The House resumed from September 19 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to continue with the points I was making yesterday. Once again I want to express my concern that this piece of legislation is being presented under public safety when the bill actually deals with immigration and citizenship. This is a real issue. Since when have we as Canadians seen the arrival of immigrants in this country as a public safety issue? I urge the government to send this bill to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration as it goes through its committee stage.
Yesterday I mentioned very briefly the impact this legislation would have on families. We as Canadians pride ourselves on being compassionate and caring. The world looks to Canada to be compassionate and caring. People across the world choose to make Canada their home. I am a first generation immigrant. I came from England. I chose Canada to be my home. One of the reasons I chose Canada is its inclusivity and acceptance of people from around the world.
This legislation is going in the wrong direction. The legislation sends the wrong message to refugees. There are people who have spent years in war-torn territories running for their lives, separated from their families, not knowing where they will get their next meal. Some people do not even know where they are going to sleep the next night, whether they will wake up in the morning, or how many of their loved ones they will lose.
The legislation tells refugees that when they arrive in Canada it will take up to a year to examine their designations. During that time they will be in isolation and given a special designation for which the criteria are not clear at all. A lot of power seems to be vested in the minister and there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors in that we do not know the criteria. Once they have been designated they will not get to apply for permanent residence for five or six years.
This means the individuals who arrive here, who have already been torn from their families and have suffered enough, would not get travel documents. They would be able to work, but they would not have any rights. They would not have permanent residence. We would throw their lives into further turmoil and uncertainty for five or six years. They would not know if the families they left behind would ever be able to join them. They would not have the needed mental relief in knowing they have arrived in a safe haven. We must think about what that must feel like.
Imagine, for example, a young woman with two children who arrives here but her husband and two other kids are still back in Somalia. For six or seven years she cannot apply for permanent residence or for her family to join her. What are we saying to her? We are saying that we are going to provide her with this vacuum for five or six years, but she does not have any of the rights. She cannot apply for permanent residence. By the way, permanent residence does not take place the day someone applies for it. It takes time as well. Imagine the amount of time she will have to wait until the rest of her family can join her. It could take 10 to 15 years, depending on how we do the math.
Surely that is not the kind of image of Canada that we want to project to the world. We want the rest of the world to see us as compassionate and caring.
By creating two levels of refugees and denying appeals in that first year we are saying that we are prepared to break conventions governing the rights of refugees and the rights of children. That concerns me as a Canadian. I know Canadians right across this country will be concerned about that.
We pride ourselves on our family values. We pride ourselves on being a welcoming nation. I urge this House not to support this bill because we would be sending a message to the world that we are becoming a much colder, less caring nation when we see legislation such as this bill going through.
Let us see who is opposed to this legislation. There is the Canadian Council for Refugees. I talked to some of my constituents. When I phoned them they said, “This is ridiculous. It is not a problem.” If we are worrying about smugglers, we already have a life sentence for smugglers. In Canada that is the highest penalty that can be given.
This is actually more punishment for people who have already suffered atrocities and difficulties that most of us in this chamber cannot even imagine.
As a counsellor I had the privilege of working with children who arrived here as refugees after spending years in detention camps or in very unsafe and volatile living conditions. Dealing with those children is extremely challenging. Now we are leaving those same children in a vacuum for five, six or seven years, maybe even longer.
The Canadian Council for Refugees is opposed to this legislation, as is Amnesty International. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has taken a position, as have the Canadian Bar Association and the Centre for Refugee Studies. What keeps coming up over and over again is that this bill is a draconian piece of legislation.
I urge all members to look at what it is we are trying to address. If we are trying to address the smugglers, let us focus on enforcement, provide extra resources and go after the smugglers. Let us not punish people who have already been victimized.
Let us all put ourselves in the position of a refugee. Let us imagine how we would feel reaching a safe haven called Canada and then being faced with detention and uncertainty.
I ask members to please defeat this bill.
Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill today. However, as this is my first time rising in the House since the election in May, I would like to take one moment to thank the voters of Burlington for sending me back here with 54% of the vote. It was a very nice election.
I want to congratulate all members, whether new or returning to the House. As well, I believe it is important to welcome the pages who are just starting out this week. Remembering everyone's names and idiosyncrasies is a tough job. They do a great job and I thank them. I hope they have a great year.
I am pleased to stand in the House today to speak in support of the bill. It will go a long way to making our nation safer by cracking down on the illegal and dangerous activity of human smuggling. The is a critical piece of legislation that responds to a critical need.
The smuggling of people is not a new crime. In fact, it has been happening around the world for many decades. I am sure all hon. members have heard stories of people paying a fee to bypass legal and proper immigration processes to sneak across the Mexico-United States border.
My riding of is not that far from the U.S. border, and on a weekly basis a number of people come to see me regarding the issue of crossing the border illegally.
When I was first elected, I was amazed that individuals in discussing with me how they came to Canada eventually would admit that they got here illegally. They did not follow the legal process. They claimed refugee status when they arrived at the border. Then they would come to my office because they wanted me as their MP to help them continue the illegal process they had started.
Out of respect for the office I hold as a member of Parliament, I told those individuals that I would not interfere in any illegal activity that they had undertaken. I instructed them to follow the legal and appropriate processes to immigrate to Canada, under the refugee system and the immigration system. Often we would call those people a few weeks later to determine what they had decided to do, but they would be hard to find and in some cases we could not find them at all. It does happen. It happens in Burlington. It happens across this country and has been happening for many years.
It may come as a surprise to some that this problem is not new to Canada. Every year thousands of people seeking asylum try to enter Canada illegally by air or by land through the help of organized criminal smuggling networks.
As well, illegal immigration by sea is not new to Canada. In 1999, close to 600 immigrants from China's Fujian province arrived on Canada's west coast in four different vessels. What has changed is that Canadians are aware now of the direct impact this criminal activity is having on our nation. Canadians have received a wake-up call that Canada is being increasingly targeted by organized human smugglers based out of Southeast Asia who view our immigration system as a very generous system to be exploited for profit.
Two events in recent years have served to raise the profile of this issue in the minds of Canadians. One is the ship that recently came to British Columbia. My constituents have been asking what we will do to stop this from happening in the future.
Last August, 492 Sri Lankan Tamils arrived in British Columbia aboard the vessel the MV Sun Sea. This occurred less than one year after the arrival of the MV Ocean Lady, which carried 76 Sri Lankan Tamils.
These two events are an issue in my riding. Although we are in Burlington, thousands of miles away from where the activities took place, Burlingtonians and all Canadians are concerned about how we could allow those events to happen.
While these two vessels landed on the west coast, this is an issue that, as I said, extends across the country. In the past, Canadian border authorities have also dealt with cases of human smuggling in eastern Canada, including at the Port of Montreal.
This is a growing transnational issue that threatens our national security. It also raises significant concerns regarding human rights and the rule of law here in Canada.
These human smugglers are making huge profits by promoting illegal immigration. They are not immigration consultants. They are not helping people with the actual process. They are taking thousands of dollars from individuals and putting them on inappropriate ships and sending them to countries, including Canada, where they think they can get away with bypassing the immigration system. They are charging individuals large sums of money to transport them to a country and advising them to claim asylum, refugee status, when they arrive. This unlawful activity has implications for our country. Ultimately, it affects our system and all Canadians across this country.
I am sure that hon. members can well imagine how conducting identity and admissibility examinations of over 500 individuals arriving on a single boat can significantly tax our immigration and border security systems. Let us be frank about it: we are not set up for mass immigration or mass asylum seekers in that format.
Sadly, the costs of human smuggling to society are more than can be measured on balance sheets. Often this illegal transport means great misery, illness and even death for many of the individuals involved, who are transported thousands of miles in very unsafe conditions.
This was clearly seen in the terrible events that occurred off the coast of Australia's Christmas Island in December of last year. Thirty people lost their lives when a wooden boat operated by suspected human smugglers was destroyed in stormy weather. The Christmas Island example in Australia is just one of many incidents that have happened around the world.
Further, human smuggling is fundamentally unfair to those who follow the rules and wait their turn to come to Canada, which we all see in our offices. We all sympathize with those who are following the rules and are trying to become Canadian immigrants by following the legal procedure.
I am a sixth or seventh generation Canadian, but my in-laws came here from Italy. They came through the legal route. They had to wait their turn to get here. They followed the process. They did not come on a boat and claim refugee status after paying a smuggler thousands of dollars to escape from Italy. They followed the rules. They expect everyone else to follow the rules. They welcome immigrants, obviously. In my family, particularly through marriage; people in my in-laws' family are almost all immigrants. They have been very successful. Canada has been good to them. Canada is the better for their arrival and their contribution, but they did it the legal way, and that is what this bill is about.
Canada welcomes thousands of new immigrants and refugees every year through one of the most generous and fair refugee systems in the world, but when Canada is forced to deal with the arrival of a vessel filled with hundreds of illegal migrants, the resulting backlog of work means that those who go through the proper immigration channels get pushed back in line. This is not fair to them, their children or their spouses.
