Madam Speaker, like many of my colleagues I spent the summer in my riding, Pierrefonds—Dollard, a riding in which more than 30% of the people are immigrants who have come to Canada from all over the world to search for a better way of life for themselves and for their children. I therefore often had the opportunity to take up discussions about issues relating to immigration. I heard a lot of frustrations and concerns about the management of immigration in Canada.
My introductory remarks may appear unrelated to the bill being discussed today, and I understand that the connection may seem tenuous, however I ask for your indulgence. I cannot open my remarks today without relaying the disappointment felt by my fellow citizens at our failure today to discuss their true concerns, such as immigration application processing times, the non-recognition of foreign credentials, and the dearth of funding for immigrant settlement and adaptation assistance.
Now that I have conveyed this displeasure, and since the discussion today concerns not this issue but rather coercive action against refugees, I shall now address Bill C-4.
I would like now to turn to research from Amnesty International, which shows that in Australia, unsympathetic views from the population toward asylum seekers are not racially motivated, nor do they stem from a lack of compassion; rather, the research found that community fear of asylum seekers stems from the media and both major political parties.
I think it is fair to suspect that our own government is guilty of diffusing such fears. Let us think back, for example, to 2009 and 2010, when immigrants arrived off the shores of B.C. in two different vessels, and the Conservative government of the day showed fear that a significant number of those individuals might have links with the Tamil Tigers, a listed terrorist organization. On that particular matter, Amnesty International reminds us that it is legal to seek asylum by boat under international and domestic law, and that nearly all asylum seekers who arrive by boat are real refugees.
This bill would in fact create two classes of refugees: one class of refugees who arrive by boat, and another class made up of all the others. In this regard, the Canadian Council for Refugees states that this is discriminatory and contrary to the charter, which guarantees equality before the law.
My colleague from Saint-Lambert made a very interesting remark: people do not necessarily choose how they escape a natural disaster or menacing regime; they take the first opportunity that arises to save their lives or that of their children. I know that it is inconceivable, but this bill would create two classes of refugees based on method of arrival.
One could be forgiven for wondering why the government has introduced this bill when it has made previous attempts to pass similar legislation. Why has the government not opted instead to introduce changes to assist in combating traffickers rather than refugees? I just alluded to the disparity in the treatment reserved for the two classes of refugees under this bill, but more to the point, this government is engaging in the rhetoric of fear. They refer to immigrants as potential terrorists. They speak of security rather than of issues involving immigration and citizenship. And yet, I believe this to be a matter of immigration and citizenship rather than national security.
On another note, I should stress that this bill would allow for the arbitrary detention of refugees. This matter has been discussed at length, so I will not belabour the point, but this bill could authorize the detention of refugees on the basis of the minister's suspicions or the refugee’s method of arrival. I would however like to focus specifically on the treatment of children under this bill.
I join my voice to that of the Canadian Counsel for Refugees and many other organizations that condemn the raft of measures proposed in Bill C-4, measures that fly in the face of our obligations to refugees and, of course, to children. Indeed, in addition to the proposed measures regarding detention, this bill would slow down the family reunification application process and prohibit applications to travel abroad for a period of several years.
On the matter of child detention, the Australian Human Rights Commission tabled a brief in May 2004 in the Australian parliament stating that child refugee detainees’ rights were repeatedly violated. More specifically, the Commission reported that Australian immigration detention law fails to protect children's mental health, provide appropriate health care, protect children's right to an education, and does not necessarily protect children in need of assistance or those with a disability.
Children arriving in Canada already face a number of challenges, even if they arrive under optimal conditions. They have to learn the language and adapt to the climate, a new culture and a new school system that is very different, and often they then have to help their parents and family integrate into this new country when they are sometimes the only one in the family who knows the language or the culture. With these coercive measures, children will hardly be arriving under optimal conditions conducive to their integration into the country.
We have every right to wonder if Bill C-4 aims to protect the rights of these children whom the government plans to so summarily detain if they are refugees that are suspicious or arrive by boat.
Our country signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I am very proud of that fact. This convention states that signatory states must take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children and to prevent all types of abuse, neglect or negligent treatment. Those protection measures are not being discussed today. We are talking about Bill C-4 and the possibility of detaining children, but we are not talking about what else will be put in place to protect these children who may be put into detention centres. What will be done to ensure that these children receive an education and care? That is not being discussed, and that is very worrying.
The New Democratic Party promised Canadians that it would develop a fair, efficient, transparent and accountable immigration system and that it would put an end to restrictive immigration measures rooted in secrecy and arbitrary decisions by ministers.
We also think it is important to increase resources to reduce the unacceptable backlogs in processing immigration applications, with an emphasis on speeding up family reunification. These are certainly not priorities that are reflected in Bill C-4.
The problem is that the Conservatives are saying that this bill will help reduce the magnitude of human trafficking. In reality, the bill as currently worded puts too much power in the hands of the immigration minister and unfairly penalizes refugees, as we discussed just now with my colleague. We see more than just measures for reducing trafficking. We also see measures that penalize newcomers.
My colleagues and I agree that we have to address trafficking and smugglers, but we are seeing more than that. The thing that worries me about this bill is the way refugees are treated.
Refugee determination by independent decision-makers is a fundamental aspect of a fair justice system. The way we receive refugees is often cited by the international community as a model of fair treatment, but this bill risks putting us in another category. It would not be the last time we disappointed the international community.
Can the minister tell us when the government is going to stop going after refugees and focus only on the criminals?