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House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was detention.

Topics

The House resumed from September 20 consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-4. Many of my colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken for and against the bill with great passion over the last few days. I will now inform the House of my views on this draconian and, as some would say, backward bill.

First, the bill would give the minister the power to create a two-tiered system and designate groups that he or she feels are an irregular arrival if the minister deems that people's identity or their inadmissibility cannot be determined in a timely manner. It would give the minister a new discretionary power that he or she can exercise in the public interest to order the arrival in Canada of a group of persons to be designated as an irregular arrival.

These individuals are then subjected to mandatory arrests and detention. Those who are detained are forced to wait at least 12 months before their cases are reviewed. This goes against section 9 of the charter that calls for prompt review of detention.

Those deemed irregular arrivals, which automatically makes them designated foreign nationals, would need to wait at least five years before they could apply for permanent residence, temporary residence, a temporary resident permit or an application on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

We cannot let the politics of fear undermine the Canadian commitment to protect the rights and freedoms of those who come to our shores fleeing persecution.

I will give an example of how the bill would hurt refugees to whom we should be giving safe haven.

In 2009, Mr. Arjan Tabaj and his wife, Anilda Tabaj, along with their daughter, Maria and their two sons, Vincenzio and Christian, were deported from Canada despite interventions personally made on the family's behalf by the former member of Parliament for Etobicoke Centre. These were made to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Mr. Tabaj is a partially paralyzed survivor of an assassination attempt during the elections in Albania. Albania continues to experience regular political assassinations and the shooters in this case are free due to alleged political connections. The Tabaj family has spent the last two years in hiding out of fear for their safety in that country. They were here in Canada before and were sent back.

Following the government's wrongful deportation, Mr. Wrzesnewskyj, the former member for Etobicoke Centre, privately sponsored immigration lawyer Katherine Ramsey to challenge the decision in the Federal Court of Canada. The hon. Madam Justice Simpson's August 30, 2011 ruling compelled the Government of Canada to issue temporary resident permits and visas to facilitate the Tabaj family's immediate return to safety in Canada.

Upon learning of the court victory, the Tabaj family left their hiding spot in Albania, first travelling to Greece and then to Italy. They finally arrived yesterday at terminal 3 at Pearson International Airport at 2:45 p.m. They finally came back after being sent to Albania.

Supporters and Etobicoke community members, including Mr. Borys Wrzesnewskyj, were present at the airport to greet this family. What a wonderful end to a tragic story.

This is a prime example how the government is failing to deal with the smugglers but hurting legitimate refugees.

The House of Commons and, in particular, the government, should realize what damage can result when we are dealing with refugees who come to our shores.

Many of us in this House and maybe some of the listeners today may not realize the terrible mistake that Canada made in 1944 when Canada refused entry of the S.S. St. Louis to our ports. On board the S.S. St. Louis were a shipload of Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany trying to find a new home. They were refused in many countries and, of course, at that time the minister made a terrible decision and he refused them access to our shores. The boat went back and terrible things happened to those people. That is an example of what we did wrong.

As Canadians, we have done things wrong and I think we realize that and we move forward with better legislation. I just talked about the Tabaj family. The Conservatives made a mistake as that minister in 1944 made a mistake. The Conservative minister made a mistake and he should apologize to that family for what it went through.

I bring this example of the S.S. St. Louis because Bill C-4 is a knee-jerk reaction, if we think about how it came out this summer, to make political points. Who are the points to? These refugees are not voting. However, like the Tabaj family, those passengers on that S.S. St. Louis were sent back to a terrible situation. We are fortunate that the Tabaj family came back here alive.

This bill fails to achieve its stated principle of cracking down on human smugglers and instead targets legitimate refugee claimants and refugees. I believe the House should pass our amendment that states the following:

this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-4, an Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, since the bill fails to achieve its stated principle of cracking down on human smugglers and instead targets legitimate refugee claimants and refugees, and because it expands the Minister's discretion in a manner that is overly broad and not limited to the mass arrival situation that supposedly inspired the introduction of this legislation, and because it presents an imprisonment scheme that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention, and because its provisions also violate international obligations relating to refugees and respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection.

