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Evidence of meeting #38 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

Delphine Nakache  Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
James Bissett  As an Individual
Chantal Tie  Working Group Chair, Inland Protection, Canadian Council for Refugees
Loly Rico  Vice-President, Canadian Council for Refugees
Marc Sougavinski  Director General, Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Montagne
Marian Shermarke  Clinical Advisor, Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Montagne
Donald Galloway  Co-Chair, Legal Research Committee, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers
Lesley Stalker  Member-at-large, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate being a visitor today in the committee.

I actually have two questions, and I'd like to just ask them and then allow the panel to pick and choose up to our five minutes—or seven, I'm not sure. It's seven, thank you.

One is that in the earlier session there were some questions, from Mr. Dykstra in particular, on alternatives to detention and I don't think we got very precise answers.

I know in the international refugee law realm there are quite a few sets of guidances, if you like. There are guidelines on alternatives to detention. There is a clear presumption in international refugee law against detention. The test is that of necessity, and then the alternatives that are available are part of making out the test of necessity. If anybody can talk a little bit for the benefit of the committee about what generally is understood by alternatives, that would I think help us all.

As for my second question, I too am obviously troubled by the fact that there's a mandatory 12 months without review, because again, then the whole necessity of detention just cannot be reviewed. That's just a given. We're not contesting the idea of detention; it's the idea that it can't be reviewed against a proper test.

But I'm equally troubled by the fact that if a refugee claimant is determined to be a refugee, we have all these provisions that basically penalize them in relation to other refugees. Permanent resident status doesn't come for five years, and travel documents aren't available. Family reunification can't occur because of the permanent residence delay.

To me this feels like we are using these refugees as a deterrent instrument for other refugees to say that we don't want you coming in this way any longer. I wonder if anyone can comment on whether that alone is a violation not just of morality, but also of any legal provisions that you would know of.

Those are my questions.

10:25 a.m.

Working Group Chair, Inland Protection, Canadian Council for Refugees

Chantal Tie

I'd be happy to address that.

The minister, when he was testifying on April 26, made it abundantly clear that the five-year wait for permanent residence and family reunification were punitive measures designed to deter refugee claimants. He actually said, “So we thought this was the single, most effective way to dissuade people from paying smugglers to come to the country.” He also said that that he hoped that prospective customers of criminal smuggling syndicates would take account of the delayed permanent residence and family reunification before they engaged smugglers.

In our submission, holding vulnerable refugees in detention and denying them family reunification in a deliberate attempt to deter others who are not here is completely unacceptable. It converts Canada from a nation of refuge to a calculated human rights abuser, quite frankly. It's both inhumane and illegal.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We will go to Ms. Stalker.

10:30 a.m.

Member-at-large, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

Lesley Stalker

I'd like to respond to your question, Mr. Scott, about alternatives to detention.

In Canada, in fact, we already have alternatives to detention, which is one of the reasons that so few claimants are held in detention. The alternatives to detention include reporting requirements. And I think perhaps it was you, Mr. Dykstra, who was expressing concern earlier about the reporting requirements. It's hard to get statistics from CBSA about the effectiveness of the reporting requirements, but I know that in the context of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, CBSA has repeatedly said there have been absolutely no problems with compliance and reporting requirements.

Other alternatives to detention include posting of bonds and restrictions on where an asylum seeker may live. There are sometimes curfews on the hours they can be out in the community or be expected to stay at the place where they live. I think alternatives to detention internationally have been found to be most effective when you have collaboration between NGOs and the government, a kind of partnership in which there's a constructive dialogue and agreement on expectations.

Thank you.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Sougavinski.

10:30 a.m.

Clinical Advisor, Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Montagne

Marian Shermarke

Actually, I will address that point as well with regard to the alternatives to detention. In Quebec we have a service called PRAIDA, the one that we are representing today here. That is quite a good alternative to detention. It's a public service. We have the mandate to be designated representatives. We go before the IRB. In detention revision cases we do propose alternatives. Where the person is released, PRAIDA takes over the person. We do shelter people, especially those from vulnerable groups and unaccompanied minors. We do make sure that they present themselves for any conditions where they have to sign. We do make sure that the IRB and the CIC, as well as the SFC have their addresses.

