of immigrants for so-called Canadian values.

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Research Findings from Immigration Detention: Arguments for Increasing Access to Justice

Canadian Association for the Study of Forced Migration (CARFMS)  online


After decades of silence about the inner workings of immigration detention in Canada, 2016 has brought attention to the troubling incarceration of thousands of people for immigration-related reasons. Advocates for immigration detention reform have also been vocal about needing greater oversight for the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) practices as well as a specific inquiry into the implementation of detention in Canada. While these public advocacy efforts are encouraging, our recent research documents a growing system of incarceration ensnaring more categories of non-citizens than ever before. Under international law, detention should be a measure of last resort. It should be non-punitive, non-arbitrary, and conducted with regard to due process, and must not sweep up asylum seekers or other vulnerable people. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in Canada.

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Excluded from Justice? Immigration Detainees in Canada

CLAIHR - Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights  online


The migrants' rights community was rocked by two recent deaths in the Toronto area two separate immigration detention facilities. These deaths have been shrouded in secrecy and few details have emerged other than brief biographical sketches of the deceased. What we have learned is that the first man was found unconscious and not breathing in his cell in the Toronto East Detention Centre after an apparent suicide. Guards at the Maplehurst Correctional Facility in Milton found the second man six days later in his cell with no vital signs. Both men were awaiting deportation from Canada. An official total of 14 detainees have died while in the custody of Canadian immigration officials since 2000. Our recent research into the Canadian detention system has found a growing system of incarceration ensnaring more categories of non-citizens than ever before. International human rights law stipulates that immigration detention is a measure of last resort that is non-punitive, non-arbitrary, conducted with regard to due process, and must not sweep up asylum seekers or other vulnerable people. However, although immigration detainees in Canada are entitled to monthly reviews of the reasons for their detentions, there is no express outer time limit, and rights to habeas corpus are extremely limited.

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Sir Elton John funds probe into Canada’s treatment of refugees with HIV

The Toronto Star  print


The Elton John AIDS Foundation is funding a University of Toronto study into how recent changes to Canada’s refugee policies affect people who are living with or at risk of acquiring HIV. The $75,000 grant was announced this week by the singer’s long-time partner and now husband from Toronto, David Furnish. “These refugee claimants face a unique set of challenges and vulnerabilities when claiming asylum,” Petra Molnar said. “It is imperative that their experiences with resettlement and the asylum process are critically explored, so that appropriate policy and laws can be implemented.”

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"Our Tour of Shame"

The Huffington Post  online


Op-Ed: "Where is Canada?" In Turkey and Jordan recently, this was the question we heard over and over, from Syrian refugees themselves, crisis intervention workers, medical professionals, human rights activists and others dedicated to helping Syrians.

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Does Canada Border Services Agency need oversight?

The Toronto Star  print


The Canada Border Services Agency is once more under fire for the way it handles arrests, detentions and deportations of refugee claimants and migrants. And critics of the agency are hoping a recent B.C. coroner’s inquest recommendations into the suicide of a Mexican migrant in Vancouver will finally bring results as they renew a call for some kind of independent civilian oversight of the actions of the CBSA and any complaints of wrongdoing. But for Petra Molnar of the Detention & Asylum Research Cluster of the Refugee Research Network , independent oversight is perhaps the only way to be able to lift the shroud of secrecy that surrounds CBSA and what she calls the lack of consistency in application of the law. Internal oversight or better management doesn’t cut it, she says.

