Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-4, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. Unfortunately, the title is an unworthy message for the government to convey to the rest of the world.
My riding of Parkdale--High Park is in downtown Toronto. It is a very mixed income community. For many newcomers to Canada it is a first stopping-off point. Over the years, waves of immigrants have put down roots and created institutions in our community.
Earlier today, I spoke about the 100th anniversary of the Knesseth Israel Shul in my riding. It is the oldest original synagogue in Toronto that is still in use today. Many of the original congregants of this shul came to Canada to escape the persecution that the Jewish community was facing in Europe and other parts of the world, while others came for economic reasons. In many cases, they came with little more than the ability to work hard, their ingenuity and their creativity. Although small, this magnificent institution is so beautiful. It adds glimmer to the heart of a community that was formed 100 years ago in our neighbourhood in the Junction. That is typical of many newcomer communities in Canada.
My community is home to many who have fled Soviet bloc countries: Poles, Ukrainians, people from a variety of backgrounds. We have many Vietnamese, Tamils, Latin Americans, and most recently, Tibetans. We now have the largest Tibetan community in Canada. Also, many of the Roma from Hungary are coming to our community. A number of these community members came here as refugees because they feared for their safety and well-being in their countries of origin.
For example, the repression of Tibetans is well known. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an honorary Canadian citizen and has come to this Parliament. We were all thrilled to meet with him. He so elegantly and generously described the struggle of Tibetans not only in modern day Tibet as it presently exists within China but also in refugee camps in India and Nepal.
Many people around the world are living with instability, war or repression. Refugees are seeking shelter from these conditions.
As part of out citizenry in the international community, Canada has signed international agreements to receive not all refugees, but our share of refugees, and to roll up our sleeves and contribute with the rest of the world to helping those in need.
In fact, I would argue that many other countries do so much more. Some of the poorest countries in the world, countries in Africa for example, have some of the largest numbers of refugees who have fled wars, famine or other kinds of hardships from nearby countries.
Canada's history is one of living up to the international treaties we have signed, as well as living up to our responsibility as a strong member of the international community.
My colleague from the Montreal area spoke earlier about how his family came to Canada as Vietnamese refugees.
We have a large Vietnamese community in Toronto, people who fled with not much more than what they could carry. They have made an enormous contribution to our country.
Again, I look at my own community and the institutions people have built and the tremendous creativity of people, the jobs they have created, the businesses they have opened, the art they have created, and what they offer to our country.
It is a wrong notion that somehow Canadians are paying something when refugees come here. I think we gain a tremendous amount. Canada is built on waves of immigrants, but many refugees as well, and they have made an enormously valuable contribution to our country.
When it comes to this bill, I have to ask myself why we would want to target or demonize refugees. That is what the bill is doing. It is somehow tarnishing refugees and putting all of them under suspicion as potential smugglers and potential abusers of Canada's immigration system.
The bill claims it would crack down on human smuggling, but as the bill currently stands, it concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and unfairly penalizes refugees. It sets up different tiers of status for refugees.
Our party would rather deal with criminals, the people who are abusing the system, the people who are indeed trafficking or smuggling. Yes, let us deal with them through our judicial system. However, as it stands, this bill is more likely to hurt legitimate refugees and the people who are trying to help them, people who are seeking safety and solace here in Canada.
As many of my colleagues have described, this process is unclear. It is arbitrary and ultimately very discriminatory. We have to ask ourselves why this bill is even before us when we just approved a refugee law a few months ago. What we need now is full implementation and better enforcement of that law.
The government should be less focused on photo ops and demonizing people who come here seeking legitimate refugee status and more focused on enforcing the laws against human smuggling that we already have and giving the RCMP, who are tasked with this job, the resources they need to get the job done.
Our concern is that the bill is more about politics, very divisive and dangerous politics, and less about ensuring an effective and fair refugee and immigration system.
We are not just saying that. We are backed up by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association, an expert panel at the Centre for Refugee Studies. Those who are experts in international law, in our charter rights here in Canada and in international covenants share our deep concern about the flaws of the bill and the damage it could do certainly to our country's reputation, but much more importantly to individual lives. We are talking about people who are at their most desperate, who are fleeing for their lives.
We think this is an unnecessary bill, a bad bill, a bill that is going to tarnish Canada's reputation and endanger those who need shelter most.