Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand and debate this bill and present the position of the official opposition, the New Democratic Party of Canada, on Bill C-31, improperly and inaccurately named “protecting Canada's immigration system act”, because this bill would do damage to Canada's immigration system legally, socially, morally and internationally.
I want to talk about the omnibus nature of this bill which, just from a structural point of view, is something that is a disturbing feature of the Conservative government. Canadians saw already in this Parliament, the government take nine separate pieces of serious and complex crime legislation and put them into one omnibus bill and then put that before parliamentarians to discuss and debate. Now we see the minister take two separate major pieces of legislation, as well as another serious issue, which is that of biometrics, and combine those into one bill.
For Canadians who may be watching this, I want to explain a bit about what those bills are. By introducing this bill, the minister has taken Bill C-11, which was introduced in the last Parliament, debated, went through committee, was amended and passed in this very House, went through all three readings at the Senate committee and passed there, received royal assent and was waiting to be implemented this June, and the minister has stopped that bill from being implemented this June. I will tell members a bit more about what the minister had to say about that bill in a few moments. That bill was geared toward reforming Canada's refugee system.
About that bill, in June 2010 the minister said:
We have, in good faith, agreed to significant amendments that reflect their input, resulting in a stronger piece of legislation that is a monumental achievement for all involved.
These amendments, I am happy to say, create a reform package that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled.
Those were the comments by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism on Tuesday, June 15, 2010. The minister has now taken the original bill that he had tabled in the previous Parliament, before those amendments that made it fairer and faster, and has thrown the amendments in the garbage and reintroduced the original bill, the very bill that he said was inferior to the amendments that were made by all parties of this House. The minister has, not unsurprisingly, neglected to explain that.
In addition, one of the first bills the Conservatives introduced in this Parliament was Bill C-4, again inaccurately and unconscionably titled a bill concerning human smuggling. It has been going through debate in this place but the minister has taken that bill and put it into this current Bill C-31. There is no explanation as to why he would take a bill, which has already been introduced and is moving through the system, slow it down and put it back into this legislative process, basically putting us behind where we would have been. I have a theory as to why that may be the case. Bill C-4 has been roundly condemned by virtually every group and stakeholder involved in the immigration system in this country, from lawyers, refugee groups, churches and immigrant settlement services across the board. I cannot name any group that has sent any message that it supports Bill C-4.
As well, the government has taken another issue, biometrics, and put that into the bill. What is puzzling about that is that approximately 30 days ago we commenced a study in the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship on biometrics. We have had a handful of meetings and are in the middle of our study of biometrics and the government introduces legislative steps on the very thing we are supposed to be studying. I wonder what that says about the government's view of the work of standing committees and the experts and witnesses who appear before our committee when it actually comes to a conclusion before we have heard all the evidence.
I want to talk about the substance of Bill C-4. Bill C-4 was hastily drafted by the government when Canadians witnessed the spectre of two boats coming to the shores of British Columbia carrying some of the most damaged and wounded people on earth, people fleeing, as the minister has rightly pointed out, one of the worst civil wars in the world in Sri Lanka.
Some 550 people were on those boats. And, never ones to pass up a good photo op, the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Public Safety were there doing news conferences outside accusing the people on those boats of being bogus and of harbouring terrorists. They said that publicly. They also accused them of queue jumping.
What anyone going through the immigration system knows up to now is that there is no queue jumping. It is a normal part of our refugee system for people to make their way to a country by regular means and make a refugee claim, and the Minister of Immigration knows that. No queue is being jumped. The Minister of Immigration actually went into immigrant communities where they were suffering long delays in their applications for permanent residency to sponsor their parents and preyed on their frustrations at his government's inability to deal with that backlog and wait time and tried to foster resentment from those immigrants toward these refugees.
We always want to be careful with our analogies but we need to consider the Jews when they were fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II. When they made their way into a neighbouring country through the dark of night, they did not arrive with a visa. They did not come through any UNHCR process because there was none at the time. They just made their way to safety. Those people were not bogus. They were not jumping any queue. They were escaping for their lives. That is what people do and that is what those people were doing on those boats.
To make the claim that those people were terrorists before there was an adjudication is as incendiary and as inflammatory as it is wrong. To this day, of 540 people, none have been deemed to be terrorists. Also, if anyone has any kind of question about their origin, there are less than a handful.
What would Bill C-4 do? It would allow the minister to concentrate his power. The Minister of Immigration wants the power to designate people as irregular arrivals. Under the bill, it just says a group. It does not define how many. We presume it is two or more. What happens to those people? Those people could be detained for up to a year without review.
I will talk about the legality of that. The identical provision has gone to the Supreme Court of Canada in the security certificate cases and it has been deemed unconstitutional, yet the government puts it right back into this bill. Moreover, the minister says that they can come out if they are deemed to be refugees. That is true but that assumes that we have a refugee determination system that would make that determination in under a year. If it does not, people could be stuck in detention for up to a year. Even if those people are deemed to be bona fide refugees, this part of the bill would still prevent those people from being able to make a permanent residency application for five years or sponsor their family for five years. I will say right now that that is a violation of the UN convention on refugees and a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I will explain for the minister why that is the case. I put the question to him and he avoided answering the question. It is because the UN convention on refugees says that signatories, which Canada is, are not to put penalties on people who arrive at our shores by irregular means. If people who are deemed to be refugees are then prevented from sponsoring their families for five years or prohibited from making a permanent residency application for five years, they are absolutely being penalized because of their irregular entry.
The minister said that if they make a successful refugee claim they would be let out within the year. That is true but what about the five year bans? The minister refuses to answer that. That is the differential treatment of someone who comes through in the other process and it is a violation of the UN convention on refugees.
