Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-4, the Conservative government's bill to address human smuggling.
We in the official opposition and key stakeholders from across Canada from all walks of life are very concerned about the approach the Conservative government is taking with the bill.
The Conservatives claim that the bill cracks down on human smuggling, but in reality, as the bill has been written, it will concentrate too much power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and unfairly penalize the would-be refugees.
New Democrats would rather attack the criminals, the smugglers and the traffickers. Instead of doing that, the bill will hurt legitimate refugees and people who try to help them. The proposed process is unclear. It is arbitrary and it is very unfairly discriminatory.
The House approved a strong and balanced refugee law in the last sitting. Instead of the new, flawed approach proposed by the bill, we need to have better enforcement of the old bill that was passed in the last Parliament.
Conservatives should be less focused on photo ops and more focused on enforcing the laws that we already have against human smuggling. The government's approach to human trafficking and human smuggling should be focused on providing law enforcement agencies and the Immigration and Refugee Board with the resources they need to get the job done instead of playing politics with refugees.
Bill C-4 takes the wrong approach in a number of ways. I would like to highlight some of the concerns of the official opposition today.
First, regarding designated claimants, the bill allows the minister to designate a group of refugees as irregular arrivals in a fashion that creates two classes of refugee claimants. This poses a possible violation of charter equality rights and the refugee convention.
Second, designated claimants, including children, will be mandatorily detained for a year on arrival or designation, without even a review by the Immigration and Refugee Board. This is an even more clear violation of the charter, as the Supreme Court of Canada has already struck down mandatory detention without review on security certificates. It seems that this could imply that indefinite detention is on the basis of identity, with no possible release until the minister decides that identity is established.
As I am sure members are aware, arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties to which we are signatories.
There is also a concern with the release conditions imposed by Bill C-4, as the mandatory conditions set out in regulations will be imposed on all designated claimants released from detention. It is very troubling that the conditions are not specified, making this very unclear. On principle, though, mandatory conditions would be unfair, as they are unable to take into account individual cases.
The problem also extends to the appeal process, since under Bill C-4 decisions on claims by designated persons could not be appealed to the refugee appeal division. This is discriminatory and again risks violating provisions and the refugee convention.
The government has tried this approach before, and all parties opposed the previous bill that was introduced in the last Parliament, Bill C-49 when it was brought to Parliament because there were concerns about the undue amount of power it handed to the minister and because it would likely contravene Canadian and international law. Those concerns are still part of the new Bill C-4.
We can look at other international examples. My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway pointed this out earlier, and I will highlight it again.
When we look at what has happened elsewhere in the world, similar laws have been met with opposition by Amnesty International, which has started a campaign to tackle the same misinformation surrounding refugees who arrive by boat. The campaign highlights the fact that it is legal under international law to arrive by boat and that the vast majority of those who go to another country by boat are in fact legitimate claimants. This bill ignores this information.
There was a high court ruling in November 2010 in Australia that ruled in favour of two Sri Lankan refugees who claimed that laws barring them from appealing in Australian courts were unfair. The approach taken by the Conservative government in this bill makes it very possible that the same situation could arise in Canada if the bill is passed.
What is really happening is that the Conservatives are playing politics with refugees. That is the real optic of this bill. They are claiming this is a public safety issue and the bill was introduced by the public safety minister, but the issue is clearly one that primarily deals with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This is an immigration and refugee issue, not a public safety issue.
The official opposition recognizes and respects responsibility for refugees, unlike the Conservatives who have taken an approach that would damage Canada's standing in the international community and violates its commitment under the conventions relating to the status of refugees and the rights of the child. The process proposed by Bill C-4 is unclear, arbitrary and, ultimately, very discriminatory. Even more telling is that research and studies from other countries have shown that the bill would not curb human smuggling at all.
