Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today to voice my outright opposition to Bill C-4, as introduced by the Conservative Party.
I echo my colleagues who, during debate yesterday, so rigorously exposed the major gaps and grey areas in this bill.
Without restating all of the points that were brought up yesterday, I want to say that it is clear that in the eyes of the House and the eyes of Canadians, Bill C-4 directly violates a number of international agreements that Canada has so proudly ratified, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In addition, it contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Let us remember that Canada committed to the rights of child refugees and migrants in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada's third and fourth reports highlighted the main measures passed from January 1998 to December 2007 to encourage implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning the involvement of children in armed conflict.
With regard to this report, the Government of Canada should also remember that it is accountable to many Canadian NGOs and to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who were asked to comment on the issues to be dealt with in the report.
Canada will have to justify any act that is illegal or violates ratified international agreements.
With regard to the protection of minor refugees, separated minors and unaccompanied minors requesting asylum, we should remember that, in August 2006, the Overseas Processing Manual used by Canadian immigration officers for resettling refugees was updated to include a new policy on guardianship.
The Guardianship Protocol established procedures for processing children who are dependents of the principal applicant and minors who are blood relatives, that is, separated minors with a blood relative in Canada who is not their father or mother.
This protocol recognizes that children are particularly vulnerable and encourages de facto guardians or blood relations to obtain legal guardianship. It ensures that the appropriate authorities closely monitor the well-being of these children.
This protocol also ensures that refugee children resettled in Canada receive the care and protection necessary to their well-being.
All recommendations for minor blood relatives made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees must reflect the child's best interests, and all the decisions made under the protocol must take into account the child's best interests.
In addition, the protocol provides a child with the opportunity to comment on the decision made in his or her regard. In April 2008, the Government of Canada updated its manual for protected persons, Processing Claims for Refugee Protection, to include guidelines taking into account the age and sex of the child.
The objective of these guidelines is to support the priority processing of the claims of vulnerable people, including children. These new guidelines respond to recommendations made by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that Canada should give priority to vulnerable people.
We avoid placing children in detention as much as possible, whether or not they are accompanied. We always try to find another solution that is in the child's best interests.
I would also like to reiterate the response of the Government of Canada to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights:
Both the Canada Border Services Agency and Citizenship and Immigration Canada have programs and policies in place to assist and protect vulnerable migrant children within their respective mandates....
Within this context, reuniting families as quickly as possible is a priority for the Government of Canada and a key part of the mandate of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In overseas family reunification, Citizenship and Immigration Canada works to fulfill its commitment to process most of these cases within 6 months. In the case of overseas refugee children, concurrent processing of refugee family members who are residing in different locations is facilitated. In the case of resettlement of eligible separated minors from overseas, a Guardianship Protocol adopted in 2006 provides visa and settlement officers with instructions on how to facilitate the resettlement of [these] children...
When unaccompanied, separated or otherwise possibly vulnerable children arrive at a port of entry, or if they are encountered anywhere within Canada, border service officials are trained to pay extra attention to all children and to refer a child to the appropriate provincial or territorial child protection agency, when there is a concern that the child may be at risk. Border officials are instructed and trained to be aware of factors such as age, gender, cultural background, and the child's general circumstances [whether or not they are a refugee]...A child may only be detained as a measure of last resort, and a school-aged child in detention must be provided with educational and recreational opportunities as well as counselling after having been detained for seven days....
Returning an unaccompanied child to his or her country of origin, or nationality, however, is a complex process and is based on the requirements of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Canada Border Services Agency works closely with [these] agencies...
I would also like to remind members of the commitment as part of the way forward that the Government of Canada made to the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights.
The government appreciates the care and concern that the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights has shown for children in its report. It has provided guidance on the way forward, and has encouraged a continued commitment to collaborative efforts to meet Canada's obligations under the convention.
The very process of answering the committee's report required extensive discussions and collaboration throughout the federal government, ensuring that policies and programs were again considered through the lens of the best interests of the child principle and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child... The government acknowledges that meeting the needs of children is an on-going process, requiring commitment and diligence.
The government will not waver from its goal of making Canada a better place for children and their families. So, with Bill C-4, can we be assured that children will be the greatest beneficiaries? Can we be assured that the government is still working towards the goal of making Canada a better place for children and their families? Can we be assured that Canadian laws and international conventions ratified in solidarity are being respected?
By trying to pass bills that violate human rights, the government is making a laughing stock of Canada. Many countries and international organizations are watching us and will be aware of the decisions made here. We must be careful not to fuel old prejudices that involve projecting onto foreigners all the evils and all the problems that might exist in a country, all in the name of gaining popularity among certain groups of voters.
Canada will need international allies to support its economy and ensure its growth. These are the same allies who scrutinize what we say and do, and how we treat our communities. To illustrate my remarks, here are a few excerpts from some Amnesty International recommendations. It is worth noting that Bill C-4 is a reincarnation of Bill C-49, which was introduced here and rejected by this House.
There have been serious human rights concerns with respect to the government’s response to the arrival of two boatloads of Sri Lankan migrants off the coast of British Columbia—the Ocean Lady in October 2009 and the Sun Sea in August 2010. Government ministers made inflammatory remarks about those on board, before the boats had even arrived in Canada—particularly with respect to the Sun Sea. They were described as illegal migrants, queue jumpers, human traffickers and security threats; and were accused of links to terrorism. Rarely was there any acknowledgement they might be refugee claimants. Notably all 76 individuals who arrived on the Ocean Lady were found to be eligible to make refugee claims and have done so.
...Federal political parties need to commit to: not reintroducing Bill C-49 after the election [this is what Amnesty International was calling for]; ensuring that any efforts to tackle human smuggling or human trafficking conform to Canada’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law.