Mr. Speaker, I rise to ask for withdrawal of the bill unless it can prove itself to be different and unless we can make some serious amendments to it because the unintended consequences of the bill will have disastrous affects.
No one here thinks human smuggling and human trafficking is good. We know it exploits people, whether it is because they are poor, or they are seeking work in another country, or they are fleeing persecution and fear for their lives. Exploitation of that kind is in fact egregious and all of us agree on that. We all want to do something to target the actual people who do that exploitation.
At the same time, it is not a simple black and white issue. Many people are seeking to come to this country because they fear for their lives and that of their families. Many of them are women who fear they will be raped. We know in certain parts of the world, because of their different caste or religion, or whether they are journalists, or no matter what they are, many people are in danger. History has shown us that people who are afraid, who are in danger and fear for their lives and that of their families will do absolutely anything to survive and to save their families. So many of them sell what little they have and they find ways of even buying passage onboard a ship to come here.
Let us separate the victim from the smuggler. If the bill had new amendments that would deal with those people who exploit, I think we could talk about that. However, the bill has muddied the waters. It seeks to take the victims, the people who are genuine refugees, who are afraid and who seek asylum in our country, and creates a sense that these people are wrong-doers, that they are criminals, that they have no valid reason to seek asylum at all in our country. It creates a sense of xenophobia and fear among Canadians because it muddies the waters and it creates a sort of broad and generic term that does not clearly define what the problem is.
In 2005 the Liberal government and the minister of justice brought in a bill on this issue. It was a bill that tried to deal with the complexity of human smuggling and human trafficking. It talked about preventing the trafficking itself, which is dealing with some of the failed states that we talk about, helping them with democratic institutions and playing a role abroad. It talked about preventing poverty in other parts of the world where people might seek refuge because of lack of poverty and the ability to feed their families.
Prevention was a huge piece. Prosecution of the actual smuggler, the person committing the crime, was a huge part. There were very heavy sentences in prosecution put down. It also talked about protecting the victim, the person who was being smuggled, or trafficked, or exploited. There was a real balance in the bill. It also talked about building partnerships with other nations, with international organizations, with international humanitarian groups, with police around the world, like Interpol, to try to find ways to deal with the criminal element of traffickers.
It was a solid bill and I would have thought that if the government wanted to add to that bill, there were lots of amendments it could have made that would have dealt with it from that kind of balanced perspective. However, what we see here is that this bill catches in its net, and I want to be kind and not say it targets, but inadvertently catches in its net genuine refugees and it creates significant barriers to those who are seeking asylum. In fact, it re-victimizes them if we look at the bill clearly.
I want to back up a bit and look at the history of many of the so-called illegal refugees who have come to our shores over the history of Canada. There were those people who we called the Vietnamese boat people, many of whom are here. They came in boats. We opened our arms so that many of them now are really strong citizens of this country. We saw other groups. In the history of the second world war the St. Louis came here with Jews aboard it. No one knew what was going on in Europe at the time, so everyone thought it was a scam and sent these people back to certain death in the camps in Germany. We know there were about 80 Estonians in World War II who came to these shores on a tiny little boat that was supposed to take 40 people.
We have made mistakes in the past in our country, turning away people who were genuinely seeking help. We do not want to repeat those mistakes. The Prime Minister himself called that the black history of Canada. We have made apologies to these groups. We have given them redress. We have done everything to try to right some of those wrongs we did when we took a sledgehammer to a delicate issue and problem.
We recognize that even now. Many of the so-called refugees that we say are the United Nations convention refugees live in camps, in a sort of free zone between countries that are in conflict. We also know that in the days of Nazi Germany, we did not know what was going on at the time. We were not aware of the full extent of what was happening in Vietnam .
Historically we have not known what is going on in some states, with the quiet pogrom against various people, the quiet disappearance of people in many countries that are supposed to be bona fide countries that we trade with and talk to.
We need to know that people are fleeing for their lives. We need to apply a level of humanitarian empathy toward what is happening to these people. In fact, a very famous illegal migrant to our country came with her family, stowed away illegally aboard a ship coming to our shores. It turns out it was one of very great governors general of the country, the Right Hon. Adrienne Clarkson.
