This morning, the government introduced Bill C-31, the new “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act,” that could penalize, detain and endanger people who come to Canada seeking asylum. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is very concerned about this Bill which, if passed and implemented, would violate several of Canada’s constitutional and international obligations. Of greater concern are the effects of this Bill on people who came to Canada in need of protection and safety.
CCLA felt it critical to immediately inform people in Canada of its content, in light of the government’s declaration that they intend to try to pass it within the next few months.
On this preliminary analysis, some of our main concerns with the Bill are as follows:
1. People can be locked up for a year regardless of innocence
The new Bill proposes changes similar to Bill C-4 and Bill C-49 – both of which were strongly denounced by opposition parties, civil and human rights organizations, and individuals concerned for the protection of refugees. The Bill gives the Minister the power to designate a group of persons entering Canada. Every person in a designated group must be locked up – men, women and youth as young as 16, the elderly and the disabled – even where there is no concern that the individuals present a danger or threat of any kind.
2. The Bill would take away protections normally given to people in free and democratic societies
Justice requires that every individual be heard before they are deprived of their liberty, and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees this right, as well as the right to be free from arbitrary detention. The designated refugees under Bill C-31, however, would be stripped of these rights. They would be denied the right to an expeditious review to determine if their detention is fair for a minimum of 12 months, in contrast to all other refugee claimants who have a right to be brought before an independent decision-maker within 48 hours of being detained. In these and many other provisions, Bill C-31 violates Canada’s national and international obligations.
3. Lack of a Fair Process and Risk to Life and Security
The Bill’s many provisions concerning the refugee claim process will likely lead to errors, an inability to correct them, and generally a lack of fair process. For example, the Bill includes in some instances timelines so short, that it would be very difficult if not impossible for refugee claimants to meet them, to make their case adequately, to gather the necessary documentation to support their claims, and to find counsel to represent them. Bill C-31 denies a fair process to people whose lives and safety may be in danger if removed or returned to their countries of origin. The result of the process may be literally a life and death decision.
Effect on the rights and best interests of a minor – This morning’s Bill provides one small improvement over its discredited predecessors, by providing that minors aged 15 and younger will be exempt from mandatory detention. This does not make it impermissible to detain children. Indeed, when CCLA’s Equality Program Director queried government officials on this point, she was informed that the “best interest of the child” would be considered, and that in some cases, this may lead to the child’s being “housed” in a detention facility in order to remain with a parent. No provision in the Bill provides for the release of parent and child (there is only a highly subjective general authority granted exclusively to the Minister to release “exceptional” cases). Similarly, no provision provides for keeping families together, so that if a mother, father and child in a “designated” group are lucky enough to have escaped danger and are still united, it is likely that on arrival, Canadian officials would separate them along gender lines for the duration of their detention.
The Bill will keep refugees from their spouse, children and loved ones for many years - Under this Bill, persons whose refugee claim is accepted, if they were part of a designated group, will not be able to bring to Canada a child or spouse left behind for many years. Even if Canada has recognized these individuals as legitimate refugees, Bill C-31 denies them the ability to apply for permanent resident status for a minimum of 5 years – a necessary step to sponsoring a close family member.
The provisions of Bill C-31 stand in stark contrast to Canada’s legal obligations under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a variety of international human rights conventions. Furthermore, this Bill represents a dramatic departure from the ethos and reputation of Canada as a compassionate, humanitarian voice on the world stage. It is critical that Bill C-31 be defeated.