The House resumed from October 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Dave MacKenzie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House in support of Bill C-49, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act.
From the day our Conservative government was first elected, we have made strengthening the criminal justice system a consistent priority. We have told Canadians that we would take action to crack down on the activities of organized crime groups and others whose activities undermine public safety and destabilize our communities. We told them that we would help build safer neighbourhoods for everyone and ensure that our streets and homes would be places where families could feel secure.
Ours is a government of action. We have consistently delivered on these promises time and time again. We have passed legislation to stiffen penalties for crime, and violent gun crimes in particular. We have provided law enforcement agencies with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. We have taken steps to ensure that violent offenders are kept behind bars, not in their living rooms.
We are here today to take decisive action again.
In August, Canadians were reminded that this country is not immune to the global activities of organized crime groups intent on making a profit from the smuggling of hundreds of foreign nationals. The arrival of 492 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea came less than one year after the arrival of 76 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the Ocean Lady. The fact that two such vessels have reached Canadian shores in less than 12 months clearly demonstrates that large and growing human smuggling ventures are extending their reach and expanding their logistical capabilities and that these human smuggling networks are increasingly targeting Canada.
Human smuggling is a despicable crime, and abusing Canada's generosity for financial gain is utterly unacceptable.
Canada has an obligation to crack down on dangerous criminal enterprises that benefit only those who organize such large-scale ventures and do so little with regard to the human cargo which they transport.
We also know that human smuggling routes can be used to traffic narcotics and firearms. This poses a threat to public safety and erodes our communities.
The profits from human smuggling may also be used to fund other illicit criminal activities.
Our government is committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians. We are committed to maintaining the integrity of our borders and our immigration and refugee programs. We are committed to ensuring that Canada's immigration system remains fair. That is what the legislation before us today is about.
Bill C-49 is focused on giving officials additional tools to better respond to human smuggling.
First, we are proposing targeted amendments to the smuggling offence to ensure that it captures the various ways in which smuggling can occur.
Under the current regime, prosecutions for human smuggling require proof that the accused knew the individuals being smuggled did not have the documents required by law to enter Canada. Today's amendments would expand this to include any violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, including for example bringing people into Canada in a way that avoids their presenting themselves for examination as required by the act.
Currently, only situations where the smuggler knew that the smuggled persons did not posses the documents necessary to enter Canada are captured as an offence under the act.
What does this mean in the context of smuggling? It means that a prosecutor could prove this offence by showing that the accused was aware of the substantial risks if the smuggled person was or would be entering Canada in contravention to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act but simply did not care.
We believe these changes would improve our ability to investigate and prosecute those who contribute to human smuggling ventures.
Second, we are proposing an escalating mandatory minimum penalty scheme for persons convicted of smuggling, reflecting our government's intention to more effectively deter and denounce this criminal activity.
Under the proposed legislation, the number of people smuggled and the presence of aggravating facts would determine which mandatory minimum penalty would be imposed upon conviction. The two aggravating facts are: the offence was committed for profit or for the benefit of, at the discretion of, or in association with a criminal organization or terrorist group; and the person, in committing the offence, endangered the life or safety or caused bodily harm or death to any of the persons smuggled.
The mandatory penalties would be, where less than 50 persons are smuggled, three years' imprisonment if one of the above aggravating facts was present, or five years' imprisonment if two of the above aggravating facts were present. The mandatory minimum penalties would be, where 50 or more persons are smuggled, five years' imprisonment if one of the above aggravating facts was present, and ten years' imprisonment if two of the above aggravating facts were present.
These amendments send a clear message. We will not tolerate smuggling operations in Canada and such conduct will be met with strong sanctions.
We are also proposing amendments to the Marine Transportation Security Act. For example, this bill would increase the penalties for anyone who fails to comply with the ministerial direction to not enter or leave or to proceed to another area in Canadian waters. Increased penalties will also apply to anyone who fails to submit required vessel pre-arrival information or who provides Canadian officials with false or misleading information.
The irregular arrival of a large number of irregular migrants all making refugee claims can pose significant challenges for border officials who are tasked with identifying each applicant in determining whether the individual is inadmissible to Canada and whether the individual poses a risk, due to the individual's association with organized criminal or terrorist organizations.
The sheer number of applicants combined with the increased complexity of examinations and investigations can and does overwhelm existing resources. This is why we need a new approach to the processing of irregular migrants, or one that will ensure Canada remains fair but also vigilant.
Bill C-49 accomplishes this by allowing the Minister of Public Safety to designate those who land on our shores in a way similar to those aboard the MV Sun Sea or the Ocean Lady as an irregular arrival. The minister will be able to make such a designation when he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that establishing the identity or admissibility of individuals who come to Canada as part of the arrival or other investigations cannot be carried out in a timely manner, or if he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect that the arrival of the group involved organized human smuggling activity.
Under the current rules, any foreign national or permanent resident may be detained on entry into Canada. People can be detained if an immigration officer considers such an examination necessary in order to continue an examination. They can also be detained if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they are inadmissible to Canada, are a danger to the public or are unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding.
The reasons for such detention however, must be reviewed by the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours, and subsequently reviewed within seven days, and then each 30-day period that follows. In many cases this provides a reasonable system of checks and balances to help prevent unreasonably long detentions.
In the case of irregular arrivals however, the current system of detention review does not provide officers from Canada Border Services Agency with sufficient time to properly interview and identify each individual, or to determine whether the individual may be inadmissible to Canada or pose a risk to Canadians.
Too many resources are expended in meeting the demands of the detention review schedule rather than focusing on the required investigations and verifications needed to ensure the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee program as well as the safety and security of Canadians.
Bill C-49 addresses this by providing for the mandatory detention of persons who arrive in Canada as part of a designated arrival until such time as they are found to be refugees by the Immigration and Refugee Board, or until 12 months have passed since they were first detained. Those persons still detained after 12 months will have a detention review hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board to determine whether there is a basis for their continued detention. If the Immigration and Refugee Board continues detention, there will be subsequent reviews every six months. The minister will be able to order early release where exceptional circumstances exist.
Under our proposed amendments, individuals who come to Canada as part of a designated arrival will, for a period of five years, be prevented from applying for permanent resident status and sponsoring family members. Restrictions on travelling outside Canada will also apply during this period. They will also be prevented from accessing a more generous health care plan than the average Canadian currently receives, something they can do at the present time through the interim federal health plan.
These are practical and sensible provisions. They address the need to properly identify individuals who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival. They will help to keep Canadians safe by helping to ensure that dangerous criminals and terrorists are not released into Canadian society. They will also help deter human smuggling operations from targeting Canada.
We also need to deter other kinds of abuse of Canada's immigration and refugee protection program. Refugee status can be revoked when it is proven before the refugee protection division of the Immigration and Refugee Board that an individual had lied to support his or her claim for protection and that the remaining credible evidence is not sufficient to support the individual's need for refugee protection. This is referred to in the act as the vacation of refugee status.
Bill C-49 amends the Balanced Refugee Reform Act to prevent such persons from appealing decisions of the refugee protection division with regard to the vacation of refugee protection to the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. The bill also eliminates appeals to the refugee appeal division with respect to the decisions the division has made that a person's need for refugee protection has ceased.
All these measures substantially enhance our ability to crack down on those who engage in human smuggling. They strengthen our ability to protect the safety and security of Canadians from criminal or terrorist threats, and they respect our international obligations and commitments to provide assistance and sanctuary for genuine refugees.
Before I end my speech, I want to address the comments made by the NDP's public safety critic last week. He compared the selfless act of those who helped slaves escape persecution to the criminal human smugglers who prey on vulnerable individuals and who only care about profit. That member should be ashamed and he should apologize to this House.
Human smugglers are clearly targeting Canada and are treating our country like a doormat. The problem is growing and must be stopped.
Canadians expect appropriate measures to respond to the challenges associated with such large-scale arrivals, such as those we have recently witnessed. They want to help those in need and those who need our protection, but Canadians are not naive. They know that threats exist and that we must remain vigilant.
That is why our government is committed to taking action on many fronts, both domestically and internationally. That is what we have done, and that is what we are going to continue to do in the future.
We are proud of this bill. I encourage the member for Vancouver Kingsway and all members to recognize that the serious problem posed by human smuggling is growing and must be stopped.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I want to do so by concentrating really on two aspects of the legislation and on the situation that the member who has just spoken and others have talked to.
This bill causes me a great deal of concern, not because it is illegitimate or inappropriate for governments to be concerned about the security of Canada. In fact that is a primary responsibility of the federal government and a responsibility that all of us take very seriously. However, I am concerned because the methods and definitions used in this bill would significantly impact a number of people who are not smugglers, the term used by the government, but people fleeing for their lives from difficult situations.
In particular I want to discuss, at this point in time, the situation in Sri Lanka because we would not be having this discussion if two boats had not arrived over the last several years on which a number of Sri Lankans of Tamil origin came to Canada. It is important for us to stop dancing around the issue and understand that, were it not for that particular circumstance, we would not be having this debate, we would not be having this discussion and the government would not be presenting this legislation.
To talk about this legislation without talking about what happened in Sri Lanka and what is taking place there today would be a bit like talking about Moby Dick without mentioning a white whale.
