This is a follow-up to this post: "newsflash: liberals remember they are the opposition".
It's important news for everyone concerned with fairness and justice for refugee claimants in Canada. And, equally important, perhaps more important for most Canadians, it's important news that the system can work, if we make it work.
Bill C-11 was being rushed through Parliament without hearings, without amendments, without consultation with groups representing the people most affected by the bill. Former Liberal immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua, out to secure the Tory endorsement of his campaign for the mayoralty of the City of Vaughan, was performing beautifully as Jason Kenney's right-hand man. Liberal "Leader" (yeah, right) Michael Ignatieff was all set to let it happen.
But The People pushed back - hard. We called and wrote our Members of Parliament, we rallied behind groups like the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Refugees Lawyers' Association. We made an outcry. We made noise.
By all reports, Liberal MPs insisted that Ignatieff listen to the majority rather than Bevilacqua. The result is not perfect, but it's a huge improvement over the original bill. And I am somewhat hopeful that the most egregious clause that remains intact, the so-called "safe country list," will be struck down in the courts.
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Statement on amended Bill C-11 from the Canadian Council for Refugees
The Canadian Council for Refugees welcomes the introduction of significant amendments to Bill C-11 to better protect refugees.
The amendments address critical flaws identified by the CCR by:
* Guaranteeing access to the appeal to all refused claimants.
* Guaranteeing the right to counsel at the interview.
* Preserving full access for all, including refugee claimants, to a humanitarian and compassionate application, including a full examination of the hardship of removal from Canada as well as the best interests of any affected child
The CCR appreciates the efforts of Members of Parliament from all parties who worked towards these guarantees.
There remain grave concerns with the bill. The introduction of a list of “designated countries of origin” is wrong on principle: refugee determination requires the assessment of an individual case, not judgments on countries. It is also a serious mistake to politicize the process by listing countries. The interview, requiring claimants to be prepared to immediately tell their story to an official, risks hurting the most vulnerable refugees, including women who have been sexually assaulted and persons persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The bill also fails to provide a mechanism to deal with changes of circumstances after a claimant has been refused, which may lead to refugees being sent back to face persecution.
The CCR also recognizes that the current refugee system, despite its many important strengths, has weaknesses, including the lack of appeal. Bill C-11 may offer the best opportunity in the foreseeable future to achieve a workable reform, although a much better bill would have been possible if the government had consulted fully before tabling.
On balance, the CCR believes that the interests of refugees would be best served by the adoption of Bill C-11, as amended, and encourages Members of Parliament to support it. Ideally, the CCR would like to see further amendments to address the remaining serious problems in the bill.
We also seek a commitment from the government that the process for designating countries will include an effective review mechanism, to ensure that countries do not remain designated when conditions have changed.
If the bill is passed, it will be crucial that it be implemented with careful attention to ensuring the full protection of all refugees, in order to minimize the negative consequences of remaining weaknesses in the law. This must include full consultation on draft rules and regulations, which will determine many of the details of the refugee system.