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)

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Showler.

4:20 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

The concern is that it's too broad and too vague.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Menegakis, go ahead.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you very much for your presentations here today.

The intent of Bill C-31 is to help facilitate the process to make it faster. The intent was not to penalize people who legitimately seek our assistance. With the new measures in the bill, the time to finalize a refugee claim, a legitimate refugee claim, would drop from a current average of 1,038 days to 45 days for claimants from designated countries of origin, or 216 days for all other claimants.

So we can imagine what a huge benefit this will be to somebody who's really seeking and needing asylum from persecution in their own nation. In my opinion, that's a big positive of this bill.

Mr. Collacott, let me preface my question by saying that human smuggling seeks to circumvent the proper channels. In your opinion, are human smuggling rings becoming more elaborate?

4:25 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

I think they get more sophisticated. The more barriers you set up against them, the more complex they can sometimes be. I think the sheer numbers coming in by boat pose a major problem, but smugglers have been using forged documents and fraudulent documents for years.

Mr. Showler mentioned that we agreed originally with the UN convention. In fact, we didn't know what we were in for because these problems hadn't developed. Human smuggling was estimated by the International Organization for Migration as an $18 billion-a-year operation, and that was 10 years ago. It's probably much more now. There's a lot of money involved. People say that a lot of drug dealers are now switching to human smuggling because the penalties are less. So it's a huge problem and it doesn't only apply to irregular arrivals. There have been estimates of 70% to 90% of the people being smuggled come in by air on flights. The problem is that it's very difficult to pursue each one of those cases.

But human smugglers are very heavily involved in the movement of asylum seekers as distinct from people we take from camps. By the way, Mr. Showler mentioned there were four million people in camps. The UN doesn't consider most of those as needing resettlement. They need to be given temporary protection until they can go back to their homelands. The number they consider needing to be resettled is still significant, but it's much smaller. It's in the hundreds of thousands, at most.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Certainly they become money-making operations and, in many instances, sophisticated money-making operations.

From your time as high commissioner to Sri Lanka, ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, and ambassador to Cambodia, could you tell us about the human smuggling operations in those countries?

4:25 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

I can’t recall cases of major human smuggling there. In Sri Lanka, the boats hadn't started yet, and it's the irregular arrivals that much of this bill is aimed at.

In Canada's case, they first began to increase in number in 1986. In Australia, as Mr. Showler mentioned, one of the main reasons why there was a dip in claims in Australia was that the John Howard government instituted the Pacific solution, where they simply didn't let people land. They processed them overseas. They considered their claims and accepted some and turned down others. Kevin Rudd, when he became prime minister in 2007, said that was too harsh and moved to let them all in. Well, hundreds arrived, and that was one reason why he lost the leadership of the Labour Party and the prime ministership. It was not the only reason, but that was one of the major ones.

Most of the human smuggling has been by air; larger numbers have come by air, one or two at a time. But these big operations really do test a system and create special problems, and I think you do need legislation to deal with them. I hope that we can eventually have something to deter all human smuggling, but when they come in one or two at a time, they're not easy to identify.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Am I done?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

You are, sir, and I think that we are going to be short of time because of the vote tonight.

Mr. Showler, Mr. Collacott, thank you to both of you for coming and making your presentations to us.

We will suspend for a few minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

I call the meeting to order.

We have two witnesses, and we will end this second round at 5:20 because of the vote tonight. The last session will begin around 5:20 as well.

We have Julie Taub, an immigration and refugee lawyer.

Good afternoon.

We also have two people from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Noa Mendelsohn is the director of the equality program.

I didn't say your last name. It's Aviv.

4:30 p.m.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv Director, Equality Program, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Now you have the whole thing.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Nathalie Des Rosiers is the general counsel.

Good afternoon to you.

Each group will have up to 10 minutes. We'll start with Ms. Taub.

April 30th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Julie Taub Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual

I'm just wondering if everybody got my brief, bio, and background information.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Yes.

4:30 p.m.

Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual

Julie Taub

I don't want to dwell on that. Suffice it to say that I am a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board, and an immigration and refugee lawyer in Ottawa exclusively since 2001. Previous to that, I was on the refugee board.

I think it's important to refer very briefly to my personal background, so you'll have a thorough understanding that I have not only professional but also personal, in-depth knowledge of what a refugee is. I am a sister of a child Holocaust survivor, and I am a child of my late parents who were Holocaust survivors, so I know what it is to be a refugee.

My late mother and my sister, who is much older than me and still alive, survived Ravensbrück concentration camp. My late father escaped a labour camp in Germany and got back into Czechoslovakia, and hid out in the Tatra Mountains during the war. He managed to save his elderly parents and for some time he hid with the partisans, that is, with the resistance groups, and finally he hid in a bomb crater and was rescued by the Soviet army.

