Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, about Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act.
It is important to clearly understand the objectives of this bill. One of the objectives is to allow the public safety minister to designate as irregular an arrival in Canada of a group of persons, who are categorized as “designated foreign nationals”. Designated foreign nationals who claim refugee or protected person status will be treated differently from other asylum seekers.
That is the reality. My Conservative colleagues are trying to tell us that this bill is meant to crack down on human smugglers, but its real objective is to create two categories of refugees, or rather a new category for designated foreign nationals. That is the reality.
Again, the Bloc Québécois will not support Bill C-49 and will vote against it, because it aims to do more than just crack down on human smugglers. It will punish people who are fleeing persecution, including children. Once again, the Conservatives are using a specific example from recent events—which made headlines in Quebec and Canada—to advance their law and order agenda, even though the measures they are proposing will not change the situation. The reality is that these people have arrived, they are here and the bill will not change anything in terms of the situation that unfolded when the last boat arrived in British Columbia.
The Bloc Québécois therefore opposes any new refugee category that would be justified only by the manner in which refugee claimants arrive. The fact that claimants arrive in a group does not mean they are not legitimate refugees. The Bloc Québécois believes that a new category that puts even heavier burdens on refugees would be prejudicial. We also deplore the fact that this government is backtracking, after a compromise had been reached on refugee reform. For years now, we have been calling for the refugee system to be updated and for the creation of an appeal system. We had nearly reached an agreement with the government, but instead it has decided to push ahead with its agenda rather than a compromise, because of a media event.
We in the Bloc Québécois believe it is simply inconceivable that all refugee claimants who arrive in a group can automatically be imprisoned for a maximum of 12 months, with no possibility of disputing their arrest. Worse still, according to the bill, that period can be extended indefinitely. This is a matter of fundamental human rights and democracy, specifically, the right to liberty. No human being should have to face such a situation.
This bill on illegal immigration goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as Canada's international obligations under the 1951 refugee convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Bloc Québécois believes that it would be completely irresponsible to vote in favour of a bill that flies in the face of at least three treaties meant to protect fundamental human rights.
For years, the governments, Liberal and Conservative alike, have allowed the current refugee system to get bogged down without doing anything about it. The thing that should be noted about this alarming statement is that this is not the first time the Conservative government has tried to resolve the problem by tightening the rules around asylum seekers coming to Canada. Take, for instance, the decision to require visas from Mexicans and foreign nationals from the Czech Republic, or the government's unwavering desire to develop a list of safe countries of origin as part of the refugee system reform. We do indeed detect, in the development of immigration policies, a discriminatory tendency to want to close the borders, including to those who are seeking refugee status. The proof is in the targeted range for total protected persons, which went from between 26,000 and 31,800 in 2008 to between 19,600 and 26,000 in 2010, not to mention the growing use of propaganda rhetoric that, in the name of national security, is used to justify taking a hard-line approach to this category of immigrants.
Although the government is saying it wants to punish human smugglers with this bill, it is instead punishing people who are fleeing persecution, including children. Once again, the government is being utterly discriminatory toward these refugees and is putting words into action to separate what it considers to be good refugees from bad refugees, as though their lives were not equally threatened.
The current system is bogged down because no one wanted to modernize it. When refugees arrive in large numbers, the government's tendency, which was solidified under the Liberals and confirmed by the Conservatives, is to tighten the system and prohibit them from entering the country. Under international treaties that Canada has signed, refugees deserve at least to have their file reviewed. Will we keep them all here? Not at all. Far from it. We will offer hospitality to those who truly need it and who are being persecuted in their home country, but we have to develop an effective file analysis system that respects human rights.
The Bloc Québécois has repeatedly shown the House that the existing system should be updated. The Liberals did not want to do it. The Conservatives appeared to want to do it—we hoped so, at least—but the Minister of Immigration was rebuffed with this bill, which flatly rejects everything he had put in place through discussions and negotiations to change the existing system. By creating a new class of refugees or foreign nationals requesting asylum, they are rejecting all improvements to the existing system.
