Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle.
A policy without justice is an inadequate policy. Bill C-31 completely jeopardizes refugee rights. Never in human history have refugee rights been as threatened as they are under the Conservatives and never has our democracy been as discredited as it is under the Conservative government, which is unable to respect the compromises reached in consensus with the other parties.
The government seems to forget that our ratification of international conventions on refugee rights and human rights requires us to bring our laws and policies into line with the provisions of these international conventions.
Canada is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. Bill C-31, intended to protect Canada's immigration system, respects neither the spirit nor the letter of the Geneva convention. Having read the bill, one wonders whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted by the House in 1982, is still in effect in Canada.
Let us not forget that Bill C-31 is an omnibus bill, which seeks to amend the Immigration Refugee Protection Act by unfortunately incorporating into Bill C-4 the most unreasonable provisions of the former Bill C-11, which received royal assent in June 2010.
The government had three main goals in mind for this bill: revoking the majority of the compromises included in the former Bill C-11, Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which received support from all the parties; reintroducing Bill C-4, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act; and finally, introducing the use of biometrics into the temporary resident program.
Bill C-31 raises some serious concerns in addition to the those already raised by Bill C-4, the unconstitutional nature of which we have raised and highlighted in our previous interventions.
In my speech today, I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of the concerns that Bill C-31 raises. In reaction to the introduction of Bill C-31, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers says that like the sorry Bill C-10, Bill C-31 is extremely complicated.
The most draconian measures in Bill C-4 have been integrated into Bill C-31. Let us look at a few examples. Bill C-4 provided for mandatory detention for one year for people fleeing persecution in their country of origin and entering Canada without identity documents in their possession. Also, Bill C-4 eliminated review of detention for refugees who are smuggled into Canada.
The provisions pertaining to detention found in Bill C-4, which are being reintroduced in Bill C-31, are a direct violation of our Constitution. Furthermore, the jurisprudence constante of the Supreme Court is categorical in this regard.
Why are the Conservatives attempting to put themselves above the rule of law, which is a key principle of our democracy, even though they are familiar with the precedents of our high court? Why are they attempting to mislead the House by proposing that it pass laws that they know violate not only our Constitution, but also the Canadian charter and human rights conventions that our country has signed? Pacta sunt servanda is a principle of international law. Signed conventions have to be respected.
Furthermore, lawyers specializing in refugee rights have said that they are deeply troubled by the short time frames that Bill C-31 gives refugee claimants to seek Canada's protection. They find that Bill C-31 drastically changes Canada's refugee protection system and makes it unfair. Bill C-31 imposes unrealistic time frames and unattainable deadlines on refugee claimants and uses the claimants' inability to meet those deadlines to exclude them from protection.
In fact, under the terms of Bill C-31, refugee claimants have only 15 days to overcome the trauma of persecution, find a lawyer to help them, gather the documentary evidence to support their allegations, obtain proof of identity from their country, scrape together the money for legal fees, present an articulate and coherent account of their life, and so forth.
Is there a woman who has been raped and traumatized who would be willing to tell her story to a stranger? I am a psychologist and I know that is impossible in the time provided.
Unsuccessful refugee claimants will have 15 days within which to file an appeal under Bill C-31. As everyone can see, the time frames imposed on refugee claimants are not long enough to allow them to make full answer and defence.
Under our justice system, the greater the risk to life, the longer the time frames given to the person being tried to prepare his defence. Bill C-31 does not respect this principle of fundamental justice.
I am also deeply concerned not only about the new term—designated country of origin—that Bill C-31 introduces into our legislation but also about the undemocratic nature of the process for designating the countries in question. Under Bill C-31, the minister alone has the power to designate safe countries of origin, without first defining the designation criteria for these countries.
According to the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the designated safe country list and the unilateral power granted to the minister dangerously politicize Canada's refugee system.
Refugee claimants who are on a designated safe country list have even less time to submit their written arguments and will not be allowed an appeal.
Bill C-31 also relieves the minister of the obligation of justifying why a country is safe and considering the differential risks that certain minorities face in a country that is safe for others.
If Bill C-31 is passed, refugees will become more vulnerable because their fate will depend on the political whims of the minister and the government. Failed claimants from designated countries of origin can be deported from Canada almost immediately, even if they have requested a judicial review of the decision. In other words, a person can be deported before his case is heard.
This shows us that the government has no understanding at all of the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which was adopted on July 28, 1951. The convention insists that the individual concerns of victims of persecution be taken into account. The Geneva convention does not state anywhere that international protection is granted to the victim of persecution based on the country in which the persecution was experienced.
Persecution of religious minorities does not occur solely in non-democratic countries, nor does discrimination based on sexual orientation occur solely in non-democratic countries. Race-based persecution can happen anywhere in the world. All signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights are democratic countries, but the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is teeming with rulings that condemn democratic states for abuses of individual rights.
If that is the case, by what objective criteria can the minister deny a person international protection based on the fact that he or she is from a particular country and claims to have been persecuted because of his or her sexual orientation or religion?
The process of designating countries of origin is not carried out by an independent, democratic entity. The government is judge and jury. It has the power to designate countries of origin considered safe, and it has the power to refuse protection provided for in the Geneva convention on refugee status without examining the merits of a given case.
I would also point out that under subclause 19(1) of Bill C-31, the government can, if it chooses, withdraw the international protection due to victims of persecution on the grounds that circumstances have changed in the refugee's country of origin. Under this provision, the government could now decide to send people to whom it granted international protection during the first and second world wars, for example, back to their countries of origin.
Subclause 19(1) also adds new terms to the section concerning loss of permanent resident status. It states that the existing criteria for withdrawing protection from asylum seekers can be grounds for loss of permanent resident status.
I will conclude with one final concern about changes that Bill C-31 makes to claims made on humanitarian grounds. Such claims enable a person to stay in Canada even if he or she is not eligible on other grounds. Unfortunately, under Bill C-31, applicants awaiting a refugee appeal division decision cannot simultaneously apply on humanitarian grounds.
This bill is unjust and cruel. It is antithetical to Canadian values of compassion for victims of persecution, and it must be defeated.