House of Commons Hansard #88 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, first of all, there is an assumption in the member's first question about how Sri Lankan refugees would come to Canada that I do not necessarily accept. Under this assumption, everyone coming to Canada in this fashion is in need of our protection. They are all coming here seeking protection, as opposed to family reunification, economic opportunities, or a mix of motives.

Since the end of hostilities in Sri Lanka last year, some 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees who are resident in Tamil Nadu under the protection of the Indian government have returned voluntarily to Sri Lanka. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has facilitated the return to Sri Lanka of many Tamils who were living temporarily in Southeast Asia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that Tamils can no longer be presumed to be bona fide asylum claimants. According to a survey done by the Canada Border Services Agency, the majority of successful Tamil asylum claimants in Canada have since returned, at least for visits, to the country from which they fled, after claiming that they could not be there for reasons of persecution.

I would remind the member of the recent CBC report that interviewed people who had paid these networks. Many are living not in Sri Lanka but in India. If they would like to come to Canada, they are free to fill out an application to come here as an immigrant. If they are in need of protection, they are free to enrol with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

They should not come in the worst and most dangerous way possible, which is through a smuggling syndicate.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise to speak to this bill.

I am deeply concerned that any time the Conservatives are faced with a choice of considering policy, sitting down and having a rational discussion, or playing politics, they choose to play politics. There does not seem to be a headline the Conservatives are not willing to exploit.

I can remember the pardon issue, four or five years ago, when the then public safety minister said, after a sensational case, that they had fixed the pardon problem. He said they did not involve the rest of Parliament, because it was something they were able to do on their own. They refused to have any hearings. On the back of a napkin, they whipped something up and called it fixed.

And then we had Graham James. All of sudden, they feigned indignation and said they had to do something fast, forgetting that they themselves claimed to have fixed the problem some four years before.

However, this did not stop them from trying to play games with the problem again. They ratchet up the rhetoric and, on the back of a napkin, whip up a policy, instead of sitting down with Parliament and having a mature debate.

When the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady arrived on Canadian shores, the Minister of Public Safety was eager to say this was a boatload of terrorists. He talked about intercepting boats in international waters, even though this would violate international conventions. Anywhere else this has been tried, it has been a disaster, raising fears that people would be thrown overboard to hide the evidence, that human beings would be tossed like luggage off the side of the ship to hide the fact that they were being smuggled.

So, for roughly 2% of the claimants Canada would get in a year, the Conservative government went nuclear, not because it wanted to fix something, but because it wanted to play politics and saw a great opportunity to drive a wedge.

The people the Conservatives called terrorists turned out to be mostly women and children. But that is an aside. Apparently, it did not matter much to them.

So after much floundering, including talk about going out into international waters, after throwing around a lot of rhetoric, we get this bill.

I have a lot of problems with the bill. Let me start with the fact that it is tough in all the wrong ways. It is extremely tough on claimants. It is easy on the scum that preys upon the weak and smuggles others into this country. Because of this misplaced focus, I have serious doubts about how it could be effective.

In addition, we have to realize that the government is masking the fact that the real solution rests in engaging international partners. If there is one thing the government has not been able to do, it is work with other countries.

If we want to go after the people who prey on the weak, on those who are vulnerable, then we have to work with foreign jurisdictions and ensure that we go after this scum where they are operating. Instead of being hard on the women and children who are trying to escape war-torn regions, we have to go after the people who are preying on them, trying to suck money out of them, taking advantage of their unfortunate situation, sticking them on dangerous ships and sending them across oceans to Canada. We have to stop the problem long before they walk onto that boat and begin their journey across the seas.

In this regard, and in many others, this is a placebo policy. And I wish it was only that. However, the government also plays on the public's misunderstanding of the distinction between the words “refugee”, “immigrant”, and “claimant”, trying to mix them all up together, trying to confuse people, trying to make them think that there is some queue and that these claimants are jumping ahead of other people. The government knows this is false. That is what makes the assertions absolutely irresponsible and reprehensible.

