Mr. Speaker, the time that I have just spent in my riding of Saint-Lambert has allowed me to gauge the extent to which the legislation that we pass in this assembly and the regulations made by the governments, may, for some groups of people, have devastating consequences that we had not thought of at the outset. I have met fathers and mothers who have to live apart from their children and their spouse forever because of one section in the regulations to the Immigration Act that creates a category of family members who cannot be sponsored. These tragic situations have allowed me to become more aware of the heavy responsibilities we have when we pass legislation. The future for hundreds, maybe thousands, of people may be irrevocably affected.
Canadians expect us to enact legislation that protects them and everyone living in Canada, whatever their status, and that does not violate their rights and freedoms. We must always keep in mind that our duty is to put in place laws that are just and fair for all. Laws that reflect, not only our most sacred values, but also the obligations that we have undertaken through the treaties we have signed.
In reaction to the illegal arrival of many foreign nationals who used the services of corrupt smugglers to abuse our immigration system, the government has introduced in Parliament new legislative measures meant to prevent other smugglers from facilitating such arrivals. The objective behind the government's initiative is definitely legitimate. Indeed, large-scale, random arrivals of individuals could dangerously compromise the safety of Canadians and could give rise to illegal human trafficking.
Unfortunately, the fact is that while the safety of Canadians remains a great priority, the government did not choose the right way to achieve that goal. Regarding our international obligations under human rights conventions signed by Canada, specifically, the Geneva convention of July 28, 1951, relating to the status of refugees, Bill C-4 is nothing short of disastrous because it completely misses the mark. Instead of targeting smugglers, the bill targets mainly asylum seekers, whether legitimate or not, as pointed out by the Canadian Bar Association.
The real challenge facing our democracy as a result of these large-scale and unpredictable arrivals “calls for...an effective response...in a way that appropriately recognizes the fundamental values of the rule of law” as stated by the Supreme Court, and the values that Canadians hold dear. The Supreme Court reminds us once again that, “In a democracy, not every response is available to meet the challenge of terrorism” or that, in relation to the bill before us today, the illegal arrival of foreign nationals does not give us the right to create discriminatory laws that destroy freedom and go against our international obligations.
Bill C-4 violates the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. It unduly penalizes refugees, asylum seekers and children. Our main concern has to do with the especially repressive slant the government is trying to introduce in a bill whose ultimate goal should be protection. Presented as an effective legislative measure against potential smugglers who might try to engage in human trafficking, Bill C-4 unfortunately contains very little to target smugglers directly. Most of the provisions in this bill punish not smugglers, but rather asylum seekers and refugees.
This bill disregards many of the rights that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by international conventions that Canada signed, in particular, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which was signed on July 28, 1951. With regard to this Convention, the bill creates two categories of refugees: refugees who are designated by their method of arrival and other refugees. The first category of refugees will not be treated as well as the others. In this regard, the bill introduces a double standard for victims of persecution who are seeking protection in Canada.
In other words, Bill C-4 is discriminatory in that it treats victims of persecution differently. And yet, according to the spirit of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, we should not question how refugees escaped the persecution they faced in their home country. In the face of persecution, there is no good or bad way to escape.
The right to equal access to justice is a fundamental right. Unfortunately, the government is in the process of destroying this principle through Bill C-4, which it introduced to the House on the pretext of preventing smugglers from abusing our immigration system when its unspoken objective is actually to go after refugees and asylum seekers.
“Designated foreign nationals” cannot even appeal an unfavourable decision to the Refugee Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The most serious criminals have full recourse but not the victims of persecution who are seeking to escape their tormentors.
If parliamentarians are asked to accept unfair laws, it will destroy the basis of our democracy.
Similarly, we cannot understand why designated foreign nationals must be deprived of the right to apply for permanent residence, why they must be automatically detained and why the government needs to add more reasons for detaining refugees.
I would like to end my speech by drawing the House's attention to the negative effects that Bill C-4 will have on the rights of the child.
In all cultures, the family is considered to be the mother cell of society. That is why one of the objectives that this Parliament assigned to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is that of facilitating family reunification.
By depriving some refugees of the right to apply for permanent residence for five years, Bill C-4 makes family reunification more difficult.
In particular it makes it harder for children to be reunited with their parents when they are designated foreign nationals; that is a clear infringement of the right to a family environment that is guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory.
Finally, Bill C-4 deprives designated foreign nationals, including children, of the possibility of applying for permanent residence for five years, even after the designated foreign nationals have been granted refugee status. But an application for permanent residence is the only way in which the best interests of the child can be evaluated.
If Bill C-4 is passed, it will give the government a tool that it will use to expel children from Canada with no due consideration of their interests. That is contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which our country is a signatory.
In a word, the bill targets refugees and refugee claimants instead of smugglers. It should be withdrawn because it is unfair.
The NDP is not alone in opposing it. When 88 major organizations all across Canada come out against a bill, when our legal experts in the Canadian Bar Association are opposed to a bill and lay out the grounds for their opposition, the government should pay attention rather than claim that everyone else is wrong. The objections that are ringing out all over Canada should be taken into consideration.