Evidence of meeting #39 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 children.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Ladies and gentlemen, we'll start. This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, meeting number 39, Thursday, May 2, 2012. As to the orders of the day, this meeting is televised pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, April 23, 2012, Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other acts.

You will note that because we have three witnesses on this panel, this meeting will be one hour and 15 minutes.

We have Sharalyn Jordan, a member of the board of the Rainbow Refugee Committee, good afternoon, and we have Christine Morrissey, who is the founder and a member of the board. Hello, you've been here before for the backlog studies, and thank you for coming again.

We have Michael Deakin-Macey, who is the past president of the board of directors of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, good afternoon. We put you off from this morning because we had to vote, and I thank you for coming around this afternoon.

We have from London, England, by video conference, John Amble.

You gave evidence on our security study. So thank you, sir, for coming and helping us with this particular bill.

Each group will have up to 10 minutes to make a presentation. We will start with Ms. Jordan or Ms. Morrissey or both.

3:30 p.m.

Sharalyn Jordan Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

We will be sharing our time.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

You have up to 10 minutes.

3:30 p.m.

Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

Sharalyn Jordan

Thank you.

On behalf of all my colleagues at the Rainbow Refugee Committee, I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our point of view on Bill C-31.

Rainbow Refugee supports efforts to create a fair, efficient, effective, and affordable refugee system. We share goals of upholding the integrity of refugee determination. In 2010, we were grateful for the opportunity to discuss Bill C-11 with this standing committee and we took notice when parliamentarians worked together and listened to those of us who work closely with refugees to revise what is now the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

Rainbow Refugee is disturbed to see that Bill C-31 resurrects measures that we identified as problematic, and includes new measures that disproportionately harm lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer refugees. These concerns are based on a decade of experience focused on this work.

Canada has been a global leader in refugee protection for those facing persecution due to sexual orientation or gender identity. We were the first country to recognize that transphobia and homophobia can result in persecution; 21 countries now do the same. This protection is vital in a world where 76 countries continue to criminalize lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people.

May 3rd, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.

Christine Morrissey Founder and Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

We strongly oppose giving the minister sole discretion to create a designated country list that denies access to appeal. A safe country list cannot accommodate the current state of complexity and flux in safety and protection for LGBT people. For example, Brazil holds the largest pride parade in the world with over three million people participating. It also has the highest rate of homophobic murders reported in the world. Is Brazil safe because the murders are reported, or unsafe because they happen in the first place and police are incapable of curbing them? Would you put Brazil on a designated country list?

South Africa recognizes same sex marriage, is democratic, has an independent judiciary, and civil society organizations. Based on Bill C-31, it could be placed on the designated country list. Yet there are 10 cases a week in which lesbians have been targeted for corrective rape, and the police have done nothing to investigate. Would you give a lesbian from South Africa an expedited hearing and no access to an appeal?

3:35 p.m.

Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

Sharalyn Jordan

It is precisely when country conditions appear safe on paper that LGBT refugee decisions are most complex and the safety net of an appeal is crucial. A life or death decision should never rest in one person's hands. The safe list was proposed to deal efficiently with surges in unfounded claims, yet countries like the U.K. that have a list do not necessarily have a more efficient system.

Our brief outlines more efficient measures aligned with UNHCR guidelines. If a designated list is kept, it must not deny right of appeal, and the criteria must include meaningful safety and viable state protection for LGBT people and other vulnerable groups. For example, have constitutional protections for sexuality and gender identity been put in place at an operational level? What protection resources are available, in practice, to people who face sexual or gender identity persecution?

3:35 p.m.

Founder and Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

Christine Morrissey

We have grave concerns about the injustice and harm caused to LGBT refugees designated as irregular arrivals under Bill C-31. Agents may be the only way LGBT asylum seekers can escape persecution, given that neighbouring countries are often unequally safe. In some regions of the world there is no safe haven for LGBT asylum seekers, so overseas refugee protection is not an option.

Consider the experience of one of our members, Adil, a gay man from an east African country that criminalizes homosexuality. If he fled to Kenya, a nearby country, he would face at least an eight-year wait for resettlement, while trying to survive in a country that has a 10-year prison sentence for homosexuality, and having to hide in camps or remain destitute in a city. UNHCR officials, typically locals, are not trusted and are often not trained in sexual orientation or gender identity decisions. We are working with overseas refugees from countries that publicly execute gay men. The UNHCR accepted that they were gay, and nonetheless denied their claims for protection.

Going back to Adil, an agent agreed to take him to Europe. Instead, Adil ended up in South America, where he was forced to work as a farm labourer. Over several months his work crew was moved north. They were eventually dropped off just over the Canadian border with $20 cash each. They went their separate ways. The mode of arrival says nothing about whether someone is a genuine refugee or not.

Adil found his way to a church, and the pastor helped him start a refugee claim. However, Adil was not able to disclose the reasons why he feared persecution. It was only after several meetings with his lawyer that he felt enough trust to say that he was gay.

3:35 p.m.

Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

Sharalyn Jordan

We strenuously object to the provisions that detain without prompt and independent review, deny due process, and delay access to permanent residency. Recently we received a letter from a gay man in detention in the Lower Mainland. He was from a country that imprisons LGBT people. He was afraid to speak openly with his assigned duty counsel, and felt extremely unsafe around the other detainees. Under Bill C-31 he would have to stay closeted and vigilant in jail for 12 months. His chances for a fair hearing would be severely curtailed.

Detention punishes the 94% of refugees who are not security threats. Existing legislation provides for detention until identity and security can be identified.

3:35 p.m.