The government's job is to inform public debate, to inform it with facts. The government is supposed to encourage honest discussion about the differences between political parties. Instead, the government capitalizes on misunderstandings, plays tricks with, let us be straight here, fake emails that go around with misinformation, and generally tries to engage in grand political games. I think this is shameful.

It is not just me who is saying these things or having problems with these bills. I will read a couple of things that some experts in these areas have been saying. Their words are worth hearing because they make the case so clearly.

There is a piece written for the Globe and Mail by Lorne Waldman and Audrey Macklin entitled, “Why we can’t turn away the Tamil ships”, and I will quote several excerpts from it:

Asylum seekers on boats is not a new phenomenon. In 1939, the St. Louis, filled with hundreds of refugees fleeing the Nazis, was turned away from Canada. At the time, the government tried to discredit the passengers as frauds and economic opportunists, and warned that, if the St. Louis were permitted to dock, more Jews in Europe might follow. The “line must be drawn somewhere,” and it was drawn at zero. Many of the people on board subsequently perished in the death camps.

In 1969, Canada signed the Refugee Convention and undertook not to return refugees if they had a valid fear of persecution. This obligation is part of our law. Once asylum seekers reach our territorial waters and are in Canada, they cannot be sent back to another country unless their claims for protection have been denied.

From the St. Louis onward, every new boat is accompanied by denunciation of the passengers as frauds and dire warnings of future “waves.” Yet, two boats – one filled with Tamils and the other with Sikhs – arrived in the 1980s followed by four boats with Chinese in the 1990s, and the sky did not fall in. All were given due process without creating havoc. Some were found to be refugees, some not. Other countries, including Australia and the United States, receive far more sea-borne migrants than Canada, and far more irregular migrants in general.

It goes on to talk about the bill:

Moreover, such a regime would run afoul of our Charter. Our Supreme Court has held that Canada cannot be directly or indirectly complicit in torture or other human-rights violations. By turning away boats without fairly determining whether those on board would be at risk, we would be violating refugees’ right to life and security of the person.

The article concludes by saying:

Canada receives about 30,000 claimants each year. Five hundred Tamils represent only 2 per cent of the annual intake. The rest arrive by plane or overland, so don’t elicit the same moral panic as people on boats. Although the system has experienced delays in recent times, it has managed to provide a reasonably fair determination. Failed claimants are being deported each year in record numbers. All this to say, that with a just and efficient determination system, we will be able to deal with asylum seekers arriving by boat or otherwise. And the best way – indeed, the only way – to stop any future boats from Sri Lanka is by solving the problems in Sri Lanka.

Amnesty International is also speaking with deep concern about this bill saying that the proposal violates three treaties: the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Amnesty says that the bill shows no respect for the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International said:

It’s just a flagrant violation of so many rights, it just goes beyond the pale. Those treaties are the international treaties we signed on to and we have obligations to uphold and respect [them].

The Canadian Council for Refugees is saying that despite the government's claim that it is targeting smugglers, the people who will suffer in this bill are the people fleeing persecution, including women and children. It asserts that measures keeping some refugees longer in detention, denying them family reunification, and restricting their freedom of movement, are likely in violation of our charter.

Professor Peter Showler, the former head of the IRB and a refugee expert, noted that there are two different targets under this bill: the human smugglers and the refugee claimants themselves. Even if a person is accepted as a refugee, which means the person fears persecution for five years, the person cannot bring his or her family members. This is not just any family member, we are talking about husbands, wives, and children who are trapped in conflict zones. Mr. Showler has characterized many of the provisions in the bill as outrageous.

What I would like to do is talk about some of the specific provisions that the bill does undertake. One of the much heralded things the bill does is it creates mandatory minimums. It defines aggravating factors where those mandatory minimums would be triggered. There are two aggravating factors. Factor one is where somebody is engaged in the activity for profit, whether or not the person is with a criminal organization. Factor two is whether or not it endangers the life of a person who is being smuggled. It gets into a formula where if there are less than 50 people and there is one aggravating factor, it is a three year mandatory minimum. If there are both aggravating factors and it is under 50 people, it is a five year mandatory minimum. If it is more than 50 people, it is a mandatory minimum of five years if it is one aggravating factor. It is 10 years if it is two aggravating factors and more than 50 people.

