Human Smuggling Legislation Violates Refugee Rights

Posted by admin on Nov 10th, 2010

November 10, 2010, Public Service Alliance of Canada Media Release – The government’s bill to prevent human smuggling does not meet Canada’s domestic and international human rights and refugee protection obligations said the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The government should tackle the problems of criminal smuggling in ways that do not punish refugees. Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act tabled on October 21st, violates the rights of refugees and migrants. By restricting the rights of refugees who arrive in Canada as part of a group that the government designates to be a “human smuggling event,” the Bill creates two classes of refugees.

The restrictions include harsh powers of mandatory detention of those designated persons, including children, for one year without independent review; denial of the right to appeal a negative decision to the Refugee Board’s Refugee Appeal Division; prohibition to apply for permanent resident status for five years; and serious limitations on freedom of movement and family unity.

If Bill C-49 becomes law, Canada would be violating its legal obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the 1951 Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Measures to address criminal smuggling must ensure that refugees’ and migrants’ rights relying on smugglers are protected,” said John Gordon, National President of PSAC. “People at risk of torture and who fear for their lives may turn to smugglers out of desperation, regardless of penalization.”

Detention of refugee claimants should only be used as a last resort and must be for reasons that are established in international law, such as demonstrated concerns about security. Detention should never be used as a means of deterring other refugees who are seeking safety.

The legislation also gives the government the power to arrest and detain any non-citizen, including a permanent resident, based on a mere suspicion of criminality. It appears that this provision is not limited to designated persons or refugee claimants, and would apply to all non-citizens. Although the bill deals with refugees, it is also an attack on the rights of newcomers – and long-term residents.

The PSAC believes workers dealing with refugees should have clear guidelines and tools on how to do their job. In addition, it is important that Canada work with other countries to take action to combat human smuggling as it involves serious human rights violations against vulnerable migrants. However, policies to combat human smuggling must respect the rights of refugees seeking asylum in Canada.

This legislation is part of a continuing trend by the Harper government to disregard Canada’s human rights obligations.

To take action against this bill, please visit Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Refugees.

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