A woman is taken into custody by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer after arriving Feb.12 by taxi and walking across the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec last winter. More than 8,000 asylum seekers have crossed from the United States into Canada this year. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

Refugees a priority as Parliament resumes

By 
  • September 14, 2017

OTTAWA - After a surge of asylum seekers over the summer, Canada’s refugee policies will be the top concern for many faith-based groups when Parliament resumes Sept. 18.

But religious freedom, conscience rights for health care workers, anti-poverty strategies, palliative care and climate change also remain high on the agenda.

The Liberals face division in their own caucus on its handling of more than 8,000 asylum seekers who crossed the border illegally in recent months. While the flow has abated, concerns remain that U.S. President Trump’s policies towards 800,000 so-called Dreamers — people who came to the United as undocumented migrants as children — could spur yet another surge of border crossers.

The Liberals also face internal division over a new tax policy that could adversely affect doctors, entrepreneurs, farmers and contractors such as plumbers in the name of tax fairness.

REFUGEE POLICY

For Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ), a Christian social justice think tank, care for refugees is among their top priorities said CPJ executive director Joe Gunn.

“This is an area where what happens in the United States is really going to throw Canada for a loop,” Gunn said. He noted the U.S. bishops oppose sending tens of thousands of young people back to Mexico.

The Canadian government is even more worried about hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S., from countries like Honduras and El Salvador, whose temporary permits to remain in the country may come to an end. It was Trump’s decision to end a temporary permit for Haitians that prompted the surge of Haitian asylum seekers during the summer.

Gunn noted the Liberal government is sending emissaries to these communities to let them know, “No, Canada is not going to accept tens of thousands of people who are no longer able to stay in the United States.”

“Those kinds of very scary numbers really complicate the whole question for people wanting to work with refuges,” Gunn said. “Many of our parishes are looking for more families to sponsor.”

A government cap on private refugee sponsorships and having the system flooded with new arrivals could mean those waiting in refugee camps for years to come to Canada have to wait longer, Gunn said. “The pressure on how to respond to the situation in the United States can literally twist our system into knots.”

The illegal border crossers are exploiting a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that would otherwise not allow them to apply for refugee status in Canada because they were already in a safe country where they could apply.

CPJ, as well as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and other faith groups, are opposed to the Safe Third Country agreement. Gunn said every case needs to be judged individually. The Agreement encourages people to sneak across the border, which puts additional strain on the system, he said.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

For Cardus, a faith-based think tank based 2,000 years of Christian social thought, a top concern is Bill C-51, an omnibus bill to be introduced this fall intended to clean up various obsolete or redundant parts of the Criminal Code.

Andrew Bennett, director of Cardus Law and Canada’s former Ambassador of Religious Freedom, said he is concerned about the elimination of Sec. 176 that “prohibits obstructing a clergyman or minister form celebrating divine series or performing any other function in connection with this calling.”

The Criminal Code also contains a provision “that makes it a criminal offence to disrupt public worship and in so doing it acknowledges a key element of freedom of religion and conscience,” Bennett said.

“Is this just a bit of legislative dusting?” Bennett asked. “Is that the intent or is there something else behind it?”

The sections to be eliminated recognize religious worship as “uniquely privileged,” and something different from a Rotary Club meeting or a university lecture, Bennett said.

The proposed changes are “not necessarily malicious,” but perhaps come from “an increasing amnesia around the importance of religious faith and religious practice in our common life together,” he said.

Conscience rights for health care professionals remain a top priority for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Coalition for HealthCARE and Conscience, and the Catholic Women’s League.

The CWL adopted a national resolution at the August national convention requesting the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to make it a crime to coerce health care professionals to participate in or refer on procedures like euthanasia that violate their conscience and religious freedom.

ABORTION

The Canadian Catholic bishops have spoken up strongly against the Liberal government’s commitment of $650 million to fund abortion and contraception overseas.

For Campaign Life Coalition and REAL Women of Canada, overseas abortion funding will remain a top agenda item. REAL Women with the World Congress of Families has launched a petition asking Prime Minister Trudeau to redirect the abortion funding to “help address the real needs of the poor in Africa, like clean water and maternal health care.”

Campaign Life’s Johanne Brownrigg said they want to see the government return to the policies of the maternal and child health initiative launched by the Harper government that did not include funding abortion.

“The millions spent abroad supporting the health of mothers as well as the birth and lives of young children, was applauded throughout Africa,” Brownrigg said.

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