It is not just the official opposition that has concerns about this bill. There are many key stakeholders across our country with questions and concerns on this issue. They are outright worried about the approach that the government is taking to tackle this problem. The Canadian Council for Refugees has called for this bill to be scrapped entirely. Amnesty International Canada says that Bill C-4 falls far short of Canada's international human rights and refugee protection obligations and will result in serious violations of the rights of refugees and migrants. A program director with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has issued a very scathing attack on the Conservative government's attitude toward refugees generally and Bill C-4 in particular stating that there was no need for this draconian measure contemplated by the Conservative government.
Another organization that has spoken out against this particular bill and the one previous to this, the Canadian Bar Association, stated that it did not support the legislation in its previous form as it violates charter protection against arbitrary detention and prompt review of detention, as well as Canada's international obligations respecting the treatment of persons seeking protection. An expert panel at the Centre for Refugee Studies has called this proposed bill draconian.
As we can see, many organizations that come from various walks of life have spoken against this bill being proposed by the Conservative government.
It is clear that the bill takes the wrong approach. I will speak more specifically to why the bill is a wrong approach for Canada to take. First, current legislation already allows for a life sentence for human smuggling. Bill C-4 may be contrary to section 15 of the charter regarding equality under the law. Bill C-4 would create new second-class refugees who are denied permanent residency, temporary resident permits, denied on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and denied applications for permanent residence.
Many legal scholars and constitutional experts argue that this would create inequality under the law simply because the minister has designated immigrants due to their mode of arrival.
Bill C-4 may be contrary to section 9 of the charter, “arbitrary detention”. Bill C-4 would also impose a mandatory detention on designated foreign nationals for up to 12 months.
Bill C-4 is contrary to the UN convention relating to the status of refugees. In particular, Article 31 states:
The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
In summary, given all the information, the official opposition, key stakeholders and many concerned Canadians across this country are asking why the Conservatives are taking this approach. What answers does the government have for questions about the unconstitutionality of this bill, in particular the arbitrary detention measures? Even more concerning is how the government can justify the mandatory detention of children.
My friend across the aisle talked about how Canadians have been compassionate about our immigration and refugee policies over the years. I would have to agree with that because I am an immigrant myself. I came here 31 years ago and it was this country's generosity that allowed me to migrate here.
However, I would ask my colleagues across the aisle if they are changing the definition of “compassion”. How can they justify putting children in detention? In my dictionary, the dictionary that Canadians have, compassion is not defined by putting children in detention centres. That is very troubling to me. Surely the Conservatives cannot justify putting children in detention.
This summer, I had an opportunity to attend a soccer tournament in my riding. I saw a program where new immigrant students were playing soccer matches with one another. The program was helping youth integrate into society. That is the kind of Canada that I envision. I do not envision a Canada where we put children in detention centres before we allow them to prosper in this country. Canada's compassion is why I am proud to be a Canadian. We need to ensure that children who come here from different countries where they were persecuted are treated with compassion and not put into detention centres.
I cannot understand how the government can justify the detention of children for over a year without any review at all. Refugees often arrive by plane. Does the government have any explanation as to why it is targeting the refugees on board boats? It is totally unclear what criteria the government would use to designate irregular travellers. Is arriving by plane possibly irregular or is it only by boat? It is even more unclear what would be defined as a group. Could two or more people be considered a group? This would mean that nearly all refugees would be designated simply because they do not travel alone. Is that fair?
The bill would block family reunification. As we heard previously, it would take five years after refugees have come here for them to be reunited with their family. That is not acceptable. It prevents some refugees from applying for permanent residency for up to five years. Why prevent family reunification? That is the question I have for my colleagues opposite in this House.
Bill C-4 would give the government the power to arrest and detain any non-citizens, including permanent residents, based on mere suspicion of criminality. Why is the government attacking the rights of newcomers?
The final question I have for the government side is as follows. In view of all the information, the concerns from key stakeholders, refugee groups and so many Canadians from all walks of life, would the minister tell us why the government did not decide to go after just the criminals and not the legitimate refugees?