Evidence of meeting #37 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 refugee.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Carole Dahan  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
  • Andrew Brouwer  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
  • Imre Helyes  First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary
  • James Milner  Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Carleton University, As an Individual
  • Chantal Desloges  Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation
  • Mary Crock  Professor of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, As an Individual

3:45 p.m.

Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

Andrew Brouwer

Thank you.

The House of Commons was confronted last summer with the reality of what happens when a mistake is made.

It's important to understand exactly how deportations happen in Canada. Those who are deported from Canada, particularly if they were detained prior to their removal, cannot simply slip back quietly into their country of origin and try to find a different safe place to go. To the contrary, in many cases they will be handed over directly into the hands of the authorities in their government of origin. In those cases where the government is the very agent of persecution that they've tried to flee, the consequences are obvious.

As I was starting to say, the Commons was confronted with this reality last summer, when the case of Adel Benhmuda was brought to the attention of the minister in the House. Mr. Benhmuda and his family had fled from Libya to Canada. They made a refugee claim, which was unsuccessful; did a pre-removal risk assessment, which was unsuccessful; had some kids; and then the whole family was deported back to Libya. This was before the recent regime change in Libya.

When they were put on the plane, their passports were handed over to the flight crew. This is standard procedure for Canada. I don't know about other countries. So their passports were handed over and they were deported to Tripoli. On arrival in Tripoli, their passports, in an envelope, were handed over to the security service of Libya.

Understandably, and entirely predictably, the family was detained. The spouse and kids were freed, but Adel was detained and tortured and interrogated for months, simply because he had been deported from Canada and it was presumed that he must have made an asylum claim here. It was presumed that he was therefore an opponent to the regime. His story has been verified by UNHCR after extensive interviews.

He's not the only one. A number of years ago, some members of this committee may remember there was the case of Kevin Yourdkhani and his family. They were Iranians. They too had come from Iran to make a refugee claim. They failed, they were deported, and their documents were handed over, again, to the flight crew.

On arrival in Tehran, Iran, their documents were given to the authorities there. Both Majid and Mosomeh, husband and wife, were detained and tortured and abused for months—again, interrogated because they had made an asylum claim in Canada.

The issues we're talking about here...and I'm sure the House knows this, but I think it's important to have some real-life examples in front of you of just what the implications are of a mistake.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Sir, we're now up to 13 minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

Andrew Brouwer

Okay.

We can't afford to make mistakes. When it comes to refugee status determination, we have to make sure that we have at least one solid mechanism to make sure there's a remedy for that mistake. Bill C-31, as it stands, does not provide that for many categories of refugees.

Thank you very much.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

Ms. Dahan, if you have more comments to make, perhaps that can be done when questions are asked of you.

3:45 p.m.

Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual

Carole Dahan

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Helyes, thank you for coming. It's an honour that you would come to tell us a little bit about what you know—maybe you know a lot—about Hungarian immigration and perhaps EU immigration.

I don't know whether you have any preliminary comments or whether you just want to open it up for questions, but the floor is yours.

Thank you for coming.

3:45 p.m.

First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary

Imre Helyes

Thank you very much.

First of all, I would like to apologize because I have not had enough time to prepare for a proper presentation as such. Our office was closed yesterday, so we basically received the invitation today. It was a very short notice.

Nevertheless, our embassy considers this invitation an honour, on one hand. On the other hand, it's an obligation and a responsibility to attend a meeting to which we've been invited, the same way as our government and our embassy in Ottawa have had such a responsible approach to the question and to the situation that had been bothering the bilateral relations between our two countries, Canada and Hungary.

Bothering, why? Because it seems that the high number of refugee claimants coming from Hungary to Canada is kind of a weird situation, on the one hand. On the other hand, there is no doubt that such a situation creates tension in relation to immigration questions and all kinds of situations that are definitely not facilitating the kind of smooth relationship we would like to have, based on shared values and objectives, so that our citizens would have had the mutual freedom of getting in contact with each other, knowing each other better, and so facilitating the better development of the overall relationship between our two countries and transatlantic society.

From that point of view, it has been the consideration of the Hungarian government to take responsibility for such a situation, on two sides—on the one hand, at home, which is the major task and the major responsibility, but on the other hand, also to cooperate, to provide help, or to provide assistance to the Canadian government in order to ease situations and tensions that might arise along the way.

It is that common responsibility in the face of such a situation that has brought me as a representative of the embassy of Hungary to the floor, and it puts me at your disposal. When you have questions, I will try to do my best to answer those questions.

