Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. The bill should be called “attack the refugees” and not preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. If it was about human smugglers, then there would not be amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to deal with the refugees and immigration portion. There are only a few pages in the act that deals with human smugglers. We prefer to attack the criminals, the traffickers and smugglers and not the victim.
The bill concentrates absolute power in the hands of the minister to decide which refugees will be subjected to draconian measures. With no clear definition on irregular arrivals, it can apply to any group of refugees, immigrants, or visitors.
The bill would also hurt legitimate refugees and those who help them. It would prevent refugees from bringing their spouses and children to Canada for at least 10 years. It would detain women and children that the minister deemed arrived in Canada irregularly for at least a year. It would repeat a shameful chapter of Canadian history by punishing and interning refugees and their children.
I will speak about the impact of detaining children, children who have not committed any crime.
A study was done recently by the United Kingdom. Over 15 months, the U.K. detained 1,300 children. On average that is 1,000 per year. There were 889 children detained for more than 28 days.
The report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and the Royal College of Psychiatrists found many elements. It found that detaining children was harmful to their mental health and that they were filled with terror. It found that children who saw their parents cry and in stress led to eating, sleeping, and learning problems. Of the children studied, 73% of those who were detained had emotional and behavioural problems. They were disoriented, depressed, anxious, confused and frightened. They had nightmares and some refused to feed themselves. A few of the children lost 10% of their body weight and one-quarter of them began bed-wetting. There was a regression of language. One child out of twenty-five became selectively mute. Many of the children had somatic symptoms like headaches and stomach pains.
This kind of treatment, putting children in jail and in detention, is callous and cruel. The U.K. did a review and the new Conservative coalition government said that it was a moral outrage that children were detained.
Canada detains six to seven children per night. If this bill passes, there would be a dramatic increase because any number of these children and their parents, whether women or men, will be part of the people designated as arriving to Canada in an irregular manner, whatever that means.
Every four weeks a judge in the U.K. has to sign a new authorization to continue to detain a child. This bill says that a child arriving on the shores of Canada, irregularly, will be detained for at least a year and then there will be a hearing every six months. A child could be detained for at least 12 months if not more.
Seeking a release after a year would have no appeal process, which would bring it to the courts. The government would not be bound by the court. I always thought Canada had a rule of law and that we should not do things in an arbitrary manner. The bill would do that.
Canada has some dark history. I previously talked about the boat, the S.S. St. Louis, that came to Canada in the late 1930s after going to the U.S. The boat arrived at Halifax harbour carrying 900 Jewish refugees who were seeking sanctuary. Tragically, because of racism, xenophobia, hatred and anti-Semitism, these refugees were sent away. Two hundred and fifty of them were murdered in the Holocaust after returning to Europe. The refugee law at that time was unjust, cruel and mean-spirited and it led to death. We have always said that never again would we practice the policy of none is too many. We have always said that we will not repeat history.
The bill would allow a boat such as the S.S. St. Louis to dock in Canada. However, those people, whether they are men, women or children, would be detained for at least a year. We may tell some of them that they are genuine refugees and they will be allowed to stay, but they will not be allowed to apply for permanent residence and therefore will not be able to sponsor their children or spouses to come to Canada for at least five years.
What would happen if the people on the S.S. St. Louis were accepted after a few years? They would have to wait for five years and then apply for permanent residence and bring their children over. However, because of the huge backlog, they will have to wait three to four years to bring their children over, no matter whether their children are coming from a refugee camp or another country and facing persecution. A person deemed to be a genuine refugee would have to wait at least nine years to bring a son, daughter, spouse to Canada. How many people would survive in a refugee camp, especially a child, for nine years?
Therefore, we are talking about punishing and attacking refugees, and not just those who arrive on Canada's shores. We are also talking about their relatives who are stuck back home. We are telling them that they either do not come to Canada, or if they do, they have to kiss goodbye their kids or their spouse for at least nine or ten years. They might never see them again.
What kind of law is this? It is not about dealing with smugglers. It is about attacking the refugee claimants. What is happening with these refugees. They will be victimized three times: first, by the persecutors, whoever is hunting them down; second, by the smugglers; and finally, by Canada. It also will incur huge costs. It costs at least $80,000 to $90,000 per person we detain or jail in Canada. We should think of the cost that it will incur to Canadian taxpayers.
