House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you might seek unanimous consent to revert to the introduction of private members' bills.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent to revert to the introduction of private members' bills?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Old Age Security Act
Routine Proceedings

October 3rd, 2011 / 3:25 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-318, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (Canada Pension Plan payments).

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by thanking my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe, and our party's tireless seniors' advocate for seconding this bill.

Saturday was National Seniors' Day but, sadly, that was in name only. There has not been a single new initiative from the Conservative government to help the most vulnerable seniors. A quarter of a million seniors live in poverty in our country today and many more are at risk of falling into poverty as the retirement savings plummet in this continuing economic downturn.

The one thing many can count on is the cost of living increase on their CPP. However, as it turns out, even that is not always theirs to keep. Often, even this marginal increase triggers a commensurate clawback of their GIS, leaving them no further ahead. That simply is not right.

The bill that I am introducing in the House today would prohibit any reduction in the guaranteed income supplement if the only change to one's income is as a result of CPP indexing.

While I know this bill is not enough to fix the larger imperative of lifting all seniors out of poverty, it would at least allow their net income to keep pace with the rising cost of inflation. If the government is serious about honouring the spirit of National Seniors' Day, it will immediately adopt this bill into law.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

The House resumed from September 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, 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, and of the amendment

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

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to participate in the debate on Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act.

Coming from a riding with a large number of immigrants and refugees, I certainly concur that there are many reforms that need to be made to our immigration and refugee system. I will give a few examples.

We need to increase resources to reduce the backlog in immigration applications, establish targets for on-time completion of family-class and spousal sponsorships, implement the NDP's once in a lifetime bill to expedite sponsorship of one family member, eliminate landing fees for new immigrants and processing fees for refugees, develop appeal processes for potential visitors to Canada, establish a refugee appeal division and streamline and accelerate the recognition of foreign credentials.

However, sadly, none of those essential reforms are found in the bill that is before us today. In fact, the bill would not even achieve what it purports it would, according to its short title, which is, “preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system”.

I am certain that no one in this House, or indeed in this country, would be opposed to preventing human smuggling and human trafficking. I certainly would not be. However, the bill would target the people who pay money to human smugglers to gain entry into Canada and would be completely ineffective in dealing with the smugglers themselves. It is not the smugglers who make the voyage by boat. They simply collect the money and put those who pay on the ship.

The same is true for human traffickers and others involved in organized crime. The bill barely mentions them. Why is that? It is because the bill has nothing to do with its stated intent of preventing human smuggling and everything to do with covering up for the government's mishandling of some recent high profile cases where a large number of people arrived in Canada by boat to claim refugee status. One example was the arrival of the Ocean Lady in 2009, and the more recent example was the arrival of the Sun Sea in August 2010. In both cases, the government was caught completely flat-footed. It simply failed to marshal the necessary resources to deal appropriately with the arrival of an influx of refugee claimants.

What was the government's response? Instead of dealing with the real issues at hand and instead of implementing evidence-based policies to deal fairly and responsibly with refugee claimants, the Conservatives have introduced legislation that would simply throw everyone in jail, and I do mean everyone. The bill clearly spells out that even children would be jailed for a year with no chance of being reunified with their families in the interim.

This is unconscionable. Detaining children, many of whom have escaped horrific conditions in their countries, is nothing short of immoral.

Studies from the U.K. show us what happens to incarcerated children. After just a few weeks of detention, profound behavioural changes are evident. Children begin to wet their beds, some become mute and many stop learning. They become withdrawn, undernourished and they lose weight. The psychological scars are real, lasting and well-documented.

However, the bill before us ignores all of that and would impose mandatory detention for an entire year and, perhaps most shamefully, the government has the gall to suggest that the bill is necessary to “protect” children. Nothing could be further from the truth. This legislation would further victimize children who have already suffered more dreadfully than most of us could even imagine.

Once again, it is clear that this is a government that thinks “evidence” is a dirty word. In fact, the government's dogged determination to renounce facts and evidence in favour of ideological posturing and wedge politics has become its hallmark. We saw it with the elimination of the long form census and we saw it again with the omnibus crime legislation that clearly flies in the face of all evidence and basic common sense.

The legislation before us today, too, underlines the government's complete disregard for reasoned, sensible, fact-based policy making.

