Yesterday, Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, became law. The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is concerned about the new law’s grave consequences for the protection of refugee rights in Canada.
“Our fears that this legislation, creating a two-tier system of refugee protection in Canada, would be adopted have now been realized,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President. “Our refugee system needs to ensure a full, fair and independent decision process to decide who is a refugee, based on the facts of their case and regardless of their countries of origin. The new system is vulnerable to political considerations, while the rhetoric about ‘bogus refugees’ in public pronouncements about the bill has been shameful.”
Since Bill C-31 was introduced on February 16, 2012, legal experts and organizations working with refugees from across the country have expressed grave concerns about the proposed changes. These include: tight timelines without adequate time to prepare for the steps in the process; provision for ‘Designated Countries of Origin’; mandatory detention without sufficient independent review for ‘Irregular Arrivals’; and denial of an effective appeal.
“The government’s new law emphasizes speed and categorizations over fairness and individual protection,” said Ms. Yamamoto. “Despite the amendments adopted by Parliament, our concerns about the law’s compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s obligations under international law are as serious as ever.”
“Despite the amendments adopted by Parliament, our concerns about the law’s compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s obligations under international law are as serious as ever.”
Bill C-31, also known as the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, was introduced in parliament on February 16, 2012. It received royal assent on June 28, 2012. Many elements of the bill have raised serious concerns among those who work with refugees and legal experts.
• Tight Timelines for preparation of refugee hearings and for processing refugee claims. While it is important to ensure a timely hearing, sufficient time to adequately prepare for a process that renders life or death decisions is critical. Refugees who have experienced serious trauma such as war, torture or sexual assault will be particularly vulnerable under the new system. Women making gender-based claims and those making claims on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity need time to build trust before they can tell their stories. Refugees who cannot have relevant documentation sent to Canada quickly enough to satisfy the new timelines will suffer from not having support for their claims.
• ‘Designated Countries of Origin’, to be identified at the minister’s discretion, will push people from those countries through the system more quickly than others. In many countries that seem peaceful and ‘safe’, particular minority groups face serious problems of persecution, discrimination and violence, often with the participation of state officials. The elimination of proposed expert oversight mechanism for designating countries, previously accepted by the government, renders Canada’s system of independent decision-making for refugees vulnerable to political, trade, military, diplomatic and other considerations.
• ‘Irregular Arrivals’ (groups of 2 or more identified at the government’s discretion) will face mandatory detention under the new law. While an amendment will provide for review of detention within 14 days and then after 6 months – instead of after one year as originally proposed – legal experts are still concerned that this will not meet the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Children will still be detained under the new law despite the fact that detention is not “mandatory” for those 16 and under. Families will face a draconian choice: keep the family together in detention or send their children into foster care.
• Barriers to Appeal: The implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division is an important development in Canada’s refugee system, but an appeal will be inaccessible to ‘Irregular Arrivals’ and to refugees from ‘Designated Countries of Origin’. This means that mistakes will go uncorrected, risking the lives of refugees. Irregular Arrivals will not have access to the Refugee Appeal Division, whatever the situation in their country of origin, while refugee claims by people from Designated Countries of Origin are often more complex, making them more vulnerable to mistakes and increasing the need for an effective appeal.
The CCR has maintained that “Bill C-31 must be withdrawn and replaced with legislation which is fair, affordable, and independent, and which complies with the Charter and Canada’s international obligations.”
- By The Canadian Council for Refugees
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