Don't Punish Victims: Stop the Anti-Refugee Bill

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In February 2012, the government of Canada introduced Bill C-31, the new “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act,” that could detain, hurt 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.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Director of CCLA’s Equality Program said  “Bill C-31 represents a dramatic departure from the ethos and reputation of Canada as a compassionate, humanitarian voice on the world stage.  It could strip away basic rights and protections from people who may have escaped torture, death or persecution, and it could deny a fair process to people for whom this may be, literally, a life or death decision.

>> Read CCLA’s submissions on Bill C-31 to the Standing Committe on Citizenship & Immigration

>> Read CCLA’s Response to the Minister’s Proposed Amendments to Bill C-31

>>Read CCLA’s Submissions to the Senate Committee on the amended Bill C-31

>> Learn More

It is critical that this Bill be brought to the attention of people in Canada – and that it be defeated.  Here are some reasons why:

1. Bill C-31 will authorize mandatory detention for groups of refugees for 12 months without review.

If the Minister “designates” a group of people upon arrival in Canada, under the Bill, everyone in the group aged 16 or older must be locked up without a review of their detention for 12 months— regardless of why they came, whether they were escaping persecution, whether they are innocent, and with no concern as to whether or not the individuals present a danger or risk of any kind. Children younger than 16 will either be separated from their parents for the duration of the detention, or “housed” with the parent in the detention facility.  This is an enormous change from our current immigration law, under which anyone locked up gets independent review of their detention within 48 hours of being detained. The right to liberty, to have a detention reviewed by way of habeas corpus and the right to not be detained arbitrarily are protected by sections 7, 9 and 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as international law to which Canada is signatory, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

>> Learn more: 12-Month Mandatory Detention under Bill C-31 Said to Harm Asylum Seekers, Permanent Residents, and Canadian Taxpayers

2. Bill C-31 could create an unfair refugee claim process – which could result in Canada sending people back to a risk of torture, persecution or even death.

Provisions in the Bill related to the refugee claim process could lead to a lack of fairness. For example, the Bill includes in some circumstances no appeal, and timelines so short, that it would be difficult—if not impossible—for refugee claimants to make their cases adequately, to gather the necessary medical and other evidence and documentation to support their claims, and to find counsel to represent them. This could easily result in errors, as well as an inability to correct any mistakes made during the process. Where for some claimants the decision may literally be life or death, a procedurally and substantively fair process is the only humane option. Canada has an obligation under our own Charter, as well as under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to not send or return (“refouler”) refugees to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened. Our process for deciding claims must ensure that this remains a foundational consideration.

>> Learn more: New Refugee Bill Will not Give Refugees a Fair Chance to Tell Their Stories

3. Bill C-31 could result in permanent resident status being stripped away from people who have made Canada their home for many years.

Bill C-31 would give the Minister authority to apply at any time for a finding that a refugee is no longer in need of protection.  If that finding is made, under the Bill, the person is stripped not only of their refugee status, but also of their permanent resident status regardless of how long they have been in Canada.  At that point they would become “inadmissible” to Canada, and would be subject to deportation.  This law, if passed, will apply retroactively.  Thus a person who came to Canada as a refugee, has contributed to this country and built a safe and permanent life for themselves and their family, could  through no fault or act of their own, have their permanent resident status be stripped away, and could be deported from Canada, their home.

>>Learn more: New Immigration Bill Puts Permanent Residents at Risk

4. Bill C-31 will discriminate against groups of refugees and asylum seekers, based on Ministerial discretion.

The bill will create a variety of classes of refugees and asylum seekers, who will be subjected to different rules, restrictions and severe consequences – such as detention, restrictions in the refugee claim process, and a “freeze” on obtaining permanent resident status.   Many of these classes and categories will be designated by the Minister at his (or her) discretion, rather than through transparent, democratic methods.

>> Learn more about one of the new categories: Bill C-31 and Safe Countries of Origin?

5.  Bill C-31 will keep parents separated from their children and will keep spouses apart  for over 5 years. 

Under the Bill, persons who are part of a “designated group” and whose refugee claims are accepted, will not be able to sponsor children, spouses or other close family members for well over 5 years. Even if Canada has recognized them as legitimate refugees, Bill C-31 will deny them the ability to apply for permanent resident status—a necessary step to sponsoring a close family member—for at least 5 years. This violates the value of family reunification, a significant international legal principle and humanitarian goal, that Canada has long subscribed to.

>> Learn more: New Refugee Bill Will Separate Families

>> Take Action!

1. Did you miss the ‘Jail Cell’ Protest in Ottawa and Toronto? –  Members of the public took their picture in (or in front of) a jail cell, and helped spread the word that Bill C-31 does not belong in our Canada.

Join the virtual protest!  Superimpose these prison bars on your Twitter avatar or Facebook profile photo to help raise awareness about Bill C-31. This act symbolizes one aspect of the Bill, that would incarcerate refugee seekers for 12 months without judicial review.

Grab the “Twibbon” here!


2. Phone, Write or Email your Member of Parliament, and let them know you object to Bill C-31, and ask them to call for its withdrawal.

  • For Amnesty International’s C-31 letter writing campaign, click here.
  • For the Canadian Council for Refugees’ C-31 letter writing campaign, click here.

4. Share this information with your family, friends, co-workers and everyone you know—spread the word and speak out against Bill C-31!


>> Links and Resources 

Bill C-31 is a large (anti) refugee bill that includes provisions from two previous Bills that were introduced but never passed – Bills C-49 and C-4.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association continues to campaign to defeat Bill C-31, as it campaigned to defeat its predecessors Bill C-49 and Bill C-4.


>> More Resources for Additional Information and Analysis

> 5 Articles on Bill C-31 by Experts in the Area of Rights and Refugee Law:

Canadian Bar Association Statement

Justice for Refugees and Immigrants Coalition Statement

Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers Statement

Canadian Council of Refugees (CCR)

Video on the detention of children

> Video from “Welcome to Canada?” A Lunch & Learn event at Ryerson University for Refugee Rights Day (April 4th, 2012)


A Brief History of Bill C-31:

>> To read CCLA’s preliminary analysis of Bill C-31, click here.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has been fighting the precepts of this bill throughout its various incarnations.

Both Bills C-49 and C-4 purportedly targeted human smugglers, even though almost every provision in these Bills were in fact targeting refugees: mandatory detention of designated groups, the impossibility of judicial review for up to 12 months, the abandonment of the key concept of presumption of innocence, and discrimination against certain groups of asylum seekers and refugees.

When Bill C-49 was originally introduced in 2010, we wrote about how it would punish asylum seekers, create a second class of refugees, contravene Canadian constitutional and international law standards, and, for all intents and purposes, undermine Canada’s long standing humanitarian tradition. Bill C-49 never passed second reading in Parliament, thanks to a unified opposition.

>> Read an overview of CCLA’s concerns with Bill C-49

>> Go to the Stop Bill C-4 main page