House of Commons Hansard #89 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

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, that points out why we need a fair system in place. We need a single class of refugee so that any refugee arriving in Canada is treated the same way, equally and with fairness and justice. Giving too much discretion is a serious problem.

One of the aspects of the bill is to give the minister retroactive designation powers back to March 2009 to designate a special class of refugees who will be treated differently and who will have fewer rights in the system. That is a very troubling aspect of the bill. That retroactive power has to be gone because it is totally inappropriate. We should not go back that far and revisit cases that have already begun their process under the existing refugee law.

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

1:30 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, the member said that this government created a huge refugee backlog at the IRB. In point of fact, when we came to office there was a backlog of 20,000 and then we received huge waves of claims that were about 20,000 more than the full capacity of the IRB to process.

Is the member really suggesting that when we get a year like two years ago with 38,000 asylum claimants, more than any other country in the world as a geographically remote country, 60% of which claims are rejected, that we do not have a problem with bogus asylum claimants taking advantage of Canada's generosity?

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

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I will say that the Conservatives created the mess by letting the number of appointments on the Immigration and Refugee Board lapse. That was a serious problem that they created. It was totally their own creation and it is something that should not have happened.

I am glad the minister qualified by saying geographically isolated country but that we have the largest number. People should listen very carefully to his words. Canada is not getting the same refugee numbers as many other countries because of our geographic--

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

1:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member for Papineau.

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

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, the arrival on Canadian shores of the latest two boats filled with Tamil refugee claimants has generated many concerns from the public. Opinion polls suggest that the vast majority of Canadians want future boats to be turned away and the Tamil refugee claimants to be deported for fear that our generous system is being exploited by criminal elements.

As always, the government has not missed the opportunity to turn public concerns into bad legislation that torques up the issue and promotes fear and misunderstanding in the hopes of electoral gain.

Bill C-49 is a terrible piece of legislation but a very effective announcement. It is effective because the government gets to talk about getting tough on vile human smugglers who criminally take advantage of extraordinarily vulnerable people fleeing persecution and oppression. It is always effective to be able to stand up and talk about defeating the evildoers while protecting the innocent and the just.

The problem is that is all this is, talk. This legislation actually does very little to go after the evildoers, and far from protecting the vulnerable, actually goes after and punishes asylum seekers.

Allow me to be very clear on one thing, Liberals and indeed members of all parties in this House are deeply committed and concerned with our capacity to crack down on human smugglers and protect the integrity of our refugee and immigration systems.

It is just that it is apparent there is little in the new legislation that actually cracks down on smugglers. There are provisions the government is quite pleased with that provide for mandatory minimum sentences of up to 10 years, but those are very unlikely to be an effective deterrent given that smuggling already carries a potential life sentence.

There are some minor provisions against shipowners who disobey ministerial orders, but nothing that is truly likely to put a dent in the multi-million dollar human smuggling business. Indeed, many of the provisions will just drive up the cost to asylum seekers and put them on more dangerous sea routes.

Rather, most of the legislation's provisions are directed at trying to deter refugees themselves. Many of the provisions may be inconsistent with the charter. Others are in direct violation of our obligations under international law. All will cause great hardship to refugees who have come to Canada to seek protection.

The legislation represents a complete reversal and backtracking on Canada's proud humanitarian tradition toward refugees and the displaced.

This government bill would create two classes of refugees based on the means of transportation they use to get here. Consider this: our system assesses, questions and judges people to determine whether they are legitimate refugees, but they will be treated differently if the minister does not like the way they arrived in Canada. That has nothing to do with the refugees' merit. It is entirely arbitrary. These people are recognized as refugees because they have good reason to fear for their lives because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinions. These are legitimate refugees, but because we do not like the way they arrived here, we subject them to harsh punishment that is no doubt unconstitutional and certainly violates our international obligations.

We cannot judge people on the basis of how they get here, because refugees use unorthodox means to reach their chosen land. In most cases, people have found unorthodox ways to get to Canada. The government judges these people on the basis of their country of origin. Designating people who arrive illegally means the government can judge anyone it wants.

In addition to keeping designated refugees locked up, the government would impose a five-year probation, during which time they would be forbidden from leaving Canada or from applying to sponsor other family members, who are most likely suffering. The government would also have the power to hold asylum seekers for up to a year.

The president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Wanda Yamamoto, said:

Measures keeping some refugees longer in detention, denying them family reunification and restricting their freedom of movement are likely in violation of the Canadian Charter and of international human rights obligations. People who are forced to flee for their lives need to be offered asylum and a warm welcome, not punished.

