Opposition MPs rip into proposed human-smuggling law

Posted by admin on Oct 27th, 2010

By Norma Greenaway, Postmedia News October 27, 2010

OTTAWA — Liberals and New Democrats withheld their verdict but not their venom Wednesday on the Conservative government’s proposals to significantly revamp refugee and human-smuggling laws. Liberal MP Mark Holland accused the Harper government of going “nuclear” on refugees in a campaign to divide Canadians, while New Democrat Olivia Chow slammed the package for “attacking the refugees.” The harsh assessment of the proposed legislation, combined with the Bloc Quebecois’ flat rejection of the bill, suggests the minority Tory government faces an uphill climb to get the package approved and implemented.

The Liberals and New Democrats did not, however, use the opening day of debate on the legislation to declare whether they would vote to kill the bill or send it to committee for further study and possible amendment.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney did not tip his hand on whether he would entertain amendments. Instead, he delivered a vigorous defence of what the government sees as an urgent need to send a message to potential refugee claimants that they will get tougher treatment here if they pay human smugglers to for their journey.

Kenney said the legislation doesn’t abandon Canada’s long tradition of providing safe haven to those who need protection.

“But we will not be treated like a doormat by criminal networks that seek to profit from, frankly, encouraging people to come to this country illegally in a fashion that puts them and others in mortal danger,” he said.

Kenney said the government was working with other countries in Southeast Asia in a bid to, among other things, get transit countries to offer at least temporary protection to those deemed by the UN to need protection.

But he described that effort as a “mid to long-term solution,” and said the government’s legislation is needed to address the more immediate prospect of more boats heading this way.

“As we speak, criminal networks in southeast Asian countries are planning to smuggle their customers to Canada,” he said, repeating warnings he issued in advance of unveiling the new legislation last week.

The thrust of the Opposition’s argument was that the government has over-reacted to the arrival on the B.C. coast of almost 600 Tamil refugee claimants in the past year — a total, it argued, which barely registers against the 30,000 refugee claims made each year in Canada.

“For roughly two per cent of the claimants that would happen in a year, the Conservative government went nuclear,” Holland, the Liberal public security critic, told the Commons.

Holland and Chow called on Kenney to shift the focus exclusively to catching and prosecuting human smugglers while dropping provisions that essentially punish refugees if they arrive in Canada with the help of human smugglers they have paid to get them here.

They took particular aim at measures that allow the minister of public safety to declare a “smuggling incident,” and thereby trigger new rules that would:
– Keep the refugee claimants, including women, in detention for up to one year until their identity has been confirmed;
– Prevent successful refugee claimants from applying for permanent resident status for five years;
– Bar successful refugee claimants from travelling during that five-year period or sponsoring their spouses or children for resettlement in Canada.

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