Here is the problem. The current penalty can be up to life imprisonment and a $1 million fine for anybody smuggling more than 10 people. The government already has at its disposal extremely serious measures that are on the books to go after the smugglers.

These mandatory minimums are a placebo. They are held in the window to feign action, to pretend they are being tough, as the Conservatives like to say, when in reality they are little more than window dressing. In fact, the actual tools they need to go after the smugglers are already in place. The problem is they are not going after them where they need to, overseas in other countries, working with other jurisdictions.

There are some provisions in the bill that I think we could support. Looking at increasing penalties under the Marine Transportation Security Act for someone who is providing misleading information, or a failure to comply with a ministerial order and therefore be refused entry.

One of the things that is very concerning because its wording is so ambiguous first was introduced by the minister when he talked of a “human smuggling event” and all of a sudden this human smuggling event would trigger all sorts of extraordinary powers. We are not given any details of what those powers would be or how they would be exercised, but eagerly, obviously, we looked at the bill and tried to determine what those powers were.

Gone was the term “human smuggling event” and now came the term “irregular arrival”. Irregular arrival has no real specificity and could just be two people, not a large group or a throng of people or hordes of people coming into Canada, but just two people. If the minister, for whatever arbitrary reason he or she decides, invokes this provision, there are suddenly two classes of refugees, those that are subject to one set of rules and those that are subject to another. It could be for no other reason than the minister does not happen to like those particular refugees, or happens to think one particular group coming from one particular region is more disliked by the public and therefore maybe the government should play games with them and play it for wedge politics.

The problem is that for that separate class, some very different rules are invoked. One of them is to invoke mandatory detention so that when someone was defined in this class he or she would be detained for a minimum of one year. This mandatory detention would not be reviewed again for another six months. Imagine women or children being in a detention centre where they are only given the opportunity once every six months after the first year to appeal that detention. While they are detained, it stops their ability to appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division. It stops their ability from making any claim on humanitarian or compassionate grounds for their situation for five years.

One of the things worth pointing out is the impact of detentions on mental health for a woman or a child who is in a mandatory detention centre because the minister arbitrarily decided to put the woman or child in that class. We can refer here to a multidisciplinary team of university researchers. The team members included: Dr. Rousseau of the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University; Professor François Crépeau, Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Professor, Public International Law at McGill University; and the list goes on and on.

They concluded a three-year study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research on the impact of detention in Canada on adult asylum seekers. Based on their expertise in this area, they predict that the mandatory long-term detention as proposed in the bill will have a severe negative impact on refugee claimants' mental health, especially on the most vulnerable: children, pregnant women, and survivors of rape and torture.

Their preliminary results based on a sample of 54 refugee claimants detained in the Laval and Toronto immigration holding centres showed that even a short period of detention is associated with high levels of anxiety and depression. After only 16 days of detention, 30% of refugee claimants met the criteria for depression, 22% for anxiety. Studies have consistently shown that detainees' mental health problems tend to worsen over time and they are more likely to persist, even after release, when detention is prolonged.

I hear some members heckling on the other side about that. I am talking about people who might have been raped or tortured, pregnant women, children. Let us remember who we are talking about. Let us remember the people who could potentially be impacted by this detention.

Another thing we need to look at in the bill is the fact that it imposes a duty of inquiry on people who provide assistance. That may seem relatively innocuous at first, but if a church group makes a determination that it wants to help a claimant because the group thinks the situation the claimant is coming out of is desperate and dangerous, no longer will the burden be on the state to prove that there was not a violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, but rather that burden of proof would literally fall upon the church or independent organization that sought to assist that refugee, placing all that burden of proof on that individual instead of placing it on the state.

The bill would also seek, and this is quite remarkable and something we need to debate as we move forward, that even if a person is successful in claiming refugee status, even if the person finds a way to convince the government that being sent back would mean the person's certain death, torture or some other horrible outcome, the government reserves the right after five years, after the person has spent five years in Canada and has naturalized here and has established roots, to say it has changed its mind and the person is out of here. The person can spend five years here as a legitimate refugee and then after those five years, the government says, “See you later”, and the person is back out. For those five years the person obviously will be living under a constant threat of being tossed out. How will the person be able to establish himself or herself? How will he or she be able to make a meaningful contribution to Canadian society?

