By Senator Mobina Jaffer : On June 20th, as the international community commemorated World Refugee Day, I sat in the Senate chamber and participated in the debate around Bill C-31: Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act. As I prepared to lead the debate as the critic of this controversial bill I reflected upon the challenges many of my brothers and sisters in Africa, who are living in war torn nations, are routinely confronted with. As a woman who once sought refuge in Canada I am well aware of the fear and desperation that consumes individuals living in conflict-ridden countries and I sympathize with their need to protect themselves and, perhaps more importantly, their children. My understanding of what compels individuals to leave the only homes they have ever known and seek refuge in countries like Canada that offer protection and a world of opportunity motivated me to strongly oppose this bill.
Although there were many problems with Bill C-31 as it was not only unconstitutional but also in contradiction with Canada’s international obligations, my most pressing concern was with the impact this bill would have on children.
Unfortunately, the fate of Bill C-31 has now been sealed as it has successfully made its way through both the House of Commons and the Senate and has therefore become law. With the passage of this bill, several principles, which have defined us as Canadians for decades, have now been compromised. Principles of justice, compassion, and tolerance that are all integral components of the Canadian identity have been overlooked and our world’s most vulnerable populations will now be left to pay the price.
Not only does Bill C-31 create two-tiered refugee system, one that does not provide all refugee claimants with a fair hearing based on the facts of the individual cases and one that discriminates against refugees based on their country of origin it also treats refugees as criminals rather than victims by placing them in mandatory detention centers.
Bill C-31 also gives the minister the power to impose penalties on designated foreign nationals who arrive as a group, such as mandatory unreviewable detention for six months, which would place 16- and 17-year-old children in jail-like detention centers. In addition, there will be a five year prohibition on applying for permanent resident status, even if a person has succeeded in becoming a
convention refugee, leaving them with no possibility of reuniting with family for at least five years.
For instance, under this bill, if a 16-year-old girl from Somalia arrives on our shores we will first detain her for up to 6 months, placing her in a jail-like detention center. If we later confirm that this girl is a genuine refugee who is desperately fleeing violence and torture, we will force her to wait for five years before she can apply to be a permanent resident. In addition we will also force her to wait five years before she can be reunited with her family and loved ones.
Should this girl be pregnant at the time of her arrival we will also
deny her of natal care and other basic health care. I am sure you will agree that this is certainly not a system that we as Canadians can be proud of.
Although I agree that we as Canadians have an obligation to preserve the justness and integrity of our immigration system, we must ensure that we do this while staying true to principles of acceptance, tolerance, compassion and fairness; principles that make us all proud to say we are Canadian. The passage of Bill C-31 marks a very sad in our country’s history, tarnishing an immigration and refugee system that we could all once be proud of.