House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the deputy House leader is absolutely wrong in his remarks and I will make two points to prove so.

The deputy leader talked about the contract with MERX. The advertisement tells the contractor, whoever it might be, and, through that advertisement, the public, that it must assume that the Canadian Wheat Board ceases to exist. That is the assumption that is made when in fact that can only be done through legislation in the House. We are not operating in a dictatorship where the executive branch of government decides all. The deputy House leader is absolutely wrong on that point.

Second, I will refer members back to my remarks. I indicated in my remarks that the Minister of Agriculture set up a task force. On September 6 of this year, my office received from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada the terms of reference of that task force. The very first term of reference reads:

This group will take as given that:

all grains will be removed from the monopoly by August 2012.

I will quote it again for the deputy House leader. The group, the task force, appointed and paid for by the Government of Canada, will take “as a given that: all grains will be removed from the monopoly by August 2012”. That is clearly operating on presumption. Legislation has not even been entered into but it will be gone. A task force has even been set up. We need to keep in mind that the task force was basically secret. Public meetings were not called for farmers to be heard. It was just an internal, little select body chaired by the deputy minister of agriculture.

Mr. Speaker, I do not think you have any choice but to rule contempt of the privileges of the House on the actions of the Government of Canada in this particular matter.

Notice of Proposed Procurement Concerning Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank all hon. members for their submissions. I can assure them that I will take this issue under advisement and come back to the House in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System 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

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Minister of Immigration provided his comments on this particular bill and I do have questions that I want to pose to him. The tradition in the chamber has been to allow opposition members to question a minister on legislation right after he or she has spoken. The Minister of Immigration has spoken and I do have questions. When will I get the opportunity to pose the questions to the minister?

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

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Unfortunately, since the minister is not available to be here for the question and comment portion of his speech, the tradition of the House is to move on to the next speaker. I will give the floor now to the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

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

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-4, first, because of its severe impact on legitimate refugees who come to Canada; second, because of its direct conflict with Canada's international obligations; and third, because it takes Canada once again down the wrong-headed road of trying to use incarceration as a solution for social problems.

Looking at the title, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, one might wonder why anyone would be concerned. We all share a common concern about the financial exploitation of desperate refugees. We all share concerns about the unsafe transportation of refugees to Canada. However, the title of the act is clearly more about spin than about information. It is designed to provoke a, “well who could disagree with that”, kind of response. Unfortunately, it is something we have seen all too often on Conservative bills.

Early in the debate, the parliamentary secretary for immigration said that Canadians clearly voted for this measure. In fact, if they had read the title and if this were a vote determining measure, then it was certainly with the expectation that this bill would contain significant measures targeting human smugglers.

However, when we actually look at the bill, what do we find? We find only two significant measures targeting those smugglers. These two measures might perhaps be helpful. One makes the endangerment of life and safety for those being transported an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing. This is something for which we might find support from all sides of the House.

Second, there is a measure that would extend the time for initiating proceedings against smugglers from six months to five years. As we all know, human smuggling cases can be quite complicated. Again, this is a measure that might find a degree of support from all sides of the House and might pass quickly.

The other measures directed at smugglers are of questionable use. They once again stem from the Conservative's approach of trying to deter crime through mandatory minimum sentences and large fines even though all the literature in all kinds of criminal activity and behaviour show that these do not serve as deterrents. I think the problem for the government was that there was not much to do in the area of targeting human smugglers because the maximum penalties are already life in prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Why the dramatic title? Unfortunately, the government either believes in its own rhetoric, which is based on fear, or the government is attempting simply to enhance its tough guy image at the expense of legitimate refugees.

How large is this problem? Of the 30,000 refugee claimants who might arrive in any given year, less than 2% are estimated to have arrived at the hands of smugglers or in the famous cases of the two ships that came. That is less than 2% or 300-500 people out of more than 33,000 claimants. We are taking a sledge hammer to what is a very real but very small problem.

Still, if we were under siege by human smugglers, there are solutions that would quickly address this problem without draconian attacks on refugee rights and without incurring enormous long-term costs of incarceration. These are quite simple. They are enhanced enforcement and the expeditious determination of refugee claims. Both of those measures require annual adequate funding to the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and to law enforcement agencies. However, when we have a government that is now obsessed with cuts to public agencies, we cannot expect them to be able to do the enforcement work and do the determinations of refugee claims in an expeditious manner, which would actually take away the problem of smugglers and abuse of the system.

