Madam Speaker, I too rise on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois at the request of my colleague, the member for Rosemont, our immigration critic. I am pleased to present the views of our party on Bill C-31, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.
As a professor of international law, I am especially pleased to deal with this legislation since, when I had the privilege of teaching public international law at the Université de Montréal, on numerous occasions I had the pleasure of talking about the 1976 Immigration Act, to see it evolve, to see the many amendments made to it and the many regulations aimed at gradually implementing the act and its provisions.
I understand that with Bill C-31 the government intends to overhaul the provisions regarding the issues of immigration, asylum and protection of refugees in Canada.
After reading the bill and the presentation made by the minister on April 6, the Bloc Quebecois, and on this I share the views of my party and its critic, is of the opinion that the government is taking a hard line, no doubt to appeal to a certain electorate, probably the right wing electorate the Liberal Party wants to win over from the Canadian Alliance.
In this respect, this bill seems to reinforce prejudice against refugees and immigrants.
This is legislation that tends to take a hard line toward immigrants and refugees. Choosing the hard line toward immigrants and refugees can exacerbate division, xenophobic or racist feelings within a society that claims to be welcoming. We see sometimes that it is less welcoming when immigrants come in large numbers into this country or when people from various countries claim refugee status.
Our party has pointed out several times over the last years that the Canadian refugee status determination system should have two essential features. It should be diligent and fair toward the bona fide asylum seeker in accordance with the rights recognized by the international conventions Canada is party to. It should also be dissuasive toward people clogging the system with unfounded claims, people who are, for example, economic refugees and people who do not meet the refugee criteria as set out by the 1951 Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its additional 1967 protocol.
The slowness in the processing of claims is also something that deserves to be corrected because it has led, in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, to unacceptable human tragedies. It has put people and families in very difficult situations as evidenced by the number of immigrants or refugee claimants who sought refuge in churches and in other places where these people who were requesting, and rightly so, that they be granted refugee status knew they would be protected.
Talking about the administrative process that is too slow, for example, just for the Montreal office of the Immigration and Refugee Board, the average processing time is ten months. At the end of December 1999, just a few months ago, over 7,000 refugee claimants were awaiting a hearing, that is one third of all cases in Canada. We know that Quebec is very generous to refugees. It is now and must stay that way should it become a country one day, as members of my party wish it would. It will have to continue to open its doors to refugees.
We, in the Bloc Quebecois, also believe that the new immigration bill does not reflect explicitly enough the scope of Quebec's powers in the area of immigration. As we know, this is a shared jurisdiction under the Constitution Act, 1867, which allows provinces to have jurisdiction over certain areas if so agreed by both the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada.
According to the Quebec Minister of Relations with the Citizens and Immigration, Mr. Robert Perreault:
The law must include firm commitments on this. Provisions need to be added to the present bill, particularly in order to ensure that Quebec's powers are respected relating to the selection of temporary workers and the continuation of a distinct program for investor-class immigrants.
The bill, which I have had the opportunity to read carefully, does not include such guarantees, such assurances. Moreover, all provisions relating to ensuring that Quebec assumes jurisdiction over immigration, particularly immigrant selection, is contained in an administrative arrangement, the McDougall-Gagnon-Tremblay agreement, the latest in a series between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.
The arrangement is still precarious because the agreement involved has never been enshrined in the Constitution, despite attempts to do so, particularly the failed attempts at Charlottetown.
It would have been, and still is, desirable for there to be recognition, as a certain resolution of this House of Commons suggests, that the distinct society which Quebec is or would be would deserve to have a very concrete mention in a federal immigration statute, in which the particular and distinct status of Quebec would be recognized, as far as immigration issues and the selection of immigrants and temporary workers are concerned, or the responsibilities Quebec wishes to assume as far as asylum is concerned.
Apart from the issue of Quebec's powers, it must be noted that the bill proposes changes to claims to refugee status, but nowhere does the government agree to pay for the administration of the system.
Actually, if the federal government believes in the effectiveness of the provisions contained in the bill, it should be ready to assume the costs and to do so until the people involved have been recognized as convention refugees, obtained permanent residence or left the territory.
In this connection it should be noted that last February Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia joined forces to condemn the federal government's management of the asylum seekers or of their movements. These provinces were asking that significant corrective action be taken and that the federal government, as solely responsible for this whole refugee status determination process, assume all the costs related to the services provided to those people, whether for income security, legal aid or education.
In fact, I think that members should be reminded that in Quebec, and the situation is probably the same in some other provinces, proportionally, it costs more that $80 million a year to take care of those awaiting a ruling from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
The Bloc Quebecois is also concerned with the fact that many rules provided for in this bill, or rules that will apply to immigration and refugee protection, will be established through regulations, through subordinate legislation. Such rules are not, at least at the moment, included in Bill C-31.
