14 March 2001.  The Canadian Council for Refugees is deeply concerned at the introduction in the House of Commons of C-11, a bill that will reduce the rights of refugees and immigrants.

The bill is a revised version of C-31, tabled last year, which was also of great concern to the CCR.  C-11 brings a few small improvements but still retains major problems (and adds some new ones).

The CCR is very disturbed that the government appears to expect that this bill can go quickly through the House, without allowing full consideration.  The consultation process being planned by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is inadequate, given that this is a substantial piece of legislation that will have enormous impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants, and on the reputation of Canada.

Among many serious problems in the bill, some areas of particular concern are:

– The bill does not live up to our international human rights obligations, for example under the Refugee Convention and under the Convention against Torture.  Under the provisions of the bill people could be sent back to persecution or to torture, in violation of Canada’s obligations.  The CCR proposes that relevant international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, be fully incorporated into the legislation.

– The bill greatly expands powers of detention, including giving even greater discretion to immigration officials to detain refugees and immigrants.  The government has indicated that it intends to detain more people, mostly it seems in order to make themselves look tough.  The CCR recommends that powers of detention be narrowly circumscribed and subject to meaningful review.

– The bill creates a refugee determination system with serious flaws, denying access to a hearing to people who may be at risk of persecution (for example, people who have ever before made a refugee claim).  The procedures under the proposed Pre-Removal Risk Assessment are inadequate (for example, lack of independent and qualified decision-makers and oral hearings only in exceptional circumstances).  The CCR urges eliminating the eligibility stage so that all claimants are referred immediately for a hearing on their claim and transferring to the Immigration and Refugee Board the responsibility for making decisions under the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment.

– The bill fails to adequately address the problems of refugees in limbo (recognized refugees who wait years to get permanent residence).  The CCR urges a simple solution, namely that refugees become permanent residents by operation of law.  For the tiny minority who are not eligible, the government can move to take their permanent residence away.

– The bill reinforces measures of interdiction, which affect refugees trying to escape from persecution.  Among the changes are increases in penalties for people who engage in people smuggling, even if they were motivated only by humanitarian concerns.  Someone who helps family members flee persecution can be denied access to a refugee hearing or lose permanent residence, without access to an appeal.  The CCR urges that interdiction measures be amended to reflect fully the obligation to protect refugees.

– The bill broadens inadmissibility provisions, including creating a new category for organized criminality, with dramatic impacts on people’s rights, but without any requirement that the person actually have committed any crime.  The already unfair security certificate process by which permanent residents can be stripped of status is made even more unfair.  The CCR urges that security and criminality inadmissibility categories be limited to crimes actually committed or security risks (rather than barring people on the basis of association) and that persons affected be entitled to a fair process in which they can defend themselves.

It is essential that there be enough time for careful study and discussion of the bill, and for Canadians to decide whether they really want legislation that does not treat refugees and immigrants with justice.

For more information, please contact:

Francisco Rico-Martinez, President 416-469-9754
Alistair Boulton, Vice-President 604-662-7404
Janet Dench, Executive Director 514-277-7223