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Event Appearances (15)

Architectures of Trauma: The Impacts of Immigration Detention on the Psychosocial Wellbeing of Migrants in Canada

Structures of Protection: Rethinking Refugee Shelter Conference  Oxford, England


Living on the Margins: Analyzing Security, Safety, and Precarious Migration Status in the Canadian Context

International Association for the Study of Forced Migration  Thessaloniki, Greece


Human Right to Health, Law, Medicine, and Advocacy

5th Annual PGME Global Health Day  University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine


Economic Migrant, Temporary Foreign Worker, or a Refugee? Conceptual Failures in Canada’s Protection Regime

Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS)  Ottawa, Ontario


Protecting Women: Culture-Based Reasoning and Forced Marriages in Canada

Canadian Association for the Study of Forced Migration  Victoria, Canada


Many “Moving” Parts: Rethinking Refugees, Relief, and Knowledge Production on Migration in the Middle East

16th Annual International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) Conference  Poznan, Poland


Canada’s Response to the Global Refugee Crisis: Taking Stock and Moving Forward

CERIS and Factor-Iventash Faculty of Social Work Expert Panel  Toronto, Canada


Access to Justice in the Immigration Holding Centre: A Discussion of the Obstacles to Fair and Equal Treatment Facing Canadian Immigration Detainees

14th Annual Canadian Association For Refugee and Forced Migration Studies (CARFMS) Conference  Toronto, Ontario


Information and Communication Technologies and Refugee Resettlement: An International Comparative Approach

15th Annual International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) Conference  Bogota, Colombia


“Bogus Refugee: Bill C31 and the Discourses of Fraud in Canadian Immigration Policy”

14th Annual International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) IASFM  Kolkata, India


"None is Too Many": Geographic and Legislative Segregation of Roma Refugee Claimants"

Borders, Walls, and Securities Conference  UQAM, Montreal, Quebec


International Refugee Law and HIV/AIDS

Law In Action Within School Invited Lecturer  Toronto, Canada


Health Rights, Security, and Stigma: Syrian Refugees in Turkey and Jordan

Invited Lecture  York University


Changes to Canada's Citizenship Act: A Primer

Toronto Tibetan Buddhist Association  Toronto Canada


"Multiculturalism and Barriers to Citizenship,"

Course: 208 Immigration Policy, Prof. Roohullah Shabon, Seneca College  Toronto, Canada


Sample Talks (1)

The Dangers of Discretion: Dilemmas, Developments, and Ongoing Challenges in Canada’s Immigration Detention Regime

Immigration detention falls under the framework of administrative law - the person being detained has not committed a crime under Canada's Criminal Code, but is being detained for immigration reasons. Due to the largely discretionary nature of immigration detention and the lack of oversight of Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) detention mechanisms, serious issues have been raised by migrant rights groups, lawyers, and refugee advocates about the treatment of migrants in detention. These real world barriers impede access to justice for the thousands of migrants detained in Canada every year, such as access to counsel, information, and community support as they prepare their refugee claims or gather evidence for their detention review hearings. Immigration detention also adversely affects vulnerable migrants, such as children or people with mental health issues. Canada’s immigration detention regime is a costly, ineffective, and discretionary system which violates the human rights of migrants, including the right to a fair trial, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, and the right of life, liberty, and security of person.



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Articles (11)

Discretion to Deport: Intersections between Health and Detention of Syrian Refugees in Jordan


Petra Molnar


Detention and deportation of migrants is a clear performance of state sovereignty that relies on discretionary practices and policies. The ongoing conflict in Syria highlights the strain and social disruption in neighbouring countries that host the majority of the world's Syrian refugees. This article looks at Jordan's policies to detain and deport Syrian refugees. Documented reasons for detention and deportations include work permit infractions, including the deportation of Syrian doctors and medical practitioners, as well as deportations for communicable diseases. Detention and deportation policies in Jordan are highly discretionary, making interventions and advocacy on behalf of those detained difficult. Detention and deportation can also have disproportionate impact on populations that are already marginalized, including members of the LGBTI community, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and those engaged in sex work.

