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 smugglers.

Topics

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

5:15 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, as this is my first chance to rise in this new session, I want to welcome you and all of my colleagues back to this place. It is good to see everyone and I look forward to our passionate discussions in debates to come.

Today I rise to debate Bill C-4 or, as the Conservative government has dubbed it, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.

When I started to read the bill, I must admit that I had an odd feeling of déjà vu. The name of the bill reminded me of a movie title that really has nothing to do with the movie itself; it seems out of place and even misleading. With its name, one might think that the bill would be straightforward and do what its name says, that is, prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system. Sadly, the bill will not do that.

As written, the bill misses the mark. It takes square aim at the victims of human smuggling, the vulnerable and the poor, those who are desperate to seek a better life and to escape the horrors of oppression, poverty, discrimination and mortal danger. We in the NDP do not believe that the solution to this, or any other problem for that matter, is to punish the victim.

The bill as worded would create two separate categories of refugee claimants. As such, it is discriminatory and a violation of charter equality rights and the refugee convention, which it clearly does. However, these facts do not seem to bother the government so far.

Let me point to more issues that I have with the bill as it stands.

Under this proposed legislation, we see that designated claimants could not apply for permanent residency for five years. Furthermore, if the person fails to comply with the conditions or reporting requirements, this five year suspension can be extended to six years.

This proposed rule applies both to those accepted as refugees and those have been refused or who never make a claim. For accepted refugees, the worst consequence is that this rule would delay reunification with spouses and children overseas for five years. These families have already suffered a great deal, but with this proposal the government seems bent on adding to their suffering.

We in the New Democratic Party have known for a long time that the Conservative government has not been very concerned about family reunification, but this adds to the lack of empathy on the government's part.

The Conservatives state that this bill will result in a reduction in human trafficking. But in reality, in its present form, the bill concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and unfairly penalizes the refugees. By contrast, the NDP wants to directly penalize the criminals: the traffickers and the smugglers. As it presently stands, the bill punishes legitimate refugees and those trying to help them. The proposed process is not clear, and it may be arbitrary and even discriminatory in the extreme.

Parliament just approved a strong and balanced refugee law a few months ago. What we need now is better enforcement. The Conservatives should be less focused on photo ops and more focused on enforcing the laws against human smuggling that we already have and give the RCMP the resources it needs to get the job done, instead of playing politics.

An attempt to play politics is precisely what this is. I am just getting to know many of my colleagues in this place from all across our great country and from all parties so I do feel pretty safe saying that many here in this room are either descendants of people who fled persecution and strife elsewhere in the world or have done so themselves.

When the masses of people from England and France came to this colder end of North America for the first time, many came to escape tyranny and persecution, and to seek a better life that was not available to them in their homelands. Those new arrivals, along with many first nations of this land, came together to be the founding nations of the country that we have today.

Our country is not always perfect but it is a shining beacon to the world, which is exactly why so many people are willing to risk their lives to come here, and that is precisely the point. By punishing the refugees who come here by such desperate means, the government will not reduce the desire of people from around the world to keep trying to come here. People will continue to want to come to Canada because of the greatness of this country. As long as we are this great and caring nation, people will continue to want to come and be part of it.

We should not punish those desperate refugees. We should punish the people who are trying to take advantage of their desperation. We must remember that the name of the bill is preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.

My New Democratic colleagues and I call on the government to do as the bill's title says, go after the human smugglers, and do not punish the innocent refugees who are simply seeking what so many generations before us came to this country to seek, which is a better life and a future for their children and families.

Under this bill, designated claimants, including children, will automatically be detained when they arrive or at the moment they are so designated. Children! Detained! How does detaining children solve anything?

Moreover, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada will not move to review the detention for a year. People can be released only if it is established that they are refugees. The board orders their release after a year; even then, it cannot release them if the government is of the view that their identities are not established or if the minister determines that there are exceptional circumstances.

In my opinion, this is a clear violation of the charter. We know that the Supreme Court of Canada has already put a stop to mandatory detention without a review of the security certificate. These provisions will result in indefinite detentions in identity issues with no possibility of release until the minister determines that identity has been established. Arbitrary detention is also a serious breach of international treaties. We are therefore asking this government to drop this bill.

