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Evidence of meeting #40 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 c-31.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Catherine Dauvergne  Canada Research Chair in Migration Law, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law, As an Individual
Sharryn Aiken  Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual
Kelsey Angeley  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
Karina Fortier  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International
Béatrice Vaugrante  Executive Director, Amnesty International Canada Francophone, Amnesty International
Christoph Ehrentraut  Counselor, European Harmonization Unit, Federal Government of Germany
Excellency Bernhard Brinkmann  Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Canada
Anja Klabundt  Counsellor, of European Harmonization Unit, Ministry of the Interior, Federal Government of Germany
Roland Brumberg  Counselor of Unit Immigration Law, Federal Government of Germany
Ioana Patrascu  Legal Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Asylum Unit, European Commission
Angela Martini  Policy Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Border Management and Return Policy Unit, European Commission

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you.

I have a question for you, Sharryn, from my part of the world, from UBC. We want to promote regional solutions to the global refugee crisis. That seems to be the mantra. In this regard, shouldn't we be encouraging refugees from Sri Lanka to pursue asylum in India or Thailand?

9:20 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Thank you for the question.

As I touched on just at the end of my remarks, the problem is that there's no process for doing that. Neither India nor Thailand—nor Malaysia or Indonesia, for that matter—is a signatory to the refugee convention. None of those countries has implemented refugee status determination procedures.

At best, what can happen in a country like Thailand, for example, is that the refugee claimants can approach the UNHCR to register. They're given a form of documentation that is supposed to serve as evidence to the Thai authorities that they've registered with the UNHCR and that they're in process for the possibility of resettlement. In the meantime, they're at risk of being rounded up, arrested, detained, and sent back to Sri Lanka by Thai authorities. It's a very precarious life.

Those who are lucky enough to be identified for resettlement will wait years. Imagine this if you are a family with young children. You fled human rights violations in your country of origin—in this case, we're talking about Sri Lanka—you came to Thailand hoping for a solution, and you are told that you have no right to stay in Thailand, to integrate, to work, and to build a life. Yes, you can join the queue, you are told, but your child will probably be of university age by the time he's identified for resettlement to Canada. What kind of life is that?

Essentially, it's a holding pattern. At worst, it's detention. At best, it's a marginalized existence, with no right to participate in a community in which you're situated.

So regional solutions, yes, and I am absolutely an advocate for them. But that means countries getting together and coming up with genuine solutions for the global refugee situation, not simply saying that those refugees should stay in the region where they came from when there's no procedure set up to deal with them.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

In regard to my next question, you know that often the justification for this bill is that it's to deter human smuggling. That's sort of the big push behind it. Don't you think it's important for us to deter human smuggling?

9:20 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Smuggling rings, yes. Smuggling rings are often coordinated by very large criminal enterprises, and there's no question that the full force of the law should be engaged to deal with that form of transnational crime.

Indeed, Canada is a signatory to the transnational protocols on organized crime, and we have implemented very serious sanctions already in Canadian law to prosecute and punish human smuggling. That's as it should be.

The reality is that whatever we do in Canada is going to be limited, because the real kingpins of these networks aren't in Canada and rarely get here. Even the people who might accompany a group of refugee claimants on a boat are not the kingpins of the organization. At best, they are people who've been paid a modest sum to escort the group, but they're not the people profiting from the networks.

So my answer is yes, of course, we need to address human smuggling. The sad reality is that our legal tools will never be adequate to stamp them out. What we have to be absolutely careful about is not to punish the very refugees who are using those services because they have no other choice.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you very much.

Mr. Lamoureux.

May 7th, 2012 / 9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In listening to both presentations, but Catherine's in particular, I can't help but think that here we are passing Bill C-31, or we're here in committee with the expectation that the government is going to want to pass this bill, but hopefully there will be a series of amendments to the bill.

You paint a fairly bleak picture. In essence, you're saying that Australia's system has clearly demonstrated its failure, specifically in and around that whole mandatory detention question. We seem to be going further than what Australia is actually currently putting in place.

My question to you is, do you think this is in fact a bill that can be amended, or should it just be sent back? Should we allow the previous bill, Bill C-11, to go forward and just go back to the drawing board? What would be your suggestion?

9:20 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

Well, I would certainly be pleased to see the whole bill withdrawn. I can't deny that. I just don't think the mandatory detention provisions in Bill C-31 can be saved. I don't think they can be brought into compliance with the Constitution or with international law, and I think the provisions for designating a foreign national go hand in hand with those mandatory detention provisions.