The government is cynically playing to Canadians' fears, instead of acknowledging that the vast majority of Canadians are fair-minded people who want Canada to live up to its international obligations.

When Canadians see television coverage of United Nations' refugee camps around the world, they open up their hearts and often their wallets to assist children who are victims of civil wars, women who are raped and beaten in war-torn countries, and men who are escaping death threats and political persecution.

We are a compassionate society and we want to reach out to provide humanitarian assistance to the best of our abilities. We expect our government to do the same. In fact, the government is bound to do so, not just a representative of its citizenry, but because Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.

Article 31 of that convention states:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

Instead of living up to the letter or the spirit of that convention, the Conservative government is now proposing to do the exact opposite. It imposes penalties on refugees who are fleeing persecution. What is worse, it is doing so simply on the basis of the mode of transportation with which they arrive in Canada. Specifically targeted are people who arrive by boat. Why? Are people who arrive by boat any more dangerous to our national security than people who arrive by plane? Of course not. However, the government is not interested in creating well thought-out, evidence-based public policy. It is simply looking for a band-aid to paper over a public relations disaster of its own making when 478 people arrived by boat in Vancouver last summer to seek refuge from the civil war in Sri Lanka. Refugees will pay the price.

I am not saying that the government does not need to do due diligence, of course it does, but let us not demonize everyone who arrives in Canada by boat. In fact, we need to remind ourselves of the outpouring of support in our country for the 50,000-60,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We called them “the boat people”. Support for them crossed all party lines and, yes, in an economic downturn. Here in Ottawa, it was Marion Dewar, the former mayor, member of Parliament and mother of the current member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, who took a leadership role in assisting Vietnamese refugees to settle in our country. In my hometown of Hamilton, it was the former Conservative MPP and cabinet minister, John Smith, who championed their cause.

Studies have since been done to track the success of those members of the Vietnamese community who arrived in 1979. The studies found that within 10 years the unemployment rate among the Vietnamese boat people was 2.3% lower than the average unemployment rate in Canada. One in five had started businesses and 99% of them had successfully applied to become Canadian citizens. This is the kind of success that compassion brings. This is the kind of success on which our nation is built.

We also know what happens when we fail to act with compassion. An event from our less distinguished past is the Canadian government's refusal to admit a boat carrying Jewish people fleeing Hitler's Germany, a refusal that forced the MS St. Louis back to Europe where many of its passengers perished in the Holocaust.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism himself has expressed a sense of our country's responsibility for those passengers and spoke of a fundamental ethical obligation to help people in desperate situations fleeing for their lives. In the minister's words at the unveiling of the monument to commemorate the MS St. Louis, the monument was described as a “concrete perpetual expression of regret”. The minister concluded by saying that “Canada will never close its doors to legitimate refugees who need our protection and who are fleeing persecution”.

That is precisely the position that I wish were reflected in the bill that is before us today. The definition of a refugee is clear. Refugees must demonstrate that there is a well-founded fear of persecution, that there is a risk of death, injury, torture or some other unacceptable conduct or treatment that violates the common norms of civilized society. Such people need our help and we must establish fair rules to adjudicate such claims.

However, fairness is not what we find in the bill that is before us today. On the contrary, Bill C-4 very likely violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and both the UN's refugee convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It discriminates by creating two classes of refugees based on their mode of arrival. It imposes arbitrary detention without review. It denies the right to equal access to justice and it denies consideration of the best interests of a child.

The bill would not crack down on human smugglers. Rather, it would target legitimate refugees and the people who try to help them. It would punish vulnerable women, men and children. It would establish processes that are unclear, arbitrary, discriminatory and inhumane.

This legislation is neither fair nor balanced. Therefore, it is legislation that I simply cannot support.

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

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague speak about Bill C-4. It is unfortunate that at different times throughout her speech she mixed various aspects of history in an attempt to equate this with the turning back of the St. Louis. We are not talking about turning ships back. We are talking about implementing a fair and transparent system that will allow our public safety officials to ensure that these people are fleeing persecution, not prosecution.

