Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and give a speech on what is a highly symbolic piece of legislation, a piece of legislation that will illustrate to Canadians the very clear differences in the approach to governing between the government and the official opposition.
Bill C-4 purports to deal with preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system, but in reality it is directed almost solely at refugee claimants who arrive in Canada utilizing whatever means are at their disposal. It is fair to say that it reflects a style of government that reacts quickly to exploit fear in our society, to take people's misery and exploit it for political purposes and to proceed with knee-jerk legislation that is not based on fact, not based on law, not based on reason and not based on fairness.
I am going to go through some of the major aspects of the bill so that Canadians can see exactly what the essence of the bill really is.
Bill C-4 would give the Minister of Immigration the power to designate, in his sole discretion, a group of refugees as “irregular arrivals”. He could do that based on mere suspicion and based on the definition of a group that is not specified in the act, but presumably means any gathering of two or more people.
Once designated claimants receive that title, they are then subject to all kinds of special rules and, as we will hear during debate on the bill, discriminatory rules. I will start with some of them.
Once designated as irregular arrivals, designated claimants, including children, will be mandatorily detained on arrival or upon designation for up to one year. There will be no review of their detention by the Immigration and Refugee Board for one year. Release will only be possible if they are found to be refugees, if the IRB orders their release at the expiry of a year, or if the minister decides that there are exceptional circumstances. Mandatory conditions set out in the regulations will be imposed on all designated claimants released from detention, subjecting these people to special conditions that do not apply to any other refugee claimant.
Designated arrivals will have their right to apply for permanent residency suspended. Under this legislation a designated claimant will be prohibited from applying for permanent residency for five years. If the person fails to comply with any of the conditions or reporting requirements, that five-year suspension can be extended to six years.
To show how arbitrary and ill thought out the legislation is, the five-year ban on applying for permanent residency applies even to someone who is found to be a legitimate refugee. Someone who comes here could be designated, satisfy the IRB within a year or two that he or she is a bona fide legitimate refugee, and still be prohibited from applying for permanent residency for five years.
A designated person cannot make a humanitarian and compassionate application or apply for a temporary resident permit for five years.
In terms of refugee travel documents, a designated person cannot receive travel documents. This means that designated refugees cannot travel outside of Canada for at least five years after they have been accepted as a refugee.
If we take these three things together, they mean that a designated refugee claimant, even if he or she is a legitimate, bona fide legal refugee, will be separated from his or her family for at least five years. He or she cannot travel to see family for at least five years. That is how Canada, under the Conservative government's legislation, is purporting to treat a bona fide refugee.
The legislation contains retroactive provisions so that the minister can make a retroactive designation for arrivals in Canada since March 31, 2009. Again, it has not been common in Canadian legislatures or in this Parliament to reach back in time and render illegal something that was legal at the time, but the Conservative government wants to do that in this case.
Bill C-4 is deeply unfair to refugees. It fails to honour obligations under Canadian and international law. It deprives individual cases from the independent review that justice requires. It would involve huge costs and unnecessary detention. Perhaps most pressing of all, Bill C-4 would do nothing to prevent human smuggling. The bill is unclear, arbitrary, discriminatory and ineffective.
More laws directed at refugees will not catch human smugglers who are overseas. Mandatory minimum sentences will not deter human smugglers who are overseas. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, smuggling is already punishable by life imprisonment and mandatory minimums have been shown not to work as deterrents. Refugees know little or nothing about the laws before they arrive in the country of asylum and, even if they know, desperate fear for their lives often forces them to do whatever they must to flee persecution.
Australia recently tried a very similar regime to punish refugees to try to deter them. It did not work there and there is no reason to think it would work here.
I will go through f some of the major problems with the bill. Bill C-4 punishes refugees. The bill has been presented as legislation targeting smugglers but most of the provisions punish not smugglers, but the refugees themselves. I have already said that refugees, including children, would be mandatorily detained for a year without the possibility of an independent review. Under Bill C-4, refugees would be victimized three times: first, by their persecutors; second, by their smugglers; and finally, by Canada.
Bill C-4 violates the charter and our international human rights obligations, including the convention related to the status of refugees, commonly known as the Refugee Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Bill C-4 is discriminatory and it would create two classes of refugees with one class, those designated based on their mode of arrival, treated worse than the other. This again is discriminatory and contrary to the charter.
Once again, the measures imposing arbitrary detention are not only likely to be unconstitutional, they have already been found to be unconstitutional. In security certificate cases, the Supreme Court of Canada has already found that mandatory detention without review violates numerous sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill C-4 denies the right to equal access to justice. The bill denies designated persons the right to appeal a negative refugee decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board's Refugee Appeal Division. An appeal is a fundamental safeguard in refugee decision making where a person's life and liberty may be at stake. By eliminating the opportunity to correct errors at the first level, the bill would put Canada at risk of violating its most fundamental obligation toward refugees, which is not to send them back to persecution.
I have talked about how Bill C-4 blocks family reunification, which has been described by the government as its key objective. The bill deprives some refugees of the right for five years to apply for permanent residence and, therefore, reunification of families, including their children. This is a violation of the right to family life guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The bill also prevents consideration of the best interests of the child. The bill denies designated persons, including children, the opportunity for five years to make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. This application is often the only avenue for consideration of best interests of the child under refugee law. Under the terms of the bill, however, children could be deported from Canada without consideration of their best interests, again in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I would like to focus on Australia's example because it is instructive to the House. Australia had policies to lock up refugee claimants long-term and to deny them permanent status even when granted refugee status in an attempt to stop refugees coming to that country by boat. It is exactly what is happening here. The policies resulted in refugees, including many children, being traumatized by their experiences in detention.
