House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

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The House resumed from September 23 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

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was asked to speak this morning regarding Bill C-4, which would prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system. I am pleased to rise this morning to say how much I strongly oppose this bill.

I will start by saying that this bill makes it even more clear that we have a repressive, backwards and irresponsible government that is severely lacking in humanity. I must say that this is not very surprising to me, as this bill is simply one more example, among many others. Once again, the government wants to make a disadvantaged segment of the population suffer, for unknown reasons, instead of lending these people a hand at a time when they need it most.

I am strongly opposed to this bill because every day, in my riding, refugees and immigrants come to us for help. They ask for only one thing: to live in this country with dignity; to have a second chance. With this bill, they will not get that second chance. This bill authorizes an officer or the minister to refuse to consider applications for permanent residence. How can we grant this power to an individual when the applicant may be in danger? What criteria will the officer or the minister use? Will they refuse applications based on how they are feeling that day? This bill would give them the power to do so.

I do not think that the government understands that being in power means making decisions for the well-being of the entire population, by consulting the people and listening to their needs and by avoiding randomly and unfairly punishing people who are simply seeking refuge. Being in power does not mean authorizing oneself to single-handedly make a decision that could have a huge impact on the lives of several people or even several families. This bill would require some individuals to report to an immigration officer and to respond to all of his questions for no real reason. That is discrimination, pure and simple.

How can we convince people to establish themselves here if we treat them as detainees as soon as they arrive, without knowing the full story, and without even knowing why they chose Canada? Under this bill, claimants, including children, will automatically be detained when they arrive or at the moment they are designated. How can the government violate international rules that were created for the well-being of all communities? This would leave the door open for indefinite or arbitrary detentions. Where are we headed? Where is our country headed? It is a great place to live, a place where immigrants are welcome and where we extend a helping hand to refugees so that they can see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Under this bill, a designated person cannot apply for permanent residency for five years. Five years. Then, if the person breaches any of the conditions imposed, this period can be extended by five or six years. A person could wait more than five years to see their family members who remained overseas. In addition, designated persons are prohibited from leaving the country until they receive permanent resident status. Not only are they kept from bringing their families to Canada, but they are also prohibited from going to visit them. What has happened to the family values that we have always defended here? Can someone tell me? Does the government have this little respect for the family unit, the first community where a human being grows and flourishes? The minister must not know what it is like to be separated from loved ones for five years; otherwise, he would not be trying to impose such rules.

This bill would punish refugees or those trying to help them instead of punishing the criminals—the smugglers and traffickers. This proposed refugee process is arbitrary and completely discriminatory.

A few months ago, Parliament passed balanced legislation concerning refugees. It would make a lot more sense to simply enforce that legislation better, instead of treating these people like criminals, when they simply need a helping hand. Furthermore, in Australia, similar laws met with opposition from Amnesty International, which started a campaign to condemn the misinformation surrounding refugees who arrive by boat. This government is alienating the international community and severely damaging our reputation. We have a responsibility towards refugees. We do not have the right to treat them this way.

We in the NDP recognize this responsibility, unlike the Conservatives, who want to evade it. This approach flies in the face of our country's commitments under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is not the right legislation to put an end to human trafficking.

Do we want to be recognized as the country where refugees are discriminated against? Where no one wants to go and settle for fear of being detained and treated like a criminal? Where people, if they choose to live here, risk having to go without seeing their loved ones for over five years?

We are losing our values of openness, tolerance, giving, social justice and equality. Many groups strongly oppose this bill. The Canadian Council for Refugees completely rejects this bill. Amnesty International Canada said the bill would lead to serious violations of the rights of refugees. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says these measures are simply not necessary. Why would we apply measures that are not necessary? The Canadian Bar Association says that this bill violates Canada's international obligations regarding the treatment of persons seeking protection. As I was saying earlier, we have a responsibility to refugees and the government is refusing to treat refugees fairly.

