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

10:05 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

Okay.

The last point I want to make is a point about appeals. For years the lack of an appeal on merits has been the notable shortcoming in Canada's refugee system. We welcomed, therefore, the inclusion in Bill C-31 of establishing the Refugee Appeal Division. What is deeply troubling, though, is the discrimination in terms of who gets access to an appeal, most notably those who have arrived as part of an irregular arrival or those coming from designated countries of origin.

Discrimination in something so fundamental as access to justice contravenes Canada's international human rights obligations. An appeal hearing is not superfluous; it is essential, and this should not be part of the bill.

Thank you.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We have to move on, sir. Thank you very much, Mr. Neve.

Mr. Weston.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thanks, Chair.

First let me just say how proud I am to be a Canadian today. Your testimony reminds me of where I was as an international relations student, not long ago, it seems, in my mind, and, by the way, it won't be 10 years before you're members of Parliament. You don't need to wait that long. Thank you for being here.

Amnesty International I've supported personally. My family also has, perhaps because of Charlie Pley, my law school classmate, who was very involved in Amnesty in Ontario. Again, I'm proud that you're here today.

However, I want to say that while we rally around the same conclusions, that as Canadians we want to extend compassion to people who are in these unacceptable circumstances, my interpretation of the bill differs from yours in some ways. One of the basic issues I have is that I think it's also a human rights violation for us to keep people waiting for over 1,000 days, on average, the way we currently do, to process them, and I believe we need to do that faster. In this difficult position of being decision-makers in government, we have to make some decisions, and it's inevitable that there will be individual cases and problems with the decisions we make.

Let me ask you this first. If you understood that a large percentage of claims from certain countries—and I'm referring to the EU countries—were being abandoned or withdrawn, if you knew that people who come in from those countries were occupying a large amount of our financial resources—and Kelsey referred to financial usage—and you knew that they were using a lot of the processing time, which is therefore delaying the processing time for people who ultimately, we know, are refugees, wouldn't that in itself be something we would have to tackle? The percentages are very large. We're learning that about 90% of claims from Hungary weren't withdrawn, so there is where the bill moves to designating so-called safe countries.

Let me just throw in one more thing. Don't believe for a minute that the minister can totally, arbitrarily, and capriciously decide which are safe countries, because our Federal Court will require him to be accountable vis-à-vis certain criteria. The criteria, by the way, are laid out in the bill, criteria dealing with, for instance, countries where the numbers of claims are withdrawn or abandoned. So he has to be guided by that, and not arbitrarily and capriciously just say what is a safe country.

Let me get a response from Amnesty.

I would like Ms. Angeley and Ms. Fortier to answer as well.

10:10 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

Thank you very much. I certainly appreciate learning of your support for Amnesty International.

Absolutely, we agree that speedy, expeditious processing of refugee claims is not just an important government objective, it's an important objective for refugees themselves. Obviously they want their fate to be resolved. They want to be able to move on with rebuilding lives, reunite with family, and most importantly have that critical psychosocial sense of safety. At the same time, we have to be certain that we are not doing so in ways that may set unrealistic, unfair timelines that make it very difficult or even impossible for people to adequately prepare or present their cases. We also have to make sure that at the same time we're moving towards expeditiousness, we're not adopting policies that contravene key international human rights standards, such as the provisions I outlined earlier that are of concern to Amnesty International around arbitrary detention.

With respect to countries of origin—

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Let me just interrupt quickly. You geared all of your concerns about arbitrary detention as if it's punishment, but the specific expressed objective is to identify people so that we know that they are not security risks, not to punish them. That's clearly one of the objectives of the bill. That's why I think this can survive scrutiny by the courts.

But I interrupted you.

10:10 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

We already do have provisions in Canadian law that allow for detention for the purposes of verifying identity. This new approach of imprisoning an entire group simply on the basis of their group identify and their means of arrival is something very different, with respect.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

It's less than 1% of all refugee claimants, by the way, who would be in that category.

Ms. Angeley or Ms. Fortier, do you have anything to add?

10:10 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

I appreciate your comments, and it's true the backlog is unacceptable.

I made a friend in my first year who was a refugee claimant, who only just recently, last month, received her hearing. During that time I finished a university degree. I think in matters of expeditiousness it's a trade-off between speediness and living up to Canada's reputation as a humanitarian state.

Before designating a list of safe countries, there are other measures we can take. For example, the IRB is currently only 80% full. We can fill the rest of those appointments. We can listen to refugee claims on a case readiness basis.

And certainly we and our peers are concerned with the elimination of the expert panel. That seemed a nice check and a guarantee that if there is a list of safe countries, it would be done in a fair manner.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

The minister's ideal here is to expedite the process, not to become arbitrary or capricious. He has to be guided by certain criteria. For me, we're insulated from some of the concerns that you raised.

Let me add one thing. I think we would all probably give credence to the UNHCR, which has clearly recognized the validity of providing expedited processing for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin. In fact, former UN High Commissioner António Guterres has said that there are indeed safe countries of origin and there are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims would probably not be as strong as in other countries.

Do you think that's correct, Béatrice or Alex?

10:15 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

I think there's a big difference between a notion of expediting claims on the basis of country of origin and denying access to something as fundamental as an appeal hearing in something as consequential as a refugee claim. I think the high commissioner's comments were dealing with timelines and speeding up processing. Of course, that's the compromise that was reached earlier in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, using country of origin lists as a means for expediting. Amnesty International does still have concerns about the very concept, and I think we speak authoritatively as an organization that researches, documents, and reports on human rights violations all the time, as to the real difficulties in coming up with country of origin lists that are reliable. But at a minimum, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act took an approach that wasn't about something as fundamental as denying access to an appeal hearing.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

I'm sorry, Mr. Weston, we have to move on.

Madame Groguhé.

May 7th, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank our witnesses for being here this morning.

Some of the witnesses who have appeared here have talked to us about the importance of having a speedy system, but they have also said, as you have stressed this morning, that it must be based on respect for fundamental rights and humane, universal justice. In our opinion, these are really key points that will have to be taken into account in relation to this bill.

I have one question regarding the country of origin designation process. Bill C-31 amends both the country of origin designation process and the criteria for making that designation that are set out in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Could you comment on the new process that is proposed for designating countries of origin?

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Amnesty International Canada Francophone, Amnesty International

Béatrice Vaugrante

With pleasure.

Amnesty International does have serious concerns about the possibility of an entire country being designated as safe. First, the situation as regards human rights violations within a country can change very quickly. We need only think of Kenya. We thought things were going very well, but all of a sudden, a wave of violence washed over the country.

As well, human rights violations may be slow to reach us, even with all the means of communication available to us, and sometimes it is the refugees who tell us about them. It may be that a country presents a relatively positive picture in terms of various aspects of human rights but has serious problems in a particular region. For example, there could be an issue in relation to homosexuals. There may also be violence against women. If a country like that were designated as a safe country, it would become impossible to put a finger on problems of that nature.

As well, there is no way to objectively designate a country as safe. The process will end up being subjective. We have concerns about that subjectivity and how it is going to be measured. We are also concerned, in relation to designation of safe countries, that interests other than human rights may end up being taken into account: for example, trade or political interests.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you.

Karina and Kelsey, do you think this bill is going to solve the problem of human smugglers, in any way, or was it designed to penalize refugees? Do you think that this bill does anything at all to resolve the issue of human smugglers and human trafficking?

10:20 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

I have no answer to that question.