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

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague rightly mentions that one of the reasons the bill would not dissuade people from trying to get to Canada is because of the greatness of this country. It is also because our world, in many parts, is disfigured by war, by poverty, by violence, by corruption and by a lack of protection for the most vulnerable in our world. That is another reason that people want to come to this country and another reason that the bill would not prevent that from happening.

Could my hon. colleague speak to the issue of family reunification and whether the bill would actually create a climate in this country where the reunification of children and their parents can be smoother, quicker and more efficient?

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

5:20 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very relevant question.

I think this would be one of the problems. It was noted earlier in the debate that this will be one of the fundamental problems with this bill. Not obstructing family reunification is an absolutely essential factor that must reflect the generosity of this country. Let us stop being afraid of immigrants, let us stop being afraid of the others. We know that people are always afraid of the others. Canadian citizens are even afraid of certain other Canadian citizens if they see photographs of them, on Facebook for example, with a leader of a party other than their own.

This trend is disturbing. We really have to start getting away from this kind of approach in this country we call Canada, since it does not deserve that reputation.

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

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.

There are things we wonder about on this side of the House. We now have a situation where someone who is very wealthy can apply under a process that the Conservatives brought in that is supposedly for the entrepreneur class. So someone who is wealthy can come to Canada, but someone who is poor, who experiences human rights violations, who suffers enormous problems, cannot. I wanted to check with my colleague whether he thinks that the way this Conservative government sees the entire immigration system and the issue of refugees is fair.

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

September 20th, 2011 / 5:25 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague very much for his question.

One of the things that they do not seem to realize on the other side of the House is the fact that we already have democratic institutions in this country that deal with the situations they are currently concerned about. There are institutions that respond to their concerns, so why are they attacking the poor and vulnerable victims in this bill? This is what is most disturbing.

There is a concept in this country called the rule of law and this bill seems to be taking us away even from that. Canada’s international obligations are very clear of course. As a result of signing the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Canada’s obligations are clear. The Charter of the United Nations, and last time I checked Canada was a signatory to the Charter of the United Nations, calls on Canada to respect all human rights, the rights of every person. Again, this bill is taking us away from that great principle of international law.

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

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will begin my discussion on Bill C-4 by clearly contradicting what has been a repeated false claim from the other side of the House for the folks who are listening in on this debate.

I know many Canadians are very concerned about the bill and about the repudiation of basic Canadian values, of our treaty obligations and a whole variety of things that a number of my colleagues have been raising in the House all day.

What we have heard from the Conservative side is the repeated claim that somehow the number of refugees accepted in Canada has increased.

Anyone watching this debate can go to the CIC website, a federal government website, to see the actual figures. When the Conservative government came to power, 32,500 refugee visas were issued in 2006. Years later, in 2010, there were 24,500 visas issued. People can verify this on the website themselves. Perhaps there are Conservatives striving to change the figures as we speak, but I certainly hope they will keep the figures as they are written now. We can see over the time the Conservatives have been in power is a steady reduction in the number of refugees who are accepted in Canada.

One of the fundamental values we have as Canadians is the belief that those who are living under human rights violations or living in war should have the ability to apply for refugee status and come to Canada. However, we can see, from the figures that the government publicizes on its own website, what Conservatives have done systematically over the last five years. They have ended the queue. They have told refugees that they will not come to Canada.

It is understandable in that context that the Conservatives have been driving down and closing the door to Canada around the world for those living in situations of extreme violence and difficulty and they have now put forward a draconian piece of legislation that punishes those few refugees who actually make it to our shores.

As we know, when the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady came to British Columbia, those people who had risked their lives travelling across the Pacific Ocean were immediately interred. They were put in prison and detention camps. I was able to visit them as a parliamentarian to see the conditions for the men, women, children and families who had escaped Sri Lanka and the systematic ongoing human rights violations that are taking place in northern Sri Lanka.

That has been well-documented by international organizations. Even though they are not allowed into Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly spoken of the ongoing human rights violations taking place there now. There are serious assaults, sexual assaults, disappearances and forced imprisonment without trial of individuals in northern Sri Lanka.

Understandably, in that situation any of us would be concerned about our family's welfare and health. We would strive, by any means, to leave that kind of situation. Nobody in this room and no Canadian across the country who had their family under threat would say that it was fine to leave their family under threat.

Those refugees got on a leaky boat with very little water and food. They spent weeks and weeks coming across the Pacific Ocean to come to Canada. They came to Canada for one reason only. They came to Canada to be safe.

