Although Bill C-31 is titled "Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act", it will actually put refugees and many immigrants at risk. It must be withdrawn and replaced with legislation that is fair, affordable, and independent, and which complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada's international obligations.
The Canadian Council of Refugees (CCR), Amnesty International, The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, among others, have all criticized the content of this bill. As the CCR has pointed out:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Clearly, this bill does nothing more than present Canada as a country without compassion or humanity and merely adds to the suffering of some of the most vulnerable members of our society who have already endured plenty of violence, torture, and anguish in their lives. This does not represent the true spirit of Canada, with its tradition as a leader in human rights. This legislation could potentially have a severely detrimental effect on people you know--friends, neighbours, co-workers, even family members.
If you live in Canada, please contact your MP, as well, to ask him or her to vote against this bill. If you live outside of Canada, please sign this petition to put some international pressure on the government.
For further information, please visit the CCR website at http://ccrweb.ca/en/refugee-reform.