As members know, I have spent many months in Sri Lanka over the last several years. Together with a number of other Canadians and international constitutional experts, I was involved in advising in the negotiating process that came out of the ceasefire in Sri Lanka that took place in 2001 and was negotiated by the Norwegians.
In the course of that work, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in that country. I met on several occasions with political leaders on all sides and have had an opportunity since then to follow on a regular basis the events that are taking place in the country.
I am not going to go over the entire political history of Sri Lanka except to say that the period in which I was there, the period of the ceasefire, was a brief interregnum of non-violence during a 25-to-30 year, very difficult and violent civil war in which literally tens of thousands of people were killed, mainly in the north but including civilians in the south. Yes, acts of terrorism were carried out against civilians. Very significant bombing and damage and destruction and death occurred as a result of the war carried out by the government of Sri Lanka as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as they are called, better known as the Tamil Tigers.
The ending of that war was a subject of considerable debate in this House. Many questions were raised in question period about it, not only in this House but in parliaments and legislatures around the world.
There are questions about what actually happened at the end of that conflict. Certainly by any estimation, several thousand people were killed in the last few days. Estimates range anywhere from a few thousand to as high as 30,000 or 40,000. Those numbers are contested and debated by all sides, but nevertheless, it is clear that there was a significant loss of life at the very end of the war.
It is also interesting that as recently as the last few days, Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom called for an investigation into possible war crimes that may or may not have taken place at the end of that war.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has appointed a panel of experts to advise him. It is to look into the question of what happened and what the possible consequences would be with respect to the conduct of the government of Sri Lanka as well as the conduct of the LTTE. That panel has not been welcomed by the government of Sri Lanka. In fact, its very existence has been challenged. It is the subject of considerable debate in Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka has also appointed a commission that is supposed to look into the question of what happened in those last days.
From the perspective of the government of Sri Lanka, the war is simply over. The conflict is at an end. There are still several thousand people in large refugee camps, but many of them have been rehoused and moved out, away from the 300,000 people who were in the camp at the end of the conflict.
At the same time, it is fair to say that political power is being consolidated at the central level. As colleagues will certainly know, the government of Sri Lanka not only has not been particularly enthusiastic about allowing in the members of the panel from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, it also, despite the fact I had a valid visa issued by the High Commission of Sri Lanka, did not permit me to enter the country when I arrived at Colombo airport some several months ago. I am sure other members perhaps in other parties have since been allowed to go, but I regret very much I was unable to go last June.
I must confess, I do not say these words with even a degree of personal resentment at the fact that this took place. Rather it was the fact that when I was not allowed in, it was because I was deemed to be a threat to the security of the country. When I hear others described as a threat to the security of the country, that is what I was called.
I hope people will think through very carefully in trying to understand some of the motivation, some of the issues, the human problems, the suffering, the sense of threat to life and limb that has historically led people to flee a country and to seek refuge and harbour somewhere else.
The minister is sitting in the House. I respect the fact that he is here listening to the debate. I have always respected that approach—
Hon. Bob Rae:
I certainly know that, Mr. Speaker. One would think that after 32 years I would have figured out how to do this.
I simply wanted to point out the fact that I appreciated there were some people who were here. In my experience, other ministers are not always here when we discuss matters of a bill. I appreciate the minister's respect for parliamentary tradition.
However, I want to emphasize that it is not possible for the House to debate the question of the appropriateness of this legislation unless we understand what exactly is taking place in the country from which people are fleeing and which are now the subject of the sanctions in the bill. This is why we are discussing the legislation.
It is not possible to have a serious discussion about the bill without understanding that in Europe, in the United Nations, in the United States, in virtually every country in the western world significant concerns have been expressed, and are being expressed, about the human rights situation, historically, in Sri Lanka, and even today in Sri Lanka. It is an illusion to think that this is not a problem or it is something we should not discuss.
The Conservative government has remained significantly silent on this topic. We have not heard anything from it with respect to the circumstances surrounding the end of the war. We have not heard anything from it with respect to whether or not it is fully supportive of the decision of Ban Ki-moon to name a panel. We have not heard any response to the call from the British prime minister with respect to the need for war crimes investigation.
I do not know why there is that reluctance. I do not know why a government, which in many respects from insignificant moments in the life of the House has spoken clearly about democracy and has spoken clearly about human rights, would have such difficulty in this situation. It cannot be that there was a violent conflict and because one party to that conflict was the LTTE. It cannot be that the standard to which we hold the Sri Lankan government can be any less or any lower. It cannot be that we have appropriately designated the LTTE as a group that practised terror, that believed in violence, that believed in the appropriateness of killing civilians or of using civilians as targets and as shields in the course of a war, a group that believed it was appropriate to strap bombs on the backs of young 13-year-old women and send them into a market or into a bazaar. There never can be an apology or an expression of support for that kind of tactic or approach to life. We should be very clear about that. Speaking as someone who has lost dear friends to these acts of terror, I have no hesitation in being critical of that.
However, that is never an excuse for repression. That is never an excuse for oppression. It is not an excuse for the killing of civilians. We would not be seeing the numbers of people who get on those boats if there was not a problem in Sri Lanka. Anybody who says that we are not worried about that or we will not express a concern about that or that is not part of what we need to discuss is simply not facing up to the reality of the situation.
I would ask the government to use its offices of investigation and its capacity. I would like the government to remain deeply sensitive to the challenge that the Tamil community still faces in Sri Lanka and to be aware of some of those circumstances and the pattern of increasing the political power at the centre. Every sensible observer from the International Crisis Group to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch to the United Nations has expressed concern about the underlying challenge of the problem of human rights in Sri Lanka.
If there were no civil rights problems in Sri Lanka, we would not be having this problem with refugees right now. We cannot discuss this bill in the House of Commons without discussing the situation in Sri Lanka. We must discuss it honestly and openly. That is essential.
The second point I want to make is the government has told us, and the member who just spoke referred to this very directly, that the purpose of the bill is to increase the severity of punishment for what it calls human smuggling. In the history of immigration and in the history of the movement of populations, it is very important for the Government of Canada and the people of Canada to express a strong view about people being paid money in order to bring many others to Canada and to portray them as refugees.
My colleague from Etobicoke Centre mentioned two of the most dramatic examples of the arrival of boats in the country. The member who was asked about it simply dismissed by saying, “well that is history”. Well, not exactly. It was pointed out that when the Komagata Maru was posted outside of Vancouver, it was not allowed in, people were not allowed to disembark and stay here. Eventually the boat went back and when they arrived in India, hundreds were killed. We know from the plight of the S.S. St. Louis that of the 900 people who were not allowed to land in Havana, or in Miami or in Halifax, probably as many as 300 were killed in the Holocaust. A lot of studies have done on both of these experiences.
When the member says that we should ask our constituents how they feel, I have to ask how Canadians felt in 1914 and in 1939.
We always have to say to ourselves that these are not easy issues. I have no doubt at all in my mind that there are a great many of my constituents who, if they were told about this legislation, would say that it is good. It is only when we think it through that we ask ourselves if this is really what we should do. This is where I have a problem.
I have a problem because the law is not just about smuggling; the law is also about refugees. It creates two classes of refugees. That is the weakness of the law and, in my view, it is the flaw of the law. In my view, it is a flaw which the courts will attack front and centre. It is not just about the charter; it is also about our international obligations.
We have signed covenants with respect to the rights of children and with respect to the rights of refugees. We cannot simply say that because refugees came over in a certain boat that we will put them in a different category. They would be designated by the minister and they would be unable to do what other refugees could do, or what other people who applied for refugee status could do, or those who sought to be refugees could do.
It is this creation of two classes that is the central weakness and flaw of the bill. In addition, the legislation as a whole and the discussion as a whole does not in fact deal with where the problem lies.
It is equally important for us to deal with the issue of queue jumping. There is nothing more basic to a Canadian's sense of fairness than to say that we do not want people jumping the queue, that those people are trying to come in as immigrants when there are other people who are patiently waiting in their countries of origin.
It has to be understood that there is no queue line for refugees. These are two different things. Again, that is where I think the government has used language, quite creatively I might add, which is intended to tell Canadians that we have to create a situation that is fair to everyone.
I agree we have to create a situation that is fair to everyone, but I question legislation that creates two separate categories of refugees, that treats people who come over in certain boats in a certain way and people who come over by plane or in another boat in another way. The government is not being upfront with the people of Canada when it suggests that what is taking place is any form of queue jumping.
If there is a refugee process that is well managed and that has enough people to manage the flow of people who are coming in and asking to be refugees, if people are not accepted as refugees they go back to their country of origin, and that is it.
We send back hundreds, if not thousands of people. No one should be under any illusions about that. This legislation is more about politics than it is about dealing with a real problem.
Mr. Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure for me to rise and speak in favour of Bill C-49, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, and I would certainly like to commend the hon. Ministers of Citizenship and Immigration and of Public Safety for the good and timely work they have done in getting this legislation before the House.
Hon. members will know that in recent years the smuggling of human beings across international borders has become a multi-million dollar activity that is actually global in scope. Some estimates place the number of people who are smuggled across borders every year at 800,000. The United Nations notes that it is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity.