As soon as we see any strange movement by the asylum seeker, we do call the border agency and Immigration Canada and let them know what's going on. At the same time, Immigration Canada as well as the border agency and the IRB do call our services sometimes and say, “Would you please assist this person, and we're going to confine the person if you don't propose an alternative”.

Thank you.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Please go ahead.

10:30 a.m.

Vice-President, Canadian Council for Refugees

Loly Rico

Also, I would say that in Toronto there is the Toronto bail program, and that's an alternative to detention. The person has to go and report to the bail program. This has been successful because in our refugee centre we have been accommodating women with their children, especially if they are pregnant and are going to have the baby in the community.

The other point about identification, that is, how to identify the criminals. Anyone who claims refugee status right now in Canada has to be fingerprinted, and with the fingerprints they can be identified immediately because it will be seen through Interpol, etc. That applies to anyone who comes in at the border. I believe we have that already in the system to identify small numbers.

One of our recommendations as an alternative is the community. We are ready to accommodate them. And there are measures already in place to comply with, such as the bond system, the bail programs, and the reporting system they have at this moment.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Good for you, Mr. Scott. You got everybody interested, but unfortunately your time is up.

Mr. Lamoureux.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank all the presenters. I wish we had more time to ask a number of questions to each of you, but I want to focus on your comments, Mr. Galloway, regarding the whole issue of travel documents.

We've heard a lot about the mandatory detention from a financial point of view, and about it being unconstitutional and all of this kind of thing, but one of the areas that we haven't really talked very much about in committee is in fact the issue of the travel documents. In fact, we had Julie Taub, a former IRB member, express confusion about why a refugee would want to have a travel document in order to go back to their own country of origin or the country from which they are fleeing.

You started to explain what I think was a very important point for all committee members to hear, and that's in regard to clause 16 and the impact that clause 16 will have. You have two, three minutes, however long is left out of the five minutes I have, to emphasize that particular point.

10:35 a.m.

Co-Chair, Legal Research Committee, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

Donald Galloway

Thank you, Mr. Lamoureux.

There are really two points that I would like to make. One is that genuine refugees who are fleeing often cannot stick together. They end up in different countries. There are families I know in Victoria who have very close family members in Sweden. They need to be able to go and see these family members to look after them. They need the travel document in order to do so. The travel document is something that we undertook to provide when we signed on to the refugee convention.

Clause 16 tells us that from now on we're going to give a narrow interpretation of the refugee convention and only supply this travel document to refugees. If they have come here in an irregular manner and are designated, we're only going to give this travel document to individuals after they become permanent residents, after the five-year process, or after they gain a temporary permit.

When it signed up to the convention, Canada attached a reservation. The reservation that it attached said that for two articles we would like to give a narrow interpretation of the phrase “lawfully staying”. These two articles relate to the provision of welfare services. Canada did not exercise its right to attach that reservation in relation to eight other articles, one of which is article 28. In other words, with full knowledge of what we were doing, we signed up to this international regime of granting families who had been split up the chance to go to other neutral countries in order to meet up with their family. That is what's at stake here in clause 16.

It looks like a very odd interpretative clause. I think it's essentially important, that it is really vital to understanding what we're doing. I fear that it may have been attached there because of a mistake. I fear that it is actually there because the government, or the drafters, were actually concerned about people returning, using this document in a way that they are currently not entitled to do. If you go to the passport office, if you go to their website, you will see that these documents are not valid for return to the country of origin.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you. Mr. Lamoureux.

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Ms. Rico, I was touched by the fact that you have a personal story. I'm wondering if you could comment on your situation when you applied as a refugee. Can you give us a chronological timeframe for the length of the process, and so on? Hopefully, you have enough time. If not, maybe you can get back to the committee.

10:35 a.m.

