House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was smugglers.

Topics

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member if she would elaborate on how this legislation would violate our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, just as the Conservative government has tried to propose changes to our citizenship in Canada that would create two classes of Canadian citizens, it is now proposing measures that would create two classes of permanent residents in Canada.

Some of the most vulnerable people, as I have mentioned, are incredibly strong at heart to survive reversals that we cannot even imagine, including the loss of family members, disasters and crimes against humanity, but they would be subject to being a different class of permanent resident because of the Conservative government's attempt to penalize and punish refugees as a way to pretend to make Canada's citizens safer.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, we were in office at the time of the September 11 attacks, and we always tried to strike a balance between openness and vigilance. We must fulfill our responsibilities to protect citizens and fight crime, but at the same time, we do not want to build a wall around our country.

Can my colleague tell us just how dangerous it would be, under this bill, to ignore the fact that, when it comes to immigration, each refugee case is specific, and to start discriminating against certain countries, certain groups and certain people, which would put a black mark on them and prevent them from entering Canada?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

This Conservative government is seeking to politicize everything that has to do with immigration. It has given the minister decision-making power that once was in the hands of the proper authorities. It is very dangerous for Canada to have an immigration system that is so politicized that immigrants will not speak up about things they do not like for fear that the minister will punish them for decisions made by their home country and the migrants from their country.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

September 20th, 2011 / 11:40 a.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise in this House today to oppose this bill, which has been described as draconian by a number of experts, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. This bill is discriminatory and gives too much power to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

This bill authorizes the minister to designate as an irregular arrival the arrival in Canada of a group of persons. Those persons can thereby become designated foreign nationals. Their fate is left in the hands of the minister. In fact, if the minister deems that examinations could not be done in a timely manner, if he suspects that the persons were smuggled in exchange for money or that a criminal organization or terrorist group is involved in the smuggling, these refugees become designated claimants.

These designated claimants are then subjected to a host of abusive and discriminatory rules. Such measures would be inconsistent with the rights granted under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and would violate section 31 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence.

Furthermore, this bill clearly violates the charter. The designated claimants—and that also includes children—must be detained upon their arrival or when they are designated. Their detention will only be reviewed after one year, or longer if the minister deems that their identity has not been established. These designated claimants may only be released when it has been established that they are refugees or when there are exceptional circumstances.

This bill obviously gives the minister too much power. This bill is arbitrary and gives the minister a great deal of discretion regarding the status of these people. These people have just arrived in Canada and are immediately treated as criminals, placed under suspicion, and, in the case of designated claimants, detained.

The Supreme Court has already abolished mandatory detention without review of security certificates. The court was clear: detention without valid reasons cannot be allowed in Canada. And yet this bill seems to ignore the Supreme Court decision.

This detention provision would allow indefinite detentions based on identity issues. There would be no possibility of release until the minister deems that the identity of the designated applicant has been fully established.

Canada has ratified many international treaties that prohibit arbitrary detention. Why does this government wish to pass a bill that would allow officers to go ahead with arbitrary detentions? Furthermore, the conditions for release are not specified. It might be a complex administrative task to establish conditions without considering individual cases.

What concerns me is that the decisions made by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism regarding applications by designated persons cannot be appealed to the refugee appeal division. This fuels my fear that this bill advances a process based on arbitrary decisions. I wonder about the recourse open to these designated applicants.

This provision could seriously contravene the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which protects refugees from such laws. My NDP colleagues also reminded the government of the provisions of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees when the government attempted to prevent refugees from certain countries from appealing decisions.

This bill unfairly attacks refugees and does not resolve the underlying problem. It is based on arbitrary decisions by the minister, decisions that cannot be appealed.

The bill does not stop there. It even limits claims on humanitarian grounds. Once people become designated claimants, they can not make a claim on humanitarian grounds or apply for a temporary resident permit for five years. This provision is just one more obstacle. The bill goes much too far.

Despite the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, designated claimants cannot receive a passport. Article 28 of the convention, which requires States to issue travel documents, would not apply to designated claimants.

That means that the government is suspending some of the rights of designated claimants. What is the government trying to do? Alienate all refugees? Criminalize them as soon as they arrive?

This bill not only has a significant effect on the rights of refugees, but it also applies to previous cases. Under a retroactive designation provision, the government can consider anyone who has arrived in Canada since March 2009 as a designated claimant.