Another difficulty I have is the innuendo that somehow the Conservatives are not compassionate. I assure the member that many of us on this side of the House have been personally involved in helping "the boat people", as she has referred to them. Many of us have had refugees stay in our homes. We have walked with them through those early days, weeks and months as they have adjusted to life here in Canada. There is no intention on our part to minimize the needs of legitimate refugees. Our intent is to ensure there is a fair and transparent system.

Does the hon. member not think it is important that our public safety officials have the tools at their disposal to ensure that these people are legitimate refugees and are not taking the place of legitimate refugees and would otherwise be kept out?

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

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree. I want to see a fair and transparent system for dealing with refugees. However, we have neither in the bill before us. It is not fair nor transparent.

First, we are talking about detention without any kind of mechanism for appeal. I spoke to that at length in my speech. How is that fair or transparent?

Second, the bill actually allows the minister to designate people retroactive to 2009. How is that fair and transparent?

I was delighted to hear the member for Kitchener—Conestoga say it is imperative that we allow public servants to do their job. Therefore, I hope the member would agree that what is required for a fair and transparent refugee system to effectively deal with refugee claimants is adequate human resources. Otherwise, we will find more situations, as has often been the case for some in my riding of Hamilton Mountain, where the government has been unable to investigate some people's claims until they have been in the country for eight or nine years and this is the only home their children have ever known.

I agree that we need more resources. We must treat refugees with fairness using a system that is transparent and accountable.

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

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was struck by the point the hon. member made that Canadians are compassionate and have a history of reaching out and wanting to help those who are less fortunate around the world. She also commented on the fact that she finds it strange that we would single out a class of people arriving as refugees by a certain mode of transportation, people who represent only a small fraction of the total number of refugees.

I ask the hon. member to comment on whether she thinks that is fair.

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

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I obviously do not think that is fair. To suggest that a person's mode of transportation to Canada determines whether he or she is a legitimate refugee claimant is mind-boggling. This bill does not go quite as far as suggesting that, but it comes close. It primarily targets those people who would be arriving by boat. That clearly sets out two classes of refugees. That is not a fair nor a transparent system.

As I stated at the outset, the bill purports to help put an end to human smuggling. However, it is very light on dealing with human smugglers, human traffickers or people involved in organized crime. Rather, it puts the onus almost entirely on those who are seeking refugee status.

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

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act.

I have listened with great interest to the debate on Bill C-4. The Conservatives claim that the bill will crack down on human smugglers. Unfortunately, Bill C-4 will not do anything to deter human smugglers. Rather, it will unfairly target legitimate refugees desperately seeking asylum.

The true Conservative agenda to crassly capitalize on the worst stereotypes related to immigrants and refugees through this bill has been constantly displayed in this debate.

The bill before the House fails to achieve its intended goal of stopping human smuggling. However, it will succeed in violating international law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Audrey Macklin, professor at the Faculty of Law and Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto, and Sean Rehaag, professor at York University, Osgoode Hall Law School and Centre for Refugee Studies have said that provisions such as those contained within the bill:

...flagrantly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Canada's international legal obligations.

[...]

It is inconceivable that the government was not advised that key elements...were unlawful. It is more likely that the government did not care.

The Conservative government claims that Bill C-4 will entrust the Minister of Public Safety with the power to designate the arrival of a group of individuals as a “human smuggling event” if the manner in which they enter the country is deemed contrary to Canada's immigration laws.

However, nothing in this legislation actually addresses a human smuggling event. Rather, the legislation deals with a designation of an “irregular arrival”. Under this particular designation, all groups of two or more people could be designated under either of the two very broad criteria, which could in fact apply to the vast majority of refugee claimants.

Under the provisions of Bill C-4, individuals arbitrarily designated by the Minister of Public Safety would be prevented from appealing to the new refugee appeal division that was agreed to last spring. This process would provide all refugee claimants the opportunity to appeal for status.

Furthermore, legitimate refugees travelling aboard a vessel that is arbitrarily designated by the government as an irregular arrival will be prohibited for five years from applying for other forms of residence such as those on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.This measure unfairly and punitively punishes the victim.

Canada has an international obligation to protect legitimate refugees. However, because of the manner by which they arrive, the legislation unfairly targets legitimate refugees through its punitive and broad punishments in an effort to keep them from obtaining residency and protection.

How does the government expect those refugees who have suffered persecution and risked their lives to get to Canada? Not everyone can travel like the Minister of National Defence on Challenger jets and search and rescue helicopters.

