Madam Speaker, the arrival on Canadian shores of the latest two boats filled with Tamil refugee claimants has generated many concerns from the public. Opinion polls suggest that the vast majority of Canadians want future boats to be turned away and the Tamil refugee claimants to be deported for fear that our generous system is being exploited by criminal elements.
As always, the government has not missed the opportunity to turn public concerns into bad legislation that torques up the issue and promotes fear and misunderstanding in the hopes of electoral gain.
Bill C-49 is a terrible piece of legislation but a very effective announcement. It is effective because the government gets to talk about getting tough on vile human smugglers who criminally take advantage of extraordinarily vulnerable people fleeing persecution and oppression. It is always effective to be able to stand up and talk about defeating the evildoers while protecting the innocent and the just.
The problem is that is all this is, talk. This legislation actually does very little to go after the evildoers, and far from protecting the vulnerable, actually goes after and punishes asylum seekers.
Allow me to be very clear on one thing, Liberals and indeed members of all parties in this House are deeply committed and concerned with our capacity to crack down on human smugglers and protect the integrity of our refugee and immigration systems.
It is just that it is apparent there is little in the new legislation that actually cracks down on smugglers. There are provisions the government is quite pleased with that provide for mandatory minimum sentences of up to 10 years, but those are very unlikely to be an effective deterrent given that smuggling already carries a potential life sentence.
There are some minor provisions against shipowners who disobey ministerial orders, but nothing that is truly likely to put a dent in the multi-million dollar human smuggling business. Indeed, many of the provisions will just drive up the cost to asylum seekers and put them on more dangerous sea routes.
Rather, most of the legislation's provisions are directed at trying to deter refugees themselves. Many of the provisions may be inconsistent with the charter. Others are in direct violation of our obligations under international law. All will cause great hardship to refugees who have come to Canada to seek protection.
The legislation represents a complete reversal and backtracking on Canada's proud humanitarian tradition toward refugees and the displaced.
This government bill would create two classes of refugees based on the means of transportation they use to get here. Consider this: our system assesses, questions and judges people to determine whether they are legitimate refugees, but they will be treated differently if the minister does not like the way they arrived in Canada. That has nothing to do with the refugees' merit. It is entirely arbitrary. These people are recognized as refugees because they have good reason to fear for their lives because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinions. These are legitimate refugees, but because we do not like the way they arrived here, we subject them to harsh punishment that is no doubt unconstitutional and certainly violates our international obligations.
We cannot judge people on the basis of how they get here, because refugees use unorthodox means to reach their chosen land. In most cases, people have found unorthodox ways to get to Canada. The government judges these people on the basis of their country of origin. Designating people who arrive illegally means the government can judge anyone it wants.
In addition to keeping designated refugees locked up, the government would impose a five-year probation, during which time they would be forbidden from leaving Canada or from applying to sponsor other family members, who are most likely suffering. The government would also have the power to hold asylum seekers for up to a year.
The president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Wanda Yamamoto, said:
Measures keeping some refugees longer in detention, denying them family reunification and restricting their freedom of movement are likely in violation of the Canadian Charter and of international human rights obligations. People who are forced to flee for their lives need to be offered asylum and a warm welcome, not punished.
That is what is so worrisome about this capacity to create two categories of refugees depending simply on whether or not the minister approves of the way they got here.
The thinking behind it, I assume, is that if people know that the minister might not approve of their way of coming here, they are not going to get in those leaky boats and risk their lives in a heavy crossing. But when we look at the pressures on them when they got on, and their willingness to shell out to criminal elements extraordinary amounts of money that they do not have, the suspicion that perhaps the minister will disapprove of them is not going to keep them away.
When we create two classes of refugees because we like their way of getting here or we do not like their way of getting here, we are creating divisions among the very people who are most vulnerable, people whose rights Canada has sworn to uphold and protect. It is a complete discarding of the Canadian principles of fairness and justice that have defined this country for decades.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention to be informed promptly, to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.
On top of that, the fact that refugees would have no right to apply for permanent residence for five years after determination of their claim is inconsistent with the principle enunciated in article 34 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees which provides that states must make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings for people determined to be refugees. We are tossing international obligations and Canadian law to the wind with this bill.
The Geneva Convention states:
The Contracting States shall issue to refugees lawfully staying in their territory travel documents for the purpose of travel outside their territory...
That is fairly clear. Again, the proposed legislation goes against that by banning them from travel for up to five years. Even once they have been recognized as refugees, they have to wait until they become permanent residents to get travel documents.
The Geneva Convention also states that the contracting states, of which we are one:
...shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.
That is one of the things Amnesty International recently declared in an open letter violates the rights of these refugees. It ignores the reality that many of these refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution turn to smugglers for assistance because of desperation, because of a lack of other options, because of a lack of a willingness of their host government which is busy oppressing or maligning them to help them get to another country.
Neither a just society, nor the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor international agreements are safe from this government.
We have good reason to be very concerned about this bill. I—we—understand that the problem of human trafficking needs to be dealt with, but the Conservatives' approach lacks refinement, subtlety and respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are classifying people not according to the dangers they face at home, but according to how they get to Canada. That is not the right way to do things.
The Tamil boatloads of 2009 and 2010 represented a new wave of boatloads of refugee claimants. The government's response to the first boat was relatively muted. There was not a tremendously strong public outcry against these refugee claimants.
