By Rupinder Kaur
The federal New Democratic Party recognizes the need to modernize and streamline our refugee system in Canada. That is why we worked with the government in 2010 to develop what became the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Unfortunately, Bill C-31 repeals the sensible aspects of that bill.
C-31 is a major step backwards for refugee protection in Canada. It is an omnibus bill that repeals the positive amendments that were made to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (2010), concentrates too much power in the hands of the Minister of Immigration, and imposes unfair and , indeed, illegal conditions on refugees to Canada.
The Minister of Immigration will have the power to designate certain countries as “safe” and arrivals of refugees as “irregular.” Once these designations are made, refugees will be subject to several extraordinary conditions.
Refugee claimants from designated “safe” countries will face accelerated timelines for making their claim and restricted access to the Refugee Appeal Division. We share the concerns of many legal experts who warn that the accelerated timelines will not allow people to adequately prepare their case, which may lead to negative decisions.
Refugee claimants who arrive by what the Minister deems to be “irregular” means will face detention for one year. Even people who are found to be legitimate refugees will not be able to apply for permanent residency or be reunited with family for 5 years.
Canada has a long history of offering protection to people in need. Our communities are enriched by the experiences and contributions of those who have come to Canada in search of safety and freedom. The Government of Canada should be celebrating this history and strengthening our asylum system. Instead, they are creating unfounded fear of refugees and punishing the very people who need our help.
After months of pressure from New Democrats, stakeholder groups and refugees themselves, the Minister finally admitted that there were major flaws in his legislation and made some modest amendments. But let me be clear: they did not go far enough to win the NDP’s support for a Bill that is so fundamentally flawed and mean-spirited.
The NDP voted against C-31 at every stage and will continue to fight for a balanced refugee system that is both fast and fair.
Rupinder Kaur is press secretary to New Democratic Party of Canada.