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The Boy On The Beach: The Fragility Of Canada's Discourses On The Syrian Refugee 'Crisis'

Contention: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest


The contours of Canadian refugee policies have in recent years fluctuated from a narrative of 'bogus' refugees requiring a tough approach of interdiction to one of urgent humanitarian assistance. These rapid discursive shifts highlight the fragility of how Canada's humanitarian responses, and its place in the world, are conceptualized. Using the case study of Canada's responses to the Syrian conflict, this short paper argues that state responses must be critically interrogated in order to move away from homogenizing narratives grounded in tropes such as ‘fear’, ‘floods’ and ‘crisis’, which continue to impact how state, media, and public discourse handle the influx of refugees. Examining how the Canadian state performs its sovereignty in response to the Syrian conflict is instructive to reveal its broader nation-building projects, ones which utilize particular tropes of fear to justify suspicion and exclusion of bodies that have been cast as dangerous and uncontrollable. While Canada is once again presenting itself as a global leader in refugee and human rights issues, it remains to be seen whether these more humane policies can withstand the continuing millennial border anxieties of the West when facing the prospect of resettling increasingly large numbers of refugees.

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Immigration Detention

Historica Canada: Canadian Encyclopedia


Immigration detention falls under the framework of administrative law — the person being detained has not committed a crime under Canada's Criminal Code, but is being detained for immigration reasons.The detention of migrants was not a highly publicized issue in Canada until the deaths in the Vancouver and Toronto immigration facilities in 2013 and 2016 brought to light the conditions of thousands of people currently being detained. Immigration detainees are often isolated from community supports, and are unable to access doctors and lawyers. The prolonged periods of detention exacerbate existing mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which impacts many migrants coming to Canada from war-torn countries. Advocates argue that Canada's immigration detention system contravenes multiple instruments of international law, and that more oversight is necessary to prevent further deaths in the future and to reform the system as a whole.

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Historica Canada: Canadian Encyclopedia


Refugees and asylum seekers flee their countries in hopes of safety abroad. Governed by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, refugee status is a matter of both international and domestic law. Historically, Canada has assisted many refugees from all over the world. However, human migration is a complex phenomenon, and Canada's refugee policies are also not immune to the influence of political and popular opinion.

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Everyday Injustices: Barriers to Access to Justice for Immigration Detainees in Canada

Refugee Survey Quarterly, Oxford University


The growing Canadian immigration detention system touches upon the lives of thousands of people daily. However, despite significant legal and normative problems, the Canadian detention system seems to be escaping sustained scrutiny. To address this gap, we employ the rubric of “access to justice” to refocus on inequalities being reproduced in the legal system that impede fair, unprejudiced, and non-arbitrary treatment for minorities and vulnerable people. If law is meant to govern equally and to ensure against arbitrary deprivations of liberty, immigration detainees should not be placed outside its reaches. Yet, our examination of access to justice in the Canadian detention system demonstrates that exactly this sort of displacement is occurring. Above and beyond the basic deprivation of liberty and setback to immigrants and asylum-seekers’ interests, detention inflicts irreparable psychological, physical, and social damage. We point to issues such as deteriorating daily detention conditions, far-flung facilities locations, unfair discretionary decision-making, lack of options for women, children, and vulnerable people, the compounding reasons for indefinite detention, and inadequate legal aid and access to counsel. Canada is propagating an extremely costly and ineffective system of administrative detention that is often in contravention of national and international standards on immigration detention.

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On Vulnerable Ground: Syrian Refugees At Risk of HIV in Turkey and Jordan – Recommendations for Canada’s Response

International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto Faculty of Law


Internal report submitted to Canadian Ministry of Immigration and Foreign Affairs, based on a research project funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation examining the negative impact of Canada’s refugee policies on refugees with HIV due to rampant violence, discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender-based violence. This report is based on 50 first-person interviews with UN personnel, NGOs, refugee advocates, and refugees in Jordan, Turkey, and Canada.