The precise number of people who are smuggled across international borders is difficult to confirm, given the clandestine nature of these operations, but there is no doubt that human smuggling is big, big business. People can be smuggled by land, by sea or by air. Human smuggling may be perpetrated by organized crime groups or by individuals with links to terrorist organizations. This fact in itself should spur us all into action. Like many of our international allies and partners, Canada today is a target for the global activities of organized criminal enterprises that engage in this reprehensible act of human smuggling.
Canadians have recently witnessed the arrival of 492 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea, less than one year after the arrival of 76 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the boat the Ocean Lady.
Earlier this month, a number of people were discovered in a container at the Port of Montreal in a possible case of human smuggling or human trafficking.
Last year, the RCMP's Atlantic region immigration and passport section, working with the Integrated Border Enforcement Team in New Brunswick, arrested four people alleged to have facilitated illegal migration. Two of these individuals have since pleaded guilty and were convicted of offences under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, including human smuggling and misrepresentation.
Finally, Canadians previously witnessed the seizure of four cargo ships that appeared in remote west coast waters, carrying nearly 600 migrants from southern China. Many of these individuals were children and teenagers whose parents had paid sums equivalent to 10 years of their salaries to so-called snakeheads that specialize in human smuggling.
Human smuggling is a serious crime. I think all members of the House would agree with that, and the international community has taken decisive action to respond to it. The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplemental Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air provide a broad international framework to respond to the varied threats posed by organized crime and their smuggling ventures.
Canada was among the first countries to sign and ratify these important international crime treaties, and the tabling of this bill today reflects Canada's ongoing commitment to strengthening our responses to migrant smuggling.
Human smuggling undermines the integrity of Canada's borders and our immigration and refugee programs and system. It poses a threat to public safety, since the identities of smuggled individuals are often hard to establish, and in many cases, it poses a threat to national security or public safety, since human smuggling ventures are also being used to traffic narcotics and/or arms, to secure safe haven for criminals and terrorists, and to raise funds for a wide range of illicit activities, including the aforementioned terrorism.
Bill C-49 will give law enforcement officials much needed and additional tools to investigate and prosecute these individuals who organize and engage in human smuggling ventures. It will also enhance law enforcement's ability to investigate the potential national security and public safety risks posed by unidentified migrants who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, among whom there may be individuals with criminal and/or terrorist links.
More specifically, Bill C-49 will amend the current human smuggling offence, about which the last speaker spoke, in section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The proposed amendments would make it an offence to organize, induce, aid or abet someone to enter Canada, knowing that or being reckless as to whether that entry would be in contravention of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Currently, only situations where the smuggler knew that the smuggled person did not possess the documents necessary to enter Canada are captured as an offence under the act.
It is clear, at least it is clear to the members on this side of the House, that by broadening the offence in this fashion our laws will now better reflect the different methods that smugglers utilize to bring persons into Canada.
In addition to amending the offence, the bill also proposes tough mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment ranging from 3 to 10 years, depending on the particular facts that are proven in court. This sends the clear message to smugglers, criminals who have little concern for smuggled persons and immigration laws, that Canada will no longer tolerate these illegal activities.
The bill also proposes increasing the penalties for the operator of any vessel who fails to comply with ministerial direction to leave or not enter Canadian waters or who fails to provide required pre-arrival information, and who provides false or misleading information to officials.
Today, vessels of 300 gross registered tons or more that are bound for Canada must fill out a pre-arrival information report at least 96 hours before arriving at a Canadian port. The Minister of Transport has the authority to direct any vessel to not enter Canadian coastal waters or to travel to another area in Canadian waters when and if there are reasonable grounds to believe the vessel in question may pose a security threat.
It is an offence under the Marine Transportation Security Act to knowingly make a false or misleading statement or to provide false or misleading information. Currently there are fines and a maximum one-year prison term for failure to comply with the ministerial direction or for making false or misleading statements and a maximum six-month prison term for not filing the requisite pre-arrival information report.
Bill C-49 also proposes significantly stiffer fines as a further deterrent to those considering mounting marine human smuggling ventures into Canada. Indeed, the amendments the government is proposing will mean that the operator of any vessel who fails to comply with a ministerial directive to leave Canadian waters or one who provides false or misleading information to officials will be hit much harder in the pocketbook and will face a longer prison term.
The proposed penalties for failing to comply with certain requirements of the Marine Transportation Security Act will be raised from $10,000 to $200,000 in the case of an individual on conviction on indictment. In case of a corporation, on conviction on indictment the penalties will be raised from $200,000 to $500,000.
The penalties will be even higher in the event of subsequent offences. Again, in the case of individuals, maximum potential prison terms will be raised from six months to a maximum of one year for those who fail to file the pre-arrival information report.
Stiffer consequences, stiffer fines and stiffer sentences will all send a signal to human smugglers that Canada will not tolerate their illegal and highly dangerous activities. Canada will not sit still while human smugglers calmly sail into our waters, travel across our borders or even land at our airports.
We will take action. We will work with our international partners to deter, detect and prevent these illegal activities. If they do get to Canada, we will take every step possible to hold these persons accountable.
In addition, Bill C-49 will ensure that border officials and police have the time to properly identify and investigate the organizers of human smuggling operations, as well as smuggled individuals who may pose a threat to our safety and to our security.
In particular, the bill that the government has put forward will provide for the mandatory detention of persons who arrive in Canada as part of a designated arrival until such time as they have been determined to be refugees by the Immigration and Refugee Board or 12 months have passed since they were initially detained, with exceptions for cases that involve exceptional circumstances.
This measure will prevent potentially dangerous or inadmissible persons from being released into Canada before their identity and the level of risk they present to Canadians can firmly be established. As the minister has mentioned, these amendments proposed are tough but they are also fair. They will help to make Canada a much less attractive target for human smugglers. They will help to make sure that the organizers of human smuggling operations are better held to account for this reprehensible crime.
I therefore urge all hon. members to support this legislation before us today and to work with the government to ensure its speedy passage.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
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—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Mario Laframboise: I understand the minister because those people, obviously, are not Canadian citizens. But they are still citizens of the world who have a right to benefit from the treaties that Canada has ratified and that allow them to seek asylum.
Once again, what we are seeing with Bill C-49 is that the public safety minister can designate as irregular an arrival in Canada of a group of persons, who then become designated foreign nationals. Designated foreign nationals who claim refugee or protected person status will be treated differently from other asylum seekers. The fact that different applicants would be treated differently is what we found to be unacceptable in Bill C-11. In Bill C-49, a different status is created for these designated foreign nationals.
If they are denied refugee status, they have to wait five years before they can apply for permanent resident status. In the meantime, their claim could be re-evaluated to determine whether they can return to their country.
They cannot travel outside Canada or apply for permanent resident status or citizenship for five years. Consequently, they cannot sponsor members of their family, such as their spouse or children. Designated foreign nationals who have been denied asylum cannot appeal to the new refugee appeal division, only to the Federal Court. They also will not have access to health benefits that other refugees can access through the interim federal health program.
And so, not only is the principle of fairness—which says that all refugees have access to the system—being called into question, but asylum seekers who arrive in a group will be in a sort of legal vacuum for five years, which will strip them of the same rights given to asylum seekers who follow the usual refugee process. Just because a group of people arrives, that does not mean that they are not legitimate refugees, and the Bloc Québécois feels that this categorization would be extremely prejudicial to them.
The acceptance rate for refugee claims by Sri Lankan Tamils is 80% on average, and there is no indication that the situation in Sri Lanka will change and that it will be deemed that their lives are not in peril.
It must be understood that the Bloc Québécois' objective has never changed and has always been to oppose categories based on the origin of claimants or how they arrived here, because Canada has signed international treaties. Therefore, these people can make a claim, but that does not mean it will be accepted. We need an analysis process that is effective and quick. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois asked for the current process to be revised and for an appeal division to be set up so these individuals would have the opportunity to assert their rights. It must be effective, and we have to invest the money needed to do that.
The Conservative ideology was bolstered by the arrival of a large number of refugees, which received extensive media coverage. The Conservatives decided to make this their priority and to set aside all the opportunities they had to modernize the current process through Bill C-11.
This does not bode well for future discussions. In fact, the legal vacuum created for this category of designated foreign nationals, who are not yet classified as refugees, keeps these designated foreigners in legal limbo for five years, when they file a claim for refugee or protected person status. During that time, they cannot apply for permanent residence or family reunification. Consequently, they cannot sponsor members of their family or their spouse. Furthermore, they are not free to move or to enjoy all the rights that other claimants may have.
As I mentioned, Canada's international and constitutional obligations are important. Not only does this bill run counter to its international obligations under at least three treaties it has signed, but it also contravenes the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states in subsection 15(1):
|| Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Which includes how they get to Canada.
Mr. Rick Dykstra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today in support of Bill C-49, an act to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.
Human smuggling is a transitional criminal enterprise that spans the globe and Interpol says that it is a growing global phenomena. This form of illegal commercial migration is very dangerous and it exploits those individuals who are captured within it. Human smugglers consider their passengers to be little more than cargo and the boats on which they carry their passengers are like nightmarish prisons.
Migrants are typically stranded at sea, on an overcrowded boat, with unsanitary and unsafe conditions. These conditions often lead to severe illness or cause fatal accidents. As a result of these inhumane conditions, people die in human smuggling operations every year. Nevertheless, many illegal migrants decide to risk their lives and undertake this perilous journey for their destination country.