Additionally, this legislation allows for individuals who are deemed legitimate refugees to be shipped back to their country of origin five years after their refugee status has been granted if the government decides they no longer need protection. Not only does this measure violate international law, it is cruel and seeks to disrupt any semblance of life they have made in Canada after fleeing persecution and could also put them back in danger.

The right to assimilation and naturalization are rights that are given to refugees under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Article 43 states:

The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.

This bill not only ignores Canada's international obligations to protect legitimate refugees seeking asylum but also seeks to further victimize their already difficult experiences. Bill C-4 would not hold human smugglers responsible for their illegal and heinous abuse of refugees. This draconian and backward piece of legislation is dangerous and attempts to criminalize the refugee instead of the smuggler. Once again the blind partnership of the Conservatives is masked in the name of public safety.

I would hope that if a bully beat up a victim the government would have the sense to understand that further punishing the victim would not dissuade the bully from abusing other victims. Similarly, when the government declares that human smugglers must be stopped and then goes on to introduce legislation that only inhumanely punishes refugees, human smugglers will not be dissuaded from smuggling more refugees. Unlike the government, Liberals are interested in pragmatic and evidence-based solutions to human smuggling that target the real criminals.

In this debate I have repeatedly heard Conservative members refer to refugees seeking asylum as “queue jumpers”. Let me make it clear that refugees are not queue jumpers. They are not economic immigrants. There is already a system to distinguish economic immigrants from legitimate refugees.

Last, they are not criminals. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states, it is “important to recognize that...refugees are a distinct group with critical protection needs...It is not a crime to seek asylum”.

Central to any debate concerning refugees is a clear understanding of what it means to be a refugee. In 1967, Canada ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to the 1967 protocol. International legal protection revolves around the convention's important, clear and concise criteria for who constitutes a refugee. Unfortunately, it has become obvious while listening to this debate that many on the government side have not read this convention.

Article 1A(2) of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as anyone who:

As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

In the case of a person who has more than one nationality, the term “the country of his nationality” shall mean each of the countries of which he is a national, and a person shall not be deemed to be lacking the protection of the country of his nationality if, without any valid reason based on well-founded fear, he has not availed himself of the protection of one of the countries of which he is a national.

The government continues to ignore logic and evidence. Instead, it proclaims prison to be the cure for any activity it does not support. Does the government seriously think that threatening legitimate refugees with illegal detention will prevent refugees who are fleeing persecution and often death in their countries of origin from escaping to Canada?

Not only does this bill violate international law, it likely violates Canadian law. In the 1985 Supreme Court decision in Singh, the highest Canadian court ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies not only to Canadians but to anyone who steps foot in Canada whether or not the person arrives legally. In Bill C-4 are provisions that enable the government to arbitrarily name refugee groups as designated foreign nationals and permit the illegal and unjust detention of said groups for up to 12 months regardless of whether they are legitimate refugees or not.

Section 9 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under the heading of “Legal Rights”, ensures that everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Section 11, under the same heading, states that any person charged with an offence has a right to be tried within a reasonable time.

We know from the Supreme Court that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to everyone on Canadian soil, whether here legally or not.

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

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her very clear and articulate expression of the major concerns with this legislation.

The bill purports to address human trafficking and human smuggling, yet we know that in Canada we already have the highest penalty that our courts could possibly give to those who engage in human trafficking and human smuggling, and that is a life sentence.

The question to my colleague is this: how does she feel this bill would address the legitimate needs of those who are fleeing from very dangerous grounds to seek refuge in a country like Canada?

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

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, clearly Bill C-4 would do nothing to help those who are seeking refuge. That is my concern with the bill.

There are legitimate concerns. People are being persecuted, and they need to look to a country like Canada to deal with their concerns and to be there when they are looking for a place of refuge and safety.

I am concerned that the bill would take that avenue away from them. It would take away the opportunity to find a place of refuge in a country where people understand that they are being persecuted and know only too well how important it is to respond to the needs of people around the world who understand that Canada is a good place to live.

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

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, this very much seems like an issue of ideology and punishment, despite the government's statements that it is interested in targeting the human smugglers who are clearly exploiting very vulnerable people. I would like to hear some comments from my hon. colleague on that.