Mr. Speaker, I rise today to add my strongest opposition and objection to the bill at hand, Bill C-4, , the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act”. I put quotations around the title not because it is the short title of the bill, but because that is not really what the bill is about. It was presented by the Minister of Public Safety earlier as a bill that would protect Canadians and others from human smugglers. In reality, it is a bill that attacks refugees and the Canadian immigration system.
Let us be frank. This bill is not at all about human smuggling. Canada currently has the harshest punishment possible, according to Canadian law, if convicted of human smuggling. Under Canadian law smugglers are imprisoned for life. There is nothing stronger and no more severe form of punishment than life in prison in Canada.
Let us talk about what this bill is really about: playing politics with refugees and instilling a sense of fear in Canadians about refugees. We have seen this bill before. This bill was and is remarkably similar to Bill C-49 presented in the last Parliament. It was opposed by all members of the opposition parties and by so many Canadians across the country from coast to coast to coast.
Let me speak to the false claims and the areas of ambiguity this bill presents.
First, the bill positions refugees as “queue jumpers”. This is a falsehood. Refugees and asylum seekers must still follow the same processes and procedures of all claimants. It also creates a two-tier immigration system. It creates two different levels of refugees, and a new classification of refugee, a “designated claimant”. These are refugees who have an “irregular arrival”. That means anybody who shows up by boat. Of course the terms in quotations I am borrowing from the bill.
This bill essentially says that someone who arrives in an irregular fashion, such as by boat, is not a refugee but rather is a criminal. This bill says that people who wish to flee war or conflict zones or persecution but do not have the means to purchase an airplane ticket are queue jumpers. Instead, because they cannot buy a plane ticket, they risk their lives. They throw themselves on a rickety cargo boat, spend two months crossing the ocean, any ocean, but no, they are not real refugees. That is what this bill is telling us.
The bill is telling us that they are not real asylum seekers; they are not really fleeing a horrible situation, leaving their families behind, leaving their livelihoods, leaving their homes, leaving a horrible situation. This bill tells us that these people are liars, that they are not real asylum seekers, that they are not risking their lives to come to Canada hoping for a better life. This bill tells us that these people are criminals. This is what the bill and the government are telling us, unfortunately.
When we look at the history of this great country, it is very clear that Canada was built on the backs of immigrants. Historically, boatloads of immigrants arrived at Canada's ports for centuries. Canada saw an immense number of Irish refugees arriving at Canada's sea ports during the famine in Ireland. At that time, Canadians were strongly in opposition to these refugees staying in Canada, yet they were permitted to stay. Today we see that they contribute so much, and that they contribute positively to Canadian society. Now, we see people of Irish heritage all over Canada, including in this House. Many members of Parliament are of Irish descent.
Refugees are people who contribute positively to the land they go to. So how do we as a nation deal with boats carrying refugees that enter Canadian waters? Do we turn them away, forcing them to return to their country of origin? Or rather, as we saw recently, do we have other countries do our dirty work and intercept these boats in international waters so they do not make it here and we do not need to do anything?
Time and again we have seen the consequences of this course of action. In 1914, the Komagata Maru, which was carrying 376 passengers from Punjab, India, was forced to return. In the 1930s, the refugees on board the SS St. Louis were fleeing Nazi Germany, but were forced to return and were killed by the Nazis. There are many others. Forcing people to return to their country of origin is not the answer.
While this bill specifically attacks refugees who arrive by boat, it will have detrimental effects on all claimants regardless of whether they enter Canada by boat, by air or on foot. This legislation would require the mandatory detention of all designate people arriving in Canada, whether they arrive on foot, by boat or by air. This includes women, children, babies, the sick, the elderly. Anyone who arrives in Canada by any method would be required to be detained for a minimum of 12 months, an entire year. After those 12 months were served, they might receive some consideration, but they could also be held for up to five years. They would also be denied permanent residence or family reunification for at least five years after that. This is a clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the past, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down mandatory detention without review. This is detention based on identity with no possibility of release until the minister arbitrarily decides that identity has been established. This breaches sections 9 and 10 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protect people against arbitrary detention and allow the right to prompt review of that same detention. Arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.
Why are we detaining these people to begin with? People are usually detained because they are a danger to others or they are a flight risk and could disappear before their questioning or trial happens. Should this bill pass, the government would have the right to jail or detain all refugees without proving that they are a danger to society or that they are a flight risk, for a minimum of one year without an appeal process. How is that just?
Do members know the psychological effects detention and imprisonment have on children? Some British researchers have shown that even in a few months of detention the psychological effects on children are tragic. They wet their beds. Some become mute. Others stop learning. They become withdrawn. They are not able to go to school because they cannot focus. Some lose weight. Some do not eat. These psychological and physiological effects have been seen in children who have been jailed for just a few weeks or months. Think of the psychological scars that we would be inflicting on these children who come to our country and are placed in detention centres. Some may call them jails but we call them detention centres. That is where children would be put for at least a year. It is totally unjustifiable.
