Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act (Bill C-31)

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to add some of my concerns about this bill which up to this point I have only been able to put forward in questions and comments. I am grateful that the Liberal Party allowed me one of the slots in their speaking roster this evening.


I have been in most of the debates on Bill C-31 since it was tabled and also in the earlier debates on its predecessor, Bill C-4. What we have been hearing from the Conservatives is that this bill is necessary to end human smuggling. We hear a lot of cries about human smuggling. We hear that people are jumping the queue. We have heard a lot of allegations.

I have structured what I hope to say in the next 10 minutes by mentioning some of the things that are most frequently alleged here and providing some counterbalance. I think there are egregious parts of this legislation. I think it violates the charter and that future courts will find it to be illegal.

Let us just start with one that we hear all the time, the notion that there is queue jumping if refugee claimants come to Canada in some fashion that is different from the way normal immigration to Canada occurs. We must keep very clear in our minds the distinct and large difference between people who come to this country as immigrants, as my parents did, and people who come to this country as political refugees, people fearing for their very lives.

In this category there is no such thing as a queue jumper. There is no such thing as going to line up at an immigration office for Canada in some country, when people know that their lives are at risk and they flee with the clothes on their back. We need to keep these things very separate in our minds. Much of this bill deals with that latter category, people who are seeking refugee status in Canada.

Some people can fear for their lives when they come to Canada and their refugee claims may be rejected. That does not mean that the adjective “bogus” applies to their claims. Some people are rejected even though they have a legitimate fear of persecution. They do not make it through our process.

We like to think that our process has been, and still is, fair and generous. However, sometimes it has rejected people who really did need our protection. Let us be clear about that.

The vast majority of refugees in this world, and they number in the millions, never make it to an industrialized country. Most of the migration that occurs among those people who are refugees is from one developing country to another. That is the vast majority of claimants.

We have heard that this bill, because of its punitive nature towards people who arrive by ship or some other means of arrival deemed an “irregular entry”, one of the new terms that comes up in Bill C-31, will discourage so-called human smuggling. I have yet to hear any empirical evidence that that is the case.

I have taken some time since the bill was first tabled to try to find evidence, and what I have found is the absence of evidence. An expert analyst of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Alice Edwards, said:

Pragmatically, there is no empirical evidence that the prospect of being detained deters irregular migration, or discourages persons from seeking asylum. In fact, as the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers has increased in a number of countries, the number of individuals seeking to enter such territories has also risen, or has remained constant. Globally, migration has been increasing regardless of governmental policies on detention. Except in specific individual cases, detention is generally an extremely blunt instrument of government policy-making on immigration.

Let me go to a letter that was sent to the Prime Minister of this country by a group of people in Australia who have had a lot of experience. Certainly it is true, as the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has said, that other countries are going in a similar direction. It has failed there, it will fail here. This is a letter advising the Prime Minister of Canada not to go in the direction of Australia from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Australia.

They refer to the fact that Australia is already learning some hard lessons about trying to discourage refugees by putting people in prison. Australia has abandoned its temporary protection visas because they found they were not working.

I will quote from their letter to our Prime Minister:

Contrary to popular belief, ‘tough’ immigration policies in the past have not succeeded as an effective deterrent: 

In 1999, less than 1000 ‘unauthorised arrivals’ applied for asylum, the year TPVs [temporary protection visas] were introduced. 

In 2001, when the policy was in full force, the arrivals rose to more than 4000. 

Under this policy, denying the right to refugees on TPVs to apply for family reunion pushed the wives and children of asylum seekers onto boats in an attempt to be reunited. 

In 2001 353 people drowned in the tragic SIEVX disaster while travelling by boat to Australia. 

Most of the 288 women and children aboard the SIEVX were family members of TPV holders already in Australia.

We have also been told that bringing in this bill would save money because people would be discouraged from coming here and our social safety net programs would not be available to refugees. I have asked several times in the House and I have yet to have one Conservative member of Parliament offer up a cost of this legislation. As far as I can find, it has not been costed.

Anyone, men, women, and children over 16 years of age, coming here by irregular entry would be put in detention. Minor children would likely be placed in detention as well because they would opt to stay with the mother rather than be placed far from their families in a foreign land.

Let us see what it has cost Australia. Australia maintains 19 immigration detention facilities. In the last year for which I could find costs, 2011, it was spending over $668 million on refugee detention. The Australian secretary in the department of immigration and citizenship remarked, and I do not know when we will hear this from the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, that “The cost of long-term detention and the case against the current system are compelling…. The cost to the taxpayer of detention is massive and the debt recovery virtually non-existent”.

We have heard that children would no longer be jailed, unlike the previous version of this legislation Bill C-4. We have been told that the change would allow children to go somewhere else, but we have not been told where. Under the international Convention on the Rights of the Child these children are defined as legally children. Sixteen to eighteen year olds would be jailed, their parents would be jailed, everyone would go to jail for up to a year if they arrived by irregular entry.

I just want to share what Australia has started doing. The Australian Human Rights Commission found that detention actually violated the Australian human rights provisions. It also was not working. In October 2010 the Australian government changed its tactics. It decided that it would begin to move a significant number of families with children into community detention. In other words, the Australian government is keeping track of anyone who arrives by irregular entry. These people are not essentially integrated into the community in the same way that they would be if they were allowed to work or move around freely. This community detention process has reduced costs. Placement in communities bridges visas and is essentially community detention but requires that the people involved report to someone, similar to parole, but they actually live in communities.

Lastly, we have been told that the bill would deal with people coming from the European Union. We have also been told that there is no reason for anyone to worry about the European Union. Since the bill was tabled, a Federal Court decision was tabled on February 22, 2012, in the case of Hercegi v. Canada. Mr. Justice Hughes of the Federal Court said clearly, “The evidence is overwhelming that Hungary is unable presently to provide adequate protection to its Roma citizens”.

I have one last court decision to refer to and that is Charkaoui v. Canada, 2007 in the Supreme Court of Canada. Madam Justice McLaughlin ruled that charter rights extend to foreign nationals. Charter violations are endemic to this act.

We must change this legislation in order to not violate Canadian values, Canadian law and the charter.