That is what is so worrisome about this capacity to create two categories of refugees depending simply on whether or not the minister approves of the way they got here.

The thinking behind it, I assume, is that if people know that the minister might not approve of their way of coming here, they are not going to get in those leaky boats and risk their lives in a heavy crossing. But when we look at the pressures on them when they got on, and their willingness to shell out to criminal elements extraordinary amounts of money that they do not have, the suspicion that perhaps the minister will disapprove of them is not going to keep them away.

When we create two classes of refugees because we like their way of getting here or we do not like their way of getting here, we are creating divisions among the very people who are most vulnerable, people whose rights Canada has sworn to uphold and protect. It is a complete discarding of the Canadian principles of fairness and justice that have defined this country for decades.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention to be informed promptly, to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

On top of that, the fact that refugees would have no right to apply for permanent residence for five years after determination of their claim is inconsistent with the principle enunciated in article 34 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees which provides that states must make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings for people determined to be refugees. We are tossing international obligations and Canadian law to the wind with this bill.

The Geneva Convention states:

The Contracting States shall issue to refugees lawfully staying in their territory travel documents for the purpose of travel outside their territory...

That is fairly clear. Again, the proposed legislation goes against that by banning them from travel for up to five years. Even once they have been recognized as refugees, they have to wait until they become permanent residents to get travel documents.

The Geneva Convention also states that the contracting states, of which we are one:

...shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.

That is one of the things Amnesty International recently declared in an open letter violates the rights of these refugees. It ignores the reality that many of these refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution turn to smugglers for assistance because of desperation, because of a lack of other options, because of a lack of a willingness of their host government which is busy oppressing or maligning them to help them get to another country.

Neither a just society, nor the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor international agreements are safe from this government.

We have good reason to be very concerned about this bill. I—we—understand that the problem of human trafficking needs to be dealt with, but the Conservatives' approach lacks refinement, subtlety and respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are classifying people not according to the dangers they face at home, but according to how they get to Canada. That is not the right way to do things.

The Tamil boatloads of 2009 and 2010 represented a new wave of boatloads of refugee claimants. The government's response to the first boat was relatively muted. There was not a tremendously strong public outcry against these refugee claimants.

However, well before the second boatload arrived, the public safety minister was already warning the Canadian public that the boat was filled with terrorists and criminals, before these people were evaluated, examined, interviewed, judged on their individual merits, as our obligations require us to do in the case of every single refugee.

This coming out against them soured public opinion against the claimants before they even arrived in Canada, and has produced a dramatic backlash. The effect of this short-sighted reaction has been to create a strong anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment.

That is not typical of Canada. That is not typical of Canadians. We are a country that has consistently stood up open to immigrants, to refugees, and to drawing from around the world people who wish to come here, build a safe and secure life free from persecution. Now we are busy encouraging that persecution and hyping up the tensions between Canadians and potentially new Canadians.

It is extremely important that a Canadian government be responsible in how it defends our immigration and refugee system, how it makes Canadians understand that we are strong because of, not in spite of, diversity. Our differences are what define us and make us the flexible, open, confident, powerful country that we are in the process of becoming more and more every day.

The government needs to be much more responsible in how it chooses to elevate and enervate the Canadian public's level of debate on an issue such as this one.

It is important to mention that when the minister and the Prime Minister talk about making sure that the immigrants who go through the normal process do not get unfair treatment because of the queue jumpers, it is actual misinformation.

Let me share a secret that the government does not want anyone to know. There is no queue for refugees. There are no queue jumpers in the refugee system. We have a process around refugees. Anyone who comes to Canada and seeks asylum falls into an evaluation process that has nothing to do with the quotas we establish for refugees, family class immigrants, economic migrants. It has nothing to do with the legitimate immigration process, the queue and wait times.

A refugee is evaluated on the merits of his or her individual case. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the case of the American war deserters and many others, the government is choosing to interfere with the process in which refugee claimants are evaluated on the merits of their claim. The government is choosing to prejudge. It is choosing to frame the debate in such a way that people are blending immigrants and refugees. They are two very different things.

By stoking our fears and concerns and the frustrations of legitimate immigrants who have been here but who followed the queue, who see these people as queue jumpers because the government says they are queue jumpers, we are not serving Canada. We are not living up to our international responsibilities to be a fair and just country. We are falling by the wayside of the rights and principles for which Canada has always stood.

Instead of misinforming and holding press conferences in front of boats, we would have liked the government to consider an alternative approach.

The first and most obvious one, in the case of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers, is to aggressively pursue a peace settlement in Sri Lanka.

