By Peter Showler, Director of the Refugee Forum and former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada
For the past few years, the immigration and refugee portfolio has enjoyed or endured a particularly high political profile under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper with Jason Kenney serving as Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism. This forthcoming parliamentary session promises to be no different. Refugees comprise only thirteen per cent of the approximately 250,000 immigrants who come to Canada each year, but refugee policy, rather than immigration policy, will once again be the preoccupation of the government. It promises to be a stormy session and the theme may well be the Revenge of the Majority.
Two prominent pieces of refugee legislation will once again be in the news.
Bill C-4, the Bill Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, is a particularly controversial piece of legislation. It was originally introduced to parliament in October 2010, but was withdrawn from the House order paper after all of the opposition parties publicly opposed it. The bill purports to crack down on human smugglers, but its more punitive measures are actually directed against refugee claimants. The bill mandates that every man, woman and child be imprisoned for up to a year if they arrive in a designated group (like by boat for example) without any form of judicial review by a court. The bill has puzzled legal observers since it is a blatant violation of S.10 of the Charter of Rights, as well as the principle of Habeas Corpus, a corner stone of any democratic country that allows any person to challenge their imprisonment before a judge.
It was assumed that the bill was primarily introduced for political purposes, to burnish the government’s law and order image before the federal election. The Conservative’s campaign messages appeared to confirm that view. With pictures of the Sun Sea in the background, the opposition parties were portrayed as soft on human smuggling. But the bill is back with all of its most controversial provisions intact and now supported by the muscle of a Conservative majority in both the House of Commons and the Senate. It is expected that the bill will be quickly sent to a House committee. Let the fireworks begin.
Lurking in the parliamentary background is a second piece of legislation that most had assumed to be finished business. Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, was passed in June 2010, but the new refugee claim system was not to be implemented until December 1 of this year. Officials at the Immigration and Refugee Board have been working furiously to ensure the new system would be ready. Minister Kenney recently announced that implementation would be delayed until June 29, 2012, the latest possible date allowed under the law.
On the face of it, the postponement is a surprise. Three years ago, Prime Minister Harper publicly apologized to the president of Mexico, blaming Canada’s refugee system for the necessity of imposing a visa requirement on Mexican citizens and promising to fix the system. Delayed implementation means the Mexican visa requirement continues and the current system, with its backlog of claims and delays in removal, continues.
However, rumours abound that the government is not happy with the concessions that it made to pass the law and is now pondering tougher amendments to its own law. Refugee advocates are already unhappy with government regulations that have seriously undercut the balance between speed and fairness in the new law. Additional changes will require new legislation and will pit human rights advocates against a government determined to impose its will on an out-numbered opposition. We will once again hear the government’s specious rhetoric about good refugees and bad refugees.
None of this will be good for refugees, or, ultimately, for Canada.
- Refugee Forum
- Fast, Fair and Final: Reforming Canada’s Refugee System
- A fast and fair refugee system: a slogan or a reality?
- New project helps claimants navigate new refugee system
- Implementation of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act delayed until June 2012
- CIC Facts and Figures - Permanent and temporary residents by immigration category, 2010