Opposition unites against proposed human smuggling legislation

Posted by admin on Dec 1st, 2010

By Norma Greenaway, Postmedia News December 1, 2010

OTTAWA — The Conservative government will call a vote on its latest refugee and human smuggling legislation even though it faces almost certain defeat in the Commons, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says. Kenney told reporters Wednesday he won’t withdraw the legislation because he’s convinced the opposition is on the wrong side of public opinion on the issue. “If the opposition intends to vote against this strong, but balanced effort to crack down on human smuggling and queue jumping, they’ll have to stand up and vote for it in the House of Commons and be accountable to voters,” he said.

Kenney would not say how soon the vote will be held and he also didn’t rule out the option of declaring the vote a confidence matter capable of triggering an election.

Kenney spoke to reporters after the Liberals and New Democrats announced they would join the Bloc Quebecois in voting “no” on the legislation when it comes to the floor of the Commons for second reading or approval in principle.

The opposition parties contend the proposed bill misses the mark because it would punish victims of human smuggling instead of focusing solely on the perpetrators of the crime.

The bill establishes tougher minimum prison sentences and fines for human smugglers. It also says asylum claimants who are deemed to have used human smugglers to get to Canada would be treated differently than other refugee claimants.

Among other things, they could be detained for a year without assured access to review and, even if their refugee claim is approved, they would not be eligible to apply for permanent residence status for five years.

Liberal Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, said those and other provisions violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a position echoed by refugee groups and the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration law division.

“The flaws in Bill C-49 cannot be rectified by modest amendments,” Gordon Maynard of CBA said in a statement, adding that it breaches not only the charter but also Canada’s international obligations.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff agreed: “This bill is not salvageable. It’s punishing the wrong people,” he told reporters following the regular caucus meeting Wednesday.

Kenney rejected the analysis, and said the government has a legal opinion that says the proposals violate neither the charter nor Canada’s international obligations.

He accused the Liberals of playing politics with the legislation. He said they waited until Monday’s three byelections were over before announcing their position on the bill so that they would not be seen as soft on human smuggling.

Cotler shrugged off Kenney’s spin, telling reporters Liberals needed time to look carefully at the package and to consult with interested parties before taking a position.

Liberals and New Democrats indicated they were unfazed by the prospect of the government making the vote a matter of confidence.

“Bring it on,” declared Olivia Chow, the NDP’s immigration critic.

Ignatieff said he had made the call to oppose the legislation based on what “I profoundly believe is right.”

Chow said the detention provision is absolutely unacceptable, and, if implemented, would prove particularly devastating for children.

She also slammed as anti-family a measure that would bar successful refugee claimants from bringing their spouses and children to Canada for five years.

“Go after the smugglers, not the victims,” Chow said.

The government says it decided to target migrants for penalties — as well as smugglers — because it wants to deter them from using criminal human smuggling networks to get them to Canada.

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