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Monday, 7 May 2012

Bill C-31: Refugees to be treated worse than prisoners

In August 2010, a refugee ship landed on the West Coast with just under 500 persons claiming refugee status, a mere fraction of the 20,000 or so claims each year in Canada.  That ship has started a series of events that has resulted in unmasking an embarrassing face of Canada to the world.  Bill C-31 will treat some refugees with less value than any criminal and apparently less than international conventions for human rights let alone what Canadians have defined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as minimum expectations. 

Even more disappointing, is that policy compromises achieved under the previous minority government have been thrown out by the new majority government in total disrespect of previous decisions and over the objections of innumerable public policy organizations.   Legal experts have declared that Bill C-31 violates international human rights obligations, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Health experts have stated that the bill will cause psychological harm and suffering to highly vulnerable people who have already experienced repeated trauma.

The key points to ponder. 
1.    Refugee claimants arriving as a group can, on designation by the Minister, be incarcerated in high-security prisons for one year without review. Children aged 16 or more will be imprisoned as if they were adults.
2.    Children under 16 will either be separated from their parents and handed over to child protection agencies, or unofficially detained with their parents.
3.    There will be no access to early release, even for the most vulnerable individuals, such as pregnant women, torture survivors, or people who are mentally or physically ill.
4.    Designated claimants who are recognized as refugees will be barred from obtaining permanent residency for 5 years, and will therefore not be allowed to reunite with their families.
5.    Many refugee claimants will be deprived of the right to appeal decisions rejecting their claim for refugee status.
6.    The government will have the power to strip refugees of their status and deport them from Canada, even after they have lived here for years and become permanent residents, simply because conditions have improved in their home country so that they are no longer at risk of persecution.
7.    The Minister will have the authority to designate certain countries as ‘safe’ and not take into account that marginalized groups may be subject to violence without meaningful access to state protection even in countries that are safe for most of their citizens.
8.   Certain refugees will be denied access to health care, for even the basic of needs unless it puts the public at risk http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1168118--ottawa-to-cut-health-care-for-some-refugees  

In particular, child detention awaiting refugee status has already been shown in Australia and England to be associated with sleep disturbances, separation anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, self-harm and various development delays.  These might be expected in war related refugees marshalled into camps, but not in developed civilized countries. A general systematic review of mental health impacts on adult and children detained as refugees is available at http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/194/4/306.full.pdf+html 

Canadians who are dismayed with such regressive, totalitarian and damaging approaches to welcoming potential New Canadians have only a few days to express their displeasure to Immigration Minister Kinney and the Public Safety Minister Toews.  Bill C-31 was through second reading on April 23 and currently referred to committee.  Follow the bill at http://www.parl.gc.ca/LegisInfo/BillDetails.aspx?billId=5383493&Mode=1&View=7&Language=E  

Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca<mailto:jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca

Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety vic.toews@parl.gc.ca<mailto:vic.toews@parl.gc.ca

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