Mr. Speaker, I feel compelled to rise and speak to Bill C-4 because we need evidence-based solutions to address human smuggling. Unfortunately, this backward legislation targets legitimate refugee claimants and not the real criminals: human smugglers.
It was 60 years ago that the government expressed its solidarity with refugees by signing the 1951 refugee convention, and 2011 is a special commemorative year. The UN refugee agency is calling on the public to reaffirm its support for refugees. It is calling on governments to show humanity and respect for human rights and refugee rights.
The UN has developed the “1 is too many” campaign to strengthen global protection in this anniversary year. The “1 is too many” campaign concentrates on the central tag line: one refugee without hope is too many.
There is a portfolio of other tag lines such as: one family forced to flee is too many; one refugee without hope is too many; one refugee returned to danger is too many; one refugee longing for home is too many; one child without a nationality is too many; one family without shelter is too many; one refugee denied a safe haven is too many; one child growing up in a camp is too many; one family torn apart by war is too many; one girl raped at gun point is too many; and it goes on.
As legislators we must all ask ourselves, if our family was in danger, our lives threatened by the government that is supposed to protect us, what would we do and how would we want the world to respond?
Each one of us should remember how many of us are children or descendants of immigrants. Each one of us should consider the economic, cultural and social benefits Canada has gained by accepting immigrants and refugees to our country. We must all remember our long-standing dedication to humanitarian values and human rights.
Instead of the government reaffirming Canada's commitment to protect refugees in this anniversary year, the government is fearmongering, demonizing, and punishing refugees through its treatment of asylum seekers and through its proposed legislation.
I have the honour of representing Etobicoke North, which is one of the most diverse ridings in the country. Each week we hear from desperate families, such as: a sister trying to bring family from Africa because her brother is hiding in a bush afraid of political persecution; an uncle giving up his job and leaving family in Toronto to rescue three orphan nieces in India.
During the humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka, I heard daily from my Tamil community. One man came into my constituency office and wrote down the names of 100 family members who were missing and he did not know whether they were alive or dead. Each weekend during the humanitarian crisis I met with my Tamil community for four months.
Bill C-4 was originally introduced in Parliament by the government in October 2010 as Bill C-49 and it was reintroduced in June 2011 in the new parliamentary session. If the bill is approved by Parliament, it will make significant changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, affecting the way refugee claimants are treated in Canada.
The government claims that the bill is about stopping smugglers who are bringing people illegally into Canada. However, the bill focuses on punishing the people they are smuggling, including refugees who need to get to Canada to save their lives.
All of Canada's laws must respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees basic rights. Several aspects of Bill C-4 likely do not respect the charter. For example, Bill C-4 says that designated persons are detained for one year without review.
The Supreme Court of Canada has recently clearly stated that detention without review for long periods is contrary to the charter. If Bill C-4 is approved by Parliament, it could be challenged in the courts and the courts would probably decide that some parts of the bill are illegal because they do not respect the charter. Unfortunately, while the courts are deciding the case, refugees would suffer in detention.
Canadian laws must also respect international human rights conventions that Canada has signed. These include the convention relating to the status of refugees and the convention on the rights of the child. Many parts of Bill C-4 do not respect one or more international conventions. If Bill C-4 is passed, Canada would therefore be failing in some of its international obligations.
The following are examples of the ways in which Bill C-4 violates human rights protected by international law.
Punishing refugees for illegal entry. The refugees convention says in article 31 that governments must not impose penalties on refugees for illegal entry. However, Bill C-4 does exactly this by punishing designated persons in various ways, including by detaining them.
With regard to arbitrary detention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that governments must not detain anyone arbitrarily. Arbitrary detention is detention without the proper legal protections; for example, detaining people without giving them the possibility of having a review of their detention by an independent judge. Bill C-4 does exactly this by saying that designated persons must be detained without possibility of review for one year.
With regard to separation of families, various international conventions say that governments must protect the rights of families to be united but Bill C-4 does the opposite by denying designated refugees the right, for five years, to apply to reunite with their children overseas.
With regard to the best interests of the child, the Convention on the Rights of the Child says in article 3 that governments must take into consideration the best interests of any child affected by a decision. However, under Bill C-4, some children could be deported from Canada without any consideration of their best interests and application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Bill C-4 is deeply unfair to refugees. It fails to honour obligations under Canadian and international law. It deprives individual cases from the independent review that justice requires. It would involve huge costs in unnecessary detention. Australia tried punishing refugees to deter them. It did not work.
At the same time, Bill C-4 would do nothing to prevent human smuggling. More laws would not catch the smugglers who are overseas. Mandatory minimum sentences have been shown not to work as deterrents. Smuggling, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, is already punishable. The reality is that under Bill C-4 refugees would be victimized three times: first by their persecutors; second by the smugglers; and finally by Canada.
The reality is that most refugees want to go home but simply cannot return safely. We should admire and honour their courage and determination as they strive to pick up the pieces and start over, and we should recognize the richness and diversity they bring to Canada.
I would like to close by reminding us all that many refugees have made a difference and distinguished themselves on the world stage: actress and singer Marlene Dietrich; physicist Albert Einstein; and our own Michaëlle Jean. Finally, one refugee without schooling is too many. One refugee child behind bars is too many.