Bill C-49 (Historical)
Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Vic Toews Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Bill C-31—Time allocation motion
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
May 29th, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.
Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB
Madam Speaker, that question is just complete nonsense. The reality is that every member has had an opportunity to speak repeatedly on this bill. First of all, many of the elements of Bill C-31 were debated in the previous Parliament under the heading of Bill C-49. Second, in the earlier part of this Parliament most of the provisions of the bill were debated in the form of Bill C-4.
Altogether in this Parliament there have been 47.5 hours of debate, 130 speeches, meaning 130 MPs have spoken to the bill, and 43 hours of committee study. If there are any questions that have not been posed, or any views that have not been expressed during those almost 50 hours of House debate and over 40 hours of committee debate, I would really like to know what they are. I do not know who has been asleep at the switch.
I can say that I have followed this debate very closely. I have been in the House for almost every single hour of debate, and I do not hear new questions or new points of view. I just hear the same speeches being regurgitated over and over again. Eventually we must act in order to meet the deadline of June 29 and to keep our commitment to Canadians to fix the broken asylum system.
May 10th, 2012 / 8:55 a.m.
Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate the consideration the Liberals and the NDP have given to this. As everyone around this table is aware, we did move from a perspective that anyone under the age of 16 is exempt from the legislation, and the determination is made by the parents, obviously, what will happen to the children, if there are parents available to make those decisions. Obviously, if they are children under the age of 16, the state will have the responsibility to determine what should happen. That was a huge change from the previous Bill C-49 on human smuggling, in that it did not have an age exclusion with respect to detention.
The second point is that the government is of the opinion, and there is a lot of evidence on the justice and legal side to show this, that the age of 16 is appropriate; it is an age when those individuals are at least able to make a decision and determine on their own what may or may not—or at least have some input into their outcomes. So we've determined that they can make an independent decision on whether they want to (a) use the services of a human smuggler, and (b) make decisions here when and if they arrive in Canada. It's our determination that the age of 16 is fair and it's appropriate, so we will not be supporting the amendment.
May 1st, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
David Matas Lawyer, As an Individual
Thank you for inviting me.
I would like to address only one of the many changes proposed by Bill C-31—the provision that deals with designated foreign nationals, which you've heard about before.
I am a former chair of the immigration law section of the Canadian Bar Association, a former president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, and a former legal network coordinator of Amnesty International, and I endorse the positions of these organizations on the bill.
What I'd like to do is not just reiterate their concerns but approach the issue from a different perspective: the inconsistency with other government policies of the components of the bill relating to designated foreign nationals.
Because there is a majority government now in Parliament, Bill C-31 will pass in its present form unless at least some government members want it changed. So the admittedly daunting task I have tried to set myself here this afternoon is to attempt to achieve just that, to attempt to persuade government members that they should want to change Bill C-31, because the provisions in the bill relating to designated foreign nationals contradict and undermine government policies.
The designated foreign national provisions of Bill C-31, like the rest of the bill, are general in nature but their genesis was quite particular. The proposals began with Bill C-49, introduced in October 2010 into Parliament in response to the arrival of Tamil boat people aboard the MV Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism justified the proposed legislation by reference to these arrivals. The proposed legislation is retroactive to before these arrivals, pointing to the relevance of these arrivals.
In May 2009, Sri Lanka ended a long civil war where there were 80,000 deaths. At its end, there was a frenzy of killing and mass detention of Tamil civilians. Tamils in Sri Lanka continue to be victimized by the victors in the war, and the systemic discrimination, harassment, and persecution of minority Tamils by elements of the majority continue with a vengeance.
The first policy I'd like to identify as clashing with Bill C-31 is the government policy on human rights in Sri Lanka, which I endorse. Prior to the October 2011 Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said there should be a boycott of the next Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka unless there is progress on human rights in Sri Lanka.
The Government of Sri Lanka appointed a commission of inquiry, which was a whitewash. The Government of Canada more or less said so, and maintained its position on the boycott after the Sri Lanka report. It rejected the report as failing to address the human rights concerns arising from the end of the civil war. Very good, but if we want to promote human rights, we have to protect refugees. That is obviously true for the individual claimant, but there is an overall aggregate linkage as well. Protecting refugees enhances respect for human rights in the country fled. Failure to protect refugees shows indifference to the plight of victims.
