Libby speaks out against C-31


House of Commons


June 1, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I kind of wish I did not have to speak to Bill C-31 at report stage because it is a bill that we in the NDP very much oppose. We are very concerned about its passage through report stage and on to third reading.

Our colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, has worked so hard in committee. She tried valiantly to make amendments to the bill at committee to improve it.   

I will begin my remarks by reflecting on the history of the bill. It has an interesting history. There was an original bill which was amended to become Bill C-11, as a result of the Conservative government being in a minority Parliament. It was interesting that at that time there was some co-operation and collaboration to actually remove some of the worst aspects of the bill and to move forward with a bill that was more acceptable to members of Parliament. Of course, now there is a majority Conservative government and it is very disturbing to see that what the Conservatives did was rather than continue with former Bill C-11, they came back with a bill that is quite horrifying in terms of what it will do.

What I find disturbing is that when we hear the speeches from the government members, on the one hand they say that the bill is all about fairness and balance and that we are going to be treating refugees in a proper way and respecting international conventions and Canada’s history around refugees. Then on the other hand, everything that comes out of the Conservatives’ mouths is basically about abuse of the system.

It is the same kind of mantra we hear so much on the government’s legislation around law and order, the Criminal Code and criminal justice. It is always about focusing on what the Conservatives see as abuse and changing laws in massive widespread ways that have an impact on society as a whole. It is a very disturbing pattern that we have seen with the government. It is a tactic the Conservatives use to divide people.

There are fears about people coming to Canada. People have many fears, but when we see a government deliberately playing on those fears and exploiting people’s concerns, whether it is about immigration, refugees, or whatever it might be, it feels really bad. It feels like this is absolutely what we should not be doing. Our laws should be based on overall merit, objectivity and the public interest, rather than singling out abuse. We have seen that many times in the political environment. An example would be the attacks on people who are poor, who live on welfare. We call it poor-bashing, where laws are designed to basically scapegoat people on welfare when the rate of abuse is no more than for people in the financial sector who are involved in abuse. It becomes very much a class issue, a term which we do not use very often in the House. It becomes a way of singling people out, of targeting particular segments of our community by saying there are good people and bad people, there are criminals and there are victims, making that very simplistic division.

I wanted to begin that way because we see it so often in much of the legislation that is coming forward. Unfortunately, Bill C-31 is no different. It is a bill, like many other bills from the Conservative government that confers greater power and authority on the minister.

I am the health critic for the NDP. We have seen recent changes in the health field around the Food and Drugs Act that will do the same thing for the Minister of Health. It will confer much greater power in terms of decision-making away from expert advice, away from a broader notion of public interest. It becomes much more of a partisan, and I would say ideological, decision-making process. Bill C-31 which deals with our refugee system is no different and in fact is probably worse.

There are many reasons to oppose the bill. One is that it concentrates more power in the minister’s hands. For example, he would designate what are safe countries without any advice from independent experts.

Another major concern is it will restrict access to the humanitarian and compassionate consideration grounds for a refugee. This will be very problematic. It means that people will have to claim, at the beginning of the process, whether they will file for refugee status or humanitarian and compassionate grounds consideration. This will be a huge issue because people may not know at that point which avenue they will need to pursue. As it is now, people can go through the process and they can also file on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and know it is a due process on which they can rely.

The big concern is the arbitrary designation of so-called irregular arrivals and all that means, This raises huge alarm bells. I remember reading over the years what had occurred in places like Australia where it had mandatory detention and the kind of xenophobia and violent public discourse that took place as a result of that kind of government practice and legislation. Many of us feel this is something Canada now seems to be embarking upon. It is absolutely the wrong way to go.

I feel very concerned because when we have the minister making decisions without expert advice, those decisions can become very political and partisan. Yes, we are in politics, we all make political decisions, but when we deal with something as fundamental as a refugee process that is governed under international, UN and Geneva conventions, how we approach that is critical. Therefore, having the minister saying what is a safe country or saying that, for example, the European Union is not a safe country misses the complexity of our global environment.

I recently saw a film called Never Come Back, which is about the Roma in Canada. The film begins by speaking about Roma people who have settled in, particularly in the communities of Hamilton and Toronto. At the beginning, we think these are great contributors to the local society. There were people working in schools and long-term care facilities as cleaners and in pizza places and they had a soccer team. We wonder whether these people have been persecuted or are they refugees. Then the film takes us back to their home communities and we see the unbelievable persecution that the Roma had experienced, which was horrifying. It is something that is going on as neo-Nazism, xenophobia and violence against targeted minorities grow.

It is very alarming that the simplistic approach of the bill and the fact that it would give the minister so much power would possibly mean that many people who would be refugees legitimately fleeing persecution, hard-working Canadians who will make an enormous contribution to our society when they come here, would be cast aside for political reasons. We have been told that the bill is about getting at abuse. There is this heavy-handed approach at basically eliminating the possibility of many legitimate people from also coming through.

That is only a bit of what I wanted to say. However, it is another sad day that this legislation will go through. The bill has been resoundingly criticized by every major organization that deals with this issue. Even new groups, like the Canadian Doctors for Refugees in Canada, are so concerned about regulatory changes involving refugees and their health coverage. Because of that, they formed a new group and 50 of them visited the offices of elected members. We have not seen this before. I think it is because this kind of legislation will impact so many levels of our society that people who have not spoken out before are now saying they have to speak out.

We hope that possibly some of our amendments on report stage will be approved. I am skeptical about this, but nevertheless we will continue to speak out against this kind of legislation.