Mr. Speaker, as yet another member of the citizenship and immigration committee, I am pleased to stand and talk to Bill C-31, although I am disappointed to have to do so under time allocation.
Bill C-11 of the previous Parliament, which Bill C-31 seeks to replace, is due to come into effect in June 2012, a mere three months from now. Bill C-11 was a product of a minority Parliament, but according to the minister, it was also the product of good faith, something that should guide the way that all Parliaments, minority and majority alike, function.
The minister told Canadians that he listened to all the speeches on Bill C-11 and that:
During the debates and consultations, the government took constructive criticism into account and recognized the need to work together with the opposition to design a bill that reflected the parliamentary consensus.
What emerged from this approach to developing legislation, according to the minister himself, was “a stronger piece of legislation...a bill that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled”.
That progress, that monumental achievement for all involved, as the minister once described Bill C-11, is now about to revert to the slower, less fair, weaker piece of legislation in the form of Bill C-31 and the collective wisdom that informed Bill C-11 all but erased. What is left is a bill characterized by a terrible irony.
This is a bill that is meant to set out how to treat people who have fled their country of origin on the basis of persecution or fear of persecution on grounds that are protected by human rights laws and convention. Yet this is a bill that is dismissive, if not actually contemptuous of the rights and freedoms that Canadians and citizens of many other countries around the world feel are fundamental.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, for example, is not reflected in the bill. Bill C-31 carries over from Bill C-4 the power of the minister to create a second, or in the terms of the bill, a “designated” class of refugee that face mandatory detention upon arrival. Such detention in the absence of good reason and sound process clashes with section 7 of our charter, which provides for the right to life, liberty and security of the person.
Further, group detention of refugees implies the detention of individuals without specific assessment and therefore grounds. Such arbitrary detention raises a violation of section 9 of our charter, and that is the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
The fact that there is no review of the detention for at least 12 months raises further issues. Section 10 of the charter requires that everyone arrested or detained has the right to be informed promptly of the reasons therefore, retain and instruct counsel and to be informed of that right, to have the validity of the detention determined within 48 hours and to be released if the detention is not lawful.
These are not the rights and freedoms of Canadians alone. They are what we call “human rights” and we consider them to be inalienable. In the language of our charter, they “belong to everyone”.
Long before our charter, we were signatories to the Charter of the United Nations. As a signatory to the UN charter, we reaffirmed our “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small...”
What follows is our signature on a number of United Nations declarations and conventions and our participation in that organization all for the purpose of putting these beliefs into practice. Most relevant to today's debate is the International Bill of Human Rights, the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today I would like to focus on the latter and the treatment of children under Bill C-31.
Bill C-31, as we know, reintroduces Bill C-4 to the House with some minor changes. One of those changes is with respect to the treatment of children in that Bill C-31 does not commit children to detention, but nor does it say what becomes of the kids who arrive in a group that the minister declares irregular.
International declarations with respect to the rights of the child go back almost a century. Over this time, what has remained constant in the successive iterations of such rights and the recognition that: children embody human rights; that they are entitled to special safeguards, care and assistance, including appropriate legal protection; that, “for the full and harmonious development of the child”, they should grow up in a family environment.
And finally, and therefore:
...the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance....
Such consideration and commitments to children and their families who form part of an irregular arrival are nowhere to be found in Bill C-31.
Interestingly, and hopefully instructively, others have gone before us to measure the impacts of mandatory detention of child refugees against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Australia, as the government side will know, has a mandatory immigration detention system. It applies to children who arrive in Australia without a visa, so-called “unauthorized arrivals”. The Australian Human Rights Commission studied the impacts of this system and concluded that this system breached the following convention provisions: article 37(b) and (d), which is to ensure that detention is a measure of last resort for the shortest period of time and subject to effective independent review; article 3.1, which is to ensure that the best interests of the child are of primary consideration in all actions concerning children; article 37(c), which is to ensure that children are treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity; and article 22.1, article 6.2 and article 39, which all protect the right of children to receive appropriate assistance, to ensure recovery from torture and trauma, to live in an environment which fosters health, self-respect and dignity, and to enjoy to the maximum extent possible their right to development.
It further found that children in immigration detention for long periods of time were at high risk of serious mental harm and that the failure of its country, Australia, to remove kids from the detention environment with their parents amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those children in detention.
In short, the commission recommended the release of children with their parents and that immigration detention laws be compliant with the convention and based on a presumption against the detention of children for immigration purposes.
I have taken this time to review the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission because it is a cautionary tale. Australia has gone before us down this path of immigration detention and, if it were not already obvious, there is at least now laid at the feet of the government more than ample evidence to suggest that it proceed with the detention of children and their parents in full understanding that such action is in conflict with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and causes harm to children and their families.
It is, in part, I am sure, because for our historic commitment to human rights, that from time to time people end up on our shores seeking safe haven or asylum from persecution and yet Bill C-31 proposes to deny to others the very rights and freedoms that define this country for ourselves and in the international community and make us so proud to be citizens of it.