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Evidence of meeting #37 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was refugees.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Carole Dahan  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
Andrew Brouwer  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
Imre Helyes  First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary
James Milner  Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Carleton University, As an Individual
Chantal Desloges  Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation
Mary Crock  Professor of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, As an Individual

5 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

On the refugees themselves.

5 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Okay.

Very specifically, what we find is that for refugees who are in a protracted refugee situation, human rights violations are significantly higher than for those who are not. Long-term exile leads to higher levels of sexual and gender-based violence. It leads to higher instances in crime and insecurity within camps, especially as assistance to the camp-based populations is withdrawn and prolonged exile without a viable foreseeable durable solution frequently leads to irregular secondary movements, so moving to urban centres or seeking a perilous journey to another area.

The very short answer is that there are significant human rights concerns as exile becomes increasingly prolonged.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

I know from my understanding of the Geneva Convention that a country of origin is not one of the motives of persecution. The safe country list just doesn't make sense to me.

What do you feel the impacts would be on refugees who are fleeing these serious situations, especially when they come here and face mandatory detention and that mandatory detention could be for up to one year after arrival?

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Specifically on the question of the safe country of origin list, UNHCR, in its global consultations process 10 years ago, concluded that best state practice...that there are procedural reasons why a safe country of origin list might exist. The concern I have with the safe country of origin list is the fact that it remains the prerogative of the minister to determine which states will be on the list.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Right, so the concentration of power within....

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

It's the discretionary power in the hands of the minister, as opposed to an independent panel of experts.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

If I remember from your original testimony, you did suggest that we should go back to what was in Bill C-11 and have the—

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

The independent panel of experts—absolutely.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

So in the situation of people who are fleeing these situations of persecution, how do you think the impact would be on these refugees when they're faced with mandatory detention for up to a year here?

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

If you consider again, as in my response to Mr. Weston, applying the case of Australia, where we see the most documented example of mandatory detention and the human cost associated with it—and this was laid out by a group of Australian NGOs in a letter to Prime Minister Harper in December 2011. They documented that in the year 2011 there were six suicides in Australian detention centres and there were 17,000 instances of self-harm within these detention centres.

More than a decade after the introduction of mandatory detention as part of Australian policy, it has cost over $1 billion Australian over five years and has not effectively been a deterrent.

The human cost, as we can see in instances of suicide and self-harm, is quite high, but so is the financial cost. It was very surprising for me, when I did research, what those costs actually broke down to be.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

It's funny you brought up Australia, because we had a witness here earlier this morning who was talking about the same...I want to say horrible outcomes from the mandatory detention that Australia has practised over the many years.

We've heard the minister say they want to use detention as a means of deterring asylum seekers coming to Canada, but we're seeing that detention is being used as a form of penalty. What is your opinion about detention and penalizing refugees as a means of deterring them from coming to Canada?

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

From a very practical point of view, it doesn't seem to work.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Australia is a one-case example.

5:05 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

That's right. Again, referring to the case of Somalia refugees in Kenya after 20 years in a very isolated, insecure camp, where instances of rape, armed robbery, and murder are practically daily occurrences, taking the risk of onward movement, the perilous crossing of the Strait of Yemen, crossing the Mediterranean, the perilous trip down to South Africa, what we find is that....

First of all, it takes a very long time for word to spread that there's that kind of penalty that will be in place. Second, even that penalty does not seem to be effective as a deterrent. Third, the human cost—again I refer to the six suicides and 17,000 cases of self-harm—strikes me as quite extraordinary.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

I think that's quite a high human cost, and you were saying billions of dollars in cost to the state as well.

I think I have about a minute and a half or two minutes now. Could you comment on the creation of a new category of refugees? It's a two-tier refugee system now.

5:10 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

I think this plays very much into a lot of rhetoric that we've heard about an asylum queue and bogus refugees and queue jumpers. The fundamental principle is that an individual is a refugee once they have gone.... We cannot know an individual's refugee status until that status has been determined by an objective and independent process. The dangerous knock-on effect of language of a two-tier refugee or a bogus refugee....

Let me use the example of Thailand. Thailand has about 150,000 refugees from Myanmar in camps along the border, but an estimated one million individuals who have fled refugee-like situations within Thailand are not allowed into those camps. The Royal Thai government officially says these are not refugees; they're economic migrants. That is a rhetorical sleight of hand. The status of these individuals has never been determined.

Once we go down the path of saying there are rhetorically different kinds of refugees without them having gone through that process, we lose the moral authority to be able to work with partner countries like Thailand, which, given the cases that have been prevalent leading to this bill, is a very important country of first asylum in the region. We lose that position of moral authority when negotiating with partner countries abroad.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, sir.