By charging people large sums of money for their transportation, human smugglers have made a lucrative business out of facilitating illegal migration, often by counselling smuggled persons to claim asylum in the country to which they are smuggled. Once they arrive in their destination country, these migrants are often at the mercy of their human smugglers and forced to work for years in the illegal labour market just to pay off their debts to their smuggler.
The arrival of the MV Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady in a period of less than 12 months is a clear indication that Canada is becoming a favoured destination for these human smuggling networks. Interpol says that human smuggling syndicates benefit from weak legislation and low risk of detection, prosecutions and arrests compared to other transnational organized crimes. If we do not take strong action now, more vessels will arrive and more lives will be put at risk. We cannot just stand by and allow these exploitative operations to continue.
This legislation would enable us to crack down on the despicable human smugglers who prey on these vulnerable migrants, but it also aims to stop those tempted to use this perilous form of migration by introducing several disincentives.
A key disincentive is that those arriving as a result of a designated smuggling event would not be able to apply for permanent residency for a period of up to five years. This would apply whether they are found to be in need of protection or not. During this five year period, persons found to be in need of protection would be restricted from travelling outside of Canada and would be unable to apply for permanent residency to Canada through other means. As a result, they would not be eligible to sponsor family members into Canada or become Canadian citizens during that time period.
The legislation also proposes mandatory detention for up to one year, which would also help ensure the safety and the security of Canadians.
When these migrants arrive on our shores, we have no idea who they are or where they are from. Often, they arrive without proper documentation and we do not whether they are criminals or terrorists who pose a threat to our safety and our security. Mandatory detentions would allow us to properly verify and confirm the identities of individuals to determine whether they are in fact admissible to Canada or whether they are involved in some form of illegal activity. This proposal is entirely within reason and it is fair.
The government's priority is, first and foremost, to protect the safety and the security of Canadians. This is the least that Canadians can expect from their government.
We are also taking measures to ensure that these individuals have access to fewer Canadian benefits. As we all know, Canadians enjoy health services that are among the best and most generous in the world. We need to ensure that illegal migrants are not receiving health coverage that is more generous than what is offered to other Canadians. It certainly will not happen under this government.
Currently, asylum seekers, resettled refugees, failed asylum seekers awaiting removal, detained individuals and victims of trafficking are provided with temporary health coverage through the interim federal health program.
Under these proposed changes, the scope of the services provided under the IFH program would be limited for those who arrive in Canada illegally via human smuggling operations. They would receive only basic coverage, including medically necessary care and immigration medical exams that refugee claimants must take upon their arrival in order to ensure they do not pose a risk to public health or safety.
Canada's generosity should not make us a target for criminal activity such as smuggling operations. We must remove the incentives for people seeking to come here by way of human smuggling. In doing so, we will uphold the integrity of our immigration and refugee process and our programs and ensure that the safety and security of Canadians is put into place.
This has certainly taken the attention of the public over the past 12 months. We have seen two ships arrive in our country for the purposes of smuggling, which is why the scope of the bill needs to be implemented. I have heard opposition members claim that this bill is some sort of a knee-jerk reaction to what has happened. I find that compelling in a way because, if this were a reaction to what had happened, then they would have to argue that we are actually about 11 months late introducing this legislation.
This legislation was put together over the past series of months to ensure that we have legislation that is strong, that is certainly consistent with the charter and with our Constitution, and, most important, that is consistent with the feelings and the positions that Canadians have held on this issue across our country.
There is no doubt that the issue in itself is a difficult one. We all know and, as members of Parliament, we have listened to the positions, arguments and stories in our ridings of refugees who have claimed asylum. We have heard them say that they needed to come to Canada in order to escape the perils they faced in their country. There is no question that the reason these ships are here is that our system is so generous and open and we want to ensure that those who need protection and those who are truly refugees have a place to come to in safety where they can become Canadians, find employment, find a new way of life and raise their families in a country as democratic and open as Canada.
However, the fact remains that the only answer to solving this problem of ensuring those who are clearly refugees, clearly want to be here and clearly need to be here go through the process that we have in place.
The previous speaker mentioned Bill C-11, which is exactly what this country needed in terms of reforming our refugee legislation. We took great pains to get through that process. I know, as the parliamentary secretary, we worked hours upon hours and days upon days to get that legislation back to the House of Commons so it would be supported at third reading. When it did come back here, it in fact received support from all parties. We now have a new system in terms of refugee reform legislation that will be implemented over the next 18 months.
Bill C-49 is so well augmented with Bill C-11 that we will have completely reformed and changed the direction that this country needs to take when it comes to refugees and those who need to seek asylum here. They will need to seek asylum in a way that follows the system that we have in place, not to jump the queue and not to be forced by smugglers, who take advantage of every person on that boat, to pay for their freedom rather than earn that freedom through a process that we have in place, which is one of the most generous in the world. We cannot have it.
The Canadian people have spoken loud and clear on this issue. The one thing that we need to continue to come back to is fairness, because this is what the Canadian people understand so much better than the rest of the world. No Canadian wants to see individuals living in peril in their country. If it is important enough for us to understand that freedom of security, of governance and of democracy needs to happen here in this country and they deserve that, then our arms are wide open to them, but we have a process and a system.
There are people who are taking advantage of these individuals, charging them more money then they could ever afford in their lifetime, to get on to a boat and somehow find a way to come here. They make promises and claims. They literally push those individuals onto the vessel to get them here to Canada. They tell the individuals that Canada will accept them, that Canadian laws are so generous and in need of so much repair that when they land here they will be given the status they so want.
Those refugees who have a rightful claim and a rightful place for freedom will get that here in this country. However, those who do not are standing in the way of those who actually do.
This process of human smuggling, of bringing people into this country by crowding them onto a ship and having them land on Canadian soil, is not the way Canadians want this to happen. Canadians want to know who is on that ship and who is going to claim refugee status here.
Simply turning these hundreds of individuals loose on Canadian soil has the potential to put Canadian lives and health in peril. We do not know where these individuals have come from. We do not know if they are true refugees. We do not know if they are terrorists. We do not know if they are criminals in their own country. That is not the type of environment we want here in this country.
This bill changes all of that. It sets in place a process that will show respect for those who truly deserve refugee status. It will send a loud and clear message to countries and smugglers who live off the proceeds of these individuals that we will not be in a position as a country to accept this any more.
The Minister of Public Safety, the President of the Treasury Board, and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Multiculturalism made this announcement in front of one of the ships that arrived here. They made the announcement on the west coast, but that message travelled to the east coast of our country almost immediately. There is page after page of endorsement. Group after group, editorial after editorial, Canadian after Canadian have said that this legislation is right, it is timely, it is good, it is fair. It is something that everyone in this House should be supporting.
One headline reads, “Ottawa tightens rules on human smuggling”. The Headline News article states:
|| The bill, titled “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act,” shows that Ottawa will not tolerate abuse of the system by getting ahead of the immigration line, but stresses that the federal government of Canada will continue to welcome legitimate immigrants who could contribute to the country.
An editorial in the Calgary Herald stated:
|| Tough anti-smuggling legislation aimed at stopping boats of illegal migrants from showing up on Canadian shores, places the punishment where it belongs, on the smugglers.
||...It's a welcome crackdown on a crime most Canadians would agree is heinous.
The list goes on. Another editorial on human smuggling stated:
|| The government must act to safeguard the integrity of Canada's immigration system, which welcomes 250,000 newcomers a year. Polls show that the public's high level of support for immigration dipped by 20 per cent after the arrival of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady -- even though asylum seekers and skilled immigrants are two very different streams.
That is a very important point to realize. We are a country that accepts, at the present time, per capita more immigrants than anywhere else in the world. We are open to skilled immigrants. We are open to low-skilled immigrants. We are open to seasonal workers. We are open to immigrants who want to come to this country to build a new life for themselves and their families.
What we are not open to is those who want to come here to take advantage of our system, those who in fact want to move to the front of the line. Smugglers know this. They know that in their hearts Canadians want to help these people so they take advantage of it.
By passing this legislation, we would at least be putting ourselves in a position where we no longer would be that country where terrorists and smugglers simply say, “We will dump them all in Canada. We will make millions and millions of dollars, and we will dump them all in Canada because Canada does not have the laws in place to prevent this from happening”.
Canadians have spoken loudly on this issue. They want to welcome new immigrants to this country. Many of us in this House have parents or grandparents who came to this country as immigrants. There are members in the House who came to this country to become Canadians. All of them have done it in a way that respects the rule of law in this country and that respects the system of fairness that all Canadians have come to accept.
The opposition is trying to say that this is something it is not, that this is a position we hold because we want to hurt people. It is the exact opposite. That type of rhetoric has no place in this House of Commons.
There are individuals and families who need our help, but those families and individuals are not just those who seek refugee status in our country. They are the very families and individuals who are Canadians and are here right now.
We need a system of fairness. We need a system of equality. We need a system of acceptance. We need a system that protects Canadians, but says to those who claim refugee status that we are a country that is open, we are a country that is free, we are a county that is accepting, but let us make sure that we do it with fairness and that we do it through a system that protects the individuals who are truly refugees and that protects Canadians here.
This is legislation we need. This is legislation that Canadians want. This is legislation that will actually put our country in a position not only to promote why this is a great country to come to, but why this is a great country in which to live.
