Some comments on Bill C-49

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Wanda Yamamoto, President, Canadian Council for Refugees
“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. People who are forced to flee for their lives need to be offered asylum and a warm welcome, not punished.”
 
Province, Editorial: Politics behind rushed new smuggling act, 22 October 2010
“While toughening up our laws against criminal human smuggling is likely needed, other sections of the act, such as creating second-class refugees out of people who arrive en masse, make the proposed legislation seem thrown together and ill conceived. [...] Canadian history is sprinkled with examples of how overtly politicized immigration policy has led to inhumane decisions, including the Komagata Maru incident in Vancouver in 1914 and the refusal to accept Jews escaping en masse from the Nazis.”
 
Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada - English Branch
“Particularly outrageous is the proposal that all refugees arriving with a group that the government decides to designate as a human smuggling event would face mandatory detention for up to one year, with very little opportunity for review. This constitutes a serious violation of Canada’s international and constitutional obligation not to subject individuals to arbitrary detention. As well, using detention to penalize refugees for irregular entry into a country very clearly contravenes Canada’s obligations under Article 31 (2) of the Refugee Convention.”
 
The Rev Dr. Richard Fee, General Secretary, Life and Mission Agency, The Presbyterian Church in Canada
"The Presbyterian Church in Canada has a long history of assisting refugees, regardless of their mode of arrival in Canada. In 1979 the 105th General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada reached an agreement with the Government of Canada on refugee sponsorship. Since 1979 many congregations have had the joy and privilege of welcoming and working with hundreds if refugees as they arrived here in Canada.
 
The Presbyterian Church in Canada is a proud holder of a Private Sponsorship Agreement with the Government of Canada. We continue to work with asylum seekers, particularly those who are detained for immigration reasons. We have grave concern regarding the proposed legislation which is now coming before the House of Commons. The proposal ignores the serious protection needs of those who arrive in Canada whether by boat or other route. It will punish those whom we have pledged to protect. We believe that by penalizing the persecuted, those who are already victims, by threatening them with lengthy detention and by separating families, is contrary to Canadian values. Presbyterians have traditionally and continue to welcome the stranger into our midst. This is a calling and, we believe, a cherished Canadian value."
 
Haile Kiflai, Qalna - Eritrean Human Rights Group
As a human rights group that advocates for the rights of people of Eritrean origin, including refugees who often have no choice, but to escape from oppression and persecutions using smugglers; who often get abused by their smugglers and sometimes die at the hands of their smugglers; and  who often take on hazardous journeys and great risks to reach a place of safety and refuge using smugglers, not because it is a right way, but because it is the only way, we are deeply troubled by the contents of Bill C-49. It does not only harm those who has arrived at the shores of Canada, but has a far reaching consequences in eroding the global protection of refugees and in setting a negative tone to the international discourses on refugee protection.
 
Geraldine MacDonald, President, Refugee Lawyers’ Association of Ontario (RLA)
“This bill is a grave assault on the human rights of refugees. While human smuggling is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, it is perverse to tackle the problem by targeting the desperate refugees who get smuggled. It is also in direct contravention of both international law and Canada’s own Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
 
Tanya Chute Molina, Executive Director, Mennonite New Life Centre
"For many people of faith, the call to welcome the stranger is a moral imperative, not just a matter of immigration policy and procedure. Refugees come to us in search of peace and security. We owe them welcome, not suspicion and detention. Bill C-49 punishes refugees for the sins of smugglers."
 
Sharry Aiken, Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
“Mode of arrival is an arbitrary and wholly unreasonable basis for distinguishing amongst refugees. Subjecting those who arrive in "groups" to mandatory detention and a bar to family reunification could very well result in families, including children being separated from their loved ones for close to a decade. The bill clearly contravenes the non-discrimination provisions of both our Charter of Rights and international law.”
 
Jack Costello SJ, Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service--Canada
"Just as Bill C-49 fails to maintain Canada's legal commitments nationally and internationally, it fails abysmally at supporting the dignity and worth of every person, in this case refugee claimants in desperate straits. This bill is not Canadian. It is not a voice for encouraging greater care and compassion among Canadians for their suffering sisters and brothers. On what basis, then, has the government cobbled together this harsh, unjust and totally unhelpful proposal?"
 