When resettlement states say no to refugees or gives a hard time to refugees, what violators hear is that what they do, they can do with impunity, without consequences. Bill C-31 is bad in principle, but it is even worse in context. It says to the Government of Sri Lanka, “Go ahead, mistreat the Tamil minority. We don't care.”
The second policy conflict is a statement of Minister Jason Kenney in Parliament in October 2010, again a statement with which I agree. He said:
...we have begun preliminary discussions with our international partners, including Australia, which obviously has a great stake in this issue, and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to pursue the possibility of some form of regional protection framework in the Southeast Asian region.
In part that would entail encouraging the countries now being used as transit points for smuggling and trafficking to offer at least temporary protection to those deemed by the UN in need of protection and then for countries such as Canada to provide, to some extent, reasonable resettlement opportunities for those deemed to be bona fide refugees, which is something we are pursuing.
Again, very good, but this policy of encouraging the countries now being used as transit points for smuggling and trafficking, although it sounds fine, is basically not happening.
One reason for the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Asia is the pressure put on those countries by resettlement countries. Another reason is the poor example resettlement countries give.
The logic behind the designated foreign national provisions is to discourage new arrivals from coming, like those on the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea. Aside from its cruelty, it is likely to have a perverse effect, leading countries of proximate refuge to mimic its cruelty and prompting asylum seekers in those countries to flee in much the same way the passengers on the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea did.
To a certain extent, Minister Kenney recognized the problem, but he said we needed a short-term solution and a regional framework with a mid-term solution. Now we're 17 months from that statement about a regional framework, and as far as I can tell, nothing has happened.
In the meantime, what we have to look at in discouraging flight is not only creating disincentives to flight, but also creating incentives for people to stay. By setting a poor example to countries of intermediate refuge, we are removing the possibility, or discouraging the development, of these incentives.
The contrast among the various government policies dealing with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees and Sri Lankan human rights are so striking that we can legitimately ask what's going on. It seems disorganized, to say the least.
One answer is the manner of government policy development. The arms of government dealing with human rights and refugees are separated. International human rights promotion is the domain of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Refugee protection falls within the bailiwick of the Immigration or Public Safety departments. While there is an administrative logic to this sort of bureaucratic separation, it makes divergence between promotion of respect for human rights and refugee protection all too easy.
The designated foreign national provisions of Bill C-31 should be withdrawn from the bill for all the reasons my colleagues have given, but also because they're not consistent with overall government policy. They clash so directly with other policies that they need to be reconsidered.
The government should be presenting a coordinated approach to human rights, refugee protection, and refugee resettlement. My hope is that the government will abandon its present clash of policies and instead present to Parliament a policy where promotion of respect for human rights abroad and protection of refugees work together.
Thank you very much.
May 1st, 2012 / 10:55 a.m.
Nicolas Plourde President of the Bar, Barreau du Québec
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, as the elected President of the Barreau du Québec, I want to thank you for inviting us today to discuss such an important issue for Canadians—the security and effectiveness of our immigration system.
I would like to begin by emphasizing the importance the Barreau du Québec attaches to the improvement of the security and effectiveness of the Canadian immigration system. I invite you to read about the Barreau du Québec's previous involvement in the area of immigration, especially the letters regarding bills C-49 and C-11.
As you probably know, the Barreau du Québec is a professional order with a membership of 24,000 Quebec lawyers. The Barreau is proud of its worldwide involvement in the implementation of democratic governance and institutions founded on the rule of law. Its primary purpose is protecting the public. In that work, it strives to carry out its social responsibility by standing up for the democratic values of our society, including human rights.
The Barreau du Québec has reviewed Bill C-31, which reintroduces Bill C-11 and amends the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The Barreau du Québec fears that the changes the bill makes to the classification process will result in discriminatory and differential treatment of claims, which may undermine claimants' confidence in the legality and legitimacy of the decisions made regarding their refugee protection claims.
That being said, the Barreau du Québec believes that protecting the Canadian immigration system is indeed an important issue and that the Canadian government is right to try to deter illegal immigration. That may make it necessary to circumscribe certain rights in the public interest. However, the bill contains harsh measures, including the automatic detention of designated foreign nationals for a period of up to a year. My colleague Mr. Goldberg will tell you more about the negative effects we fear regarding this measure.
