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

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

The five-year window in which you cannot apply for anybody or get travel documents doesn't mean that families are going to be reunited after five years. That's when they can apply, and that creates a lot of humane concerns, as well as some practical ones.

My next question is around the new proposed timelines. Everyone of us wants to see refugees expedited, but what do you think about the timelines that are proposed in this bill? We've had quite a bit of feedback on how they actually take away rights rather than protecting rights.

10:40 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

I'm sure you will probably have already heard, and will probably continue to hear, from individuals who do refugee work on a daily basis—refugee lawyers, people working with front-line organizations—who I'm sure can tell you very powerfully that speed is so valuable, absolutely. Everyone wants speed, and the agony all of us hear from refugee claimants in our offices as they learn that their hearing isn't going to be scheduled for 8 months or 18 months or those sorts of delays is also agonizing.

However, these timelines are unrealistic, in the sense of putting many refugees in positions where it will simply be impossible to prepare and gather documentation and have adequate consultation with lawyers to make sure they are putting their case forward in the clearest, strongest way possible. That in itself will help expedite the process, because a poorly prepared case will only cause further delays.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Neve.

Mr. Dykstra has two blocks of time.

May 7th, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

This has become a recurring theme. I had hoped that when we started the process, in terms of witness presentation—and I don't hold any of you responsible for this—we would be hearing from different themes in terms of support or not support of the bill. I find I'm repeating myself on a regular basis.

Based on the opposition that you have to the bill, I understand your perspective, but we have heard it on a number of occasions already. In fact, I do want to clarify a couple of things.

Number one, the former United Nations High Commissioner Abraham Abraham said that the UNHCR does not oppose the introduction of a designated or safe country of origin list, as long as this is used as a procedural tool to prioritize or accelerate examination of applications in carefully circumscribed situations and not as an absolute bar. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and Finland all use and implement the designated safe country.

In terms of the criteria for claimants from countries—for example, there are two quantitative thresholds for countries that have a mass number of applications into our country, for those who are seeking asylum as refugees. They have to meet one of two quantitative thresholds, or limits, as set out in the order. The proposed triggers for a review are based on rejection rates, withdrawal, and abandonment rates. A rejection rate, which includes abandonment and withdrawal, of 75% or higher would trigger a review. Similarly, an abandonment and withdrawal rate of 60% or higher would also trigger a review, and I repeat “a review”. It doesn't automatically mean that the designation is going to take place. An internal review led by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, in partnership with a number of other ministries within the government, will make the determination or recommendation based on a review that the country that is in question has either hit the criteria from a quantitative perspective or is subject to a review based on the number of withdrawals or abandonments that we have seen. So there are defined criteria that will be here.

I was part of Bill C-11. I sat through every minute of the hearings, and also the negotiations in terms of moving it forward, and 80% to 85% of Bill C-11 is going to move forward. There are just additional aspects that we have brought to the table here.

Under Bill C-11, which was a problem with respect to the designated country, there was no provision for transparent criteria. The criteria would be determined by the group itself. The concern we had was (a) what would those criteria consist of, and (b) there were no assurances as to the time allocation of how long that determination process would take. So at least through here, (a) we have a transparent set of criteria, and (b) we actually know the timeframe within which this designated country application will actually take place.

For claimants from countries with a low number of claims, we're actually going to move to a qualitative checklist, which will be established right in the legislation itself. So the qualitative checklist will include (1) the existence of an independent judicial system in that country; (2) recognition of basic democratic rights and freedoms, including mechanisms for redress if those rights or freedoms are infringed; and (3) the existence of civil society organizations.

While I respect that you may not agree with the process in terms of how we come to the conclusion, it's unfair, and it's also untrue to state that there aren't qualitative and quantitative criteria built in to both the legislation and the mechanism that will be used to go through the process for review. It's really important that this gets put on the table. I think part of the reason that folks come to the table and state that they're unsure of, or leery of, the designated safe country is that this information isn't necessarily at your fingertips. I do understand that is a concern, but I also understand that as we move forward in terms of Bill C-31...and part of the reason why we're doing these hearings is to afford us all the opportunity to understand the bill as it sits in a much stronger form.