We will not stand idly by while criminal organizations target our country and our generosity. That is why our government took action in October of last year and first introduced this legislation to send a clear message to human smugglers that Canada will not tolerate them. That is why we have reintroduced this legislation in this session. We believe that the passing of this bill cannot come soon enough.
This issue is not going to go away. We must act now. We must be responsible parliamentarians.
With this legislation we are taking firm and reasonable action to defend the integrity of our borders. We are determined to protect our immigration and refugee system from abuse and to prosecute human smugglers to the full extent of the law.
While Canadians are, by and large, supportive of a generous and open immigration and refugee system, we also understand that every sovereign country has a responsibility to protect its citizens and the integrity of its borders. This bill clearly shows that we will not tolerate abuse of our immigration system, either by human smugglers or by those unwilling to abide by the rules. At the same time, it will allow us to continue offering protection to legitimate refugees.
The new legislation will enable the to declare the arrival of a group of persons as an “irregular arrival” and make those involved subject to the bill's measures. The bill recognizes the gravity of this decision by stating in clear terms that only the can make this decision and that it cannot be delegated to another official.
The legislation will also make it easier to prosecute human smugglers, establish mandatory minimum prison sentences for those who are convicted of human smuggling, and hold shipowners and operators to account for the use of their ships in human smuggling operations. This bill reduces the attraction of coming to Canada by way of an illegal smuggling operation.
The legislation contains measures to prevent those who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, including those who subsequently obtain refugee status, from applying for permanent resident status for a period of at least five years, including those who obtain that refugee status.
We want to enhance the opportunity to rescind the refugee status and remove from Canada those who return to their country of origin for a vacation or who demonstrate in any other way that they are not legitimately in need of Canada's protection. We must prevent individuals who come to Canada as part of a designated human smuggling operation from sponsoring family members for a period of up to five years.
Many of Canada's global allies and partners have found themselves the target of organized human smuggling ventures. This is an international problem, and it must have an international solution. No nation can solve illegal smuggling by acting purely on its own. That is why we have appointed a special adviser on human smuggling and illegal migration, Mr. Ward Alcock, to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to this issue. Mr. Alcock's role allows us to engage other international partners with a common voice to find ways to prevent these vessels from departing from their home country in the first place.
Since his appointment in October of 2010, Mr. Alcock has met with officials in Australia and a number of other states in southeast Asia, as well as with representatives at the United Nations, to discuss approaches to managing irregular immigration that is happening around the world. He has also attended several meetings of the Bali process, which is a regional forum that brings together more than 50 countries and international organizations that are developing practical measures to combat human smuggling and related crimes in the South Pacific region.
Adding weight to this international discussion, the has urged leaders from the APAC nations to work together to find concrete solutions to the problem of human smuggling. Last fall, the Prime Minister met with international allies at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum highlighting the critical need for stronger and more effective laws to crack down on this global problem. This ongoing collaboration is critical to shutting down human smuggling operations and will send a very strong message to would-be smugglers that their illegal activities will no longer be tolerated.
The measures we are introducing today will substantially improve our ability to crack down on those who engage in the illegal activity of human smuggling. These measures respect our international obligations and commitments that provide assistance and sanctuary for those who are legitimate refugees and who need our protection. Canada opens its doors to make sure they have the quality of life and opportunity that they all deserve so that they are able to start a new and better life here.
We call on all hon. members to support this legislation and help us pass this act as soon as possible.
Madam Speaker, I would first congratulate the member for on his election victory. I am glad his leader finally allowed him to speak his mind six months after his victory. I hope to hear from him sooner rather than later but I guess that is for his leader to decide.
I will speak to this bill, first, to express my concerns with its shortcomings and then, to suggest to the members opposite some of the ways the government may be able to improve it.
Chief among my concerns are the effects this bill will have on children and their families. My second concern is with the effect that this bill will result in wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on a non-existent problem and the negative effects this bill will have on our economy.
I am a family man. My daughter is a priority for me. One of the reasons I serve in this House is so she may grow up in a better world and have a better life. It is something I wish for all children, not just for my own and not just for Canadian children. I am sure there are many members in this House who have similar wishes and who wish for the well-being of children.
As members know, our country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This month, we celebrated the 21st anniversary of its ratification. It is an important document because it outlines the international consensus of basic rights of children. So, it is with great worry that I see that Bill may jeopardize our commitment to this important convention.
I do not want to believe that the government would detain children for up to a year just because the children were trying to flee the most dire circumstances, whether it be war, famine or persecution. Unfortunately, Bill would result in the detention of children. I think many Canadians will feel shameful when they learn that our government intends to detain children, regardless of their country of origin. Perhaps the government intends to build detention centres so Canadians will not be able to see its actions in this respect. Simply put, the detention of children that would result from this bill is not acceptable and runs contrary to Canadian values.
I will outline how the government would be in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I would like to explain a bit about this convention to the members opposite and to whom it applies.
Article 1 of the convention states:
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
The Conservative government often likes to speak of the age of consent in its care for children. This convention applies to all people aged zero to eighteen.
Bill would put us in contravention of Article 2 of the convention, which states:
States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
Subsection (2) states:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.
Bill would create two classes of refugee claimants with a different set of rights. In effect, the bill would discriminate against children who will fall under the category of “designated claimants”. This is in clear violation of Article 2 of the convention.
Bill would put us in contravention of Article 3 of the convention, which states:
In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
I think it is quite clear and obvious to the members opposite that this implies that refugee children must be treated in the same way we would treat our own children. I think members would also agree that they would not accept the detention of their own children, especially if their children were fleeing a war-torn area.
Bill would violate article 7(2) of the convention that states:
States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
Even if Bill had provisions for children to be detained, it would be difficult for the government to fulfill its obligations to the convention with its detention centres because of article 31, the right to play, and article 39, the right to psychological and physical recovery of child victims, which states:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.
It would mean that children would need to be provided with acceptable play areas, areas for cultural expression, access to psychological and counselling services and services that cater to the child's development. It is fine for the to use the UN to justify things like going to war, for his international position and beliefs on foreign affairs, yet reject a convention made by the same body to which we were signatory.
It is all fine and dandy to promote child and maternal health, except when the child and mother are refugees. We will have to build state-of-the-art facilities with play areas, educational opportunities, office spaces for the teams of psychologists and educators and medical staff.
This brings me to my second point, which is the costs incurred as a result of this ideologically piece of legislation.
Has the government factored in how much new detention facilities would cost? Did the government just think it could detain children, without fulfilling its obligations to the convention? Let us remind the government of its duties and obligations in this matter. Article 22(1) reads as follows:
States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties.
Article 22(2) states:
For this purpose, States Parties shall provide, as they consider appropriate, co-operation in any efforts by the United Nations and other competent intergovernmental organizations or non-governmental organizations co-operating with the United Nations to protect and assist such a child and to trace the parents or other members of the family of any refugee child in order to obtain information necessary for reunification with his or her family. In cases where no parents or other members of the family can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason, as set forth in the present Convention.
Rather than punish the victims, we should show compassion and help them integrate into our society. I remind members across to look at what happened in 1979 and 1980 when over 50,000 Vietnamese people arrived on our shores by boat. These refugees came from a war-torn nation that was considered an enemy of our neighbours. From listening to media reports of the day not everyone was happy with their arrival, yet the progressive government of that day showed leadership in helping the refugees integrate. The Vietnamese Canadian community have been vibrant players in Canada's economy. We have two members within our caucus who come from this community, the member for and the member for .
I pause to think how low we have sunk with this terrible legislation.
The bill only drives home the fact that the Conservatives have given up the “progressive” label and that they fail when it comes to progressive leadership. Instead of integrating, they are saying that people have to wait five years. Instead of welcoming these people, they are detaining them and children.
We should actually love our neighbours, not fear them. We should provide, within this legislation, a part where children and their families will be able to apply for humanitarian and compassionate exceptions.
The legislation, as it is written, is not acceptable. It should be referred back to committee to be altered.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be back in the House and to see you in the chair once again.
Before I start my comments, I want to say that it has always been a Conservative government, whenever in power, that has led the way in welcoming immigrants and helping bring them into our society and country, and breaking colour barriers when it has come to the first members of Parliament of different origins. We in this Conservative government are proud of our history when it comes to this, and we stand by that history.
It is my great pleasure to stand in the House today in support of this important piece of legislation. I have listened with great interest to the debate in the House today over the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.
However, the conversation has not been confined to the House, and nor should it be. This is an issue that has sparked much interest and discussion among Canadians and our global allies and partners. Last summer, it was one of the predominant issues in my riding.
Hon. members have heard much about this legislation over the course of these debates and they have had much to say about it. But it is important to take a step back, get past the rhetoric and fear-mongering and remind ourselves of the seriousness of this crime and why we must take measures to address it.
The United Nations defines human smuggling, or migrant smuggling, in the following way:
The procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.
Simply put, it is the act of bringing people illegally from one nation to another for profit, often in the holds of ships or cramped containers.
Most disturbing is the fact that no one fully knows accurately the number of people who are smuggled each and every year. The data are scattered and incomplete. There are some things, however, that we do know.