The Barreau du Québec is also opposed to the restriction of the right to appeal a decision on its merits to the Refugee Appeal Division. The Barreau believes that an applicant's confidence in the state calls for the promotion and maintenance of a judicial structure of accessible and independent tribunals, as well as just and effective representation.
Before I yield the floor to my colleague, Mr. Goldberg, for a more thorough account of the Barreau du Québec's position, allow me to quickly introduce him. Mr. Goldberg has been a lawyer and a member of the Barreau du Québec since 1989. He is a member of the Barreau's committee on immigration and citizenship. He has been working in immigration and refugee law since 1990. Therefore, he regularly represents foreign nationals in all sorts of cases involving various immigration applications and refugee protection claims in Canada.
Mr. Goldberg is heavily involved in his area of expertise. He worked as a volunteer for a human rights organization in Guatemala. He is also active within the Canadian Bar Association and its liaison committee with the federal court. He is one of the founding members of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, where he has been the vice-president since 2001.
Mr. Chair, with your permission, I yield the floor to my colleague Mr. Goldberg.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
April 23rd, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for his very clear and compassionate speech. As he mentioned, Bill C-31 is the incarnation of the former Bill C-49, and it also includes everything that was denounced in Bill C-4 with respect to refugees. Instead of attacking smugglers and those who abuse refugees, this bill directly attacks the refugees themselves. Furthermore, the Conservatives are trying to make the public afraid. They are fearmongering about refugees' lack of identification. These refugees flee their countries and do not have the time to take their papers with them. I would like my colleague to expand a bit on this subject.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
April 23rd, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.
Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-31. However, I would have preferred that this bill not be introduced at all and that we not debate it. In my opinion, this is an objectionable bill. There are a number of problems with it and it is certainly going to result in legal challenges.
I would like to start by saying that Bill C-31 builds on Bill C-11, which was introduced in the previous Parliament. With a minority government, the Conservatives were unable to pass the strict and severe bills that they wanted. Now, they are taking Bill C-49, which was also from the previous Parliament, and making the necessary changes to complete their biased and discriminatory immigration policy the sole purpose of which is to close our borders for as long as possible to foreigners seeking asylum in Canada.
The change in this government's tone on immigration and citizenship is striking. Most of Bill C-31 is practically copied word for word from the former Bill C-49, the short title of which was Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. It was promoted as the bill that would protect refugees and discourage smugglers who were endangering the lives of foreigners trying to enter Canada by boat. Bill C-31, which is pretty much the same, is entitled Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. The image is eloquent.
The Conservatives are now showing their true colours. The intent of Bill C-31 is no longer to protect refugees, but to protect the integrity of Canada's immigration system against ill-intentioned refugees who abuse the generosity of Canadian laws and who try to take advantage of our country. These comments were made and repeated by the previous speaker.
In the previous Parliament, some immigration bills, especially, Bills C-11 and C-35, were passed after much discussion, debate and compromise by all parties. A compromise was even reached on Bill C-49, the predecessor to Bill C-31. This time, the Conservative government is no longer receptive to amendments. On the contrary, the minister himself said that there are gaps in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and that Canada needs stronger measures that are closer to the original bill we introduced in March 2010.
This time, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is not honouring the agreements reached by the various parties.
At the time, a number of groups that defend rights and freedoms condemned Bill C-49. Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Barreau du Québec and Professor Peter Showler, to name just a few, roundly condemned several key provisions of the bill, saying that they represented a serious violation of Canada's international and constitutional obligations.
In fact, this government is still using the pretext of national security to justify its lack of transparency and its desire to keep people in need out of the country, with no regard for Canada's constitutional and international obligations.
Far from having improved his bill in response to the criticisms about humanitarian considerations in previous bills, the minister instead says that he will not give in to the “immigration industry” lobby whose criticisms only reinforce the idea that the government is truly on the right track. It would be hard to be any more arrogant.
In addition to the government's arrogance, its narrow vision and demagoguery must be condemned.
With this bill, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is creating a new category of immigrants and giving himself the power to arbitrarily impose a different processing system for those immigrants than for other asylum seekers. This discretionary power is, in fact, the power to declare the entry of foreign nationals into the country as irregular by using loosely defined criteria based on national security interests, which was probably the genesis for the idea that this power cannot be delegated.
