Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time.
I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act.
Before I get to that, we have heard in the House that in the previous Parliament, Bill C-11 was passed. I want to quote what a member of the government was saying at that time. He said:
I am pleased to report that the proposed reforms in the original version of Bill C-11 received widespread support. However, many concerns were raised in good faith by parliamentarians and others concerned about Canada's asylum system. We have, in good faith, agreed to significant amendments that reflect their input, resulting in a stronger piece of legislation that is a monumental achievement for all involved.
Who said that? The current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. I quote him further. He said, “I am happy to say, create a reform package that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled”. He even praised how parties worked together to reach consensus and come up with that bill that worked for all parties. He went on to say, “Miracles happen”.
He further went on to say that the government took constructive criticism into account and recognized the need to work together. That was just a year ago. That was Bill C-11. All of the parties worked together to come to a consensus that would deal with some of the issues such as backlogs, having a fairer system for refugees, and so forth. He went on further to say, “The reforms we are proposing should have been implemented a long time ago”.
What has changed since June 2010 until now? Is it because the Conservatives got their slim majority and they are bringing out their hidden agenda? Instead of catching the smugglers, now they want to punish the refugees.
I will outline my concerns in regards to Bill C-31.
Bill C-31 is basically an omnibus refugee reform bill that combines the worst parts of the former Bill C-11, Balanced Refugee Reform Act, from the last Parliament, with Bill C-4, , preventing human smuggling, from this Parliament. It has basically three main purposes: a repeal of most of the compromises from former Bill C-11. It reintroduces Bill C-4, preventing human smuggling, which targets refugees instead of the smugglers. It introduces the collection of biometrics for temporary residents.
Bill C-31 would concentrate more power in the hands of the minister by allowing him to name safe countries and restrict refugees from those countries. Under the former bill, Bill C-11, this was to be done by a panel of experts, including human rights experts. Refugee claimants from safe countries would face extremely short timelines before hearings, 15 days. They would have no access to the Refugee Appeal Division in the event of a bad judgment. They would have no automatic stay of removal when filing for a judicial review and could not apply for a work permit for 180 days. It would also limit access and shorten timelines to file and submit a pre-removal risk assessment application and evidence.
Not only would the minister have the discretion to designate countries of origin, safe countries, the minister would also have the power to designate a group as an irregular arrival and determine what condition would be placed on those designated as refugee claimants.
Let us take a look at the designated countries of origin, DCOs. Designated countries of origin would be countries which the minister believes do not produce legitimate refugees, usually because they are developed democracies. The designated countries of origin would be decided by the minister, not by experts as was previously agreed to with the consensus of all parties.
Refugee claimants from the designated countries of origin would face a much faster determination process and a faster deportation for failed claims. Furthermore, an initial form would be filed in within 15 days.
Failed designated countries of origin claimants could be removed from Canada almost immediately, even if they asked for a judicial review. In other words, a person could be removed before his or her review was heard. DCO claimants would have no access to the new refugee appeal division.
There are a number of concerns with this. The accelerated timeline of 15 days would make it difficult for people to get proper legal representation. This could lead to mistakes and subsequently a negative decision. Legal experts have warned that these accelerated timeframes and restricted access to the refugee appeal division would create an unfair system.
Furthermore, the effect of the accelerated deportation would mean that people would be removed from the country before the legal process had run its course. The refugee appeal division should be available to all claimants.
There are also concerns in regard to changes to the humanitarian and compassionate consideration. The humanitarian and compassionate consideration is a tool whereby a person can stay in Canada despite not being eligible on other grounds. Under Bill C-31, claimants waiting for an IRB decision could not apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration at the same time. A person would have to choose at the beginning whether he or she wanted to file for refugee status or for humanitarian or compassionate consideration.
Failed refugee claimants could not apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration for one year following a negative decision, by which time they would likely be deported.
There are a number of concerns with this aspect of the bill. This strips much of the usefulness from the humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Humanitarian and compassionate consideration is a very important tool in our immigration system. Many people whose refugee was claim denied could nonetheless have a legitimate claim on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Therefore, a failed refugee claim should not get in the way of humanitarian and compassionate consideration.
Another part of this bill that concerns me is clause 19(1) which adds new language into the loss of status section for permanent residents. It adds that existing criteria for ceasing refugee protection can be a reason to lose permanent residency status. Included in the list is if the reasons for which the person sought refugee protection have ceased to exist.
In summary, there are many concerns with this bill. The new bill does not address some of the needs of our current system. The Conservatives are playing politics with refugees, and concentrating excessive and arbitrary powers in the hands of the minister. The Conservatives continually frame their draconian legislation in terms of bogus refugees and those abusing the system, but what they are really doing is punishing refugees with ineffective measures that will not stop human smuggling.