We know there are intricate networks of human smugglers around the globe willing and able to help migrants evade national border controls, migration regulations and visa requirements. They do not do this out of the kindness of their hearts or out of a desire to help these individuals; human smugglers do their work in the name of profit and greed.
We know that human smuggling is a highly profitable business with a fairly low risk of detection and punishment. That makes it increasingly attractive to organized criminal syndicates that work transnationally, across borders and regions.
One of the great attractions to this type of crime is its low overhead costs, with no regulations or safeguards necessary to ensure the safety of the migrants who are smuggled. The more profit these smugglers make, the more brazen they become and the more risks they are willing to take with the lives of their passengers.
We also know that human smugglers are very opportunistic and flexible. They constantly change their routes and their methods to avoid capture.
Most important, we know that this problem can only be addressed with a coordinated, multifaceted approach among our global allies and partners. This is why Canada, along with more than 100 other countries, is signatory to various international conventions and protocols that condemn human smuggling and aim to protect legitimate asylum seekers.
Human smuggling is a problem that affects virtually every nation in the world, either as a country of origin, transit or destination.
Until a few years ago, most Canadians were either unaware of this criminal activity or perhaps believed that it was a crime that happened far away from our borders. That was until we received a sobering wake-up call when two vessels arrived on our west coast within a year of each other. The MV Ocean Lady arrived in 2009 carrying 76 immigrants. The MV Sun Sea arrived less than a year later carrying almost 500 migrants.
The reaction of most Canadians was swift. In an Angus Reid poll shortly after the MV Sun Sea arrived, almost half of the Canadians surveyed said they believed that all passengers and crew should be deported, even if they were found to have no links to terrorism. That is a telling number and, quite frankly, one we cannot ignore.
Does this mean that Canadians have suddenly become intolerant or hateful toward immigrants? Not at all. Canadians are proud of our welcoming and diverse multicultural society. What Canadians are telling us, however, is that they are outraged that human smuggling syndicates are exploiting Canada's fair and generous immigration system to make a quick profit. They share our government's grave concerns that Canada will continue to be a magnet for these irregular arrivals unless we do something now. These concerns are not unfounded.
We continue to hear stories of possible ships headed to Canada. As recently as July, we learned that Indonesian authorities had stopped a ship filled with migrants that may have been destined for our shores.
There is no time to waste. We must send a clear message to these human smugglers that Canada will not tolerate their abusing our immigration system. Furthermore, we will not tolerate the threat that human smuggling poses to our national security. It can be very difficult to establish the identities of smuggled migrants, many of whom come with no documentation whatsoever.
When faced with facts, it is clear that the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act cannot come soon enough. With this legislation we are taking firm, reasonable actions to defend the integrity of our borders, protect our immigration and refugee system from abuse, and prosecute human smugglers to the fullest extent of the law.
This legislation will strengthen our legal response to irregular arrivals in several crucial respects. It will give our immigration and law enforcement officials more time to identify and investigate individuals who are part of an irregular arrival. We believe that mandatory detention for up to one year is necessary and reasonable to allow for a thorough investigation of individuals who decide to arrive en masse.
This legislation will also enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to identify and engage human smuggling ventures. This includes establishing minimum jail sentences for convicted smugglers and extending the time period under which these offenders can and will be prosecuted. It will allow us to hit smugglers where they feel it most, in their pocketbooks. For example, it would amend the Marine Transportation Security Act to increase the penalties for owners and operators of vessels who fail to provide passenger information before entering Canadian waters; who refuse to comply with a ministerial direction to leave or not enter Canadian waters; or who provide false or misleading information to Canadian officials. Stiffer consequences, stiffer fines and stiffer sentences will send a message to human smugglers that we will not sit idly while they target our borders and our country, whether by sea, land, or air.
In fact, our work does not begin and end with our own borders. We are working closely with our international partners to prevent these criminal ventures from departing for Canada.
This legislation sends a clear message, that Canada is a fair and generous and welcoming country for those who want to work for a better life, but there are legal and legitimate ways that must be followed to do so. These measures will substantially enhance our ability to crack down on those who engage in human smuggling, and these respect our international obligations and commitments to provide assistance and sanctuary for those refugees who need our protection and help to start a better life.
Our government will continue to push ahead with our goal of passing this important bill to ensure the security and safety of Canadians, and to protect the rights of refugees who are following the proper legal steps to make Canada their home.
I call on all hon. members to support swift passage of this legislation.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be part of the debate on Bill , for which, in the spirit of my colleague for , I propose the short title to be “the refugee punishment act”.
I would start by posing the context for the bill. It is not coming forward from the Conservative government in isolation. It is part of a larger movement that the Conservative government is promoting to create a more punitive society in Canada. It is this movement that so many Canadians are unhappy with, and the reason the vast majority of Canadians did not vote for the Conservative government.
To put it in perspective, Canada has a long and proud history of making itself a better country and of governments being in the lead. We had governments that were committed to Canada having a just society, a society in which people had equal opportunity and where human rights and individual rights were respected no matter what corner of Canada a person came from.
We have also had a movement towards an inclusive society, one whereby Canada was part of the international family of nations and a country that would welcome people from other countries who wanted to come to Canada to build their lives and succeed and contribute to Canada. The idea of an inclusive society also incorporated Canada's acceptance of a share of the most vulnerable refugees from other countries.
The Liberals have a movement towards a sustainable society. That is one through which we leave Canada in as good a shape as it was, or better, environmentally as well as socially and economically.
These are important movements that government provides leadership on. They create the character of Canada, the nation we are so proud of and a nation the rest of the world respects.
I see a Conservative government across the aisle moving towards a punitive society, a society based on raising fears, anger and resentment among its people. It is one based on pitting one group against another in fear or resentment. We have seen any number of initiatives that are slowly building the platform for a more punitive society, and I am sad about that. I regret that Canada is going backwards with this movement towards a more punitive society, and that is what the bill is all about.
Yesterday the summed up what the bill was about. He said it was about a disincentive for smuggling. What does a disincentive for smuggling mean with the way the bill is laid out?
It does not mean working with the international community to prevent smuggling. It does not mean identifying who is profiting from it and working to stop them from exploiting refugees. No, the disincentive would be punishing the victims so harshly that refugees would think twice about Canada being a safe harbour in their time of greatest need. That is not the Canada we want to create.
We recognize the mistakes that Canada has made in the past. One example was the horrible breach of humanity in turning away the St. Louis and its German-Jewish refugees. That is a recognition that we are a Canada that has a humanitarian responsibility towards refugees. However, this bill is about punishing refugees as a disincentive to smugglers, and I take great exception to that approach to public policy in our country.
I join the Liberal Party and other members in wanting a government that would hit hard against those who profit from human misery, terrorism, exploitation and those who would take the most vulnerable in their time of need and make money from it.
Of course we want to crack down on that. Of course we want to protect Canadians from unscrupulous smugglers. However, this bill is not one that does that.
Already provisions exist against smugglers, and no further resources are provided by the bill to actually put into effect the provisions we have in our laws to impose life imprisonment or huge fines on those who are caught smuggling.
The bill is not an effective way to accomplish the objective of cracking down on smuggling. The bill is about punishing refugees. Unfortunately, in its process and content, it feeds cynicism, it is sowing conflict and it undermines compassion for human beings at the most vulnerable times in their lives.
The Liberals support pragmatic evidence-based solutions to human smuggling. We certainly do not support this re-victimization of the refugees by punishing the most vulnerable.
I want to talk about my assertion that the bill feeds cynicism. Several members have quoted polls showing that Canadians would just as soon turn back boats like the Sun Sea and the ones that came to the shores of British Columbia a year ago or two years ago. They would just as soon turn them back.
How cynical, because it is the government's own comments that stoked the fears, the anger and the resentment that were then reflected in the polls. The comments of the and the linked refugees fleeing for their lives to terrorism and to illegitimacy. It was those kinds of comments that the polls were reflecting. To stoke those fears, then poll the public, and then use the results to justify this bill to punish refugees is just the highest political cynicism that one can imagine.
The bill did not see a public consultation. Were the various parties involved in thinking about how we can actually crack down on smuggling? There was no consultation, because this is a bill to gain political advantage by stoking fear, anger and resentment among Canadians. That is what the bill is all about, so why would the government consult on it? Making people afraid, coming up with a supposed solution, and then garnering some votes is the height of cynicism, and the Conservative government specializes in it.
Because of the absence of public consultation, the bill is unlikely to survive the charter challenge. That is because it creates two classes of refugees and because it likely flouts international law, but that is not an impediment to the members opposite, because they will use this as part of that larger platform toward a punishment agenda, a punitive society based on fear.
Canadians deserve better than that. They deserve thoughtful public policy that really goes to the root of the problem and genuinely attempts to improve Canadians' lives through public policy that shows leadership, not just petty partisanship.
The bill also sows conflict, and I think we saw that in a number of the speeches in which the members of the Conservative Party talked about illegitimate refugees. What is an illegitimate refugee? A refugee is a refugee, and when refugees come to Canada's shores, we have mechanisms to determine whether they are here to exploit Canada or whether they are people fleeing for their lives. We have mechanisms for that, so to brand all of the refugees that come on a boat as illegitimate is just part of the landscape of the punitive agenda. It stokes resentment among Canadians and creates two classes of refugees, which is completely unacceptable.