During that five year ban, and again we are talking about legitimate refugees, the person is also barred from applying for permanent residence. He or she is barred from travelling outside the country for five years. He or she cannot sponsor family members. Let us remember who these family members are. They are the wife or the husband, or the person's children.

We need to proceed very carefully, because when we change legislation, it has profound implications. There is no question we need to get tough with those who would smuggle the most desperate and the most weak out there, but the bill, full of its flaws, appears to me to be infinitely more about playing politics than it is about finding solutions.

People who hoped as they read headlines that the bill would be the thing that would save us from future situations such as we saw, will be sorely disappointed when they look beneath the veneer, because like so much of what the Conservative Party puts forward, it is about the talking points and it is not about the substance.

Transport
Routine Proceedings

October 27th, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Earlier the government tabled an international agreement, but we neglected to table an additional agreement, which I do now. I am tabling a protocol amending the air transport agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United Mexican States, done at Mexico City on December 21, 1961, as amended, done at Ottawa on May 27, 2010.

Madam Speaker, I apologize for interrupting the debate.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, that intervention was certainly living up to the standard that we all expect of the member. In part, of course, he very casually casts the most disgusting aspersions on his adversaries. Rather than simply disagreeing on substance, he made all sorts of allegations of bad faith, which is what he does best. I commend him for that.

For example, he implied that this government somehow politicizes against the tradition of refugee protection. Let me be very clear. This government has increased the resettlement of refugees to Canada to the highest level ever, higher than any ever under the Liberal government. We will be bringing in 14,500 resettled refugees next year. After the government to which he belonged froze the numbers for refugee resettlement, we are increasing the refugee assistance program by 20%. What kind of government that tries to politicize against refugees actually brings more of them and gives them more support?

I have a question for him. Why did his government not do the same thing if it was really in favour of refugee protection? Why did it freeze the refugee assistance program for 13 years? Why did it freeze the number of resettled refugees? I am not going to allege that there was a bad motive in that, because I think that would be unreasonable and unfair. I am sure it had sound reasons, but then to turn around and cast aspersions on the motives of a government that is doing more to help refugees than any in recent Canadian history is very pathetic.

However, I just want to ask him this. If he says this is not tough enough on the smugglers, I have a very simple question. What is his alternative? What would the Liberal Party do to stop the smuggling operations? We have the police and our intelligence agencies working in the transit countries. There have been detentions there. What would he do? If not mandatory minimum sentences, what is his solution?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, let me first state, while I am not going to get into a debate on history, that I am deeply proud of the Liberal record when it comes to immigration and refugees. It is a record that speaks for itself and we have long been a party that understands that this is a nation of immigrants, based upon policies that are sound, reasonable and well considered.

Let me suggest to the minister how he might have proceeded instead of trying to whip up this bill in a mad frenzy to create talking points that he could use. Instead of proceeding in that way, what he should have done was sit down with the experts, sit down with this House, dare I say in a minority government, sit down with the immigration and citizenship committee, sit down with the public safety and national security committee, allow us the opportunity to hear from experts and witnesses, and in a careful, considered way, using facts and real information, take the opportunity to craft a bill that really creates solutions.

But that is not what we got. To be fair, what we got was a political reaction, and my frustration when I speak in this place, the reason I speak so passionately in opposition to what the government does, is because I have seen, time and time again, the government decide to put talking points in the window first, and beneath a very thin veneer is a complete absence of real policy.

Worse than that, the actions that will be taken are detrimental, and I hope that in my speech, over a period of 20 minutes, I outlined all the concerns I had. I would hope that instead of torquing up the debate, instead of ramping it up, the minister would take an opportunity to have a mature conversation with us on this, allow that debate to occur and not ramp up the rhetoric.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech and I share a number of his concerns. The Bloc's position on this bill is very clear, as I will have a chance to explain in a few minutes.

But, aside from fundamental principles, it cannot be said that the Liberal position is just as clear. Even after my colleague's speech, we still do not know what the Liberals will do when it comes time to vote on this discriminatory bill in a few days.