There are smugglers and others who take advantage of the most down and out in an attempt to profit, and there may be those in the opposition who would allow that to continue and will vote against this legislation. However, there is no one on this side of the House who will do that. We are going to make sure that we fight as long and hard as we need to in order to put this legislation in place and bring our system up to where it needs to be.
Ms. Raymonde Folco (Laval—Les Îles, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am rising in the House once again, this time to participate in today's debate about Bill C-49, which affects three laws: first, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—which means revisiting Bill C-11; second, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act—and I wonder if it really is balanced; and third, the Marine Transportation Security Act.
This bills aims to correct an illegal situation. It really is a government's responsibility to protect its border security. Security is clearly a critical issue for the entire world.
I would like to refer to certain international documents, agreements that Canada has signed, thus agreeing to be fully accountable for implementing their contents.
First, I would like to remind members that Canada signed the 1951 Geneva convention. It is also signed the protocol stipulating that individuals who have been victims of persecution since 1951 must also be subject to the Geneva convention. I will obviously come back to this during my speech.
The Geneva convention and the protocol that followed are the reasons why our refugee acceptance system was created. This system, despite its faults and weaknesses, and there are some, has become a model for industrialized countries.
This bill proposes a number of clauses that would punish smugglers, those who profit from the poor people who are trying to flee their country and come to Canada to live a life free of terror, discrimination, rape and killing. These smugglers receive enormous amounts of money and they violate international laws as well as our own Canadian laws.
In response to that, Bill C-49 proposes a substantial fine, for example a fine of $1 million for any criminal organization guilty of inducing, aiding or abetting a group of people to illegally enter Canada. That is from subclause 117(3), as it would be amended by the bill.
This amount depends on the number of people arriving in the group. The offenders could also receive a life sentence.
That is an improvement, in my opinion.
These clauses can certainly act as a real deterrent for smugglers hoping to bring groups of people illegally into Canada. Still, I would suggest that impounding the vessel or ship on which they come would be an additional deterrent to these smugglers. The price of smuggling then would become exorbitant and the loss of the vessel a real economic loss.
We also wish to congratulate the minister on his intention to work with local police forces in the home countries of human smugglers.
That aspect is not included in the bill, but is an important part of any concrete action.
Refugee claimants are not criminals. How many times must we repeat this? However, Bill C-49 treats them as if they were guilty of crimes, and again, this is what the bill suggests throughout the first part of it. Why are there only five sections of Bill C-49 that impact smugglers and twelve sections that impact refugees? We thought it was about smugglers. In fact, it is about changing the Canadian law, after study, which admits prospective refugees.
Another question I have is, why is this bill sponsored by the minister responsible for public safety and national security? Is it because the Conservative government wants to give Canadians the impression that refugee claimants pose a security threat? It tried to do this with the ship that arrived off the coast of British Columbia a few weeks ago, when in fact we see several weeks later that not one person has been held because he or she is a terrorist, yet the rumour goes on.
The people who are on these ships, or whatever mode of transport they use, are seeking safety and a good life in Canada. It is not their intention to break any international or Canadian law, yet the government presumes that they do so when it decides, through a bill like Bill C-49, to detain all the individuals designated as irregular arrivals. Irregular arrivals are those people who arrive in groups larger than, one would suppose, just a man, his wife and his children.
In this way, Bill C-49 is in direct violation of section 11(g) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that an individual is “not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations”.
These refugee claimants, these people who flee in exile, include women, elderly people, young children, men and quite often, as we have learned, even pregnant women.
As a signatory to the Geneva convention, Canada is duty bound to protect these claimants. But instead, Bill C-49 would have them immediately detained. Let us be clear: “detained” is a nicer way of saying “imprisoned” or “incarcerated”.
This is contrary to article 31(1) of the Geneva convention, which states, “The contracting states shall not impose penalties...provided [the refugees] present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
Even if we agreed that detention is required, the length set out by Bill C-49 also goes against article 31(2), which states, “The contracting states shall not apply to the movements of such refugees restrictions other than those which are necessary and such restrictions shall only be applied until their status in the country is regularized. The Contracting States shall allow such refugees a reasonable period... ”
I would like to emphasize the word “reasonable”.
But this bill proposes keeping these people in prison, until their identity can be proven, for up to one year.
Those of us who have worked with refugees and for refugees know that quite often, these vulnerable people have had to leave very suddenly and cannot always bring their official documents to prove their identity.
I should also remind hon. members that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, of which we are all so proud, protects any person present on Canadian soil, regardless of their citizenship.
What about the negative consequences of detention on these people? As I was saying earlier, among these refugees we often see older people, very young children and pregnant women. Often they have been tortured, raped or abused in their country. They received no protection in their own country and they fled.
They did not receive protection from the smugglers during the dangerous voyage, but they had hope. When they arrive in Canada, despite what they might expect, they are not entitled to protection from the Canadian authorities either.
How do we explain to these young children why they are prison? What crime did they commit?
I would like to read from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. Section 40(2)(a) of this convention stipulates that:
|| No child shall be alleged as, be accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law by reason of acts or omissions that were not prohibited by national or international law at the time they were committed;
How do we explain this clear violation to them?
Section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
|| Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
However, under clause 20 of the new Bill C-49:
|| The Minister may, by order, having regard to the public interest, designate as an irregular arrival the arrival in Canada of a group of persons...
And, under clause 55 of the same bill:
|| If a designation is made under subsection 20.1(1), an officer must
||(a) detain, on their entry into Canada, a foreign national who, as a result of the designation, is a designated foreign national;
This is clearly an arbitrary detention.
It is regrettable that under clause 110, no appeal may be made by a refugee claimant in respect of a decision of the Refugee Protection Division. In Canada, even common criminals have the right to appeal a judge's decision.
Our humanitarian tradition that allows individuals the right to appeal decisions is entrenched, or I thought it was. Even Bill C-11, tabled in Parliament by the same minister, respected this right.
Bill C-49 also has hidden consequences. For example, section 11 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, as amended, would state that the designated foreign national may not make an application for permanent residence until five years have elapsed. Subsection 25. (1.01) of the same amended act would also state that the foreign national may not make an application until five years have elapsed. It is clear; it is stated twice in the bill.
Let us figure it out. When people arrive in Canada they are held for one year to prove their identity. The applicant may become a designated refugee, if all goes well. At that point, he must wait five years before making an application for permanent residence. Why? When the Immigration and Refugee Board establishes that someone is a refugee, that person is permitted to apply immediately for permanent residence in Canada. After the five years, if all goes well, the person applies but does not immediately become a permanent resident. We know it, I know it and everyone with immigrants in their riding knows it as well: two or three years may elapse before the government responds to the application. I estimate, and I do not believe I am exaggerating, that someone could wait up to 10 years before receiving permanent residence status in Canada.
During these 10 years not only he but his entire family will be in limbo, not knowing how life will unravel.
An irregular or designated refugee will therefore have to wait 10 years before being able to sponsor his or her family. Those are the hidden consequences of Bill C-49. Refugees cannot sponsor their families before becoming permanent residents of Canada. Given that they will not have the right to travel outside Canada during the entire period, they also will not be able to visit their spouse or children. That comes from a government that boasts about protecting family values. These family values are certainly not protected. Quite the opposite.
Amendments to the current immigration law proposed under Bill C-49 further consolidate the minister's legal authority to suspend an application for the consideration of any type of status, for example refugee status or even to be heard on humanitarian and compassionate grounds for access to Canada's protection, for a full five years. Let us not forget the individual would have already spent 12 months in jail, called detention, even before the government would look at the case. All these delays would be based on whatever the government deems to be the grounds for public policy. This amendment would then become part of section 25 of the IRPA as amended under Bill C-11.
This means that the timeline we just suggested, these 10 years, is the best-case scenario. It is not the scenario where the person is sent back or is refused anything in Canada. It is a scenario where he thinks he is going to stay, 10 years of limbo if the minister decides not to intervene.
Let us go back in time. Bill C-49 brings us back to the time of the Chinese exclusion act, the act that caused Chinese men to live their lives here in Canada without their wives, without their families. In fact many of these men never saw their families again. It caused economic hardship.
This is what caused the Canadian people to say they would not continue this, and this is when the concept of family reunification came in, when Canadians decided it was cruel to allow people, men and women, to stay here in Canada as Canadians and yet separate them from their families, wives, husbands and children, for we did not know how long.
Lo and behold, it was a Conservative prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who had the act repealed in 1947. How unfortunate that the present Conservative government cannot continue this humanitarian tradition.
Let us go back in time again to 1986—
Mr. Rob Clarke (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, CPC):
Madam Speaker, recently the Prime Minister addressed a number of new Canadians at a citizenship ceremony in Ottawa, welcoming these newcomers into the Canadian family.
Canada welcomes thousands of new immigrants and refugees every year through one of the most generous and fair refugee systems in the world. This is a source of pride for our government and a reflection of the generosity of our nation. However, there is a serious problem right now that threatens the safety and security of our communities as well as the integrity of our welcoming and generous immigration system.
Last August, the illegal arrival of the vessel, MV Sun Sea came less than one year after the illegal arrival of the Ocean Lady. The fact that these two vessels reached our shores less than 12 months apart clearly demonstrates that human smuggling networks are targeting Canada as a destination, and that they believe our generous immigration system can be exploited for profit.
