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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

10:20 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

We're very clearly of the view that these detention provisions do not conform to our international legal obligations. I think we're already starting to see that signalled. As I said, earlier this year, in February, Canada was reviewed by a UN-level human rights body, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. These mandatory detention provisions were brought to their attention. They expressed concern and called on the Canadian government not to go ahead with this. So I think we're already seeing signals at the international level that UN human rights experts will be concerned about this, and that's not a step we should be taking.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Neve.

Mr. Lamoureux.

May 7th, 2012 / 10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

I'd like to pick up on that particular point and maybe add a little bit more to it. I think we do need to be clear that Bill C-31 will be a fairly extensive bill in terms of financial costs to taxpayers, but more importantly, there is the issue of human rights, the idea of challenges that will no doubt come out if this bill passes as it is, without amendment. There will be constitutional challenges. Many, including myself, would argue there would be successful constitutional challenges because of the mandatory detention clause.

There are other issues surrounding the bill that one would argue have tarnished Canada's international reputation, and I think that's most noteworthy. When you look at the larger picture of the number of refugees worldwide, in excess of 10 million refugees, Canada has historically played a fairly strong role in terms of providing leadership on the refugee file. This is going to take away from our ability to do that.

To Karina and Kelsey, I appreciate your comments. I'd be very much interested in receiving a copy of the petition you make reference to. I think it's great that a body of students at McGill has taken an interest in what's happening in Bill C-31. You both expressed passionately your thoughts on it.

I have a very limited amount of time; that's why I wanted to get a few points on the record.

I guess my first question is in regard to what else is happening at your university. Are you expanding, making other universities aware of it? I would welcome the opportunity to even have a discussion on Bill C-31 with the minister at your university, if the minister were prepared to go to debate this particular bill.

Can you provide what else is happening at your university?

10:25 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

We had two sessions where we tried to raise awareness about this project. We set up a table where a lot of people pass through, and as I said, we just stopped people and asked them if they had heard about Bill C-31. Most people hadn't heard about it. We told them what it was.

Further than that, it's summer now and most students have gone home or are on vacation. As for next year, we're very interested in getting the media involved and, as you said, connecting with other universities.

We are hoping this bill is not going to pass so that we have more time to oppose it, with the connection of other networks.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

I appreciate the comments.

There's a component in the bill that says if you are deemed as one of those irregular arrivals and you're held in mandatory detention for one year, after that, even if you're a bona fide refugee, you cannot sponsor a family member.

I'm wondering if you can provide comment as to what you think the impact of that might be.

10:25 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

That is another deeply troubling piece of the legislation, the fact that there will essentially be a five-year bar because of the inability to get permanent residence for five years for the individuals you've described, and with that, therefore, an inability to sponsor family members. That's of grave concern on a number of levels.

Again, it contravenes important international human rights obligations, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, very notably, which makes it clear that states are supposed to do everything they can to expedite the reunification of separated families when minor children are involved. A five-year mandatory delay is certainly not expeditious reunification, so there are legal consequences.

The psychosocial cost and impact of keeping families separated for such a lengthy period of time is a very severe one. Here's an individual whom Canada has recognized does have protection needs, is going to be protected by us. We're complying with those international obligations, but at the same time we are saying they have no right to be reunited with their family in a speedy way because of how they travelled to Canada.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Are you concerned with regard to the perceived, and now real, distinguishing...now we have two types of refugees as a direct result of that. That, in itself, might be in contravention of some of the UN resolutions that have been passed.

10:25 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

I think the sense of discrimination that lies at the heart of this bill, treating refugees differently based on how they've arrived in Canada, based on their country of nationality, and therefore being denied equal protection of some key human rights issues—access to appeal provisions, access to family reunification, ability to travel abroad—simply on those grounds is deeply troubling. Yes, we would argue that it does run afoul of obligations we have under international human rights treaties not to treat people in a discriminatory fashion, but it will also have a very serious human impact and cost.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Leung.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the witnesses.

Mr. Neve, there's a fine balance between Canada's world reputation on human rights and the generosity we extend to refugees or people in need—the reality of the cost of settling refugees, to the tune of $50,000 per person per year, and maybe up to $1.6 billion over a period of five years.

Is Canada's health and social welfare system for refugees much more generous than that of other EU countries, or other countries, like the United States or Australia, which are also caught in the same bind of having to deal with mass arrivals or refugee arrivals in general?

10:30 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

I don't have an authoritative or statistical answer to that question. I think we should pride ourselves, yes, on being generous. I would argue that in our generosity what we are doing, though, is complying with our international human rights obligations. It's not a question of charity; it is a question of living up to rights obligations.

I think there is unevenness across the country. While some provisions are, of course, provided and funded by the federal government, in other areas some of the social welfare, education, and health costs, for instance, are a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Different provinces have different approaches and policies as to what degree they give access to that kind of assistance. So one clear, national-level story doesn't emerge.

