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Could travelling to Ukraine to join the conflict affect your permanent resident status?

While one can understand how sentiment and a sense of moral duty can push someone to travel to Ukraine and join the armed conflict in their personal capacity, it is problematic for governments to endorse or acquiesce to such acts in the circumstances.

Ukraine has already received hundreds of requests from foreigners including Canadians who wish to join the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine and take part in the conflict. However, many of these individuals do not know what to expect as the situation on the ground continues to evolve by the day.

It remains unclear who or which groups are planning, coordinating, supervising, or taking part in the military resistance in Ukraine. There have been reports of civilians, pro-government militias, and paramilitary groups joining the Ukrainian armed forces in repelling Russian troops, who are already facing accusations of war crimes.

Given the developing situation in Ukraine and these uncertain circumstances, it is not inconceivable at one point or another for any party to the conflict to be accused of committing or being complicit in violations of international humanitarian law. This could be problematic for Canadian citizens and permanent residents alike.

Under Canadian immigration laws, a permanent resident or a foreign national (i.e., visitor, student, or worker) could become inadmissible to Canada if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they have violated human or international rights by committing or being complicit in the commission of an act that constitutes genocide, a crime against humanity, or a war crime.

Furthermore, a permanent resident or a foreign national will be inadmissible if there are reasonable grounds to believe that they have engaged in, among other things, an act of espionage contrary to Canada’s interests or in terrorism. A person can also be inadmissible for being a member of an organization that engages, has engaged, or will engage in such acts. Being a danger to the security of Canada will also render them inadmissible.

Even Canadian citizens could potentially be culpable for committing similar acts by travelling abroad to take part in the armed conflict unfolding in Ukraine.

Sentiment and passion may be compelling motivators in the current circumstances, but they may also bring about serious legal consequences.


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