Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this punish refugees and give a break to smugglers bill. Why do I say that? Even though this bill is supposed to go after smugglers, the people who would be hurt are the genuine refugees.
Two weekends ago we celebrated St. Patrick's Day. I was thinking about the Irish refugees who came to the shores of Toronto. At the turn of the century, over 50,000 Irish refugees arrived on the shores of what was the city of York, before it was called Toronto. At that time, the city of York had only 30,000 residents.
How did the Irish refugees arrive? By irregular means, by boats. Did they have any identification with them? Most likely not. Should they have been locked up? Under this law, if passed, I suppose they would have been locked up for at least a year.
Members can imagine refugees coming to the shores of a big country, to a city that does not have a lot of people, and being locked up for a year. A lot of them were sick. Who would have been able to help them? At the time, the medical officer of health risked his life to serve the Irish immigrants. In fact, a doctor lost his life due to a fever. What was shown to the Irish refugees was compassion and support. As a result, they built Toronto. They helped build Canada. Some of their descendants might even be in the House of Commons.
Had they been locked up, they would not have been able to work or support their families. Under the law that is in front of us, they would not have been able to sponsor their family members to bring them here. They would have been separated from their families for at least 10 years. Because they would have been locked up, they would not have been able to work. After they were released, assuming they were genuine refugees, they still would not have been able to become permanent residents for a long period of time. They would have been prevented from sponsoring their family members. Even after they had become permanent residents, their status could still have been revoked. What kind of stability would their lives have had? None whatsoever.
At the time, if Ireland had been seen as a safe country, many of those refugees would have been sent home.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' recommendation indicates that some countries are safer than others, but we have to determine each refugee's claim based on the person's circumstances. Some countries are considered safe countries, so to speak, but not for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. They could be gay bashed or killed.
How does one declare a country as safe? The previous law said that there would be an advisory committee made up of a team of experts who would advise the minister. This bill just got rid of that. The minister does not need any expert advice. He can just declare a country as safe and the people from that country would be fast-tracked for deportation in no time, without right of appeal to the Federal Court, and no humanitarian or compassionate consideration. They could attempt an appeal, but it would not stop them from being deported. That means individual refugees would not be treated equally under the law.
In Canada we have a fundamental belief that each case must be considered equally under the law. The bill would completely change that. It would treat refugee A completely differently from refugee B depending upon the person's country of origin. However, let us assume it is a gay man from a country such as Ghana or Jamaica. One could say that Jamaica is a safe country, yet people can be killed because of their sexual orientation.
The bill has a lot of flaws. I do not understand why the bill is necessary. Less than a year ago, all parties in the House of Commons worked with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and came up with a package called the balanced refugee reform act. At that time, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said that he was very proud of the bill because it had all-party support, was balanced and fair.
What has changed in the last eight or nine months? Nothing. Why is a bill that was balanced and fair all of a sudden no longer balanced and fair? Nothing has changed.
In fact, with regard to that bill, Bill C-11, the balanced refugee reform act, the immigration minister came to the committee and said, “This is such a fine bill. It will take us at a least a year to implement the bill. Give us one year and we will make the system perfect.” That is what was promised last June. It is not June 2012 yet. A year has not passed and the bill has not been implemented. The minister obviously has not had the time to implement the bill, and yet this so-called fast, balanced and fair bill all of a sudden became a big problem, and here we are debating another bill.
Think of the amount of money and time that has been wasted. A huge number of witnesses came to committee. There were forums in cities across the country. The immigration committee listened to all types of expert advice. All of that is gone. It is completely changed. The bill in front of us looks completely different. It is quite astounding. I cannot see what has changed in one year. The previous bill has not even been implemented and yet we are here wasting time and money debating a new bill.
What is the root problem? Why do we have such a backlog? Why does it take so long to determine a refugee claim?
Prior to 2006, the wait was one or two years. Things were going along and there were no huge problems. When the Conservatives came into power, they did not appoint any Immigration and Refugee Board members. As a result, for two or three years hardly any cases were being determined. A huge backlog was created because the Conservative minister did not appoint any IRB members.
It is the implementation of the law that is the problem. The law is not the problem.
On top of that, the CBSA said that it had difficulty deporting people because it does not have the right computer system. This is according to the Auditor General and admitted by the CBSA.
The real problem is the implementation of the law. There is no need to change the law. That is why members should not support this bill.
It is a very complex bill. I wish I had more time to address every element of it.