Government bill punishes refugees

Canadian Council for Refugees
Media Release
For immediate release
21 October 2010


Government Bill Punishes Refugees
The Canadian Council for Refugees today expressed its grave concern that many of the measures in Bill C-49 fail to honour our obligations towards refugees and would result in refugees being treated unfairly. Despite the government’s claims that it is targeting smugglers, the people who will suffer if this bill is passed are the people fleeing persecution, including children.
“Measures keeping some refugees longer in detention, denying them family reunification and restricting their freedom of movement are likely in violation of the Canadian Charter and of international human rights obligations,” said Wanda Yamamoto, President. “People who are forced to flee for their lives need to be offered asylum and a warm welcome, not punished.”
Among the measures that appear particularly unfair are the following:
  • Expanded powers to detain some refugee claimants for long periods. The CCR notes that children are among those affected by already existing powers of detention. Refugee children should not be detained.
  • Keeping some recognized refugees in long-term limbo, by denying them the right for five years to apply for permanent residence, and therefore for reunification with their children, in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children left behind overseas are at risk while waiting to be reunited with their parents who are refugees in Canada.
  • Denial of freedom of movement for some refugees, in violation of the Refugee Convention. This provision would prevent, for example, a person from visiting family members who have taken refuge in third countries.
  • Denial of family reunification rights for some refugees. This provision would prevent, for example, a person from being able to sponsor a spouse they married after arrival in Canada.
These measures punish people who themselves are victims of persecution. The CCR calls on Parliament to respect international law which clearly states that refugees are not to be penalized for illegal entry (Refugee Convention, article 31).
The measures are also discriminatory, and potentially contrary to the Charter, in that they create two classes of refugees, with "designated" refugees denied basic rights.
The CCR rejects absolutely the government’s labelling of refugee claimants as “queue jumpers”. This characterization shows a total misunderstanding of the rights and realities of people fleeing persecution. International law recognizes that refugees cannot wait or follow immigration processes when they are seeking asylum.
Parliament has recently approved a comprehensive reform of the refugee process, through Bill C-11. Only a few months later, the government is seeking to re-open the compromise that was reached with all political parties, through legislation that radically reduces the rights of persons who have come to Canada seeking our protection.
The CCR also notes that the proposed harsh penalties will not deter people who are fleeing for their life. What they will do is gratuitously punish people who have fled persecution.
With respect to the offence of smuggling, the CCR notes that the current provision is already so broadly drafted that it covers not only smugglers who are exploiting people for profit, but also individuals who are acting purely on humanitarian motives, in order to help refugees. In 2007, smuggling charges were laid against a refugee worker from the US, Janet Hinshaw-Thomas. Although the charges were subsequently dropped, the law needs to be amended to make sure that people acting purely for humanitarian motives are never again prosecuted.
Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees: 514-277-7223 ext. 1, 514-476-3971 (cell),  email