Tories’ tough talk on immigration ‘destructive for our society,’ critics say

Posted by admin on Jan 19th, 2011

By Douglas Quan, Postmedia News, January 19, 2011

VANCOUVER — Refugee advocates say they are becoming increasingly concerned with what they describe as the Harper government’s negative tone and rhetoric when talking about changes to the immigration system.

“When governments talk loudly and repeatedly about immigration and refugees in a negative way, it has an impact in the Canadian public,” said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“They may feel like they’re winning points electorally, but it is very destructive for our society.”

Dench was responding to a news conference held Wednesday in Vancouver by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to drum up support for an anti-human-smuggling bill that has been roundly criticized by the opposition.

Introduced last fall, bill C-49 aims to toughen jail terms and fines for those found guilty of human smuggling. The legislation also seeks to deter migrants from using human smugglers by allowing authorities to detain them for as long as a year and barring them from permanent-residence status for five years.

Refugee advocates say the government’s proposed legislation could end up hurting genuine asylum-seekers and tarnish Canada’s reputation as a country that welcomes immigrants.

Opposition parties have vowed to vote it down.

But Toews said Wednesday the legislation is “fair, reasonable and tough.”

“We see that Canada is a target for increasingly sophisticated global human-smuggling networks, and further action is needed now,” he said.

Toews said international smuggling networks are adapting to pressure from law-enforcement authorities and finding new ports and locations from which to launch their smuggling operations — he would not say where.

Wednesday’s news conference came on the heels of reports from the Ottawa Citizen this week that two more boatloads of Tamil migrants could soon be on their way to Canada from Southeast Asia.

Toews did not offer any information about what the government knows.

However, an email sent from his staff to various community groups serving immigrants this week cites the government’s concerns: “The government is becoming increasingly concerned that as spring and improved sailing conditions approach, several human-smuggling syndicates are preparing to dangerously launch shiploads of migrants who wish to bypass Canada’s immigration and refugee system,” Michael Patton, a spokesman for Toews, wrote in the email.

The Harper government has repeatedly asserted that human-smuggling operations undermine Canada’s security and that the practice is dangerous and exploitative. It has also repeatedly characterized those who pay human-smugglers for passage to Canada as “queue jumpers” who don’t play by the rules.

But Dench said the term is “false and misleading.”

Toews referred Wednesday to polling that shows Canadians’ attitudes toward the immigration system have been “hardening.”

Asked whether the government’s rhetoric over the past several months could have contributed to those changing attitudes, Toews said it has not.

He said there is evidence, for instance, of “significant influence” by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, in last August’s arrival of 492 Sri Lankan migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea.

The Tamil Tigers were defeated in 2009 after waging a three-decade-long civil war for independence in Sri Lanka and its members have been banned from Canada since 2006.

An Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman said Wednesday that of the 492 migrants aboard the Sun Sea, 14 have so far been deemed inadmissible by the Canada Border Services Agency because of possible connections to the Tamil Tigers. Admissibility hearings for those individuals are still pending.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Comments are closed.