Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.
In a speech he delivered in the House when Bill C-4 was introduced, the Minister of Immigration said that we needed this bill's harsh measures against asylum seekers in order to communicate to them in no uncertain terms that Canada's streets were not paved with gold and that Canada was not the place for them.
As a case in point, the minister said that asylum seekers believe they will be given $50,000 upon arrival in Canada. We know this, obviously, is not the case. There are no such pots of gold awaiting refugee claimants at Canadian border points. This false and, ultimately, disappointing picture for asylum seekers of the easy prosperity that supposedly lies at the end of a long, arduous and sometimes deadly boat trip across the seas has been attracting the world's poor, persecuted and downtrodden to North America for well over a century. As well as the very real promise of freedom, this has been a point of attraction for immigrants and refugees who desperately seek a better life free from violence or squalor.
I do not think the minister's speech nor the bill would change this fact. We also need to realize that there is a flaw in the argument that Bill C-4, which is now part of Bill C-31, somehow will discourage people from coming to Canada.
The minister assumes that we live in a world of perfect information as the neo-classical economists regularly assure us in their economic models, but the fact is that would-be asylum seekers are fundamentally unaware of what awaits them here beyond the images they have borne of a hope they often desperately cling to. Indeed, not even the minister can extinguish the hope that is, in some ways, the psychological and emotional sustenance on which many people around the world living in harsh conditions survive.
It is a given that asylum seekers have a distorted view of the benefits that await them here in this country. There is no $50,000 pot of gold that awaits them when they arrive here. The corollary of course is that they also have a distorted view of any negative consequences that might await them should they arrive as refugee claimants aided and abetted by human smugglers. They cannot be expected to have accurate knowledge of the measures in Bill C-31, the measures imported from Bill C-4, that have been created in an attempt to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Canada.
Not only are would-be asylum seekers misinformed about what awaits them in Canada but many Canadians who have access to the 24-hour news cycle and who are generally well informed are themselves unaware of the manner in which Canada treats refugees upon arrival. I am sure many members in the House have received a chain email which I have been receiving if for about eight years now. I have been getting this email from highly educated Canadians, friends of mine, good people, good Liberals who believe in individual rights and who want fair treatment of immigrants and refugees. However, because it comes in on the Internet there is a tendency to take it at face value. I will quote from the email I have been receiving and that many members have been receiving. Only in Canada. It says:
It is interesting to know that the federal Government of Canada allows a monthly pension of $1,890 to a simple refugee, plus $580 in social aid for a grand total of $2,470 monthly. That’s $28,920 in annual income.
By comparison the Old Age Pension of a senior citizen who has contributed to the development of Our Beautiful Big Country during 40 or 50 years cannot receive more than $1,012 in Old Age Pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement per month, for $12,144 in annual income.
That’s a difference of $16,776 per year.
Perhaps our senior citizens should ask for the Status of Refugees instead of applying for Old Age Pension.
That is what is circulating on the Internet here in Canada. It is so false, so prevalent and so ongoing as a form of a spam email that the Department of Immigration has actually put up a web page to try to clarify the situation.
There is a lot of misinformation both in Canada and overseas where people are getting their information from human smugglers about what awaits them here. That is true of the false benefits that await them. If we assume that, which is what the Minister of Immigration said, people think they are coming here to a pot of gold of $50,000 when they arrive, that somehow officers from the Canada Border Services Agency await asylum seekers with chequebook and pen in hand, we also have to assume that would-be asylum seekers do not know what is in Bill C-31. They do not know what was in Bill C-4. They will not be discouraged by the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Who will tell them about the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Will it be the human smugglers? Will the human smugglers tell them that they will take their money, that they will bring them over to Canada, then tell them about the new legislation that may put them in detention for a year and say that maybe they will not do that human smuggling deal after all? There is a flaw in that logic.
We all view legislation through the prisms of our respective political philosophies. For me and others in the House that prism is liberalism. Liberalism is fundamentally about the primacy of the rights and dignity of the individual. Of course, liberals recognize and understand that human beings are social animals, that we can only thrive in a group or community. Living in a group or community makes everything possible, including individual economic prosperity. A simple example is the real estate value of one's home is a function of the vibrancy of the community in which it lies: no community, no capital gain upon home resale.
Community is not only the context necessary for individual fulfillment and security. It is also a source of identity. Liberals believe in the inherent value of community, but neither Conservatives nor the NDP spread misinformation on this point. Liberals are communitarians. We believe in safe streets, believe it or not. We believe in social cohesion and maintaining the social fabric.
Where we differ from the Conservatives is that we put the individual first. In a court of law or in an administrative tribunal, the focus is on the individual, not the group to which he or she belongs. In matters of justice, when we have to judge, we believe that we must judge based on the individual's unique circumstances, not the circumstances of the larger and more amorphous group to which he or she may happen to belong.
As an aside, that is why we as Liberals have trouble with minimum sentencing. We believe the circumstances of the crime and the offender must be evaluated, namely by a judge with years of legal training and experience because, as Liberals, we believe in the power of reason to find as close an approximation of the truth as we can. We believe in the ability of judges to apply reason to the facts of the case and develop a sanction that is proper to the individual circumstances, including one that is just to the victims. We believe in victims' rights.
That is also why we object to judging a refugee claimant based primarily on his or her group affiliation or country of origin. We do not believe that a refugee's treatment at the hands of the Canadian government should be judged as a function of their country of origin, in other words, on the basis of their nationality essentially, anymore than on their race or ethnicity.
I will quote Audrey Maklin of the University of Toronto's Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, and lawyer, Lorne Waldman, both in regard to Bill C-31's predecessor, Bill C-4. They state:
The legislation also gives the minister the power to decree certain countries as “safe.” This formalizes in law the presumption that a refugee claimant from one of these countries is a fraud. Many countries are safe for most people most of the time. Refugees are usually people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so designating a country as safe tells us nothing about the risks faced by the people likely--