Evidence of meeting #35 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 detention.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Andrew Wlodyka  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
  • Jennifer Egsgard  Member, Human Rights Watch Canada
  • Bill Frelick  Director, Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch
  • Meb Rashid  Medical Doctor, Crossroads Clinic, Women's College Hospital
  • David Matas  Lawyer, As an Individual
  • Christine Hyndman  Manager, Immigration Policy, Policy and Research Group, Department of Labour, New Zealand
  • Stephen Dunstan  General Manager, Settlement and Attraction Division, Immigration Group, Department of Labour, New Zealand
  • Fraser Richards  Acting Director, Legal Business, Legal Group, Department of Labour, New Zealand

3:40 p.m.

Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

Andrew Wlodyka

I apologize for being slightly over time.

Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. Egsgard, Mr. Frelick, is one of you going to speak or are you both going to speak? Do you want me to flip a coin?

3:40 p.m.

Bill Frelick Director, Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch

We'll both speak.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Okay. We'll give you five minutes, Mr. Frelick.

3:40 p.m.

Director, Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch

Bill Frelick

Right. Okay.

My name is Bill Frelick. I'm the program director for refugees at Human Rights Watch. We are an international non-governmental organization, a completely private organization that takes no government funding. We don't represent clients in court. We are independent human rights monitors, not service providers.

My background is that I've been the director of our refugee program for the last six years. Prior to that, I was the director of Amnesty International's refugee program. Prior to that, I was the director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, where I edited World Refugee Survey from 1986 to 2002.

I'm going to address the questions of children and the Australia model, and briefly touch on designated countries of origin. Jennifer Egsgard, a private attorney and a member of our Canada committee, will talk about the detention provisions in permanent residency.

Moving to the question of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children under the convention as “every human being below the age of eighteen years”. Bill C-31, with respect to the detention provisions, says that “designated foreign national” applies to people “16 years of age or older on the day of the arrival”.

There is no rationale given in the bill or in the commentary on the bill from the government about why 16- and 17-year-old children, defined as children in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, are included here.

The reason we're particularly concerned about this is that article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child basically says that there should be no arbitrary detention of children, and that if children are to be detained, it should be “as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.

Our view is that in Bill C-31, the detention of children is really a first choice rather than a last resort. Instead of it being for the shortest period of time, it in fact is mandated to be for a year, with some few exceptions that in practical terms don't look as though they would occur.

We also believe that this detention is arbitrary, which is barred under article 37(d) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, because of the lack of a right to challenge the detention before a court or other independent, impartial authority, notwithstanding the limited Federal Court review that's in Bill C-31.

I think the main thing to keep in mind when looking at the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in fact looking at the human rights of children, is article 3 of that convention, which says, “In all actions concerning children...the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

I think you really need to ask yourself, when you look at the purposes of Bill C-31 with respect to children, whether this is being done in the best interests of the child. If you look at the literature on the impact of detention on children in particular.... We cite in our written testimony studies by the college of general practitioners of the mental health impact on children, which is quite severe.

Perhaps I can take this segue to talk about Australia. The parliamentary commission there, just in March of 2012, issued a massive study on the impact of detention policies there, and cited study after study of the negative impact on particularly children.

So the question arises whether Australia and their treatment of migrants should be a model for Canada. The answer is no. In fact, Australia is not even a model for Australia. The mandatory detention, which went into effect in 1999, by November of 2011 had pretty much been lifted, with bridging visas to bring people from the excised offshore detention facilities.

It was shown that the number of people who had been arriving irregularly by boat in 1999, at time of that legislation, was 1,000. Two years later, when it was in full force in 2001, there were more than 5,000 arrivals.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Frelick, if you're going to give Ms. Egsgard some time, you'll have to conclude soon.

3:45 p.m.

Director, Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch

Bill Frelick

Okay, fine.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

There is a point of order, Mr. Frelick. Hold on. Sorry.

May 1st, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

I'm just not sure. Are these not two separate witnesses from different...or is it one subset of the same?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Trudeau, incidentally, welcome back. I'm glad to see you.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

It's a pleasure to be here.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

They're both from Human Rights Watch. One is from Washington and the other is from Toronto, but they're both one organization.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Watch Canada are separate organizations.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Indeed, but we're giving them five minutes each roughly.

3:45 p.m.

Director, Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch