House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 41st Parliament, 1st 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

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

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

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I ask that hon. members continue their conversations outside the House. We have resumed debate and I am having a hard time hearing the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, who has the floor.

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

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for intervening, especially after the leader of the Green Party rose on a point of order to say that people were heckling and making noise while hon. members were making speeches or asking questions. Thank you for your intervention. Personally, it does not bother me that much. I am used to hearing all that, but I would indeed appreciate it if things were a bit quieter.

I was saying that what fascinates me about the way the government introduces bills is the titles. The short title of Bill C-4 is pure demagoguery. I would even say that introducing a bill to attack a given problem is a way of misleading the public. The vast majority of Canadians will not read the bill, which is quite natural, because they have other things to do besides reading a stack of bills as they are not legislators. Nevertheless, they will read some excerpts in the media and on the Internet. However, they will not necessarily have the entire bill on hand. They often go no further than the title. That is why I have often called this government the marketing government. The purpose of marketing is to sell a certain product and to a certain extent that is what is being done here. The government is saying that this is what it wants to do about refugees and that the bill will prevent smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system. If a referendum were held, I think everyone would agree. Everyone would agree with the short title. However, when we read the bill, we see that there is a problem.

We all remember the last election campaign and a Conservative ad— which even targeted the Bloc Québécois—that showed a large, listing, rusty vessel like the Titanic, with a lot of people on board. The invaders were coming. They waged a campaign of fear about various issues, such as the crime rate and refugees, and it was always fear of the other that dominated. That has been this government's modus operandi since it was elected, both with a minority and with a majority.

The major difference evident since the beginning of the session and with the adoption of special bills, particularly in the case of the postal strike, is that they are going do to what they want. Naturally, we will do everything in our power to make the public aware of what the government wants to do when it does not make sense. I believe that this bill falls into that category.

The short title does not really indicate what the bill is about. The Bloc Québécois already came out against Bill C-49 when it was introduced for the first time in the House. Bill C-49 was the predecessor of Bill C-4.

In fact, while the government says it is cracking down on human smugglers, it is instead punishing people fleeing persecution, including children. I heard the earlier response given by the Minister of Public Safety, who introduced the bill. He keeps saying that we need to protect the children. Obviously. None of us got elected by saying we did not want to protect children.

When people are smuggled into the country, by boat or some other means, obviously they often bring their children. At least that is what we see in many cases. They are all in the same boat, if you will forgive the pun. The Canadian government is going to welcome them, but not exactly in the way they imagined. So it is misleading to give the bill this title. Lastly, we know very well that real refugees will be treated like common criminals. That is what this bill will do. The Conservatives are once again using a specific example from recent events to advance their law and order agenda, even though the measures they are proposing will not change anything at all about the specific situation.

The example given is this: on August 13, 2010, 492 Sri Lankans arrived in Canada on board the MV Sun Sea. When all of this hit the media, the Conservative government promised to tighten the law in order to discourage human smugglers wanting to organize more shipments to Canada. When the Tamil immigrants arrived, the federal government indicated that the ship's passengers included human trafficking criminals and members of the Tamil Tigers, which is considered to be a terrorist group under Canadian law.

There is another example. Some of the 76 other Tamils from Sri Lanka who arrived on the Ocean Lady in 2009 and claimed refugee protection remained behind bars for over six months. None of them were recognized as being members of the Tamil Tigers. They were finally freed when the government determined that they did not pose a threat to national security.

The Conservatives are doing whatever they want. People's fear is allowing the Conservative government to pass almost any bill that tightens the rules, and the government is jumping in with both feet. We are not against laws that ensure that smugglers are held criminally responsible for what they have been doing. These individuals do not deserve to be treated like honest people; quite the opposite is true. That is not the problem. The problem is that this bill will allow the government to completely disregard the rights of people who, for the most part, are real refugees and victims of persecution. These people often arrive with their children and they are put in prison by the military. This is a serious problem.

The Bloc Québécois opposes any new refugee category that would be justified only by the manner in which refugee claimants arrive. The fact that some refugee claimants arrive in a group does not mean that they are not legitimate refugees. In our opinion, a new category that puts even heavier burdens on refugees would be prejudicial. Unfortunately, that is what Bill C-4 would do.

One of the consequences of this bill is that refugee claimants who arrive in a group can be automatically imprisoned for a maximum of 12 months with no possibility of disputing their arrest. One year; that is nothing to scoff at. That is called an arbitrary arrest. People arrive by boat in a group and, right away, they can be put in prison for a period of 12 months and that is it. They do not have any rights. Often, these people are penniless and vulnerable. They are not familiar with our laws. In many cases, they do not even know the language. They managed to escape, to save themselves from extremely difficult conditions. Often, they were persecuted in their country. When they arrive, we welcome them by putting them in prison.

This is a matter of fundamental human rights and democracy, specifically, the right to liberty.

Not only would this illegal immigration bill violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but it would also violate Canada's international obligations under 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. This bill would violate at least three treaties that exist to protect fundamental human rights.

If only for that, we should look carefully at this issue and realize that we must revise this bill, which is nothing but smoke and mirrors. We believe that the existing legislation, if it were properly enforced, is sufficient to deal with the arrival of ships. That is what experts in the field already confirmed, when the first Bill C-49 was introduced.

I do not understand why the bill has returned in the same form, with a few minor esthetic changes, when we know very well that it poses some very serious problems. That is why we will oppose this bill.

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

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska on his remarks. I would like to know more about the way in which the provisions of this bill would infringe on the basic rights of the people who could be victimized. Can the hon. member give us some examples of the basic rights that would be affected by this bill?

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

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very pertinent question.

I have already mentioned that there are several conventions that Canada will quite simply be treating with contempt if this bill is passed. The real problem—and this is what I had prepared for the continuation of my speech—lies with the countries where the basic rights of some people are often violated, leaving them with no choice but to leave because their lives and their well-being are in danger. This is where a generous foreign policy and generous international aid become important, as does the effective promotion to foreign governments of respect for international conventions, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is the answer to the hon. member's question. What is at stake here is nothing less than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a quite arbitrary fashion, we are going to take people who claim to be refugees—and that determination is not to be made the moment they arrive, because it is impossible to decide that these people are actually criminals rather than refugees—we are going to detain them, put them in prison and deprive them of all their basic rights just because they came in a group. That is the problem.

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

3:20 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member a question about Canadians' reaction to refugees in Canada.

I remember a situation, about 10 years ago, where a refugee ship arrived on the coast of Nova Scotia. Many people from the village, near the small town of Chester, I believe, went to the shore with hot tea and coats in order to help those people who had no clothes and no food. That was a truly Canadian response. However, Canadians' response to MV Sun Sea was a bit different when the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Justice said that there might be terrorists aboard.

I am a little worried. What is the reaction toward legitimate refugees who are going to be detained with their families for one year under this bill? How does it reflect the generosity of Canadians? I think that is how Canadians would truly respond to young people threatened with political sanctions in their countries.

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

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her question.

Therein lies the problem. We have always said that the values of this Conservative government do not reflect Quebeckers' values or, in many cases, Canadian values. She gives the example where people, the general public, welcomed refugees in a very humane way. That is what she described. This is not the image that the Government of Canada is going to give to rest of the world with Bill C-4.

I am also reminded of when I was younger and what we called the boat people arrived from Vietnam. They were at my school and in my class in Victoriaville. They came from Vietnam and integrated. They were refugees. I do not think that the solution or the way to welcome these people at the time would have been to take them, put them in prison because they arrived in a group and immediately and arbitrarily regard them as criminals. That is not the way to do things. Obviously, we want to avoid having individuals from terrorist or criminal groups turning up here and leading others to believe they are refugees. This happens in close to 2% of cases. Of course there are potential solutions to prevent these kinds of criminal groups from entering Canada as much as possible but, most of the time, the people who come here really are refugees. And we must welcome them.

