Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise for my inaugural speech in the House of Commons since my election as the member of Parliament for Toronto—Danforth.
Permit me to begin by first thanking the people of Toronto—Danforth for having placed their trust in me in the March 19 by-election. I recognize that the bar has been set very high, in that I have both the distinct honour and the distinct challenge of succeeding a truly great member of the House, the Hon. Jack Layton, whose untimely passing this past August 22 triggered an outpouring of emotion among Canadians such as our country has rarely known.
I pledge to represent the vibrant community of Toronto—Danforth tirelessly, with integrity and following the example set by my predecessor. Like Jack Layton, I will do my utmost to contribute to Parliament both constructively, working with others to secure just and sensible results and by resolutely defending the progressive values of the people of Toronto—Danforth.
In that spirit, I turn now to address the substance of the legislation before the House on second reading of Bill C-31. This omnibus bill is intended to amend a variety of existing statutes, most notably, IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.
The Balanced Refugee Reform Act is itself mostly a far-ranging effort to amend IRPA and the ink is still wet on it, in that it only enters into force at the end of June.
It is important to recall that the Balanced Refugee Reform Act was ultimately a product of hard work and mutual compromise from all corners of the House, having been adopted with eventual all party support. Less than a year after it achieved a majority in the House last spring, the government is abandoning compromise and is steamrolling ahead with its own particular uncompromising view of refugee policy.
In support of this characterization of the government's Bill C-31 legislative initiative, allow me to briefly discuss a few, and I emphasize only a few, of the disturbing additions or changes to refugee law that Bill C-31 will usher in if it is permitted to pass.
First, the minister, if he deems it to be in the public interest, may characterize a refugee claimant, or refugee claimants, as having arrived in Canada irregularly. This decision would turn these claimants into designated foreign nationals, which I will subsequently simply refer to DFNs. Crucially and shockingly this designation as DFNs would subject them to automatic detention.
In contrast to regular refugee claimants whose detention must be reviewed after 48 hours and again in 7 days and then every 30 days thereafter, these irregular claimants could remain for 12 months before there was a first review of their detention. Indeed, for good measure, Bill C-31 explicitly adds a provision saying that review would be precluded before the end of 12 months. Thereafter, their detention would be reviewed in six-month increments.
Little could run further afoul of the international refugee law's strong presumption against detention which requires a stringent necessity test to be made and of the international refugee law's requirement that the necessity of detention be subject to early and then frequent review.
Under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, a refugee claimant has access to a full appeal to a Refugee Appeal Division panel. However, now, under Bill C-31, a designated foreign national, this second-class refugee created by the act, could no longer access the appeal process established in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. If the first instance decision maker, and that is the Refugee Protection Division, denied the person's refugee claim, not only would he or she have no right of appeal, but he or she would be subject to immediate deportation.
It is true that a DFN refugee claimant still may seek what is known as a judicial review, but it is important to note, in light of the answers being given in the House before the break, that this is not the same as an appeal. It is a much more limited process. It is found in the current law. It removes the automatic stay of deportation found in the current law so that in many, if not most, cases judicial review will occur after a person has been removed from the country.
What if a designated foreign national is successful in the refugee claim and is recognized as a refugee? Surely at that stage one would think Bill C-31 would provide that the successful claimant would be treated like any other refugee, but unbelievably, no. To start with, the designated foreign national who is recognized as a refugee continues to wear that designation as a state imposed badge of dishonour. He or she is subjected to reporting requirements to which other refugees are not subjected.
More atrociously, an accepted refugee who started out as a designated foreign national cannot apply to become a permanent resident of Canada for five years after being found to be a refugee. This could result in the refugee not becoming a permanent resident for six or seven years, assuming there will be processing delays with some applications. Compare this to a regular refugee who is actually required to apply for permanent residence status before 60 days are up.
One might ask, what is the big deal? If a refugee gets to stay in Canada, what difference does it make if the individual has permanent resident status or some sort of refugee status? One huge difference is that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that a person be a permanent resident before the person is able to sponsor family members, such as the person's spouse, children, or parents, to immigrate to Canada. Thus, under Bill C-31 irregular refugees would have no hope of reuniting with family in Canada for at least five years.
Currently, family class applications in this country are often processed at a snail's pace. It is not uncommon for it to take three years for a child or a spouse to be admitted and sometimes up to six years for parents. It is no stretch to say that a refugee who started out as a designated foreign national may have to wait 10 years for family members to join him or her.
If that is not enough, a designated foreign national refugee will not even be able to travel outside Canada to spend time with family, for example, in a country other than the country of origin which the refugee fears going back to. Why is that? Bill C-31 decrees that such a refugee will not be given travel documents until he or she becomes a permanent resident, that is, until at least five years have passed, despite the fact that the refugee convention requires that travel documents be issued to refugees once they are “lawfully staying” in the host country. Fortress Canada thus becomes prison Canada for the designated foreign national refugee. If he were still alive, Kafka could not have written Bill C-31 better if he tried.
It does not end there. The DFN provisions apply retroactively to March 2009. After Bill C-31 becomes law, the minister could decide to designate the Tamil refugees who arrived on the Ocean Lady in October 2009 and the Sun Sea in August 2010 as irregulars. The only part of a DFN regime that does not apply retroactively is the detention regime.
Finally, there is the stunning change in the law with respect to cessation of refugee status. This basically means that after the government applies to have a refugee status removed, that simultaneously removes the permanent resident status, which subjects the individual to being removed from the country.
Time does not permit me to go into many other problems with the bill, such as problematic changes to the safe countries regime, the implications for children, the radical cuts in the time that refugee claimants have to prepare their cases, and the advent of a biometrics regime which comes with no privacy safeguards and allows Canada to share this data with other countries.
There is much in the bill that requires close and exacting scrutiny once it gets to committee. I hope that government members along with the opposition will take the committee process seriously and not back the government in what is ultimately repressive legislation. At some point, MPs have to stand up for their conscience as well as for their constituents.