This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #39 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 children.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sharalyn Jordan  Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee
Christine Morrissey  Founder and Member of the Board, Rainbow Refugee Committee
Michael Deakin-Macey  Past President, Board of Directors, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, As an Individual
John Amble  As an Individual
Richard Stanwick  President Elect, Canadian Paediatric Society
Glynis Williams  Executive Director, Action Réfugiés Montréal
Jenny Jeanes  Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal
Marie Adèle Davis  Executive Director, Canadian Paediatric Society
Gina Csanyi-Robah  Executive Director, Roma Community Centre
Maureen Silcoff  Representative, Roma Community Centre

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Dr. Stanwick. I apologize for not addressing you correctly.

Mr. Menegakis has up to seven minutes.

May 3rd, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to all of you for appearing before us today and for sharing your views and for, quite frankly, the very passionate way in which you explained some cases you're familiar with.

I want to go through a couple of points first. I really think we're all trying to accomplish the same thing here. Our goal is to try to get legitimate refugees, people who need our assistance, into the country as fast as possible. We need a mechanism in order to accomplish that in the fastest possible way. Clearly the system today is broken. It is not working.

I think Canadians take pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs. They have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country. Canada remains one of the top countries in the world to welcome refugees. In fact, we welcome more refugees per capita than any other G-20 country. Canada welcomes one in 10 of the world's resettled refugees. That is more per capita than almost any other country. In fact our Conservative government has increased the number of refugees resettling each year by 2,500 people.

Bill C-31 proposes changes that build on reforms to the asylum system passed in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, as you well know. The proposed measures would provide faster protection to those who genuinely need refuge and faster removal of those who don't. Currently the time to finalize a refugee decision, if you will, takes 1,038 days, on average. With these new measures in Bill C-31, that could be as low as 45 days for people coming from designated countries and certainly 216 days for all other claimants, surely the very people who need that assistance.

Let's talk about family reunification. People are coming here from countries where they were facing persecution, torture, death in many cases. Surely the amount of time they have to be in a holding pattern when they come to our shores so they can be properly identified and processed.... That's the key. We want to identify people before we allow them into Canadian society for obvious reasons.

Forty-one people who came on the Sun Sea and Ocean Lady were found to be security risks or had perpetrated war crimes in their country. We can't allow just everybody. I know we want to be compassionate, but we have a responsibility to the Canadian people and I'm sure you understand that. You wouldn't want them in your neighbourhood. You wouldn't want them going to school with your children. You wouldn't want them around your families. Nobody would.

Would you agree that this is a problem that needs to be fixed? That's my question to you. Please, any and all....

5:10 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

Thank you very much for your comments. They raise a few things to my mind.

Yes, we agree that many people need to be processed faster. As my colleague mentioned, one of our programs matches women refugee claimants with women volunteers to facilitate integration. Some of the women in our program have waited two-and-a-half to three years before having their claims heard and have suffered as a result.

I recently told one woman who waited two-and-a-half years about some of the proposed changes and she felt that had she had her hearing in 60 days, there is no way she would have been ready psychologically or physically. She had a lot of pain from previous torture while imprisoned in her country. She had to see a physical therapist to help her deal with that psychologically.

Then in terms of the complicated evidence one has to acquire, it's.... Refugee claims, as I'm sure you know, are not simple. People do have to sometimes get very specific documents, death certificates, proof of membership in political parties, and things from home. They rely on people back home to get those documents. It takes time.

In many ways 60 days would be too short for many of the people we see.

In terms of your concerns you raise about identifying security risks, identifying who people are, I'm not a lawyer, but one of the regular activities in our program is to accompany people to detention review hearings. In the existing law, the review is on detention—for example for identity grounds or for security grounds. Some of the cases I've illustrated, these are people who had their detention reviewed and were held because their identity wasn't yet established and the current law does provide for that.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

But you would agree that the current system needs to be fixed, wouldn't you? The cases you're stating are cases that have happened already, under the current system.

5:10 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

These are cases that the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, passed in 2010, probably would have helped.

We have concerns about some of the new changes in Bill C-31.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Stanwick.

5:10 p.m.

President Elect, Canadian Paediatric Society

Dr. Richard Stanwick

In responding to your question, I think what we want to do is bring a recognition that if you place children in settings that are essentially detention centres, you will traumatize them. They will not achieve their full potential as future Canadian citizens.

In the sense that you're right, perhaps 10% of those individuals justifiably should be removed. The other 90% that came off a ship, honestly, if you walked past them in a Walmart today, you would not recognize them as being refugees. They would blend in with Canadian society.

It's the children who are so profoundly influenced. A year for you and me is simply a year. For a child, it's part of a lifetime. What we're saying is that if you are going ahead with Bill C-31, recognize the downsides of the detention centres and take the steps to mitigate the impact on children's health so that you have really healthy, productive citizens from the ones you allow in.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

I'm hearing what you're saying.

