Mr. Speaker, since Confederation and leading up to it, Canada has served as a land of opportunity and hope for generations of immigrants who, from every corner of the globe, seek a better life for themselves and have even greater aspirations for their children.
Together, new Canadians and long-time citizens have worked co-operatively to build communities and to build a country that is second to none, and is a model for the world. Canada's distinction, uniqueness, strength and success are drawn in part from the cultural wealth arising from the diversity of all of its citizens.
It is from that strength we have built a country that is indeed immeasurably greater than any particular region, province, culture or group within it. Just as the measure of a person is how he or she treats others around him or her, stranger or not, fundamentally the measure of a country is how it deals with those men and women who seek refuge from poverty and violence, persecution and oppression, who arrive on its shores.
As parliamentarians it falls on us to make the rules that determine how these men, women and children are received. As a parliamentarian, it does well to be reminded that there are episodes in our past where we approached those seeking refuge in a manner that was misguided and wrong.
Incidents like the Komagata Maru in 1914 and the SS St. Louis during the Second World War resulted in refugees being forced to return to an almost certain persecution, and in far too many cases, death. Generations before them, we dealt poorly with the Chinese, imposing a head tax and then an outright ban on immigration, which was only lifted in 1947.
It is incumbent upon us to not make the same mistakes that generations of lawmakers before us made. That is why the legislation before us demands serious reconsideration.
The bill, despite its stated intention to cut down on human smugglers, fails to do so, and instead targets legitimate refugee claimants. The mechanism exists already under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to penalize an individual found to be engaged in human smuggling. As it stands, a human smuggler faces up to $1 million in fines and a maximum of life imprisonment for smuggling more than 10 people into Canada. Yet earlier this week, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism characterized the bill as a disincentive for human smugglers. I fail to see how the bill accomplishes that goal if the prospect of life imprisonment and a $1 million fine does not.
By granting the Minister of Public Safety the all-too-broad discretion to designate the arrival of a certain group of refugees as a “human smuggling event” or an irregular arrival subject to a mandatory one year detention, the government opens up any arrival of two refugees or more to be a potential crisis.
Once again, experts decry the move toward mandatory detention as not only ineffective, but also likely illegal. The government insists that it requires the time to determine the identity and admissibility and investigate illegal activity. However, existing statutes provide ample time for immigration officials to make these determinations.
Yet again this is an example of a government that refuses to deal with the complexities of a given situation, of a government that refuses to see an issue any other way than in black or white. Much like its misguided mandatory minimum provisions in the omnibus justice bill, it is attempting to force through the House, the solution the government has arrived at is to detain and then incarcerate that which it cannot understand.
Further to mandatory detention, the bill will restrict designated refugee claimants from making an appeal on humanitarian or compassionate grounds for five years, or from appealing to the new refugee appeal division. This legislation will surely be challenged.
The appeal process exists for a reason. Humanitarian and compassionate applications are meant to catch those cases that fall through the cracks of our legal system.
Yet if a refugee claim is found to be legitimate, the government still intends to produce more hoops to jump through, including a provision that bans a refugee from applying for permanent residency for five years after arriving.
Not only is this provision a clear violation of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as it refuses the right to assimilation and naturalization, but it is the cruel act of a government saying to someone who has already endured significant hardship, “You can stay and work to support yourself and your family and pay taxes and contribute to society, but at any moment we can decide to send you home if we feel like it. Also, by the way, you cannot leave, or you have to stay out”.
That does not perpetuate loyalty; it perpetuates resentment. This is from the same government that cut $53 million in funding to immigration settlement services across Ontario just before Christmas last year.
Guelph is a gateway community in Canada and 21% of its residents consider themselves immigrants.
Last week I attended the annual general meeting of the Guelph settlement services centre. This organization provides numerous programs to facilitate speedy integration of new immigrants into our community. Fifteen per cent of its budget was needlessly cut by a government that really does not understand the new face of Canada.
This year we watched as 492 Sri Lankan Tamil refugee claimants landed off our west coast. Barely a year before that, Canadians watched as a civil war tore apart that country. We watched incidents of terrorism and saw the squalor of poverty brought on by massive instability. Some 492 men, women and children packed themselves into a boat that was little more than a floating cargo hold and set out across the Pacific Ocean. There was little better about their accommodations for those months on the boat than the country they left for a better life. There was illness and death, but they came anyway.
Many of those refugees are still in detention, but there is no doubt that even the past year in prison here in Canada has been better than the wreckage of Sri Lanka. If members do not believe me, I would refer them to the comments of the Minister of Public Safety yesterday when he spoke during the debate on the justice omnibus bill. The minister said that often foreign prisoners would much prefer incarceration in Canadian jails than in their home countries, and by extension, would prefer detention in Canada to any refugee camp in the world. Really there is no disincentive in the bill for those who are seeking refuge here in Canada and even less for the real criminals in this situation, the human smugglers.
In the face of an uncertain world with increasing costs of food causing global unrest and climate change creating even larger displacements of people from African and other countries, refugee claims will only increase. Already we need measures much more creative than what is in the bill. Instead of trying to satisfy a small though vocal base by ideological legislation that looks tough but accomplishes nothing, Canada needs to begin looking to bigger and longer term solutions. We need to engage internationally in programs to deal with immigration and refugees.
Human smuggling is a scourge that will only get worse if we do not actually combat human smugglers instead of penalizing refugees. As a maritime country, we are a natural destination for boatloads of displaced immigrants. Efforts at the UN with maritime and non-maritime countries will need to be undertaken to ensure that all nations assume their responsibility to help refugee claimants.
Just as we need to be smarter on crime, we especially need to be smarter on immigration. Canada is a beacon of light for people around the world. We cannot shut our doors and turn our backs on men and women, families, seeking a better life. But we also cannot allow criminals to take advantage of the system and make money off of refugees who are only looking to escape persecution, violence and oppression.
Bill C-4 is not the right answer to what will be a defining issue for many years to come.