Tens of thousands of Tamils still remain detained in detention camps. The government is being investigated by the United Nations to see if crimes against humanity were committed by the government during the civil war. Tortures and disappearances unfortunately continue.

However, there is no doubt that there is a genuine opportunity for peace. The Tamil minority wants some form of autonomy. This can be addressed within a federal state. More and more Tamils are involved in the Sri Lankan government. There is an openness toward improving the relations between the Tamil community, the international community and the government.

We are making headway on that and Canada can play a role in helping shape that peace, in helping encourage that peace. We know what it is like to live within a country where there are distinct cultural, linguistic and religious identities and to make it work. We are living proof of that here in the House of Commons. We need to build on our capacity to work with international partners, to work with the UN. Unfortunately it is an area in which the government has not been particularly successful.

When we called upon the government to work with international partners, to cut off human smuggling, to decrease the likelihood and the possibility of engaging with human smugglers, to go after human smugglers, what did it do? The Conservatives went after them. They worked with local police forces. But instead of rounding up human smugglers they rounded up potential asylum seekers. That is not the kind of work we need to do if we are going to really crack down on human smuggling.

People have been talking about turning around boats. I am pleased that the government has not chosen in this bill to encourage the idea that we should turn these boats around before they land on our shores, because that is a violation of any number of international conventions and puts people who are extraordinarily vulnerable at tremendous risk.

Since the diversion of the ships is not legal, the only alternative is therefore to provide expeditious determination of refugee claims. It is well known that the most effective mechanism for deterring frivolous or irresponsible or unfounded claims and slowing down refugee movements is to subject persons to fair but expeditious determinations and to quickly deport persons whose claims are rejected. Unfortunately, Bill C-49 does not address that and does not encourage that.

The process of seeking the detention of refugee claimants, coupled with expedited hearings while providing them due process is an effective response to try to deter claims. In the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils, given the current situation, it may well be that some of the claimants will be accepted. However, all should be expeditious, fair determinations.

This, coupled with efforts to resolve the situation in Sri Lanka and with efforts to stem the flow of boats by working with governments in the region, is the most effective long-term response. It can be done without inflaming anti-immigrant feelings in Canada and in a manner that will ensure Canada complies with its obligations under international law and the charter.

Speaking of this legislation, there is something else that worries me. As we have heard speaker after speaker in the opposition get up and highlight all the real legal challenges and convention challenges with this bill, and as experts have come out time and time again with real concerns about this, the thing that really bugs me is that this legislation, which is filled with ineffective and illegal measures, was drafted by the good people in what is generally considered to be the best immigration ministry in the world.

Our fine bureaucrats put together this piece of legislation that is not worthy of the kind of work and the kind of balanced approach that was even available and visible in Bill C-11 that we passed unanimously in the House. That bill was supposed to balance and improve our process of evaluating refugees and providing fairness for refugees.

Under the guise of legislation to deter smugglers, or smuggling, the government has introduced broad changes to our refugee determination system and to the rights of persons recognized as refugees.

Let us be perfectly clear. There is very little in this legislation that is designed to crack down on smugglers. Instead, this legislation takes reprisals against the refugees who use those smugglers—

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

1:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. I would ask all hon. members to take side conversations outside the House rather than shouting across to each other. Out of politeness and to maintain civil debate, I would ask that very respectfully.

The hon. member has one minute to complete his comments.

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

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, this ultimately is the kind of bill that is being presented here.

We have indicated that we have grave concerns about particular pieces of this legislation. The government has indicated that it is a very important piece of legislation. Canadians have indicated that they have real, founded concerns about human smuggling and its impact on our immigration and refugee system. Because of that, we are considering this bill. We are looking to see if there is anything in it that is salvageable. We are hopeful that we will be able to determine measures that will actually crack down on smugglers and be fair to refugees. So we are going to look at that.

Members heard me say this before and they will hear me say it again just about every time I get up in the House to speak about the government and the ineffective legislation it continually puts forward. Canadians deserve better and so does Canada.

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

1:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I ask hon. members on all sides of the House to be a little more respectful to those members who are speaking.

For questions and comments, we have five minutes before the top of the hour. The hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

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

1:55 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, allow me to congratulate my colleague from Papineau on his appointment as the official opposition critic for immigration and citizenship. However to quote him, I do not really think that speech did anything to “enervate” this debate, or elevate it for that matter, because it was a heavy dose of demagoguery.

What I found most disturbing about that speech was the odious suggestion that Canadians who are concerned about this prima facie violation of the integrity of our immigration system, of our laws of the principle of fairness, are somehow “anti-immigrant”.