Air Canada
Government Orders

September 20th, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.

Halton
Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Our government remains focused on Canada's economic recovery and the financial security of all Canadians. As the House knows, the government received a strong mandate from Canadians to complete our recovery.

Today, I am very pleased to report to all Canadians and to the House that just minutes ago Air Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing the Air Canada flight attendants, have signed an agreement in principle to avoid a work stoppage and maintain full service for passengers.

I would like to congratulate the parties on coming to an agreement that safeguards Canada's economic recovery.

I want to applaud the efforts of the parties in focusing their attention to the matter and, of course, our federal mediation services that were instrumental in assisting the parties. Our position on Air Canada has been clear: the best agreement is always the one that the two parties can reach themselves.

I strongly encourage the parties to continue to work together so the union can secure ratification by the membership. This is an agreement that is good for both the employees and the employers and, as a result, is good for Canada and all Canadians.

The objective of the legislation that we put on notice yesterday has been achieved and we are so very pleased that air service for Canadians will be protected. We remain committed to protecting Canadians and to keeping our economy growing, strong and on track.

The House resumed 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

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-4 is described as an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to prevent smuggling. However, it does nothing of the sort. What it would do is prevent refugees from arriving in Canada.

I think the best way to describe one of the flaws in the bill is to look backward, because that is what the Conservatives are doing with this bill. They are moving Canada backward. In looking backward, what would have happened had the bill been law in the past?

My ancestors arrived in this country from Ireland as refugees of a sort. They were religious refugees. They were practising Catholics who felt threatened that their religion would not be accepted with the British domination of Ireland, so they came to Canada by boat, and they paid good money for that. They came under forged documents, under the wrong name. They did this because they were desperate to leave Ireland. They knew a famine was coming, they knew there was a problem and they were desperate.

Another bunch of my ancestors came from Germany, again by boat. They left because of what they felt was religious persecution against their Catholic faith. They went to the United States first, travelling under the right documents, but they would have been detained had they come to Canada because they came by boat in large numbers and they paid somebody to bring them here.

My most distant relatives from my mother's family coming to Canada came to what is now the United States before the Mayflower. They came in 1592 or 1594, something like that. While legislation might not have been in place, there were certainly native North Americans here who, if they behaved the way the Conservatives do, would have jailed all my ancestors as they arrived by boat without documentation, without permission and they paid good money to get here.

These are but some of the ridiculous examples of what would have happened in the past. I say “ridiculous” because that is what this legislation is.

Much more recent than those occasions, in 1939 a ship containing over 900 refugees arrived in North America, looking to find some place to put those refugees. Canada turned it away. That ship went back to Europe. That ship was the MV St. Louis. Some members opposite have suggested that it would have been a better thing had the Conservative bill now before us been in place at that time as Canada would not have sent the ship back. Those refugees would have been put in jail instead and they would have been safe.

However, that is not what the minister said the purpose of the bill is. The minister has said that the purpose of the bill is to not allow refugees into Canada. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that the boats do not leave the country of origin. The purpose of the bill is to make it financially unprofitable for the human smugglers to bring these people across because they would know they would end up in jail.

If that is the purpose of the bill, then in 1939 the St. Louis would never have left Hamburg in the Conservative's view. Instead of merely 254 German citizens and Jewish people being exterminated as a result of being sent back by Canada, all 937 would have faced probable elimination in the concentration camps in Europe. I know that seems rather extreme, but I am trying to give the bill a historical perspective.

We cannot and should not build our laws in this country on the basis of a knee-jerk reaction to a couple of boats arriving on the west coast that someone, somewhere, declared might have criminals on them. We should not build our systems in a reactionary way, rather than looking at the overall problem.

The overall problem is that there are too many people on this planet who are refugees, who need a place to go, who need to find a home. Canada should be welcoming those people. We should not be asking those boats to stay home. We should not be trying to prevent those people from coming to Canada in the first place, which is what the minister admitted was really the purpose of the bill.