This bill would tell those refugees, now that the Conservatives have closed the door to refugees, as we have seen over the last five years, that if they come to Canada to be safe they will be put in prison for a long time.

These are draconian measures that are a complete repudiation of basic Canadian values. There is no process and there is no queue. The Conservatives have closed the doors, as we have seen from the Conservatives' own figures on their website. If women, men and children come to Canada, they will be put in prison, not to verify their identities, which might be a normal process, but to punish them.

The Conservatives make reference to the bill cracking down on human smuggling. The bill is cracking down on refugees. It is imposing penalties on refugees who come here with whatever means they have, the bit of savings they may have been able to take out of the country, despite the human rights violations and the threats to them and their families. They make it to Canada and the Conservatives decide that they will be severely punished. That is only one aspect of this bill that concerns New Democrats and only one aspect of why we are standing in the House speaking out against what the Conservative government is trying to do.

The second is the fact that the bill gives licence to the minister to basically determine, at any time, what he considers to be a political file. We have seen systematically, over the course of the past few years, the Conservatives play political games in all kinds of ways. The Conservatives seem to like to divide one Canadian from another, francophones from anglophones, westerners from Quebeckers and those in Atlantic Canada and new Canadians from those who may have been here, like my family, for a number of generations.

We have seen the Conservatives play what is in my estimation the lowest kind of politics with refugees who only strive to protect their families and come to safety. That is all they are attempting to do, to start a new life in Canada in safety. All they ask for is safety, to live without that constant threat of violence at any time, that constant and unpredictable sense that at any time they may have a family member thrown into prison arbitrarily with no trial, or that a family member may be assaulted or raped, or a family member might simply disappear. These are the realities that exist in that area. Although human rights observers are not allowed into the area, the anecdotal evidence coming out clearly indicates that the human rights violations continue, and everyone should be aware of that.

Refugees strive to come to Canada, so they get in leaky boats with little food and water. These boats are not very safe and they come across the Pacific. They land on our shores and a minister, who is above all influenced by political factors, decides whether they will be thrown into jail for a long time and pay huge fines with what is left of the resources the refugees were able to take with them when they left. That is the second component. We are talking about a draconian law, but we are also talking about giving full powers to a minister who has repeatedly intervened in the immigration system in a political way.

The immigration system is supposed to be sacrosanct. It is supposed to be judged by a system of values that the vast majority of Canadians share. Instead, we have seen the government use those powers in ways that are designed to only further the interests of the Conservative Party. That is also the reason why we are concerned about this bill. A number of members from the NDP have said very clearly why they are concerned about that.

The third issue that I will raise in the time I have left are the violations of international treaties that Canada has signed. I will cite, as many of my colleagues have, the UN convention relating to the status of refugees.

Article 31, it states in part, “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties...on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”.

This is a bad bill, it is a political bill and it is a draconian bill. That is why New Democrats are standing up for Canadian values and saying no to Bill C-4.

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

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I believe the bill is part of a concerted effort to continue to shrink the number of immigrants and refugees coming to this country. Could he comment on whether he believes this is a bill to punish smugglers or to actually try to put the brakes on people coming to Canada in a concerted way by punishing them for trying to come here?

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

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, when we look at the websites of the Conservatives, in which they talk about closing the door and about having reduced by 24% the number of refugees accepted over five years, it is very clear that this is their intent.

As my colleague knows, this is part of the overall drive that the government has taken. Conservatives campaigned with a sweater vest, but they have come out with a biker vest since they received a majority in May.

We have seen very clearly a switch in our immigration system away from family reunification, away from accepting refugees and more geared toward accepting temporary foreign workers who have no rights in Canada, who are often subject to abuses and who are shipped home once their contract has been completed. This is not the immigration system that we on this side of the House want to see.

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

5:35 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, the member opposite went on several detours, but one was Sri Lanka. He seemed to imply that the bill had something to do with this government's policy there. There are many responses, many of them already taken by this government to the very worrying situation there, particularly the situation of Tamil refugees who have suffered from the conflict over years and even decades.

Will the member opposite not agree that being soft on the human smugglers who brought two ships to the shores of British Columbia is not going to do anything to ameliorate the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka or in other countries where they have taken refuge and that on the contrary, Tamils like other would-be refugees seeking a place in Canada want us to be generous by a system that respects and enforces the rules?

