Seems times are tough all over. The US just passed in the House a bill that effectively repeals the 4th Amendment, and as usual any time some really terrible bit of freedom-abrogating law is passed in the States, people are talking about moving to Canada. However, I’m really hoping they’re just joking, because they’re going to find that increasingly difficult. See, the laughably named “Protect Canada’s Immigration System Act”, bill C-31, is probably going to pass due to the steamroller government in power at the moment.
This bill is laughably named because its entire purpose is protect Canada from refugee immigrants by putting them in jail for a year without review, preventing them from seeing their families for five years thereafter, and leaving their immigration status in question, all at the sole discretion of the Minister of Public Safety (presently, Vic Toews).
But certain countries can apparently be deemed safe, and their refugees or migrants will be fast-tracked. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work — if they’re refugees, obviously the countries aren’t “safe”. I’m guessing it’s intended as a way to grant special status to certain countries for political purposes.
A group of primary care physicians oppose this bill on medical grounds, recognizing that refugees often have significant health problems that go untreated owing to their refugee status.
Take, for example, the case of Ms. J. who could be a patient in any one of our practices. She arrived in Canada on an overcrowded boat with her children, having escaped a war-torn nation where she witnessed the traumatic death of her politically active husband.
She is a poorly controlled diabetic, has flashbacks of her experiences, has difficulty sleeping, and has recently developed suicidal thoughts. Instead of allowing Ms. J. to go through a fair refugee claims process that might allow her protection, Kenney would rather put her in prison for up to a year, separate her from her children, keep her from reuniting with the rest of her family for five years and, even if accepted as a refugee, keep her immigration status in Canada uncertain.
At best, these policies are misguided and driven by ideology. At worst, they are intentionally cruel and inhumane.
A coalition comprised of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, Amnesty International, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the Canadian Council for Refugees, collectively known as the Justice for Refugees and Immigrants Coalition (JRIC), also strongly oppose this bill. Their grounds for opposition include the extraordinarily hasty timelines for filling the paperwork to prove immigrants’ claims, which would in many cases preclude the ability to seek legal advice; the lack of an independent advisory body for determining which countries are “safe” which could lead to cynical manipulation of the system for irrelevant concerns like politics or trade; and the specious grounds on which the proposed law is based (e.g. the “bogus claims” canard calling any refused claim fraudulent rather than simply insufficient). Most damningly, this coalition opposes the fact that any of the thousands of presently landed immigrants could have their immigration status called into question and find themselves subjected to this process — including the jail time, separation time, etc — at any time up until they obtain full citizenship.
Bill C-31 permits the Minister to seek to revoke an individual’s refugee status anytime up until they gain citizenship, which will in turn result in the automatic rescission of permanent resident status and removal from Canada.
Bill C-31 undermines our commitment to resettle refugees and provide them with the security of permanent residence. Even if they are a permanent resident, the Minister can apply at any time for a finding that a refugee is no longer at risk in his or her former country. If the Minister is successful, the refugee will automatically lose both refugee status and permanent residence and will be immediately deportable from Canada. This provision will apply equally to those who made claims in Canada and those who were resettled here by the government or by private sponsorship groups like churches or cultural associations.
Someone who came to Canada under a refugee resettlement program over a decade ago and who has spent years building a life and family in this country could be stripped of his or her status and deported with no right of appeal.
The authority of the Minister to seek revocation is unconstrained by any stipulated criteria. Regardless of how often the Minister exercises this power, the threat of refugee status revocation and expulsion will hang over the heads of all refugees who have permanent residence but do not yet have citizenship. They will be denied the security that Canada has traditionally afforded refugees. This is inconsistent with Canada’s international legal obligations.
This status-stripping provision reverses a fundamental objective of Canada’s long-standing refugee policy to promptly integrate refugees in order to get on with lives and to fully contribute to Canadian society.
To me, while every provision of this law is detrimental to the very fabric of Canada, this last objection is the most painful. People who have immigrated, who have contributed to Canadian society both materially in taxes and by the sweat of their brow, would chance get thrown out because they aren’t yet citizens. This is as close to “papers, please” as I think this country could get without becoming the sort of place where one might need to seek refugee status in another country.
If we can’t provide safe harbor for people from war-torn countries even after a decade of them rebuilding their lives here, what kind of country are we?