Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Holocaust Refugees

Mr. Philip Toone (Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-4 attacks refugees. It has no place in Canada because it proposes measures that are completely unacceptable. Some provisions of the bill respect neither the charter nor Canada’s international human rights obligations. It is a discriminatory bill because it penalizes refugees for their method of arrival. It reintroduces provisions from Bill C-49 from the previous parliament, which was widely condemned by the community across the country.

This bill was previously rejected by all the opposition parties in Parliament. Many legal experts have said that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. The government is telling us that it wants to target the smugglers, but is it really necessary to risk our reputation within the international community? Is it really necessary to violate the constitutional and international rights of refugees? We deplore the reintroduction of the anti-refugee legislation.

This bill allows the minister to order the detention not only of the asylum seekers, but also of their children, even if our security is not at risk and the detainees are not a threat. The bill allows the minister to order the detention and imprisonment of persons seeking refugee status.

It is a government’s duty to take responsible measures to deter human trafficking. It is Canada’s duty to take clear and transparent measures to put an end to dangerous and abusive behaviour. We must take measures to end the behaviour of criminals, in other words, smugglers, who violate the rights of refugees and the vulnerable. We agree with putting an end to all that, but Bill C-4 targets the refugees and not the smugglers.

Canada is committed to protecting refugees and implementing measures that respect the rights of refugees and immigrants. But now we are increasing the burdens on our refugees. With regard to the former version of this bill, Alex Neve, of Amnesty International, recently said:

Bill C-49 does not get it right in drawing the line between tackling crime and upholding rights. It goes after smugglers, in large part, by punishing the individuals who turn to them–in desperation–for assistance. Those provisions of the Bill that are discriminatory and will lead to human rights violations must be withdrawn.

I believe Mr. Neve is still right.

The bill creates a second class of refugees. Even people whose refugee status has been confirmed cannot obtain travel documents or file an application for permanent residence for five years. These provisions also violate the international convention, which requires countries to issue travel documents.

The bill will result in indefinite detentions, and a designated person will not be able to submit an application for permanent residence until five years have elapsed. Why such a long time? This measure applies even if the person’s refugee status in Canada is confirmed. This bill will prevent refugees who have been duly accepted from being reunited with their families and spouses. It will certainly not help the integration of refugees into our society. This bill seems very difficult to justify.

In addition, as long as designated claimants do not have permanent resident status, they will be deprived of the right to travel outside the country. This provision of the bill appears to violate article 28 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The bill contains discriminatory provisions. Designated claimants cannot appeal decisions regarding their claims to the Refugee Appeal Division. Since when does Canada fail to abide by its international commitments? Since when does Canada deny the right of appeal?

We have to wonder. Why do the provisions of this bill appear to violate the provisions of refugee conventions and even those of the charter? The bill imposes mandatory imprisonment on groups of refugee claimants, including children, despite the fact that these same individuals have not given us any reason to believe that they represent any sort of danger or threat. The minister will even have the power to decide to imprison any refugee claimant upon arrival if there is even the slightest suspicion of smuggling. The minister will also have the right to imprison refugee claimants simply because their identity cannot established in a timely manner.

As hon. members know, refugees are often fleeing a war zone, a place where circumstances are less than ideal. It is difficult to justify placing additional burdens on these people. It seems as though the legislation even violates the international Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits the imposition of penalties on refugees fleeing persecution on account of their illegal entry. Human smuggling is a serious problem. Resources and co-operation with foreign governments are required to deal with smugglers. However, human smuggling does not justify the violation of constitutional and international rights.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to express its concerns about this bill. The president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Wanda Yamamoto, has said, “We are celebrating this year the 60th anniversary of the refugee convention, but instead of honouring this treaty, the government is proposing to violate it.” She went on to say, “Let us not forget that the convention was adopted because many countries, including Canada, had closed their doors on Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, and we said ‘Never again!’”.

I completely agree with her. After the second world war, the international community went through a period of reflection. Together, we decided that we never wanted to violate refugees’ rights ever again. The ship filled with Jewish refugees that had travelled around the world was denied entry to Canada and many other countries. They were forced to return to Germany and in the end, suffered the same fate as so many of their fellow Jewish citizens under the Nazi regime: they were killed.

The measures being proposed here today will mean that people who want to come to Canada, which has been an internationally-recognized safe haven, will no longer believe that to be true. Where will these people go? Will they be forced to stay in their country? Passing this legislation could lead them to their deaths. Is that not disturbing? It seems very clear that the bill currently before us does very little to deter smugglers. One has to wonder why the government is so intent on attacking refugees and their children. The government must know that we already have legislation to deal with smugglers and traffickers. They already face life imprisonment and fines up to $1 million.

If the Conservatives want to discuss the existing deterrent effect, let us talk about it. Why are they so intent on attacking refugees? Our commitments mean that we cannot harm them gratuitously. Bill C-4 punishes refugees.