Canada welcomes and will continue to welcome those who wait their turn and come to Canada in search of a better life. Such brave and industrious people from around the world have enriched the wealth and culture of our great nation for hundreds of years.
Our government has clearly stated that we cannot tolerate the abuse of our immigration system, either by human smugglers or by those who are unwilling to play by the rules. That is why our government has recently introduced an act to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.
Under this act, our government is making it easier to prosecute human smugglers, imposing minimum prison sentences on convicted human smugglers, and holding shipowners and their operators to account for using their ships in the human smuggling operations.
I would like repeat some quotes that have been in the media of late.
Logan Logendralingan, the editor of the Uthayan newspaper, a Tamil newspaper, states in an October 21 news release that he “supports the measures of government introduced today to crack down on human smugglers”.
In the same document, on behalf of Uthayan Publishers, he goes on to say, “We believe that the government should have the tools it needs to defend our borders and protect the fairness of our immigration system. That is why we fully support the new legislation. The mandatory minimum sentences for convicted human smugglers will deter those who profit from putting human lives at risk.... We want to encourage proper immigration channels and we do not want new immigrants to be victims or to pay large sums of money for their dreams of coming to Canada.”
Mr. Jim Daikos, director of Canadian operations, United Macedonian Diaspora of Canada, said, “We are pleased to see the Government taking strong action to deter human smugglers from coming to Canada's shores and abusing our country's generosity. Those who take part in human smuggling make our immigration system less fair for legal immigrants”.
The people who are waiting in line patiently and abiding by Canadian laws are being punished because of this illegal activity.
Recently, the executive director of the Toronto Community and Cultural Centre said, “Human smuggling is a criminal activity that puts people's lives at risk. It involves a network of international criminal organizations and Canada has become their target because of our compassion and fairness”.
A news release from October 21 stated, “We support the government's proposals as we need to send a strong message that criminal human smuggling will not be tolerated. Smugglers need to understand that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible and these proposals will make this easier to accomplish that”.
He further stated that those who paid to participate in human smuggling operations needed to understand that Canada would not be a willing participant, that we would take action to protect our borders and to ensure the stability of the immigration system. He said that it was unfair to those who waited years to reunite with family members because others who arrived through illegal means jumped ahead of them. Arriving in Canada through illegal means was not an automatic ticket to staying here. He went on to say they were pleased the government was sending this message.
Our government is taking action to ensure the safety and security of our streets and communities by establishing the mandatory detention of participants in human smuggling events for up to one year to allow for the determination of identity, inadmissibility and illegal activity.
Coming back to my law enforcement years when I spent 18 years with the RCMP, one of the key components in homeland security was identity. People could not be released from custody unless they proved their identity. I had to deal with individuals who had altered or changed their names illegally, and we had to hold them for a weekend. For some individuals, it was up to a week. These were Canadian citizens.
Under the act, our government is also reducing the attraction of coming to Canada by way of an illegal human smuggling operation. This includes measures such as: preventing those who come to Canada as part of a human smuggling event from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years, including those who successfully obtain refugee status; ensuring that the health benefits participants receive are not more generous than those received by the Canadian public; enhancing the ability to terminate refugee applications of those who return to their country of origin for a vacation or demonstrate in other ways that they are not legitimately in need of Canada's protection; and preventing individuals who participate in human smuggling events from sponsoring family members for a period of five years.
In addition, our government is also appointing a special adviser on human smuggling and illegal migration who will coordinate a whole-of-government response to human smuggling.
Are these measures tough? Yes, undoubtedly. However, in order to make human smugglers and fraudsters think twice, they have to be. They are also fair to those who legitimately and legally wait or have waited in line for a better life in Canada and they are fair for all Canadians who rightly expect that our borders and shores are protected and secure and our generous systems protected from abuse.
People in my constituency of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River repeatedly have asked me why we do not just turn the boat around and have them go back. In working to address this problem, this government considered all the options. The policy measures that we have chosen are some of the strongest, most effective measures possible. We will not play the smugglers' games, which is to intentionally scuttle their boats and cast their passengers into the high seas when approached by one of our vessels.
We are working with our partners abroad to help keep these boats from departing for Canada. We are taking decisive action to combat human smuggling and those who abuse Canada's generous immigration system.
I have other constituents asking if anyone can board a ship to come to Canada unimpeded. On the contrary, with this new action we are sending a clear message that human smugglers will not be tolerated and those who are considering using human smugglers should think twice before doing so.
We will continue to actively work with our domestic and international partners to crack down on human smugglers who take advantage of our generous immigration system.
These measures will enhance our ability to crack down on those who engage in the smuggling and who try to exploit Canada's generous immigration system. They will strengthen our ability to protect Canadians from criminal or terrorist threats. They will respect our international obligations to provide assistance for those legitimate refugees who need our protection and help to start a new and better life.
Canadians want tough but fair measures to stop those who abuse our generosity from becoming part of Canadian society. We know threats exist and we must remain vigilant. That is why our government is taking action and that is what our government is doing today. We will continue to do this in the future.
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate today on Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act. In the tradition of the government, it has given it a nickname, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.
Once again, as has been the case with all of the nicknames that it has come up with, it is a very misleading nickname because this bill really affects refugees far more than it will ever affect those who engage in human smuggling.
It is unfortunate with this bill that we have seen a real setback in the kind of progress we have made in this Parliament on immigration and refugee issues. We had a great example of co-operation, of cross-party co-operation, and government and opposition co-operation, with Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which passed unanimously in this House back in June. That was a place where the government introduced a bill to address issues it saw with the refugee determination process in Canada, in an attempt to make it more efficient, to speed it up and to address some of the problems existing in that process.
The opposition had trouble with that bill, but because there was an openness to dealing with the questions that the opposition had, a better bill was created. Unanimity was found, a rare thing in this minority Parliament, and I was hopeful about that kind of process. We saw, in one of the few occasions since it has come to power in the last two Parliaments, the government's willingness to actually work with others to craft a better bill, and that is what we ended up with.
Now we are set back with Bill C-49, which takes us back and tries to reopen some of the issues that the government apparently resolved back in Bill C-11. It is trying to reopen some of the issues on which it forged a compromise with the opposition parties back in the spring in this place.
That is very troubling. It seems that when we do the job that Canadians sent us here to do, to talk to each other, to do the things that are best for Canadians, when we finally have that opportunity, the government wants to turn its back on that development in a very dramatic way by reintroducing another bill that reforms a piece of legislation we just dealt with in June.
An hon. member: It isn't even in effect yet.
Mr. Bill Siksay: It has not even been proclaimed yet, as one of my colleagues points out.
This is really problematic and a very sad day that we are here to do this.
Bill C-49 is a piece of legislation that is extremely unfair to refugees. We just listened to a speech from a Conservative member that had a completely confused understanding of what it was to be a refugee or a refugee claimant in Canada. The member seemed to believe that all of these people were criminals or potential criminals and talked about them in that way. Nothing could be further from the truth, and even in the situation where a refugee claimant may lose that determination, I would think there are very few, if any, of those people who any Canadian would reasonably define as a criminal. It is very sad that this kind of confusion can exist on the Conservative bench amongst government party members about the intent or the need for this piece of legislation. That is a very serious confusion and misleads Canadians about the situation of refugees and refugee claimants in Canada.
Even if we look at the situations that seem to have given occasion to this particular bill, the arrival of the boats on Canada's west coast with largely Tamil refugees, that is not a fair descriptor yet. Many of the people who have arrived in Canada in boats, recently and in past years, have had successful refugee determination cases. They were not criminals. They were not queue-jumpers. They were in fact refugees, as determined by the established process here in Canada. That characterization of them is false and misleading, and it is very sad that it continues to be promulgated.
Bill C-49 is a deeply flawed bill and deeply unfair to refugees. It does not honour Canada's obligations under our own equality law, under the charter, or under international law. It is a sad departure from Canada being, in 1986, a country that was honoured by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with the Nansen Medal for its refugee work as one of the outstanding countries in the world in terms of refugee resettlement and support for refugees. This is a far step from that point in our past history.
This bill would deprive refugees of an independent review. Because it moves to the detention system, which we have largely avoided in Canadian refugee determination and Canadian refugee law, it goes to the expensive alternative of detention. Detention is hugely expensive when compared to the value of a refugee claimant living in the community while his or her case is being determined. This is a serious departure.
The reality is that the bill, despite all the bravado about it, would really not do much about human smuggling. More Canadian laws are not going to catch human smugglers, the people who organize the kinds of things that the government is apparently concerned about.
Mandatory minimum sentences are ineffectual in most criminal situations and I cannot imagine how in this circumstance there is even any hope of them being any kind of deterrence. The only reason we would have a mandatory minimum sentence is for the deterrent value. I think they are almost useless. I doubt that any of the criminal organizations that the government says are out there organizing and switching from arms shipments to human shipments are writing memos to the people they work with saying, “Beware. Canada has just introduced a mandatory minimum sentence for human smuggling”. Mandatory minimums are not going to stop any of those people. They are not even an issue. They are not even a consideration in those circumstances. In this case, a mandatory minimum sentence would be completely ineffectual. This is one of the places where it would be least effective anywhere in criminal law.