Thank you very much.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

I know there's a large Hungarian population in this country, and we do appreciate your coming. I'm sure there will be some questions of you from the committee.

Please go ahead, Mr. Dykstra.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

In fact, Mr. Chair, I think I'll do just that and turn to Mr. Helyes to ask him some questions.

I appreciate the fact that we've been at this into our third day now. There's certainly some repetition in terms of the concerns folks have. It's helpful when we get specific recommendations in terms of how to improve the bill. Not nearly as helpful is when the only recommendation we receive is to withdraw the bill. Nonetheless, we will continue to meet and move forward, and try to put forward a bill that makes sense to all Canadians and to those coming to this country to become Canadians.

Mr. Helyes, one of the issues we face is a significant number of Hungarians coming to Canada to claim refugee status for a period of time. Between 95% and 98% of their claims are either withdrawn or abandoned even before they have a chance to sit down at the IRB.

I appreciate your being here today. I just want to ask some fairly direct questions about how you believe your country is trying to resolve this issue in terms of your relationship with Canada.

3:50 p.m.

First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary

Imre Helyes

Thank you very much for the question. It's going to be very difficult to give a very short answer on resolving this issue. The issue is very complex, and it requires a complex approach to consider it and then to provide some kind of solution to it.

First of all, as I stated in my very brief remarks, possibly there are two considerations to take into account. One is why this phenomenon is coming from Hungary, on the one hand. On the other hand, if it is coming, why is it coming to Canada?

So there are push and pull factors. What are the push factors and what are the pull factors? On one hand, concerning the push factors, it's interesting in general that you will not see this phenomenon in relation to any other country. It is just in relation to Canada. There might be some push factors, there is no doubt about it. It's the socio-economic situation. There are a considerable number of Hungarians who are in difficult economic situations as a result of not just the latest hardships inflicted by the international financial and economic crisis, but as a prolonged consequence of the economic changes that took place after the political changes in the 1990s.

All these have combined to produce a difficult situation for many. Some of them, there is no doubt, are trying to find a better way of life, and I think that's an absolutely acceptable aspiration for anybody to have. As in Canada, in Hungary everyone has the freedom to leave the country for any reason. It's private. There is no need to explain it, and if someone wants to establish a better life and find a better life somewhere else, no problem, he can do it.

I think when it comes to aspirations to establish better conditions for life, it is an acceptable and appreciated way of improving one's life and one's family's life. From that point of view, there are several persons who wanted to leave Hungary and they did it the right way. By “the right way”, I mean immigrating to Canada, staying in line, applying for the necessary visa or application, and coming here to establish a new life. It seems to us—by “us” I mean the embassy—on the basis of those proofs and facts that the embassy has encountered over the last three or four years, as we have had contacts and have been contacted by many persons, that the great majority of those people who are coming here as refugees seem to have aspirations to improve their lives and life possibilities for the future.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

That may be true for a very small percentage of those thousands of people who are coming here to claim refugee status. It's clear that a great number of them, it would seem, are taking advantage of our system here in Canada, in terms of what they can avail themselves of financially, and prior to the hearing date, they end up travelling back to their country of origin.

So I come back to my question. What is Hungary doing itself to address this issue in terms of ensuring that those who are coming to Canada are doing so to visit or—as you are recommending and as I support—to seek a temporary work visa, or to potentially become permanent residents here in Canada?

3:55 p.m.

First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary

Imre Helyes

Mr. Dykstra, as a matter of fact, the Hungarian government has been trying to establish programs, very complex socio-economic, educational, and public health programs, which in the long run—and I must emphasize in the long run, because it's a complex situation and there is no way to mend it from one day to another, or from one year to another, but to have a complex approach to this issue, to begin to address these issues by establishing, first of all, the national social inclusion program, which has socio-economic components, educational and public health components, and also a component that—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Sir, your time has expired, but you're interesting. Maybe you could wind it up.

3:55 p.m.

First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary

Imre Helyes

—contemplates the implementation of the program, and also a part where society as such is being treated to become aware of this complex problem.

These are mainly the push factors, on the one hand, how the Hungarian government tries to improve living conditions for Hungarian citizens. On the other hand, we must speak also about the pull factors, which exist here in Canada, to attract those who would not necessarily go the right way, but rather to emphasize certain advantages of a program, which otherwise would be provided to persons in dire situations.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. Sims.