I am a son of immigrants. They were welcomed into this country in 1952. Our family has been embraced by Canadians since that time. It is a great honour that I stand here today as a son of immigrants to represent the people of Sydney—Victoria. My father often stated that Canada was one of the best countries in the world because of its opportunities and fairness.

I believe when we draw up legislation in this House we must constantly ask ourselves two questions: Does it give opportunity to people? Is it fair? Those are two major questions that fit into all legislation. That makes our country one of the best countries in the world.

As we move forward with this legislation, we would hope that the government would see the relevance of these amendments that we are bringing forward and just stop here for one minute and see what we are doing here. I ask that it look at the amendment, take it back to committee and see what other countries are doing.

We have such a great record in this country dealing with immigrants and with refugees, which is why they come here. When we go into a business shop or go with a taxi driver, these are refugees who came here over the years and we gave them opportunities and they have given back to us.

Let us not go on the slippery slope for ideological reasons and have draconian measures that may suit some voters. Let us move forward as one of the best countries in the world, accepting people out there to come into our country. Just because they come by water, they should not be discriminated against?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill deprives some refugees of the right for five years to apply for permanent residence and therefore reunification with their families. This includes children.

I would like to ask the hon. member why he thinks the government is interested in blocking family reunification.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, it baffles me because Canada used to always welcome families. When families came ashore, we did not ask if it was economical. Is it economical to bring people here to let them work? I do not know what it is. It just does not make sense.

I have an example in my riding where we have, not refugees, but doctors who have come to Cape Breton and are working in our hospitals. They sometimes have to wait two, three or four years before their families can join them. It is ludicrous.

How are we going to get the brightest and the best people or refugees to come to this country if they are going to be split up from their families? It is just not fair. It is really against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for us to have those systems in place.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, similar to the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, I also have concerns. We have a lot of legal opinion that this bill would violate the charter and be struck down by the courts.

However, we also have, pertinent to the last question, obligations under the right to family, which is enshrined under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Even when someone has been designated, under this very difficult act, as legally entitled to remain in Canada, they must wait five years before being able to get the legal status to reunite with their family.

I wonder if the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria has any further thoughts on the way the act would actually violate our legal obligations to the right to the family.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is a great friend of Cape Breton and we always welcome her when she comes to visit.

Why do we need to go to the courts to settle these things? Why did the Tabaj family have to go to court? Why cannot we in the House during committee come up with very positive, very good legislation so that we do not need to go to the international courts? Why do we not, as a committee, look at what Australia and other countries are doing with refugees and immigrants to see how we can streamline this and make it more suitable to families.

We hear cases time and time again about how families are being split up. It makes them non-productive. The sooner they integrate into Canadian society as young families the better. They learn our culture and our languages. It is terrible that we are in a situation now where legislation comes from the government that is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and needs to go to the court system. That is why we have committees here to deal with that and move things forward.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the issue of fairness.

Members will recall that when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism introduced the bill, he said that the primary purpose of the bill would be to target the smuggler or the profiteer. When the member makes reference to the need to see bills that are fair, when we look at this particular bill, even though the minister talked about getting the profiteer, in reality, it would not do anything for getting the profiteer. The real victim here seems to be the refugees.

I appreciate the story the member made reference to in terms of the Tabaj family that came back to Canada. Here we have refugees who are victims in a country where they come in hopes of getting asylum, and now we have a government, through this legislation, making the family a victim once again.

I wonder if the member would comment as to the fairness of that.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have been watching the debate and we have talked about the smuggler and the profiteer. We need to get to the source. We should not wait until they come to our shores. We need to get to them in the countries where they are pulling off these stunts. We should be working with international police systems. That is where we should be going to stop these characters from doing this to these refugees.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in Bill C-4 as I have worked and do work with refugees. Every day I see the great work that is done for them through organizations such as the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association and others in northern Ontario, as well as across Canada.