Kelsey, I wanted to ask you about one of the concerns I have. I respect the fact that the opposition to a particular piece of legislation is democratic, but so is the support of the legislation, and we've heard from a majority of Canadians across this country that in fact this bill doesn't go far enough and that it should be more aggressive in its nature. We don't necessarily agree with that. We want a bill that is going to do both: suit and meet the expectations of most Canadians, and also, obviously, respect the rule of law as closely as we possibly can.

You spoke a number of times about the issue of rights and fairness. Over the last decade, we're talking about approximately 100,000 to 120,000 refugees who have come to this country and have been accepted, of which there were only 600 in the last decade.... Two ships have come here with approximately 600 people, and you've spent a great deal of time focused on the rights of those 600 individuals, while not acknowledging and complimenting the fact that between 100,000 and 120,000 refugees in fact have had those rights, in the same aspect that you're talking about.

So what we're concerned about here is only one small part of the bill, which gets at the irregular arrivals. I think it's important to note that we are talking about...less than half a per cent of the impact of our system within this bill is focused on those who come as different arrivals—other than by land or off-land.

I come to this point because currently we have over 40,000 individuals who have claimed refugee status in Canada and who we can't find. We don't know where they are. We have over 2,000 individuals who were approved for permanent residency or refugee status and actually got it by basically cheating the system, by not being forthright and honest about their perspective—or at least their claim.

For me, when you say we have to protect the rights of an individual, we also have to protect the rights of Canadians, and my concern is that we cannot.... I know it's important that everyone is as equal as we can potentially come to, but there is a balance that gets struck when we have over 40,000 people—and that's why I believe the system is broken—who we currently cannot locate. We do not know where they are. Now, we don't know if they present a danger to society; we won't know until something actually happens. But then...and there, I think, is where the rights of Canadians as individuals are and that we as a collective have to ensure. The government's responsibility is to protect those rights as well.

10:45 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

Well, I think Canada should be commended on its outstanding reputation toward refugees. Canada is the only country to have received the Nansen medal for refugees.

As you said, irregular arrivals by boat are a very small percentage, but I believe that under the current bill people arriving in groups of more than three would be considered irregular...?

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

That's actually not the case. I appreciate the fact that it isn't as defined as one may like it, but a family coming in and declaring refugee status in Canada is not going to be declared an irregular arrival.

10:50 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

But I do think it's a dangerous precedent to set by doing something like mandatory detention—

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Mandatory detention—

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We've run out of time. I'm sorry. That was just starting to get interesting.

Thank you very much to our two groups, B. Refuge and Amnesty International, for your presentations. You've sparked some interest. Thank you for coming.

We will suspend for a few moments.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

I'd like to call the meeting back to order. This will be interesting because we have so many people present.

We have Ambassador Brinkmann, who is here leading a delegation of the European Union to Canada. With him in Ottawa is Jose-Antonio Torres Lacas, who is the first counsellor, and Terri-Ann Priel, who is the adviser on political and public affairs.

We also have eight people in Brussels by teleconference. I'm not going to introduce you, so before you speak, could you identify yourselves, because it's complicated here. It will make it easier when you answer a question if you just give your name before you speak.

We also have, by video conference from the Federal Government of Germany, Anja Klabundt, counsellor of the European harmonization unit, Ministry of the Interior; and Roland Brumberg, counsellor of immigration law, Ministry of the Interior. Good morning to you.

I see a third person there. Is he just observing?

11 a.m.

Christoph Ehrentraut Counselor, European Harmonization Unit, Federal Government of Germany

My name is Christoph Ehrentraut, and I am also responsible for European asylum laws.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you to you all.

Your Excellency, you will have up to 10 minutes to make a presentation.

Ms. Klabundt, you will have up to 10 minutes to make a presentation.

We will ask Ambassador Brinkmann to speak first. Good morning, sir.

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I have a question of clarification before we start.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

On a point of order, yes.

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Our norm is to have two witnesses. Because we have three, the 20 minutes will be kind of.... Will their speaking time be adjusted?