We see here the scope of the power that this bill grants to the minister. He can go back to 2009, decide that a refugee is a designated claimant and impose all the provisions that accompany that status on the person in question.

This bill attacks refugees rather than the real culprits: traffickers and smugglers. There is already a serious sentence for those who are found guilty of human trafficking: life in prison. This bill unfairly punishes those who are trying to seek refuge in Canada and encourages discriminatory practices.

What worries me is the significant amount of power that would be granted to the minister if this bill were passed. The bill is based on the minister's decisions.

We must ask ourselves what the Conservatives hope to gain with such a bill. They claim that they want to fight the spread of human trafficking. Their solution is to give the minister the power to make important decisions on the status of refugees without giving them the ability to appeal that decision. The Conservatives' solution is to detain children for as long as it takes to determine their identity.

The NDP recognizes that human trafficking is a problem but it is proposing real solutions that address the real problem. The criminals—traffickers and smugglers—are the ones who must be punished.

Several months ago, the House passed a bill regarding refugees. It was strong but also balanced and fair. I believe that we should focus on improving the enforcement of that law.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Montcalm, for her speech.

This bill is a little odd, in light of the fact that changes were recently made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I would like my colleague to tell us why she thinks we have this new bill. Why has it come to this? What is the current legislation lacking for us to have a fair and equitable system?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I will use my time to mention that there is already legislation to punish traffickers. We already have a system to welcome refugees. Yes, I said "welcome". We welcome refugees, mostly people who have suffered and who are coming to Canada in search of a better life. With this bill, Canada no longer intends to welcome these people. It would instead allow immigration officers to detain children. Do we want our country known for that?

This is a draconian bill. A number of experts have spoken out against it. It goes too far, and the best example of that is the mandatory detention of children. I am talking about children—young people who do not know what is happening to them. They have travelled very far to come to Canada. Their parents promised them a safer and better life, new friends and welcoming neighbours. I have a hard time imagining a smooth transition for these children. In fact, it is the complete opposite. Their arrival starts with mandatory detention. I cannot understand how the government can defend such a position or how it can think that it is necessary to detain children. I have a hard time understanding that someone could detain a frightened child who does not understand what is happening.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, how can we attempt to work on Bill C-4 without first understanding the problem?

The bill is based on false premises. For instance, we cannot compare ourselves to countries like Italy, where the African coast is 350 kilometres from the island of Lampedusa. Some tens of thousands of refugees arrive there every year. The island has become overpopulated, with people there living practically elbow to elbow.

It is a serious problem. The European Union has worked on finding humanitarian solutions to this problem. Here, we are not at all in the same situation. We have the Arctic Ocean on one side and no one will enter the country through there. Our context is not remotely similar and we are not dealing with the arrival of a large number of boats full of refugees. Even if we were dealing with that kind of situation, we would have to respond to it in a humane way. Putting everyone in prison will not change anything. It will only require more prisons.

I would call this bill the “restricting access to refugee status act“. We cannot expect Sri Lankan refugees to arrive in business class on Japan Airlines with their lawyers. For the most part, they are farmers or small business owners who have left a war zone, who were caught in the crossfire of the conflict. They left their country with whatever means they had. They pooled their money together, bought a rusty old boat and set sail to try to seek refuge somewhere. If they were a group of Saudi millionaires, they would have bought a brand new Airbus and arrived at Pearson airport or Trudeau airport with their passports and cash.

Let us be reasonable. The worst thing about this bill is the social tension it creates; it fuels the animosity of one part of the population towards a targeted group. Then, as soon as the public begins to demand action, measures are taken. That is not a vision; it is a refusal to see the facts.

It is important to look at our history. In the past, Canada has made some unfortunate decisions. Remember what happened to Japanese Canadians during the last war; remember the Chinese head tax. We have had to apologize for those decisions. Before we make another unfortunate decision, we need to reflect and not do something that we will need to apologize for later.

We have also done good things in the past. We welcomed those fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in eastern Europe.

We saw how critical people were of these refugees when they arrived. Many people said that there were too many Ukrainians, Germans, and so on. But we have had Ukrainian premiers and there are people from all backgrounds who have become some of the most productive members of our society. If we had pointed fingers, lumped them together and set up barriers in their path, we would not be where we are today. And what a shame that would be.