Peter Showler, director, Refugee Forum at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa
"Essentially, the bill creates two classes of refugee based on the means of arrival in Canada. The distinction and its drastic consequences offend principles of international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights as well as common sense and decency."
 
Valerian Marochko, Executive Director, London Cross Cultural Learner Centre
“At the London Cross Cultural Learner Centre we have worked very hard to create a safe and welcoming environment for refugees. Bill C-49 could have enormous implications on the quality of life our clients have upon arriving in Canada. The bill will impact negatively many refugee claimants who flee persecution in their own countries, those individuals, families and communities who we see in our daily work. Worst still is the impact on our allies in the community who work with legitimate refugees now at even greater risk for detention. As a humanitarian organization, we are concerned that bill C-49 violates our international commitments such as the UN Refugee Convention and the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. Furthermore, it is crucial that we consider that to deny legitimate refugees who arrive through precarious avenues the right to family reunification only increases the stress on these individuals and decreases their potential for civic engagement and inclusion. We are disappointed that our own country is choosing to punish the vulnerable and target those who we work so hard to protect.“
 
David Poopalapillai, spokesperson, Canadian Tamil Congress
“Once you become a landed immigrant, you’ve been accepted as a legitimate refugee claimant. You say to them you can’t sponsor your spouse or your kids? That’s inhuman. You want the family to suffer and suffer? It’s not the Canadian way of doing business.”
 
Catherine Dauvergne, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Migration Law, UBC
“C-49 breaches a number of major international human rights commitments, most importantly the Refugee Convention. Among the measures proposed are detention and two tiered refugee protection: these are two of the things removed from the Australian refugee system in 2007 because they were so unpalatable to the Australian public.”
 
Mary Jo Leddy, Order of Canada, Ontario Sanctuary Coalition
“This bill punctures the hope of desperate refugees who cling to a lifeboat. Bill C-49 effectively throws refugees overboard but in a nice Canadian way and all in the name of law, order and good government.”
 
James Milner, Political Science, Carleton University
Bill C-49 would seriously undermine Canada's ability to help find solutions for refugee situations around the world. In recent years, Canada has played a leadership role in negotiating with countries like Pakistan and Tanzania to adopt more open policies for the hundreds of thousands of refugees they have hosted for decades. The implementation of provisions suggested by C-49 would undermine Canada's credibility with host countries in Africa and Asia, would undermine the impressive gains that Canada has already made, and would frustrate efforts to find solutions for the root causes of the asylum issues that confront all countries in the world - namely the formulation and implementation of comprehensive solutions for the most protracted and prolonged refugee situations.
 
Sean Rehaag, Assistant Professor, specializing in immigration and refugee law, Osgoode Hall Law School
“The proposed legislation will not only fail to deter human smuggling, but it will also seriously harm refugees -- as well as Canada’s reputation as a state that complies with international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits states from imposing penalties on asylum seekers who arrive in contravention of immigration laws. It also prevents Canada from discriminating between groups of asylum seekers. The proposed legislation clearly breaches both these provisions.”
 
Eunice Valenzuela, Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support, Kitchener
"In our office, we meet with people everyday who tell us about their experiences of having been forced to flee for their lives, doing whatever is necessary to protect themselves and their families, and to seek refuge from danger in Canada. Out of desperation, with no other options available to them, these women, men, and children are often forced to resort to smugglers to escape persecution. In the past, potential refugee claimants arriving in Canada on unauthorized transport have been sent back to their deaths in countries where they were persecuted. Targeting refugee claimants, already exploited families is not the solution to the problem of smuggles. Bill C-49 is totally unacceptable."
 
David Matas, Winnipeg refugee lawyer
“Penalizing the smuggled, as Bill C-49 does, is not a proper way of deterring smuggling.  Those who truly need protection are not going to refrain from escape from persecution through smuggling because of the penalisation.  The result of Bill C-49, if it becomes law, will be to deny rights to real refugees, increasing the risk of mistaken refugee determinations, and to make them miserable, adding, for the persecuted, to the persecution they have already suffered.”
 