He has seen the same polls as I have. I am sure his constituents have the same view as most Canadians. Two-thirds of Canadians have told pollsters they think Canada should not even allow the boats to enter our territorial waters if they are carrying people being smuggled here illegally. Some 55% of Canadians say we should return even those who are deemed to be bona fide refugees.

I do not believe that two-thirds of Canadians are anti-immigrant, and in point of fact, new Canadians, those Canadians who were born abroad, feel more strongly about this violation of the integrity and fairness of our immigration system than native-born Canadians.

I would challenge him to be very careful before he casts aspersions on the motives of those who are open, who maintain support for the most generous immigration and refugee determination system in the world but believe it should actually be governed by the rule of law and the principle of fairness.

I would ask him this. Apart from giving speeches in Colombo and talking to other foreign governments, what concrete actions would the Liberal Party take to stop the smugglers from bringing people here illegally?

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

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I am glad to defer to the hon. minister's expertise on demagoguery.

What is odious about this piece of legislation is that it is dividing Canadians into two Canadas. He is talking about new Canadians who have one particular perception of things and other Canadians who may not. As soon as we start distinguishing who is what type of Canadian, we are falling onto a slippery slope that, unfortunately, the government continually encourages when it blends the distinction between immigrants and refugees, when it talks about queue jumpers for refugees. It is being entirely irresponsible and it is not worthy of the minister who is responsible for upholding and defending the integrity and the respect for the law and convention of our immigration system.

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

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There are about seven minutes remaining in the time allotted to the hon. member for questions and comments consequent on his speech, but we will have to resume that later since it is now time to proceed with statements by members.

Canadian Heritage
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to inform the House that my private member's bill, Bill C-465, An Act respecting a National Hunting, Trapping and Fishing Heritage Day has been approved by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and sent back to this House for third reading.

Hunting, trapping and fishing are some of the oldest practices in Canadian society. For the first nations, the coureurs de bois and the Inuit peoples of the north, hunting, trapping and fishing have played a vital role in the sustainability of past and present communities.

I would also like to thank my hon. colleagues from across the aisle who supported this bill at committee. Their support and contribution have improved this bill's overall scope and clarity.

I would also encourage all of my hon. colleagues to support this bill at third reading, so that we may have a day to honour those who have contributed so greatly to our society, history, economy and conservation efforts.

National Occupational Therapy Month
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, October is National Occupational Therapy Month, a chance to celebrate the contribution of occupational therapists as people who help others live healthier, more satisfying lives. They provide people-centred solutions that contribute to the overall well-being of all Canadians.

The work that OTs do is varied and constantly changing. They help people adapt to changing circumstances and abilities. A woman who has had a stroke finds new ways to manage daily activities. An autistic child learns new ways to deal with difficult social situations. A young man has his workplace adapted after a motorcycle accident and he goes back to work. This is occupational therapy.

OTs help family caregivers. When dementia strikes, they tell caregivers about behaviours to expect, about how to make their homes safer and about helpful community resources.

OTs help soldiers return to work, with outcomes that fit the demands and culture of the Canadian Forces. They help veterans cope with PTSD and live meaningful, productive lives.

Occupational therapists change lives. Let us celebrate their contribution.

Salle André-Mathieu Theatre
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Corporation de la salle André-Mathieu in Laval is nominated in two categories at the 32nd ADISQ Gala 2010: “venue of the year” and “entertainment presenter of the year”.

The first category “honours the quality and suitability of the equipment, the acoustic properties, the skill and initiatives of the technical staff, the reception facilities, the relations with tour teams, the quality of administrative services, and the volume of activity.”

The Félix for “entertainment presenter of the year” is handed out in recognition of the “evolution of the presenter, the diversity and quality of programming, impact on the community, succession planning, promotion and communications, as well as professional ethics.”

The Bloc Québécois congratulates the entire team at the Salle André-Mathieu and would like to wish them good luck on November 1, when the winners will be announced. With these two important nominations, it is clear that Laval is, without a doubt, a cultural landmark in Quebec.

Veterans Affairs
Statements By Members

October 28th, 2010 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, Corporal Stuart Langridge served Canada proudly at home and abroad until he died from injuries he sustained while serving.

In 2008, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he took his own life after being refused the help he desperately needed.

Military officials not only failed Stuart; they continue to fail his parents, Sheila and Shaun Fynes, whose grief has been compounded by bureaucratic ineptitude. The Fynes asked me to speak out because they do not want anyone else to suffer the way their family has.

I am joining them today in asking the Minister of National Defence to intervene and provide the answers they have asked for. Through Motion No. 592, I am asking the government to review its practices in light of Stuart's case to guarantee that soldiers with PTSD and their families get the support they deserve.