The bill refuses to consider the application of the second class of refugees for permanent residence. It has greater political interference in considering the applications. In the bill men, women and children would all be sent to mandatory detention for no reason for 12 months. They would have to wait five years before even applying for permanent residency status. They are restricted from leaving Canada during that time. Worst of all, after five years they would risk being sent away because someone might assess their country as not being sufficiently dangerous.
We have seen tragic--
Madam Speaker, I rise in this House today to oppose this bill, which has been described as draconian by a number of experts, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. This bill is discriminatory and gives too much power to the .
This bill authorizes the minister to designate as an irregular arrival the arrival in Canada of a group of persons. Those persons can thereby become designated foreign nationals. Their fate is left in the hands of the minister. In fact, if the minister deems that examinations could not be done in a timely manner, if he suspects that the persons were smuggled in exchange for money or that a criminal organization or terrorist group is involved in the smuggling, these refugees become designated claimants.
These designated claimants are then subjected to a host of abusive and discriminatory rules. Such measures would be inconsistent with the rights granted under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and would violate section 31 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence.
Furthermore, this bill clearly violates the charter. The designated claimants—and that also includes children—must be detained upon their arrival or when they are designated. Their detention will only be reviewed after one year, or longer if the minister deems that their identity has not been established. These designated claimants may only be released when it has been established that they are refugees or when there are exceptional circumstances.
This bill obviously gives the minister too much power. This bill is arbitrary and gives the minister a great deal of discretion regarding the status of these people. These people have just arrived in Canada and are immediately treated as criminals, placed under suspicion, and, in the case of designated claimants, detained.
The Supreme Court has already abolished mandatory detention without review of security certificates. The court was clear: detention without valid reasons cannot be allowed in Canada. And yet this bill seems to ignore the Supreme Court decision.
This detention provision would allow indefinite detentions based on identity issues. There would be no possibility of release until the minister deems that the identity of the designated applicant has been fully established.
Canada has ratified many international treaties that prohibit arbitrary detention. Why does this government wish to pass a bill that would allow officers to go ahead with arbitrary detentions? Furthermore, the conditions for release are not specified. It might be a complex administrative task to establish conditions without considering individual cases.
What concerns me is that the decisions made by the regarding applications by designated persons cannot be appealed to the refugee appeal division. This fuels my fear that this bill advances a process based on arbitrary decisions. I wonder about the recourse open to these designated applicants.
This provision could seriously contravene the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which protects refugees from such laws. My NDP colleagues also reminded the government of the provisions of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees when the government attempted to prevent refugees from certain countries from appealing decisions.
This bill unfairly attacks refugees and does not resolve the underlying problem. It is based on arbitrary decisions by the minister, decisions that cannot be appealed.
The bill does not stop there. It even limits claims on humanitarian grounds. Once people become designated claimants, they can not make a claim on humanitarian grounds or apply for a temporary resident permit for five years. This provision is just one more obstacle. The bill goes much too far.
Despite the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, designated claimants cannot receive a passport. Article 28 of the convention, which requires States to issue travel documents, would not apply to designated claimants.
That means that the government is suspending some of the rights of designated claimants. What is the government trying to do? Alienate all refugees? Criminalize them as soon as they arrive?
This bill not only has a significant effect on the rights of refugees, but it also applies to previous cases. Under a retroactive designation provision, the government can consider anyone who has arrived in Canada since March 2009 as a designated claimant.
We see here the scope of the power that this bill grants to the minister. He can go back to 2009, decide that a refugee is a designated claimant and impose all the provisions that accompany that status on the person in question.
This bill attacks refugees rather than the real culprits: traffickers and smugglers. There is already a serious sentence for those who are found guilty of human trafficking: life in prison. This bill unfairly punishes those who are trying to seek refuge in Canada and encourages discriminatory practices.
What worries me is the significant amount of power that would be granted to the minister if this bill were passed. The bill is based on the minister's decisions.
We must ask ourselves what the Conservatives hope to gain with such a bill. They claim that they want to fight the spread of human trafficking. Their solution is to give the minister the power to make important decisions on the status of refugees without giving them the ability to appeal that decision. The Conservatives' solution is to detain children for as long as it takes to determine their identity.
The NDP recognizes that human trafficking is a problem but it is proposing real solutions that address the real problem. The criminals—traffickers and smugglers—are the ones who must be punished.
Several months ago, the House passed a bill regarding refugees. It was strong but also balanced and fair. I believe that we should focus on improving the enforcement of that law.
Madam Speaker, how can we attempt to work on Bill without first understanding the problem?
The bill is based on false premises. For instance, we cannot compare ourselves to countries like Italy, where the African coast is 350 kilometres from the island of Lampedusa. Some tens of thousands of refugees arrive there every year. The island has become overpopulated, with people there living practically elbow to elbow.
It is a serious problem. The European Union has worked on finding humanitarian solutions to this problem. Here, we are not at all in the same situation. We have the Arctic Ocean on one side and no one will enter the country through there. Our context is not remotely similar and we are not dealing with the arrival of a large number of boats full of refugees. Even if we were dealing with that kind of situation, we would have to respond to it in a humane way. Putting everyone in prison will not change anything. It will only require more prisons.
I would call this bill the “restricting access to refugee status act“. We cannot expect Sri Lankan refugees to arrive in business class on Japan Airlines with their lawyers. For the most part, they are farmers or small business owners who have left a war zone, who were caught in the crossfire of the conflict. They left their country with whatever means they had. They pooled their money together, bought a rusty old boat and set sail to try to seek refuge somewhere. If they were a group of Saudi millionaires, they would have bought a brand new Airbus and arrived at Pearson airport or Trudeau airport with their passports and cash.
Let us be reasonable. The worst thing about this bill is the social tension it creates; it fuels the animosity of one part of the population towards a targeted group. Then, as soon as the public begins to demand action, measures are taken. That is not a vision; it is a refusal to see the facts.
It is important to look at our history. In the past, Canada has made some unfortunate decisions. Remember what happened to Japanese Canadians during the last war; remember the Chinese head tax. We have had to apologize for those decisions. Before we make another unfortunate decision, we need to reflect and not do something that we will need to apologize for later.
We have also done good things in the past. We welcomed those fleeing the Bolshevik revolution in eastern Europe.
We saw how critical people were of these refugees when they arrived. Many people said that there were too many Ukrainians, Germans, and so on. But we have had Ukrainian premiers and there are people from all backgrounds who have become some of the most productive members of our society. If we had pointed fingers, lumped them together and set up barriers in their path, we would not be where we are today. And what a shame that would be.
We now have a chance to make a dignified and generous choice, and I believe we have the means to do just that. It costs less to send a young person to university than to prison. We cannot be swayed by xenophobia and poor instincts. People having a morning chat in a restaurant are allowed to make extreme comments and pass judgment without much thought, but not those of us paid $160,000 a year to be here. We are supposed to think and act intelligently.
Mr. Speaker, Bill is profoundly unfair to refugees. This bill, as presented by the government, is vague, arbitrary and discriminatory.
How can the Conservatives justify the arbitrary detention of young children? It is simply bizarre for a political party in a country like Canada to present this kind of bill in this House.
I would like to know more about the process by which these designated persons are going to be designated. I see this as a flagrant lack of transparency. What powers will the minister have in all this?
The power to designate enables the minister to discriminate between two classes of refugee protection claimants based on the method by which they arrived in Canada. That means that a person who arrives by air would not be designated or affected by this legislation, but a person who arrives by boat would be. Equality before the law is a fundamental principle in Canada, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
How can they be proposing a bill that imposes a set of penalties on “designated” persons in direct contravention of article 31 of the refugee convention, which Canada has signed and which expressly prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees on account of their illegal entry or presence in the territory of a state, particularly where their life, their freedom or their security is threatened.
The government is giving itself the power to arrest and detain any non-citizen, even including residents, based on a mere suspicion of criminality. We are talking about mere suspicion. How can mere suspicion justify detaining people, including children? This is arbitrary detention, and I would remind this government that as such it is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I do not know whether this government thinks it can place itself above the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but, as if that were not enough, the Conservatives are not limiting themselves to designated persons or refugee protection claimants. This applies to all non-citizens.
This is an unbelievable assault on the rights of newcomers. Not only will we designate refugees arbitrarily, but we will also put them in detention with no independent review for a year. In addition, these persons will be designated arbitrarily without knowing the reasons why they are to be detained for a year. I would remind this government that the highest court in Canada has clearly held that detention without review for a long period of time is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One Commonwealth country already tried to enact a bill like the one the government wants to introduce today. Not only do the Conservatives want to put children in prison—or in detention, the word means the same thing—but their bill does not address the real issue in any event, which is to punish the traffickers, not the refugees. The title of the bill is perfectly clear, but when we read the bill, we realize that the content does not, in any way, address the objective of punishing traffickers. What is happening here is that the refugees are being punished.
On that point, the Canadian Council for Refugees points out, “Mandatory minimum sentences will not deter: under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act smuggling is already punishable by life imprisonment and mandatory minimums have been shown not to work as deterrents.” It also reminds us that Australia has tried punishing refugees in an effort to deter them, but it did not work.