Vice-President, Canadian Council for Refugees

Loly Rico

The way that we came here 22 years ago was by what's called early admission, because my husband had moved from El Salvador, where there was a civil war, to Guatemala. We were lucky that the consul from the Canadian embassy was in El Salvador and took him to Guatemala. Then they moved the whole family to Canada, and we finished all our process here in Canada. It took us two years to get our permanent residence in Canada. We have a minister's permit, and that's why we were saying that as a way of paying back, we have the refugee centre to which we welcome women and children.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Dykstra.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I'm going to turn five minutes of my time over to Mr. Weston.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you.

I'd like to start where you took us, Ms. Stalker.

Everybody in this room is on the side of people who are persecuted around the world. I just want to say that this is a government that has taken the case of people like Aung San Suu Kyi, a personal hero of mine, to new heights; this is a department that is led by perhaps one of the most ardent advocates for human rights that our government has ever seen in this portfolio; and I personally am the founder of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. I think we'd be on the same page in many areas. I walk shoulder to shoulder with MPs throughout the House in that area.

So when I hear something such you said, Chantal, calling us a nation of human rights abusers, I take great exception. As my colleague Ms. James said, we have to balance. We have to care for people who come to our country like you, Ms. Rico, and we do; but we also have to care for the safety and security of our nation.

Going back to the Constitution, that's why there's a reasonable limits clause in section 1. It says, as you know: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Sure, Ms. Shermarke, we can take the case of an individual and say, this person will be discriminated against in an unfair way. But we have to look at the overall system. We need to preserve our refugee system and make sure that we can identify the 41 persons mentioned by Mr. Menegakis and keep our Canadian society safe. If we fail in that important mission, Canadians will rebuke the whole refugee program, and we as parliamentarians will not be able to stand in front of them and say, yes, we want to continue to welcome refugees to our shores.

So we have to do the balancing act. Please don't demonize those who want to make sure there's security for Canadians and say that they are anti-refugee.

10:35 a.m.

An hon. member

Hear, hear!

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

I'll turn it back to you, Mr. Dykstra.

May 3rd, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Thank you.

I want to clarify one point. I was sent a note concerning Ms. Tie's comments with respect to what the minister said when he was here. She said that the penalties were meant to be punitive. He actually said that it was a deterrence measure. There's a big difference, from the perspective of what people may think of the word “punitive” versus the word “deterrence”. I think it's important to note that.

One of the things we have in front of us that Ms. Sims asked for yesterday is a document from Citizenship and Immigration that notes the top 10 source countries of refugee claims in Canada. You may not have this in front of you, so I will describe it. Hungary is now the number one country on the list. In 2006 it had 26 individuals seeking asylum; in 2007 it was 23; and in 2008, the year we lifted the visa restrictions on that country, it was 302. It's interesting to note that in 2009 it went to 2,532, and in 2010 to 2,333.

I do a lot of reading. I keep up on what's happening in the EU, and I didn't see anywhere that there was a terrible civil war or any type of oppression happening in Hungary during 2008 and 2009. But somehow, with the lifting of those visas, we had over 2,300 more people seeking to claim asylum in Canada.

Perhaps I could direct this question to Mr. Galloway. Do you agree that our system here in Canada is broken and that we need to fix the refugee system?

10:40 a.m.

Co-Chair, Legal Research Committee, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

Donald Galloway

I would not use the language “broken”. I was a member of the IRB, serving for three years and was very proud to be a member. I could see some very positive aspects to the process. I think it's a process that was designed with a wonderful intent. It is staffed by remarkable people.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I agree.

10:40 a.m.

Co-Chair, Legal Research Committee, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers

Donald Galloway

To identify the process as broken is to diminish the way in which these decision-makers exercise their duties. So that is not language that I would use.

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I didn't ask specifically about the individuals, because I—

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Colleagues, I need your help. The bells are ringing for a vote. They're 30-minute bells. Mr. Dykstra has about a minute and a half, and Madame Groguhé will have five minutes.

I'm going to suggest, but I need unanimous consent to do it, that we continue for another 10 minutes. Do I have unanimous consent?