Refugee Review: Reconceptualizing Refugees and Forced Migration in the 21st Century

ESPMI Network


Welcome to the second volume of Refugee Review, the open access, multidisciplinary, multimedia, and peer-reviewed journal of the ESPMI Network. We are delighted to be able to share with you another rich edition of varied and challenging articles, opinion pieces, practitioner reports, discussions, and interviews from emerging scholars and practitioners around the world. The sealing of borders, tightening of security measures, and perhaps most troublingly, the perpetuation of rigid categories of refugee protection, exacerbate the many abuses perpetrated against migrants today, and lend little to solutions that might bring forward resolution for all parties. Rigid categories of asylum obfuscate the nuanced experiences and motivations of migrants and static categories—refugee, economic migrant, asylum seeker, smuggler, and irregular migrant—cloud the diversification of push and pull factors of migration. The needs for protection continue to be complex, and they often fall outside of established categories in international instruments and jurisprudence used to determine who can and cannot access rights inherent to being designated a refugee. In an era of increasing environmental migration, extraterritorialization, and the ever-pressing need for durable solutions all across the globe, categories and policies that concretize migrants into problematic hierarchies of protection and exclusion must be re-conceptualized.We are incredibly proud to have worked directly with more than forty emerging scholars and practitioners to bring the second edition of our journal forward.

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Unshackled Discretion – Barriers to Procedural Justice in the Canadian Immigration Detention System

The Refugee Research Network


This paper was cited by Amnesty International in Canada's Period Review at the United Nations - July 2015. The growing Canadian immigration detention system spanning immigration holding centres, provincial prisons, short-term holding facilities, and a variety of other sites, touches upon the lives of thousands of people daily. This report examines a number of significant barriers to procedural justice for immigrants and asylum seekers detained in Canada. The report finds that the structure and realization of the Canadian detention system impede fair, unprejudiced, and non-arbitrary treatment for minorities and vulnerable people. Above and beyond the basic deprivation of liberty and setback to immigrants and asylum seekers’ interests, detention inflicts irreparable psychological, physical, and social damage. The report outlines significant issues such as deteriorating daily detention conditions, far-flung facilities locations, unfair discretionary decisionmaking, a lack of options for women, children, and vulnerable people, the compounding reasons for indefinite detention, inadequate legal aid and access to counsel, and additional barriers to justice. It concludes by discussing how the Canadian system is costly and ineffective, and often in contravention of national and international standards on immigration detention.

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The “Bogus” Refugee: Roma Asylum Claimants and Discourses of Fraud in Canada’s Bill C-31

Refuge Journal


The passage of Bill C-31 into Canadian law in June 2012 is part of a discourse created around refugees by the current Government of Canada. Refugees are divided into “good and proper” refugees who live in camps abroad, and the “ fraudulent and bogus” refugees who claim asylum at the Canadian border. The new act, Bill C-31 or Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, is analyzed with respect to changes that will result in the systematic exclusion of certain groups of asylum seekers from Canada, based on these discourses of “bogus” and “fraud,” even though these groups may include genuine refugees. Drawing on the case of Czech Roma refugee claimants who come to Canada from Europe, this article shows how the Roma come to stand for the perfect “bogus” refugee — a person who wants to cheat the benevolent Canadian system without having grounds for a successful refugee status application.

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Refugees and ICTs



The purpose of this research study is to identify how various actors in the asylum and refugee system use information and communication technologies (ICTs). In a globalized world where communications increasingly take place over smarthphones, internet, and social media, how are ICTs best used by refugees when seeking asylum in Canada, as well as by refugee serving organizations (RSOs) that provide services to asylum seekers? This paper is part of an international study commissioned by SINGA France and portions of this research were presented at conferences in Montreal, Canada and Bogota, Colombia

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Refugee Review: Social Movements

ESPMI Network


We welcome readers to the e-publication of the New Scholars Network's inaugural issue of the Refugee Review. This open-source, peer-reviewed journal, based at no particular institution and tied to no particular location, is the product of collaboration between a growing and global group of new scholars, practitioners, policymakers and activists in the field of forced migration and refugee studies.

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