This is nothing new; it is always the same thing with the Liberal Party. There are always some intellectual gymnastics and some fancy dancing. It tries to please everyone and make people believe that it is tough on crime and open at the same time.

The member has looked at the bill long enough to make a 20-minute speech. Can he simply tell us whether he will vote for or against it at second reading?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the Bloc Québécois member for his question.

The Liberal Party's position is very clear. We see many issues with this bill and it brings up many questions. We will take the time to speak with experts and our caucus. The government only introduced the bill three or four days ago. We need to speak with our caucus and experts to see if there is a way to save this bill.

In a few days, once we have found the answers to our questions, the member will understand the Liberal Party's actions and see how it will vote.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, one of the first things the new coalition government in England did was to say that putting refugees who are children or migrant children in detention causes a lot of hardship and that it is a practice it wants to refrain from because it leaves psychological scars on these youngsters. They are not really criminals, and often they are in detention because of the vicarious immigration status of their parents. It is working towards eliminating the detention of all children based on immigration reasons, whether they are the children of refugees, of migrants or of temporary workers.

I heard the member speak about the kind of suffering the children have, and not just children, that within a few days they get into a depressive state. Does the member have more information concerning the kind of long-term impact that a prolonged detention has on children, especially if it is over a year and perhaps several years.

Under the bill, the review would not occur until after one year and then six months later. So that child could be in detention for several years.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for a very good question.

I would refer the member, in my speech, to the multi-disciplinary team of university researchers who have actually done a lot of study on this very impact. I think it is something that the House should be seized with as it considers the bill and should look at further.

I think the member makes a point that is worth repeating and worth remembering. The government more often than not, as it confuses what is a claimant with what is a refugee, also likes to characterize all refugees or all claimants as somehow these big, bad terrorists, these bad people. More often than not, the people we are dealing with are children. They are women. Many times they can be people who are coming out of war-torn, terrible situations, people who might have been dealing with rape, people who might have been dealing with torture.

Can we imagine what it would be like for somebody who is coming out of that kind of horror and what psychological impacts additionally it would have to then be shoved into detention for a year and not given any opportunity during that one-year period to say, “This is wrong for me”? That child does not belong there or that woman does not belong in the situation, after all they have gone through, that after a year, if they do not make that review, they would have to wait another six months.

I think the psychological impact, particularly on these people who could potentially be very vulnerable and coming out of desperate situations, is something we need to bear in mind.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, last spring Parliament reached unanimous agreement on refugee reform. We showed that we can agree on things, when there is the will to do so. I fear we will have a hard time reaching an agreement in this case and there are probably few things we will agree on in the future.

Perhaps I will do the same as the minister today, that is, I will give my speech in only one language, except in my case, it will be in French instead of English.

I think this must have been extremely difficult for the Minister of Immigration , even though he is willing to step up to the plate to defend the bill introduced by his colleague from Public Safety. To me this feels like a serious repudiation of all the work he did, which we, as parliamentarians had recognized. We voted unanimously in favour of the refugee reform, which should have, as he said himself, lasted for decades, or for at least one generation. It was a fundamental change in how refugees would be treated.

Now just four months later, this reform, which he described as balanced and with which we agreed—we voted in favour of the reform—is being questioned by his colleague from Public Safety. We will not make a fuss, because even though the minister is here in the House today to defend the bill introduced by his colleague from Public Safety, this bill is clearly being imposed on him by his government. One of two things is true: either the balanced reform the minister defended at the time was not balanced and he knew it—he sold us on something that he knew was not balanced—or the reform was indeed balanced, but someone in his government repudiated his work because he or she did not agree with the minister's conclusion.

This is rather disturbing. At the same time, it also seriously undermines the minister's position since, at the end of the day, considering this repudiation by his colleagues, who would want to negotiate and discuss anything with him in the future, if any of his colleagues can go back on the deals he makes and propose a new bill like the one before us today?