A group of experts from the Centre for Refugee Studies has described this bill as draconian. I think these groups know what they are talking about. Earlier I was saying that we need to listen to the concerns of the people. Here we have flagrant examples of a government doing exactly the opposite. This bill could violate a number of legal provisions, including those pertaining to equality before the law and arbitrary detention. Bill C-4 is contrary to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

As I was saying earlier, we are tarnishing our international reputation and that is serious.

I will say again: I am strongly opposed to this bill because we have a responsibility to refugees. The government does not have all the rights. No. It would be a serious mistake to ignore these responsibilities in the name of security, especially when we consider that this bill will not in any way—not in any way—stop human trafficking.

I welcome any questions my colleagues might have.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:10 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for her very passionate and clear speech on the issues in this bill.

My colleague mentioned that a number of organizations are opposed to the bill because it infringes on the rights of refugees. It is well known that my parents came from Vietnam, and many Vietnamese people have arrived by boat. Could my colleague talk about the repercussions of this bill for refugees who seek asylum in Canada?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:15 a.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

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

Some refugees who arrive by boat already need someone to lend a hand, they need help, and they need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. These people will arrive here and be detained, even the children.

It is very traumatic psychologically for a child to be detained for no real reason upon his arrival. I also believe that refugees who arrive here will not be guilty of any crimes. They will not have done any human trafficking or anything wrong. They are certainly not smugglers. They will arrive here looking for help and hoping for a second chance, but they will not get it. I believe they will want to go elsewhere, and with just cause.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite described the government members in the House as repressive and deeply lacking in humanity.

Rather than hurl insults at hon. members in the House, perhaps she could tell us what she would say to the families across the country who want to keep their streets, families and communities safe and free from danger.

I remind the member that the bill is called the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act”.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:15 a.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I thank my colleague for the question.

As I was saying, my aim was not to insult members of the government party or anyone else. I merely wanted to present the facts, as these are the facts. I do not believe that we can jeopardize the rights of refugees in the name of security. As I was saying as well, this bill will in no way prevent human trafficking, and thus does not provide a solution to that problem. The solution is to enforce the existing law on human trafficking. That is the solution we need here.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:15 a.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot just explained very clearly, Bill C-4 is very restrictive, particularly when it comes to privileges and to the image that Canada has traditionally portrayed to other countries of the world.

I am somewhat troubled when I try to understand why the Conservative members want to once again introduce this bill and ignore the amendments that we, the members of the NDP and the members of the Liberal Party, are proposing. It is important to note the direct impacts of passing such a bill, such as the violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the violation of international treaties. I have difficulty imagining how anyone would want to pass this omnibus bill, which was already debated in the previous parliament as Bill C-49, if I am not mistaken. Many debates were held, many witnesses were heard and many facts were put on the table in this regard. The bill was not passed. However, the Conservatives are once again trying to pass this odious bill.

This is even more surprising since Canada will find itself in a difficult position with regard to international treaties if, in the end, this bill is passed as is. The government just wants to do what Australia did and it is very difficult to understand those objectives.

On top of all this, it is very worrisome to see that there will be fairly serious consequences if immigration officers are given more power. Many rights and liberties will be violated. One major problem involves the discrimination that people who are deemed to be designated claimants will face. They will not have any rights. What is even more worrisome is that these people will basically be put in prison for at least a year. This completely violates the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The New Democratic caucus therefore has serious concerns about passing this bill, as introduced by the Conservatives. We stand firm. We want this bill to be amended and we want it to give some reprieve to ensure that everyone in need—everyone who is a true refugee—is treated equally. It is important to remember that our proposals are in no way meant to be weak or condescending toward criminals or those who, for political purposes, use certain methods of transportation to transport refugees. In my opinion, immigration officers are trained and are capable of determining and knowing who the real bad guys are. The problem with this bill is that, in reality, we are lumping everyone into the same category.