I will now turn to security. When the MV Sun Sea arrived, the government issued a barrage of public statements positioning the arrival of boats as a threat to the security of Quebeckers and Canadians. As it turns out, those statements were unfounded. True to their ideology, the Conservatives used a widely reported event to promote their own political law and order agenda. There was no reason to believe that the arrival of the MV Sun Sea posed a threat to the security of Quebeckers and Canadians.
Under the existing law, any asylum seeker arriving by boat must be fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed. Canada's waters are under the authority of the Canada Border Services Agency, the CBSA, which has the power to detain asylum seekers if there are any doubts about their identity and to oppose their release before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Immigration Division.
Some of the other 76 Tamils from Sri Lanka who arrived last year aboard the Ocean Lady and requested asylum remained behind bars for more than six months. None of them were found to be members of the Tamil Tigers or any similar organization. They were eventually released once the CBSA found that they were not a threat to national security.
Let us not forget that the 492 passengers aboard the MV Sun Sea accounted for less than 2% of the asylum requests received annually. The record, 5%, occurred in 1999, when four boats arrived carrying 600 asylum seekers. In 2010, the number of requests should be around 25,000, the lowest average in the past 20 years.
Arguments to the effect that the arrival of huge numbers of refugees poses a threat to public safety do not hold up. They certainly do not justify passing a bill that treats refugee claimants so harshly. We are not saying that smugglers should not be punished. However, this bill punishes legitimate refugee claimants. That is the problem. In addition, we feel that the existing act has all the mechanisms required to manage the arrival of these boats.
Why create a new category? The Conservatives simply decided to advance their ideological agenda.
Let us examine the compromise struck by Bill C-11. The Conservative government seems to be obsessed with classifying refugee claimants based on their numbers or origin. Such a measure was widely denounced when Bill C-11 on reform of the asylum system was studied. Initially, the federal government wanted especially to implement the concept of designated countries. Failed claimants from countries deemed to be safe would not have had access to the new refugee appeal division, a measure deemed extremely discriminatory by the Bloc Québécois.
The Conservative government insisted on this country classification. It said that, if this measure was not accepted, it would scuttle its own bill. Imagine. By making a strong case for refugee rights to the government and the other parties, the Bloc Québécois helped members reach a last-minute compromise designed to produce a reform that was truly effective and, even more importantly, fair to all asylum seekers.
Once again, it is important to understand that under international treaties that Canada has signed or recognized—and that Quebec would have signed if it were a country—all refugee claimants are treated with respect and have the right to be treated fairly, no matter their country of origin.
Even though the concept of designated countries still exists, this division will be accessible to everyone, including claimants from the designated countries. To compensate for that, two other expediting mechanisms were put in place. That was the compromise with Bill C-11. If the Refugee Protection Division rejects a claim for refugee protection, it may state in its reasons for the decision that the claim is manifestly unfounded if it is of the opinion that the claim is clearly fraudulent. Unsuccessful claims submitted by claimants from the same country that are referred to the RAD would then be expedited. There will be regulations regarding the processing times for refugee claimants from a designated country. They will be shorter than for regular claims so that claimants who file unfounded claims can be deported as quickly as possible.
The Bloc Québécois cannot believe that the government has decided to take a step backwards, when a compromise had been made regarding the reform of the current refugee system. In fact, with Bill C-49, the government is creating a new category of refugee, based solely on the way the refugee claimant arrives. That is what is unacceptable.
The Bloc Québécois agreed to make compromises on Bill C-11. The government wanted safe countries. For those arriving from these countries, there was no division that applied, while for those not arriving from safe countries, there was a division that did not apply. All the government said was that the same standards apply to everyone, but for certain countries, the processing time would be shorter. Obviously, that was a compromise that the Bloc Québécois could accept, given the Conservatives' intransigence. Now, the government has changed its mind and is ignoring all of the debates and forcing Bill C-49 on us, because there was a story in the news that gave the government the opportunity to advance its ideological agenda, whether it will admit it or not. Once again, I was listening to the Conservative member who spoke before me. He made it clear that the goal was to combat illegal smuggling, but the real goal is to create a system that treats refugee claimants differently when they arrive by that means.
So there is a new category. The Minister of Public Safety, citizens of the world—