I will offer some background on the bill. It is a reintroduction of Bill C-49 from the last Parliament. In part, it was drafted in reaction to the arrival of the MV Ocean Lady and MV Sun Sea to the shores of B.C. in 2009 and 2010. At that time, the government stoked fears that a significant number of the individuals aboard those vessels might be criminals or might have links to the Tamil Tigers, a listed terrorist organization. That is where Bill C-4 comes from, just so people understand.

This is my analysis of Bill C-4. It is by no means complete but all I am able to fit into nine minutes or so.

The minister can designate any group of refugees as “irregular arrivals” should he believe that examinations to establish identity and so on cannot be conducted in a timely manner. Another criteria would be if it is suspected that they have been smuggled for profit or that a criminal organization or terrorist group was involved in that smuggling.

Designated claimants are then subjected to all kinds of special rules. This is my concern. It is discriminatory. It creates two classes of refugee claimants. It possibly violates the charter's equality rights, as well as the refugee convention which prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence.

It is important to remember that designated claimants, including children, will be mandatorily detained upon arrival or designation. There will be no review by the Immigration and Refugee Board of their detention for a year. Their release is only possible if they are found to be a refugee or if the refugee board orders their release. The minister may determine there are exceptional circumstances.

My concern is that this mandatory detention is a clear violation of the charter. The Supreme Court has already struck down mandatory detention without review on security certificates. It could imply indefinite detention on the basis of identity with no possibility of release until the minister decides identity has been established. Arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties.

Mandatory conditions set out in regulations would be imposed on all designated claimants released from detention. This also causes me concern as the conditions are not specified but rather are based on unfair principles that do not take individual cases into account. It could be very burdensome as well as very expensive.

Once a designated claimant is accepted as a refugee, regulations require that he or she must then report to an immigration officer to answer questions. The decisions made regarding designated persons cannot be appealed. Not only is this discriminatory and risks violating provisions in the refugee convention, it is similar to the government's attempt in previous legislation to exclude nationals from designated countries from an appeal process.

A designated claimant cannot apply for permanent residency for five years. If the person fails to comply with the conditions or reporting requirements the five-year suspension can be extended. This rule applies to those accepted as refugees as well as to those who have been refused or have never made a claim. The worst consequence for accepted refugees is that this rule can delay reunification with their spouses and/or children for five years or more.

Designated persons can make a humanitarian and compassionate application and apply for a temporary resident permit before five years. My concern is that this would be an undue barrier for humanitarian and compassionate claims. It may also be a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as there will be no opportunity to consider the best interests of the child.

Article 28 of the refugee convention says that states must issue travel documents. That does not apply to designated persons until they become permanent residents or are issued temporary resident permits. This means that designated refugees cannot travel outside of Canada for at least five years after they have been accepted as refugees. My concern is that this is an attempt to legislate away the rights of refugees established by international treaty.

The minister can make retroactive designations for arrivals in Canada since March 31, 2009. For example, the passengers of the Ocean Lady and Sun Sea could be designated.

What is happening is the Conservatives are playing politics with refugees, pure and simple . They are trying to frame this as a public service or public safety issue. The bill was introduced by the public safety minister, despite the fact it primarily deals with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This is an immigration and refugee issue not a public safety issue. The current law has dealt with the cases of the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea quite adequately.

The New Democrats recognize and respect our responsibilities to refugees. The Conservatives have taken an approach that would damage our standing in the international community and violate our commitments under the convention relating to the status of refugees, the refugee convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The proposed process is unclear, arbitrary and ultimately very discriminatory. It will not curb human smuggling.

In my opinion, the Conservatives should be less focused on photo ops and more focused on enforcing the existing laws against smuggling. Rather than playing politics, they should provide the RCMP the resources they need to get the job done.

There are many organizations which do not like the bill. The Canadian Council for Refugees has called for the bill to be scrapped. Amnesty International Canada stated that this bill:

...falls far short of Canada's international human rights and refugee protection obligations and will result in serious violations of the rights of refugees and migrants.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has issued a scathing attack on the government's attitude toward refugees.

Ultimately this goes against Canadian values. We in this place and a majority of Canadians believe that as a free nation we have a responsibility to ensure that we provide a home to those refugees and migrants escaping situations that have put their lives and the lives of their families in peril.