The creation of this category of refugee was specifically designed to block the entry of as many refugees as possible and it completely disregards the right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These asylum seekers often come from countries where fundamental rights are denied and where living conditions jeopardize their health and lives.
It is utterly ridiculous, even irresponsible, for a government to arbitrarily punish refugees who arrive by boat on the pretext of wanting to separate the good refugees from the bad as quickly as possible. That makes no sense. A refugee is not a qualified immigrant who can be selected. We cannot select refugees, simply by virtue of their refugee status. According to this government's logic, refugees who are not selected are bad refugees.
The fact that the minister would be able to create two classes of people is unacceptable and downright disturbing. Human beings are all equal, and the minister must never forget that Canada has a legal responsibility toward these people under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a moral responsibility arising from its international obligations under various human rights treaties.
According to Peter Showler, director of the Refugee Forum and former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, concerns about a deluge of illegal refugees are unfounded because both routes to obtaining refugee protection—the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, which targets international refugees as defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Canada's Inland Refugee Protection System for refugees arriving in Canada spontaneously—have historically been responsible for the same number of permanent residents in Canada, around 12,000 per year.
The difference between the two systems is control: control over the number of people coming in, the selection criteria, and the procedures and processing times. This is a legitimate concern, but it should not legitimize the crass justifications that the government is using to block access for people who need help.
For example, the minister claims that Canada is getting more and more claims from certain countries, such as Hungary and Mexico, and that these claims often come from “bad refugees” who do not really need protection. According to Mr. Showler, the Immigration and Refugee Board nevertheless accepts a significant number of claims from those two countries, 17% and 8%, respectively.
The minister also claims that this new bill will enable the board to do some “housecleaning” and shorten the waiting list for “good refugees” who have to wait patiently in refugee camps because illegitimate refugees who arrive by boat bog the system down by using fraudulent documents to get into Canada.
That, according to Mr. Showler, is not true because, on the one hand, not all refugees abroad can reach refugee camps, and on the other hand, the United Nations convention recognizes that it is difficult for refugees to be granted asylum, so it allows them to use fraudulent documents to seek refugee protection.
The Conservatives are trying to create an unhealthy climate around immigration, and specifically refugees. The executive of the Canadian Council for Refugees is very concerned about this and stated, “it is very worrisome when the government tries to create an anti-refugee sentiment among the population”. Several statements made by government MPs have promoted that very sentiment.
According to Wanda Yamamoto, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, “the bill is discriminatory and creates a two-tier system of refugee protection in Canada. It also makes it dangerously vulnerable to political considerations, rather than ensuring a fair and independent decision about who is a refugee. Our refugee system needs to give everyone a fair hearing, based on the facts of their case and regardless of their country of origin.”
Determining refugee status will henceforth be directly controlled by the minister, who now has the power to establish his own criteria. Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees said, “there is an arbitrary element in this, which the government is exploiting and abusing.”
Politicizing the immigration system is a very dangerous thing to do. The system had found a rather fair balance between security and individual liberties. All of that is now being compromised in the name of national security. From now on, any difficulty identifying refugees will be considered a threat to national security and, as a result, will justify different, more severe and punitive treatment than for all other kinds of refugees.
The Canadian Bar Association stated that Bill C-31 lacks clear qualitative thresholds and raises serious concern about excessive ministerial discretion. Furthermore, given the serious legal consequences that flow from a designation made by the minister, these amendments are overbroad and unsustainable.
Executive officers of the Canadian Bar Association went even further and recommended that implementation of the proposed changes be delayed to allow for immediate and meaningful consultation with all stakeholders.
I have only touched on some of the important aspects that support dropping this bill. We have asked the government many times to drop Bill C-31. This bill fuels an anti-refugee sentiment and exacerbates fears that are often legitimate, but that are being misguided with a bill like this one.
I think it is a shame that we are voting on this bill this evening with yet another time allocation. The NDP cannot vote in favour of Bill C-31.
We will strongly condemn this bill.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
March 12th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beaches—East York.
I rise today to add my strongest objection to Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System act. I find it ironic that the bill would be given this title. It would do anything but protect our immigration system. In fact, the bill would set out to dismantle our immigration system, damaging it legally, socially, morally and internationally. I find the omnibus nature of the bill very disturbing.