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

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, the member knows that the bill does not crack down on human smuggling. The member knows that the Conservative government already has a whole range of measures to crack down on human smuggling. That is not the point or the intent of the bill.

Perhaps the member could speak to this when, hopefully, he will rise in the House and defend the bill around the issue of what the Conservative government has not done when it comes to the systematic human rights violations taking place at this very moment in Sri Lanka. The government has not said that the Sri Lankan government has a responsibility to allow in human rights observers so we can see first-hand what is happening on the ground.

The Conservative government has not taken the initiative to press the Sri Lankan government to stop the human rights abuses that are taking place. Anecdotally we are getting evidence from across northern Sri Lanka that this is taking place by the Sri Lankan military. The government has not taken action at all and that is a disservice both to Canadian values on human rights. It is also a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians of Tamil origin who want the government to take action and Canadians of all origins who believe that Canada should be a voice for human rights around the world.

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

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, as I have heard the debate over the past two days, it seems the crux of the issue is that when is a deterrence to be an effective one without sideswiping those who are most vulnerable. I commend my colleague for bringing some of that out. I commend other colleagues as well for trying to bringing out that argument.

I worry and fear that in some of the arguments being used there is a subtext, which is we will keep most everybody out. Unfortunately that may include the most vulnerable. Could the member comment on that?

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

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, this is where we have hopefully set debate in the House that will allow the government to understand to what extent Canadians are concerned about this.

We have seen the Conservative government, systematically over five years, close the door to refugees. This bill seems to close the door even further, and that is a fundamental repudiation of Canadian values.

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

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Madam Speaker, one has to look back in our history and examine the people who have come to our country, the people who have immigrated and the people who have come on ships seeking refuge.

There are some examples of which the country might not be very proud. One of them was the Komagata Maru and the other one was the MV St. Louis. In both those examples, people were turned back. They were not even allowed to come to our shores. Years later governments apologized for what happened.

I cannot forget back in the mid-1980s when a ship full of Punjabis came from India. As soon as it arrived on our shores, and I believe it was July 1987, the then Conservative government made the headlines such as, “We have been invaded”, or “They are arriving. Let's do away with them”. The House, if I remember correctly, was brought back in the middle of the summer in order to discuss that.

I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting some of those people, approximately 25 years later. I have seen them become productive citizens, with their families, who have gone on and are truly Canadians. Some of them even delved into politics.

It brings us to today's situation with Bill C-4. It seems that it is like the Tamils are invading, the Tamils are coming. It is the Tamils, the Tamils.

Let us examine why the Conservative government is raising the flag about the Tamils coming. Why are the headlines, “We have been invaded by the Tamils?” Why are we where we are today?

The Tamil community certainly feels it has been targeted. I remember when Stockwell Day was the leader of this party and he showed up with a brush and went on to say that most of the Tamils were terrorists. Children in schools in my area, where I have a large Tamil population, were scared that if they went to school, they would be called Tamils. There were incidents where young ones were called terrorists and were being abused by other children.

This went on and on over the years. I remember in the winter election of 2005-06, the Conservative Party and the minister today said that they would classify them as terrorists.

The government could have taken a look and said that there was a problem in Sri Lanka, that there was a civil war in Sri Lanka. It could have considered what it could do to intervene and find a solution. That was not the issue. The issue was helping Sri Lanka and the government of Sri Lanka, mostly Sinhalese, in order to alienate the Tamils, and that occurred. The Tamil community rose up and came out on the Hill and said that they wanted intervention. They wanted their government to speak, but nobody listened.

The Liberals also turned a blind eye to it. It was everybody's fault for not listening, the results that occurred after the termination of the civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people were interned in Sri Lanka. There were horror stories of combatants who were executed. A Channel 4 video shows the government of Sri Lanka executing combatants who were arrested. There were stories about women who were raped, children were separated from their parents, and the stories go on and on.

Even to this day, the Tamil community, not only in Canada but around the world, is calling for justice. Some of those people who were going through that hardship decided that enough was enough and that they were going to find a better life. They were going to seek refuge.

Some people, when they come to Canada, find different means. They go from country to country. They come in here with illegal passports. They arrive at our shores and say that they are seeking refuge.

