First, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie.
As the member for Laval—Les Îles, I rise today in Parliament to speak on a very difficult piece of legislation, Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act. These proposed amendments deal with the fundamental right of individuals to seek protection in other countries, and specifically in Canada, when their government wilfully refuses to protect its citizens.
Instead, many of these individuals live in terror, afraid for their lives and for those of their families. In some instances, they are subjected to decades of civil war. They are subjected to cruel and unusual torture, in most instances at the hands of their own government, the same government that had pledged to serve and protect their human rights.
I also speak today in the House for the voices of the many women and children who have been subjected to force and violent rape by armies given the authority to ethnically cleanse a country. All this is done while the government stands silent. It not only does not protect its citizens but it does not even bring the perpetrators to justice. Many of the more than 50 wars that are going on in the world today have been going on for decades. The number of victims runs in the millions. Today, if the amendments that we will be asking for are not allowed to be incorporated into Bill C-11, then Canada's Conservative government will take away those rights to protection.
In the few minutes I have before me, I will speak to three areas of this bill: first, the eight-day rule, second, the right to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and, third, the notion of safe country of origin or, as described in clause 12, proposed section 109.1, designated countries of origin, where parts of a country within a country would be considered safe by the Canadian refugee authorities.
Implementing an eight-day information-gathering rule goes against everything Parliament has put in place to allow claimants a fair and impartial refugee hearing with the support of competent legal counsel. Eight days is not enough to give counsel time to gain the trust of the claimants.
I am talking about people who go through many countries before they get to Canada, who have lived illegally and who have slept just about anywhere before they came here. We are asking them to sit down with a lawyer, explain their problem and try to give all the details within the very short time of eight days. How can we expect a poor man, women or child, because often children come all by themselves without the help and support of their parents, to trust that person who is in front of them within eight days?
Eight days is definitely not sufficient. Eight days is not enough time to secure adequate cultural interpretation. We know, for the majority of the time, that counsel would be working with a third language. Very few of the refugee claimants who we receive in this country speak one of the two official languages.
On the issue of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, the bill before us would require a claimant to wait a full year before reapplying after his or her claim for refugee status has been rejected. These people will be in complete limbo during that one year period. What would happen if, after discussions with a lawyer, a claimant realized that his or her claim was made on the wrong grounds, given the situation he or she experienced? What if the claimant wants to withdraw a claim and make a new one on humanitarian and compassionate grounds this time?
Claimants who withdraw their claims before the hearing date should be entitled to apply for permanent residency. Under this bill, however, claimants who withdraw their claims before their IRB hearing date have nowhere else to turn. All doors and windows are then closed to them. They currently have no other choice than to face removal.
I would like to speak about a case I heard about last night, that of a young woman from Guinea, in Africa, who was a victim of spousal abuse and who will now be deported from Canada. Her abuse by her partner was so severe that she is permanently branded on her left breast, and even underneath, from the mark of a hot iron. When she tried to get the authorities in her country to protect her, she was not able to get the authorities to do so. That is exactly what a refugee is, somebody who goes to the authorities in her own country and does not get the protection of the police and of the judicial system.
According to her Montreal counsel, our system denied her refugee status. She told us and friends of hers told us that if she were to go back to her country of Guinea, then she would be again under the control of this man who so cruelly abused her.
Not only has Canada's humanitarian and compassionate system failed to allow this woman to remain, but we are sending her back on Tuesday, although she is now married to a Canadian citizen and is now in a high-risk pregnancy. Tuesday is tomorrow.
Here are some of the details. One, if she is forced to go back to her country, the chances are very, very high that she will run into the man who was her first husband, who will very likely never understand or accept that she has now remarried. Two, she is now in a high-risk pregnancy. She cannot really be put into an airplane.
Where is the clemency? Where is the justice? Where is the compassion? Where are the humanitarian grounds on which the minister could allow this woman and her unborn child to stay here, because it is up to the minister and his department?
Her counsel, who has sent me a copy of a letter that was recently written to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, said that her Canadian physicians, right here in Canada, in Montreal, have confirmed that travelling would be extremely dangerous.
This is one case among many. Before I became a member of Parliament, I was a member of the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board.
As an IRB member, I reviewed hundreds and hundreds of cases. It is true that, in some cases, there are individuals who try to push through our system, but it is also true that the vast majority of people whose cases we see are like this woman from Guinea who needs our help.
My colleague, the MP for Vaughan, has declared that on this side of the House, the refugee appeals division was happy that at last it will be implemented. I am certainly happy personally, but it is clear that claimants will not be in Canada long enough to allow them to be present for those appeals. How can a refugee claimant appear before the appeals division to make her case heard if the new law implements a short eight-day period to gather information?
Other MPs have talked about the most controversial aspect of Bill C-11: the Immigration and Refugee Board will hear the case but the applicant will not be able to appeal to the IRB. Furthermore, this is all tied to the decision that will be made by the department or the minister—we are not exactly sure which one—regarding the designation of safe countries.
When I was a member of the IRB, we received refugee claims from Sri Lanka. People were told that if they went to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, they would find refuge and would not need to come to Canada. It was not recognized that, in Sri Lanka, it was perhaps harder to travel to the capital than it is in Canada because of the dangers faced by the refugee claimant.
The bill does not say which authority will be responsible for designating safe countries or the criteria to be used. I would like to share some anecdotes based on my experience as a former member of the board.
There are some countries in Europe where homosexuality is recognized and is not illegal. They are democratic countries, as the minister rightly stated earlier. However, from my experience on the Board, I know that when some homosexuals arrive in Canada, they say that they were beaten and persecuted in their country of origin and that they went to the police but did not receive any protection. The laws of their country also did not afford them protection.
Although there may be a law on the books, that does not mean they have protection. Although a country is democratic, that does not mean that these people will be protected in the outlying, rural, mountainous areas of that country. Protection on paper is one thing, and it is important; however, it is not the same as real protection. People are persecuted and are unable to obtain help from their country and its justice system.
We must ensure that our Canadian law can distinguish between people who wish to take advantage of our system and those who do are not protected by their country's justice system.
Just because a country is democratic does not mean that it will protect its citizens when necessary.
My comments are based on discussions I have also had with NGOs that have worked with refugee claimants for years and know the system very well.