Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-4, the so-called act to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system, and I do so with great trepidation. The bill is another misleading and ingenuous device by a government bereft of compassion and determined to exercise its majority with a punitive and heavy hand.
I would like to speak to two specific elements of Bill C-4, the first being human trafficking. The truth is that the Conservative government is playing politics at the expense of the human beings who need help and support to find a better life for themselves and for their families.
We studied the issue to trafficking human beings at great length in the status of women committee. The committee found, in its 2007 report, that the issue of human trafficking was complex and many steps needed to be taken to address this horrendous crime against vulnerable people.
The underlying cause of trafficking is poverty. Individuals are trafficked into Canada from other countries where there is no hope for a future. It often is more difficult for a woman to immigrate to Canada because there are many more barriers such as the need for money and education, which are for many women inaccessible. Immigration laws need to be changed to allow more women to immigrate on their own and not through means that leave them vulnerable to human trafficking. The temporary resident permit process needs to be reviewed and victims who have been trafficked should be sheltered for 180 days and allowed to work. The government should ensure their basic needs are met during this period.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act needs to reviewed and amended. In particular, section 245 (f) of the regulations states in part that a “victim having been under the control or influence of traffickers...is more likely to require detention”. This section needs to be eliminated. Many traffic victims are threatened with criminal or immigration exposure by their traffickers. That is preventing them from seeking help. Section 245 (f) assumes that these people are criminals and not victims. This simply reinforces the power of the traffickers. Steps need to be taken to help victims of trafficking or those in danger of trafficking instead of treating them like criminals.
The Conservatives claim that the bill cracks down on human smuggling. That is not so. As it is currently written, it concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Immigration and unfairly penalizes legitimate refugees. The government should, by all means, go after the criminals, the traffickers, the smugglers, but do not pursue a course of action like that proposed in Bill C-4 that jeopardizes the innocent and the vulnerable.
The other issue I want to discuss relates to the predecessor of Bill C-4, Bill C-49, introduced in the last Parliament in reaction to the arrival of the MV Ocean Lady and the MVSun Sea from Sri Lanka. When the MV Sun Sea arrived in B.C. in 2010, the government fanned the flames of fear and racism about the individuals on the boat by insisting that many of them may have had links to the Tamil Tigers. Without any investigation or efforts to determine who was on the ship or what they had endured, the government incarcerated 492 men, women and children and set in place barriers to their refugee claims.
What were these Sri Lankans trying to escape? Amnesty International provides some insights.
During the Sri Lankan civil war some 300,000 Tamil civilians were displaced by armed conflict and consequently detained in government camps. Those suspected of ties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE, more than 12,000, were detained separately. Many were held incommunicado and sometimes in facilities not designed to hold prisoners, or they were detained in secret places. Innocent civilians were trapped for months prior to the conflict's end, without adequate food, shelter, sanitation and medical care, or any access to humanitarian aid. The LTTE used civilians as human shields, as well as using threats and violence to prevent them from fleeing the conflict zone. Government artillery killed and wounded those same innocent civilians, including patients in hospitals and medical workers.
The government of Sri Lanka failed to address the impunity enjoyed by warring factions for past humanitarian violations and continued to carry out enforced disappearances and torture. Hundreds of Tamils continued to be detained in the south for lengthy periods without charge under special security legislation. Human rights defenders and journalists were killed, assaulted, threatened and jailed. Police killings of criminal suspects intensified.
In May the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the LTTE ending more than 25 years of armed conflict. However, an end to fighting did not end the government's reliance on draconian security legislation or stem human rights violations.
Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE violated international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan government used heavy weaponry indiscriminately in areas densely populated by civilians. The LTTE forcibly recruited adults and children as combatants, used civilians as human shields against the approaching government forces and attacked civilians who tried to escape. Independent accounts from the conflict areas were limited as access by the media, the UN and humanitarian agencies was absolutely restricted.
According to UN estimates, thousands of civilians died in the fighting. Displaced people reported enforced disappearances of young men separated from their families by the military as civilians tried to cross into government territory. The government did not reopen the highway to the Jaffna Peninsula until July, thus severely restricting civilian access to humanitarian supplies during the first half of the year.
By the end of May, civilians displaced by fighting were confined to government camps in the north and east where conditions were crowded and unsanitary. The Sri Lankan government initially banned humanitarian agencies from the newly established camps, which were run by the military, and only gradually eased restrictions to allow delivery of relief material.
Humanitarian workers were not permitted to speak to displaced people. Visits by journalists were tightly controlled and no independent human rights monitoring was permitted. By year end, restrictions on freedom of movement had been relaxed, but over 100,000 people remained in the detention camps and they were dying by the thousands.
During all this time and all this misery, the Government of Canada refused to act, refused to speak out, refused to demand an end to the atrocities. Canadians of Tamil descent came by the thousands to Ottawa to beg their country, to beg their Prime Minister to do something, to say something in the desperate hope that the slaughter of their families would end. The Prime Minister did nothing. Therefore, in fact, the government helped to create the refugees it denied in 2009 and 2010.
New Democrats recognize and respect our responsibilities to refugees. By all means enforce the many laws already in place to prevent criminals from smuggling human beings or trying to gain access to our country, but do not arbitrarily abandon our human obligations to others and do not further expose our country to the criticism of other nations, which wonder aloud what happened to Canada's respect for human rights.
The bill has been soundly criticized by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association and an expert panel at the Centre for Refugee Studies. They have told the government that Bill C-4 violates Canada's international human rights and refugee protection obligations. It violates charter protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention.
Bill C-4 undermines Canadian values of humanity, honourable conduct and obligation to our fellow citizens both at home and around the world. They are asking how their government could justify the detention of children, defend blocking family reunification and how it could justify giving the government the power to arrest any non-citizen or permanent resident without evidence of criminality. Indeed, Canadians are asking, “How did we come to this? How do we get our Canada back, the one that we love?”
We need a resounding “no” to this legislation.