It is somewhat hypocritical of the government to suggest that it welcomes immigrants, that it welcomes immigration. It welcomed them during the last election campaign, touting a Conservative government to the immigrant community as a good thing for them. Many of those people the government was wooing are in fact refugees.

Now that we know the Conservatives' real agenda, which is to prevent refugees arriving in Canada, to prevent the necessary acceptance of people whose countries are so war-torn or so undemocratic that they absolutely need a place to go, it is wrong. If we are trying to prevent those people coming here, it is wrong. It is so wrong.

I agree with the notion that we should attempt to stop the potential profiteering off the plight of people in very poor and war-torn situations. However, this is not the way to do it. This will not arrest a single smuggler; it will not deal with that problem at all. All it will do is to prevent people who should be allowed to come to Canada from coming to Canada. That is not what I believe.

I do not believe the Conservative government or this House believes that. I believe that we all think that Canada is a great place, a place that should be accepting of as many citizens of the world who want to come here, who can supply us with great labour and resources and their intelligence and world views. We should be accepting of that. To do otherwise, to prevent it and try to restrict it, is wrong-headed.

The specifics of the bill are so wrong that Canada will fly in the face of the convention that it signed at the UN. We signed the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. We are bound by it and yet are doing exactly what it says we should not do:

The Contracting States—

—that is us—

—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.

We should not be violating our commitments to the United Nations. Whether commitments to Libya or to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, we must not do that. We must give a strong and convincing signal to the world and Canadians that Canada is an accepting place, that Canada is a place where there are not two statuses of citizens, citizens who came by boat, as my ancestors all did, and citizens who came by plane.

Now that Air Canada is back, they will be able to come by plane in greater numbers. However, we should not be restricting refugees. The legislation is wrong-headed if its intent is to stop the flow of refugees coming to Canada.

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

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the opposition does not have a monopoly on friends and family who came to Canada under extremely difficult circumstances. My mother also came to Canada by boat after her family had escaped Germany, dodging dogs and bullets all the way.

The opposition knows that we Conservatives do not maliciously intend to target innocent refugees. This bill is designed to protect these refugees from being duped into the most dire and dangerous of circumstances.

We ask the opposition to call a spade a spade and recognize that Conservatives are not cold-hearted people who hate refugees and want to throw them away into worse circumstances. When refugees first arrive, they are certainly held in better conditions than on the boat they arrived in. It is just a matter of finding out who is who and making sure that the good guys get in and the bad guys do not.

Could the hon. member comment on that?

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

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree that we do not have a monopoly on immigration in this country. Everyone here, with the exception of a handful of native North Americans who are here, is an immigrant to this country in some way.

I would just ask the member to consider how he and his mother would have felt if, upon her arrival in Canada on that boat, she had immediately been put in prison as the result of arriving by boat, which is what this Conservative document would do. For people arriving by boat, particularly a lot of people arriving at the same time and who have paid a lot of money to come, it quite likely means prison

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

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill under consideration is in violation of article 31 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees that our country has signed. It is something that good members of the global community would want to pay attention to.

Could the hon. member tell us how passing this bill will affect the status of Canada in the world community?

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

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly, when we are a signatory to a declaration at the UN, the other signatory countries expect Canada to live up to its obligations. They expect Canada to live up to what it has signed.

If we pass a law that flies in the face of that law, we will not have the same image to the rest of the world. We will lose credence. We will lose respectability and, when it comes to future declarations, we will lose the trust of those other countries.

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

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on his speech.

I would like him to comment on the fact that the Conservatives are trying to bypass the impartial and democratic processes that Canada has previously put in place. There is a refugee board and a commission to hear these kinds of applications. Those institutions are democratic and impartial. The fact that the government is trying to put all the power into the hands of the minister is a grave affront to the impartiality and the democratic nature of the institutions already in place in Canada. I would like him to comment on that.