amnesty: flaws in refugee bill put lives at risk

The Conservatives want to rush through their proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, with the second reading coming as early as April 14 - that is, before MPs have had an opportunity to study and discuss the bill. What's the rush? This government created the backlog of refugee cases by refusing to properly staff the Immigration and Refugee Board, now they want to rush through their proposed solution to the manufactured crisis. It's typical neo-con strategy and we must not let it happen.

Margaret Wente and other Conservative cheerleaders are claiming that there is wide public support for the bill as-is, and nothing need be discussed. However, Canada is supposed to be a democracy, not a dictatorship. A minority government is not supposed to govern by fiat. Wente is hardly in a position to tell us what the public wants.

Please contact your MP and the leaders of all three opposition parties. Urge them to push for Parliamentary hearings and debate of Bill C-11. This bill has serious problems and must have Parliamentary review and input.

Amnesty International agrees. (Emphasis mine, but please read the whole statement!)
Amnesty International welcomes the government’s efforts to search for ways to make the refugee determination system in Canada fair, fast and efficient. We particularly welcome the fact that eight years after it was first included in Canadian law, the government is finally moving to establish an appeal process for refugees. While the proposed reforms endeavour to resolve issues with respect to long processing times, and in particular seek to resolve the claims of people who come from countries that are purported to be safe, quickly; the proposals risk compromising crucial principles of fairness for refugees.

The proposed reforms introduce a ‘safe country of origin’ list. Safe countries of origin would be those that are considered to not normally produce refugees,and have a robust human rights record and offer strong state protection. Individuals from a ‘safe country of origin’ will have a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board, but will not be able to access the new appeal procedure available to all other refugee claimants. Amnesty International strongly opposes the use of lists of safe countries of origin to restrict access to asylum procedures. Such lists constitute discrimination among refugees that is strictly prohibited by Article 3 of the Refugee Convention.

In addition, over the course of nearly fifty years of human rights research around the world we have consistently highlighted it is not possible to definitively categorize countries as safe or unsafe when it comes to human rights. We are also very concerned that decisions about which countries to include on any such “safe country of origin” list will almost inevitably be influenced by considerations other than human rights, including trading relationships and security cooperation with other governments.

The lack of an appeal for those from a safe country of origin is a serious problem. Often it is the claims which come from so called ‘safe’ countries which are the most difficult to decide and therefore may be the most in need of a reliable appeal. These problems are compounded by the fact that refugees will only have a 60 day period of time to prepare for a refugee hearing.

The reform proposal mandates that within 8 days of arrival refugee claimants must attend an information gathering interview with an employee of the Immigration and Refugee Board. The information will be become the basis of a hearing into the refugee claim within 60 days. The information is not gathered by an impartial or objective person who seeks to represent the best interests of the refugee. There is no guarantee a refugee will be able to find a lawyer or other representative who will be able to accompany them to the interview and ensure that the information collected is accurate. This information forms the basis of the refugee hearing, and inaccuracies can easily lead to findings of a lack of credibility, which may become insurmountable for the refugee; particularly those who are from a so called ‘safe’ country of origin.

The short timelines in this bill do not allow a refugee to properly prepare for a refugee hearing. Refugees who have been traumatized by violence need experts to assist in describing and documenting the violence and trauma. Documents which support the need for protection may need to obtained from abroad. Good representation and good preparation are essential cornerstones of refugee protection. Strong representation reduces the possibility of error, and serves to maintain the integrity of the refugee system.

Bill C-11 requires careful reflection by Parliament before it proceeds to a second reading in the House of Commons. The flaws in this bill are serious and put the lives of refugees at risk. Canada has an obligation to ensure that no one is removed from this country back to a place where they will be persecuted or tortured. Bill C-11 does not provide the necessary safeguards to ensure that Canada is compliant with its international obligations.

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