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Canadian Council for Refugees
For immediate release
10 November 2010
Huge costs of government bill highlighted
The Canadian Council for Refugees today called on parliamentarians to reject Bill C-49, a bill that would be extremely costly both to Canadians and to people seeking refugee protection in Canada.
Key provisions of Bill C-49 include mandatory detention for a year without review and the denial of permanent status for five years to some recognized refugees.
“These measures would be extremely costly, in terms of tax dollars, in terms of human suffering and in terms of Canada’s credibility internationally,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President. “We don’t believe that Canadians want their tax dollars spent on locking up innocent children. And we know that keeping refugees in limbo leads only to disastrous consequences.”
According to the Auditor General, keeping a person in detention costs between $120 and $238 per day (2006-2007 figures). There were 49 children on the MV Sun Sea: keeping them in detention for a year would cost at a minimum over two million dollars. The cost of detaining everyone who arrived on the MV Sun Sea for a year would be over 21.5 million dollars.
“Many of the children on the Sun Sea have been living in a war zone – one little boy still has shrapnel in his head. They undertook a dangerous journey over the ocean, trying to save their lives and thinking that they would find safety in Canada,” said David Poopalapillai, spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress. “It is tough for the children being in detention: physically the place is fine, but emotionally it affects the children. The children cry for their fathers who are detained separately, and their mothers don’t know how to answer them.”
In the 1990s Canada had a policy that forced most Somali and Afghan refugees to wait in limbo for five years before becoming permanent residents, just as Bill C-49 would impose a five year limbo on some refugees. This policy had devastating consequences on the thousands affected and the wider community and resulted in the UNHCR requesting an opinion that found Canada in violation of the Refugee Convention. The policy was challenged in court as discriminatory and, in 2000, the government agreed to a settlement that eliminated the five-year limbo period.
“We are still seeing the consequences of this policy today in the Somali community,” said Mahad Yusuf, Executive Director, Midaynta Community Services, Toronto. “Families were kept separate for all those years. Young people were prevented from going to college or university, and some of them got onto the wrong path. Men who couldn’t bring their families or get a proper job fell into depression – some of them still have mental health problems. I believe that this problem of limbo in the 1990s may be partly responsible for the pattern of murders of Somali youth in Alberta and Ontario.”
Many legal scholars have underlined the numerous ways in which Bill C-49 violates Canada’s international obligations towards refugees. If the bill is adopted, Canada will lack the moral authority to play a leadership role internationally in efforts to find solutions to the problems faced by refugees. For example, this week over 15,000 Burmese are reported to have fled into Thailand. How can Canada credibly urge the Thai government to respect these refugees’ rights, when here at home we are denying refugees their rights?
The full costs of Bill C-49 are extensive and should lead Parliamentarians to dismiss this Bill at second reading.
70 organizations from across Canada have jointed the CCR in calling for Parliament to reject Bill C-49: http://ccrweb.ca/en/organizations-calling-defeat-bill-c-49.
Colleen French, CCR Communications Coordinator, 514-277-7223 ext. 1, email cfrench [at] ccrweb [dot] ca
David Poopalapillai, Canadian Tamil Congress, (416) 240-0078
Mahad Yusuf, Midaynta, (416) 544-1992, ext. 229
Background on the limbo policy affecting Somalis and Afghans in the 1990s
In 1993, a change in Canadian law required accepted refugees to provide satisfactory identity documents in order to be granted permanent residence. Many Somali and Afghan refugees could not provide satisfactory identity documents, because of the lack of a functioning government in their country of origin. By 1996, the government estimated that approximately 7,500 Somali and Afghan refugees were in limbo. In 1997, the government introduced the Undocumented Convention Refugees in Canada Class that allowed these refugees to be granted permanent residence following a 5-year wait, during which time they could not reunite with family members and could not travel outside Canada. In 2000, the government agreed to a legal settlement, which allowed refugees to become permanent residents without waiting 5 years in limbo. The terms of the agreement were written into the 2002 regulations (Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, s. 178).
For more information, see Caledon Institute, What’s In A Name: Identity Documents and Convention Refugees, 1999, http://www.caledoninst.org/Publications/PDF/whats.pdf
For UNHCR opinion: Opinion, The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Obligations of States under Articles 25, 27 and 28, with particular reference to refugees without identity or travel documents, May 2000, by Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, Professor of International Refugee Law