We now have a chance to make a dignified and generous choice, and I believe we have the means to do just that. It costs less to send a young person to university than to prison. We cannot be swayed by xenophobia and poor instincts. People having a morning chat in a restaurant are allowed to make extreme comments and pass judgment without much thought, but not those of us paid $160,000 a year to be here. We are supposed to think and act intelligently.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently as my friend opposite made his presentation.

We have heard a lot of opposition members complain that Bill C-4 discriminates, that it puts children in detention and that it denies asylum seekers due process, but when we drill down into the bill, that is not the case at all. It currently takes 48 hours to review someone's detention, and there would be reviews in 7 days, 30 days and 30 days after that. In Bill C-4 there is an advantage for people seeking asylum. There is ongoing review. As soon as people can establish they are legitimate refugees, they are released from detention, from wherever they are held. That is an advantage in this bill.

Does the member opposite not see that as an advantage? Why does the NDP focus on the hyperbole instead of looking at the facts and advantages in this bill?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives seem to think that everything happens in a perfect world. Bureaucracy is working well and there are regular channels that refugees can go through. However, I have before me a letter from one of my constituents who wrote to me from West Sussex, in the UK. He said he wants to sponsor his two daughters and bring them to Canada, but his efforts have been unsuccessful since 2010. He tried calling the immigration department office in Sydney, but the only response he got was on a broken answering machine and no one returned his call. He also wrote several letters, but received no response.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of comments I would like to make in response to everything I am hearing here today. First of all, I would like to pick up on my colleague's idea.

Bill C-4 is supposed to punish traffickers with a view to discouraging them. However, this bill punishes refugees more than traffickers. It punishes victims, people in distress who simply want to escape a miserable, atrocious psychological, physical, family-related or interpersonal situation. These people are in danger and simply want to get away from all that.

What is happening, however, is that out of fear, the Conservatives are trying to create a climate of distrust. I am talking about xenophobia. Then it becomes very difficult for immigrants, and I know what I am talking about. My parents had a very hard time integrating on a cultural level, because people do not trust one another.

I would like to ask my colleague if he has thought about how we could improve this bill by targeting the traffickers instead of legitimate refugees.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle must have sufficient time to answer.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, naturally, human beings do have unfortunate tendencies, such as not trusting other groups. We have even heard important people, here in Ottawa, say that there are too many French Canadians in the public service. We must be very careful because if we go down that slippery slope we are going to create mistrust. Of course, imprisoning children does not punish human traffickers. However, the idea of incarcerating our own children and sending them to adult prison is going a bit far.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-4 is profoundly unfair to refugees. This bill, as presented by the government, is vague, arbitrary and discriminatory.

How can the Conservatives justify the arbitrary detention of young children? It is simply bizarre for a political party in a country like Canada to present this kind of bill in this House.

I would like to know more about the process by which these designated persons are going to be designated. I see this as a flagrant lack of transparency. What powers will the minister have in all this?

The power to designate enables the minister to discriminate between two classes of refugee protection claimants based on the method by which they arrived in Canada. That means that a person who arrives by air would not be designated or affected by this legislation, but a person who arrives by boat would be. Equality before the law is a fundamental principle in Canada, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

How can they be proposing a bill that imposes a set of penalties on “designated” persons in direct contravention of article 31 of the refugee convention, which Canada has signed and which expressly prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees on account of their illegal entry or presence in the territory of a state, particularly where their life, their freedom or their security is threatened.

The government is giving itself the power to arrest and detain any non-citizen, even including residents, based on a mere suspicion of criminality. We are talking about mere suspicion. How can mere suspicion justify detaining people, including children? This is arbitrary detention, and I would remind this government that as such it is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I do not know whether this government thinks it can place itself above the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but, as if that were not enough, the Conservatives are not limiting themselves to designated persons or refugee protection claimants. This applies to all non-citizens.

This is an unbelievable assault on the rights of newcomers. Not only will we designate refugees arbitrarily, but we will also put them in detention with no independent review for a year. In addition, these persons will be designated arbitrarily without knowing the reasons why they are to be detained for a year. I would remind this government that the highest court in Canada has clearly held that detention without review for a long period of time is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

One Commonwealth country already tried to enact a bill like the one the government wants to introduce today. Not only do the Conservatives want to put children in prison—or in detention, the word means the same thing—but their bill does not address the real issue in any event, which is to punish the traffickers, not the refugees. The title of the bill is perfectly clear, but when we read the bill, we realize that the content does not, in any way, address the objective of punishing traffickers. What is happening here is that the refugees are being punished.