I would also like to stress this fact, “The Australian public was deeply divided, with many previously unengaged citizens joining a grass-roots network to protest at their country’s inhumane treatment of refugees.” Why does this government want to push ahead when we know very well that the Canadian Council of Refugees is telling us this type of legislation is ineffective?
The Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national inquiry into children in immigration detention and its finding, unsurprisingly, was that children had suffered numerous breaches of their human rights. We are calling for Bill to be withdrawn. The government should review the bill and tackle the real problem.
As my colleague, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, said yesterday, between 2008 and 2009, the government had already spent $45 million. I know we have to talk about economics when we talk to the Conservatives, because it seems that human rights and social justice do not mean much to them.
To detain children and detain refugees, we are going to have to build detention centres. What money is going to be used to build them? Taxpayers’ money. Is this going to help us build our economy? No, unfortunately; it is only going to make us look like a country that does not respect human rights.
Let us talk about children now. It is impossible to read this bill without being outraged by the provisions that affect children. Detaining and deporting children—are these things really possible in a free and democratic country like ours? Unless they are accepted as refugees or released on discretionary grounds by the minister in exceptional circumstances, children will stay in detention for at least a year. How can that be justified?
I would also like to remind the Conservatives that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance. That is being completely disregarded by this government, which would deprive designated persons, including children, of the opportunity to make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds for five years, and I would repeat, with no right of appeal, which is a right instituted in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is a fundamental right.
The conventions on refugees and the rights of children lay down specific requirements to protect the children’s freedom. Detaining children must be a last resort, and must be for as short a time as possible. A child may not be illegally or arbitrarily detained, and has the right to challenge the legality of such detention before a court or other independent authority.
Do the Conservatives really care about the family, the fundamental unit of our society? When I read this bill, I do not think so. Do the Conservatives recognize Canada’s past commitments on the international stage, or do they intend to enact an unfair, undemocratic and discriminatory law?
Let us talk about family reunification. As I said, designated persons may not make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds or apply for permanent residence for five years. This means that their family members, who may be in danger in their country, will not have the opportunity to come to Canada until five years have passed. That provision is an unwarranted barrier to making an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and is in direct contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. In addition to blithely disregarding the rights of children, the bill deprives certain refugees of the security and stability they need in order to integrate into Canadian society.
I would also like to remind this government that Canada is among the countries that have signed these two conventions. Today, in the House, we see Canada completely flouting its international obligations. The United Nations General Assembly has affirmed the principle that human beings must be treated “without any discrimination” and are entitled to enjoy all of the fundamental rights and freedoms recognized.
In closing, I would like to remind this government, which makes it a point to tell us over and over how Canadians have given it a strong mandate to defend them, that only 40% of the public voted for this government, and 60% disagree with the policies it is trying to adopt today in the House.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my colleague from who gave, not only a passionate discussion of the issue, but also a very thoughtful one. I congratulate my colleague from for her statements this morning, as well as the member for and the speech from the member for which I had a chance to listen to yesterday.
I have also had a chance to listen to the interventions from the minister who took some exception to some of the statements made in the House and insisted that what Canada was doing was in the finest traditions of Canadian respect for the law. I want to take some time to ask how the minister can actually say that in good conscience.
He said that after the arrival of the boat from Sri Lanka, polls showed that the Canadian public wanted to refuse people all right of entry and that this measure was very modest in comparison to what the public were demanding.
I have the advantage of having been around for quite a while and I was present in the House during the debate on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was present in the House when we voted in favour of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think I am correct in saying that I am the only member here who can point to that. That debate focused on the question of what we should do to protect to minorities even when it is unpopular, because at that moment we were reflecting on our history as a country.
We were reflecting on the fact that if a poll were taken on the decision of the government of the day, which was a Liberal government, supported strongly by the official opposition, the Conservative Party at the time, to intern Japanese Canadians without trial, without right of appeal, simply on the basis of their race and on the basis of the minister having designated someone as a person of Japanese origin and who, therefore, would be incarcerated. If we had taken a poll that would have been very popular.
Is this something where we hold a finger in our mouth and hold up the finger to see which way the wind is blowing? That is not the issue here. This is an issue about the substance of Canadian law, the process that we must follow as a country in order to uphold our obligations to ourselves under the charter and our obligations to other countries. I will go back to the basics. i will use the words of my good friend from , the former chair of the House foreign affairs committee, with whom I had the great pleasure of working for a period of time. He said that everybody was an asylum seeker, that they are not necessarily a refugee. That is correct.
However, this law would give the minister the power, in effect, the obligation, to designate someone in a particular category so that person would be treated differently than another asylum seeker who is also claiming refugee status. The minister uses his power to designate an individual and, as a result of that power, that person is put in detention. That separates out different kinds of refugees depending on the circumstances under which he or she comes to Canada.
Let us be clear: the popularity of the bill is not the issue here. The Conservatives are telling us that they are concerned about the economy, but that is not evident in the debate. They are addressing the issue of refugees and introducing crime bills. The Reform Party is still there; it has not disappeared. The name of the party has changed, but the Conservatives have not changed their stripes. They are not concerned about the economy. They are concerned about something else.
For us, the issue is very clear: is it legal for the government to treat people who are trying to obtain refugee status differently, based on the way in which they arrive in Canada? I do not think that that is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter clearly states that everyone has the same rights and must be treated the same way. People cannot be treated differently based on the way in which they arrived in Canada, because this can be unfair to an individual.
Let us take our responsibility as members seriously. If the government were serious about this, it would refer the legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada. It would say that reasonable people, and that includes about every law professor and a former chair of the Immigration Appeal Board who I spoken to, have said that they do not consider this goes outside the framework of the law.
However, the government has chosen not to do that. It has not changed the legislation. It is the same bill it produced the last time the House would not have passed in its formation at that time, because the government did not have a majority. Now that it has a majority, it has said that it will go ahead and push the law forward.
For the members opposite, let me clearly make the position of the Liberal Party. We do not care whether the legislation is popular or not. The question is whether it is legal, constitutional and, therefore, the right thing to do.
I probably have spent as much time as anyone, with very few exceptions, particularly my colleague from who has lived with this issue, looking at the situation in Sri Lanka. If the government were to say that it wants to get tough on the people who are smuggling, we would say that smuggling is already illegal, that it is already against the law. It is not as if we have no legal structure in our country to deal with people trafficking in persons. It is not as if we have no laws to deal with this question. It is not as if we do not have the ability, if we can get the proof, to actually arrest people, charge people and have a trial. However, the purpose of the legislation, and the minister said it yesterday, is to ensure that people who might consider trying to come to Canada under these circumstances think long and hard before they do it.
Therefore, contrary to what the Conservative member from Musquodoboit said earlier, this is not about treating people who come by this means more fairly, which was an absurd argument, This is about actually discriminating against people who were coming in this circumstance.
The government may win all kinds of kudos from people who say that this is right on, that we should lock those people up and throw away the key. Frankly, it is important for a political party to say that this is not the issue here. The issue here is the law of Canada, which includes the charter, which is the Constitution of Canada, and that is the weakness of this bill. I can take members hammer and tongs through every piece of sentence in this law and say that, in its most simple form, it creates two classes of refugees. If people come by plane, they are one class. If they come by car, they are in another class. However, if they come in a boat, we do not want to have anything to do with them. That is wrong. Like cases, people who are applying for refugee status, should be treated fairly and squarely, according to the fundamental principles of Canadian justice.
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking today because Bill contains a number of elements that truly bother me.
One of those elements is the clause allowing for the detention of a permanent resident or foreign national simply on the basis of reasonable grounds to suspect—and I would like to emphasize the word “suspect”—that the person is inadmissible because of their involvement in serious or organized crime. That could lead to major problems and to various abuses of the system.
First, any refugees arriving here without having been granted status from Citizenship and Immigration Canada—and goodness knows there are plenty of delays—will mandatorily be detained when they arrive. That flies in the face of numerous international conventions signed by Canada, including the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which states the following in subsection 31(1):
The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
Bill directly contravenes this article of the convention signed by Canada.
Second, these changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act will give too much discretionary power to the . These changes will allow the minister to proceed with arbitrary detentions. As I mentioned earlier, the government will be able to detain refugees on the simple pretext that they are suspected, but not accused, of criminal activities. There is an important distinction between the two. The government could detain, without valid proof, any refugee who looks suspicious to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. This could obviously lead to serious abuses.
Arbitrary detention also runs counter to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to the Supreme Court of Canada which struck down arbitrary mandatory detention without review of security certificates. Once again, this amendment directly contravenes many international treaties signed by Canada.
The government says that this bill will reduce human trafficking. That is a noble cause and no one opposes the principle. However, the NDP opposes Bill because these changes concentrate far too much power in the hands of the . Furthermore, the bill penalizes all refugees who arrive in Canada, but takes no action against the traffickers.
What the NDP would like to do is directly punish the criminals, the traffickers, also called human smugglers. Bill , as currently worded, punishes legitimate refugees and the people who try to help them. The process set out in this bill is vague, arbitrary and clearly discriminatory.