This particular bill groups together two major pieces of legislation, Bill C-4, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System act, and C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform act from the last Parliament. Then it introduces the mandatory collection of biometrics for temporary residents. These are three major issues that deserve adequate attention and debate.
I have already stood in the House and expressed my strong objection to C-4, yet components of the bill reappear here in C-31. The bill would attack refugees rather than human smugglers. By placing an overwhelming amount of power in the hands of the minister, the bill would allow the minister to designate a group of refugees as an irregular arrival. If the minister believed, for example, that examination for establishing identity could not be conducted in a timely manner, or if it were suspected that the people were being smuggled for profit, or a criminal organization or terrorist group was involved in the smuggling, designated claimants would then be subjected to a number of rules. They would be mandatorily detained on arrival, or on designation by the minister, with no review by the Immigration and Refugee Board for their detention for a year. Release would only be possible if they were found to be true refugees. If the Immigration and Refugee Board ordered their release within a year, even then the Immigration and Refugee Board could not release people if the government said their identities had not been established, or if the minister decided that there were exceptional circumstances.
Decisions on claims by designated persons could not be appealed to the Refugee Appeal Division. A designated person could not make humanitarian and compassionate applications. A designated claimant could not apply for permanent residency for five years. If the person failed to comply with the conditions or reporting requirements, that five year suspension could be extended to six years.
This raises a number of concerns. First, this is extremely discriminatory as it would create two classes of refugee claimants: real refugees and designated claimants. This is possibly a violation of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms' equality rights, as well as the refugee convention, which prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence.
Second, detention without review is a clear violation of the charter rights. The Supreme Court already struck down mandatory detention without review on security certificates. This legislation would imply indefinite detention on the basis of identity with no possibility of release until the minister decided that identity had been established. Arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties.
Third, designated persons would have no access to the Refugee Appeal Division. This means that these claimants would not have the right to an appeal, thereby removing any system of checks and balances.
Additionally, the mandatory five year delay in applying for permanent residency would further delay the family reunification process, forcing claimants to wait eight to ten years to be reunited with their spouse or child living overseas. Last, this legislation would create an undue barrier for humanitarian and compassionate claims. I am extremely concerned with the idea that the minister could name someone a designated claimant based on irregular arrival with no explanation of what constitutes an irregular arrival.
If we look at the history of the legislation of this nature, introduced by this government, we can see that it has glaring resemblances to Bill C-49 in the last Parliament.
Bill C-49 was hastily drafted by the government when Canadians witnessed the spectre of boats coming to the shores of British Columbia, carrying some of the most damaged and wounded people on earth. These were people fleeing, as the minister has rightly pointed out, one of the worst civil wars in the world, in Sri Lanka. Never ones to pass off a good photo op, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Public Safety were in British Columbia, holding news conferences where they publicly accused the people on these boats of being bogus refugees, harbouring terrorists and trying to jump the immigration queues. They called these people “queue jumpers”.
I find this extremely confusing. The government seems to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, we have the Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to the Sri Lankan civil war as a great atrocity where numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed. On the other hand, we have the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Public Safety accusing people fleeing this very violence of being bogus. This is completely absurd. Which one is it?
Some of the refugee claimants and the refugees who arrived on the MV Sun Sea now live in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River. Many of them have told me stories of their trip to Canada and their arrival in British Columbia. Many of them had UNHCR refugee cards. Upon their arrival, the people who greeted them gathered all of their refugee cards. When there was not the same number of cards as people, all the people aboard were told that they had not presented adequate identification and documentation when they came. Regardless of whether they had refugee cards, they were all detained. Thankfully, many of these people have now been released, but some are still in detention. Some of these people who had refugee cards are still being detained.
I am going to go back to the idea of an irregular arrival. This concept is not defined in this legislation. Based on the history of this bill, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that irregular arrival means arrival by boat. This bill is essentially saying that people who arrive in an irregular fashion, or by boat, are not refugees but rather are criminals. This bill is saying that people who wish to flee war, conflict or persecution but do not have the means to pay for a plane ticket so instead risk their lives by throwing themselves onto a rickety cargo boat and spending months crossing an ocean are not real refugees. No, the government is saying they are criminals. They are not real asylum seekers. They are not really fleeing a horrible situation, leaving behind their homes, livelihood and families with hopes of creating a better life here in Canada. No, these people are criminals. This is what this bill and the government are telling us.
