Archbishop Brendan O’BrienCanada’s Catholic Bishops have added their voices to an array of advocacy groups opposed to legislation aimed at preventing human smuggling.
They argue that Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, could hurt bona fide refugees.
“Although nations have a legitimate right to counter human smugglers because of grave abuses, notably human trafficking, they also have a duty to take measures that respect the rights of refugees,” wrote the chairman of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) justice and peace commission chair Archbishop Brendan O’Brien in a November 25 letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The letter raised concerns that many of Bill C-49’s clauses “may contravene international law and Canadian law, and penalize the refugees more than the smugglers.”
O’Brien reiterated a portion from a pastoral letter on immigration and refugees released in January 2006 that said, “it is a fundamental inversion of values, according to Catholic teaching, when laws and policies place national interests and security before human dignity.”
When Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced the bill October 21 in Vancouver, the backdrop was the Ocean Lady, a ship that brought 79 Tamil asylum seekers to Canada in 2009. Human smuggling came to the fore, however, last August when the MV Sun Sea brought 492 smuggled Tamils to Canada after three grueling months at sea.
The legislation would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers by imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences and holding ship owners accountable. The bill would also allow the “mandatory detention of illegal migrants for up to one year to allow for the determination of identity, inadmissibility and illegal activity,” according to an October 21 news release.
The bill is designed to deter people from paying human smugglers to gain entry into Canada, the release said. The legislation would allow “illegal migrants” who successfully obtain refugee status to be re-assessed in five years.
“This legislation risks creating serious obstacles to sponsorship and family reunification,” O’Brien’s letter said. “Furthermore, it authorizes the detention of refugees for long periods and restricts the right of appeal, which would be contrary to sections 31(2) and 32 (1) (2) of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees signed by Canada.”
Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller raised similar concerns in an open letter posted on his archdiocesan website.
Continue article >>
He said the legislation “appears to be losing sight of who the criminals are, and who the victims are.”
“Recent incidents are evidence that Ottawa must put in place appropriate laws to deter and punish smugglers of people,” Miller said. “The buying, selling, exchanging and transportation of human beings as commodities offends against the very dignity and fundamental rights of the person.”
“Unfortunately, most of the proposed bill actually pertains to the individuals who arrive without authorization,” he said. “The bill is blatantly punitive toward refugee claimants both before and after immigration officials have had the opportunity to identity them and establish their backgrounds.”
The bishops’ concerns echo those raised by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture and Amnesty International. Many of these groups have charged the legislation creates two classes of refugee.
One new immigration think tank, however, has criticized the bill for not going far enough. The Centre for Immigration Policy Reform (CIPR) said in an October 25 statement the bill was an “improvement” but may “prove ineffective in dealing with the majority of problematic asylum seekers, including those arriving by air.”
Former Ambassador and former Director General of the Canadian Immigration James Bissett, who is on CIPR’s advisory board, wrote in an Ottawa Citizen op ed October 27 that Canada’s “dysfunctional asylum system” is costing taxpayers $2-3 billion a year. “This is an outrageous expenditure considering 60 per cent of the claimants are found to be bogus.”
The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) has a backlog of 60,000 claimants, he said. Even those whose claims are rejected are seldom asked to leave the country.
Bissett said Canada only contributes $40-45 million to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for the care of 43.3 million refugees living in camps around the world. At a news conference in Ottawa last October, Bissett suggested churches do more to seek sponsorship of refugees living in camps in various places around the world.
“Many of the smuggled asylum seekers already have relatives in Canada,” Bissett said. “They don’t want to wait their turn in line or bother to go through the medical, criminal and security checks applicable to those waiting in the backlog.”
“Many of them — uncles, aunts, nephew, and nieces — are not eligible to be sponsored so they pay to be smuggled into Canada.”
“This is why smuggling has become big business. The smugglers can give an iron-clad guarantee to the person being smuggled that once on Canadian soil there is little chance of being removed even if their refugee claim is refused.”
Courtesy of Canadian Catholic News. Please do not reprint without permission.