In closing, the current government is actively destroying Canada's fine international reputation, which includes being a country that welcomes immigrants. This must stop.
Mr. Speaker, today we are considering a bill that amends other legislation. At this point, one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is: do we really need this new legislation, and how does it improve things as compared to the existing law? We have to start by looking at the problem from that standpoint.
If we believe the title of the bill, its purpose is to prevent human smugglers from abusing the immigration system. However, when we look at the clauses of the bill and peel back its layers, we realize that there are a lot more clauses dealing with a new designation, a new category, referred to as “designated foreign national”, which comes with conditions and penalties that may be very harsh for the people concerned, than there are clauses dealing with human smugglers. So we may wonder what the real objective of the bill is.
I wonder about something else when it comes to how the bill is presented. It gives an impression—and impressions given to the public are important—of a presumption of guilt when people arrive by boat. It is as if all these people are presumed at the outset to be guilty, or presumed to have engaged in some criminal activity or other. Honestly, I am uncomfortable with this impression of matters.
Something else that bothers me a bit is that the minister is given a power that might be described as arbitrary, the power to decide whether a person is a designated foreign national. On what basis will that be done? What guarantee do we have of the integrity of the process, and that it is not just a matter of whim? There does have to be something to base this kind of decision on. If we examine the consequences that flow from this designation, it is a very important decision. We have to have assurances that a minister will be relying on very reasonable grounds to be in a position to apply this. We do not see this kind of guarantee in the bill. Similarly, the minister has no accountability for his decisions. The whole purpose of this House is precisely to hold the government accountable. I see nothing in this bill where the minister can be held accountable for this kind of decision, which has major consequences for people. It is important to remember this. We are not talking about inanimate objects; we are talking about human beings.
I am also concerned about the consequences of designation. Many other people will be speaking more eloquently than I about suspended rights, potential detention, the fact that children are going to be detained in some cases, temporary exclusions and all sorts of things. What strikes me is that people are being labelled, as if they were being indelibly tattooed. For years afterwards, their lives will be affected by decisions like this. I have a problem with this. I think we already have everything we need right now to deal with these cases.
Another thing that worries me a lot is retroactive designation. I do not understand the purpose of retroactive designation. Where are we going with this? Why have retroactive designation? I have not heard anyone on the government side explain the reason for this retroactive designation. Are they simply wanting another kick at the can for a bill that failed earlier, a few years ago?
I hope not. That being said, that is something that has no place here.
Are all these refugees fundamentally dishonest? Think about that for a minute. Do all these people want to slip through the cracks in the system and cut to the front of the line? I am not so sure about that.
People here in Canada have a hard time keeping their own laws straight, so just imagine what people from the other side of the world know about our immigration laws. They can be taken for a ride. I agree that we have to look at trafficking and address the traffickers, but I have a hard time with the trafficking victims being attacked. It is rather ironic to see that the victims are not being protected in this bill.
When it comes to victim protection, I would like to see something in the legislation that gives the authorities—our officials, our police, the coast guard—the means to enforce the law. It seems like there are fewer and fewer means to enforce the law and more and more constraints on the authorities who have deal with a larger volume of cases.
As far as I can tell in my riding, from talking to my constituents, processing times are increasing. So if other procedures are added again and resources are not provided to process those files, all we are going to accomplish is that more people will stay in detention, not necessarily because they deserve it, but because we do not have the means to process the files. But the government is not tackling that issue.
I have talked about a lot of things so far, but not much about smugglers. Why? Well, there is little about them in the bill. Basically, there are only two things: the scope of the definition of a smuggler is slightly broader so as to include those who incite people to use smugglers or traffickers; and there are additional penalties for aggravating circumstances. How many smugglers are going to be intercepted with this bill? How many traffickers are going to be stopped under this bill? I have a feeling that the number is close to zero because the real problem is not being addressed.
I feel that the issue has been blown out of proportion; an immigration issue that has to do with lack of resources when people arrive in large numbers has become a public safety issue, although it is not one at all. We must avoid anything arbitrary or decisions that appear arbitrary. It is important for the reputation of our country that our minister does not give the impression of making arbitrary decisions. It is important for our parliamentary system.
We have an immigration act. Why not give the department the means to enforce it properly, even when there are extra costs on occasion?
To conclude, the bill should definitely be split in order to tackle the issue of smugglers on its own. I believe that the government would then have the support of this side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill , following many of my colleagues from the NDP who have pointed out the serious flaws and problems with the bill. Of course, we all remember the bill that was presented in the previous Parliament, Bill .
I want to begin my remarks today by registering my concern about what I have seen over the years from the government. It seems to me that refugees have become scapegoats; they have become political footballs to target and, in many ways, to tarnish. The bill before us today, a continuation of Bill , seeks to do that.
I have been listening to the debate today in the House and have heard Conservative members say that smugglers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and that this bill is about going after smugglers. However, as my colleagues have pointed out, in actual fact the bill really does not speak to that issue.
In reality, Parliament did pass a bill a few months ago dealing with refugees. The laws that we already have in place contain provisions ensuring a life sentence for human smuggling. This raises the serious question of why this legislation is coming forward and what its purpose is.
When the bill was originally introduced in the previous Parliament, many organizations, such as the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and the Centre for Refugee Studies, examined the bill and in a thoughtful way pointed out its serious problems.
These organizations studied the issue, not from a partisan point of view but a neutral point of view, as to whether or not the proposed legislation would be harmful to our refugee process or would assist that process. All members of the House, and certainly the government, should be aware that the response to the bill was resoundingly negative by the organizations that work closely on the issue.
We in the NDP have significant concerns. We are concerned that the bill would basically allow two classes of refugee claimants. It would allow designated claimants to be detained mandatorily, including their children. I think it is very powerful that many members today have spoken of their feelings about this aspect alone. What would it mean to incarcerate and detain children or not allow family reunification? This is a serious problem with the bill.
I remember a few years ago, when another boat arrived off the coast of B.C. from Fujian province in China, dozens of claimants were detained. I remember visiting them in jail in Burnaby, British Columbia. I remember the incredible issues and concerns they had in terms of not having access to lawyers, not being able to make proper phone calls, not having culturally sensitive provisions and food, and being separated from their families. That was a few years ago, and this bill was not even in effect at that time. I remember delivering a series of letters by the detained women from Fujian province to the minister, imploring the minister to address their grievances and the situation they were facing in staying in jail for many months.
If the bill goes through, we will see a system set in place that would give enormous power to the minister. Notwithstanding any other provisions in the bill, this is something that we should be very worried about. We have seen so much legislation from the government that centralizes authority and power and decision-making and discretion with the minister. Why on earth would we undermine our system overall and confer such extraordinary powers on the minister to designate claimants and then, as a result, place them in detention? That alone is a serious problem with the bill.
Canada has had a reputation of being a fair and reasonable country in protecting refugees and their rights, providing settlement in this country and upholding international law. Yet many of us today, in expressing our thoughts and concerns about this bill, point to the fact that this bill itself may end up facing a charter challenge and that it may be in contravention of international treaties. This leads me to wonder why this bill has come forward.
Why are we targeting human smuggling in this fashion when we already have provisions in the law that deal with such smuggling? We already have provisions in a new refugee bill that produced a more balanced result. Why is this particular bill coming forward?
I have come to the conclusion, as I think have many others, that it is more about a political line or optic that the Conservative government wants to lay down. It is like their get tough on crime approach. It has nothing to do with dealing with real issues and complex situations; it has everything to do with laying down a very simplistic approach that gives more power to the minister and actually strips away the rights we have had for refugees in this country.
Another very problematic provision in the bill is the fact that designated claimants would be denied access to appeal. They could not make an application on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. These are all hallmarks of the system we have in place. They are actually provisions that we members of Parliament use. We hear from constituents who are often in very difficult situations, who have come from another country and are going through the process and who may end up making an application on humanitarian and compassion grounds to the minister. Yet here we have this bill that, all of a sudden, would not allow that to happen.
So it seems to me that this is a very serious step being taken. Here I would note that in the previous Parliament, the three opposition parties adamantly opposed the bill, and in fact the government did not bring it forward because it knew that the bill would likely be defeated by a majority in Parliament. Now we have a majority Conservative government, but that does not deter us from raising these significant points and alerting the public that, while the government might be fear-mongering and putting a political spin on this, the reality is that this is very bad legislation.
I want to thank the organizations that have taken the time to examine the bill thoroughly to give us their analysis to help us see the reality that this bill is very bad.
In today's global world, it seems very ironic to me that we have a government hell-bent on allowing capital to move wherever it wants with no restraints. We have a government that has, at the top of its agenda, trade agreements that have virtually no restraints. So there is this idea of freedom of movement in the globalized world. Yet when it comes to people, the real resource in our world, humans and their capacity to produce and to live productive lives, we see this draconian legislation aimed at slamming people who may make very legitimate refugee claims in this country, who may be fleeing persecution and may have been taken advantage of and exploited.