Furthermore, if they fail to provide adequate identification, they can be detained without review. Most refugees who come to Canada do not have documentation, regardless of which process is used to enter the country. When people flee their home nation, they leave everything behind. How can we expect people who have left a war-torn country to carry valid identification? This concept of queue jumping, as the minister likes to say, is completely bogus. These people still must go through the same immigration process as any other immigrant to Canada. When people are fleeing persecution or war, they cannot be called queue jumpers. For refugees, there is no queue to jump. There is no lineup for people who are in serious danger; people living through a civil war; or people being persecuted because of their gender, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera. When people's lives or the lives of their families are called into question, there is no line. These people must leave their country immediately. Once they are safely here in Canada, they must joint the same queue as everyone else who wants to gain some sort of status in our country.
The second part of this bill comprises of Bill C-11, from the last Parliament, and the calling of safe countries. In the 40th Parliament, after a lot of work and compromises, Bill C-11 passed this House with all-party support. It was scheduled to come into effect this spring. However, before the legislation that was passed by this House could even have a chance to come into effect, the members opposite have including the original legislation, Bill C-11, excluding any part of the amendments that were accepted by all parties, in this current omnibus bill. The government has not even given the original Bill C-11 from the last Parliament a chance to work.
The Conservatives are using fear-mongering and fear tactics to scare the current immigrants in Canada and current Canadians. They are pitting Canadians against immigrants and new immigrants against other newer immigrants. This type of fear tactics is absolutely wrong.
Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
October 3rd, 2011 / 5:50 p.m.
Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about Bill C-4 on human trafficking.
I would first like to remind the hon. members that this bill is similar to Bill C-49, which was hastily introduced by the Conservative government in the last Parliament. Bill C-49 was the government's response to the arrival on the coast of British Columbia of two ships carrying Tamil migrants.
At the time, all the opposition parties opposed Bill C-49 because of the large amount of power it would bestow upon the minister and because it appeared to violate Canadian and international law. We still have these same concerns with Bill C-4.
Given the Conservatives' mistrust of newcomers and their tendency toward repression, I am not certain that more discretion should be given to the government, particularly to this Conservative government. The main problem with the bill is that it is arbitrary and discriminatory. It is discriminatory because it creates two categories of refugees depending on the method of transportation these individuals used to enter the country. The bill limits the rights of legitimate refugees who arrive in Canada in a group that was smuggled across the border.
The bill grants the minister the power to arbitrarily designate a group's arrival in Canada as irregular if the minister is of the opinion that examinations relating to the identity of the refugees cannot be conducted in a timely manner or if he suspects that the arrival involves organized human smuggling activity for profit, or in support of a criminal organization or terrorist group.
Designated claimants would then be subject to a host of special rules that do not apply to other newcomers. For example, the bill stipulates that designated claimants, including children, will be automatically detained upon their arrival or at the moment they are so designated. In a state with ordinary rules, individuals are judged on case-by-case basis according to their individual circumstances. It is appalling that an administrative decision with such serious consequences could be made on the basis of an individual's belonging to a certain group. Nevertheless, that is what the Conservatives' Bill C-4 is proposing.
Once again, the Conservatives are using the refugee issue for political purposes, as they are also doing with the whole crime issue. Their way of doing things is well known. They use any random news item as a pretext for amending legislation and showing off their might. Ultimately, the problems remain unresolved and the government would be better off using the existing legislation. It would certainly be less spectacular, but it would be much more effective.
In the case of smuggling, for example, there already are laws against human trafficking. Why not enforce them? A few months ago, Parliament passed new strong, balanced legislation regarding refugees. What we need now is better enforcement of that law. Instead of playing political games, the government should also provide the RCMP with the resources it needs to do its work effectively. The Conservatives are saying that this bill will cut down on human trafficking. But in reality this bill, as it stands, concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Immigration and unfairly penalizes refugees.
By contrast, the NDP wants to directly penalize the criminals: the traffickers and the smugglers. As currently drafted, Bill C-4 punishes legitimate refugees and the people who try to help them. The proposed process is neither clear nor transparent and, in addition to being arbitrary, it is ultimately quite discriminatory. We feel that Bill C-4 may break Canadian laws and contravene Canada's international commitments. Bill C-4 may violate section 15 of the charter, which guarantees equality before the law.