We cannot just throw a piece of jello at the wall and see if it slides or sticks. This is about people's lives. We have to deal with it very differently.
What we would create with this is a two-tiered system of refugees in the country. First and foremost, these refugees would be detained for 12 months without a review. This violates section 10 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, the current provisions within the charter and within law demand some kind of review after 48 hours. The government now suggests this should be 12 months. Children will be detained for 12 months in a camp. This is unconscionable. That violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Do we not care about the international conventions and treaties on to which we have signed?
In fact, under the United Nations convention on the status of refugees, denying asylum to arrivals who come seeking asylum to the shores of any nation, even if those arrivals are illegal, violates section 31 of the United Nations convention on the status of refugees. Therefore, we are already denying and violating our own laws, our own constitution and international treaties that we have signed.
When we put people away after they have been found out to be valid refugees, they are being denied liberty for five years, taking away the ability to get any documents in those five years. For those five years they are stateless, neither permanent residents or temporary residents or citizens. They are nothing. The police can ask them to come and report at any time, asking them whatever questions they wish to and the refugees must produce documents. What is happening in the country, when it has been proven they are genuine refugees and they are still treated in that way.
There is ample legislation in the country dealing with and detaining individuals who are criminals when there is in fact reason for Canadians to fear for their safety or who we think are a flight risk. There are things that we can use. We have instruments to use right now.
Let us imagine the economic loss of opportunity that will be created. For five years someone is unable to work or do anything. These people may come with skills or trades and may be able to contribute to the country, to the productivity and the economic benefit of this nation.
We heard the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism say that today, that immigrants and refugees have come to this country and contributed to nation-building and growth. We are denying five years of a person's ability to do that. During that time people lose their skills, their certification and are unable to work at that because they have lost all the skills and training they had.
To take away the value of these refugees to Canada and to Canada's economic growth and prosperity does not make any sense to me at all. Therefore, for most of us, it is an issue of fully re-victimizing people, not just for 12 months but for 12 months and then for 5 years after, 6 full years. It does not make any sense. It certainly does not give Canada's reputation a boost. It makes us look as if we have become a mean-spirited nation over this period of time.
There is a growing notion among people that an illegal refugee is automatically a danger to our society. I gave some examples of people who have not damaged this country, who have come here and helped to build a strong nation and are strong contributors to our country.
I know that the Prime Minister apologized for all of the bad things that we used to do. He called it the dark history of Canada. We need to think this thing through very carefully. We see an arbitrary attitude: “Who cares. Let them eat cake. There are always going to be bad people and if we find two bad people in a group of 100, then let us slam the two and throw away the other 98. We are going to sledgehammer legislation to catch two people who may or may not be violating the law”.
Let us criminalize the ones who are exploiting. Let us criminalize the smugglers. Let us find ways to work with others to chase them down and to deal with that issue, but let us not victimize people any more. That kind of doublespeak does not help. It creates among Canadians a deep sense of xenophobia. Everyone is afraid of that other, that is going to harm them, when most of us have been part of that other at some point in time in the history of this country.
I would ask the government to look at the bill carefully. I would ask the government to do one of three things. One choice would be to withdraw the bill because it is the same bill we had prior to the election in the last Parliament. Everyone said it was a bad bill. The government could accept amendments. We could have a generous length of time to look at the bill at committee and present amendments. That would take political will. It would take goodwill. It is a majority government and there is no need to use a fist to ram everything through. The government could actually listen to parliamentarians and people who say there are ways in which the bill could be made better. At the least, the bill should be sent as a reference on certain questions of legality and constitutionality to the Supreme Court of Canada so the court could decide whether the bill is legal and constitutional. Most scholars have told us it is not. Most of us in the House know it is not. I would suggest that the government knows it is not.
The bill plays on emotions. It tells half-truths to Canadians. It confuses them. It muddies the waters. What we are creating is a fear about people who may need Canada to help them find new lives and save their families just as we would if we were fleeing persecution here in Canada. Let us hope that none of us ever has to do that, but let us remember that history has taught us otherwise. Let us remember that there are many people who came here as illegal migrants and are contributing to Canadian society in major ways. They are hard-working people who are helping to build this great nation of ours.
Let us withdraw the bill, or at least send it to the Supreme Court on questions of constitutionality and legality.