Austerity budget, free trade, crime bill: Conservatives eye sweeping changes with 2012 legislation
3. Bill C-4: Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Status: Bill C-4 is in its second reading before the House of Commons.
After 500 Tamils arrived on the shores of B.C. in the MV Sun Sea in 2010 – having fled a brutal civil war in Sri Lanka – the Conservative government ratcheted up their rhetoric around human smuggling and “queue-jumping” illegals.
It's been in the works for several years and through several Parliaments – but now the Conservatives have an unstoppable majority, they are sure to pass their immigration bill. Immigration, like crime, is one of the party's bread-and-butter issues and has particular appeal to their voter base.
Bill C-4 is ostensibly designed to target human traffickers – profiteering smugglers who capitalize off dangerously transporting human cargo.
But critics point to provisions in the law which impose indefinite detention for migrants arriving on Canada's shores, a policy torn from Australia's playbook. In the latter country, the government was forced to relocate its refugee detention centres outside its constitutional jurisdiction to the sovereign island nation of Nauru – where migrants protested by sewing their mouths shut behind barb-wire fences. Australia has more recently seen migrant detention protests on its own Christmas Island facility, which got worldwide attention.
Here's some of what's in the bill:
- Section 20: The Minister of Immigration may deem a migrant “irregular” if he or she is of the opinion that their arrival is profiting a criminal organization or terrorist group, or if the minister believes identifying the migrants or other investigations would take too long. The wording of the minister's “opinion” and “reasonable grounds to suspect” are particularly troubling to critics.
- Section 55: Once deemed “irregular,” immigration officers may arrest and detain the foreign national without warrant.
- Section 57: “Irregular” foreign nationals – unless they successfully qualify for refugee protection or are ordered released by the Minister of Immigration – are to be imprisoned indefinitely. The bill mandates an Immigration Division review of their detention no earlier than one year after their detention, and every six months afterwards.
Migrant justice organization No One Is Illegal (NOII) has slammed the bill for its detention clauses, and argues that outlawing human smuggling ignores the reasons migrants choose to pay for transport to safer countries.
“Many refugees have no choice but to use irregular means, including resorting to smugglers, to flee persecution,” NOII wrote in a statement. “Under the banner of combating human smuggling and deterring the arrival of boats such as the MV Sun Sea, this is a bill that blatantly criminalizes refugees and targets them for imprisonment and/or deportation.
“By today’s standards, Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad would have been considered a human smuggling operation.”
But immigration minister Jason Kenney responded with a National Post editorial, saying that critics have taken the bill out of context.
“Unfortunately, this bill has been widely misunderstood and even misrepresented by special interest groups, and by the opposition,” he wrote. “Taken out of context, 'detention' may sound harsh for the legitimate refugees who may be among the illegal arrivals.
“But we believe that humane and temporary detention, which will last up to a year or until a refugee’s claim can be verified, is the only reasonable and responsible approach to the broader problem of human smuggling... It also means the violent criminals and terrorists we know will be among the same group of arrivals will not be released into Canadian communities.”
However, The Vancouver Observer was unable to find minister Kenney's alleged one-year maximum detention clause in Bill C-4. In fact, Section 57's stipulations of 6-month reviews after the expiry of one year in detention suggest indefinite detention for asylum-seekers – as practiced in Australia – may, in fact, be on the books.