Good morning, everyone. My name is Seidu Mohammed and I have come here from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to speak to you today.
I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we are gathered here today in Ottawa is the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.
I know that as a newcomer to Canada, what I am about to say today may not make everyone on this committee happy, but I feel that the heavy burden on my soul will be lifted a little if I could respectfully share my views before this honourable committee.
I would like to begin by quoting the words of a great Canadian, His Excellency the Right Honourable Vincent Massey. He spoke these words at the Canadian citizenship ceremony that was held in Winnipeg on May 20, 1955. At that time he was the first Canadian-born Governor General of Canada.
In his address to the new Canadians, His Excellency said:
What are we doing with the spirit of debate and free speech? May I tell you of an incident that happened not long ago in a Canadian city? A new-comer to this country, an educated man, who had learned the value of freedom the hard way, came here to find it. He complained, not bitterly, but sadly, that when he ventured to speak critically of any institution or practice in Canada that he could not approve, he was rebuked; “You don't need to criticize,” he was told, “you are lucky to be here at all!”
This cannot really be our view of honest criticism. We offer new-comers something more than a refuge. When we welcome new citizens, we are accepting free men and women and we invite, and urge, them to join us in using the privileges and responsibilities of free speech.
Members of the committee, and ladies and gentlemen, before coming here today I had a meeting with Mr. Bashir Khan, a well-known Winnipeg immigration and refugee lawyer. I asked him to explain to me what Bill C-97 would mean for a refugee claimant. I was shocked, saddened and very much disturbed at what he told me. I was so outraged that I could not sleep that whole night.
There are unjust laws as there are unjust men. What Bill C-97 proposes today is unjust. It is trying to amend the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The change that really bothers me is that, if this bill becomes law, if I had to come to Canada, it makes a person like me ineligible to make a refugee claim. This would have prevented me from having my claim heard by an independent decision-maker at a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
This proposed law means that many refugee claimants like I once was, who may need Canada's protection because they face persecution or a risk of torture or death in their countries of citizenship, will be denied access to Canada's refugee determination system.
However, under the new proposed law, a person like me would have access to only a pre-removal risk assessment application, which is a process that provides much less fairness than a hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
Mr. Khan also told me that Legal Aid Manitoba would pay only a maximum of $530 for a pre-removal risk assessment application to a lawyer, which takes between 10 and 15 hours to complete properly. This would create a serious funding problem as it would reduce the number of lawyers who would be willing and available to take on pre-removal risk assessment applications. This would end up hurting those who are most vulnerable and in need of Canada's protection.
What I would like you to please remember about me long after I have gone back home to Winnipeg is that the people of Canada saved my life from death by lynching by homophobic mobs in Ghana, and protected me from imprisonment by the Ghanaian police because of my sexual orientation. The Canadian people did this by giving me the right and privilege to have my refugee claim heard by the independent and impartial Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
Before coming to Canada I went to the United States, thinking it was a country that protected and kept refugees safe. I was wrong. I was jailed in detention for nine months, with murderers, drug dealers and people who committed felonies. In detention, I was not provided a lawyer for my bond hearing, nor for my asylum hearing at the United States immigration court.
After I was released from detention, I was required to report every two weeks to an immigration and customs enforcement officer, who harassed me for documents and constantly threatened me with deportation. I felt very afraid because at that time the U.S. was deporting people.
Like many other refugees, I fled from the U.S., where I was not safe, to Canada where I would be safe. On December 24, 2016 I walked for 10 hours in the cold, across the border near Emerson, Manitoba. On that fateful night I suffered severe frostbite, which resulted in losing all of my fingers.
In closing, I ask you this question for self-reflection: Would the Canadian Parliament really want to pass a law that would deny me access to the Canadian justice system, and certainly others like me who are coming to Canada for protection? Would you want to see me deported back to Ghana?
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.