This means that the government is basically excluding these rules from the scrutiny of the House and that parliamentary review of these important rules will be very limited. This also opens the door to many changes, at the whim of the government, or because of public pressure or discontent with a court decision.
Like other parties, the Bloc Quebecois also deplores the fact that the government would not take politics out of the appointment process of people who will be selected or will continue to sit on the Immigration and Refugee Board. This critique is shared not only by opposition parties, but also by the civil society, which considers that it is inappropriate for the government to have sole control over the appointment and selection of people who will be called to make major decisions on immigration and refugee status determination.
As my contribution to this debate I would like, on behalf of my party, to point out some difficulties raised by the government's desire to put into effect through this bill international obligations arising from treaties Canada is party to, obligations the bill is intended to fulfil, as clause 3(2)( b ) of the bill provides.
I would add that this bill is no doubt intended to get a jump in a way on implementing the provisions of a draft treaty currently under negotiation, that is the draft protocol against the smuggling of migrants currently being negotiated by an ad hoc committee on the drafting of a convention against international organized crime, which accordingly is intended to set rules on the smuggling of migrants by land, air and sea and which is a protocol supplementing the United Nations convention against international and transnational organized crime.
In a recent study, lawyer Philippe Tremblay, who thoroughly examined the relationship between the revised draft and Bill C-31, intimates that Bill C-31 is a precipitous incorporation of evolving international law.
I cannot help but point out that, while this parliament considers this bill, it has not had the opportunity, in truth, either through this House or in committee, to examine the negotiations underway being reported to the members of this House, Canada's position in this matter and the progress of discussions on this draft protocol.
This leads me to say that parliaments, and in particular the House of Commons, must be party to the drafting of treaties before they are asked to pass legislation to implement these treaties, since, if they are not involved in the process of implementing treaties through legislation, they end up having to subscribe to the rules as negotiated and signed, without having the right to vet the standards in the conventions, which a country such as Canada in this case would have approved for its signature.
This is all the more important since, when it comes to conventions that have already been signed and ratified, a parliament that was not able to take part in the discussions on these treaties and that did not approve these treaties before they were ratified is not really in a position to understand and to adequately participate in their implementation.
Is this not the case here, since Bill C-31 explicitly seeks to implement two treaties, namely the Refugee Convention and its optional protocol, and the Convention Against Torture, two conventions that have already been signed and ratified by Canada without a true parliamentary debate on them, while a third convention which is not mentioned in the bill, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should also have a real and significant impact on the legislation before us?
As regards these three conventions, which I will discuss one by one, it seems to us, in the Bloc Quebecois, that there are major flaws which could still be corrected to ensure that Bill C-31 adequately fulfils Canada's international obligations in this regard.
Let me begin with the Refugee Convention and its optional protocol. Explicit reference is made to that convention in clause 2.(1), where that convention is defined and described. That was also the case in the 1976 act, which preceded this legislation. The bill's schedule also refers to certain provisions of the Refugee Convention.
However, when we examine the bill, when we read it carefully, we realize that it probably goes against the spirit, if not the letter of the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol.
For example, when we look at the provisions on inadmissibility, when we read together clauses 29, 30 and 33 of the bill, when we look at the provisions that allow increased use of the power to detain refugee claimants—I am referring in particular to clause 50 of the bill—and when we see that this bill restricts access to the refugee determination process, we cannot help but think that it does not respect the spirit of the Refugee Convention, a convention which seeks to make it easier for bona fide refugees to have access to the territory of a state and which seeks to protect these refugees.
The tighter provisions, which are very restrictive, much more so than those agreed to in the earlier legislation, in the view of the Bloc Quebecois, probably undermine certain guarantees of the Convention Relative to the Status of Refugees and its protocol.
Having examined the Convention Against Torture, we feel that it has not been fully and appropriately incorporated. This convention includes an absolute ban on the removal of persons likely to be tortured in the country to which they might be removed. The reference to the Convention on Torture in clause 90(2)( a ), is a useful one and is lauded in certain quarters. But clause 91 tends to limit the protection of persons likely to be tortured and does not seem to correspond appropriately to the exceptions in paragraphs (e) and (f) of the Convention on Refugees.
The principle of non-removal, which is incorporated into clause 108 of this bill and which is also intended to confirm acceptance of the principle of non-removal in article 33 of the Convention on Refugees, which deals with torture—and this is something positive—is not reassuring in this regard because a total ban on the removal of persons likely to be tortured is not guaranteed.
Finally, I wish to point out that, in the opinion of our party, the best interest of the child, as protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is certainly not the primary consideration in this bill, since it provides that a minor child could be held and that this could be limited only by regulation.
Our party therefore feels that the government should give very serious thought to better implementing its international obligations and making the necessary improvements to Bill C-31.