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

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

You've specifically mentioned Roma. You've said they're not going to choose a country that's close by, for various reasons.

So again, why come to Canada as a refugee claimant, not come the proper way with a visa, permanent residency, and so forth, and then abandon their claim? To me it doesn't make sense to say they can't go to another European Union country and receive that protection when they come to Canada, accept benefits for one to two years, and then don't show up for their hearing. They abandon their claim, voluntarily leave, and go back to their country of origin. I don't think we've actually had an answer that makes sense to the people who may be listening to this committee today.

As a separate side note, when we talk about the European Union, would you say that the health benefits and the welfare system here in Canada are far better than in countries in the European Union? Do you know that answer?

9:15 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

I'm not an expert on European health care, but we know it's of a high standard—western world.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

We had someone here from the Taxpayers Federation who indicated it costs Canadian taxpayers about $50,000 per refugee claimant. We have some figures: $170 million per year in benefits, such as welfare, health benefits, etc.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

I'm afraid your time has expired. I'm sorry.

Ms. Sims.

May 7th, 2012 / 9:15 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you very much. Thank you for taking the time to come to talk to us today.

Catherine, my first question is to you. Then I will have questions for Sharryn as well.

We've heard the government MPs be very consistent in their insistence that asylum seekers, the irregular ones, will be released from mandatory detention when they are identified and security checks are complete.

Is that your understanding, based on the legislation as it sits right now?

9:15 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

That's not what the legislation says at present.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Okay. That seems to be very consistent with what we have heard from other experts who have reported on that.

9:15 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

That is what the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides, so we have a legislative scheme already actively in place that creates exactly the scheme you've just suggested.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

The great Canadian compromise that's been talked about a lot but has never really been implemented is Bill C-11 in its entirety.

I know you talked about Australia a fair bit. In 2008, Australia reformed their immigration system because they saw there were some flaws in it. Can you explain the problems with Australia's past immigration policy, and how Bill C-31 will have the same problems?

9:15 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

Australia created a system in 2001 in which individuals who arrived on boats were denied family reunification rights and were given only temporary protected status that could later be turned into protected status. It is worth noting that in Australia, somebody who gets protected status, except for between 2001 and 2007, becomes a permanent resident on that day. It's a complete determination that is quite different from any Canadian scheme.

What happened in 2001 when the decision was made that people who arrived on boats would get inferior protection? Until 2001, most people arriving on boats in Australia were able-bodied young men, to put it bluntly. After the change, when family reunification rights were cut off, the people arriving on boats were more likely to be family groupings, with a greater number of children and their moms. This is a real issue in Australia, because people drown every year doing this and it puts different communities at risk. It was also very clear that people seeking protection were willing to take this risk because they were in very difficult circumstances.

Those particular provisions about having only temporary protection and no right of family reunification were removed from Australian law in 2008 because of the harm they were causing to people seeking protection. The removal of family reunification rights is one thing that is directly targeted at people who are designated foreign nationals under Bill C-31.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you.

I have a question for you, Sharryn, from my part of the world, from UBC. We want to promote regional solutions to the global refugee crisis. That seems to be the mantra. In this regard, shouldn't we be encouraging refugees from Sri Lanka to pursue asylum in India or Thailand?

9:20 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Thank you for the question.

As I touched on just at the end of my remarks, the problem is that there's no process for doing that. Neither India nor Thailand—nor Malaysia or Indonesia, for that matter—is a signatory to the refugee convention. None of those countries has implemented refugee status determination procedures.

At best, what can happen in a country like Thailand, for example, is that the refugee claimants can approach the UNHCR to register. They're given a form of documentation that is supposed to serve as evidence to the Thai authorities that they've registered with the UNHCR and that they're in process for the possibility of resettlement. In the meantime, they're at risk of being rounded up, arrested, detained, and sent back to Sri Lanka by Thai authorities. It's a very precarious life.

Those who are lucky enough to be identified for resettlement will wait years. Imagine this if you are a family with young children. You fled human rights violations in your country of origin—in this case, we're talking about Sri Lanka—you came to Thailand hoping for a solution, and you are told that you have no right to stay in Thailand, to integrate, to work, and to build a life. Yes, you can join the queue, you are told, but your child will probably be of university age by the time he's identified for resettlement to Canada. What kind of life is that?

Essentially, it's a holding pattern. At worst, it's detention. At best, it's a marginalized existence, with no right to participate in a community in which you're situated.

So regional solutions, yes, and I am absolutely an advocate for them. But that means countries getting together and coming up with genuine solutions for the global refugee situation, not simply saying that those refugees should stay in the region where they came from when there's no procedure set up to deal with them.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

In regard to my next question, you know that often the justification for this bill is that it's to deter human smuggling. That's sort of the big push behind it. Don't you think it's important for us to deter human smuggling?

9:20 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Smuggling rings, yes. Smuggling rings are often coordinated by very large criminal enterprises, and there's no question that the full force of the law should be engaged to deal with that form of transnational crime.

Indeed, Canada is a signatory to the transnational protocols on organized crime, and we have implemented very serious sanctions already in Canadian law to prosecute and punish human smuggling. That's as it should be.

The reality is that whatever we do in Canada is going to be limited, because the real kingpins of these networks aren't in Canada and rarely get here. Even the people who might accompany a group of refugee claimants on a boat are not the kingpins of the organization. At best, they are people who've been paid a modest sum to escort the group, but they're not the people profiting from the networks.

So my answer is yes, of course, we need to address human smuggling. The sad reality is that our legal tools will never be adequate to stamp them out. What we have to be absolutely careful about is not to punish the very refugees who are using those services because they have no other choice.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you very much.

Mr. Lamoureux.