I will outline the main content of the bill because it is this content that gives rise to my concern. It is this content that I do not really understand. Bill C-4 is an attack on legitimate refugees who happen to arrive in a different manner than other refugees. I find the following seven things to be major concerns.

Bill C-4 creates a discriminatory category of designated refugee claimants based on their mode of arrival. It would impose penalties and disadvantages on legitimate refugees who have been forced to use the services of human smugglers to escape with their lives. It would impose penalties and disadvantages that would not be placed on other legitimate refugees who happen to arrive under their own steam, by air or crossing land boundaries.

Second, it provides for the detention of legitimate refugee claimants for up to one year with no review, including children. These are people who have perhaps suffered violence themselves, who have perhaps lost members of their family, who have certainly lost almost everything they had to their name. What will we do in Canada? We will further punish them by keeping them in detention for up to one year with no review.

Third, Bill C-4 proposes a ban on humanitarian and compassionate applications for five years. This would arbitrarily deny a right to those who have already been victims twice over. They were victims in their home country and victims of human smugglers. Now, in Canada, we would deny them a right to make their case on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which all others have the right to do in this country.

The fourth thing of concern for me in Bill C-4 is that it would suspend the right to apply for permanent residency for five years. I cannot imagine what we think we would accomplish by doing this. It can only delay family reunification cases where families have been split up abroad and it can only delay the integration of refugees into Canadian society.

My fifth concern is that it would deny refugees travel documents that they would otherwise be entitled to if they were designated claimants. Once again, I cannot imagine what the problem is we are solving here, but the problem we are creating, once again, is with families who may have been separated abroad and who may need these travel documents to travel to help reunify their families.

My sixth concern is that it would allow the retroactive designation of claimants as possibly coming under this act. It is a fundamental principle of British common law which we use that we do not apply retroactive measures in criminal law. To me, the same thing should apply in the case of immigration law dealing with refugee claimants.

Finally and perhaps most egregious, Bill C-4 would exclude designated claimants from the appeal process, something which I believe the Supreme Court would find very hard to uphold in the long run.

Before I say a little more about my specific concerns, I want to talk a little about my own experience with refugees. As some in the House will know, I am the co-founder of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. It is a society that was set up in the 1980s to employ refugees and immigrants to help other refugees and immigrants with their settlement services in the community of Victoria. I am very proud of my long association with the Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society and the very high quality of work it has done in my community.

In the 1980s, I worked with Latin American refugees who came from Central America. Many of them stayed in my home as their first base of arrival in Canada. I visited refugee camps in both Indonesia and Afghanistan and helped on international projects trying to get the safe return home of refugees. First and foremost, I can tell the House that refugees are looking for a safe place for their families. They are not examining the comparative refugee regulations in countries around the world. They are simply looking for a place to go where they can be safe.

I will tell you a short story about the Campos family who came from El Salvador in the mid 1980s. They had two sons. One of their sons was taken from their house and shot in the street by security forces. They left that night without any documents, taking their younger son and fleeing the country. They ended up at my house in Victoria. I do not know how they got there but I have some suspicions that it was not an altogether pleasant journey, and they may have used the services of human smugglers. They felt they had no choice but to try and save the life of their only surviving son. The Campos family, Arnaldo, Virgina and José are still friends of mine today and they are alive because we gave them refuge in Canada. They did not shop for a place to go. They fled for their lives.

In the late 1980s, I served as an expert witness at refugee board hearings on behalf of Indo-Fijians who fled the military coup in Fiji, as I was working at that time for an international non-government organization. Again, when the Canadian minister of foreign affairs at the time, Joe Clark, said that we would accept refugees from the coups, there was great surprise in Canada when tens of thousands of Indo-Fijians got on the next plane and arrived in Vancouver. If we had had this kind of bill in place, those who had organized the flights would have been defined as human smugglers. Those who raised money to help them come to Canada would have been caught in the web of this bill. These are very productive and proud Canadians today, still living and working in Vancouver.