And that is not acceptable.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:20 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech on the problems that exist in Bill C-4. He said that certain aspects of the bill are contrary to the law. This bill flies in the face of international conventions and the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would like to hear my colleague's comments on this, and I would also like him to explain the consequences this bill would have on Canada's international reputation.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:20 a.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

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

Everyone here has heard all about these unacceptable violations, specifically the violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the charter was created, Canada gained respect in the eyes of the world and all the nations around the globe. Canada set an example and many countries have drawn inspiration from it. But everyone should be questioning the true objectives of this bill, as it now stands, because it violates every international convention, specifically those related to children. Putting children in jail is unbelievable; it is unheard of, the world over. Even countries ruled by dictators would not be able to propose a similar bill.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his response.

Could he also explain the impact this bill might have on Canada's reputation? He spoke about the fact that this bill is an attack on children's rights. The government says that this bill targets smugglers—that is what is written in the title—but the hon. member raised the point that it will also attack the rights of refugees. Could the hon. member speak about the impact this bill will have on the rights of refugees and on Canada's international reputation?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

The topic of children is one that affects us all. Long ago, the ancestors of our wonderful nation of Canada built a reasonable immigration system, able to support the productive force and workers. The children of some immigrants integrate better than their parents. If the bill is implemented as it stands now, there will be some serious and unfortunately very restrictive consequences for the intellectual and physical development of the children.

The hon. members from the Conservative Party should agree to the amendments proposed by the Liberal and NDP caucuses, to ensure that we are treating children humanely and that the bill targets human smugglers more directly.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-4 attacks refugees. It has no place in Canada because it proposes measures that are completely unacceptable. Some provisions of the bill respect neither the charter nor Canada's international human rights obligations. It is a discriminatory bill because it penalizes refugees for their method of arrival. It reintroduces provisions from Bill C-49 from the previous parliament, which was widely condemned by the community across the country.

This bill was previously rejected by all the opposition parties in Parliament. Many legal experts have said that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. The government is telling us that it wants to target the smugglers, but is it really necessary to risk our reputation within the international community? Is it really necessary to violate the constitutional and international rights of refugees? We deplore the reintroduction of the anti-refugee legislation.

This bill allows the minister to order the detention not only of the asylum seekers, but also of their children, even if our security is not at risk and the detainees are not a threat. The bill allows the minister to order the detention and imprisonment of persons seeking refugee status.

It is a government's duty to take responsible measures to deter human trafficking. It is Canada's duty to take clear and transparent measures to put an end to dangerous and abusive behaviour. We must take measures to end the behaviour of criminals, in other words, smugglers, who violate the rights of refugees and the vulnerable. We agree with putting an end to all that, but Bill C-4 targets the refugees and not the smugglers.

Canada is committed to protecting refugees and implementing measures that respect the rights of refugees and immigrants. But now we are increasing the burdens on our refugees. With regard to the former version of this bill, Alex Neve, of Amnesty International, recently said:

Bill C-49 does not get it right in drawing the line between tackling crime and upholding rights. It goes after smugglers, in large part, by punishing the individuals who turn to them--in desperation--for assistance. Those provisions of the Bill that are discriminatory and will lead to human rights violations must be withdrawn.

I believe Mr. Neve is still right.

The bill creates a second class of refugees. Even people whose refugee status has been confirmed cannot obtain travel documents or file an application for permanent residence for five years. These provisions also violate the international convention, which requires countries to issue travel documents.

The bill will result in indefinite detentions, and a designated person will not be able to submit an application for permanent residence until five years have elapsed. Why such a long time? This measure applies even if the person's refugee status in Canada is confirmed. This bill will prevent refugees who have been duly accepted from being reunited with their families and spouses. It will certainly not help the integration of refugees into our society. This bill seems very difficult to justify.