There is no question that we need to focus on the problems that exist with human smuggling, but as I have pointed out, there are already very stiff provisions dealing with that aspect. This bill does not speak to that; this bill is targeted at the refugee claimants themselves. It is targeted at the people who are in that situation, if they arrive by boat. So this is bad legislation.
I am very proud that New Democrats are standing up against this legislation and pointing out the problems with it. I hope that if it does go to committee, we will have an opportunity to go through this bill in great detail, to make substantive changes and come to some recognition that the bill as is cannot go forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to participate in this extremely important debate. For all of us who have spent some time in the House, issues of refugees and immigration continue to be an important part of the work we do here in Parliament.
For those who are watching, here is a bit of history.
On June 16, 2011, the introduced Bill . The short title, if we can call it that, is, “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act”, which is quite a ridiculous title actually.
As a former minister of citizenship and immigration, I understand the difficult legal and political pressures that are faced by any minister of citizenship and immigration. I also know how hard it is to establish the balancing act between the rights of individuals and their need for a safe, secure and legal immigration system. However, as someone who represents one of the most culturally diverse areas in Canada, I am concerned that Bill casts too wide a net. This new net would catch some of those who hope to abuse our system but, at the same time, it would make many honest and decent people legitimately seeking a new life pay a hefty price.
I want to be clear as I go forward. I am now and have always been a strong supporter of measures that will help make Canada and Canadians safer. However, I am not prepared to support measures that will make Canadians feel safe while offering no actual safety enhancements. It is very similar to the crime bill and all the other things that make people feel better but, in reality, are very ineffective and simply cost a lot more money. Many of the provisions in Bill are exactly that. They are knee-jerk and miss the mark when it comes to real safety for all of the people who are trying to get to our shores.
Bill would allow the minister, or an officer, which is an important point, to refuse to consider an application for permanent residence. It would change the legal definition of a criminal organization. It would provide that the immigration division must impose conditions on the release of certain designated foreign groups. Clearly, that is another form of discrimination. It also would extend the time for instituting summary conviction proceedings from six months to a draconian five years.
For example, Bill would allow the government to arbitrarily label groups of people arriving on our shores with a specific designation. This may sound simple to some of those watching who may not understand how complex our immigration laws are. Let us take a closer and more practical look at what this might mean if it were applied to a real situation.
In 2010, the ship Sun Sea approached our west coast with some 500 men, women and children aboard. It had been determined that the affair involved criminal human smuggling and even terrorist implications. Those who were involved in any of that should be severely punished. However, it was also determined that several of the passengers were innocent victims of circumstance, particularly the children.
One could imagine if the government were to designate the entire passenger list as criminal or terrorist. I think Canadians and all of us in the House would be shocked if we started throwing innocent men, women and children in jail simply because of the manner in which they arrived. Had they arrived by plane or car it would not be an issue, but because they were arriving by boat it was an issue. Most of these people did nothing wrong and a hard-line one-size-fits-all approach is not prudent nor is it appropriate.
Another example of Bill is that it would provide for a minimum punishment for the offence of human smuggling. Most Canadians, myself included, want human smugglers to be punished severely. However, there is legislation on the books and if that part needs to be reinforced, then that should be reinforced, but we do not punish the innocent people who were struggling to escape from abuse, the severity of which many of us have no idea.
Bill has been designed to promote a feeling of safety rather than overhauling the system in a way that would create and shape an effective system that offers actual safety to Canadians and fairness to those who are trying to come to Canada for the right reasons.
We can do better than what is offered in Bill . I hope all parliamentarians have a true opportunity to work on this legislation to ensure it accomplishes what it is meant to accomplish, which is to ensure that our country is protected from terrorists and does not become an open door policy for people who try to get here to abuse our system, but that it also ensures that we are punishing those who need to be punished and not punishing innocent people who are trying to come to our country.
Most of us understand that our world from the perspective of terrorism, security and the related legal frameworks changed dramatically forever on September 11, 2001. Bill responds to the politics of September 11, but it fails to truthfully and adequately address the realities also associated with 9/11.
Bill is setting the tone for a relationship between the government and all new Canadians. The government has made a great deal out of its emerging relationships with Canada's minority communities but these actions speak much louder than the words. Politics of division should not be shaping changes to Canada's immigration and refugee systems. I believe that is not the intent but clearly that is how it appears to everyone. Unorthodox does not equal bad. Just because people arrive in an unusual manner does not mean they have nothing to offer to Canada, nor does it mean that they are a threat.
Canada's former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson was a refugee claimant to Canada, as are many other people in this country. She and her family fled to Canada from Hong Kong using, again, less than conventional means. It might not have been a boat but it was unconventional. Ms. Clarkson's family fled to Canada in the wake of war in the Pacific in 1942. It is only through her father's government connections that the Poy family gained the opportunity to flee to Canada as part of the repatriating of Canadian government staff. She had that opportunity. Not everyone is quite as lucky.
The Chinese Immigration Act 1923 prevented the Clarkson family, the Poys, as they were known then, immediate entry into the country until the Department of External Affairs intervened and smoothed away the barriers that were preventing her from coming here. It would seem that Adrienne Clarkson, a refugee who came to Canada through all the wrong channels and then worked hard to raise her family and to contribute to our society, eventually becoming the Queen's representative, was worth the benefit of the doubt.
We can just imagine what would have been lost if Adrienne Clarkson had been turned away because she had failed to apply correctly. She was desperate to get out of the country.
We can do better than the version of Bill that is on the table today. As I indicated earlier, I hope all parliamentarians will have an honest opportunity to work together on this issue. It is such an important one because it tells the world what Canada is all about. Canada is not about taking boatloads of people, putting them all in jail and treating them all as if they were terrorists, when we clearly know that is not the case.
Mr. Speaker, Bill concerns me in a very particular way and I think it should be rejected for many reasons, but mainly for humanitarian and social justice reasons.
I am able to stand before you here today in part because my parents were granted refugee status in 1980, thanks to the Canadian government's openness and its profound understanding of the precarious situation they found themselves in at the time. That extremely positive move allowed thousands of Vietnamese people to escape the miserable conditions in which they lived and to regain their dignity in Canada.
I do not dare even think about the additional consequences my parents would have suffered if Bill had been in force when they arrived in this country. Through their story, I will explain my position and demonstrate why I think this bill is clearly unfair and, more importantly, misses the target.
In 1979, after the Vietnam war, my parents decided to flee their country because of the horrible living conditions imposed by the new political regime and in the hopes of finding a better quality of life elsewhere. They could no longer endure the restrictions, the violence and the injustices that happened after the war. They jumped at the first opportunity to flee in the middle of the night, in secret, with my two brothers, who were one and three at the time. They made their way to a port and paid the smugglers with the last of their belongings, that is, whatever they could carry, such as clothing and jewellery. They got on a boat, with the direction indicated by a compass, in other words, anywhere, without knowing if the smugglers would take them to a safe harbour, take them somewhere dangerous or simply abandon them along the way. They risked their entire lives and those of their children.
Why did they decide to come by boat? The answer is simple: they had no other choice. Some 400 other people were also on the boat with them.
This bill creates two categories of refugees, including those who are designated because of their method of arrival, namely, by boat. These refugees are at a higher risk of detention than those who arrive by plane. This provision violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality before the law, as well as the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits States from imposing sanctions on refugees because of their illegal entry. What is meant by illegal entry? This term has not been defined and remains unclear.
In addition, few refugees think to bring proof of identity. Their only concern is to save themselves, to disappear as quickly and quietly as possible. These people who do not have any identification are automatically suspected of not being real refugees. As a result, the minister could deem them to be “designated foreign nationals” and they could be detained. The burden of proof is being reversed here. Refugee claimants arriving in Canada are no longer free while they wait for their claims to be processed. They are detained and considered “designated foreign nationals” until proven otherwise. This arbitrary detention is contrary to the charter and international law.
As my parents can attest, the journey made by refugees is long and difficult. Their ultimate goal is to survive the many dangers and threats they face: a lack of hygiene, food and water, as well as the many attacks by pirates who may rape the women, steal the refugees' belongings or commit gratuitous acts of violence against them just to scare them. That is exactly why most countries in the world, including Canada, signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951.
The convention's preamble states that human beings shall enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms without discrimination. It seems that the members of the Conservative government forgot this principle when they drafted this odious bill.
At the time, my parents were able to choose a host country since they were recognized as refugees on humanitarian grounds. Clearly, they were questioned, photographed and made to take an oath. Canada provided them with identification documents since they did not have any.
Under Bill , my parents and my brothers likely would have been deemed “designated claimants” and would have all been mandatorily detained upon their arrival for a period of one year or possibly more. Since my parents did not have any documents, it was very difficult to establish their identity. Such imprisonment is completely arbitrary and discriminatory, is it not?
Before arriving in Canada, they were already scarred from their painful escape: recurring nightmares, irrational fear of thieves, no trust or great difficulty developing trust in people, and constant suspicion of everyone.
They saw danger everywhere at all times. They have also suffered greatly from being uprooted from their country and their family. They never talk about that experience because it was too atrocious, too harsh and the memories are unbearable. Nonetheless, in order to help put things into context, yesterday my parents agreed to retell their story to me.