I don't know about anybody else in this room, but I was separated from my parents for four years, from the age of three to seven. So I understand, I understand what you're saying. However, we do have to identify people before we allow them into the country. That is a clear thing that we need to do.

One of the key elements in Bill C-31 is the issue of biometrics, a 21st century identification tool, as it has been presented to us from law enforcement agencies in this country, supported by the RCMP, CSIS, and CBSA. We are implementing that type of a tool, if you will, in Bill C-31 to ensure that we can process people faster.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Giguère.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to thank our witnesses for coming to provide us with information.

A number of you have had the opportunity to visit the Laval detention centre. It's a pleasure that we, the members, have unfortunately been denied. So we are going to ask you for some information about that. We've been told that it is like a hotel and that refugees have better lodging there than a lot of Canadians have. Can you tell us a little bit about what this detention centre is like? Is it a prison?

5:15 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

The Laval detention centre is not a hotel. I think that, in Toronto, a former hotel was or is being used, but this building is owned by Correctional Services Canada. I don't know the details of the agreement, but the place is surrounded by barbed wire. To get in, you have to go through a metal detector; every time I need to go there, I have to go through it. There are a large number of security guards, given the number of individuals being detained. The doors are locked and cannot be opened. Even a security guard has to wait for a door to be unlocked before opening it.

I've never been to a prison, but based on what I know, several aspects of this centre correspond to characteristics of a prison. I can't say that it's a completely inhuman place. There is, in fact, some assistance, but it isn't full assistance, and children, for instance, can see the barbed wire through the window. The guards are very friendly. But they're still in uniform, and sometimes they have to wear a bulletproof vest for certain transports, and some individuals are put in handcuffs. These are still prison conditions and a lot of rules have to be very strictly respected every day at that centre.

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Glynis Williams

Perhaps I might add a comment made by a child of one of the detainees. When she saw other people handcuffed, she asked her mother why they were being treated like criminals when they hadn't committed a crime.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Let's talk about the housing conditions. Unless I'm mistaken, these are dormitories, not cells. They're dorms, aren't they?

5:15 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

They aren't cells. Yes, they are dormitories.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

There's a dormitory for women, one for children, and I think there's a place where the women with young children can go.

5:15 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

Yes, there's a family wing for women and children. If there is a father with the members of his family, they are separated. There's a wing for women and another for men.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Unless I'm mistaken, even though we're saying that children under 16 aren't required to be held in this detention centre, despite everything, children age 10 or 11 are going to prefer staying with their parents in detention centres, rather than being placed with a foster family.

5:15 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

That's already the case. There are often cases of families with young children where the parents are kept for identification purposes. Theoretically, the children are not detainees but are accompanying their parents. As I said in my brief, even in that context, the presence of children is not considered when reviewing the detention to determine whether a parent must continue to be held for a certain time in order to establish identification. The presence of children doesn't change the decision, but they can stay with their parents. That's already the case.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Let's imagine that a six-year-old boy is in the men's dormitory and wants to go see his mother but is refused for security reasons. From a medical perspective, might this situation have long-term psychological effects?

5:20 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

As far as I know, that kind of situation wouldn't happen because young children are not kept in the men's wing, and family members can see each other during the day.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I've been told that young boys past a certain age must go with their father.

5:20 p.m.

Program Coordinator, Action Réfugiés Montréal

Jenny Jeanes

I can't say how it works exactly because it's often handled on a case-by-case basis. There are boys in the family wing. After a certain age, yes, sometimes the dormitories that aren't being used have to be used for families with a mother and adolescent boys. Family members can see each other, but separations do take place.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Okay. In your experience, what are the long-term effects? We're talking about imprisonment in conditions that you just described, that are a little more difficult than in a prison—in a prison, you have a cell, your own corner—for a period that may be longer than a year. In fact, we can now incarcerate someone in these conditions for longer than a year.

What do you think about that, Mr. Stanwick?

5:20 p.m.

President Elect, Canadian Paediatric Society

Dr. Richard Stanwick

Actually, I think this question has two parts to it.

One is the detrimental effect of being kept in those circumstances, because being a child is a tremendous period when you are acquiring skills and developing. Your brain requires active play, engagement, socialization. It's actually a double whammy that if these children are held back in those sorts of settings where they do start having sleep disturbances, going right up to suicidal ideation, which has been documented in England and Australia under similar detention-type circumstances, you're starting them from a negative, even when they leave. What they're missing out on, and this is what we were asking that Bill C-31 consider, are the normal requirements to become a healthy child. Those are exercise, play, the ability to get a good education.

Really, what we're trying to emphasize is that if this does go forward, the detention centres have to take into consideration the needs of the children if we want to create a healthy generation that follows this one.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Dr. Stanwick.

Mr. Valeriote.