Bishops recommend changes to refugee, migrant policies

By  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
  • November 30, 2006
OTTAWA - Politicians from several parties welcomed the recommendations Canadian archbishops presented to the House of Commons immigration committee, including the cancellation of the Safe Third Country Agreement, and the elimination of obstacles to family reunification.

Liberal immigration critic Raymonde Folco told Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ébacher and St. John's Archbishop Brendan O'Brien that while she agreed with the separation of church and state, the church should have more influence on state affairs. The church should be more vocal in the work it undertakes, not only concerning sanctuary, but also for its work in private refugee sponsorship and family reunification, she said.

Bloc Quebecois immigration critic Meili Faille also welcomed the archbishops' presentation, saying the issues are not garnering all the attention they deserve.

New Democratic Party immigration critic Bill Siksay thanked the archbishops for their "clarity of language" and said they had the "sympathy in most quarters around this table."

Ébacher and O'Brien made a joint presentation Nov. 28 on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) social affairs commission urging the Canadian government to cancel the Safe Third Country Agreement between the United States and Canada; to immediately implement a fair, transparent refugee appeal process for failed refugee claimants; to eliminate obstacles to family reunifications and reduce wait times for collective sponsorships; and to guard against a "generalized policy of detention."

Ébacher said two children from his diocese were deported to Rwanda with their father, who is now in detention in that country.

"Canada, as you know, has a moratorium on deportations to  Rwanda, for good reason," Ébacher said. "Nevertheless, one official in the department — not a judge, not a court of law — had the authority to order this family's removal without any possibility of appeal."

Ébacher said serious reform is "essential" to protect human dignity "over all other considerations."

He said bishops witnessed suffering every day in their dioceses through the failure to implement the appeals process; the inordinate delays and fees for family reunification; the impoverishment of agricultural workers, immigrants and refuges through lack of support services and recognition of foreign accreditation; the vulnerability of migrant women to economic exploitation and violence; and the "abomination" of human trafficking as "women and children are reduced to sex slaves."

"You have seen how measures that are intended to keep Canadians secure against terrorism in fact make nonsense of deep democratic values like respect for human rights, the rule of law and the intrinsic worth of each person," Ébacher said.

O'Brien said the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States has "left in the hands of a foreign government the determination of the final disposition of people that we deny refugee status."

"So when Canada shuts the door on people who might, but for the Safe Third, have bona fide refugee claims, we become complicit in a bureaucratized evil," O'Brien said.

Governments, in trying to safeguard national security, must not become preoccupied to the exclusion of human rights, he said.

Tory MP Ed Komarnicki pointed out that there are far more refugees in the world than most countries can absorb, but that Canada does a better job than most, as does the United States.  The Safe Third Country Agreement was designed to strengthen both countries' "comparatively good" refugee systems and to prevent abuses.

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