For the benefit of the Conservative members, I would like to read part of section 15 of the charter:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law...
How can anyone claim that this will not create two classes of refugees? Depending on the mode of transportation they use to enter the country, certain refugees could be denied permanent residence, a temporary residence permit, and the right to apply for permanent residence based on humanitarian grounds.
The bill appears to create inequality before the law among refugees. Bill C-4 may also violate section 9 of the charter, which says, “Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.” Bill C-4 provides precisely for the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals “designated” by the Minister for 12 months.
Bill C-4 also clearly contravenes article 31 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by which Canada has undertaken not to impose penalties on refugees who come from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened. We believe the government is failing in its responsibilities in respect of refugee protection and human rights.
A number of civil rights associations have spoken out against Bill C-49 and Bill C-4. For example, Amnesty International says the bill “falls far short of Canada's human rights and refugee protection obligations and will result in serious violations of the rights of refugees and migrants”.
As well, the Canadian Bar Association has argued that Bill C-49 “violates Charter protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention, as well as Canada’s international obligations respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection”.
The Refugee Lawyers’ Association of Ontario has “expressed its profound regret over the decision of the [Conservative government] to re-introduce Bill C-49”. The association has described the bill as a “human rights travesty”.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has spoken out against “the creation of a new class of ‘designated foreign nationals’.”This class is defined extremely broadly so as to potentially apply to most people fleeing persecution, torture or death in their countries of origin. In effect, the bill creates a two-tier system, with numerous restrictions and negative consequences for those who fall into the designated class.
The NDP is mindful of its responsibility to refugees, unlike the Conservatives who have adopted an approach that damages our reputation in the international community and violates our commitments under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The proposed process is arbitrary and extremely discriminatory. It also does not provide the means to put an end to human trafficking.
We believe that the Conservatives should ensure that existing laws against human trafficking are properly enforced, and we are opposed to this bill.
Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
October 3rd, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.
Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON
Mr. Speaker, there are many things that could come to play with this type of legislation out there already. We could look at some of the organizations that are already commenting on this legislation. For example, the Canadian Council for Refugees has called for this bill to be scrapped entirely. Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the equality program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has issued a scathing attack on the government's attitude toward refugees generally, and on Bill C-4, in particular, stating that there is no need for the draconian measures contemplated.
As mentioned earlier in my speech, the Canadian Bar Association stated that it did not support this legislation in its previous form in Bill C-49 as it violated the charter protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention as well as Canada's international obligations respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection. So there are many organizations out there that are talking about the impact this would have on Canada's reputation.
Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
October 3rd, 2011 / 3:55 p.m.
Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC
Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to congratulate and thank the hon. Liberal member who just spoke about Bill C-4. A large part of what she said is similar to what I wish to say.
To continue along that route, I would like to say that since May 2—the day I was elected to Parliament—and since we started sitting, I have been saddened by the fact that the legislation tabled by those on the other side sometimes contains good things, but more often than not, unfortunately, it simply divides those here. We can all support a bill that protects refugees against human trafficking; we can all work together to ensure that a pedophile never touches another child; we can all agree that someone who has committed a very serious crime should spend a long time in jail and should not easily receive a pardon, and so on.
However, all of these bills before us simply divide us: we are either for or against human trafficking, for or against the government. And we must not try to make any changes. I call this government the “photo-op government”—splashy headlines in the paper, big in-your-face news to show that the government is working for us. But, really, none of this is going to have the desired effect.
We must not forget that a similar bill, Bill C-49, was introduced during the last parliament. And that is one issue I have with us as politicians—it seems that things only get moving once an event is picked up by the media. If it is not in the news, we do not talk about it or deal with it. This bill was drafted following a media event.
I just got out of a meeting that I had to cut short with women who are part of the Sisters In Spirit, which has lost its funding. These are mothers who have lost a child, whose children have disappeared, and we are not taking care of them. They are not asking for the moon. They are asking for peanuts so that they can continue their searches. But unfortunately, that does not make the headlines in the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star. However, big ships like the MV Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea that arrived on the shores of British Columbia in 2009 and 2010 made the news. It was in our face. Everyone said that something had to be done and that a bill needed to be introduced, but they did not take the consequences into consideration, nor did they ensure that the bill would achieve the desired effect.
