Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the bill today and to participate in this very important and serious debate.
I am new to this chamber, like many of my colleagues, but I am not new to the notion of justice and fairness. I do not see much of that in the bill. The bill is yet another clear indication that the government does not make public policy based on facts and evidence but instead on ideology, an ideology that is regressive in the case of the bill, public policy that is punitive and unnecessarily so.
I read the bill line by line, section by section. It comprises 37 sections, 23 of which are directed at persons seeking asylum and the limitation of their rights. How can it fairly be said that this is about human smugglers? The bill is not so much about seeking to punish human smugglers, but rather it is about denying rights to refugee claimants and treating them, not as criminals, but as worse than criminals, which I will expand upon later in my remarks.
How did we arrive at the point where the government is putting through such an ill-considered law? In August 2010, as we have heard, a cargo ship landed on our shores with close to 500 Tamils. It was a shocking situation to many of us. Were they safe? Were they hungry? Did they suffer ill effects from the journey and the conditions in which they were travelling? These people were seeking a better life. I believe they thought Canada was a place of peace, a place of hope, a place where they could make a better life and a place where they could escape whatever injustice and persecution they had encountered earlier in their life. They had the hope that Canada would be a place of refuge.
I agree with those who say that we should be very vigilant about our security. None of us want a system where people who pose a threat are seeking an opportunity to do harm to Canada. I think we all agree on that. With respect to refugee claimants, we all know that there are some who come here who are not legitimate. However, the government seems incapable of acknowledging that there is a rigorous process, that those who do not meet the standards that are required under the law are sent back.
I would also suggest that, like any law, we need to periodically review and assess current legislation to see if it still works and to make improvements where necessary. That is our job as parliamentarians.
However, one would think, by listening to the Conservatives, that the country is being overrun by illegals. In the case of the Tamil refugees two summers ago, it seems that the Conservatives could hardly wait to gain some political advantage from the situation. It was a human tragedy made into political theatre, a race to the bottom.
I reject the idea that because we hold a different opinion on the bill it automatically means that we are soft on crime or we somehow do not care about public security. That is nonsense. As was so aptly stated in this chamber on an earlier occasion, when the only implement we have in our toolbox is a sledgehammer, everything starts to look like a rock.
There was no nuance, no compromise, no dialogue, no amendments, no costing and no acknowledgement that the issue was complex, nothing. Solutions are easy and simple. For the Conservatives it is all or nothing, the world is in black and white. That is not the reality. That is not the world in which we live.
The vast majority of refugee claims are legitimate. Men, women and children come here hoping for a life that is better than the one they had, so much so that they are prepared to risk all, and yes, even to pay smugglers for the opportunity for a better life. Why? For many people around the world, Canada is a place of hope and peace, but that will change under the Conservative government.
Smugglers should be confronted with the full force of the law, and we on this side are prepared to support legislation that does that. Again, the first nine and one-half pages of this bill only speak to denial of the rights of refugees. It only speaks to denial of the rights of victims. This bill is not so much about smugglers; at its core it is about punishing individuals who seek refugee status.
International law is clear: it is not a crime to seek asylum. It seems the Conservatives wish to send the message that even if an individual has a legitimate claim, he or she cannot expect to be treated with the human dignity that should be afforded to all people but instead are treated as a criminal first, in fact worse than a criminal.
In this country suspected criminals have a right to appeal. Suspected criminals have a right to be protected from arbitrary detention. Suspected criminals are assessed on the basis of reasonable and probable grounds based on belief. The lower threshold that is being applied to asylum seekers in this bill is reasonable and probable grounds based on suspicion. The refugees are treated as less than suspected criminals.
It also gives rise as to whether this bill is constitutional, which is what I will focus on. I do not believe, nor does anyone on this side believe, that this bill will withstand a charter challenge. Certainly the Canadian Bar Association does not believe it. Certainly the former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board does not believe it. I believe that the Supreme Court of Canada, as soon as it gets the chance, will strike this bill down.
This bill calls for mandatory detention for a year. In 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law that called for mandatory detention of 120 days under a security certificate. This is three times worse than a law that has already been found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada and yet the Conservatives plow on.
Canadians should know that the Conservative government has already decided that amendments will not be considered. Let us think about that. Let us consider the obvious problems this punitive measure has when judged against the charter. Does this proposal from the Conservatives in any way sound like the Canada we know? Is there not anyone over there on the Conservative benches who can see the clear violation of sections 9 and 10 of the charter?
Let me close by saying that I have no doubt the government will get its way and that this bill will be rammed through the House. That does not make it right. That is regrettable.
We who believe in the charter, we who believe that people should be treated fairly cannot support this legislation. It fails the test of the charter. It fails the test of fairness. It fails the test of justice. It fails Canadians. We will not support this bill.