Compared with other countries, yes, in many respects, we're at the top of the list. There are probably other areas where we're not. Other countries offer some generosity as well. Even if we were at the top of the list in every respect, in terms of the level of assistance and support we provide, we should not be shying away from that. In fact, we should be proud of it.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you.

On the same point, my next question is for Kelsey and Karina. If we were to inherit this cost burden of nearly $1.6 billion over five years, from your perspective, as youth becoming mature adults in Canada where you have to work and so on, I'm wondering how you feel about inheriting this burden.

I need you to expand on this. You talked about the B. Refuge. I'm curious as to why you think Canada's asylum system is anti-democratic. I speak from a little experience, in that I was an international student here and made stateless some 40 years ago.

10:30 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

Where does the $1.6 billion burden come from?

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

It comes from looking at the cost savings by having Bill C-31 protecting our borders and extrapolating over a five-year period, on the basis of the fact that we have to look at about somewhere between $50,000 to $70,000 per refugee claimant, which is the cost to us today.

10:30 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

As my colleague mentioned, we are very worried about the fact that it will cost so much. We got this number from the 2008 Auditor General's report, which says that it costs $70,000 a year to detain a refugee in a detention centre. We are confident that those resources can be spent in a much more useful way, for example, by appointing more IRB members or refugee lawyers.

10:30 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

I think there's the assumption that refugees only take from Canadian society. By investing in refugees and refugee claimants while they're here, they become better members of our community once they are accepted as Canadians. For example, detaining people can have horrible effects on mental health, especially in children's development. That's a cost that people have to bear later. I think when we invest in refugee claimants, it's investing in future Canadians, and that's valuable.

As for the determination process being undemocratic, I don't think it's undemocratic; I think what's undemocratic is infringing on their charter rights, which Bill C-31 would do. In 1985 the Supreme Court said that the charter does apply to refugee claimants.

As soon as one person's rights are called into question on Canadian soil, I think that puts everybody's rights at risk. It's a domino: if one person's rights are worth less, then everybody else's rights are worth less.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

I just want to put it on the record that our government has tripled the resettlement services for asylum seekers to the tune of about $300 million. You probably do not know this.

But I'm not sure why your point was that it's costing us more to keep these people in detention—given the legal service and given the social and other services—as we look into and determine their identity, as we determine their cause...and security to our Canadian society.

10:35 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

You are suggesting that this process will be accelerated when we appoint more IRB members and refugee lawyers. We are suggesting that more cases will be able to go through, and therefore refugees will be able to obtain a work permit faster and to contribute to the Canadian economy as they receive those services. Meanwhile, if you put them in detention, don't tell me you're not going to feed them. You're going to give them a free meal, and water, and health care.

In the long run, this will cost a lot more, especially if it's for a minimum of one year for every one of those.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you....

Go ahead.

10:35 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

I think it's clear that the refugee determination process does cost money. That's not something that we're denying. It's a matter of how we spend our money. We think detention is not the right way to spend it.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Time's up.

Ms. Sims.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you very much.

First of all, I want to thank all of you for coming and for making the presentations.

It always warms my heart when we get presentations from our youth and from our university students. They are so heavily engaged in social justice issues and looking at the future, at the kind of Canada we want, at the compassion that we all associate with Canada.

To either Karina or Kelsey, in Bill C-31 there is a concept that's being introduced of a conditional permanent residence, basically. That is, you could actually be recognized as a refugee, get your PR card, but six, ten, thirteen years later you could be told, “Well, things have gotten better in your home country now”, and there could be re-designation, so to speak.

This is just one example of more and more power being positioned into the hands of a minister—and it's nothing against one minister; it's any minister for any government.

What do you think about the extent of the powers being given to the minister via this bill and about our ability to re-designate and send back?

10:35 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Karina Fortier

It's very, very troublesome. I try to talk about it to as many of my peers as I can. I don't understand how, exactly, so much power, which will determine whether one person will be able to live on or not, whether they will be able to construct a life in Canada or not, depends on one person.

We can very well say that this person will have to respond to certain criteria. Nevertheless, it does leave room, too much room, for a concentration of power within that person. There are not enough checks and balances within that bill to limit that power.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you very much.

To Alex, Bill C-31 would introduce a substantial restriction on the ability of refugee claimants to make humanitarian and compassionate applications. Does this give you any concern?

10:35 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

It does indeed. For many, many years, advocates, and I think government officials, have recognized that the humanitarian and compassionate process offers a valuable avenue to ensure that a whole variety of concerns, often involving serious human rights issues that don't necessarily fit easily into other processes—they don't naturally satisfy the refugee definition, for instance—will not go unaddressed.

To see the proposals in this bill that will be forcing people to make choices between either making this application or that application, or in some instances being barred from making humanitarian applications—this is for designated irregular arrivals—for a period of five years will put many people into impossible positions of having to choose between whether they want to try to assert these human rights concerns or those human rights concerns.

These are not duplicative processes. There is some overlap between them, but in many respects they address different kinds of human rights and humanitarian situations, and to close it down is problematic.