It is hard to live in a refugee camp and go through the trials of being on the boat; it is also hard to adapt to the way of life in the new country, to culture shock, to social integration, to the temperature, to social isolation caused mostly by the language barrier and because they were potentially dangerous foreigners. At the time, my parents spoke rudimentary French.
Sending them to prison to boot under the pretext that they represented a potential threat would have been completely ludicrous in their case and in the case of thousands of other Vietnamese refugees.
Why not attack the traffickers more effectively in this case and dig deeper into what they are doing here and abroad instead of attacking the refugees?
Fortunately at the time, Canada opened the door to my parents and all those people in distress who were fleeing their country. My parents were gradually able to integrate into Canadian society. They learned French and worked very hard. When they arrived, they had to cope with underpaid exhausting work, frustration and discrimination. However, they managed to integrate. They went to school, they took care of us and they both became nurses. Today my parents take care of sick people and they do so with the same compassion they were shown by Canadians when they first arrived here in need of refuge.
My parents would have had an entirely different experience if the bill the Conservatives are proposing today had been in effect. They might have been detained with their two young children for a year or more. They would have been denied the right to social integration and dignity. Canadian society as a whole would miss out, because to send refugee claimants to prison is to deny Canada many courageous and intelligent people who want to contribute to the country's growth.
If Canadian authorities had made a mistake and had denied my parents refugee status, they would have been able to appeal. But this bill takes that right away from refugees because rulings on claims by designated persons cannot be appealed to the Refugee Appeal Division. This violates the provisions of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
The Conservatives are saying that this bill will reduce the amount of human trafficking. But in reality, the bill, in its current form, puts too much power in the hands of the and unjustly penalizes refugees.
I agree that we should punish criminals, traffickers and smugglers directly. However, the bill, as it stands, punishes legitimate refugees and the people trying to help them.
If Canada had not accepted my parents, we would not be who we are today. My brothers, sisters and I inherited this desire to serve our country from our parents and the Canadians who welcomed them. For other stories like this to have a happy ending, we need to recognize the rights of those coming after us.
I am asking the members here to put themselves in the shoes of a refugee. Imagine the desperate conditions these people endure in war-torn countries: fear, hunger, suffering and torture. Would they not try to flee, risking their lives and carrying only the bare essentials? After fleeing the violence and persecution, they would be imprisoned upon their arrival in Canada. Does that make any sense? Detaining a person who is claiming refugee status without providing an independent review is both discriminatory and shocking.
This bill also strips certain refugees of the opportunity to apply for permanent residence. Refugee claimants are not allowed to sponsor their wife or children for five years. That is another clear violation of family rights.
As well, as we said earlier, children are imprisoned, with all of the negative consequences that can have on a child's development.
I would like to conclude by asking the government and this House that this bill be withdrawn and reworked so that it actually tackles the issue of traffickers and smugglers, not the rights and freedoms of refugees.
Mr. Speaker, first, it seems like the Conservative members are extremely confused about the difference between immigrants and refugees. This morning, we heard the hon. member for refer to his Italian in-laws. By no means do I wish to say anything negative about in-laws—I have wonderful in-laws, one of whom is from the Philippines and also immigrated here—but I am convinced that, in their home country, the member for Burlington's in-laws were not subject to persecution, violation of their human rights, danger of torture or risk to their lives. There is a big difference.
We are talking here about refugees who face grave danger and flee their country to escape these threats to their safety and their integrity. I also heard the government side say that we are facing an invasion of refugees and that we must put a stop to it immediately. The Conservatives are referring to a particular case that occurred in 2010, where Sri Lankan refugees, who had indeed done business with traffickers and smugglers, were arriving by boat and requesting asylum. However, it is important to realize that there were approximately 500 people on that boat requesting asylum. Were these requests to be processed, they would represent 2% of all cases processed by the Immigration and Refugee Board.
In response to another Conservative member who stated that we do not want them to conduct any investigations at all, I would like to say that we simply want all refugee claimants, whoever they may be, to have access to the same system, which would not be the case if Bill were to be passed.
Bill also shows the government's contempt for the international conventions and treaties that Canada has signed, for example, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child, not to mention the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which I will come back to later.
Bill has four problems and should therefore be defeated or at least heavily revised. The first problem has been mentioned several times. The bill separates refugees into two separate categories: refugees whose claims are processed in the regular manner and refugee claimants who could be deemed to be designated foreign nationals. If one person arrives by plane or by boat, he or she is considered a refugee claimant who can request the regular process. If a group of people arrives by boat, under the bill, they must be deemed to be designated foreign nationals.
There are two separate processes for two separate classes, which was a completely arbitrary decision on the immigration minister's part. This particular provision contravenes article 31 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which specifically says that the Contracting States shall not impose penalties on account of their illegal entry or presence in Canada. But that is exactly what the government wants to do. It wants to be able to detain them for a year. That is a violation of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. And it is definitely a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which deals with the rights of every individual, whether Canadian or a refugee, to equality before and under the law. But we are going to have two separate classes that will be subject to two separate processes.
The second problem is the mandatory detention of designated foreign nationals for 12 months. For one thing, that is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under which every individual has a right to legal counsel and the guarantee of habeas corpus. So it is also a violation of article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires the same thing.
The third problem is that refugee claimants cannot apply for permanent residence for at least five years. That is specifically a violation of article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child because the best interests of the child are not looked after in that decision. It seems the government is looking more after the best interests, the political ones in particular, of the Minister of Immigration. This also poses a problem when it comes to a very current issue, family reunification. After all the nice things the Conservatives had to say about it, now that the time has come to put something on paper to make the reunification process easier, they are putting up barriers blocking it.
That is the case with Bill .
The fourth problem, and I mentioned it a number of times this morning, is the fact that the government is preventing refugees from appealing to the Refugee Appeal Division. For refugees who arrive via airplane, their case will be examined by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. These people have the right to appeal a decision that they deem to be unfair. For refugees who arrive via boat and who are declared “designated foreign nationals,” they do not have that opportunity. That clearly violates article 16 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Article 16 specifically states that a refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all contracting states. In addition, it states that a refugee shall enjoy in the contracting state in which he has his habitual residence the same treatment as a national in matters pertaining to access to the courts, including legal assistance and exemption from cautio judicatum solvi.
It is clear that this bill creates two classes of asylum seekers, which completely goes against the principle of equality that should guide the legislators in this House.
I would like to raise one last point regarding the issue of appeals. Yesterday, the held Australia as an example to follow.
The immigration minister failed to mention that in November 2010, the Australian supreme court issued a ruling in the case of a Sri Lankan refugee, in which it was deemed unconstitutional, under the Australian Constitution, that he did not have access to the appeal courts. Thus, the Australian supreme court invalidated these provisions. The same thing will happen in Canada, for the same reasons.
I think it is clear that the government has no respect for its international obligations—obligations that Canada agreed to and signed off on. It is clear that the government is trying to politicize the issue of refugees for its own purposes by using sheer populism to attack victims of persecution who are trying to seek asylum in Canada. By refusing equal treatment to all asylum seekers, it is clear that the government has no respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
For all of these reasons, I am unable to support Bill , a bill that I believe is unfair, that punishes people who are already victims and that will certainly have very few consequences for human traffickers.
I would remind the House that under current Canadian legislation, human traffickers, or smugglers, already face the maximum sentence they can be subjected to, that is, life imprisonment. This bill includes a few additional factors that would have absolutely no deterrent effect.
This bill's intention is clear. Taking a closer look, we can see that nearly half of the bill simply discriminates more and creates different classes of asylum seekers. Thus, the bill is misnamed. This bill does not address human trafficking. This bill does not tackle the main problem, that is, smugglers who abuse the situation and take advantage of the desperation of people facing persecution, human rights violations, or even torture or death. The bill simply aims to discriminate against various groups of asylum seekers and allow the Canadian government to treat people differently in a very serious situation. This will reflect poorly on us internationally.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that overwhelming sound of indifference from my colleagues when they heard that my speech would be cut short.
This has been a very enlightening debate. Many of the speakers have brought very important points forward today throughout the course of the debate, certainly in the presentation that was presented by our leader, the member for . In light of his vast experience on this topic and what he has done and seen over the course of his career, he sees a government that has certainly missed the mark in bringing forward this legislation.
We have seen it time and again, regardless of the issue such as the omnibus justice bill presented today. With regard to legislation on immigration before us now, the government has taken the approach that it first wants to soften the ground. It wants to scare the Canadian public into thinking that there is some type of crisis in our midst, that there is this onslaught of illegal refugees who are towering on our shores.
In the debate earlier today we heard from the member for , a former minister of citizenship and immigration. She had never dealt with a case like this during her tenure. Several of those involved in the debate today spoke with reference to the fact that there had been no significant increase, yet it has been put before the Canadian people that there is a degree of urgency because of an onslaught of refugees.
We see the same thing with the omnibus justice bill, which was presented and will be debated later in the House, that there is a crime wave sweeping across the country. When that fear is created, the government then is in a position to move forward with its ideologically driven mandate and agenda. That is the whole focus right now of the government.
I look forward to resuming, and I know all members in the House are looking forward to the remainder of my speech once we come back after question period.