It is even more disturbing, since this bill was only passed four months ago, it has not yet been implemented, we have not seen what kind of impact it may have, and so we cannot assume that it is already broken. It was passed four months ago. This seems to be all about political marketing. That is what we are seeing today in the House, because I do not detect any sincerity in the minister's comments. Let me be clear. I do not doubt his sincerity as an individual, but I doubt that he is convinced that the bill introduced by his colleague is the right thing to do. I say that because this is not the same man we saw last spring. When the minister introduced his balanced reform, he met with parliamentarians from the different parties to explain the reform. His officials offered us a number of technical briefings in advance to explains all the ins and outs of the bill. In a way, he was preparing us mentally. We knew what direction he was taking, but today, there is none of that.

The minister must have wanted to be sure that his bill would be defeated in the House; otherwise, he would have acted differently.

It is very clear that this bill simply appeals to some kind of unhealthy populism, that it goes after all refugees by putting them all in the same boat—no pun intended—and that it suggests simplistic solutions. I do not think that even the minister believes in these solutions.

The Conservatives always take the same approach. First, they introduce a bill with a bogus name, something they could put a trademark notice on, something that sells the bill, a crude advertisement. This time, we have the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. This lengthy bill has only a few measures that address smugglers; the rest have to do with the refugees themselves. The government is going after people in extremely difficult situations, instead of helping people who are in need.

It always uses the same technique to end any debate: it just says that they are terrorists. That is what it said when the boat arrived in Vancouver. It said that there were members of the Tamil Eelam, a terrorist group, among the Tamils. So the government says that anyone who is against this bill is pro-terrorist. And that is it, there is nothing more to add and no further discussion is needed. That is the Conservatives' argument.

It is even more grotesque given that 80% of the Tamil refugee claimants are considered to be genuine claimants under the Geneva convention. A few months earlier, the minister took aim at Mexican refugee claimants, saying that since only 10% of them were accepted, it was suspect. In this case, 80% are being accepted and it is still suspect. There is a problem here. You can worry about acceptance rates that are too low or too high, but not both.

Seriously, I have a very hard time believing that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the people in his department thought about this and had an overall vision when they drafted this bill, especially since these same people did all this work last spring, a mere four months ago, and came up with completely different conclusions. Obviously, this bill was prepared quickly, in a purely partisan fashion, as a sort of collection of unrelated measures. They have no vision. They are not taking aim at the problem, but at refugees, which will create much bigger problems that I will come back to.

I would like to put things into context so that the people of Canada who are watching this understand that just because the government says that this bill and its 50-odd clauses crack down on smugglers, that does not mean that it actually does. Human smugglers are not watching CPAC and are not reading the bill. This bill will have no impact on them. The government chose the title of the bill. It can give the bill any title it wants, even if it has nothing to do with the bill's content.

Now let us talk about the substance of the bill. This is a very strong reaction to what we all agree is a real problem, but the government exaggerated the problem. It is trying to kill a fly with a bazooka. Not only is it futile to use a bazooka to kill a fly, but one also risks missing the target because it is such a precise operation. In this bill, the government focuses on the means of transportation by which the person arrives.

That has nothing to do with anything. The government also focuses on the fact that people arrive in groups of two, three, four or 100. That has nothing to do with anything either. There is no reason to believe that the people who want to cheat the system—for some people do—are more likely to come by boat than by plane or by land. Recent history suggests quite the opposite. More of the Tamils who arrived by boat were accepted than claimants who arrive by plane or by land. What is more, the refugees on board that boat were detained just long enough to verify their identity and threat level, and they have all been released since. Clearly, there is no reason to believe that people arriving by boat are less likely to be legitimate refugees than those who arrive by other means.

Nevertheless, I have to say that arriving by boat makes more of a splash. It is a bit like when a plane crashes. It makes the news because of the tragedy of hundreds of people dying at the same time. But is a plane more dangerous than a car? Any transportation specialist will say it is not. One is more likely to die while travelling in a car than while travelling in a plane.

This is when cheap political marketing and cheap rhetoric are used in an attempt to make us believe that the government is dealing with a problem. Only 2% of refugees arrive in large groups by boat. The government is grandstanding across Canada, putting on a show and telling us that it is tackling the problem of refugee fraud. Why does the government's bill target the 2% of refugee claimants who have one of the highest acceptance rates?

