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.