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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Refugee health - Canada's effort to compromise basic human rights

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The Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act. Is probably not a piece of legislation that most Canadians have heard about.  It has been touted by the Minister of Public Safety as an effort by the government to stop repeats of the boat refugees that arrived on Vancouver Island in 2010.   The act is known as C-4, can be found at Bill C-4 as of October 2010 .  As of October 27th it remains in second reading and its progress could falter or proceed.  The Bill challenges our fundamental values as Canadians and members of the global community.
Despite the rhetoric of right wing Republicans south of the border, most economists and social scientists would acknowledge the value of freer movement of goods and people across borders. Our tolerance for freer movement is challenged when the established rules are challenged by innovative means. Using ships to move large numbers of potential refugees is an example. Refugees are usually defined in accordance with the Geneva Convention of 1951 as
 owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country
The definition does not include economic reasons. Recently the movement of persons not using immigration processes has sometimes been driven by economic threat or the hope of economic prosperity. 
Bill C-4 however is relegating such economic refugees, some of whom may have other well-founded fears of persecution in their country of emigration, to a status of human condition that would not be acceptable.  The Bill permits the suspension of the legal protections afforded refugees arriving by more traditional modes of conveyance.  Foremost is the ability to detain such individuals for up to 12 months without legal counsel – and that period of detention can be extended indefinitely only subjected to an administrative review every 6 months. 
The intent of the legislation, as this government has stated with other legislation, is to provide teeth to address the criminal intent nature, not the partial victims of human smuggling.  However, the intent has been lost in the legalization of the terms of the Bill.  The Bill is as applicable to children as to adults, and would be a direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  See the commentary on the Canadian Pediatric Society publication on this matter Table of contents for Pediatrics and child Health, scroll to commentary piece New Canadians are major contributors to the social fabric of our country and their contributions within a single generation have substantive added value to our social and economic wellbeing.   While mass “smuggling” may be a newer modality for entry into the country, the knee jerk reaction of erecting barriers to new settlers of this land seems short sighted and ill-perceived. Detention is a threat to individual health .   Imagine what would have occurred if the original Aboriginal inhabitants of our country had placed such bureaucratic and unfriendly barriers to the arrival of “boat people” arriving from Europe.

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