Smuggling bill under fire as Parliament resumes

  • September 22, 2011

OTTAWA - The federal Conservatives’ anti-human smuggling Bill C-4 came under attack as Parliament resumed Sept. 19 following its summer break.

Opposition parties are trying to block the latest version of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s bill that had drawn criticism last November from Canada’s Catholic bishops. They will have a hard time however, considering the Conservative majority in Parliament.

Bill C-4 was the first item debated by MPs upon their return Sept. 19. The bill aims to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, placing restrictions on any group of refugee claimants who arrive in “irregular” circumstances. Kenney said the bill is aimed at smuggling syndicates, like those that brought two large shiploads of illegal migrants to Canada in the last two years.

The bill faced an amendment from Quebec Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia to “decline to give second reading” to the bill because it “fails to achieve its stated principle of cracking down on human smugglers and instead targets legitimate refugees.” The amendment also called the bill’s ministerial discretion “overly broad” and “presents an imprisonment scheme that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Kenney countered that the bill does indeed target smugglers over legitimate refugees.“Every year thousands of people around the world die in illegal smuggling operations organized by human smugglers,” Kenney told the House. “These people are not humanitarians. They do not assist people to become bona fide refugees and protect them from persecution. They are profiteers.”

Kenney stressed that Canadians get upset at large-scale smuggling operations violating “their sense of fairness.”

B.C. NDP MP Don Davies told the House Bill C-4 is “directed almost solely at refugee claimants  who arrive in Canada utilizing whatever means at their disposal” and that its notion of refugee queue-jumping is “nonsense.”

Debate from the Opposition benches echoed concerns raised by Canada’s Catholic bishops after a similar bill was introduced last October.

Archbishop Brendan O’Brien, chair of the bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, wrote Kenney to raise concerns about Bill C-49, which failed to pass before last May’s federal election.

“Although nations have a legitimate right to counter human smugglers because of grave abuses, notably human trafficking, they also have a duty to take measures that respect the rights of refugees,” O’Brien wrote in his Nov. 25 letter.

Bill C-4 faces more debate before a vote on second reading that will send it to committee.

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