The Australian Human Rights Commission, an organization created by the Australian parliament, conducted a national inquiry into children in immigration detention and found that children in Australian immigration detention centres had suffered numerous and repeated breaches of their human rights.
Far from deterring people, depriving refugees of the right to family reunification appears to have caused some people to arrive by boat, later bringing the wives and children of refugees in Australia who were unable to bring their families through legal channels. This was a deeply divisive policy, with many people in Australia unclear as to what was the best approach. However, we do know that in the past three years Australia has moved away from its policies of detention and temporary status for refugees.
I want to chat a bit about history because there is the old adage that those of us who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Canada's history with respect to immigration and refugees is not perfect. The Chinese head tax and the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War are both relative and old discredited philosophies, sadly, of our past. Another event from our undistinguished past is the Canadian government's refusal to admit a boat load of Jewish people fleeing Hitler's Germany, a refusal that forced the MS St. Louis back to Europe where many of the passengers perished in the Holocaust.
The individuals on that boat were not Canadian citizens or even permanent residents. However, many Canadians feel, and the Minister of Immigration himself has expressed, a sense of responsibility for the passengers on the St. Louis and a fundamental ethical obligation to help people in desperate situations fleeing for their lives.
In the minister's words at the unveiling of the monument to commemorate the MS St. Louis just this year, the monument was described as a “concrete perpetual expression of regret”. The minister went on to remind us that we must learn from the lessons of history in order to apply them in the future, and said:
Canada will never close its doors to legitimate refugees who need our protection and who are fleeing persecution.
The official opposition agrees with that sentiment. That is the reason we will profoundly oppose this bill until the many problems are cleared. Otherwise, history will continue to judge Canada on the way we treat victims of international crisis. It is a bill that creates two tiers of refugees, violates our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and violates Canada's obligations under international law.
I will read a section from the UN convention relating to the status of refugees, which Canada has signed. Article 31 states:
The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
The bill does exactly that. It violates that section because it is imposing penalties on account of people's illegal entry or presence on refugees who are directly fleeing persecution.
Last summer and the summer before, we saw two boats come to this country containing refugees fleeing what is agreed by every state in this world to be a terrible civil war in Sri Lanka. There were approximately 478 people on one boat and there were approximately 80 people on another boat. These were people who risked their lives to come to a country where they could be safe.
I would ask all Canadians what they would do if the country in which they found themselves threatened their lives and the lives of their husbands, wives and children; if armed people were coming to get them and draft their children into child armies; if armed thugs were coming to sexually assault wives and young girls or boys; if armed men were coming to kill them, what they would do. I dare say that all Canadians would answer that question the same way. They would do whatever they had to do in order to save the lives of their loved ones and to escape to safety. That may even include paying someone.
Another big problem with the bill is that confuses human smuggling, criminal organizations engaged in inappropriate criminal acts, with the irregular movement of refugees, which often involves the payment of money in order to have an organized subversive way to escape a country.
I also want to spend a moment talking about the nonsense of a queue. There is no queue when it comes to refugees. The government should be ashamed of itself for going out in public and confusing Canadians that these are queue jumpers.
There are two ways refugees come to this country. The first way is under the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. There are refugee camps where they are safe and they can make quarterly applications. The second way is refugees who are directly fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution. Those people fleeing a war zone cannot stop and make an application. Those people do not present themselves to the nearest authorities and queue up. Can anyone imagine the Jewish people in Nazi Germany showing up at German authorities and saying that they want to make an application to claim refugee status? That is absurd, and international law recognizes that.
The idea that refugees are coming here and some are jumping in front of others is absolutely false. People who are trying to muddy the waters for political purposes by confusing those two concepts ought to be ashamed of themselves. At its fundamental base, Canada has an obligation. We have signed treaties to be a mature country on the world stage and we have agreed to accept our obligations, and one of those is to do our fair share to accept refugees.
The definition of a refugee is clear. Refugees must show our country that they have a well-founded fear of persecution. By definition, we are talking about a profoundly serious situation where someone risks death, injury, torture or some unacceptable conduct or treatment that violates the common norms of civilized society. Those people need our help and Canada needs to have fair rules to adjudicate such claims.
Canadians of course do not agree with human smuggling. We want to do our fair share to ensure that criminal organizations that are trafficking in people or who are involved in the international sex trade are punished and stopped. Those are criminals. That is very different from refugees fleeing persecution and the whole network that has surrounded that activity of people who help them.
This act would criminalize the whole process. It would even criminalize those people who help refugees. Church groups, faith groups and refugee organizations all risk being deemed to be in violation of this act and being deemed criminals because they help and assist refugees. That has to be misguided. That has to be wrong. That has to be bad legislation.
Under the government, since 2006 there has been a concerted drop in the number of family-class visas that have been issued. There has been a dramatic drop in the number of refugee visas issued by the government. These are not New Democrat official opposition numbers. These are numbers published on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website that just came out in June.
The government needs to restore Canada's reputation on the world stage by not only treating the refugee claimants who come to this country but by improving our system so that we allow more refugees to get to Canada and be settled, and so that we let more of those millions of people who are in refugee camps and in dangerous situations all over the world get to places of safe haven and safety.
I have seen members of this House from every party show up at commemorations of the Komagata Maru or the MS St. Louis, as I just pointed out. We all bow our heads and remember those days when Canada sent away boatloads of people who came to our shores seeking freedom and safety, only decades later to find out that we were sending those people back to their deaths.
Canada deserves fair and balanced refugee legislation. This legislation is not fair and balanced and the official opposition will work hard to amend this until it is or defeat it.