However, well before the second boatload arrived, the public safety minister was already warning the Canadian public that the boat was filled with terrorists and criminals, before these people were evaluated, examined, interviewed, judged on their individual merits, as our obligations require us to do in the case of every single refugee.
This coming out against them soured public opinion against the claimants before they even arrived in Canada, and has produced a dramatic backlash. The effect of this short-sighted reaction has been to create a strong anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment.
That is not typical of Canada. That is not typical of Canadians. We are a country that has consistently stood up open to immigrants, to refugees, and to drawing from around the world people who wish to come here, build a safe and secure life free from persecution. Now we are busy encouraging that persecution and hyping up the tensions between Canadians and potentially new Canadians.
It is extremely important that a Canadian government be responsible in how it defends our immigration and refugee system, how it makes Canadians understand that we are strong because of, not in spite of, diversity. Our differences are what define us and make us the flexible, open, confident, powerful country that we are in the process of becoming more and more every day.
The government needs to be much more responsible in how it chooses to elevate and enervate the Canadian public's level of debate on an issue such as this one.
It is important to mention that when the minister and the Prime Minister talk about making sure that the immigrants who go through the normal process do not get unfair treatment because of the queue jumpers, it is actual misinformation.
Let me share a secret that the government does not want anyone to know. There is no queue for refugees. There are no queue jumpers in the refugee system. We have a process around refugees. Anyone who comes to Canada and seeks asylum falls into an evaluation process that has nothing to do with the quotas we establish for refugees, family class immigrants, economic migrants. It has nothing to do with the legitimate immigration process, the queue and wait times.
A refugee is evaluated on the merits of his or her individual case. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the case of the American war deserters and many others, the government is choosing to interfere with the process in which refugee claimants are evaluated on the merits of their claim. The government is choosing to prejudge. It is choosing to frame the debate in such a way that people are blending immigrants and refugees. They are two very different things.
By stoking our fears and concerns and the frustrations of legitimate immigrants who have been here but who followed the queue, who see these people as queue jumpers because the government says they are queue jumpers, we are not serving Canada. We are not living up to our international responsibilities to be a fair and just country. We are falling by the wayside of the rights and principles for which Canada has always stood.
Instead of misinforming and holding press conferences in front of boats, we would have liked the government to consider an alternative approach.
The first and most obvious one, in the case of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers, is to aggressively pursue a peace settlement in Sri Lanka.
Tens of thousands of Tamils still remain detained in detention camps. The government is being investigated by the United Nations to see if crimes against humanity were committed by the government during the civil war. Tortures and disappearances unfortunately continue.
However, there is no doubt that there is a genuine opportunity for peace. The Tamil minority wants some form of autonomy. This can be addressed within a federal state. More and more Tamils are involved in the Sri Lankan government. There is an openness toward improving the relations between the Tamil community, the international community and the government.
We are making headway on that and Canada can play a role in helping shape that peace, in helping encourage that peace. We know what it is like to live within a country where there are distinct cultural, linguistic and religious identities and to make it work. We are living proof of that here in the House of Commons. We need to build on our capacity to work with international partners, to work with the UN. Unfortunately it is an area in which the government has not been particularly successful.
When we called upon the government to work with international partners, to cut off human smuggling, to decrease the likelihood and the possibility of engaging with human smugglers, to go after human smugglers, what did it do? The Conservatives went after them. They worked with local police forces. But instead of rounding up human smugglers they rounded up potential asylum seekers. That is not the kind of work we need to do if we are going to really crack down on human smuggling.
People have been talking about turning around boats. I am pleased that the government has not chosen in this bill to encourage the idea that we should turn these boats around before they land on our shores, because that is a violation of any number of international conventions and puts people who are extraordinarily vulnerable at tremendous risk.
Since the diversion of the ships is not legal, the only alternative is therefore to provide expeditious determination of refugee claims. It is well known that the most effective mechanism for deterring frivolous or irresponsible or unfounded claims and slowing down refugee movements is to subject persons to fair but expeditious determinations and to quickly deport persons whose claims are rejected. Unfortunately, Bill C-49 does not address that and does not encourage that.
The process of seeking the detention of refugee claimants, coupled with expedited hearings while providing them due process is an effective response to try to deter claims. In the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils, given the current situation, it may well be that some of the claimants will be accepted. However, all should be expeditious, fair determinations.
This, coupled with efforts to resolve the situation in Sri Lanka and with efforts to stem the flow of boats by working with governments in the region, is the most effective long-term response. It can be done without inflaming anti-immigrant feelings in Canada and in a manner that will ensure Canada complies with its obligations under international law and the charter.
Speaking of this legislation, there is something else that worries me. As we have heard speaker after speaker in the opposition get up and highlight all the real legal challenges and convention challenges with this bill, and as experts have come out time and time again with real concerns about this, the thing that really bugs me is that this legislation, which is filled with ineffective and illegal measures, was drafted by the good people in what is generally considered to be the best immigration ministry in the world.
Our fine bureaucrats put together this piece of legislation that is not worthy of the kind of work and the kind of balanced approach that was even available and visible in Bill C-11 that we passed unanimously in the House. That bill was supposed to balance and improve our process of evaluating refugees and providing fairness for refugees.
Under the guise of legislation to deter smugglers, or smuggling, the government has introduced broad changes to our refugee determination system and to the rights of persons recognized as refugees.
Let us be perfectly clear. There is very little in this legislation that is designed to crack down on smugglers. Instead, this legislation takes reprisals against the refugees who use those smugglers—