Mr. Speaker, Bill C-4 has a very clear short title: Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act. That sounds right, pertinent and unequivocal. We expect a well thought-out bill that would help our law enforcement agencies catch criminals who are involved in human trafficking, a very serious crime that is punishable by life in prison.
Except for in this title, there is no other mention of smugglers. They vanish just as quickly as they came. There is not another word about them, and the emphasis shifts immediately to refugees, the very victims of the smugglers mentioned in the title. And how are these refugees treated in this bill? They are described as potential terrorists, fleeing criminals or people abusing Canada's goodwill and the hospitality of its institutions.
In fact, the bill seems to be suggesting to Canadians that the current refugee processing legislation is naive. It needs to be updated and reflect the current focus on international terrorism. We quickly realize that the real short title of this bill is something along the lines of “the arbitrary radicalization of the legal treatment of refugees act”.
We should not think that we do not already have a law that targets smugglers. This phenomenon was not discovered last week. This criminal act is already punishable by a very severe sentence, the most severe sentence in fact: life in prison.
Why does this bill focus on refugees? Why does it want to make them guilty of other people's crimes?
What is a refugee? Must I remind the House? From the outset, we are talking about almost unbearable situations. We are talking about men, women and children who have only one simple hope left. They have just spent several weeks at sea in unsanitary conditions. They are put on unsafe boats with no guarantee of safety. When they finally reach land, they often do not have passports or any money. They have basically been denied their human dignity and who has done this? The smugglers that this bill supposedly wants to bring to justice. However, these smugglers cannot be found. They are still abroad where they continue to engage in illegal practices. In return for large amounts of money, these smugglers lead less fortunate, persecuted people who do not feel safe in their own country to believe that they will have a better life in a developed country. Those people are victims and nothing more. They are in the most vulnerable state possible.
What is the Conservative government proposing we do to lighten the load for these victims whose courage and determination brought them to Canada? The Conservatives are proposing that we persecute them even further by treating them like criminals and looking for terrorists among children. Who will be given the right to do this? A government institution that is well-equipped with experts? The RCMP? No. To our great surprise, it is the Minister of Immigration who would have this right. I would like to ask why.
Why would a minister be granted such power? It is completely unjustified. It would be a backward move, a legal anomaly that would be fundamentally unCanadian. In this country, we do not place such a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of a minister.
From a strictly legal point of view, this could violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill C-4 could be contrary to section 9 of the charter, which pertains to arbitrary detention. By creating two categories of refugees, Bill C-4 could violate section 15 of the Charter, which pertains to equality before the law. The NDP is of the opinion that Canadians do not feel there is any justification for questioning such things. The charter is a building block of our state. If we circumvent the charter, we are circumventing democracy.
If I may, I would like to give an example to show just how weak the government's argument in favour of Bill C-4 is. I hope I have the Conservatives' attention. I repeat, the NDP takes its legislative responsibilities very seriously, especially when it comes to the safety of Canadians. That is our duty. Consider the case of a refugee who has been detained as a designated foreign national under Bill C-4, but decides to exercise his rights and take the government to court over these violations of his basic charter rights. It must be understood that this person was incarcerated without any valid reason whatsoever. Well, there is a provision, in section 1, that allows reasonable limits on Canada's basic rights and freedoms. That said, the burden of proof lies with the government, which must prove that a rule of law that it is adopting can override the charter.
Such exceptions are justifiable only within reasonable and demonstrable limits in the context of a free and democratic society. As proof, in R. v. Oakes in 1986, a judge described very clearly what has since become known as the Oakes test, to determine whether such limitations on basic rights are justifiable in the context of a free and democratic society.
How does the Conservative government plan to prove that 12-month, arbitrary detentions imposed by a ministerial decision will satisfy those criteria? I am referring to the minimal impairment criteria. Will the new legislation the government wants to use to achieve its objective repudiate a charter right in the smallest possible way? Will the limitations on basic rights be proportional to the objective of this new legislation? No. From a legal perspective, that is all untenable. This government cannot justify limiting basic rights like that.
The problem lies in the fact that the smugglers are the real criminals in this matter. And where are they? Are they in the makeshift boats that land on our shores? Do they accompany their victims? No, they are long gone and untouchable. And the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism cannot do anything about it, regardless of the powers he gives himself.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the only organization capable of cracking down on human smugglers. The RCMP's expertise is a precious and available resource. Its legal role has already been established and there is no risk of abuse. The NDP believes that our police force should be provided with the resources required to go after these criminals. The NDP does not understand what future immigration ministers would accomplish by incarcerating these refugees.
There is no justification for this bill. It does nothing to improve the security of Canada and its population. It punishes people who need us. And, above all, it does not provide the RCMP with the necessary resources and wastes its expertise. The measures are arbitrary. Yes, the problem does need to be resolved. We must pass legislation against smugglers. Unfortunately, the Conservative government is taking the wrong approach. It is proposing to indiscriminately put all refugees through the wringer. It is trying to kill a fly with sledgehammer. What criteria will be used to determine who is a designated foreign national? Why is the bill not clear in this regard? It is unacceptable to introduce such vague legislation.
Canada was not built by giving such absolute discretion to a minister. We realistically expect that laws be rational and predictable. That is not at all the case with Bill C-4, and I am disappointed.
In closing, who are the biggest abusers of the immigration system? It is the Conservatives. Taking their cue from a vague feeling of xenophobia, they are claiming to deal with a scourge, yet they are doing nothing more than playing politics, and rather shamelessly at that. They are trying to appropriate abusive powers, nothing less. They are trying to tarnish Canada's good name. That is unwarranted. Our country is a symbol of justice throughout the world. For millions of people living precariously, Canada is a symbol of hope and humanity.
Does the Conservative government, which incessantly proclaims its patriotism, truly want to diminish our greatest achievement just for a shameful power grab? There are not many countries like Canada, and it is our duty to maintain its generosity, which is legendary and the reason why Canada is held in high regard throughout the world. More powerful nations would give anything for such an illustrious reputation.