Overwhelmingly, mandatory minimum sentences are ineffective throughout most aspects of criminal law. It is a government fantasy to think that they would somehow address the human smuggling situation.
Refugees are usually people who are in desperate circumstances. One of the criteria for determining whether people are refugees is if they fear for their life in their country of origin, if they have been persecuted and are seeking safety. It is our duty to receive those people and make a determination about their case.
In Bill C-11, we made decisions about how to expedite that process. It was taking too long in some cases. The Conservatives did not help the speed of the refugee determination process by their actions when they became government, by the fact that they would not reappoint anybody to the immigration and refugee appeal boards. The backlog increased because of their refusal to reappoint anybody that the previous Liberal government had appointed. They were slow making their own appointment. The Conservatives are directly responsible for the backlog that exists in refugee determination in Canada right now.
But we did take some extra measures to make sure that it was a more effective process in Bill C-11. We did take measures to ensure that when someone is determined not to be a refugee that they are removed from Canada. I have always said that a key aspect of our immigration and refugee policy had to be an effective removals policy as well. If we are going to have any respect for our refugee and immigration regime, that has to be an effective part. There has been a real experience that it is one place where we have fallen down in terms of enforcing immigration law in the past.
I want to talk about some of the specific aspects of this legislation.
I really believe that Bill C-49 punishes refugees. My remarks are drawing fairly heavily on the work of the Canadian Council for Refugees, in whom I have incredible confidence. This is an umbrella organization of almost every refugee- and immigrant-serving organization in Canada. It does excellent and detailed work on immigration and refugee policy and speaks loud and clear for the people it serves from coast to coast to coast in Canada. Whenever I speak on immigration and refugee matters, I draw heavily on its work.
Bill C-49 has been presented as legislation that would target smugglers, but in fact most of the legislation would not target smugglers but refugees and changes the circumstance for refugees. I think the previous Liberal member did a count and said there are 12 sections of the bill that deal with refugees and only five sections that deal with smugglers. So it really is an unbalanced piece of legislation in that sense.
Refugees, in this bill, including refugee children, would be mandatorily detained for a year without the possibility of an independent review and denied family reunification and the right to travel for over five years under the terms of this legislation. These are very serious restrictions. Mandatory detention is something that we have not used extensively in Canada and I think it would be a real departure from the success of our refugee legislation.
Many people believe that under Bill C-49 refugees could easily be victimized three times: first, by the people who were persecuting them in their country of origin; second, by smugglers who are often the unscrupulous people they have to use to escape their persecution; and finally, by an unfair process here in Canada. This is totally contrary to what we should be doing. We should be seeking to reduce the victimization of refugees and of people who have been persecuted and who fear for their lives in their countries of origin. The bill would only add to that victimization, unfortunately.
As I mentioned earlier, this legislation seems to violate Canada's commitments under international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is another one that is in play here and is of great concern. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the refugee convention, is another important international commitment that Canada has made. I think under all of those international agreements and also under the charter there will be challenges to this legislation, because in one way or another it is problematic. When we look at the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for instance, a delay in family reunification is an incredible violation of the rights of a refugee child. If a parent is here in Canada making a refugee claim, if the possibility of reunification for that child is delayed by five years, it is a very serious problem for that child and I think a very serious violation of that child's rights.
The most serious aspect of Bill C-49 is that it would create in our refugee legislation two classes of refugees: one class that is designated by the minister based on their mode of arrival, who would have different treatment compared to other refugees who land on our shores in Canada, who arrive in Canada by some other means. I think this is a clearly discriminatory provision.
In fact, it goes back on the commitments that we thought we had received from the government when the negotiation happened around Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. In that legislation, there was also an attempt to establish two classes of refugees and to have a designation system. It was based on the country of origin, on what were considered safe countries that could produce refugees and countries that were not considered safe, and we know that it is almost an impossible designation to make.
So in negotiations with the government we got that changed and we did away with that classification of refugees that was a key part of the previous bill, Bill C-11.
Now the government, in this bill, is trying to reintroduce that kind of designation system. This time, it is not based on the country of origin of the refugee but on how that refugee got to Canada, on his or her mode of arrival. I think that is just trying to get it back in when we thought we had dealt with that issue very clearly in the previous negotiations, in the previous legislation.
I think, too, the discretion that is afforded the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in making these designations would be way off the scale. It would be too much. It would go way too far in allowing an individual minister the ability to make these decisions about who would be this designated refugee who loses some of the rights established under Canadian law for refugee determination. I think if there is any reason to have serious questions about this legislation, it is because of the establishment of these two classes of refugees and because of the incredible amount of discretion that it would afford the minister.
There are places for discretion for ministers of citizenship and immigration around humanitarian and compassionate considerations, for instance, because refugee and immigration cases are often reflections of people's very complex lives and that is a place where there needs to be some discretion for a minister, especially in this portfolio. However, I do not believe that allowing a minister to designate who is a first-class refugee and who is a second-class refugee or a no-class refugee is an appropriate addition to our immigration and refugee law in Canada. It is a very serious problem.
This bill, as we has mentioned, talks about mandatory detention of people who are designated by the minister as second-class refugees. There is mandatory detention without independent review. This kind of arbitrary detention is likely contrary to the charter and international law. Children will also be detained under this proposal. Unless they are accepted as refugees or released on discretionary grounds by the minister based upon exceptional circumstances, designated persons will remain in detention for a minimum of one year before having access to a review of their decisions. There are examples in Canadian law where that kind of process has been shown to be in contradiction of the charter.
The bill also talks about mandatory conditions being imposed upon release and for persons to be indefinitely detained beyond 12 months without the possibility of release if the minister is of the opinion that their identities have not been established. These measures seriously deprive people of liberty, without the opportunity for an independent tribunal to review whether they are necessary to their particular situations or to their particular cases.
The bill also denies refugee claimants in the designated class the right to appeal a negative refugee decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board's Refugee Appeal Division. It is frustrating to no end to have to be debating the need for a Refugee Appeal Division yet again in the House of Commons. The Refugee Appeal Division, an appeal of the decision of the Immigration and Refugee Appeal Board on a specific refugee case, was part of the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that came into effect in 2001. In fact, with the Liberal government of the day, the establishment of the Refugee Appeal Division was a compromise, worked out with all the parties in the House, that garnered support for that legislation.
Sadly, even though we won the Refugee Appeal Division in an important appeal in the refugee process, the Liberal government of the day and subsequent Conservative governments never put it in place. It was passed and was part of the law but was never implemented. This was a serious problem. We even had private members' legislation, committee reports and other motions that called upon the government to actually implement the established law of the land but to no avail.
Recently, in the debate on Bill C-11, again we thought we had won a victory where finally the Refugee Appeal Division, this important appeal of a negative refugee decision, would be implemented. However, now we see that the government is proposing, in Bill C-49, to remove that again. We think we have it but we do not implement it. We think we have it again and now we are going to limit it.
Every organization has said that this is an important aspect of refugee law and that it needs to be here in Canada. International organizations have commented that Canada needed to have this level of appeal, that Canada needed to uphold its existing refugee act, and that this was a crucial piece of what we should be about in our refugee laws. I am really disappointed that the government has again moved to limit the Refugee Appeal Division.
Family reunification is an issue. I mentioned the issue of blocking families from being reunited for five years and the issue of refugee integration into the community. This slows that process down, and that has been one of the successes of Canadian immigration law. We have moved new immigrants and refugees into positions of participation in society, of feeling that they belong in Canada, that they are valued members of the community, better than any other country, and yet here again in this legislation we are putting forward barriers to doing that, and we do that at our peril. We are turning our backs on what we have proven works and what other countries agree have worked.
Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, the arrival on Canadian shores of the latest two boats filled with Tamil refugee claimants has generated many concerns from the public. Opinion polls suggest that the vast majority of Canadians want future boats to be turned away and the Tamil refugee claimants to be deported for fear that our generous system is being exploited by criminal elements.
As always, the government has not missed the opportunity to turn public concerns into bad legislation that torques up the issue and promotes fear and misunderstanding in the hopes of electoral gain.
Bill C-49 is a terrible piece of legislation but a very effective announcement. It is effective because the government gets to talk about getting tough on vile human smugglers who criminally take advantage of extraordinarily vulnerable people fleeing persecution and oppression. It is always effective to be able to stand up and talk about defeating the evildoers while protecting the innocent and the just.
The problem is that is all this is, talk. This legislation actually does very little to go after the evildoers, and far from protecting the vulnerable, actually goes after and punishes asylum seekers.
Allow me to be very clear on one thing, Liberals and indeed members of all parties in this House are deeply committed and concerned with our capacity to crack down on human smugglers and protect the integrity of our refugee and immigration systems.
It is just that it is apparent there is little in the new legislation that actually cracks down on smugglers. There are provisions the government is quite pleased with that provide for mandatory minimum sentences of up to 10 years, but those are very unlikely to be an effective deterrent given that smuggling already carries a potential life sentence.
There are some minor provisions against shipowners who disobey ministerial orders, but nothing that is truly likely to put a dent in the multi-million dollar human smuggling business. Indeed, many of the provisions will just drive up the cost to asylum seekers and put them on more dangerous sea routes.