When we ask about the definition of human smuggling, I should add that as my eighth concern. I feel the definition is so broad that we will inadvertently catch those who are helping legitimate refugees out of humanitarian concerns in the web of the bill. I bought tickets for people to come illegally into Canada in the 1980s who were fleeing for their lives. Would I have been defined as a human smuggler? I am afraid under the bill I might have been.

Earlier in this debate the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used a bizarre market analogy about trying to affect the price charged by human smugglers. This is nothing out of the real world of refugees who are living in camps day-to-day, trying to find a way to reach safety.

On the other side, we heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration talk about queue-jumping, which implies that there is some kind of organized system for dealing with refugees around the world. This is a system that does not exist and cannot exist when people are fleeing for their lives. Again, there are undoubtedly a few who will attempt to exploit our refugee determination system. The solution for those few is enforcement and swift refugee determinations. This will eliminate the problem of those smugglers who try to target Canada.

My concerns are with legitimate refugees, people who have lost everything, people who have been victims of violence. My concern is how we will treat them when they arrive in Canada. If they arrive by boat, will we deny them the same treatment as other legitimate refugees? The discriminatory category of designated claimants is a clear violation of charter rights and I think the courts, again, would find it hard to uphold such a measure.

The provision of detention without review has already been ruled unconstitutional by the Canadian Supreme Court when dealing with security certificates. Plus we have a provision that says mandatory conditions will be placed on designated claimants who are released and those will be set by regulation. Again, I doubt the Supreme Court of Canada would uphold any such vague determination of conditions for release of detainees.

The bar on humanitarian and compassionate applications for five years and the suspension of the right to apply for permanent residence for five years clearly violate both our obligations under the international convention on refugees and also under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention requires that in all cases the best interests of the child be taken into consideration and I cannot see how that can be met with bans on humanitarian and compassionate applications and with suspensions on the right to apply for permanent residence, which would allow the reunification of families.

I would like to ask the House to listen to the voice of refugees and to those who have actually worked with refugees in the field. Listen to those like the Canadian Council for Refugees that have called for the abandonment of this draconian legislation. Listen to Amnesty International that works every day with those who live in fear of their lives and often tries to help them find safe places to go. Listen to the Canadian Bar Association and its severe reservations about the legislation. Listen to the many other community organizations that work trying to help those who have suffered severe traumas to integrate into Canadian society.

Listen to those voices when it comes time to vote on the bill. Can it be amended? Can it be fixed? My concerns are very severe and I have seen no inclination on the government side to listen to these arguments about humanitarianism, compassion, human rights and treating fairly those who have already been victimized by becoming refugees from their country and by having to resort to the service of human smugglers.

I know many of these people and I know many other members of the House know those who have come to Canada as refugees. The bill would have made that much more difficult for many people who are an important part of our communities now. Let us not deny ourselves the future potential of those people who choose not to come here, but make a wonderful addition to our society.

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

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, Poverty; the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Seniors; the hon. member for Windsor West, Canada-U.S. Border.

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

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the words of the hon. member and thoughtful reflection on issues involving not only our immigration system but those of refugee claimants and the treatment of refugee claimants in very particular dire circumstances. It has captured the House for some time.

The rule of law is an essential component of our society. The rule of law is something that the House, this Parliament, needs to ascribe to and needs to hold as its witness. However, the rule of law as stated within this bill is twofold. The rule of law states that not only is the government prescribing a certain method dealing with refugees, a particular variety of refugees, but what is not stated within the bill is that there is a right to due process. That right to due process allows for a consideration of appeal. No single decision can be taken without review. No government can impose a standard without having it adjudicated for its fairness.

Within the context of this legislation, does the hon. member feel this bill and the prevention of any right to review for certain claimants would be constitutional and be upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada?

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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I said, I think there are very clear examples, in particular, Supreme Court cases involving security certificates, where the Supreme Court has upheld the right to due process. I would like to stress that in none of the cases we are talking about of refugee claimants, even those who came on the boats, have we found anyone who is a threat to Canadian security at this time. Therefore, even in those more severe cases that did involve questions of national security the Supreme Court would not uphold taking away the rights to due process.

As well, in the 1985 Singh case, the Supreme Court very clearly said that refugees could not be denied due process rights because of their new status in Canada.

Therefore, I do not believe that many parts of the bill would stand up to a court challenge.

