Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity 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.
While I listened to the debate on Bill C-31 with great interest, I noticed a very disturbing and continuing trend by the Conservative government. Attention must be drawn to the irresponsible and undemocratic procedural tactics used by the government during this debate.
Through Bill C-31, the government has continued to display its fervour to obstruct the parliamentary process. On Monday, March 12, the government broke its own record for silencing debate. The Conservatives' mind-boggling 18th declaration against democratic debate in the House of Commons is an affront to the majority of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservative Party in the last election.
The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism falsely claims that his government has the authority to ignore the opposition because it received the majority of seats in the last election. By unnecessarily limiting debate, the government is directly stifling democracy.
Canadians elected members of Parliament of all parties to defend their interests. It is reprehensible when this government prohibits the representatives of all Canadians from making their views known. The only explanation for such action must be that the Conservatives are afraid that too much debate will expose the many flaws in their illogical legislation.
This is not the first time the government has introduced a time allocation motion but the 18th time in under a year. Time allocation is only one procedural method that the government has abused to deny Canadians proper, transparent and democratic debate.
Previously the Conservatives twice prorogued Parliament, preventing members of Parliament from representing their constituents in the House of Commons. It is not only in the House that the government has prevented open debate. In committee, we see the Conservatives dangerously abusing motions to go in camera far too often. What is the government trying to hide? It is a good question. Why does it fear transparency? Why can it not be honest with the Canadian people and debate the validity of their ideas instead of abusing procedural tactics?
Furthermore, Bill C-31 undermines the study on biometrics now under way at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I am surprised that the minister would include biometrics in the bill, not because biometrics are without merit but because the committee has not finished its study and therefore has not issued a report to Parliament. It seems the minister intends to subvert his own Conservative colleagues and the rest of the immigration and citizenship committee who have been working diligently at committee to hear from Canadians on this very important and very vital topic.
Canadians have a right to be heard. Unfortunately, the government does not have the time to listen. Sadly, this is not the first time the minister has undermined the work of the immigration and citizenship committee. The committee was previously studying the backlog of immigration. Midway through the study, the minister announced a freeze preventing people from sponsoring family members to immigrate for at least two years. Through his actions, the minister has displayed a complete disdain for the witnesses and their testimony heard at parliamentary committees. Clearly, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism thinks he knows best and does not listen to those who testify at committee. People come to committee to be heard and provide input into this most important discussion, yet they are not given the opportunity.
Now the minister has abandoned Bill C-4 before the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship could even study it, even though his own government used its majority to push the bill to committee for study. Go figure.
I find it striking that a minister of the crown could have such disdain for the committee under his portfolio. While the bill does not allow for the unconstitutional detention of those under 16 years of age, it does in fact violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms throught its use of warrantless detention for up to a year for those 16 years of age and older. I must ask the same question my colleagues have throughout this debate. What would happen to a six-year-old child whose parents were being unconstitutionally detained after a family arrived in Canada?
As I discussed when Bill C-4 was debated here in this House, in the Supreme Court's 1985 Singh decision, the highest Canadian court ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies, not just to Canadians, but to anyone who steps foot in Canada, whether or not they arrived legally.
Within Bill C-31, as was included in Bill C-4, are provisions that would enable the government to arbitrarily name refugee groups as designated foreign nationals and permit for the legal and unjust detention of said groups for up to 12 months, regardless of whether they were legitimate refugees or not. Section 9 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under the heading of Legal Rights, ensures that everyone has a right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Section 11, under the same heading, states that any person charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time.
Liberals do not support an erosion of our constitutional rights, and for very good reason. The path the Conservatives are pursuing is a very slippery slope that would end in the trampling of the rights and freedoms of Canadians, similar to the warrantless search and seizure in the government's Bill C-30.
In addition, Bill C-31 would entrust the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism with far too much political power over our refugee system. Enabling the Minister of Public Safety to determine which groups were irregular arrivals while simultaneously enabling the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to personally designate safe countries of origin would give the ministers far too many discretionary powers and would offer no accountability or appeal system to protect refugees from the Conservatives' politically motivated agenda.
Canadians from coast to coast to coast are concerned with Bill C-31. I have heard from constituents throughout my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's, as I am sure other members of Parliament have heard from their constituents, that this is a serious piece of legislation. It is a flawed piece of legislation that must be addressed by this Parliament.
To quote a constituent of mine from St. David's, Elin Steele says:
I am particularly concerned that decisions such as designation of “safe” countries be left to the Minister as I do not believe the level of expertise is there. I am concerned that we, as a country, are not only living up to international obligations and standards, we are not living up to our perceived status, domestically and internationally, of fairness, justice and compassion.
My constituent is right to talk about the reputation that we have as Canadians. She talks about the reputation we have in this country. She is seriously concerned about what is going to happen to that reputation and how we will be looked at by those who are looking to Canada as a safe haven. Not only has Ms. Steele written to express her concerns, but other constituents throughout Random—Burin—St. George's have, as well. What I have given here is an example of the kind of concern that exists throughout our country. If it exists in Random—Burin—St. George's, it undoubtedly exists in other parts of Canada.
As with Bill C-4, Canadians do not support the trampling of their enshrined Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor do they support the trampling of anyone else's enshrined charter of rights. We believe in caring for others. We believe in reaching out to others. We believe in letting them know that Canadians are caring and that they are welcomed here.
The Liberal Party will continue to stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and oppose this dangerous bill. This bill that is so flawed that we have to make our views known, we have to try to get changes to the bill. Liberals believe that there must be judicial oversight and an appeal process to enshrine the internationally guaranteed rights of refugees.