On that point, the Canadian Council for Refugees points out, “Mandatory minimum sentences will not deter: 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.” It also reminds us that Australia has tried punishing refugees in an effort to deter them, but it did not work.

I would also like to stress this fact, “The Australian public was deeply divided, with many previously unengaged citizens joining a grass-roots network to protest at their country’s inhumane treatment of refugees.” Why does this government want to push ahead when we know very well that the Canadian Council of Refugees is telling us this type of legislation is ineffective?

The Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national inquiry into children in immigration detention and its finding, unsurprisingly, was that children had suffered numerous breaches of their human rights. We are calling for Bill C-4 to be withdrawn. The government should review the bill and tackle the real problem.

As my colleague, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, said yesterday, between 2008 and 2009, the government had already spent $45 million. I know we have to talk about economics when we talk to the Conservatives, because it seems that human rights and social justice do not mean much to them.

To detain children and detain refugees, we are going to have to build detention centres. What money is going to be used to build them? Taxpayers’ money. Is this going to help us build our economy? No, unfortunately; it is only going to make us look like a country that does not respect human rights.

Let us talk about children now. It is impossible to read this bill without being outraged by the provisions that affect children. Detaining and deporting children—are these things really possible in a free and democratic country like ours? Unless they are accepted as refugees or released on discretionary grounds by the minister in exceptional circumstances, children will stay in detention for at least a year. How can that be justified?

I would also like to remind the Conservatives that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance. That is being completely disregarded by this government, which would deprive designated persons, including children, of the opportunity to make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds for five years, and I would repeat, with no right of appeal, which is a right instituted in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a fundamental right.

The conventions on refugees and the rights of children lay down specific requirements to protect the children’s freedom. Detaining children must be a last resort, and must be for as short a time as possible. A child may not be illegally or arbitrarily detained, and has the right to challenge the legality of such detention before a court or other independent authority.

Do the Conservatives really care about the family, the fundamental unit of our society? When I read this bill, I do not think so. Do the Conservatives recognize Canada’s past commitments on the international stage, or do they intend to enact an unfair, undemocratic and discriminatory law?

Let us talk about family reunification. As I said, designated persons may not make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds or apply for permanent residence for five years. This means that their family members, who may be in danger in their country, will not have the opportunity to come to Canada until five years have passed. That provision is an unwarranted barrier to making an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and is in direct contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In addition to blithely disregarding the rights of children, the bill deprives certain refugees of the security and stability they need in order to integrate into Canadian society.

I would also like to remind this government that Canada is among the countries that have signed these two conventions. Today, in the House, we see Canada completely flouting its international obligations. The United Nations General Assembly has affirmed the principle that human beings must be treated “without any discrimination” and are entitled to enjoy all of the fundamental rights and freedoms recognized.

In closing, I would like to remind this government, which makes it a point to tell us over and over how Canadians have given it a strong mandate to defend them, that only 40% of the public voted for this government, and 60% disagree with the policies it is trying to adopt today in the House.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the new member of the New Democratic Party for the passion in which she delivered her speech. However, I was a little discouraged in the fact that I found it short on facts and short, in some cases, on truth.

I have sat here this morning and I have listened to the New Democratic Party bring forward the misconception that bona fide refugees are being punished and that this denies international obligations. I heard the gentleman across the way, the past speaker, say that we were violating international United Nations conventions.

I would remind that party and that member that until these individuals are deemed refugees they are not refugees. They are asylum seekers until the IRB deems them to be refugees. Even if they are deemed to be refugees, they still may be inadmissible to Canada if they are found to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity or many of those other things.

I urge the member to be cautious in her blanket statement that we are treating refugees wrong. Canada is warm and open to refugees, but many of the people who come here are deemed to be asylum seekers who do not meet the criteria for refugees. For that, I would ask her to be cautious.

Why do NDP members needlessly impugn Canada's reputation in the world when they state that we are not living up to the obligations under United Nations conventions?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to remind the hon. members that the NDP does not need to impugn Canada's reputation on the world stage because this government has been doing so since 2006. The Conservatives have done a good job in that regard and continue to do so.

Second, refugees may not be allowed into Canada but that is not the issue. Does this really give the government the right to detain children illegally and arbitrarily? Does it give the government the right to treat refugees like criminals when they have committed no crime? My answer is no. It is illegal. It violates both international and Canadian law. It violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to give the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île a moment to catch her breath. I can feel her passion. She had a good vacation.