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

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to listen to his debate and I found it interesting. I have one community in my riding, Brooks, Alberta, which is probably one of the most diverse communities around. There are some 110 languages spoken. There are people from probably any five countries and some of these have been refugees. They have told me that we are on the right track. They have said that people who come here, like those who came on the Sun Sea, should not be able to jump the queue, that they should not be able to take advantage of our good Canadian hospitality, particularly with all of the funding that they get for health care and everything else.

From my point of view, from my constituents who are have been refugees and who are supporting us, why is the NDP not supporting us in this position?

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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, in this case the government has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In seeking to dramatize the ship arrivals and in seeking to increase fears, it has caused many Canadians to turn away from the generosity with which they have normally received immigrants and refugees in our country.

I believe when Canadians are asked to look at the real facts, the very small numbers involved and the very real situation of human rights abuse they were fleeing in Sri Lanka, then the boats from Sri Lanka no longer look like such a horrible queue-jumping problem. They look like people who were doing exactly what refugees do, and that is fleeing for their lives and fleeing to a place of safety.

I believe Canadians are generous-hearted and understand that refugees need to be welcomed here when they have no other place to go.

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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the comments of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca were very cogent and thoughtful. I enjoy having him as part of my caucus.

The member spoke of the issue, as a number of my colleagues have, about concerns on how the proposed legislation strays from already binding commitments by this nation to international law.

First, there seems to be a pattern under the current government to move away from international obligations commitments. There was a comment earlier today from the other side about why the UN did not do the job. Part of the actions with the UN is stepping up to the plate and signing and ratifying international conventions. When we sign and ratify, we are committing that we will abide by those. Could the member speak to that?

The second issue is that this is the second step taken in substantially altering our immigration and refugee system long policy in Canada. The first measure was to massively open the doors to serve certain sectors and bring in tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers and then say that if they came in as a temporary foreign worker, they should not bother applying for their permanent citizenship or bring their families to contribute to society in the long term.

Could the member speak to those issues and the implications of this proposed law?

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

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, when people point the finger at who should be responsible, I like to point this out. Who takes responsibility for dealing with refugees? Yes, the UN does for some international refugees, but it does this on the basis of voluntary contributions by nations, so there is only so much it can do.

Far more of the work of trying to care for refugees falls to the international non-governmental organizations and humanitarian organizations that, through donors, out of the generosity of their hearts, help finance the attempts to make refugees safe. I worked for two of those international non-governmental organizations in trying to get refugees safely back to their homes.

It is easy for governments to point the finger at each other, but what we see is ordinary people around the world stepping up and recognizing the problem that refugees have and stepping up to the plate to help them out in those dire times.

As to the other questions, the turning away from our international commitments, the government cannot simply ignore those. They are a part of Canadian law. We have committed ourselves to them and I believe that, again, should this legislation pass in its present form, those commitments will be tested in the courts. As well, they will be tested in the court of world opinion, where Canada's reputation is on the line for being one that not only encourages others to adhere to international law and covenants and their responsibilities, but sets an example in doing so.

It is a very negative trend if we turn away from those obligations. How then can we call on other nations to uphold their obligations when have done so?

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

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, those who come to Canada illegally should expect to be subject to our laws. I believe the bill sends a strong message to those looking to circumvent the immigration system that this will not be tolerated.

The NDP has said that the bill needlessly violates the rights of illegal immigrants by detaining them in order to determine their identity. Does it maintain that we should allow illegal immigrants to roam free without consequence and without knowing whether they are a threat to public safety?

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

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's question in particular shines a light on the problem on the other side of the House.

The member has done two things in the phrasing of his question, which I think illustrates the problems with the bill. One is that he has switched from talking about refugees to immigrants. The problem with refugees is that they are not choosing to go anywhere. They are not immigrants. They are refugees.

Second, the member refers to them as illegal entrants, but under the international conventions on refugees, they are not illegal entrants. They have the right to enter Canada and seek refuge here under international agreements which we have signed and ratified.

They may enter illegally if they were immigrants and, as I said, we should use enforcement and quick determination to remove those people who try to use the refugee system as a way around the immigration system. I totally agree with the member on that.

The problem is that if he switches his discussion to refugees, then they have legal status. They have the right to seek that refuge in Canada and we have the responsibility to treat them fairly.