Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about this important bill, which was introduced by the Conservatives. I would like to indicate right away that I intend to share my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
This is an important bill introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism but, as we have just heard from the Conservatives, it has a confrontational tone similar to what we saw with the bills designed to intrude and spy on our private lives through our computers, bills that were introduced by the Minister of Public Safety. In that case, if we did not agree with the government, then it meant that we were siding with pedophiles and child pornographers. Now, we get the impression that, if we dare to oppose the minister's bill, we will be accused of siding with terrorists and criminals. This is really childish politics, like something you would see in the schoolyard, and I deplore it.
I would like to begin my speech with the words of an Argentinian poet. This is something I rarely do, but I think it is important. It gives an idea of the tone and vision that I would like the debate on immigrants and refugees to have.
The Spanish title of this poem is Los hermanos or, in English, The Brothers.
I have so many brothers,
more than I can count,
from the valleys, the mountains,
the plains and the seas.
People connected by work,
with hope ahead,
and memory behind.
That’s how we go on
tanned like leather by loneliness.
It’s how we lose each other in the world.
It’s how we find each other again.
I have so many brothers,
more than I can count
and a sister, very beautiful,
whose name is freedom.
That is what people do when they are trying to find a bit of hope, a bit of light in their life, when they are trying to get out of terrible situations, when, for their own sake and for the sake of their children, they want to go live a better life in a free society. They think they will be welcomed there with open arms on humanitarian grounds and received as our brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, we have Conservative policies that are clamping down and taking us in a completely different direction. That is why, as a New Democrat, I am opposed to Bill C-31. I will elaborate as to why.
We have problems with clauses 24 and 25 of the bill. We had a Conservative colleague explain to us the benefits of democracy and human rights in the European Union. We will come back to that and talk about Hungary and the problem of the gypsies and the Roma.
However, I would like to share the opinion of a few judges of the European Court of Human Rights: Judges Rosakis, Tulkens, Hajiyev, Spielmann and Hirvelä. They said that depriving someone of their freedom for a long period of time constitutes a serious injustice if they committed no crime and had no intention of doing so. They also said that no civilized country should knowingly tolerate this kind of injustice.
These are very wise words. The bill introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism does not contain the same wisdom. Indeed, Bill C-31 would automatically incarcerate refugee claimants designated by the minister, with no chance of release. That is exactly the situation the judges of the European Court of Human Rights criticized.
If this bill passes, any refugee claimants who arrive with the help of a smuggler will have to serve at least 12 months in detention. On March 6, the minister defended this measure by describing it as humane detention. That is absolute nonsense and reminds me of the newspeak that George Orwell wrote about.
Moreover, the bill will punish people who have been given refugee status by denying them permanent residence and family reunification for five years. We think five years is extreme. Overall, the bill targets refugees, not human smugglers. The language, the rhetoric, says it is targeting smugglers, but in fact the people who will really be affected are refugees. The minister is aiming at the wrong target. Certainly, the bill is well intentioned. The good intentions are there, but the cure it seeks to apply is worse than the disease.
The people who will suffer if this bill is passed are people fleeing persecution, people fleeing war or violence or discrimination in their country based on sexual orientation or other grounds. The people who will suffer are the adults who come here, but also their children.
I heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs mocking our concern for children. This is important to us. We care about our families and we think our children are important, but we also think the children of all families are important.
There is a difference between wanting to arrest terrorists, people who endanger the security of Canada and our fellow Canadians, and wanting to arrest everybody on the pretext that they came here with a smuggler because they were in a desperate situation, and putting them in a detention centre because the government does not dare call it a prison. It is talking about putting adults in those places with their children for a year. Theoretically, children under the age of 16 will not be detained, but in reality, families of claimants are faced with the wrenching choice of staying together in detention or separating from their children.
In January of this year, in an unequivocal study, research psychologists affiliated with McGill University warned the government about the negative impact of detention on the mental health of refugee claimants. According to those researchers, separating children from their parents in detention is not an acceptable alternative, in terms of mental health. The effects of the separation are generally harmful to the child’s development, with very serious long-term consequences.
The situation is just as alarming when it comes to adult claimants. In Australia and the United Kingdom, automatic detention is common practice, however numerous cases of suicidal behaviour, severe depression, suicide and self-mutilation have been reported among detainees. Yes, in our opinion, this bill flies in the face of the charter.
In attempting to justify their bill in this House, the Conservatives’ rhetoric seems to vacillate between humane treatment and repression. In our opinion, this approach is incompatible with the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with Canada's international commitments in the area of human rights. This point of view is shared not only by the Canadian Council for Refugees, but also by the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.
The automatic detention of designated refugee claimants is arbitrary, since it permits the imprisonment of innocent people. The vast majority of foreign national detainees are not criminals and have no intention of becoming so. In 95% of cases, these people are detained because officers have doubts about their identity or whether or not they will be present for immigration proceedings.
“Designated claimants” are criticized for the manner in which they entered Canada. Yet, by definition, a refugee is a person who travels and crosses a border in search of protection. Migration is, therefore, an inherent part of the refugee process. The means whereby this migration is carried out is circumstantial in nature. Basing the detention of refugee claimants on the manner in which they arrived in Canada is nonsensical. It equates to punishing a refugee for simply being a refugee.
The government is criminalizing the migration process. This violates article 31(1) of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits the application of penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence. This measure also violates sections 7 and 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In our opinion, this is a discriminatory measure. Making a distinction between refugee claimants based on their mode of arrival is discriminatory under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and articles 1 and 3 of the Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees. The creation of the category of “designated claimants” is based on absurd logic that implies different treatment with serious consequences. The system of automatic detention for “designated claimants” creates a system of “infra-rights”, otherwise known as a two-tier system, which prevents one category of refugees from effectively taking advantage of their fundamental rights as compared to other claimants.
This measure is also complete overkill—it uses a bazooka to try and kill a fly by imposing 12 full months of detention without the option of a court review. It is abusive not only because the period of detention is excessive, but also because it denies designated refugee claimants essential procedural guarantees against arbitrary detention. Preventing designated claimants from challenging the grounds for their continued detention over the 12-month period is another clear violation of the charter.
The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that the lack of review of the detention of foreign nationals infringes the guarantee against arbitrary detention in section 9 of the charter, which encompasses the right to prompt review of detention under section 10(c) of the charter.
Most importantly, this measure is completely ineffective and counterproductive because it is based on the myth that repression is a deterrent. However, in countries where similar measures have been introduced, the number of asylum claims has not gone down. Most migrants do not know the laws of the country in which they are seeking asylum. Their only motivation is to get out and seek protection.
Migratory patterns follow their own rules and conditions. Neither legal barriers nor bricks-and-mortar ones will stop migrants from coming here. Automatic incarceration will not reduce the number of asylum seekers; it will just increase their suffering. Whatever the government says, this treatment is not humane.
As legislators, we are the guardians of the Constitution. It is our duty to ensure that everything we do is inspired by the values in the charter, Canada's humanitarian tradition and our country's obligations vis-à-vis international law and human rights.