Many of them could easily work and being paying taxes. Why will we not allow them to do that, while we process their claims and process them quickly? However, that is not what we are doing. We will just detain them.
Very few refugees know about the kind of laws of the countries to which they go. They do not search them out. In fact, studies show nine out of ten of these people do not know the laws of these countries. We know that Australia, for example, has a very punitive law, but it has not stopped the boats from arriving on its shores or deterred people from arriving there.
For months we debated the issue that all refugees coming to the shores of Canada must be treated equally under one set of rules, one law. We dealt with that in Bill C-11. We said that every person must be treated equally under the law. That is our charter. However, this bill would set up two classes of refugees. One would be the designated kind and they would be treated much worse than others who somehow have arrived in Canada.
The detention, as I said earlier, is arbitrary. The minister may on discretionary grounds based on “exceptional circumstances” be able to release a few people, but we know we should not leave things in an arbitrary manner. It should be set in law so it is clear who will be jailed and who will not be.
The law basically says that all who come here in an irregular fashion will be detained for over a year. It also says that they will not have an opportunity to have an independent tribunal to review their case because if the minister decides their identity has not been established, then there would not be any independent tribunal to review their case, which again, in some ways, contrary to the charter and international law.
Why am I talking so much about detention? A few weeks ago, Toronto held a event called Nuit Blanche, which is an art extravaganza. There were a lot of art shows in different parts of town. I went into a gallery that had a big photo exhibit. The photo exhibit also had tapes and recordings of people in detention in the U.K. I have never heard these kinds of stories first hand from the people who have been detained, but the stories are phenomenal, especially from the children and young people, about the kind of suffering. On average in the U.K it is only for a few weeks, yet the kind of trauma they experience is unbelievable. These are the ones who are awaiting deportation. They have already had their cases judged against them.
In the case we are dealing with, we have not even judged against them yet. Many of them could be genuine refugees and yet we are still jailing them, including their kids. Therefore, it is not possible for us to support a bill of this kind.
Another thing about the bill is that if people's refugee claim gets rejected they would not be able to go to the Refugee Appeal Division. We debated the Refugee Appeal Division for about 10 years and we said that all refugees must have the right to be heard in front of an independent tribunal, which we were about to set up, called the Refugee Appeal Division. By eliminating the opportunity to correct errors at the first level, the bill again puts Canada at risk of violating its most fundamental obligation toward refugees, which is not to send them back to their death.
The bill has other elements that are difficult. It would prevent refugees from going outside Canada. For example, if refugees wanted to go to a United Nations war crime convention or testify to a panel dealing with war crimes, they would not be able to do so. I can understand why the minister said that it was important to ensure they do not go back to the place where they claim they are being persecuted. However, this law actually says that they would not be able to leave Canada at all because they would not be able to get a travel document. Again, that is a problem. By detaining refugees for so long, it makes it harder for refugees to integrate into Canadian society and eventually apply for citizenship. We have seen real problems with this. This was tried with the Somali refugees in the 1990s when thousands were denied permanent residence for years.
Let us look at Australia, which is where I know the minister has been. In the last three years, Australia has moved away from a policy of detention and temporary status for refugees. I do not know why we are repeating what it has moved away from.
What is really in front of us are two options. One is to see refugees, newcomers as a burden. Refugee claimants can be seen as burdens or we could care for them. We did that. We saw the St. Louis refugee claimants as burdens. We made a mistake. We sent people to their death. We cared for the Vietnamese boat people, welcomed them and allowed them to stay and they are doing extremely well in Canada. What is it that we plan to do? Do we see refugees as burdens or do we see them as worthy of our care?
I would support the elements in this bill that punish smugglers in a serious manner. Those are elements that we could definitely support because we do not want to be soft on crime, especially for people who are committing crimes against immigrants or refugees, and we need to punish them harshly. However, what we should not do is attack the refugees. We should not attack the victims because this will not assist Canada's reputation or we will just end up repeating a very sad, tragic chapters of Canadian history where we interned people and where we sent people to their death.