Mr. Speaker, I am a bit saddened to have to rise in the House to debate Bill C-49, which has been titled by the government An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act. I am saddened, to start off with, because what we are seeing is yet another attempt by the government to centralize powers in the hands of its ministers. The designation that allows the minister to decide who is a first class refugee and who is a fifth or sixth class refugee is something that, it is fair to say, has received a great deal of opposition right across the country.
I will be referencing a little later both the organizations that have spoken out against what the government is attempting to do and also some of the comments from people who understand full well what needs to be brought to bear when we talk about refugees and the increasing uncertainty and conflict that leads to refugees sometimes arriving on our shores. I will be referencing that in a few moments.
Suffice it to say, the concerns about the concentration of powers in the hands of a minister who can designate any non-citizen as worthy of being thrown into prison is deeply concerning in this corner of the House. Another concern that has been raised, and there are many around this legislation, is that this flies in the face of our international commitments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The fact is that the government got a slap from the international community just a few weeks ago in the United Nations, when Canada was refused for the first time to sit on the Security Council, something we have done regularly since the foundation of the United Nations in which Canada was heavily involved. It shows how the international community is concerned more and more about the direction the government has taken. There is no doubt that this particular legislation flies in the face of those international commitments that Canada has signed.
One might say that the government is trying something it thinks will work. However, an interesting note I will add before talking about the existing situation for refugees is the fact that Australia tried this very same approach of throwing them all in prison, and what happened is that Australians and Australia realized how wrong-headed that attempt was and moved away from this type of mean-spirited approach to refugees.
The reality is, as we well know, there is no queue for refugees. What the Conservative government has done, to which the previous Liberal government contributed as well, unfortunately, is to gut the whole refugee process system in Canada. For example, in northern Sri Lanka, where the government has ended a civil war and has kept thousands upon thousands of northern Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking citizens in detention camps, there have been widespread violations of human rights, as indicated by any human rights activists who have been able to make it into Sri Lanka. Most of them have been denied access, which is worrisome in itself.
The reality is that those individuals who are facing persecution and human rights abuses on the part of the Sri Lankan military do not have a queue to go to. They do not have an office to go to. There is no system in place to ensure they can, through a legitimate and anchored process, come to Canada. We are talking about an area where there are widespread human rights violations, disappearances, rapes, assaults and murders, and there is no system or process, no queue, waiting for them.
What they do in their desperation, those of them who can, is escape. They escape in leaky boats. They try to get as far away from where their family is threatened with murder or rape as possible, as any of us would. When we look at the history of our country, whether we are talking about the Komagata Maru or the SS St. Louis, we have had circumstances in our past where right-wing media has tried to provoke the same kinds of divisions and attacks against legitimate refugees who, to a certain extent, were mirrored by the most recent arrivals.
These individuals spent months on a leaky boat with little access to drinking water or food. They are not individuals who are on a pleasure cruise. They are coming to Canada because they want to feel safe. They want to avoid the murder and mayhem they face in their home countries. There is no legitimate queue for them to go through that process. Perhaps that is the most significant point.
The government has gutted the type of regular queue and processing that would allow refugees to come to Canada through a regular method. On top of that, the minister has the ability to throw any individual into jail. Rather than tackling human smugglers, the government is tackling the refugees, after coming through months on the open dangerous seas with little food and water and finally making it to our shore, and throwing them in prison.
That is simply not a value that most Canadians share. It is simply not a value that led to the international conventions that are violated by this legislation.
I want to read a couple of comments from those who have reviewed the legislation.
Professor Audrey Macklin, Centre for Refugee Studies, said, “The bill is so flagrantly illegal that it is almost inconceivable that it could survive a court challenge”.
The president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Wanda Yamamoto, said:
Measures keeping some refugees longer in detention, denying them family reunification and restricting their freedom of movement are likely in violation of the Canadian Charter and of international human rights obligations...People who are forced to flee for their lives need to be offered asylum and a warm welcome, not punished.
The Province, which is a local newspaper in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, in criticizing the legislation said:
—other sections of the act, such as creating second-class refugees out of people who arrive en masse, make the proposed legislation seem thrown together and ill conceived....Canadian history is sprinkled with examples of how overtly politicized immigration policy has led to inhumane decisions, including the Komagata Maru incident in Vancouver in 1914 and the refusal to accept Jews escaping en masse from the Nazis.
A wide range of organizations have clearly spoken up, opposing Bill C-49. I will just mention some of them in my closing few seconds.
The organizations include the Vancouver Interfaith Refugee Council, the Vancouver Airport Chaplaincy, the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, the United Church of Canada, the Salvation Army, Atlantic Refugee & Immigrant Services, the Council of Canadians, Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal, the Student Christian Movement of Canada, the South Ottawa Community Legal Services, South Asian Women's Community Centre, SOS, the Sojourn House, the Social Justice Collective of the Public Health Students at the University of Toronto, Salsbury Community Society, Sanctuary Coalition of Kitchener-Waterloo, Refugee Lawyers' Association of Ontario, the Quaker Committee For Refugees, Project Genesis, the Southern Ontario Sanctuary Coalition, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, the Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Ligue des droits et libertés, the Legal Assistance of Windsor, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, Jesuit Refuge, Inter Pares, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the Fédération des femmes du Québec, the Community Legal Services Ottawa, Committee to Aid Refugees, Montreal, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Chinese Canadian National Council, Centre for Race and Culture, the Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Tamil Congress, Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Dozens and dozens of other organizations have all said that the legislation is flawed and should be withdrawn.