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September 20, 2011 / amanda stratton

C-4: The Anti-Refugee Bill

In the Spring, a bill was introduced that is supposed to attempt to prevent human traffickers from taking advantage of Canada’s generous immigration system. This session, debate continues as the Bill is in its second reading. It’s not actually called the Anti-Refugee Bill. Elizabeth May dubbed it that–on Twitter,  I think.

I want to try to discuss what’s going on in Parliament, at the federal and provincial level, because I think too many people–including former me–are only interested in the “choosing someone” aspect of politics and have little knowledge of what goes on in Ottawa or Toronto once those people ride off into the election sunset.

I, personally, want to pay more attention to what’s going on every day–not just to learn HOW it works, but to learn WHAT they’re doing. And since really this blog only exists for me to think out loud about what’s going on, that’s what I’ll do.


The Bill provides for groups of refugees, once labelled as irregular arrivals by the Minister of Immigration, to be detained for up to one year, and to in effect, have all other rights granted to legal immigrants suspended for five years. Such refugees–who would be designated as foreign nationals–would not be able to appeal decisions, apply for permanent residence, or sponsor their families’ immigration to Canada for five years.

It also allows for large fines and other consequences for refugee vessel operators who cannot provide necessary documentation or do not otherwise comply with requests and regulations.

 (by no means exhaustive or fully explained)
By making Canada’s immigration system a less desirable destination for illegal migrants, we would discourage traffickers from making Canada a destination of choice and thereby abusing our immigration system.

Illegal immigrants “jump the queue” and force legitimate refugees to wait longer for consideration and processing. (Mike Wallace)

Preventing trafficking to Canada discourages human trafficking overall, and the Canadian legislation should be one facet of an international approach. (Brian Storseth) According to Storseth, Canada is working with 100 other countries to create that global effort. [I can’t verify whether that’s true or how, or how effectively, that’s being done.]

Illegal immigration is, well, illegal. Extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, it is criminal activity and should be punished.

 (ditto, regarding exhaustion and explanation)
The proposed amendments punish the refugees and do nothing to hit those perpetrating the crimes of human trafficking. They also create the possibility for “innocent immigrants” to be mislabelled as illegal refugees and left with no recourse.

The bill would result in the detention, for up to 12 months, of children. Well, of anyone, but the children thing is the cruellest and runs in contravention to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Jamie Nicholls, NDP) and as a result, the Bill stands every chance of being condemned by the UN, which would look bad on Canada (Elizabeth May, Green–I think).

Additionally, it may simply be unconstitutional and in opposition to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The costs incurred, especially as related to detaining children, would be astronomical. (Jamie Nicholls, NDP)

Changed Canadian legislation is unlikely to deter those profiting from human trafficking from continuing to take money from and transport those in desperate need. (Jamie Nicholls, NDP)

It discriminates against people arriving on boats as opposed to by airplane or in cars.

The Bill gives too much power to the Minister of Immigration to act unilaterally and on mere suspicion.

To me, this bill is really about passing the buck. It’s about hoping that human trafficking/smuggling will become someone else’s problem. It doesn’t offer solutions to the fundamental problems or target those at the heart of the problem. It targets the immigrants themselves, but as Louis Palmondon stated in debate, “those who actually do the smuggling are left with impunity.”

I think most Canadians see that as an injustice. I think most Canadians can’t abide the thought of detaining children for a year–or separating them from their detained families if that were a consideration. I think most Canadians would rather continue to be a destination of choice for illegal refugees than see them treated that way.

However, I’m often guilty of substituting my own sensibilities for those of others–that is to say, I sometimes assume that everyone sees the “plain as day common sense” that’s right in front of me. And that’s not always the case. Mike Wallace insists that the vast majority of the people in his riding are in favour of this bill and don’t want illegal immigrants allowed to pass through the same system as legal immigrants. I know a lot of people would just as soon not have any refugees in Canada and will no doubt be in favour of this bill.

At the end of the day, I see why the problem of illegal refugees is worth addressing. I even understand the logic behind this bill and how it got here. I just don’t agree that it’s an effective way to meet the intended objectives.

But I don’t get a vote. So I guess we’ll see what happens if/when it goes to a third reading.  As I post this, the second reading is ongoing.


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