Mr. Speaker, as this is my first chance to rise in this new session, I want to welcome you and all of my colleagues back to this place. It is good to see everyone and I look forward to our passionate discussions in debates to come.
Today I rise to debate Bill C-4 or, as the Conservative government has dubbed it, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.
When I started to read the bill, I must admit that I had an odd feeling of déjà vu. The name of the bill reminded me of a movie title that really has nothing to do with the movie itself; it seems out of place and even misleading. With its name, one might think that the bill would be straightforward and do what its name says, that is, prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system. Sadly, the bill will not do that.
As written, the bill misses the mark. It takes square aim at the victims of human smuggling, the vulnerable and the poor, those who are desperate to seek a better life and to escape the horrors of oppression, poverty, discrimination and mortal danger. We in the NDP do not believe that the solution to this, or any other problem for that matter, is to punish the victim.
The bill as worded would create two separate categories of refugee claimants. As such, it is discriminatory and a violation of charter equality rights and the refugee convention, which it clearly does. However, these facts do not seem to bother the government so far.
Let me point to more issues that I have with the bill as it stands.
Under this proposed legislation, we see that designated claimants could not apply for permanent residency for five years. Furthermore, if the person fails to comply with the conditions or reporting requirements, this five year suspension can be extended to six years.
This proposed rule applies both to those accepted as refugees and those have been refused or who never make a claim. For accepted refugees, the worst consequence is that this rule would delay reunification with spouses and children overseas for five years. These families have already suffered a great deal, but with this proposal the government seems bent on adding to their suffering.
We in the New Democratic Party have known for a long time that the Conservative government has not been very concerned about family reunification, but this adds to the lack of empathy on the government's part.
The Conservatives state that this bill will result in a reduction in human trafficking. But in reality, in its present form, the bill concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and unfairly penalizes the refugees. By contrast, the NDP wants to directly penalize the criminals: the traffickers and the smugglers. As it presently stands, the bill punishes legitimate refugees and those trying to help them. The proposed process is not clear, and it may be arbitrary and even discriminatory in the extreme.
Parliament just approved a strong and balanced refugee law a few months ago. What we need now is better enforcement. The Conservatives should be less focused on photo ops and more focused on enforcing the laws against human smuggling that we already have and give the RCMP the resources it needs to get the job done, instead of playing politics.
An attempt to play politics is precisely what this is. I am just getting to know many of my colleagues in this place from all across our great country and from all parties so I do feel pretty safe saying that many here in this room are either descendants of people who fled persecution and strife elsewhere in the world or have done so themselves.
When the masses of people from England and France came to this colder end of North America for the first time, many came to escape tyranny and persecution, and to seek a better life that was not available to them in their homelands. Those new arrivals, along with many first nations of this land, came together to be the founding nations of the country that we have today.
Our country is not always perfect but it is a shining beacon to the world, which is exactly why so many people are willing to risk their lives to come here, and that is precisely the point. By punishing the refugees who come here by such desperate means, the government will not reduce the desire of people from around the world to keep trying to come here. People will continue to want to come to Canada because of the greatness of this country. As long as we are this great and caring nation, people will continue to want to come and be part of it.
We should not punish those desperate refugees. We should punish the people who are trying to take advantage of their desperation. We must remember that the name of the bill is preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.
My New Democratic colleagues and I call on the government to do as the bill's title says, go after the human smugglers, and do not punish the innocent refugees who are simply seeking what so many generations before us came to this country to seek, which is a better life and a future for their children and families.
Under this bill, designated claimants, including children, will automatically be detained when they arrive or at the moment they are so designated. Children! Detained! How does detaining children solve anything?
Moreover, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada will not move to review the detention for a year. People can be released only if it is established that they are refugees. The board orders their release after a year; even then, it cannot release them if the government is of the view that their identities are not established or if the minister determines that there are exceptional circumstances.
In my opinion, this is a clear violation of the charter. We know that the Supreme Court of Canada has already put a stop to mandatory detention without a review of the security certificate. These provisions will result in indefinite detentions in identity issues with no possibility of release until the minister determines that identity has been established. Arbitrary detention is also a serious breach of international treaties. We are therefore asking this government to drop this bill.