Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise on this important piece of legislation which was introduced in the last Parliament but did not proceed much further because of the election.
There is an observable pattern of behaviour with the Conservative government in terms of how it approaches complex and important issues, like the issue of human smuggling. When the government approaches issues like this, it seems to approach them without sufficient forethought, without focusing on the core of the problem, and without focusing on the substance of the issue.
In other words, the government focuses on sloganeering and photo-ops, sometimes to the detriment of the core of the issue. We have seen this with the issue of human smuggling and with other issues, like sentencing reform. The government does not address the issue. It only addresses the issue once it gets media attention that then attracts public concern.
For example, about a year before the government introduced Bill C-49, the government introduced Bill C-11. That bill was a source of much attention because the government made a compromise with the opposition parties to fast-track the legislation. With all the resources at the government's disposal, one would think it would have dealt with the issue of human smuggling in that bill, but it did not.
The government did not react to the issue of human smuggling until the Sun Sea arrived and received much media attention. It did not react until the issue of human smuggling became a sensational visual on the evening news.
The government does not do its homework when it presents legislation in the first place. It does not act on behalf of Canadians in a timely manner.
Let me be absolutely clear. We have no issue with the fact that we have to protect the security of Canadians. We do not want criminals and terrorists living in this country. We cannot put Canadians at risk. Liberal members have absolutely no quarrel with respect to the objective of the bill, which is to ensure that refugees who are accepted into Canada are legitimate refugees and do not pose a threat to the safety of Canadians.
It is also important that we adhere to certain principles when we vote on legislation. It is important that we do not vote for bills that offend the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for example. In other words, as parliamentarians it is our duty to not support legislation that could be deemed unconstitutional.
There is a practical reason for saying this. It is not just an academic statement to say that we have a duty to uphold charter principles or constitutional principles. There is a practical element to what I am saying. If we adopt legislation that is not charter-proof and winds up in the courts, then that legislation will be struck down by the courts.
Then Canadians are left without the protection that they need, without the protection that was intended to be in the particular piece of legislation that has been deemed unconstitutional. It is a very practical concern that we get it right the first time, or we are going to run into problems in the long-run.
As I said before, either we will be voting for a bill that does not properly deal with all aspects of an issue, only to have to rush back later and pass legislation at the last minute to resolve a problem or to correct a lacuna in that previous legislation, or we will wind up with a bill or with legislation that has been struck down.
There seems to be an attitude on the part of the government that it does not matter whether a bill meets the charter test, that we will just pass it now, and if someone challenges it in the future, then we will let the courts deal with that. I call that a “so, sue me” attitude. In other words, someone may be telling me that my bill or legislation is not charter-proof, but I do not care, sue me later. I think that is a very inappropriate way to approach public policy.
Before I proceed to a detailed discussion of Liberal Party reservations about this bill, there are three points I would like to make.
One of them has been made already today. It is that refugees are not queue jumpers. There is a misconception among the public that refugees are queue jumpers. Canadians obviously react badly to the notion that someone's rightful place has been taken by another person whose claim in the queue is not legitimate.
I know many fine Canadians, who believe in charter principles and in human rights, who react negatively when they are told that refugees are queue jumpers. That pains me a great deal, to see them misled by the confusion that has been allowed to stand on this issue. That is the first point. Refugees are not queue jumpers.
The second point I would like to make, for the benefit of those watching or listening at home or who will be reading these debates, is that there is a system in this country for determining—