Mr. Lamoureux, go ahead.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Chair, I'd like to continue with the whole idea of moral authority. I think one of the discussions that has actually been lost in this whole debate on Bill C-31 is that if we take a look at the bigger picture, we have over 10 million refugees throughout the world.

5:10 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

That's right.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

In order for Canada to really be able to contribute to that immense problem of displacement, we need to be able to influence the world. The world does look at Canada and the policies. I think this is where Bill C-31 likely causes the most damage to our reputation and to our ability to contribute to that 10 million. Is that a fair assessment, Mr. Milner?

5:10 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Thank you, sir. I think that is a very fair assessment.

If we were to consider the diplomatic cost of introducing such restrictive legislation in response to the arrival of less than a thousand individuals by boat and the panic that is created by that, how that prevents us from opportunities to engage....

Here are some success stories of what Canada has been able to do: negotiate with the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to find solutions for 105,000 Lhotshampa Bhutanese who've been in exile for 20 years; Canada's leadership in the resettlement of the Rohingya from Bangladesh, who had been there for 20 years; the work that Canada has done with the Karen refugees from Thailand; and what Canada is trying to do for the local integration of Burundian refugees who've been in Tanzania since 1972.

This kind of diplomatic impact is the most cost-effective way we contribute to the global public good of asylum and contribute to the pursuit of solutions. It is not something that benefits only those countries hosting refugees in the region of origin; it's ultimately in Canada's interest. The logic has been the same for the past 60 years, since we've had the global refugee regime.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

I want to look at three points you've raised and provide comment, and then you can make sure I have it right.

First, the safe country list is something that in principle you support, if in fact it's truly independent. The purpose of that safe country list is to put countries like Hungary and so forth on it to deal with some of the concerns the government has put forward.

The second point is regarding detention. It seems to me that you would be against detention outright. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but some individuals, and I'm hoping you might be one of them, would suggest that it might even be constitutionally challengeable on whether it is legitimate to have mandatory detentions. But again, the damage it does to our reputation seems to be your biggest concern.

The third point is the taking away of a refugee's status after they've been deemed a refugee, for the simple reason, as my colleague points out, that it seems to establish a two-tier system.

Do you want to provide a quick comment? If there's any time left, maybe Chantal will get a chance to comment.

5:10 p.m.

Prof. James Milner

Very quickly, on the question of the country of origin list, as the UNHCR found in 2000–01 in the global consultations, in certain instances, the safe countries of origin list can be an effective decision-making tool. It can make a contribution, but it concludes that the best state practice means that safe country of origin list cannot be applied in a rigid manner but must be based—any presumption of safety—on precise, impartial, and up-to-date information.

The impartiality of the development and maintenance of the safe country of origin list is my greatest concern.

On the question of detention, I would defer to colleagues. I know that the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers submitted a very detailed brief on the question of detention. As I'm not a lawyer, I can't speak to the constitutionality of it, but what I can say is that the single most consistent message that Canada delivers internationally is that refugees need to be provided with greater opportunities for self-reliance, freedom of movement outside of being confined to refugee camps.

In many refugee camps around the world, refugees are simply not allowed to leave the camp to engage in wage-earning employment. That's effectively detention, so we lose our ability to make that argument.

On the question of permanent residence, I specifically comment on opportunities for the cessation of permanent residence status for resettled refugees to Canada. The fact that Canada, through its own resettlement program or through the private sponsorship program...the fact that an individual is interviewed overseas by a Canadian visa officer, that they pass a security clearance, that they pass their health clearance, that they are given status to come to Canada, that they arrive in Canada—that is an incredibly important tool of protection. It's a solution for individual refugees, but it's also a mechanism for burden-sharing, to leverage opportunities for other refugees who are not able to resettle.

Having a mechanism by which that durable solution could be revoked runs fully counter to a consistent message that Canada has been stating internationally for more than five years.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. James.

May 2nd, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and to our two guests.

Earlier today, in the last hour, we actually had someone from Hungary, a counsellor from the embassy, and there were a couple of things he said that really struck a chord with me with regard to this particular bill.

We were trying to figure out why so many people from Hungary are coming to Canada and claiming to be refugees. Why do a large percentage of them actually not stay in Canada? They actually abandon their claims, withdraw them, or their actual claims are rejected. That's 95%, actually, from the European Union.

He said two things. One, they're seeking a better way of life, and two, they're coming here in order to get easy money. The second statement is quite alarming. When I think of the definition of refugee, and I've actually been looking up the definitions to get a cross-section of them, the thing that comes up predominantly is someone who is forced to leave a country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. If someone simply just wants to have easy money, is that a legitimate refugee?