As members can imagine, I will be voting against the bill. I welcome any questions the members may have.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would comment on why the New Democrats think Canada is still being chosen as a target for these ships.

The Sun Sea was a vessel, if we could call it that, that departed from Thailand, travelled halfway around the world and passed within miles of many other destinations that could have provided safe shelter. Instead, it headed for Canada, not only because it was the safest destination, I would argue it was because the smugglers knew we have a very generous immigration system.

Why would the member want to see Canada exploited for that purpose?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are approaching this issue on the basis that everyone is evil. They believe that people who arrive on our shores looking for a better life for themselves and their families do not deserve to be here and should go to some place else. The Conservatives are saying that Canadians do not want to help them.

To answer the hon. member's question, the current legislation allows for a life sentence for human smuggling. We have existing laws on the books that do that.

I reiterate that this is not a public safety issue. It should be a refugee issue.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's presentation. I heard him say that there is a possible charter violation in this legislation. He made reference to the 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Charkaoui case where the 120 day mandatory detention was struck down. The Canadian Bar Association and many legal commentators have been unequivocal in their criticism of this legislation because of charter violations.

In view of the comments made by the Supreme Court of Canada and the legal commentators on the case, is it not the case that this is more than a possible charter violation? I would suggest that it is virtually certain the bill runs afoul of the charter.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of sections that Bill C-4 would violate.

Section 15 of the charter talks about equality under the law. Bill C-4 would create a new second class of refugees who are denied a temporary resident permit or a humanitarian and compassionate grounds application. For all of these reasons it would go against that section and section 9 of the charter, which deals with arbitrary detention.

We are simply not allowed to do that. This legislation calls for that and it is wrong.

I also mentioned the UN convention relating to the status of refugees. The bill is probably in violation of it.

Article 31 states:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

The UN convention would also be broken by this legislation.

It is unfortunate that the government has a majority in this particular case. I hope the bill will go to committee and that the parts of it that are contrary to our charter of rights and the UN convention will be struck down.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

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.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is continuing the rhetoric we keep hearing from the NDP members, proving once again they are really not ready to govern this nation.

Public safety is at the heart of these measures. If Canada cannot maintain the integrity of our borders, if we cannot control who shows up, who wanders our streets or who has access to our health care and benefits, then we have a serious problem. This is why the bill is so important.

Why is the hon. member so quick to dismiss the expectations of law-abiding Canadian families that their government will stand up for them and keep our borders, streets and communities safe?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has nothing to do with the expectations of Canadians. Canadians expect the government to uphold our Constitution, to uphold our law and to respect the international covenants that we have signed.

In regard to this law, we have all kinds of laws and legislation to protect Canadians against smugglers. Smugglers are supposed to get life sentences if they are caught. The government harps constantly that deterrents are the solution to all. If deterrents are the solution to all, we have the deterrents now.

We do not need to jeopardize the men, women and children who are dependent on our civility and on our sense of human dignity.

In terms of ability to govern, I do not see it over there. This opposition is ready to offer the compassion, security and intelligent, practical kinds of laws Canadians want.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's passionate defence of civil liberties and the rights that we have taken on internationally to protect the rights of refugees who come to our shores.

Has she examined the claim by government members that there is some kind of queue for refugees and that these people are jumping the queue? I find that the strangest part of the propaganda for this bill, the notion that there is a queue for refugees. Clearly, in my view, there is not.

I would like to hear the comments of the member for London—Fanshawe.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is very insightful.

The reality is, and I encounter this from time to time when I meet with my constituents, there is this notion that there is a back door and somehow people come in through that door. The truth is there is no back door. There is no front door. We have been rejecting people. We have been sending them away for years, since the government came into power.

A case in point is this. My community has a significant number of Colombian refugees. They are fleeing a draconian government. They are fleeing death sentences. They were labour leaders and business people. In fact, a family in my community right now faces being deported. Family members were told point blank by the FARC that they would be executed, so they ran to Canada, yet they are going to be deported.

