Refugee bill offensive to Canadians in the know

Posted by admin on Nov 17th, 2010

By Jim Creskey, Published November 17, 2010, Embassy Magazine

It may happen that the Harper government’s Bill C-49 will soon sail into law in the wake of the negative publicity of the MV Sun Sea and its 492 Tamil passengers who arrived in Canada in August. That would be an unfortunate mistake for Canada and a disaster for many legitimate asylum seekers. Bill C-49, a law aimed at “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act,” is seriously flawed. As always the devil is in the details and this bill is packed with lots of little devils and many disturbing details. The big problem is that the bill, which aims to punish smugglers, actually punishes refugees.

It is widely recognized that a large number of the genuine refugees who come to Canada claiming asylum get here thanks to the efforts of smugglers of various sorts. Unfortunately, there is frequently no other
route to a safe haven.

The flight to safety is hasty and dangerous. Often a family will exhaust their life-savings to carry out their escape, getting help wherever it can. For people facing torture and murder, often at the hands of government officials, as well as for those fleeing from civil wars, drug cartels and corrupt police, there is rarely a safe method for acquiring legal entry papers.

If an asylum seeker is running for his or her life, legal documents, in this case a bona fide Canadian entry visa and even a valid passport, are hard if not impossible to obtain. What we call “human smuggling” or “irregular entry” from our safe side of the border is only a necessary last resort for the seriously endangered.

But Bill C-49 completely ignores these escape realities. It orders mandatory imprisonment for refugees who are designated by the minister as being smuggled in a group.

From Mexico to Rwanda, deserving refugees flee for their lives to Canada without adequate documents, unable to legally establish their identities for a long period of time after their arrival.

This bill would imprison many of the —women, men and children —for at least a year because they arrived through irregular means. It would prevent them from working to earn a living while they are making a claim. And it would forbid them health care and the right to travel outside the country, including the US, should they need to— even for the most urgent family matter.

In the service of some truth about this issue there are, across the country, many Canadians who have personal knowledge of how the system works for real-life refugees. In groups and individually, they have
taken the time to read the fine print in C-49. Some of them came to Parliament Hill on Nov. 16 to make a concerted call for the bill’s defeat.

Of course, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney doesn’t see it their way. Defending his bill, he told Postmedia, “We always knew that certain special-interest groups and the immigration industry would be opposed to this. Quite frankly, that indicates to me that we’re on the right track.”

It’s hard to square the minister’s confident assertions and backhanded swipes with the facts.

The “interest groups and immigration industry” he’s talking about are largely volunteers from across Canada who are, in good part, members of faith-based organizations. They are Baptists and Jews, Mennonites, Muslims, United Church, Quakers, Anglicans and Catholics and other multi-faith groups.

What is it that makes it so easy for these people to see the flaws in C-49?

Maybe because they believe, as the Psalm says, “The Lord always keeps his promises… He protects the strangers who live in our land.”

The Lord may keep his promise to protect strangers but Canada won’t if C-49 becomes law.

These religious groups and the members of secular organizations like Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees share a common mission. Their sense of justice is deeply offended by the bill and they can’t believe that their country’s Parliament would even consider passing it.

But refugee issues—as important as they are in human terms— don’t rank high in public opinion. It will be left to those Canadians who know the score on this subject to motivate all three opposition parties to standup against this bill.

When Bill C-49 comes up for second reading, it will be worth noticing which MPs have taken the time to listen to these knowledgeable and compassionate Canadian voices.

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