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

May 2nd, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Tilson, and thank you both for being here.

I'm intrigued to read, Mr. Milner, about your background and some of the work you've done in Burundi and other places. I've stood on the ground in Burundi, where I've seen internally displaced persons who have been moving year after year, first to Rwanda and then back to Burundi, in what seemed like hopeless and hapless circumstances. Through Food for the Hungry, a group I was involved with as the chair, funded in part by CIDA, this group is secure and in a successful potato farming industry.

What you're talking about can happen. It's great to know that you think Canada has had some influence in helping people on the ground in these places, as opposed to the only remedy being to open our doors to an insupportable number of people, all coming here.

Let me ask a couple of questions. Ms. Desloges, I pay tribute to you for the things you do, how you do them, and the people you help. You're not saying that all the decisions are going to go against the applicants because of the expedited timelines. You're just saying that the decisions are going to be made in what you think are inappropriate ways. Yet we heard from people in New Zealand just yesterday that they're able to process their refugee decisions in about 15% of the time that we're processing our refugee decisions.

Do you want to reflect on that? You did say that we all agree we should be expediting things. You think for some reason this timeframe is unsupportable. It doesn't mean it's going to run against the applicants. You just think it's going to be difficult for people to make decisions in that timeframe.

4:55 p.m.

Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation

Chantal Desloges

No, I think in most cases, it will work against the applicants—not all the time, but most of the time. The reason is that if someone is going to prove a case, to do that within such an accelerated timeframe is unreasonable. I believe you're a lawyer by background. To expect somebody to present a full case with documentary evidence under less than ideal conditions, possibly with expert evidence, is unrealistic within that timeframe.

An unproven claim without documentary evidence is going to weigh against the applicant. I don't know the numbers for New Zealand, but I would expect that their system is probably processing a lot fewer people than ours, even on a per capita basis. I think the board can move a lot faster than they are right now, but there's no justification for the crazy acceleration of time that we're seeing in the bill.

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Let me go back to you, Professor Milner, on the question of detention. What if I put to you the prospect that our proposed detention scheme is actually something that will increase the world's regard for us. If we don't have a detention scheme in place, we may not be able to even continue welcoming the numbers that are now coming in. The detention scheme, from my perspective, is a way to bolster the refugee system to make sure it's immune to criticism by Canadians who think we shouldn't be letting these people in.

There were 41 people who came off the two ships who, in fact, were legitimate cases for detention. They were either war criminals or they posed security risks. We have to have a good detention scheme in place, not because we want to detain people, but because we want to protect our country. Can't we make that case and continue our influence in the world?

5 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

That's a very good question. Given the argument that I'm presenting, I come at this from an international perspective. I'm not a lawyer, so to look at the legal provisions of detention I defer to others who are more informed on that.

Look at examples of other countries that have introduced mandatory detention of arrivals by boat, specifically by boat, first as a way of trying to maintain public confidence in the asylum system, and second as a way of trying to maintain their level of commitment in the world. The most prominent case that comes to mind is the case of Australia in 2001, which introduced what became known as the Pacific solution.

I was doing research in Kenya at the time when the Pacific solution was introduced, and Australia was one of a number of donor countries in Kenya at the time that were trying to encourage the Government of Kenya to reduce the limitations on freedom of movement for Somali refugees who had been in the Daadab camps at that time for 10 years. They have now been in those camps for 20 years. The response that came back, that we heard informally, is the argument that Australia is able to maintain public confidence in their asylum system, but Kenya is not allowed to maintain closed camps to uphold their asylum system. It comes across as a question of double standards.

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

I hear that.

You didn't raise that, Ms. Desloges, as one of your four. So may I take it that you understand and accept the rationale behind it? It's not because we want to be mean to people who are already coming from terrible conditions. It's because we want to make sure that we can continue to accept refugees, that we have this to check their identity and to make sure they don't pose a safety risk.

Can you comment on that?

5 p.m.

Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation

Chantal Desloges

No, the fact that I didn't comment on it doesn't mean I agree with it. Mandatory detention for a long term is simply unconstitutional. I'm not going to talk about fairness. I'm not going to talk about bleeding heart issues. It's simply unconstitutional. The courts will not uphold it. One year is arbitrary. Why one year? Where did the one year come from?

5 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

It's a specific number and it enables the persons to be freed if in fact their identity is proven. Or they can always apply to the public safety minister to be released within the year. So that can happen.

I don't see the constitutional problem that you are raising there. I think most people would agree we would be foolish to let everybody come in as a refugee, given that maybe only 0.1% of them pose a security risk, but that's enough to say to many Canadians, “I'm sorry, we can't have the risk of someone like that settling in our neighbourhood.” Our compassion, which is invested through our government into a very vibrant refugee system, will be cut off. We can't afford that.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We're out of time, sir, I'm sorry.

Ms. Sitsabaiesan.

5 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Thank you to both of you who are here today with us.

Mr. Milner, you were talking about the overall themes of refugees, mandatory detention, and designated countries. Can you comment on the impacts of refugees who are trapped in protracted refugee situations?

Overall I have about seven minutes and I have about three or four questions for you.

5 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

The impact on refugees in protracted refugee situations—on refugees themselves or on the states and communities that host them?

5 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

On the refugees themselves.

5 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Okay.

Very specifically, what we find is that for refugees who are in a protracted refugee situation, human rights violations are significantly higher than for those who are not. Long-term exile leads to higher levels of sexual and gender-based violence. It leads to higher instances in crime and insecurity within camps, especially as assistance to the camp-based populations is withdrawn and prolonged exile without a viable foreseeable durable solution frequently leads to irregular secondary movements, so moving to urban centres or seeking a perilous journey to another area.

The very short answer is that there are significant human rights concerns as exile becomes increasingly prolonged.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

I know from my understanding of the Geneva Convention that a country of origin is not one of the motives of persecution. The safe country list just doesn't make sense to me.

What do you feel the impacts would be on refugees who are fleeing these serious situations, especially when they come here and face mandatory detention and that mandatory detention could be for up to one year after arrival?

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Specifically on the question of the safe country of origin list, UNHCR, in its global consultations process 10 years ago, concluded that best state practice...that there are procedural reasons why a safe country of origin list might exist. The concern I have with the safe country of origin list is the fact that it remains the prerogative of the minister to determine which states will be on the list.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Right, so the concentration of power within....