Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.
The latest version of this bill is a slight improvement over the original thanks to some amendments. I would like to thank the government for that, but the fact is that many experts strongly criticized the bill, leaving the Conservatives little choice but to make amendments. Even though the amendments improved the bill, it is still problematic in many respects.
One of the many problems with Bill C-31 is that it will create two classes of refugees: those arriving through regular channels and those arriving through irregular channels. This classification will have serious consequences because individuals will not be treated the same way. According to the Barreau du Québec, this measure is “possibly discriminatory, illegal and contrary to Canada's international commitments”.
There is a real danger that people will be deported to countries where their lives are in danger. This two-tier system will actually increase the risk of error. Yet Canada is bound to protect the right to life, liberty and security of every person in this country, including so-called illegal refugees.
For example, if one person comes from another country by sea and another person comes by air, they can be treated differently. We feel that such a situation is not really acceptable.
Another major shortcoming of this bill that was not amended is the fact that it gives the Minister of Immigration additional powers for no good reason. Under Bill C-31, the Minister of Immigration will decide which individuals qualify as regular arrivals and which as irregular. That puts too much power in the minister's hands. Not only does this bill create a two-tier system, it also politicizes it. This part of the bill has been strongly criticized by many experts, including the Barreau du Québec.
The system was working fairly well, but now the Conservatives are trying to exert even more control over it. We must not oppose the politicization of the immigration system just because the Conservatives are the ones in power. No party or politician should have such powers. There is no reason for it, and the Liberal Party has been clear on that.
If for example, a group of individuals arrive from a country that we have good relations with, but the circumstances are such that the safety of the group is indeed compromised, what will the minister do? He might base his decision on the current state of relations with that country instead of basing it on an objective opinion, as some have pointed out in the past and in committee. Will the minister declare these people as irregular arrivals in order to preserve good relations with their country of origin? If we do not have good relations, a different decision might be made that might not suit the people involved. Will the minister acknowledge the threats against them and declare the arrival regular? Why politicize the matter? It is a bad decision regardless of the minister's intentions.
What is more, the initial bill prevented illegal refugees from being heard before the end of a 12-month mandatory detention. The bill has since been amended to allow refugees to be heard within 14 days, then heard again after six months. Why wait six months? The Liberal Party is wondering why the government would not allow refugees to be heard again every month. We proposed 28 days. I think the government should implement an even more flexible system because, once the identity of the people is known and we know that they are good people and true refugees, why should they have to stay in detention and incur costs for the system and the government?
There is still a two-tiered system at play. The Conservatives should at least withdraw the unreasonable, arbitrary six-month review period.
The safe countries designation also poses a problem since, once again, the minister has the power to decide which countries are safe and which are not. Again, by politicizing the immigration process, we will have to choose between our relations with other countries and protection for refugees. The unfortunate refugees from so-called safe countries will have to go through a much more complicated process and might be sent back to their country of origin for political reasons. That is unacceptable and certainly unjustifiable.
The Conservatives must leave it to the experts to decide which countries are safe and which are not, while reviewing the files case by case. It is not up to the minister to decide. The parliamentary secretary will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the bill does not contain a list. We do not know which countries will be safe and we do not know the criteria for designating them.
Mandatory detention for so-called irregular arrivals is highly problematic, especially when it comes to children. Once again, a number of experts opposed this measure and challenged the legality of this bill. Indeed, Bill C-31 will subject 16- and 17-year-old children to mandatory detention if they are considered irregular arrivals. We know the Conservatives like to beleaguer our children, but why not exclude children from mandatory detention? They are too young to have decided to immigrate to Canada; it would have been their parents' choice. Why punish these particular children? This measure smacks of Conservative ideology, which makes no distinction between adults and children. The Conservatives would always rather punish than prevent.
The question of children aged 15 and under also poses a problem. Two choices are being proposed regarding their fate: either they are separated from their parents and sent to another institution while their parents are detained, or they are detained with their parents. Neither option is acceptable, in my view. If the arrivals present no danger to Canada or Canadians, there should be no mandatory detention, and this is especially true when children are involved. Several experts confirmed that the psychological effect on children in both cases would be devastating. This measure will likely be challenged before the courts, and I doubt it is even constitutional. In short, this bill represents another step backward for Canada.
Furthermore, the people who are deported after their application is rejected will not be able to apply for permanent resident status in the following five years. When that is added to mandatory detention, a person might have to wait more than six years to immigrate, sometimes just because of a purely political—crassly political—decision. This measure is not necessary and, I repeat, it is arbitrary. Are there studies that prove this approach should be adopted? Our immigration system is working rather well, so why change all of it?
We have spoken at length about this bill, but one question remains: what is its true objective? The government says that it wants to give priority to regular refugees. And yet irregular refugees will be subject to mandatory detention whether or not they pose a risk to Canada. These two categories of refugees are dealt with in the same manner.
Of course, Canadian taxpayers will foot the bill for detention, even though it is pointless. We have become used to the Conservatives wasting public money on incarcerating people while cutting services to the public. What is most contradictory about this bill is that the government wants to incarcerate more people in order to prevent delays in processing so-called regular refugees.
However, we all know that detaining these people will cost Canadian taxpayers a lot of money. Why not just spend the money on hiring more staff to process the applications? It would be a little more efficient and perhaps would allow these refugees, who have probably filed legitimate applications, to start anew. The Conservatives' logic does not stand up. In the interest of fairness and cost savings, detention should not be mandatory.
The Conservative government says that it also wants this bill to serve as a deterrent to illegal immigration. Yet, the Conservatives are targeting the refugees and not the smugglers. Why have the conservatives chosen to attack such an easy target—the refugees? They should be targeting those who make money by exploiting human misery and breaking our laws. Illegal immigrants already take huge risks to escape misery. The threat of penalties will not dissuade them from entering Canada illegally.
As I have said in the past, most of these immigrants do not look up Canadian laws on the Internet before coming here. If they are exploited, if they are in a precarious situation and are forced to come here, they do not come because they want to be detained or because they are familiar with Canadian laws. They come because they are fleeing poverty in their country of origin. They know nothing about our laws. They are prepared to risk their lives to escape poverty. In other words, this bill will only create more problems for refugees and will have little impact on smugglers.
Must I remind the Conservatives that these same smugglers will usually turn illegal immigrants into slaves once they arrive in the country? The bill should target the people who profit from the crime and not victims and desperate people. As I have already said, with this bill, we will just add to the stress these victims are already suffering.
For all these reasons, my Liberal colleagues and I will vote against this bill. The amendments made by the minister are not enough and only partially fixed the many shortcomings in the original bill. As many experts and officials stated when the bill was studied in committee, the law works as it is. This bill will only create more problems for immigrants, before it is contested and likely declared unconstitutional in court.
I repeat: this bill will not achieve its goal, simply because its focus is not in the right place.