Canada’s Bill C-49 will create two classes of refugees

Posted by admin on Nov 9th, 2010

November 9, 2010, By Robert Vineberg, Troymedia

WINNIPEG, MB, Nov. 8, 2010/ Troy Media/ – Bill C-49, tabled by Public Security Minister Voc Toews on October 21st, marks a dramatic change in Canada’s approach to dealing with refugees. Under the United Nations Convention respecting the Status of Refugees, a state’s basic obligations only require it to provide refugees with a safe haven and not to refoule (that is return them to their country of origin) those found to be at risk of persecution in their own countries. However, it has been Canada’s policy since the end of the Second World War to encourage refugees to become permanent residents and, eventually, citizens.

Respect for Article 43

Canadian policy has long made it one of the few countries to respect Article 43 of the Refugee Convention. Article 43 encourages signatory states to, “as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees . . . [and] in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings . . . ”

This means that a person granted refugee status is able to apply for permanent residence immediately following a decision which finds that person to indeed be a refugee. And for the vast majority of such persons, permanent residence status in due course leads to Canadian citizenship.

Canada’s policy is at variance with that of most other countries which regard asylum as a temporary condition. And, while providing protection as required by the Refugee Convention, they do not offer a pathway to permanent residence and eventual citizenship. The Canadian approach has long been lauded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others.

It appears, however, that with Bill C-49 Canada is about to change its long-standing policy, at least for groups of refugees arriving by irregular means, such as by sea. C-49 will give the Minister responsible for Immigration authority to label such refugees as “designated foreign nationals”. In the words of a press release from Citizenship and Immigration Canada from October 26th, the bill, “seeks to ensure that illegal migrants who obtain refugee status can be re-assessed within five years to determine whether they still need protection or can be returned to their country of origin . . .” This Bill will result in the creation of a sub-class of refugees with fewer rights than all other refugees.

It is important in any discussion about refugees to distinguish clearly between refugee claimants and persons found to be refugees. Refugee claimants are just that – persons who claim to be refugees. Until the authorized legal body in a country of asylum determines that the claim is valid, these persons are not refugees. But once the responsible body (in Canada, the Immigration and Refugee Board) finds that a person is a refugee, the person acquires the protection of Canada. The Refugee Convention then requires Canada to provide protection as long as necessary. Persons found not to be refugees are subject to a removal order and are expected to leave Canada.

The proposed legislation provides that genuine refugees who arrived in Canada by irregular means will have to demonstrate five years later that they still have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to be returned to their country of origin. By comparison, other persons found to be refugees in Canada will have obtained permanent residence and possibly citizenship within the same five year period.

Other provisions in Bill C-49 increase the penalties to be imposed on people smugglers and on the master of vessels used for people smuggling. In addition, Bill C-11 proposes important reforms to refugee determination in order to speed up the process. Most persons, who are not refugees but nevertheless make refugee claims in Canada, do so in order to obtain the opportunity to work in Canada while their claim is processed. If it takes, for example, three years to process a claim and then further time if the person appeals the decision, he or she can end up having made a great deal of money, even if they are eventually deported. The best deterrent to fraudulent claimants, therefore, is a fast and fair determination process. Bill C-11 will significantly reduce the inducement to come to Canada to make a false refugee claim. A rapid determination is also in the interests of genuine refugees who will be able to start building their new life in Canada. The exception will be those designated by the Minister.

Turning its back on tradition

Given all the other legislative tools proposed to improve the refugee determination process and to increase penalties for people smugglers, we need to ask ourselves whether Canada should turn its back on its long tradition of giving every person found to be a refugee in Canada a chance to become a Canadian citizen as rapidly as possible.

In the discussions that will take place both inside and outside Parliament, it will be important for Canadians to decide whether we want to change the practice of considering real refugees to be future citizens or whether we agree with the intent of Bill C-49 to create two different categories of refugees with two differing sets of rights.

Robert Vineberg was formerly the Director General, Prairies and Northern Territoris Region, Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Channels: The Woodstock Sentinel-Review, Nov. 9, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Nov. 18, Vancouver Sun, Nov. 19, 2010

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