My rationalization for this rejection of virtually all Colombians is that onerous and ridiculous free trade agreement that the government signed between Canada and Colombia, an agreement that never should have been signed.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is framing this bill as an attack on trafficking, smuggling and public safety.

Could the hon. member tell us who the bill really targets?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill is targeting the vulnerable, those who are seeking asylum, because the government somehow thinks that it is going to gain points with its base if it appears to be tough on those people who it agreed to bring in to Canada under UN agreements.

In terms of smuggling, as I said in my remarks, in 2007 the committee on the status of women did a study of human smuggling. We have found absolutely that not only were people coming into this country because they were impoverished, but they were being further taken advantage of by the lack of supports here.

There is much to do, and the government refuses to do any of it.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a personal connection to Bill C-4, since my parents are Vietnamese. I know a lot of people who are real refugees and who are commonly known as boat people. I grew up in Brossard, a wonderful, multi-ethnic city where four out of ten people are immigrants, which makes for a dynamic and very diverse multi-ethnic population.

In my riding of Brossard—La Prairie, immigration is important. Twenty-four per cent of the population has ties to immigration. I know from a personal perspective what it is like to be an immigrant, even though I was born in Canada. I know a lot of people and have friends who went through extraordinary ordeals to be able to come to Canada. There are a lot of challenges and difficulties related to that, and that does not just go for the Vietnamese community. There are the Chinese communities, the Jewish communities and the Italian communities. I know it is not easy to be an immigrant, and it is even more difficult to be a refugee.

A large number of families choose to live in Canada for its quality of life. We are an appealing host country, but people do not choose to come here just because they want live here. It is also often because they must flee their country. They do not really have the choice. They decided to leave a country where there is discrimination and where their rights are affected. International law guarantees anyone fleeing persecution the right to go to another country and seek asylum. That is why we have a refugee system. The system exists. The laws are there. It works.

A number of newcomers are fleeing their countries for political or economic reasons. Once again, the Vietnamese community is familiar with that. Starting in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese tried to leave their country by sea to come live in Canada, an open and democratic country that respects human rights.

Canada must offer protection to refugees and to people who fear persecution if they return to their country of origin. So why did the number of asylum seekers in Canada decrease drastically between 2009 and 2010? We are talking about 10,000 fewer people.

The repressive measures in this bill are being criticized by many civil society organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Amnesty International is saying that Bill C-4 does not respect Canada's obligations in terms of human rights and the protection of refugees and immigrants.

This government's draconian measures are being rejected by all of the opposition parties and denounced as illegal and punitive by a number of community, religious, union and human rights groups.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the coming into force of the UN Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees. Sixty years. Bill C-4 strikes me as an odd anniversary gift from the Conservatives.

I know that many Canadians want to be tough on smugglers and illegal immigrants, but this bill punishes the refugees and not the criminals. It does not target the smugglers. It does not target the criminals. Individuals and families are the ones being targeted.

I also know that the majority of Canadians do not want to see refugees, including women and children, imprisoned for having sought asylum in Canada. Think about it: a welcoming gift of having children and parents put in prison.

The bill, as it stands, sets out detention rules and a review procedure for the detention of certain types of foreigners. This is yet another policy that divides. Can you imagine a young mother coming to Canada—a place she thinks is free, safe and known the world over to be tolerant and open—only to find herself in prison in Vancouver? Is that really how Canadians wants to welcome political refugees?

The Conservatives are saying that this bill will cut down on human trafficking. But in reality, this bill, as it stands, concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Immigration and penalizes refugees.

The NDP is proposing that the criminals—the traffickers and smugglers—be punished directly.

As currently drafted, Bill C-4 punishes legitimate refugees and the people who try to help them. The proposed process is neither clear nor transparent and, in addition to being arbitrary, it is ultimately quite discriminatory.

Just a few months ago, Parliament passed a new law concerning refugees. What we really need now is better enforcement of that law, not new legislation. We must help equip the RCMP with the tools required to go after criminals. The Conservatives should spend less time on photo ops and more time on proper enforcement of existing legislation dealing with human trafficking. They should also provide the RCMP with the resources they need to do their work effectively, rather than playing political games.