In addition, as long as designated claimants do not have permanent resident status, they will be deprived of the right to travel outside the country. This provision of the bill appears to violate article 28 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The bill contains discriminatory provisions. Designated claimants cannot appeal decisions regarding their claims to the Refugee Appeal Division. Since when does Canada fail to abide by its international commitments? Since when does Canada deny the right of appeal?

We have to wonder. Why do the provisions of this bill appear to violate the provisions of refugee conventions and even those of the charter? The bill imposes mandatory imprisonment on groups of refugee claimants, including children, despite the fact that these same individuals have not given us any reason to believe that they represent any sort of danger or threat. The minister will even have the power to decide to imprison any refugee claimant upon arrival if there is even the slightest suspicion of smuggling. The minister will also have the right to imprison refugee claimants simply because their identity cannot established in a timely manner.

As hon. members know, refugees are often fleeing a war zone, a place where circumstances are less than ideal. It is difficult to justify placing additional burdens on these people. It seems as though the legislation even violates the international Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits the imposition of penalties on refugees fleeing persecution on account of their illegal entry. Human smuggling is a serious problem. Resources and co-operation with foreign governments are required to deal with smugglers. However, human smuggling does not justify the violation of constitutional and international rights.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to express its concerns about this bill. The president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Wanda Yamamoto, has said, “We are celebrating this year the 60th anniversary of the refugee convention, but instead of honouring this treaty, the government is proposing to violate it.” She went on to say, “Let us not forget that the convention was adopted because many countries, including Canada, had closed their doors on Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, and we said 'Never again!'”.

I completely agree with her. After the second world war, the international community went through a period of reflection. Together, we decided that we never wanted to violate refugees' rights ever again. The ship filled with Jewish refugees that had travelled around the world was denied entry to Canada and many other countries. They were forced to return to Germany and in the end, suffered the same fate as so many of their fellow Jewish citizens under the Nazi regime: they were killed.

The measures being proposed here today will mean that people who want to come to Canada, which has been an internationally-recognized safe haven, will no longer believe that to be true. Where will these people go? Will they be forced to stay in their country? Passing this legislation could lead them to their deaths. Is that not disturbing? It seems very clear that the bill currently before us does very little to deter smugglers. One has to wonder why the government is so intent on attacking refugees and their children. The government must know that we already have legislation to deal with smugglers and traffickers. They already face life imprisonment and fines up to $1 million.

If the Conservatives want to discuss the existing deterrent effect, let us talk about it. Why are they so intent on attacking refugees? Our commitments mean that we cannot harm them gratuitously. Bill C-4 punishes refugees.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:35 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with some interest to several speeches by our NDP colleagues today. A few moments ago, one of them said this bill was repressive, backward and oppressive, referring to the government that way. This member now claims that we would be oppressing refugees by this bill. He brought up the issue of the St. Louis and the tragedy of the Jewish refugees fleeing Hamburg who came to our coast and were turned back.

I have actually met some of those survivors, there were a few. I can assure members that none of them would be seeking to go back for a vacation in the land they had supposedly fled. Refugees are not refugees because a smuggler says they are. We have the ability to determine genuine refugee status in this country.

This bill would crack down on the smugglers. It would actually bring some accountability and increase our ability to prosecute smugglers, mandatory minimum prison sentences for convicted smugglers, and it would hold the shipowners to account. It would provide for a maximum of one year of detention, so that legitimate refugee status could be determined by our very generous provisions in our country. Refugees are very well looked after in this country. It would prevent abuse of our system and, frankly, it would ensure that health benefits of refugees do not exceed those of Canadians themselves who support these--

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the health of our newcomers is certainly topmost in our interest. We certainly want to ensure that all people who come to Canada are welcomed. In large measure I agree with him that when somebody comes to this country, we need to treat them well. We need to give them access to health care. We certainly do not need to imprison them. I do not think that sending the refugee to prison would in any way stop the smuggler from trying to make a profit off of people's misery.