Rather, most of the legislation's provisions are directed at trying to deter refugees themselves. Many of the provisions may be inconsistent with the charter. Others are in direct violation of our obligations under international law. All will cause great hardship to refugees who have come to Canada to seek protection.
The legislation represents a complete reversal and backtracking on Canada's proud humanitarian tradition toward refugees and the displaced.
This government bill would create two classes of refugees based on the means of transportation they use to get here. Consider this: our system assesses, questions and judges people to determine whether they are legitimate refugees, but they will be treated differently if the minister does not like the way they arrived in Canada. That has nothing to do with the refugees' merit. It is entirely arbitrary. These people are recognized as refugees because they have good reason to fear for their lives because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinions. These are legitimate refugees, but because we do not like the way they arrived here, we subject them to harsh punishment that is no doubt unconstitutional and certainly violates our international obligations.
We cannot judge people on the basis of how they get here, because refugees use unorthodox means to reach their chosen land. In most cases, people have found unorthodox ways to get to Canada. The government judges these people on the basis of their country of origin. Designating people who arrive illegally means the government can judge anyone it wants.
In addition to keeping designated refugees locked up, the government would impose a five-year probation, during which time they would be forbidden from leaving Canada or from applying to sponsor other family members, who are most likely suffering. The government would also have the power to hold asylum seekers for up to a year.
The president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Wanda Yamamoto, said:
|| Measures keeping some refugees longer in detention, denying them family reunification and restricting their freedom of movement are likely in violation of the Canadian Charter and of international human rights obligations. People who are forced to flee for their lives need to be offered asylum and a warm welcome, not punished.
That is what is so worrisome about this capacity to create two categories of refugees depending simply on whether or not the minister approves of the way they got here.
The thinking behind it, I assume, is that if people know that the minister might not approve of their way of coming here, they are not going to get in those leaky boats and risk their lives in a heavy crossing. But when we look at the pressures on them when they got on, and their willingness to shell out to criminal elements extraordinary amounts of money that they do not have, the suspicion that perhaps the minister will disapprove of them is not going to keep them away.
When we create two classes of refugees because we like their way of getting here or we do not like their way of getting here, we are creating divisions among the very people who are most vulnerable, people whose rights Canada has sworn to uphold and protect. It is a complete discarding of the Canadian principles of fairness and justice that have defined this country for decades.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention to be informed promptly, to retain and instruct counsel without delay, and to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.
On top of that, the fact that refugees would have no right to apply for permanent residence for five years after determination of their claim is inconsistent with the principle enunciated in article 34 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees which provides that states must make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings for people determined to be refugees. We are tossing international obligations and Canadian law to the wind with this bill.
The Geneva Convention states:
|| The Contracting States shall issue to refugees lawfully staying in their territory travel documents for the purpose of travel outside their territory...
That is fairly clear. Again, the proposed legislation goes against that by banning them from travel for up to five years. Even once they have been recognized as refugees, they have to wait until they become permanent residents to get travel documents.
The Geneva Convention also states that the contracting states, of which we are one:
|| ...shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.
That is one of the things Amnesty International recently declared in an open letter violates the rights of these refugees. It ignores the reality that many of these refugees who have a well-founded fear of persecution turn to smugglers for assistance because of desperation, because of a lack of other options, because of a lack of a willingness of their host government which is busy oppressing or maligning them to help them get to another country.
Neither a just society, nor the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor international agreements are safe from this government.
We have good reason to be very concerned about this bill. I—we—understand that the problem of human trafficking needs to be dealt with, but the Conservatives' approach lacks refinement, subtlety and respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are classifying people not according to the dangers they face at home, but according to how they get to Canada. That is not the right way to do things.
The Tamil boatloads of 2009 and 2010 represented a new wave of boatloads of refugee claimants. The government's response to the first boat was relatively muted. There was not a tremendously strong public outcry against these refugee claimants.
However, well before the second boatload arrived, the public safety minister was already warning the Canadian public that the boat was filled with terrorists and criminals, before these people were evaluated, examined, interviewed, judged on their individual merits, as our obligations require us to do in the case of every single refugee.
This coming out against them soured public opinion against the claimants before they even arrived in Canada, and has produced a dramatic backlash. The effect of this short-sighted reaction has been to create a strong anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment.
That is not typical of Canada. That is not typical of Canadians. We are a country that has consistently stood up open to immigrants, to refugees, and to drawing from around the world people who wish to come here, build a safe and secure life free from persecution. Now we are busy encouraging that persecution and hyping up the tensions between Canadians and potentially new Canadians.
It is extremely important that a Canadian government be responsible in how it defends our immigration and refugee system, how it makes Canadians understand that we are strong because of, not in spite of, diversity. Our differences are what define us and make us the flexible, open, confident, powerful country that we are in the process of becoming more and more every day.
The government needs to be much more responsible in how it chooses to elevate and enervate the Canadian public's level of debate on an issue such as this one.
It is important to mention that when the minister and the Prime Minister talk about making sure that the immigrants who go through the normal process do not get unfair treatment because of the queue jumpers, it is actual misinformation.
Let me share a secret that the government does not want anyone to know. There is no queue for refugees. There are no queue jumpers in the refugee system. We have a process around refugees. Anyone who comes to Canada and seeks asylum falls into an evaluation process that has nothing to do with the quotas we establish for refugees, family class immigrants, economic migrants. It has nothing to do with the legitimate immigration process, the queue and wait times.
A refugee is evaluated on the merits of his or her individual case. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the case of the American war deserters and many others, the government is choosing to interfere with the process in which refugee claimants are evaluated on the merits of their claim. The government is choosing to prejudge. It is choosing to frame the debate in such a way that people are blending immigrants and refugees. They are two very different things.
By stoking our fears and concerns and the frustrations of legitimate immigrants who have been here but who followed the queue, who see these people as queue jumpers because the government says they are queue jumpers, we are not serving Canada. We are not living up to our international responsibilities to be a fair and just country. We are falling by the wayside of the rights and principles for which Canada has always stood.
Instead of misinforming and holding press conferences in front of boats, we would have liked the government to consider an alternative approach.
The first and most obvious one, in the case of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers, is to aggressively pursue a peace settlement in Sri Lanka.
Tens of thousands of Tamils still remain detained in detention camps. The government is being investigated by the United Nations to see if crimes against humanity were committed by the government during the civil war. Tortures and disappearances unfortunately continue.
However, there is no doubt that there is a genuine opportunity for peace. The Tamil minority wants some form of autonomy. This can be addressed within a federal state. More and more Tamils are involved in the Sri Lankan government. There is an openness toward improving the relations between the Tamil community, the international community and the government.
We are making headway on that and Canada can play a role in helping shape that peace, in helping encourage that peace. We know what it is like to live within a country where there are distinct cultural, linguistic and religious identities and to make it work. We are living proof of that here in the House of Commons. We need to build on our capacity to work with international partners, to work with the UN. Unfortunately it is an area in which the government has not been particularly successful.
When we called upon the government to work with international partners, to cut off human smuggling, to decrease the likelihood and the possibility of engaging with human smugglers, to go after human smugglers, what did it do? The Conservatives went after them. They worked with local police forces. But instead of rounding up human smugglers they rounded up potential asylum seekers. That is not the kind of work we need to do if we are going to really crack down on human smuggling.
People have been talking about turning around boats. I am pleased that the government has not chosen in this bill to encourage the idea that we should turn these boats around before they land on our shores, because that is a violation of any number of international conventions and puts people who are extraordinarily vulnerable at tremendous risk.
Since the diversion of the ships is not legal, the only alternative is therefore to provide expeditious determination of refugee claims. It is well known that the most effective mechanism for deterring frivolous or irresponsible or unfounded claims and slowing down refugee movements is to subject persons to fair but expeditious determinations and to quickly deport persons whose claims are rejected. Unfortunately, Bill C-49 does not address that and does not encourage that.
The process of seeking the detention of refugee claimants, coupled with expedited hearings while providing them due process is an effective response to try to deter claims. In the case of the Sri Lankan Tamils, given the current situation, it may well be that some of the claimants will be accepted. However, all should be expeditious, fair determinations.
This, coupled with efforts to resolve the situation in Sri Lanka and with efforts to stem the flow of boats by working with governments in the region, is the most effective long-term response. It can be done without inflaming anti-immigrant feelings in Canada and in a manner that will ensure Canada complies with its obligations under international law and the charter.
Speaking of this legislation, there is something else that worries me. As we have heard speaker after speaker in the opposition get up and highlight all the real legal challenges and convention challenges with this bill, and as experts have come out time and time again with real concerns about this, the thing that really bugs me is that this legislation, which is filled with ineffective and illegal measures, was drafted by the good people in what is generally considered to be the best immigration ministry in the world.
Our fine bureaucrats put together this piece of legislation that is not worthy of the kind of work and the kind of balanced approach that was even available and visible in Bill C-11 that we passed unanimously in the House. That bill was supposed to balance and improve our process of evaluating refugees and providing fairness for refugees.
Under the guise of legislation to deter smugglers, or smuggling, the government has introduced broad changes to our refugee determination system and to the rights of persons recognized as refugees.
Let us be perfectly clear. There is very little in this legislation that is designed to crack down on smugglers. Instead, this legislation takes reprisals against the refugees who use those smugglers—