These people decided, like the people of the Komagata Maru, back in the 1910s, that they were going to get on a boat and come to Canada. We had two boats, one in 2009, the Ocean Lady with 76 Tamils, and in 2010, the Sun Sea with 492 Tamils. “Well, we have been invaded by the 568 people who came to our shores, and there were more boats”.

The government decided back then that it would bring in legislation that was draconian. It did not have the numbers then, but it has the numbers now. Now the government is saying that it is going to go ahead with it and not listen. It is going to steamroll the legislation right through and use it as a tool to fund raise.

In many constituencies we saw the ads that were played during the election. We see the outreach the Conservative Party is doing. It is using these two boats and this draconian bill in order to put a wedge right between the communities and between different ethnicities in Canada. It is going back to its reform base and saying, “Give us money in order for us to fight the war”. What war? Five hundred and sixty people arrived on our shores. Is that a war?

We are debating a bill that died last year. The bill says to those people that if they come to Canada and the minister decides to arrest and detain them for a year, they cannot apply to land until five years later.

When people come to this country to seek refuge, they have a hearing. It can take anywhere from nine months to a year, maybe a little shorter, and then they have to apply in order to land. That is a humanitarian and compassionate process. They send their paperwork off to the case processing centre in Vegreville and it just sits and sits. If they are really, really lucky, maybe in four or five years they will be called in in order to land. If it is a concurrent application, which means the individual and his or her family are simultaneously applying, the individual lands and the family comes over.

As we have it right now, we are separating refugees who come to our shores for anywhere between four to five years. If they come on a boat, they cannot apply until five years later and maybe, if the situation in their country has changed in those five years, we will send them back.

For example, in 1939 the St. Louis came over full of Jewish people who were seeking refuge from Hitler. We might have kept them here for five years, but when 1945 rolls around, things have changed in Europe and we send them back. Where is the sense in all of this? People have to be looked at when they arrive here. We have to look at the conditions in their country at the time of their arrival.

Let us talk specifically about the 492 Tamils and the 76 Tamils. If this law had been in force they would not have been allowed to apply for landing until five years had passed. It would take five years plus another four to five years before they were landed. That is 10 years. For example, a mother comes over but has separated herself from her child, perhaps because she has lost her husband. The child is five years old when she leaves. She is stranded, but she will not see her child for 10 years. A five year old has been left behind. The child will not see his or her mother until he or she is 15. The child will grow up without a mother, without a parent, but when that child turns 15 and if the child is really lucky and the minister has not changed his mind, the child might come to Canada.

This is the draconian bill the Conservative government is bringing in.

A couple of years ago, an inspector general from the UNHCR, Mr. Arnauld Akodjenou, spoke to the citizenship and immigration committee. We asked him how Canada was reaching out to the UNHCR and asked whether people's credentials and information could be provided as to whether they are really refugees or not. I asked him whether Canada had reached out. The answer was that they had not had anything from Canada.

What Canada was doing, and what Canada is doing under the current Conservative government, is going back to Sri Lanka and asking the Government of Sri Lanka whether these people are legitimate refugees. Somebody who is fleeing a situation comes to Canada and instead of going to the UNHCR and the inspector in order to ask him what to do, we send information back to Sri Lanka. If these people were to be deported, they would be the first ones to be hurt.

When the Sun Sea came in 2010 there was an article which stated:

“The UNHCR supports the important work of law enforcement agencies in combating human smuggling....”

Mr. Mahecic of the UNHCR went on to say:

“It is nonetheless important to recognize that while refugees...are a distinct group with critical protection needs. It is not a crime to seek asylum.”

The article continued:

Although the war has ended, the UNHCR says Tamils might still have legitimate reasons for seeking asylum.

Let me repeat that, “Tamils might still have legitimate reasons for seeking asylum”.

The bill we are debating today is putting the Tamil community at risk. This is not only in Bill C-4--

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

5:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member's time has elapsed. He may be able to elaborate during questions and comments.

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

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the enthusiasm of my colleagues to get me on my feet. I also want to commend my colleague who sits in front of me for all the work he has done on immigration and certainly in his riding.

In the debate that has been going on here a term that has been bandied about is “queue jumping”, which applies to the immigration system. When it comes to the issue of refugees, it is a concept that is not as tangible. I would like him to comment on that. Could he also make reference to what the Supreme Court decision would impose in this particular situation from this pending legislation?