From that experience, I wish to address the committee today.

I'm here to support Bill C-31. I might also add that I have represented hundreds of refugee claimants. Since 2001, I have had claimants from Sudan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and even Mexico. That list may not be exhaustive. I certainly didn't have a chance to review all of the clients I've had in the last 11 years.

Recently, I've had some hearings for Eritrean clients in January and February, which were outstanding from late 2009 and 2010. I have at least a dozen outstanding refugee claims from 2010 that still haven't even been scheduled for hearings.

I support the accelerated process that the minister has brought forth, because waiting two or three years to have a hearing is completely ridiculous.

As we all know, and I'm sure you all know, the Holocaust was the basis of the 1951 international convention, and its updated protocols in 1967. This convention was not drafted to serve an industry of criminal smugglers, the people who may or may not be genuine refugees, or to facilitate asylum shopping, that is, asking which country one can get into to get the most generous benefits and highest acceptance rate.

It was not drafted to even consider claims from citizens who come from established democracies. I'm not talking about those where the qualitative and quantitative criteria set by the minister can vary from year to year. I'm talking about established democracies that have evolved over the centuries, such as the United States, New Zealand, Australia, the European Union countries, and even Japan since World War II.

I do not believe that the convention and those who drafted it had this in mind, that people such as U.S. citizens would be considered for refugee claims.

The current system that we have, as far as I am concerned, besmirches the memory of Holocaust survivors. The very thought of treating on equal footing somebody from the United States or Britain or Sweden with refugees from Darfur or Rwanda, or women fleeing Sharia law or genital mutilation—and I have represented them all—is just outrageous as far as my personal opinion goes. Then there's also the issue of Christians who are now fleeing massacres in certain Islamic theocracies. Those are the real refugees.

The over 100,000 Karen people sitting in Mae Sot district of Thailand in UNHCR refugee camps are also the real refugees. I have personal knowledge of the Mae La refugee camp, because my daughter, now a physician, volunteered as a fourth-year medical student in Mae Sot medical clinic in northern Thailand. That Mae Sot medical clinic services that sprawling, horrible refugee camp of over 100,000 Karen people. Through her intervention and my intervention we were able to bring to Canada one Karen person who had originally been turned down, Eh Hso Gay, whose aunt and uncle lived in Ottawa. The only way someone could leave the refugee camp was to have an appointment at the clinic. She brought Eh Hso Gay into the clinic twice. I sent her the questions and told her to interview her, and then she was interviewed by the CBC and, of course, Immigration Canada heard that and they reversed the decision and Eh Hso Gay was brought to Canada.

Now, when there is criticism that there are designated countries of origin, I have no issue with that. And I have no issue with safe third-country agreements, because believe you me, Jewish refugees who were trying to flee Europe would not have shopped around. They would have gladly taken any country, any first country they could have stepped foot in, and made their asylum claim there. They wouldn't have traipsed around the world to find a country with more generous benefits.

As I speak now, anti-semitism is on the rise in Hungary. And since I was an infant born on the Hungarian side of the Czech-Hungarian border at that time, I have friends in Hungary, one of them being Peter Feldmajer, the head of the Jewish community in Hungary. Anti-semitism is what the new right wing government has almost state sanctioned. He said to me that the young Jewish people, his children included, are leaving. But they're not making refugee claims; they're going to one of 26 other European Union countries, and they're not coming to Canada. They're going to one of the other countries or to Israel. You don't have masses of Jews coming from France, where they're being attacked daily, and making refugee claims. They're going to other EU countries.

It's said that there's not enough time to make a refugee claim in the 45 or 90 days, etc., the minister is trying to set to accelerate the claims. But under the current system claimants have 28 days to submit a personal information form. And all the hundreds of claimants I have represented never had an issue getting that personal information form, which is the basis of the claim, to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The issue has been having to wait two years to get a hearing. That's where the issue is.

Moreover, having an accelerated process for claimants from designated countries of origin is not an issue, because we're simply implementing measures similar to those in many EU countries. For example, some countries in Europe do the following—and I have a whole list of these countries. In the United Kingdom, for those coming from what are considered to be safe countries of origin, they fast-track the claims in 10 to 14 days. In France, it's 15 days. In Germany, it's two days if they come from countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. They don't even accept refugee claims from other EU countries, because as you are fully aware, a citizen of one EU country has the absolute right to go and live and work in another EU country. You might say that if we're going to refer to the Roma, there might be an impediment because of language. Well, when they come to Canada there is the same impediment. They speak Hungarian or Slovak, depending on where they're coming from.