Madam Speaker, I would first congratulate the member for Burlington on his election victory. I am glad his leader finally allowed him to speak his mind six months after his victory. I hope to hear from him sooner rather than later but I guess that is for his leader to decide.
I will speak to this bill, first, to express my concerns with its shortcomings and then, to suggest to the members opposite some of the ways the government may be able to improve it.
Chief among my concerns are the effects this bill will have on children and their families. My second concern is with the effect that this bill will result in wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on a non-existent problem and the negative effects this bill will have on our economy.
I am a family man. My daughter is a priority for me. One of the reasons I serve in this House is so she may grow up in a better world and have a better life. It is something I wish for all children, not just for my own and not just for Canadian children. I am sure there are many members in this House who have similar wishes and who wish for the well-being of children.
As members know, our country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This month, we celebrated the 21st anniversary of its ratification. It is an important document because it outlines the international consensus of basic rights of children. So, it is with great worry that I see that Bill C-4 may jeopardize our commitment to this important convention.
I do not want to believe that the government would detain children for up to a year just because the children were trying to flee the most dire circumstances, whether it be war, famine or persecution. Unfortunately, Bill C-4 would result in the detention of children. I think many Canadians will feel shameful when they learn that our government intends to detain children, regardless of their country of origin. Perhaps the government intends to build detention centres so Canadians will not be able to see its actions in this respect. Simply put, the detention of children that would result from this bill is not acceptable and runs contrary to Canadian values.
I will outline how the government would be in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I would like to explain a bit about this convention to the members opposite and to whom it applies.
Article 1 of the convention states:
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
The Conservative government often likes to speak of the age of consent in its care for children. This convention applies to all people aged zero to eighteen.
Bill C-4 would put us in contravention of Article 2 of the convention, which states:
States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
Subsection (2) states:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.
Bill C-4 would create two classes of refugee claimants with a different set of rights. In effect, the bill would discriminate against children who will fall under the category of “designated claimants”. This is in clear violation of Article 2 of the convention.
Bill C-4 would put us in contravention of Article 3 of the convention, which states:
In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
I think it is quite clear and obvious to the members opposite that this implies that refugee children must be treated in the same way we would treat our own children. I think members would also agree that they would not accept the detention of their own children, especially if their children were fleeing a war-torn area.
Bill C-4 would violate article 7(2) of the convention that states:
States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
Even if Bill C-4 had provisions for children to be detained, it would be difficult for the government to fulfill its obligations to the convention with its detention centres because of article 31, the right to play, and article 39, the right to psychological and physical recovery of child victims, which states:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.
It would mean that children would need to be provided with acceptable play areas, areas for cultural expression, access to psychological and counselling services and services that cater to the child's development. It is fine for the Prime Minister to use the UN to justify things like going to war, for his international position and beliefs on foreign affairs, yet reject a convention made by the same body to which we were signatory.
It is all fine and dandy to promote child and maternal health, except when the child and mother are refugees. We will have to build state-of-the-art facilities with play areas, educational opportunities, office spaces for the teams of psychologists and educators and medical staff.
This brings me to my second point, which is the costs incurred as a result of this ideologically piece of legislation.
Has the government factored in how much new detention facilities would cost? Did the government just think it could detain children, without fulfilling its obligations to the convention? Let us remind the government of its duties and obligations in this matter. Article 22(1) reads as follows:
States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties.
Article 22(2) states:
For this purpose, States Parties shall provide, as they consider appropriate, co-operation in any efforts by the United Nations and other competent intergovernmental organizations or non-governmental organizations co-operating with the United Nations to protect and assist such a child and to trace the parents or other members of the family of any refugee child in order to obtain information necessary for reunification with his or her family. In cases where no parents or other members of the family can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason, as set forth in the present Convention.
Rather than punish the victims, we should show compassion and help them integrate into our society. I remind members across to look at what happened in 1979 and 1980 when over 50,000 Vietnamese people arrived on our shores by boat. These refugees came from a war-torn nation that was considered an enemy of our neighbours. From listening to media reports of the day not everyone was happy with their arrival, yet the progressive government of that day showed leadership in helping the refugees integrate. The Vietnamese Canadian community have been vibrant players in Canada's economy. We have two members within our caucus who come from this community, the member for Brossard—La Prairie and the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.
I pause to think how low we have sunk with this terrible legislation.
The bill only drives home the fact that the Conservatives have given up the “progressive” label and that they fail when it comes to progressive leadership. Instead of integrating, they are saying that people have to wait five years. Instead of welcoming these people, they are detaining them and children.
We should actually love our neighbours, not fear them. We should provide, within this legislation, a part where children and their families will be able to apply for humanitarian and compassionate exceptions.
The legislation, as it is written, is not acceptable. It should be referred back to committee to be altered.