I agree with most of what she is saying but I would like to ask her a question. In a legislative process, we also have to propose amendments and give our opinions on the bill as a whole. How would she define the role of the immigration minister? Does the minister have the right to use flexible tools in some cases or must he simply be subject to a law?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, this bill gives the minister power without granting those affected by his decisions any right to appeal. They cannot be sure that the minister's decision will be impartial. Under this bill, the minister has all the power and is not subject to any sort of monitoring. The minister can basically do whatever he wants. That is exactly what is being given to the minister.

In a democratic society, a minister should never be given the power to make such important decisions that affect people's lives, safety and stability without the assurance that he will be monitored by someone. As it stands, the minister can do whatever he wants. We know this government's record. The Conservatives have a tendency to put the paperwork into the shredder and then there is no evidence. Right now, the minister can do whatever he wants and no one is able to monitor him.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île who gave, not only a passionate discussion of the issue, but also a very thoughtful one. I congratulate my colleague from Vancouver Quadra for her statements this morning, as well as the member for Laurentides—Labelle and the speech from the member for Scarborough—Rouge River which I had a chance to listen to yesterday.

I have also had a chance to listen to the interventions from the minister who took some exception to some of the statements made in the House and insisted that what Canada was doing was in the finest traditions of Canadian respect for the law. I want to take some time to ask how the minister can actually say that in good conscience.

He said that after the arrival of the boat from Sri Lanka, polls showed that the Canadian public wanted to refuse people all right of entry and that this measure was very modest in comparison to what the public were demanding.

I have the advantage of having been around for quite a while and I was present in the House during the debate on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was present in the House when we voted in favour of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think I am correct in saying that I am the only member here who can point to that. That debate focused on the question of what we should do to protect to minorities even when it is unpopular, because at that moment we were reflecting on our history as a country.

We were reflecting on the fact that if a poll were taken on the decision of the government of the day, which was a Liberal government, supported strongly by the official opposition, the Conservative Party at the time, to intern Japanese Canadians without trial, without right of appeal, simply on the basis of their race and on the basis of the minister having designated someone as a person of Japanese origin and who, therefore, would be incarcerated. If we had taken a poll that would have been very popular.

Is this something where we hold a finger in our mouth and hold up the finger to see which way the wind is blowing? That is not the issue here. This is an issue about the substance of Canadian law, the process that we must follow as a country in order to uphold our obligations to ourselves under the charter and our obligations to other countries. I will go back to the basics. i will use the words of my good friend from Crowfoot, the former chair of the House foreign affairs committee, with whom I had the great pleasure of working for a period of time. He said that everybody was an asylum seeker, that they are not necessarily a refugee. That is correct.

However, this law would give the minister the power, in effect, the obligation, to designate someone in a particular category so that person would be treated differently than another asylum seeker who is also claiming refugee status. The minister uses his power to designate an individual and, as a result of that power, that person is put in detention. That separates out different kinds of refugees depending on the circumstances under which he or she comes to Canada.

Let us be clear: the popularity of the bill is not the issue here. The Conservatives are telling us that they are concerned about the economy, but that is not evident in the debate. They are addressing the issue of refugees and introducing crime bills. The Reform Party is still there; it has not disappeared. The name of the party has changed, but the Conservatives have not changed their stripes. They are not concerned about the economy. They are concerned about something else.

For us, the issue is very clear: is it legal for the government to treat people who are trying to obtain refugee status differently, based on the way in which they arrive in Canada? I do not think that that is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter clearly states that everyone has the same rights and must be treated the same way. People cannot be treated differently based on the way in which they arrived in Canada, because this can be unfair to an individual.

Let us take our responsibility as members seriously. If the government were serious about this, it would refer the legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada. It would say that reasonable people, and that includes about every law professor and a former chair of the Immigration Appeal Board who I spoken to, have said that they do not consider this goes outside the framework of the law.

However, the government has chosen not to do that. It has not changed the legislation. It is the same bill it produced the last time the House would not have passed in its formation at that time, because the government did not have a majority. Now that it has a majority, it has said that it will go ahead and push the law forward.

For the members opposite, let me clearly make the position of the Liberal Party. We do not care whether the legislation is popular or not. The question is whether it is legal, constitutional and, therefore, the right thing to do.

