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 refugees.

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

5:10 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Thank you, sir. I think that is a very fair assessment.

If we were to consider the diplomatic cost of introducing such restrictive legislation in response to the arrival of less than a thousand individuals by boat and the panic that is created by that, how that prevents us from opportunities to engage....

Here are some success stories of what Canada has been able to do: negotiate with the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to find solutions for 105,000 Lhotshampa Bhutanese who've been in exile for 20 years; Canada's leadership in the resettlement of the Rohingya from Bangladesh, who had been there for 20 years; the work that Canada has done with the Karen refugees from Thailand; and what Canada is trying to do for the local integration of Burundian refugees who've been in Tanzania since 1972.

This kind of diplomatic impact is the most cost-effective way we contribute to the global public good of asylum and contribute to the pursuit of solutions. It is not something that benefits only those countries hosting refugees in the region of origin; it's ultimately in Canada's interest. The logic has been the same for the past 60 years, since we've had the global refugee regime.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

I want to look at three points you've raised and provide comment, and then you can make sure I have it right.

First, the safe country list is something that in principle you support, if in fact it's truly independent. The purpose of that safe country list is to put countries like Hungary and so forth on it to deal with some of the concerns the government has put forward.

The second point is regarding detention. It seems to me that you would be against detention outright. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but some individuals, and I'm hoping you might be one of them, would suggest that it might even be constitutionally challengeable on whether it is legitimate to have mandatory detentions. But again, the damage it does to our reputation seems to be your biggest concern.

The third point is the taking away of a refugee's status after they've been deemed a refugee, for the simple reason, as my colleague points out, that it seems to establish a two-tier system.

Do you want to provide a quick comment? If there's any time left, maybe Chantal will get a chance to comment.

5:10 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Very quickly, on the question of the country of origin list, as the UNHCR found in 2000–01 in the global consultations, in certain instances, the safe countries of origin list can be an effective decision-making tool. It can make a contribution, but it concludes that the best state practice means that safe country of origin list cannot be applied in a rigid manner but must be based—any presumption of safety—on precise, impartial, and up-to-date information.

The impartiality of the development and maintenance of the safe country of origin list is my greatest concern.

On the question of detention, I would defer to colleagues. I know that the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers submitted a very detailed brief on the question of detention. As I'm not a lawyer, I can't speak to the constitutionality of it, but what I can say is that the single most consistent message that Canada delivers internationally is that refugees need to be provided with greater opportunities for self-reliance, freedom of movement outside of being confined to refugee camps.

In many refugee camps around the world, refugees are simply not allowed to leave the camp to engage in wage-earning employment. That's effectively detention, so we lose our ability to make that argument.

On the question of permanent residence, I specifically comment on opportunities for the cessation of permanent residence status for resettled refugees to Canada. The fact that Canada, through its own resettlement program or through the private sponsorship program...the fact that an individual is interviewed overseas by a Canadian visa officer, that they pass a security clearance, that they pass their health clearance, that they are given status to come to Canada, that they arrive in Canada—that is an incredibly important tool of protection. It's a solution for individual refugees, but it's also a mechanism for burden-sharing, to leverage opportunities for other refugees who are not able to resettle.

Having a mechanism by which that durable solution could be revoked runs fully counter to a consistent message that Canada has been stating internationally for more than five years.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. James.

May 2nd, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and to our two guests.

Earlier today, in the last hour, we actually had someone from Hungary, a counsellor from the embassy, and there were a couple of things he said that really struck a chord with me with regard to this particular bill.

We were trying to figure out why so many people from Hungary are coming to Canada and claiming to be refugees. Why do a large percentage of them actually not stay in Canada? They actually abandon their claims, withdraw them, or their actual claims are rejected. That's 95%, actually, from the European Union.

He said two things. One, they're seeking a better way of life, and two, they're coming here in order to get easy money. The second statement is quite alarming. When I think of the definition of refugee, and I've actually been looking up the definitions to get a cross-section of them, the thing that comes up predominantly is someone who is forced to leave a country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. If someone simply just wants to have easy money, is that a legitimate refugee?

5:15 p.m.

Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation

Chantal Desloges

No, but you're not using the correct definition of refugee. According to the convention, it's to escape any kind of persecution—

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Correct.

5:15 p.m.

Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation

Chantal Desloges

—which can be cumulative as well. But no, running away for economic reasons certainly does not make a person a refugee.

My only comment about the previous speaker is that he kind of lost his credibility with me when he said there's no discrimination against Roma in Hungary. Every single NGO says the exact opposite thing. To me, his testimony was a bit partisan. I'm not saying Hungary is or isn't. I'm just saying that I find his testimony a bit questionable.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, and I thank you for your comments.

Mr. Milner, do you think that someone who simply wants to leave their country for a better way of life or for easy money fits into the definition of what we think of as a refugee? Also, I want to point out that the last speaker, from the embassy of Hungary, actually indicated that it is the wrong way to come to Canada, that there is the proper way to emigrate to Canada, and some actually do choose that route.

Again, would you consider a refugee to be someone who simply wants to get easy money?

5:15 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

I agree with my colleague that the definition of refugee, according to the 1951 convention, is someone outside of their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution for one of five reasons. How we interpret those five reasons is something that has evolved over time.

What I would note, and what I take away from the testimony of the representative of Hungary, is the great importance of engaging countries of origin in any comprehensive solution for refugees. This is not the first time we have faced challenges of individuals moving for blended reasons, be they economic, be they social, be they fear of persecution.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you. I understand. We were just talking about this because he was our speaker in the last hour, but when 95% of the people from the European Union who try to make claims in Canada as refugees abandon their claims, they don't show up for their first hearings, after being able to receive lucrative payments here in Ontario, in my province, where my riding is, do you think that's fair to taxpayers? I'd like a yes or no answer.

I understand your position already, but do you think that's fair to taxpayers? Do you think it's responsible government to allow this to continue?

5:20 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

As an Ontario taxpayer, I think it's responsible government to have a credible and independent process to determine the claims of individuals on their merit.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

In your previous answers you've been talking about refugees having the right to movement. In reference to a mass arrival, again, there aren't many here in Canada. There have been a few hundred refugees coming in through irregular mass arrivals in the last decade. But with regard to movement, we actually don't know they're legitimate refugees when they first arrive. In many cases, they come without proper documentation. They've thrown it overboard. They have false documents. In many cases, the people who are actually involved in the smuggling are arriving as one of the refugees, or are requesting refugee status here in Canada.

Are you saying that until they are determined to be legitimate refugees they should have movement, or they shouldn't have movement?

5:20 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

I would actually defer. As I'm not a lawyer familiar with the Canadian process, I wouldn't claim to have credibility on that or a position.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

It's not necessary to be a lawyer. In your opinion, do you believe that someone...? Anyone can claim refugee status. Many cases are accepted, as they are legitimate refugees, and some are discredited and they're not accepted. But until people are actually determined to be refugees, do you think they should be able to move freely in our country without our being able to identify who they are first?