Evidence of meeting #45 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 chair.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jennifer Irish  Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Matthew Oommen  Senior Counsel, Legal Services , Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Monique Frison  Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Allan Kagedan  Director, National Security Operations, Public Safety Canada

6 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I would like to speak on the clause as well.

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Ms. Sims is first.

May 10th, 2012 / 6 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, we have sat here for a great number of days. We've listened to lots of testimony. I wish I'd had time to go over much of that testimony, but I didn't, not in as much detail as I would have liked. Now we've been through a lengthy period of clause-by-clause.

I've often heard the rationale that the bill is actually for getting at the smugglers. But the more I've looked at the bill as I've gone through it, the more I see that it's about punishing refugees. That is one of the reasons I wanted to move an amendment to that effect.

I want to just comment on the title of the bill. I want to say that there is very little in the bill that actually addresses punishment for smugglers, who already have the maximum punishment, a life sentence, and who already have fines of up to a million dollars. All of those are there.

What this creates for refugees is a two-tiered system. Depending on how you arrive and where you arrive and what kind of grouping you arrive in, you could actually be designated an irregular asylum seeker. Once you are designated, you can actually be kept in a detention prison for up to a year. Then for five years you cannot have any travel papers. You don't have any status. You can't go anywhere. You can't apply for your family to come and join you. You can't go and visit your family.

I can't imagine why we would not be calling this piece of legislation the Punishing Refugees Act.

Also, at this time, I want to acknowledge that there was quite an abhorrent part of this legislation, which would have retroactively sought cessation based on whether the country had changed its standing, so to speak. We're glad to see that gone. But we still feel that this bill is fundamentally flawed and fundamentally changes our refugee policies.

Numerous witnesses gave testimony as to how this bill will contravene the charter, the Constitution, and our international obligations. So it is with a great deal of regret for me, as a Canadian citizen, and now as a parliamentarian, that I see legislation that so lacks compassion.

We heard the representatives from the Anglican Church talk eloquently about the work they do in this area and the problems they see in this legislation. They pleaded with all of us to come out of this process with something that would not be so punitive towards some of the world's most vulnerable people who arrive on our shores.

By the way, our current legislation, from Bill C-11, which is the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, absolutely gives the government the ability to hold people in detention, pending identification and a security check to make sure they're not a risk to Canada's security. We have that option. As a matter of fact, there are people from the two boats that arrived many years ago who are still in detention. That is possible.

The other two-tiered aspect of the bill is related to the designated countries and the fact that within designated countries there can be pretty serious violations, either towards a particular group or in a particular part of that country.

When we look at this bill overall, the one adjective, verb, and adverb that keeps coming up over and over again is built on the word “punishment”, whether you say punitive or punishment.

I am very, very disappointed that this bill is here, and I will be voting against the bill.

I do want to acknowledge once again the moves made by the government, by the minister, to address some concerns, and I will acknowledge that those are baby steps.

I always believe in positive reinforcement, and I hope when you get back and share with the minister—he might even be listening to all of this—that he will listen to some of our other concerns and take a look at the pile of amendments. Perhaps those will happen at the next stage. As you said, I always live in hope, and I am an optimist.

Mr. Chair, we are going to be opposing this bill at this meeting. We're finding it very hard to swallow the title that has been given to this legislation. It's very, very difficult for me to live with that title, but as you said, I'm not allowed to amend that. I still say I will be calling this act the Punishing Refugees Act.

Thank you.

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Lamoureux.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I realize that all the committee members, on all sides of the committee room, have been very patient in listening to a lot of presenters, witness comments, so I'll try to keep my comments short, with the idea of being able to speak at third reading.

I'm hopeful that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration will recommend to the government not to put any time limits or restrictions—

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Are you speaking on clause 1?

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Yes, absolutely. I recommend not putting any sort of time limit in terms of what might happen in third reading. We should try to allow for full and open debate.

I say that, Mr. Chair, because when we look at the title of the bill, it is very clear. The idea behind it was to try to improve the system. Based on that, I would argue that ultimately this bill attempts to deal with a crisis that really does not exist.

I say that because this bill can be broken into three parts, if I can generalize it very briefly.

