Mr. Speaker, for two weeks in a row, we heard testimony from experts, front-line workers and refugees who came to express their concerns about Bill C-31 while it was being studied by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I want to remind the House that a policy without justice is an inadequate policy. Bill C-31 completely jeopardizes refugee rights, and creates two classes of refugees.
The NDP does not support Bill C-31. The Conservatives should withdraw it so that the new Balanced Refugee Reform Act can work. Never before have the rights of refugees been as threatened as they are under the Conservatives. Never has our democracy been as discredited as it has been under the Conservative government, which is incapable of respecting the compromises consensually agreed upon with the other parties.
The government is unable to remember that the ratification of international refugee or human rights conventions requires us to make our legislation and policies consistent with the provisions of the international conventions we have signed. The experts who spoke to us reminded us that Canada is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. They feel that Bill C-31 protecting Canada's immigration system act respects neither the letter nor the spirit of the convention.
Let us first recall that Bill C-31 is an omnibus bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, unfortunately by incorporating into Bill C-4 the most unreasonable provisions of former Bill C-11, which received royal assent in June 2010. This bill raises serious concerns in addition to those already raised by Bill C-4, the unconstitutional nature of which we have raised and highlighted in our previous interventions. All the witnesses we heard during the committee's study of the bill agreed unanimously.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of the concerns with this bill, both in terms of the Canadian charter and the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. In response to Bill C-31, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has said that, like the sorry Bill C-10, Bill C-31 is extremely complicated.
The most draconian measures in Bill C-4 have again been made part of Bill C-31. Take automatic and mandatory detention, for example. Bill C-4 proposed mandatory detention for one year for people fleeing persecution in their country of origin and entering Canada without identity documents in their possession.
Clearly, the safety of Canadians is a priority for the NDP. That is why the current immigration legislation provides for detaining foreign nationals when their identity is not known, when they might run away, and especially when public safety is at risk. So we can see how the provisions on 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. The Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Bar Association, the Young Bar Association of Montreal and other legal experts who gave testimony were categorical about the unconstitutional nature of detention under Bill C-31, and specifically the detention of children.
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the detention of children and defines a child as a human being under 18 years of age. We are asking that the age of the child be consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Finally, the experts whom we have heard from in committee have hammered away at the point that the detention of children is prohibited because it is detrimental to them psychologically, mentally and physiologically, and to society as a whole. For example, Australia had introduced mandatory detention for asylum seekers, but it had to backtrack, because, not only did detention cause costs to skyrocket, but it also destroyed the fabric of society and communities.
Why are the Conservatives attempting to put themselves above the rule of law, which is a key principle of our democracy, even though they know what our highest court said about detention in the Charkaoui case? Why are they asking the House to pass a bill that we know will be subject to court challenges, as a number of experts reminded us?
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.
There are also deadlines that violate a principle of natural justice. 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, and obtain proof of identity from their country.
If their application is dismissed, refugee claimants would have 15 days within which to file an appeal under Bill C-31. As anyone can see, the deadlines imposed on refugee claimants do not allow them to make a full response and defence.
Under our justice system, the greater the risk to life, the longer the time frame accorded to the person being tried to prepare his defence. Bill C-31 does not respect this principle of fundamental justice. A number of witnesses pointed this out to us.
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 that refugees may come from.
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 or considering the differential risks that certain minorities face in a country that is safe for other people.
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.
The Geneva convention stipulates that the personal fears of victims of persecution are to be taken into consideration. Nowhere does it say that international protection is given to victims of persecution because of the country in which the persecution occurred, or whether or not the victim used clandestine means to reach a state that is a party to the convention.
It is not only in undemocratic countries that religious minorities are persecuted. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not restricted to undemocratic countries. Persecution based on race can occur in any country in the world. All member states of the European Convention on Human Rights are democratic countries. But the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is replete with decisions condemning democratic states for their abuse of individuals.
The government has frequently invoked the UNHCR's favourable opinion of the safe countries of origin list.
I would like to conclude by mentioning my final concern about the changes being made by Bill C-31 with respect to applications on humanitarian grounds. These applications are a tool that allow individuals to remain in Canada, even if they are not eligible for other reasons. Unfortunately, under Bill C-31, applicants awaiting a decision from the Refugee Appeal Division cannot simultaneously submit an application on humanitarian grounds.
I would like to point out that our country has always been in the forefront where basic human rights are concerned.
The refugee problem is a human rights problem and, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people are acknowledged to have these rights, whatever their race, religion, political beliefs or lifestyle.
Asylum seekers are above all human beings. They are to be treated with respect, humanity and dignity. More than anything else, they fall into the category of vulnerable people who need our compassion and our protection. What is involved here is universal human justice.
This bill and these universal values are poles apart. That is why Bill C-31 should be rejected.