I probably have spent as much time as anyone, with very few exceptions, particularly my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River who has lived with this issue, looking at the situation in Sri Lanka. If the government were to say that it wants to get tough on the people who are smuggling, we would say that smuggling is already illegal, that it is already against the law. It is not as if we have no legal structure in our country to deal with people trafficking in persons. It is not as if we have no laws to deal with this question. It is not as if we do not have the ability, if we can get the proof, to actually arrest people, charge people and have a trial. However, the purpose of the legislation, and the minister said it yesterday, is to ensure that people who might consider trying to come to Canada under these circumstances think long and hard before they do it.

Therefore, contrary to what the Conservative member from Musquodoboit said earlier, this is not about treating people who come by this means more fairly, which was an absurd argument, This is about actually discriminating against people who were coming in this circumstance.

The government may win all kinds of kudos from people who say that this is right on, that we should lock those people up and throw away the key. Frankly, it is important for a political party to say that this is not the issue here. The issue here is the law of Canada, which includes the charter, which is the Constitution of Canada, and that is the weakness of this bill. I can take members hammer and tongs through every piece of sentence in this law and say that, in its most simple form, it creates two classes of refugees. If people come by plane, they are one class. If they come by car, they are in another class. However, if they come in a boat, we do not want to have anything to do with them. That is wrong. Like cases, people who are applying for refugee status, should be treated fairly and squarely, according to the fundamental principles of Canadian justice.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I have two very simple questions for the member for Toronto Centre.

First, would the member not agree that by again calling for the House to refer an important matter, a matter that is of urgent importance to Canadians, to the Supreme Court rather than legislating on it here that the Liberal Party is again abdicating its responsibility to address the concerns of Canadians?

The Liberals are all assembled in the House. Are they not abdicating their responsibility as legislators to take the steps to ensure that a legal vacuum does not exist?

Second, would the member for Toronto Centre not agree that Canada has been targeted by human smuggling groups, criminal groups, organizing boatloads of human beings to come to our shores because of the negligence of the Liberal Party over the years to legislate and to ensure that the rules were followed in this area?

Would the member not agree with those two points?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would not agree with a single sentence that the member has spoken.

I am really astounded that somebody of his experience would make that kind of a comment. It is proof that the red Tories are gone. I do not know where they once were, but they certainly are not over on the other side anymore. He has become a Reformer, just like the others.

The member says that there is a legal vacuum. There is no legal vacuum. This is a myth which is perpetrated by the other side. There is no crisis. People are not sitting on the edge of their chairs because of this issue. It is astonishing to me. What the Conservatives are doing is trying to whip something up and are responding in that way.

No, I do not agree with his point of view that we are abdicating responsibility. We are taking our responsibilities as members, and that is exactly what we are going to continue to do.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Toronto Centre for his very thoughtful speech. I also thank him for his very touching words yesterday during the tribute to our leader, whom we miss very much.

There is one thing I find very interesting regarding the creation of classes of refugees, classes of asylum seekers, and it has to do specifically with the issue in Bill C-4, which prevents foreign nationals designated by the Minister of Immigration from appealing a decision of the Refugee Appeal Division.

Yesterday, the Minister of Immigration gave an example: Australia's supreme court invalidated the provisions that prevent these claimants from appealing.

I would like to hear what the member for Toronto Centre has to say about this and about the Supreme Court of Canada.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government will obviously not be referring this to the Supreme Court. And if it does not refer it, there will be years of persistent appeals.

I have no doubt that the Supreme Court would clearly state that asylum seekers must be treated fairly and that they cannot be told that they have no right to appeal. That clearly goes against every fundamental trial opportunity in our justice system.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, given the experience of the member for Toronto Centre in Sri Lanka and his exposure to the issue, I would like to hear the member respond to the declarations by the Conservative government that this will be a deterrent, that punitive measures on refugees will be enough to keep people from fleeing for their lives and seeking asylum in other countries.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish we had more time to discuss that.

The question of the member for Papineau is a sign of the health of our caucus that these questions and answers are quite unrehearsed.

If we look at the pattern around the world, what creates a demand for refugee asylum are desperate circumstances in the countries in question. We can see a pattern in many parts of the world of profound hardship and deep problems, political oppression and other challenges.

The number of people who will claim asylum and get there in the most desperate of circumstances will grow all the time. That is what makes it important for us as a country to be clear on what we are about. As a country, we are about treating people fairly. The whole refugee structure is all about that.