Suppose 98% of the claimants had been dealt with. Then we could look at the remaining 2%. Why target people who arrive by boat? There is no other justification than the fact that it is a hot issue and that when a boat arrives, the Conservatives can tell the media that they are going to deal with the situation.

It is rather crass and I am convinced that no one will be fooled. The minister likes to quote poll results to Quebeckers, but they are not happy when they realize that the government has tried to put one over on them by telling them that the refugees are all terrorists, that they have to be kicked out, and that they will take care of it. Quebeckers realize that it is not true.

Let us examine some of the measures in the bill's whimsical assortment of provisions. First, the bill will create a category of refugees: those who arrive by boat in groups of 2, 50, 100 or more. If more than one arrives by boat, it seems that they are more dangerous than other refugees. This category will be established and these people will be dealt with in a completely arbitrary and discriminatory manner. For example, the government will be able to hold them for 12 months without even determining whether they should be released. For purposes of comparison, the current timeframe is two days.

At the beginning of my presentation, I said that if the government had wanted to make improvements, it would have come to see us. Had the government told us that two days was not enough and that seven were required, we would have listened to what it had to say. Had it said that 14 days were needed, we would have studied the matter. Had it said that 30 days were needed, we would have started wondering, but we would have considered it nonetheless. Now, the minister is telling us that people who are not being accused of anything yet must be kept in prison for 365 days, before the government even determines whether there is cause to do so.

It is shameful. The founding principles of our modern, democratic societies are being attacked. Habeas corpus does not grab the attention of the media. What does that suggest?

At the end of the middle ages, people had had enough of arbitrary justice and tyranny and they decided to develop a concept whereby people could not be imprisoned without cause for an indeterminate or abusive period without having the chance to explain themselves. I am not talking about democracy writ large or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am talking about a rather basic concept. It is the foundation of our societies governed by the rule of law. We do not detain people indefinitely or abusively without telling them what they are being charged with or without charging them. That is what sets us apart from tyrannies and the middle ages. The bill attacks that foundation. The government is saying, “These people arrive by boat, for some unknown reason, but we are going to keep them in prison for a year before we do anything. Then, every six months we will see whether we can release them.” That is not a very good start.

There is another troubling series of elements in this bill with regard to the same people. They will have to wait five years to apply for permanent residence, and they can only do so if they have been recognized as true refugees. Why? The government wants to crack down on dishonest people who test the system and who are not real refugees. It wants to be tough on them for abusing the system. We will see whether the government is going to make any proposals to that effect. However, what happens to people who are true refugees, who have fled persecution? Why should they be penalized? There is no explaining it. Once they are recognized as refugees, the government could even continue to harass them by verifying whether they still are refugees, which is completely at odds with the very concept of what a refugee is. This concept implies that once a person is recognized as a refugee, they can rebuild their life and not spend it wondering whether they will be sent back to their country of origin.

These people would no longer be able to travel outside Canada. The fact that it would be impossible to obtain permanent residence for five years and therefore impossible to bring one's children to Canada could even have the opposite effect. How does the minister—who is so concerned about the message we are sending to smugglers and people who abuse the system—think these people will react? Does he think people are going to cross the ocean alone even though it is going to take seven years to bring their children to Canada?

In addition to risking his own life, someone who wants to flee persecution will also have to risk the lives of his wife and children. That is what the minister is proposing with this bill. It is completely inappropriate and in the end, we could be faced with bigger boats with more women and children on board, because those who flee persecution will have no other way to keep their families together. Do people see where such an extreme measure will take us?

Lastly, to add insult to injury, the minister is denying these people access to the refugee appeal division, even though he knows that this Parliament deemed that to be a very important aspect of the reform and it was something for which I personally fought long and hard. The fact that his colleague has introduced a bill in this House that attacks the universal nature of the refugee appeal division clearly demonstrates bad faith, especially given that the refugee appeal division—by standardizing decisions and eliminating arbitrary rulings—is just as beneficial for refugees, who can avoid bad, arbitrary decisions, as it is for society. It also allows the minister to appeal bad decisions. Furthermore, it makes it possible to build a body of precedents for refugee claims and ensures a certain predictability that discourages people from testing the system, because they know the outcome is predictable.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, being an immigrant to this country, I have a lot of interest in this legislation and I listened to the member opposite very carefully.