Furthermore, these people are being detained until they can prove their identity through some form of documentation. Most refugees who come to Canada do not have documentation, regardless of which process they use to enter the country. When people flee their nation, they leave behind everything. When they leave their country due to a natural disaster, this documentation may not exist. How can we realistically expect people who have lived through an earthquake or tsunami and are fleeing their country to have appropriate documentation proving their identity? How can we expect people who have left a war-torn country to carry valid identification? A lot of refugees arrive at our shores without identification. These are people who could be classified as designated.
Some of the refugee claimants who arrived in Canada by the MV Sun Sea now live in my constituency. I have spoken with many of them. They have told me the stories of their trip to Canada and their arrival in B.C. and how so many of them were borderline holding on to their lives. We all know that one man perished on the journey across the Pacific. Many of them had United Nations identity cards. They had UNHCR refugee cards. Upon their arrival, the people who greeted them gathered all of their identity cards and then, when there were not the same number of identity cards, as individuals they were told that they did not have adequate identification onboard. Regardless of whether or not they had a refugee card, they were all detained. Thankfully, many of these people have been released because our great service men and women at the Canada Border Services Agency took the time to sort out the identity cards. Unfortunately, many of them are still being detained today.
Under Bill C-4, decisions on claims by designated persons cannot be appealed to the refugee appeal division. Eliminating the right to appeal can have tremendous consequences for these so-called designated persons.
I am sure that most of us have heard stories from our constituents about failed refugee applications, about a person who has left his or her country only to face a heavily bureaucratic process. The person does not have the right kind of supporting documentation to present at a hearing and his or her application is unfortunately rejected. Sadly, some of us have heard about the horrific consequences of these failed refugees and what awaits them when they are deported to their country of origin. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen, which is why we have the appeals process. That is why refugees deserve to be able to appeal to the refugee appeal division.
My personal story is like that of many immigrants to Canada. My father came to Canada as a refugee claimant from Sri Lanka. He was fleeing the civil war during the early parts of the war. Once he was granted permanent residency, he sponsored my mother and my sisters to join us. We were reunited in Canada. I am proud to say that the child of a refugee claimant in Canada is now a member of Parliament.
It is difficult for me to imagine in the middle of this violent conflict my father having the time to ensure that he had all of his documentation aligned, ready to go, everybody's identification ready to go, supporting documents ready to go, when he was running away from being shot or his country being bombed. How can we expect people fleeing persecution, fleeing a war, to have all their identification in order? Fortunately, his application was approved and my family was able to join him here in Canada.
It is absolutely unreasonable to expect people to collect all the necessary documents and to have them available upon arrival. My father was lucky that he left at the early stages of the war, but the people who left later, the people fleeing from other countries because they were being bombed, this is absolutely unfair.
That is why there are checks and balances in our refugee process and why they are so integral. This absolutely goes against the compassionate nature that Canadians are known for, Canada's values. Canada's values lie in being compassionate, being concerned for human rights and being concerned for human beings.
When I first saw the bill, I asked myself why the government would propose such legislation and why it would put forward a bill that attacked refugees.
I am taken aback by the idea of queue-jumpers. The government is trying to paint refugees as jumping the immigration queue. When people are fleeing persecution, fleeing a war or an area that is attacked by a natural disaster, they cannot be called queue-jumpers.
With a large immigrant population in Scarborough—Rouge River, I can easily say that the number one form of casework in my constituency is immigration-related. In my immigration casework, there is an unbelievable amount of family reunification cases. People in my area are frustrated that they are waiting 5 to 10 to 15 years in the process. They are stuck in the process waiting to have their families, their loved ones, join them here in Canada. When they begin the process of bringing their parent or sibling over to Canada, they are told that it will take 5 to 10 years. They apply and they wait and wait and continue to wait. The backlog for parents who are waiting to come to Canada is in the hundreds of thousands. Why? It is because the number of visas for parents and grandparents issued this year has been reduced by close to 44% of what it was. The wait times are getting longer and longer. This year, there are only 11,000 parents who can come to Canada. In 2005 and in 2006, the target was 20,000. Now it is only 11,000. This is a reduction of 9,000 people in this current year. This is not the only backlog that exists, unfortunately.
The government claims that it is clearing the backlog for skilled workers when, in actuality, the backlog for skilled workers grew. In 2005, there was a backlog of 487,000. Now, it is 508,000. In the past six years, this backlog has grown by 173,000 applications.
This so-called clearing the backlog is, unfortunately, not working. It is not working for skilled workers and it is not working for families trying to reunify. Immigrants are getting resentful because they are waiting longer and longer to bring their loved ones to Canada. They are being told by the government that there are people who are jumping the queue. There are hundreds of thousands of people waiting patiently, some not so patiently, to come to Canada. This is not due to nothing other than failed immigration policy. People are really upset that they have to wait so long.
However, rather than amending immigration policy to actually deal with the backlogs and the time constraints, the Conservative government is trying to find a scapegoat: the new refugees who are coming. This is not the government's fault or the fault of the failed immigration policies, but the refugees' fault. They are jumping the queue and taking the spots of all those other people who have been patiently waiting.
What the government has failed to mention is that for some refugees there is no queue to jump. There is no lineup for people who are in serious danger, for people who are living through a civil war, for people who are being persecuted because of their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, et cetera. When their lives or the lives of their family is called into question, there is no line. Once they are safely in Canada, they must then join the exact same queue as everyone else and wait their turn to get their status in our country.