Evidence of meeting #33 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was refugees.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Martin Collacott  Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform
  • Peter Showler  Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa
  • Noa Mendelsohn Aviv  Director, Equality Program, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Julie Taub  Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual
  • Nathalie Des Rosiers  General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Toni Skarica  Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario
  • Debbie Douglas  Executive Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
  • Francisco Rico-Martinez  Regional Director, Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Do I have any time, sir?

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

You have time for a quick one.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

You made a valid point when you used the European Union example of 27 countries that people can go to. Why do you think that people seek Canada for asylum rather than going to a country closer to them?

5:20 p.m.

Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual

Julie Taub

Well, I don't know.

I know that if they want to go and live and work in another EU country, that's exactly what they have to do—live and work. They are not entitled to welfare when they arrive in one of the 26 other countries, whereas when they arrive in Canada they are not obliged to live and work. They can work. They can get a work permit within two months.

I'd say that 95% of my clients have always gotten their work permits, have been working until the time of their hearing, and have fully adjusted to Canadian life.

I suspect that might be one of the reasons, because people can come here, live and not work—

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

5:20 p.m.

Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual

Julie Taub

—and get subsidized housing and social assistance.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Ms. Taub, Madame Des Rosiers, and Ms. Mendelsohn Aviv. Thank you all three of you for coming and making your presentations to us today. It's been helpful to the committee.

We will suspend for a few moments.

5:24 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We'll call the meeting to order.

This meeting will conclude at 6:15, when it's expected that bells will ring to summon us to the House of Commons to vote.

We have with us two witnesses from the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants: Debbie Douglas, executive director, and Francisco Rico-Martinez, regional director for Toronto.

Good afternoon to you. One of you will have up to 10 minutes, or however you want to split that.

We have, from the Ministry of Attorney General of Ontario, Toni Skarica, crown attorney. He used to be from Hamilton.

Are you still from Hamilton?

5:24 p.m.

Toni Skarica Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Yes, I still am.

5:24 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Skarica, I might as well tell my colleagues that we have something in common. We used to be members of the provincial parliament in Toronto when we were much younger.

Welcome to the committee, Toni.

5:24 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

It's nice to see you again, David.

5:24 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

You're still young.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Yes.

Who wants to go first?

5:25 p.m.

Debbie Douglas Executive Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

I'll begin for OCASI.

Thank you for having us.

The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, better known as OCASI, is the provincial umbrella group for agencies that work with immigrant and refugee communities here in Ontario.

OCASI and our member agencies are very concerned about Bill C-31. Let me start off by saying that we're actually asking this committee to recommend that the bill be withdrawn and that we move forward with Bill C-11, which is scheduled for implementation at the end of June of this year.

Very quickly, we are concerned that the bill would create a multiple-tier system of refugee protection in Canada, which we believe could result in some claimants being denied the right to appeal. It makes refugee protection in Canada dangerously vulnerable to political whims, rather than ensuring a fair and independent decision about who is a refugee. It subjects some refugees to different and harsh treatment based on the country of origin, mode of arrival, and whether or not the person has citizenship in Canada, as it has to do with the revocation of permanent residency.

I just want to set the stage a bit in terms of how we have been addressing issues of refugees and asylum seekers before I pass it on to Francisco.

In 2010, Canada accepted about 24,000 refugees in all classes. This was about 11,000 fewer than the 35,000 who were accepted in 2005. In 2005, refugees in all classes accepted in Canada were about 13% of all permanent resident arrivals. In 2010, they were down to 8% of those arrivals, a drop of almost 5%.

In 2005, the number of refugee claimants present in the country constituted approximately 0.3% of the Canadian population. Five years later, in 2010, the percentage of refugees compared to the Canadian population was slightly lower at 0.28%. In 2010, we accepted 3,400 fewer claimants than five years earlier, in 2005. At the same time, the number of people forcibly displaced in countries around the world has been growing.

We believe, and we are deeply concerned, that Bill C-31 will reduce even further the number of individuals who seek to enter Canada in search of asylum.