Founder and Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

Christine Morrissey

The expedited timeframe proposed under Bill C-31 will not give LGBT claimants a fair chance to obtain competent legal counsel and prepare themselves and their evidence. We are pleased that the government has heard the concerns we expressed that a screening interview at 15 days would be unfair, ineffective, and extremely costly. Returning to a written basis of claim prepared with legal counsel is a step in the right direction. However, with this responsibility returned to community groups and lawyers, it is only fair that we be given reasonable opportunity to do a decent job. Legal aid applications take time, and we work with language and cultural gaps, and extremely intimate and sensitive testimony.

How would you begin to talk with a relative stranger about being sexually assaulted by police officers at gunpoint, or having your family threaten to stone you if you don't agree to an arranged marriage? Under these circumstances, how would you collect the documents that prove your fear of persecution? Could you do so in 30 days? Could you do so if using e-mail or fax put you and your family at further risk?

We know people who have been sent back to harm because they were unable to say what they needed to say, or because documentation was impossible to obtain. We fear that the vast majority of LGBT claimants will be inadequately prepared for hearings, resulting in poor decisions and unfair rejections.

3:40 p.m.

Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

Sharalyn Jordan

We are deeply concerned about the impact of barring claimants from an H and C application both during and for 12 months after the claim.

These measures form a crucial safety net for LGBT people at risk of serious harm in their home countries. Determining when homophobia and transphobia cross the threshold and become persecution is challenging. Board members and lawyers struggle to make this call. Good information is sparse and the gap between laws on paper and on the ground conditions is large.

Marta, from Mexico, arrived at a Rainbow Refugee meeting two years ago. With time, she confided in us. As a young woman she had been rejected by family because of her sexuality. On her own since the age of 16, she dealt with harassment as a butch lesbian and a mixed race Mexican.

In 2008 she was viciously attacked by a gang of men with connections to the police. They beat and burned her, smashed her hands, and threatened to kill her. Marta and her girlfriend went into hiding, but the threats continued. Marta filed police reports and was told that she would have to pay daily for protection from the police.

The two women tried relocating and in each city, threats followed. After another close call, Marta bought a plane ticket to Vancouver. Would you advise Marta to make a refugee claim or to file an agency application?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.

Founder and Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

I'm sorry, we're out of time. I'd like to give you more time, but I'm not allowed to.

Mr. Deakin-Macey, you have up to 10 minutes.

3:40 p.m.

Michael Deakin-Macey Past President, Board of Directors, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, As an Individual

Thank you very much.

Good morning to all members of the committee and all those who are witness to these proceedings.

I recently travelled to Europe with my sweetheart and visited the grave of one of her relatives who died at Passchendaele in Belgium. It's very emotional seeing the name of a relative on a tombstone, especially when so far from home. There are many others there too, and many among them are Chinese workers brought in to dig graves for the fallen. They dug well into 1919 to bury the dead.

I start with this because Canada at that time did not treat the Chinese particularly well, especially by today's standards. Yet despite this, the Chinese are buried in the same graveyard. Despite all of the things that generation did wrong by today's standards, when the time came, they did the most honourable thing possible: they all rest together.

I see myself as a quiet Canadian. By that I mean I work to take care of my family, I volunteer in my community, and run my small business with hopes of employing more people in the future. My volunteer activities have caused me to be here before you today, because I'm the past president of the board of directors of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society in the city of Victoria, British Columbia.

It's a small organization of approximately 30 full-time staff with a budget of $2 million a year. I was a very involved president. I know business and learned the somewhat arcane business of the Canadian immigration and refugee system at the street level. It works despite itself. Our funding came from more than a dozen sources and it consumed 20% to 30% of the staff's time applying for and administering all of these programs. Simply put, it needs a bit of improving.

I've been following the debate in my current role as a quiet Canadian in a quiet city. Canada is a generous country to the point that some see us as simple and often take advantage. Simple is a country that takes care of everybody, regardless of whether or not they're Canadian.

The Canada Health Act of 1984 guarantees access to emergency health care regardless of nationality. We get many visitors who are sick and show up in Canadian emergency rooms. We treat them, no questions asked. Then we try to get compensated for what it costs us to treat them. Being generous is not inexpensive.

Which brings us to today and the question of refugees, at least that's the reason I was asked to come. The Sun Sea was brought into my home town of Victoria. The first thing that Canada did was to ensure that they were physically safe and then to get them any medical attention that they needed, as well as food, clothing, and a clean place to sleep. Yes, they were detained, but they were not denied entry. Our country took care of them.

As reported in The Toronto Star on August 21, 2010 by Petti Fong, three in five Canadians believe that the ship should have been turned back. Yet the government did the honourable thing despite public opinion at the time.

Bill C-31 is partly a debate about the detail of our refugee system, partly a response to the public's desire to stop large groups of illegal refugees from taking advantage of our generosity. The devil, as always, is in the details. Let us remember that nobody is attempting here, in my opinion, to stop refugees from coming to Canada. Proportionately we take more than most countries.

We want to stop the organized trafficking of refugees using Canada as a target of their activities because of our international reputation as a simple country. This uses scarce Canadian resources that are better utilized getting the horrendous backlog of legitimate immigration applicants—800,000 and counting I believe—processed, letting those poor, quiet people waiting patiently in other countries know whether the answer is yes or no to being allowed to come to Canada.

Like our forefathers who ensured that the Chinese labourers rested with the fallen Canadian soldiers, I want to ensure that we continue our national generosity of taking care of all refugees who come to our shores, while placing reasonable restrictions on how quickly they become Canadians based on their method of arrival. We owe it to all Canadians, past and present, to continue quietly building this simple country we call home.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

Good afternoon, Mr. Amble. I guess it's good evening; it's ten o'clock over there.