Refugees will increasingly be victimized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority federal government, thanks to Bill C-4, the Conservatives’ new immigration reform bill.
The bill empowers the government to label certain refugees “designated foreign nationals”, whenever it believes that it will be difficult to establish their identity, or that their arrival in Canada might be connected in some way to a criminal or terrorist enterprise. This label carries a heavy burden: “designated foreign nationals” must be imprisoned for at least one year upon arrival in Canada and, even if they succeed in obtaining refugee protection, they must wait at least five more years before applying for permanent residency.
The bill resurrects a previous immigration bill that the Conservatives drafted in 2010, as a panicky response to the arrival of two boat loads of Tamil civil war refugees from Sri Lanka. That bill, which was introduced when Harper still led a minority government, was never passed due to the opposition of all other parties.
Bill C-4 is condemned by leading human rights and immigration advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees. The Canadian Bar Association has called the reforms “a harsh and dramatic shift in policy” that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and conflict with Canada’s obligations under international refugee and human rights conventions.
Inside Parliament, the bill has been vigorously opposed by the labour-based Official Opposition New Democratic Party. Toronto MP Olivia Chow highlighted the true human cost of the bill with the example of a Haitian mother and child fleeing poverty and devastation in their homeland without identification: they would both face a year of incarceration, followed by five years during which they could not bring other relatives to join them. Ms. Chow’s inclusion of a child in her example was deliberate, since, as she explained, imprisonment has been shown to have particularly harsh psychological and emotional effects on children.
Another NDP MP, Mylène Freeman (Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel, in Montreal), summarized the basic unfairness of Canada’s refugee system, which will only worsen with Harper’s proposed reforms: “Canada does not jail children unless they are seeking asylum. We do not jail people for years when they have never been charged with a crime, unless they are seeking asylum. We do not jail people without providing access to legal counsel, unless they are seeking asylum. We do not categorically bar prisoners from seeking bail, unless of course they are seeking asylum. We do no jail the traumatized victims of political conflict, abuse, and poverty, unless they are seeking asylum.”
Socialists demand an immediate withdrawal of Bill C-4 and an end to Harper’s attacks on the rights of refugees.
UPDATE: Harper’s criminal justice reform bill, discussed in the September edition of Socialist Action, (and which shares Bill C-4’s emphasis on incarceration), has drawn condemnation from two more eminent voices in Canada: the former Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Roy McMurtry, and the Canadian Bar Association.
> The article above was written by Eric Kupka.