The minister has said that Canada welcomes more resettled refugees per capita than any other country. Meanwhile, according to the UNHCR “Global Trends” report of 2010 that was released last year, 80% of the world’s refugees are in the global south, in the world’s poorest countries such as Pakistan and the Congo. The report found that roughly 43.7 million people are displaced worldwide. Of that number, 27.5 million people are displaced within their own country due to conflict.

In this global context, Canada’s involvement in resettling refugees, while admirable—and I don't think any of us around this table are arguing about that—doesn't quite measure up to the commitment of other countries in the world. According to the same UNHCR report, in 2010 Canada had 4.2 refugees per U.S. dollar of its per capita GDP compared to Pakistan at 709, Congo at 475, Kenya at 247, and Chad at 224. The comparison becomes more stark when one considers the fact that Canada’s GDP per capita is considerably higher than that in the countries named.

We're also deeply concerned about the growing anti-refugee sentiment in Canada and the extent to which this could be exacerbated by government messaging about the bill. I heard some of the language used earlier today while I was listening to some of the other witnesses makes their presentations and to the question and answer period. Messages that characterize asylum seekers in stereotypically hurtful ways, suggesting that they are bogus and are a drain on Canadian society, can have a harmful effect. We are also deeply troubled by the misperception that these measures are necessary because Canada is facing supposed floods of refugees. This messaging contributes to increased intolerance towards refugees and has a harmful impact on their resettlement opportunities in Canada.

While we believe that most of the measures are quite problematic, let me just concentrate on two pieces and then I promise I'll shut up.

First is shorter time limits. I know that the previous witnesses spent some time on this topic, but we are particularly concerned that the shorter time limits will pose additional difficulties for particular claimants. We are particularly concerned, as a council, with lesbians, gays, and trans folk, as well as women fleeing domestic violence, who often need to develop some sort of trust before they will disclose or “come out”, as we say here in North America, about their sexual orientation or their search around gender identity issues. We believe this will present increasing difficulties for them in having their claim together within the 15 days proposed in this bill.

For me, this is also tied to the safe countries list. I won't go on and on about the safe countries list. You've heard many arguments about the ongoing concerns. But we absolutely know that in countries that Canada has deemed to be democratic, and countries with whom we may have trade agreements, and countries with whom we work closely outside the EU—and you've all heard how safe the EU is for particular groups of people—particular groups still face severe discrimination. This discrimination at times not only leads to severe physical abuse, but also at times to death. Even here in the Americas we have examples of this.

One of the stories that I want to share just briefly, which is about four years old, is about a young Mexican woman whose claim was refused. She was sent back and was killed. Unfortunately, there is a more recent case that came up, the case of Veronica Castro, also from Mexico. Her claim was denied. A year before she was deported she was saying to friends that the decision was a life and death one for her if she were to be sent back , and she was hoping for their prayers. She wrote to one of her friends that her deportation was a matter of life or death, and said: “I'm shaking and terrified every time I think about my deportation. I am really scared”. Thirty-three days later, after being deported back to Mexico, on January 12, 2012, she was murdered.

So those are the kinds of stories that we know and that we are concerned about if we were to move forward, as a country, to adopt this bill.

April 30th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.

Francisco Rico-Martinez Regional Director, Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

We have more than 200 agency members of OCASI across Ontario. They work with refugees and immigrants. We are the people who deal with the refugees and immigrants who stay here for more than a thousand days. They go to different refugee hearings and find a lawyer and whatever. We are very concerned about the people who are already in the system.

Basically, Immigration Canada says it has around 40,000 applications made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds that are still in the system without any decision. The IRB has said that the backlog of undecided cases is 40,000 as well. In this case, we have many applications for PRRA that haven't been decided. We believe there are around 100,000 people who are affected by this particular backlog, and we are here to ask if you could consider a jubilee program for the people who are in the backlog, because they have been waiting and waiting for this change.

We were advised that the law was going to be changed in December 2011. It didn't happen. We were advised that the law was going to change in June 2009. It didn't happen. Why? Because now we have a new bill and that will move the implementation date, for many reasons, to maybe December or later. So in that case, we want to ask for a program to help the people who are already here working—