Evidence of meeting #40 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 c-31.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Catherine Dauvergne  Canada Research Chair in Migration Law, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law, As an Individual
  • Sharryn Aiken  Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual
  • Kelsey Angeley  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
  • Karina Fortier  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
  • Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International
  • Béatrice Vaugrante  Executive Director, Amnesty International Canada Francophone, Amnesty International
  • Christoph Ehrentraut  Counselor, European Harmonization Unit, Federal Government of Germany
  • Excellency Bernhard Brinkmann  Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Canada
  • Anja Klabundt  Counsellor, of European Harmonization Unit, Ministry of the Interior, Federal Government of Germany
  • Roland Brumberg  Counselor of Unit Immigration Law, Federal Government of Germany
  • Ioana Patrascu  Legal Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Asylum Unit, European Commission
  • Angela Martini  Policy Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Border Management and Return Policy Unit, European Commission

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

If not, Mr. Neve or...

10:20 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

I think the measures the bill proposes do not punish human traffickers. They punish the refugees who pay for human trafficking services.

Actually, in the committee meeting on April 26, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration talked about deterring passengers as the most important component of this bill. I just don't think that will work. People who pay for the services of human smugglers are motivated by desperation and fear. To deter them assumes a level of rationality, and fear and desperation are irrational. Furthermore, many of the refugees we work with do not know anything about the system before they arrive here. The measures in place in this bill assume that there are networks for distributing information abroad and that people are aware of the punitive measures before they come to Canada, which, in reality, is not the case.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Neve, some witnesses have told us that the rules relating to irregular arrivals, including detention for one year, were unreasonable and excessive. Could you give us more detail on that point and tell us what international legal obligations or what charter rights these rules infringe?

10:20 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

Thank you.

There are many international legal provisions at stake when we look at the detention regime here. It starts with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees against arbitrary arrest and detention, and the need for regular, timely access to an ability to challenge the reasons for detention.

It's repeated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976.

There are provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child that deal in particular with the liberty rights of children and the importance of ensuring that they are not subject to arbitrary arrest. In fact, their detention is only an option of absolute last resort.

There are also numerous provisions in refugee law. The hard-law provisions in the refugee convention, for instance, make it clear that simply because a refugee claimant arrives in a country through illegal means, which is a very normal and necessary step for many refugee claimants, that is not in itself grounds to punish him or her. Obviously, imprisonment constitutes punishment.

There are also guidelines and other documents from the UNHCR that make it very clear that detaining refugee claimants should not be a normal course and that great care should be taken, particularly with respect to refugees who are vulnerable: children and survivors of rape, sexual violence, and torture. There are no provisions in this legislation for that.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

In view of everything you have addressed, do you think Canada is still a country that is in compliance with the conventions and the charters of rights and freedoms?

10:20 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

We're very clearly of the view that these detention provisions do not conform to our international legal obligations. I think we're already starting to see that signalled. As I said, earlier this year, in February, Canada was reviewed by a UN-level human rights body, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. These mandatory detention provisions were brought to their attention. They expressed concern and called on the Canadian government not to go ahead with this. So I think we're already seeing signals at the international level that UN human rights experts will be concerned about this, and that's not a step we should be taking.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Neve.

Mr. Lamoureux.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

I'd like to pick up on that particular point and maybe add a little bit more to it. I think we do need to be clear that Bill C-31 will be a fairly extensive bill in terms of financial costs to taxpayers, but more importantly, there is the issue of human rights, the idea of challenges that will no doubt come out if this bill passes as it is, without amendment. There will be constitutional challenges. Many, including myself, would argue there would be successful constitutional challenges because of the mandatory detention clause.

There are other issues surrounding the bill that one would argue have tarnished Canada's international reputation, and I think that's most noteworthy. When you look at the larger picture of the number of refugees worldwide, in excess of 10 million refugees, Canada has historically played a fairly strong role in terms of providing leadership on the refugee file. This is going to take away from our ability to do that.

To Karina and Kelsey, I appreciate your comments. I'd be very much interested in receiving a copy of the petition you make reference to. I think it's great that a body of students at McGill has taken an interest in what's happening in Bill C-31. You both expressed passionately your thoughts on it.

I have a very limited amount of time; that's why I wanted to get a few points on the record.

I guess my first question is in regard to what else is happening at your university. Are you expanding, making other universities aware of it? I would welcome the opportunity to even have a discussion on Bill C-31 with the minister at your university, if the minister were prepared to go to debate this particular bill.

Can you provide what else is happening at your university?

10:25 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

We had two sessions where we tried to raise awareness about this project. We set up a table where a lot of people pass through, and as I said, we just stopped people and asked them if they had heard about Bill C-31. Most people hadn't heard about it. We told them what it was.

Further than that, it's summer now and most students have gone home or are on vacation. As for next year, we're very interested in getting the media involved and, as you said, connecting with other universities.

We are hoping this bill is not going to pass so that we have more time to oppose it, with the connection of other networks.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

I appreciate the comments.

There's a component in the bill that says if you are deemed as one of those irregular arrivals and you're held in mandatory detention for one year, after that, even if you're a bona fide refugee, you cannot sponsor a family member.

I'm wondering if you can provide comment as to what you think the impact of that might be.

10:25 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

That is another deeply troubling piece of the legislation, the fact that there will essentially be a five-year bar because of the inability to get permanent residence for five years for the individuals you've described, and with that, therefore, an inability to sponsor family members. That's of grave concern on a number of levels.

Again, it contravenes important international human rights obligations, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, very notably, which makes it clear that states are supposed to do everything they can to expedite the reunification of separated families when minor children are involved. A five-year mandatory delay is certainly not expeditious reunification, so there are legal consequences.

The psychosocial cost and impact of keeping families separated for such a lengthy period of time is a very severe one. Here's an individual whom Canada has recognized does have protection needs, is going to be protected by us. We're complying with those international obligations, but at the same time we are saying they have no right to be reunited with their family in a speedy way because of how they travelled to Canada.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Are you concerned with regard to the perceived, and now real, distinguishing...now we have two types of refugees as a direct result of that. That, in itself, might be in contravention of some of the UN resolutions that have been passed.

10:25 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

I think the sense of discrimination that lies at the heart of this bill, treating refugees differently based on how they've arrived in Canada, based on their country of nationality, and therefore being denied equal protection of some key human rights issues—access to appeal provisions, access to family reunification, ability to travel abroad—simply on those grounds is deeply troubling. Yes, we would argue that it does run afoul of obligations we have under international human rights treaties not to treat people in a discriminatory fashion, but it will also have a very serious human impact and cost.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Leung.

May 7th, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the witnesses.

Mr. Neve, there's a fine balance between Canada's world reputation on human rights and the generosity we extend to refugees or people in need—the reality of the cost of settling refugees, to the tune of $50,000 per person per year, and maybe up to $1.6 billion over a period of five years.

Is Canada's health and social welfare system for refugees much more generous than that of other EU countries, or other countries, like the United States or Australia, which are also caught in the same bind of having to deal with mass arrivals or refugee arrivals in general?