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

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, the executive committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that “in view of the hardship which it involves, detention should normally be avoided”. Canada is a signatory to the convention through which the High Commissioner for Refugees functions. Yet the bill, as a matter of normal course, will involve the detention of anyone who arrives by what the minister deems to be irregular entry. This appears punitive. Yet the minister says there is no attempt here to put forward punitive detention. It seems to me we are flying in the face of our international commitments.

I would ask my friend the hon. parliamentary secretary how he would square this circle? How is this not in direct violation of our international commitments to protect the rights of refugees?

David Anderson: Mr. Speaker, Canada has a great and long tradition of protecting refugees. Many of the people who have settled in this country are refugees. They were escaping from different types of totalitarian regimes, different types of persecution around the world.

To answer the member’s question directly, it is my understanding that less than one half of 1% of refugees will be impacted by any of the detention clauses that are presented in the bill. It is aimed specifically at those who come here with what are called irregular arrivals. We had examples of folks showing up on a boat and we did not have any idea of who they were, or if their identification was accurate or not. There is a need to protect the Canadian public and to find out who people are and what they are here for before they are allowed to settle in our country.

I have had the opportunity to deal with some of the religious persecution issues. We need to be a country that is open to bringing in folks who are being persecuted, whose lives are in danger. There are many places in this world that imprison individuals on issues of religious faith. People are being threatened with death. Canada needs to be a place that is open to having them come to this country. We need to welcome them as we always have.