That is the problem in general with this government. Of course it was shocking to watch the news and see 500 Tamils arriving, as well as the MV Ocean Lady, which had 76 on board. I had a television show and I remember people talking to us about it. It was terrible. Rumours were swirling all around. It is incredible, but I am still responding to people who ask me how it is possible that, in Canada, a refugee makes more money than a retired Canadian. I wonder how they come up with that. Then I realize that people have been misled for years and years. In fact, some people in Canada honestly believe that every refugee arriving here in Canada receives around $1,900 a month. Come on. A person would receive $1,900 just for arriving in Canada as a refugee? We would give refugees that much while our seniors and many other people are having a hard time making ends meet? It almost makes you want to go to another country just to come back as a refugee.
That is not the reality for refugees. Refugees are people who leave their countries because their lives are in danger. These are not people who decide to come to Canada on vacation. They come here for their safety and because we have a reputation—poor us—as a supposedly welcoming, fair and open country that encourages differences and wants people to have more. Canada is a country that ensures that the people who come here are not starving, although I sometimes have doubts about this when I see the number of children living below the poverty line and the number of seniors who are abused or who cannot make ends meet.
As a legislator and with my background as a lawyer, I wonder about the purpose of this bill. The government wants to wipe out human trafficking and we all agree with that. Let them stop claiming otherwise. No one is in favour of human trafficking. I do not think any of my colleagues would support human trafficking. Would anyone in the House support it? If so, I would ask them to please raise their hands. Why? Because we definitely disagree. Do we want someone who is not a real refugee, someone whose life is not in danger, who does not meet the criteria of the existing legislation, to come to Canada to take advantage of our extremely generous system? We do not want that either. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask those in favour of that to raise their hands. No one wants that.
The government said that it was concerned that many of these people had ties to the Tamil Tigers, a group on the list of terrorist organizations. I said to myself that our friends opposite were introducing their next buzzword: terrorist. This word scares everyone. Anyone who reads the bill will think that the government is protecting their safety, ensuring that people with ties to terrorists do not sneak into our country under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Why is nothing done when people arrive in great numbers at airports? Is there anything more dramatic than watching refugees arriving by boat on television? But that is not the case for refugees who arrive at an airport chock full of passengers from all over. Someone told me that thousands of refugees arrive at Canadian airports. The number of refugees who arrive by boat is smaller. This bill, once again, attempts to mask the reality and give a false impression. It gives even great powers to the Minister of Immigration under the guise of public safety.
What struck me when they introduced Bill C-4, the former Bill C-49—this is not the first time that our Conservative friends have tried to introduce such a bill—is that it was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety. Why? Because they are trying to send a message that our security is at stake, that terrorists are streaming into Canada. I do not say this flippantly, as though I could not care less about terrorism.That is not at all the case. But let us call a spade a spade, and identify the true terrorists. The trouble is that, in real life, when you cry wolf too often, people stop believing and will not pay attention when there is a real terrorist threat. That worries me. They are trying to portray all refugees as potential terrorists. Unfortunately, that is more or less the general impression.
I hosted a public affairs show on television and radio before I came here. In my practice as a lawyer, I still have frequent contact with the general public, at least in my region, the national capital region. I can say that people were automatically making the equation that a refugee is a terrorist. If someone is hiding, it is because they are running from something. People forget to consider that there is more to it.
The bill may contain some clauses that are worthy of being examined, but, as always, the government is using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. As a lawyer, my primary concern is that this will end up before the courts some day. I had the same concern about Bill C-10. If the government wanted to use its bills to make improvements, protect Canadians better, eliminate human trafficking and ensure that criminals receive punishments that suit their crimes, that would be good. The danger is that with bills like this, it is the opposite, and there will be never-ending cases before the courts. In the end, the answer will be that this violates existing treaties and the charter. The government had better not respond that it intends to abolish the charter one day. I do not think so. I think that Canadians are extremely happy with the charter. If a government adopts unconstitutional legislation, it will be contested.
At some point, the House will end up debating this issue again, since we will be back at square one and the problem of human trafficking will not have been resolved.