On the west coast, when the boats arrived, the refugee lawyers group in Vancouver really had problems staffing detention reviews. The Department of Justice couldn't deliver detention reviews, although we ran them until midnight every night. So it might make sense, and hence I have suggested in the case of mass arrivals, that in order to allow any government to remain in compliance with its own law, a different timeframe—going to 20 days, 25 days, 30 days—for detention reviews for mass arrivals is an amendment that would allow the government not so frequently to be in breach of the law, as it has been in the case of recent boat arrivals.

But certainly with regard to mandatory detention, I think these provisions should be withdrawn entirely.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Is it fair to say that your position on mandatory detention would be, number one, that it infringes upon a wide spectrum of rights, and that it would be, in the long run, at a great cost to all Canadians? Is that fair to say?

9:25 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

Yes, that's right.

To return to Ms. James's point about health care costs, there is absolutely crystal clear evidence that if you have a concern about health care costs, you really ought not to detain people. Detention, particularly long-term detention, creates all sorts physical health problems, and particularly mental health problems.

So if health care cost is the concern driving the government's actions, the most logical thing would be to ensure that people are not detained and that good, fair decisions are made in an appropriately timely manner.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

I wonder if I could get both of you to provide a quick comment with regard to the whole concept of a safe country list. This particular minister wants to have the authority himself as opposed to a panel that designates a safe country to a list. We believe it should be a panel of professionals as opposed to the minister.

That aside, on the concept of a safe country list, can you both provide just a very quick comment? I think I'm almost out of time.

9:25 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

The concept of a list is an anathema to international refugee law, and if it must be done.... I'm not supportive of it being done in any fashion.

9:25 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

I would echo those comments.

There's always an interest in new fixes for the asylum problem, but I think we need to remember that the best fix is a functioning, fair refugee determination system that processes claims in appropriate timeframes so that people have an answer, either positive or negative, and can get on with their lives.

When the system works, we can deal with all these challenges, whether it's claimants who ultimately aren't accepted ending up on health care, or people from countries who generally are not recognized as refugees. All of that can be dealt with through an effective refugee status determination procedure without the need for these additional layers of procedures that ultimately harm the very refugees we are trying to help.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Menegakis.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, and thank you for being here with us today and for the time you took to prepare your presentations to us.

I have a whole bunch of questions, but unfortunately I'm limited to seven minutes, so I'll try to get in as many as I can.

With regard to the motivation for why this bill has come here, clearly the current system is not working, not when refugees have to wait 1,038 days on average to finalize their claims. It's a heck of a long time for someone to be stuck in limbo. With the provisions in this bill, we're looking to reduce that to 45 days for people coming from designated countries and 216 days for other claimants.

Having said that, I've heard your presentations this morning, and they're very similar to a lot of presentations we heard last week, certainly from the academic, if you will, and theoretical side of the equation. But there is the reality, the practicality, of what we're dealing with when these folks come here, especially, obviously, through irregular means.

I have a question regarding the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—the UNHCR, for quick purposes.

The UNHCR has recognized the validity of providing expedited processing for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin. In fact, former UNHCR Commissioner António Guterres has said, and I quote:

...there are indeed safe countries of origin. There are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries.

The UNHCR has also indicated that it's completely legitimate to accelerate these claims.

I have a few questions around that.

First of all, is that correct?

9:30 a.m.

Prof. Catherine Dauvergne

Yes.

9:30 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Is it correct in the sense that it is legitimate to accelerate claims? I would certainly say that, yes, it can be correct. I don't dispute it. The question is to what extent and how, and what additional things are we doing? Keep in mind that we're proposing to eliminate the right to appeal for people from designated countries of origin, and Mr. Guterres never suggested that.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

My questions are specific to the comments he made.

Is it true that many other western industrialized countries have a designated country of origin policy to accelerate these claims?

9:30 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

There are a number of countries that have adopted similar provisions.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Do those include, for example, the U.K., France, Germany?

9:30 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Yes.

Again, I focus on the package of provisions that Bill C-31 is attempting to address. You're talking about timelines. There's no issue from an international law perspective about acceleration, as long as the claimants have adequate time to prepare for their hearing. The question is, what else are we saying? Are we denying them the right to appeal? Are we denying them the right to access counsel? Because effectively they'll have no opportunity. Those are the concerns. It's not the notion of expediting the claims in and of itself that we're concerned about.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Let me just say this. For us, it is the notion of getting people who legitimately need our assistance in and processed as quickly as possible and not clogging the system.

9:30 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Absolutely. We both share those concerns.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Human smuggling, as you may well know, has become a very lucrative business for some questionable characters around the world. There are very sophisticated operations.

Do you agree with the notion of stronger jail times and fines for criminals who are human smugglers?

9:30 a.m.

Prof. Sharryn Aiken

Actually our legislation currently imposes the possibility of life imprisonment and $1 million fines.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

That wasn't my question.

I'm sorry. Do you agree that we should have strong jail terms and fines?