In terms of the rights of the child, the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea, the two boats came to Canada's shores, included children who were travelling unaccompanied. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates signatories, of which Canada is one, to put the best interests of the child first and foremost in our determination, and that includes in the immigration system. If we have a 14-year-old or a 12-year-old child who comes to our country and is deemed by the minister to be an irregular arrival, he or she would be prohibited from sponsoring his or her parents for five years. That is not in the best interests of that child. I say that there is a violation there.
Lawyers across the country from the Canadian Bar Association to the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have all said that the detention without review process will be attacked as a violation of the charter in three different ways. The act will go to the Supreme Court of Canada, mark my words.
Let us talk about the Bill C-11 component. All parties in the House in the last Parliament worked in good faith to reform Canada's refugee system. I will grant the minister that there was need for reform. The minister is correct when he says that the old system is not working. People make a refugee claim, they are denied, they appeal. Then they make a H and C application and they are denied the appeal. Then they make a pre-removal assessment application and they are denied the appeal. It can take too long to remove people who do not have valid claims.
That is why the parties rolled up our sleeves last Parliament and worked on a streamlined quick process to make those determinations. The New Democrats proposed, as we have for a long time, through our hard work, that the government actually put in place a Refugee Appeal Division, which I will give the minister credit for doing. The Liberals never did do it and the current minister did. However, it was pushed by the New Democrats all the way.
The problem with the bill is that the minister then wanted to deny access to the appeal division of people that he determined to come from so-called safe countries. The minister wanted the sole power to determine what was a safe country. Again, that is too much power concentrated in the hands of one person. The opposition asked why he did not have an independent panel of experts to guide him with firm criteria and the minister accepted that change. In fact, he praised it. He said that it made the process of designation more transparent. Those are not my words, they are the minister's words in the last Parliament. Now today, the minister has thrown that panel out and he wants to go back to the original proposals so that he alone determines what is a safe country.
As well, the minister wanted to deny access to the appeal division to people who came from what he deemed to be safe countries. In the last Parliament, we persuaded the minister and we said that everyone had a right to appeal. We cannot have a justice system where some people have a right to appeal and some do not. Imagine how Canadians would feel if we said that if they went to court, their neighbour could appeal the decision, but they could not, depending on where they came from. We were successful in saying that everyone had a right to appeal no matter where they came from.
While I am on this subject, a fundamental difference between the Conservatives and the New Democrats is that New Democrats believe that every country in this world is capable of producing a refugee. There are cases where some countries or more or less likely, but every country is capable of that. In particular, on the LGBT community, 100 countries have some form of legal discrimination against the LGBT community. Governments change.
The minister said that there were EU countries that had refugees and they had to be safe. Right now the far-right government of Hungary is currently passing laws before its parliament to have the power to pass laws in 24 hours, with 6 minutes of debate accorded to the opposition parties. It is amending the constitution. There is the situation of the Roma in Europe. Everyone knows in World War II that Jews were rounded up because of their faith and ethnicity. Roma were rounded up because of their ethnicity as were disabled and communists. These were historically discriminated against, including Roma. There is a long history of established discrimination against Roma, and those people come from Hungary. They come from the Czech Republic, from Romania, from countries that are members of the EU in some cases and those people have a right to make their claim.
The minister has thrown out the panel of experts to advise him. I ask why? If the minister is so confident that he can choose which countries are safe countries, why would he not want the benefit of advice from experts in human rights, the very idea he praised and thought was a good idea 18 months ago?
The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism may have great faith in his own judgment, but to have one person make such important determinations as to what country is safe or not, which country is or is not capable of producing refugees and who is an irregular arrival who will be subject to detention for up to a year without review and penalties that might keep their families apart for a decade. That is too much power for one person. We should build in checks and balances and that would be the case no matter who would be the minister of immigration, including a New Democrat. I do not know who would make the argument that the system is not better served by having that kind of check and balance.
In terms of the biometrics, biometrics is a system whereby this legislation would have people who apply for a visa to come to this country provide their fingerprints and pictures. That is a model we should be looking at, but there are significant privacy considerations and the Standing Committee on Immigration is looking at those very considerations right now.
The privacy commissioner has already testified and she says that providing a fingerprint for the purposes of identification to ensure that people presenting at our borders are who they say they are is fine. However, taking that fingerprint and comparing it to a wide database for other purposes or sharing that information with other countries or other bodies raises serious privacy concerns. We are in the middle of looking at those and those are issues that the government would be well advised to pay attention to before we proceed down that path.
I want to talk about a few other things that the bill would do.
The bill would prevent someone who has been convicted of a jail sentence of more than 10 years from making a refugee claim. I have raised this issue as well. Nelson Mandela was convicted of a crime for which he received a sentence of more than 10 years. Under the legislation, were that to happen today, Nelson Mandela could not make a refugee claim in Canada. He might be able to make a humanitarian and compassionate claim but no refugee claim. I have not heard the government explain that.
The bill would also, for the first time, give the minister the power to refer to the IRB the case of a refugee who had now become a permanent resident. The minister would have the power to strip that refugee of his or her permanent resident status if it were determined that circumstances had changed in the country from which the refugee escaped. That is unacceptable. People come to this country seeking safety and yet they find themselves, under this legislation, perhaps looking at being stripped of that status.
I would like to move the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading 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, because it:
(a) places an unacceptable level of arbitrary power in the hands of the minister;
(b) allows for the indiscriminate designation and subsequent imprisonment of bona fide refugees for up to one year without review;
(c) places the status of thousands of refugees and permanent residents in jeopardy;
(d) punishes bona fide refugees, including children, by imposing penalties based on mode of entry to Canada;
(e) creates a two-tiered refugee system that denies many applicants access to an appeals mechanism; and
(f) violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and two international conventions to which Canada is signatory.