The government wants to satisfy its right wing by using the refugee issue for political purposes. The Conservatives are making this out to be a matter of public safety, but that is not the case. Even though the bill was introduced by the Minister of Public Safety, it primarily concerns the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act . This is about immigration and refugees. Make no mistake. It is not about public safety.

With Bill C-4, there is a total violation of refugees' rights. The Canadian Bar Association, which did not support Bill C-49, the former version of this bill, said that the bill “violates Charter protections against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention, as well as Canada’s international obligations respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection.”

The NDP cannot support this bill because it could violate section 15 of the charter, which concerns equality before the law. It also creates a second class of refugees who are refused permanent residence. They are also refused a temporary resident permit, the right to apply for permanent residence on any humanitarian grounds and access to travel documents for refugees. This creates inequality before the law simply because the minister has designated these people based on the means of transportation they used to enter the country.

My parents are Vietnamese and I know many people who have fled Vietnam by boat. They crossed the seas and risked their lives for a better future for their children here in Canada. They are not criminals. Under this legislation they could have started their new Canadian life here in jail.

The Conservative government has a blurred understanding of human trafficking, mixing up human trafficking, human smuggling with the irregular movement of refugees. Those are very distinct notions. The government must be aware of that.

Most refugees are themselves fleeing from very difficult and oftentimes very dangerous circumstances, hoping to arrive in Canada, a more tolerant and free country, but they could end up in jail for up to a year. Imagine a mother of three children ending up in jail in Montreal because she has been deemed irregular by the government. The government is once again playing on people's fear. Is it really the way the Conservatives want to rule this country? The opposition cannot support this kind of governance.

The Conservative government is using Bill C-4 as a marketing tool, while on the other hand saying it will protect Canada from human smuggling. What the government really wants is to discourage immigration. It also wants to satisfy its base.

I strongly stand against Bill C-4.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his speech. Certainly, I acknowledge how Canada has been enriched by the addition of so many immigrants from a wide variety of countries and, certainly, I applaud that, and I welcome him. I also welcome his presence here in the House.

However, there are a couple of things that have come out in the last two speeches that I think need to be corrected on the record. There is an implication that somehow Canada is losing its spot in the world as a compassionate country.

I need to remind all hon. members of the action of our Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which actually increased our refugee numbers by 2,500 per year. We are now well over 14,000 per year, the highest per capita in the world. Obviously, all of us would like to do more and we are, as I said, increasing by 2,500 per year.

However, we need to remind ourselves that this bill is an effort to bring balance and fairness into the system.

I would just ask my colleague, is it not fair that border officials and our security officials should have the tools to determine whether, in fact, the persons who are seeking asylum is who they say they are and whether or not they are simply facing persecution or, in some cases, possibly actually fleeing prosecution?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us not forget, here in Canada, when we talk about the respect for refugees and having refugees coming to Canada, Amnesty International Canada says that Bill C-4 falls far short of Canada's international human rights and refugee protection obligations, and will result in a serious violation of the rights of refugees and immigrants.

We are saying, yes, we need to have stricter application of the laws, but they already exist. We need to also support the RCMP, giving them the tools to apply the laws, but not to create a new bill that would actually affect the rights of refugees.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There will be two and a half minutes left for questions and comments after question period, but now we will move on to statements by members.

WallaceburgStatements By Members

September 23rd, 2011 / 11 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, on August 20, I had the honour of attending the TSN/Kraft Celebration Tour events held in Wallaceburg.

Wallaceburg garnered the highest number of online ballots in history to win the competition and claim the $25,000 prize. Although this is a huge accomplishment, to me the bigger story was the presentation of a cheque for $5,000 raised in one morning by the people of Wallaceburg which they donated to Trenton, their competitor.

As one of the hardest hit Canadian communities during the last decade, Wallaceburg, a town of 11,000, has lost 6,000 jobs during this time. Wallaceburg is well known for its generosity in the face of adversity. In this case it showed what it is really made of again.

Residents demonstrated one of the finest examples of community spirit I have ever seen. I applaud the people of Wallaceburg. It is indeed my privilege to be their member of Parliament.