I understand that quite a few immigrant community organizations have endorsed Bill C-49. I will try to read the names of a few: the Tamil Community Centre; Toronto Community & Culture Centre; the United Macedonian Diaspora (Canada); Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto; Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society; l'Association du Canada; Islamic Lebanese centre; World Lebanese Cultural Union; B'nai Brith Canada; Canadian Friends of Ukraine; Young Polish Canadian Professionals Association; Chinese Cultural Association of Greater Toronto; Canadian Confederation of Fujian Associations; Canada First Community Organization; Armenian National Committee of Toronto; Multicultural Helping House Society; Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations; Armenian National Committee of Canada - Western Region; Vancouver Multicultural Society; to name a few.

What does the hon. member e attribute all those immigrant communities lining up in support of this bill?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I would say that the organizations that represent certain immigrants and support this bill are doing that much as certain non-immigrants would. The Bloc Québécois does not treat immigrants any differently than anyone else. When people come to Quebec and join Quebec society, they are part of the Quebec nation, and they are entitled to their own opinions, like anyone else. Like anyone else, they can be fooled by the government. The government can tell them that there are terrorists, Tamil Eelam members, on the boat. It can say that they must be terrorists. Anyone can be fooled and lied to by the government. Whether we are immigrants or not does not matter. Whether we are immigrants or not, we are against terrorists. I do not know why immigrants would be any less against terrorists than the rest of the population.

The problem is that we have no reason to believe that people who arrive by boat are more likely to be terrorists than those who arrive by air. The problem is that false information is being given to the public, which includes immigrants, who are members of the public like anyone else. The problem is that the government has introduced a bill called the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. The government is asking people whether they agree with stopping human trafficking. It is asking people whether they are in favour of human trafficking. Immigrants would say the same thing as anyone else; they would say “no”. The problem is that this bill does not tackle human trafficking.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, this bill would allow for the decimation of the regular arrival of two or more people, it could five hundred or two, but it could also impact on, not just refugees but on visitors, on immigrants who are arriving, on students or on business people who are coming in as entrepreneurs. It would have an impact on all foreigners arriving in Canada, whether by boat, by car or by air.

Is that the interpretation that the member has and, if so, does he not think it would have a very negative impact on the reputation of the Canadian immigration system?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, before answering my NDP colleague's question, I would like to say a couple of things.

First, I just realized that I told my Liberal colleague I was going to express the Bloc Québécois' intention with respect to this bill. I do not think I said we would vote against it. Just to be clear, we will vote against it.

Second, I am a little disappointed because, unlike my Liberal colleague, I did not even get an attempt at a question from the minister. I do not know if I should be flattered or annoyed. We will probably have an opportunity to talk about this again.

As written, the bill has a very broad scope. It is not limited to those submitting genuine applications for refugee status. Does this suggest that the government was in such a hurry to draft the bill that it forgot a few things? Did it do this deliberately to make the bill so unacceptable that the opposition would vote against it? Is this a trap? I do not know.

We have before us a bill that does not deserve our support as parliamentarians. It does not tackle the human trafficking problem. It is easy to give a bill a title saying that it will tackle human trafficking, but if the 36 clauses in the bill have nothing to do with the title, it will not work. Moreover, if most of the clauses do nothing more than suspend individual freedoms and discriminate against certain individuals, the title should actually be “bill to discriminate against refugee claimants arriving by boat”, “bill to suspend certain individual freedoms for certain applicants”, or “bill to circumvent international laws and conventions”.

I would like to read a clause from the bill:

Refugee Travel Document—For the purposes of Article 28 of the Refugee Convention, a designated foreign national [the person discriminated against] whose claim for refugee protection or application for protection is accepted [a refugee under the Geneva convention] is lawfully staying in Canada only if they become a permanent resident [which means waiting five years]...

In other words, instead of dumping clause 28, this bill claims to respect it but then pretends that these people are not residents of Canada. That makes no sense.