Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4. However, I wish it were a bill that would enhance our place and our policies as a forward-looking country. Instead, the bill is the direct opposite. It would move our policies and our place in the world backward, showing a kind of intolerance that we might have seen half a century ago.
The bill is a policy that is built on fear, intolerance, ideology and an avoidance of the serious facts. Laws should be improved, in my view, based on facts and on knowledge of what works.
Bill C-4 is a bill that almost gives the minister dictatorial powers. I will name three particular areas. I am especially concerned about that particular minister.
The bill would authorize the minister to designate as an irregular arrival the arrival in Canada of a group of persons, the result of which is that some of the foreign nationals in the group become designated foreign nationals. It would authorize an officer or the minister to refuse to consider an application for permanent residence. It would provide that a person may not become a permanent resident as long as an application by the minister for cessation of that person's refugee protection is pending.
I outline those points just to show how the bill would basically give the minister almost dictatorial powers. He or she would have a lot of say and a lot of authority over the lives of people who perhaps are thinking of moving to the promised land.
It is a bill that almost certainly, I believe, will be found to violate our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
My colleague, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, summed it up best. I will restate for the record his comments because they cut to the heart of the serious issues in the bill. The member for Lac-Saint-Louis stated:
It [the bill] creates two classes of refugees. One class would be the regular refugee stream. The second class would be denoted by the minister as designated arrivals, which, upon being designated accordingly, would be treated differently. They could be held in detention for up to 12 months.
What is really happening is that the government is categorizing refugees. It is creating classes of refugees for different treatment based on, if we really look at it and read between the lines, the mode of transport the refugee claimants have used to get here. Refugees who come by plane typically would not come in big groups and would not receive the ministerial designation of designated foreign nationals and would not receive the different treatment that is being reserved for designated foreign nationals in this bill.
He concluded by saying:
Refugees who come in groups who will be designated as designated foreign nationals under the act typically will come by ship in squalid conditions. If they come by plane, they are not considered to be designated foreign nationals under the law.
I think that sums up one of the greatest concerns in the bill.
The long and short of the bill is that, in many cases, Bill C-4 would make victims of the very people that Canada traditionally and historically has tried to help. I find it amazing that the government, which is always talking about the protection of victims, is, in this instance, using ministerial authority and attacking the very victims themselves through Bill C-4. It goes against the kind of traditions and history we have as a country. We are losing our respect around the world by the actions of the bill and the government almost on a daily basis.
For a government that often goes to great lengths to talk about victims, then Bill C-4 exploits victims who are so often victims as a result of human smugglers themselves.
The people who get on these ships get fed a line in their home country. They may be fleeing persecution or war. They are, as I said, fed a line, told a story. They sometimes very innocently get involved and believe they are going to a welcoming country because Canada traditionally was a welcoming country until some of the activities of the current government.
We are a country that is historically seen as a country with the balance of law, protection of rights and freedoms, not a country that makes victims of people who are fleeing persecution or war, or being abused in other ways, but that is what the bill could possibly do. The bill could in fact leave those who come here further exploited by a law and actions perpetuated by the government itself.
Canada has a long deserved reputation as a safe haven for those so deserving of a haven in the world. We are a country of immigrants and a country, to a certain extent, of refugees. The ancestors of many of us in the House came from foreign lands. Mine came from England and Scotland. They came to this country and built a great country that was open to all.
In attempting to deal with a small criminal element, the federal government should be extremely careful and must take the necessary time to ensure that legislation, such as Bill C-4, accomplishes what it intends while respecting both our international obligations and domestic laws. I believe the bill seriously fails to do that.
As the parliamentary secretary said a moment ago, the bill was introduced in the last Parliament. It was opposed in the last Parliament by the opposition and opposed strenuously. We would think that a reasonable government would have taken that as a message that there were some problems with the bill, would have taken it back and met with other groups across the country and tried to change it and recognize some of the concerns. We cannot throw out everything the opposition says. We have some reasoned opinion too, and the government should have listened to that, been concerned about it and changed the bill accordingly.
In response to the bill, the Liberal Party has raised a number of concerns that we believe need to be addressed. My colleague, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, outlined those concerns and they are on the record. We are committed as a party to finding pragmatic and evidence-based solutions to human smuggling. We reject this draconian and backward piece of legislation that targets legitimate refugee claimants and not the real criminals, the human smugglers themselves.
As I said earlier, the bill is really nothing more than crass fearmongering and we cannot support the bill as currently constituted.