Loren Balisky, Kinbrace, Salsbury Community Society
"As a member of a community rooted in the Christian tradition, I am deeply concerned that C-49 is deceptive and sows seeds of fear among Canadians. To have billed C-49 as "Preventing Human Smugglers" is really hoodwinking the Canadian public: the Bill is really about punishing refugee claimants. Such deception not only fuels misinformation and fear among our people, it distances us from the injustice the bill proposes. Our imaginations fracture, our relationships sour, and our honest soul turns xenophobic. In a time when such an astoundingly complex global issue symbolized in the MV Sun Sea comes so close to home, should this not be a superb opportunity to think and act in faith?"
 
Donald Galloway, Professor of Law, University of Victoria
“Contrary to claims made by the government, this legislation does little to constrain the criminal activities of human smugglers. Indeed, its primary target is not the smuggler but those who seek Canada’s protection including those who are entitled to it.
 
In addition, the legislation takes aim at our independent legal institutions. It imposes minimum penalties in an attempt to prevent our courts from tailoring penalties to fit the crime; it grants the Minister wide and arbitrary discretion to detain individuals and then attempts to immunize the exercise of this power from independent and rational review; it introduces retroactive provisions which authorize the Minister to rewrite history by imposing sanctions to circumstances where they were originally not available. In sum, the legislation reveals a government trying to rule by executive edict and unconstrained fiat rather than in accordance with the principles of the rule of law. It must be called to account and prevented from doing so.”
 
Brydon Gombay, Quaker Committee for Refugees
"Bill C-49 punishes refugees who have no doubt in most cases fled from the sort of situation we would all seek to flee from if we could. Amongst the refugees incarcerated from the last ship which arrived from Sri Lanka there are pregnant women and a child with shrapnel wounds to his head. Quite apart from issues of international law, there is an issue of humanity here, is there not? I hope Members of Parliament will stand up for humanity, and vote against the bill."
 
John Docherty, Coordinator of the Réseau d'intervention auprès des personnes ayant subi la violence organisée (RIVO - based in Montréal), and Canadian representative to the governing board of the International Rehabilitation Council for Victims of Torture (IRCT - based in Denmark)
"When a person decides to flee persecution and seek protection elsewhere, he or she realizes that there will be hard decisions to make and that there will be painful consequences to some of these decisions. The decision to separate from close family members is one such "choice" that individuals accept, in the hope that they will ultimately be able to secure safety for themselves and their family. The separation endured until they have secured a safe option is one consequence they live with. The separation endured after they have secured a safe option in Canada is no longer a consequence of their decision to seek safety - it is the consequence of Canadian government policies. Bill C-49 seeks to penalize entire families even further, on the basis of how they succeeded in legitimately securing the very protection Canada offers them. This is shameful and totally unacceptable."
 
Leslie H. Morley, President, Canadian Prison Law Association
“In Bill C-49 mandatory detention is proposed for some refugee claimants, and yet those in our country who have been convicted of our most serious offences are entitled under our law to be released upon parole, if release is the least restrictive measure consistent with the protection of the public. Serious criminals are entitled to the least restrictive measure: upon the basis of which principle should we treat those fleeing persecution more restrictively than our worst criminals?”
 
Shauna Labman, Ph.D. Candidate and Trudeau Scholar, Faculty of Law, UBC
"As they did earlier this year with Bill C-11, the government has timed an announced increase in resettlement alongside Bill C-49’s legislative reform that will make it harder for refugees to reach Canada and unfairly penalize those who do. While increased resettlement numbers should be celebrated, they do not and cannot replace Canada’s international obligations to refugees who claim asylum in Canada. It is wrong and misleading of the government to position these two refugee flows in juxtaposition."
 
Baijayanta Mukhopadhyay, naturalized Canadian, physician in training
"My family had the means to immigrate to Canada legally. The country I came to did not penalise migrants who did not have those means. The government may think that criminalising people because of the way they arrived makes me feel better about being Canadian. It doesn't: all it does is make me wonder what happened to the Canada I loved."
 
Sylvain Thibault
"Celui qui est devenu le premier policier d'origine cambodgienne de Montréal était parmi les centaines de réfugiés arrivés avec les boat people. Ma famille l'a accueilli à bras ouvert alors qu'il n'avait que 6 ans. Aujourd'hui, il contribue de facon exceptionnelle à cette communauté qui l'a accueilli dans le respect de ses droits. Imaginez si nous l'avions accueilli avec des menaces de détention?"

 

C-49 - Anti-smuggling or anti-refugee?