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NEWS: Harper government passes C-31 against refugees

Postmedia reports, “The (Harper) government has effectively used its majority to muscle (through) Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, which… cleared the House of Commons on Monday in a vote of 159 to 132, split along party lines.”

According to the news report, C-31 includes:
– the contentious elements that were omitted from the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in order to get it passed in the previous minority Parliament;
– the government’s human-smuggling bill tabled a year ago;
– the biometrics plan a Commons committee only started looking at around the time the bill was tabled in February;
– a provision that the minister alone will be able to create a ‘safe’ list of democratic countries that are unlikely to produce refugees (claimants from those countries will have their applications fast-tracked, they’ll have no right to appeal to the new Refugee Appeal Division, nor will they be able to apply to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds while their refugee claim is pending);
– tougher penalties for ‘irregular arrivals’ who arrive en masse by boat or plane, they now face immediate incarceration and even those deemed legitimate will be barred from seeking permanent residency or sponsoring a loved one for five years.

“Last month, the government did concede to some of the toughest criticisms by amending the bill to ensure illegal arrivals receive a review within 14 days and again in six months rather than being subject to detention for a year without any review. The government also agreed to clarify that smuggled migrants who are deemed legitimate would not face prolonged detention and that refugees would not have their permanent resident status revoked if the situation were to improve years later in their country of origin, as the bill had initially suggested.”

The Liberals and NDP voted against C-31. NDP immigration critic Jinny Simms says, “This is really about punishing the most vulnerable citizens when they arrive here, putting their lives at risk and when they get here, we’re going to throw them in prison.”

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew has pointed to a critique of C-31 by the Canadian Council of Refugees in a recent blog and highlights, “Harper is in a rush to pass C-31 so he can drop visas for ‘legitimate’ Czech, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Romanian travellers while detaining, quickly processing and deporting Roma back to their ‘safe’ countries in Europe, ignoring damning reports from Hungary and other countries contained in the Council of Europe report. Harper, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Trade Minister Ed Fast undoubtedly want to drop their visa requirements for eastern European countries to pave the way for CETA.” His blog is at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=15277.

To read more about how the Roma visa issue has been an obstacle to concluding the CETA talks, go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=14505 and http://canadians.org/blog/?p=4998. To read about Jam Szamko, the Roma refugee who died in deportation custody in a Toronto jail, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6216.

To read a No One Is Illegal action alert against C-31, go to http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/node/673.