Controversial Refugee Bill Up for Vote Soon

The Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, known as Bill C-31, was passed on third reading on June 11. It now goes to the Senate. Recognizing that the issues around refugees are complex, the CBWC is presenting information on this issue as a resource so readers can make up their own minds what they think.

The government claims that Bill C – 31 will strengthen the fairness and integrity of Canada’s refugee and immigration system. Critics complain that Bill C – 31 creates a two-tier refugee system that further victimizes refugees contrary to Canadian and international laws.

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Act will give the government new powers to deter people it calls ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘bogus refugee claimants’. Specifically, it wants to deter mass aboard the M.V. Sun Sea.

The government prefers refugees to enter Canada from refugee camps under sponsorship arrangements where it can control the selection criteria and numbers of claimants. The Bill would:

    • allow the government to keep ‘irregular arrivals’ (which means outside the sponsorship process, such as by boat) in mandatory detention until their application is accepted
    • allow the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to determine which countries are safe and, therefore, make refugee claims for these countries ineligible. Previously this was decided by an impartial committee. 27 EU countries will likely be put on the list. simplify the claims process
    • eliminate some methods of appeal and shorten the remaining appeals process to make the system more efficient. For example, refugees from safe countries would have their claim processed
      within 45 days instead of as many as 1,038 days.
    • reduce health and dental benefits available to refugee claimants to make Canada a less attractive destination for refugees
    • prevent ‘irregular’ refugees from applying for permanent residence, reunifying their families or travelling abroad for 5 years after their refugee application has been approved

Critics of Bill C -31 claim the Bill will create a two-tiered system that is prejudiced against refugees who arrive by boat or other ‘irregular’ methods without sponsorship by the government or private groups like churches. They say the idea that good refugees go to refugee camps and wait in a queue for their turn to come to Canada is false and misleading. Critics claim it discriminates against claimants based on their country of origin or method of arrival. Some critics argue that the bill is contrary to Canada’s Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They also argue that Bill C – 31 would politicize what they think should be a judicial process and make refugee decisions based on political whim. For example, the law allows government ministers, rather than an impartial committee, to determine which countries are safe and which are not.

Although Bill C-31 has been publicized as part of a crackdown on human smuggling, critics say it will do nothing to prevent smuggling but will punish refugees based on their method of arriving in Canada. They also point out that even supposedly safe countries, like those in Europe, have minority people like the Roma who suffer persecution and could have valid refugee claims even though the countries might be safe for the majority.

Detractors of the bill criticize efforts to speed up the claim process, insisting that short, arbitrary timelines may not provide claimants with enough time to tell their stories and prepare their claims properly. They are also critical of the 5-year ban on residence applications and family reunification for ‘irregular arrivals’ once they are recognized as legitimate refugees. The mandatory detention of ‘irregular arrivals’ is also heavily criticized as inhumane and arbitrary.

The number of people applying to Canada as refugees fluctuates annually but was 25,000 in 2011. About 40-45% of refugee claims were accepted historically, but since 2010, the acceptance rate has dropped to historic lows of 38%.. (University of Ottawa, Human Rights Research and Education Centre). There are approximately 11 million refugees around the world. (UNHRC).

This new bill comes two years after the Conservatives last overhauled the refugee system and undoes some of the compromises the then-minority Tory government was forced to make to pass earlier reforms in 2010. Mr. Kenney wants to see the new bill passed by June in order to override the Balanced Refugee Reform Act passed through an all-party compromise in 2010 but which has not yet come into effect.

For more information to decide on the issue for yourself, go to the
Refugees & Uprooted Peoples section of this website.