One of them deals with the whole concept of speeding things up for the refugees. I believe that everyone inside this room and all of the witnesses who came before the committee recognize that the current system needs to be sped up. It's better for the refugees and the taxpayers. It's better for everyone. We recognized that a couple of years back. That's why we had Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. That bill did receive good, solid support, and it dealt with the issue of speeding up the process.

The second thing was for the minister to deal with human smuggling. This bill takes into account Bill C-11 and Bill C-4. You'll recall, Mr. Chair, that Bill C-4 is still on the order paper. It's all about the Sun Sea, the Ocean Lady, and human smuggling. I often make reference to the picture of the Minister of Immigration and the Prime Minister standing on the back of I think the Ocean Lady, but it might have been the Sun Sea, trying to highlight this “crisis”. The reality is that the system wasn't broken; the system was actually working.

When my colleague from the New Democratic Party made reference to both the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, there were well over 550 refugees. The current system identified security risks, and those individuals—I believe there were six of them—are still in detention today because the Government of Canada has concerns in regard to that. There should be no doubt among committee members that there is nothing wrong with the system we have here today.

The third and broader issue is biometrics. As I pointed out in an earlier comment, this isn't something new. It's been happening throughout the world. In fact, it was first introduced somewhere around seven or eight years ago as a pilot project. I think the committee recognized that fact, and that's the reason we were investigating the issue of biometrics and how it might be able to benefit Canadian society going forward.

It would have been a whole lot better to have completed that study, reviewed the pilot project that was initiated years ago, and then developed a separate piece of legislation in order to deal with that. Then we could have had witnesses or whoever else participate to have better definition or clarification of the regulations to address some of the questions that were being posed.

In principle, we have been consistent in saying that we do not support Bill C-31 because it does establish two tiers of refugees. There is the whole concept of mandatory detention. Even though I acknowledge that after listening to the committee and the public, the government and the minister did recognize that they had made a mistake—and that's a good thing—we are very concerned about this family separation issue. That's why I asked for a recorded vote on clause 81. I wanted to make sure that it was perfectly clear and that people in this committee realized that we were preventing families from being able to reunite, or at least this minister was.

From an opposition point of view, I can tell you that the Liberal Party will be watching very closely what this minister does and how he decides to use his new power potentially against those victims—I underline the word “victims”—of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady. They have come from a country in which they were victims. Is this minister going to revictimize them? We'll have to wait and see, but rest assured, this is an issue the Liberal Party will be following very closely.

We are concerned with the timelines. There's so much within the legislation, and that's why, at the end of the day, I believe we would have been far better off, at the very least, to bring back this bill six months from now. How could we make this a bill that would deserve the title we're giving it? Right now, I don't believe it deserves the assigned title.

If we were to allow more time and genuinely fix the bill, there might be some merit for this particular clause, but as it stands right now, we do not support clause 1. I look forward to the bill entering third reading and debate in the House, where I'll be able to add a few more comments from my perspective and the perspective of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Madame Groguhé.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As Ms. Sims has just said, we are of course opposed to this bill. We said so from the outset. The bill is a blind step backwards, because, as the title does not indicate—

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Remember, we're on clause 1.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Okay.

The title of this bill is neither just nor fair, it is quite the opposite. New areas of refugees' rights are being introduced. One of those areas, the one that creates two categories of refugees, runs counter to the basic rights found in the Geneva Convention. The notion of retroactivity in putting this legislation into effect is fundamentally unconstitutional. As some witnesses have told us, we also know that there will be a lot of challenges that will end up in court and will cost enormous amounts of money as a result. That has not been considered.

As for the mandatory detention, we have not considered the consequences for children and families, unfortunately. This is a vital point; the discussions we have had, the views we have shared and the amendments we have proposed have unfortunately fallen on deaf ears.

I see, in fact, that very few of our amendments have been adopted. I see that as ignoring the consequences that this bill will have on human lives.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Okay.

Anyone else?

I undertook that we would be lenient in getting people back to the table to vote, so we're about to vote.

(Clause 1 agreed to on division)

Shall the title carry?

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

On division.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Shall the bill as amended carry?