This week, all political eyes in Canada will be focused on the C-38, the massive "budget" bill through which the Harper Government seeks to remake Canada. The Opposition in the House of Commons will be stalling, and the opposition on the ground will be supporting them, and pressing Conservative MPs to break ranks. (That campaign is here.)
But another terrible bill also continues its way into law today. This bill will directly affect fewer Canadians, and fewer people are resisting it, but the bill will bring profound changes to Canadian culture - and will irreparably harm the most vulnerable people among us. I refer to Bill C31, through which Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney want to dismantle Canada's refugee system.
Under the guise of cost-saving measures, this bill targets the world's most vulnerable people, and gives the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration unprecedented power to decide who is allowed to stay in Canada.
Bill C-31 may have third reading as early as today, June 11. It is unlikely to be defeated, and so will proceed to the Senate. At that point, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology will study the bill and hear testimony.
We can all contact the members of this committee and urge them to reject this dangerous bill. As the Canadian Council for Refugees notes, "Senators, like MPs, have the responsibility to adopt laws that comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law."
Please email, write, or call Senators to voice your concerns about this bill. "If we are successful in convincing Senators," says CCR, "we may be able to stall the bill before the government’s target deadline of 29 June 2012."
This summary is from the Canadian Council for Refugees.
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Bill C-31 must be withdrawn and replaced with legislation which is fair, affordable,
and independent, and which complies with the Charter and Canada’s international
Bill C-31 reforms Canada's refugee determination system to be unfair to refugees from designated countries of origin and with strict, speedy timelines.
- In 'designating' countries of origin to fast-track the cases of certain refugee claimants, the government is creating a discriminatory, two-tiered system. Canada's refugee determination system needs to give everyone a fair hearing, based on the facts of their case and regardless of their country of origin.
- By establishing overly short timelines before refugee determination hearings, not all refugee claimants will be adequately prepared. Strict, shortened timelines will seriously disadvantage refugees who have experienced serious trauma such as torture, refugees who lack important documents and refugees who need to build trust to freely tell their story before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). Women and men who have experienced sexual violence and LGBT persons would be among the most vulnerable.
Bill C-31 permits unchecked ministerial powers over refugee status determination in Canada.
- Bill C-31 eliminates the committee tasked with overseeing which countries are 'designated countries of origin’, a measure that was included in Bill C-11 (2010). Instead, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will have the sole discretion to designate countries of origin. Canada's present system of independent decision-making for refugees then becomes vulnerable to political interests.
Bill C-31’s measures to 'curb human smuggling' will do nothing of the sort. Instead, they punish refugees.
- With Bill C-31, the government plans to jail refugee claimants, including some minors, without review for a minimum of one year. This is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. These claimants will also be denied the right to family reunification and the right to travel abroad for over 5 years.
- Australia tried punishing refugees to deter them: it hasn’t worked. Australia is now adopting a model for refugee determination based on Canada’s present system.
- Jailing refugee claimants is extremely expensive in the short and long term. The cost of keeping an individual refugee claimant in detention for a single day is around $200. For a single year, that amounts to over $70,000 per person.
- Recent research has demonstrated the heavy, long-term mental health costs of detaining refugee claimants in Canada.
- Smuggling is already punishable by life imprisonment under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and mandatory minimums have been shown not to work as deterrents. Refugees know little or nothing about the laws before they arrive in a country of asylum like Canada, and even if they know, fear for their safety, or even their lives, forces them to do whatever they must to flee persecution.
Bill C-31 introduces the concept of 'conditional' permanent residence, which means that refugees could lose their permanent resident status.
- By granting permanent residence to refugees without the possibility of it being revoked, Canada has offered security and the ability to resettled refugees to fully contribute to Canadian society. These positive aspects will be lost by making permanent residence ‘conditional’ in Bill C-31.
- Making permanent residence ‘conditional’ adds barriers to integration for resettled refugees and permanent residents.
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I wrote about this extensively when the bill was originally tabled as Bill C-11: stand up for justice: say no to bill c-11, and stephen harper dismantles canada's refugee system; jason kenney attacks canadian democracy, are just two of the many wmtc posts about this distressing bill.
The government originally tried to ram C-11 through Parliament with no debate or amendments, to great outcry from Amnesty International and former Immigration Ministers, among others. The bill died when an election was called, and then resurfaced in the more extreme form of Bill C-31.
Another current piece on C-31 is running at The Mark: "Canada's refugee health services are under serious threat from both Bill-C31 and changes to the Interim Federal Health Program", by Dr. Danyaal Raza.
This page contains many useful links about C-31, including this on- page summary: "Bill C-31 must be withdrawn and replaced with legislation which is fair, affordable, and independent, and which complies with the Charter and Canada’s international obligations" (pdf), copied above.