Statement made on 28 June 2010 by Senator Mobina Jaffer
Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer:
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on Bill C-11, which was passed by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, chaired by Senator Eggleton, last Wednesday.
The committee heard from various witnesses, including Minister Kenney, alongside his officials. I once again commend Minister Kenney and the opposition critic, the Honourable Maurizio Bevilacqua, for their efforts.
Lorne Waldman, a well-respected lawyer in refugee law and one of the witnesses from whom the committee heard, stated:
I have to say that I find myself in a strange position. Usually when I come to speak before parliamentary committees, I am here to urge the committees to make amendments to the legislation.
. . . due to the parliamentary process and the successful negotiation amongst all of the political parties, what is now before you in the Senate, which I think is a compromise, I am urging the Senate to pass this without amendment. It is the first time I can say this. I have appeared before parliamentary committees since 1976. . . .
The bill is not perfect. . . . However, on balance, I think it is a compromise.
Honourable senators, Canada has long strived to protect the rights and freedoms of those people who are the most vulnerable in this world, such as refugees. Mr. Hy Shelow, Senior Protection Officer from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, put into context for the committee how important it was for us to seriously consider Bill C-11. He said:
In view of the nature of risks involved and the grave consequences of an erroneous determination, it is essential that asylum seekers be afforded full procedural safeguards and guarantees at all stages of refugee status procedures. The necessity to provide fair and efficient refugee status determination procedures in the context of the individual asylum systems stems from the right to seek and enjoy asylum as guaranteed under article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. . . .
Bill C-11 is an attempt to improve our refugee system. The Senate Social Affairs Committee recommends that we pass this bill. I agree.
Honourable senators, there are some issues I wish to raise today to ensure that we continue to monitor the effectiveness of this bill, as we said in the observations, when this bill comes up for review.
The first issue is the humanitarian and compassionate application.
Currently, before removal, refused claimants have an opportunity to present new evidence of risk. Under Bill C-11, there is no mechanism to deal with individual changes to circumstances for 12 months after the claimant has been refused an appeal — for example, if a claimant, while in Canada, discovers that several members of her family have been arrested as political dissidents and that she, too, will face the same risk of imprisonment if she is removed from our country.
Bill C-11 does contain an exception where the minister exempts from the 12-month rule nationals of a specific country or a class of nationals. This could occur where the circumstances of the country have changed, such as when a coup d'état has taken place. However, Bill C-11 does not accommodate individuals whose circumstances may have changed throughout the duration of the 12-month period, such as in the example I described previously. Under this bill, the minister cannot exempt an individual from the 12-month ban.
The only recourse provided in the law would seem to be a humanitarian and compassionate application. Unfortunately, such an application will not be appropriate because Bill C-11 specifically states that factors related to the refugee definition may not be considered in the application. However, I wish to point out that hardships can be considered. Under the new law, a woman who can present new evidence that she is a refugee would not be able to do so as part of the humanitarian and compassionate application.
Janet Dench, Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, appeared at the committee alongside Elizabeth McWeeny, past president. The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees. Ms. Dench expressed concerns regarding the humanitarian and compassionate application. She said:
There is the option of making an application for humanitarian and compassionate; however, there is no stay of removal in the meantime, and the bill has also specifically said that humanitarian and compassionate decision makers should not consider section 96 or 97 factors, which are the refugee definition and the other risks if you are returned.
I understand you need to show further hardship and not refer to the original claim.
Ms. Jennifer Irish, Director of the Asylum Policy Program Development, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, clarified this. She said:
The rationale for separating risk considerations from the H and C is to make clear that there are two different streams. The refugee system will continue to be dedicated to assessing risk, which, in Canada, is embodied in sections 96 and 97 of the IRPA.
The second issue is the designated countries of origin list. Bill C-11 proposes a designated countries of origin list. The aim of this provision is to designate a list of countries whose application numbers are significant at 1 per cent of overall claims and whose rejection rate is greater than 85 per cent. Under the revised bill, individuals who come from countries on this list will have shorter timelines to become a refugee.
While this idea contains some useful steps, I wish to remind all honourable senators that this list should be mindful of gender-related claims and ensure that these claims are not fast-tracked. Women require special care due to their excessive hardships and this fact should be respected in all the necessary steps in becoming a refugee. I was pleased to hear from Minister Kenney that special consideration would be given to vulnerable claimants. Ms. Janet Dench set out clearly to the committee when she said:
We are particularly concerned about the potential impacts on women, lesbian, gays, bisexual and transgender and transsexual persons, children and members of racial and ethnic minorities. These are all groups whose fundamental rights are most likely to be at risk in countries that otherwise may seem to be reasonably safe.
The third issue is gender guidelines. Honourable senators, any person who believes that they need to seek refuge can apply for refugee status. However, female refugee claimants have certain needs that differ from those of men. This is due to the different cultural and traditional roles that men and women play. For example, in many cultures, women are seen as the caretakers. Women are usually the victims of sexual abuse. Therefore, certain special precautions must be taken into consideration when speaking about their delicate situation.
Much of this is contained in our own document called "Gender Guidelines." These guidelines ensure that gender-related claims are taken into consideration.
They illustrate a number of key issues, including the grounds for which an application may be accepted as a gender-related claim and the special treatment of women in our refugee system. I encourage all departments to follow the rules and regulations found within these guidelines.
The fourth issue is the Refugee Appeal Division. I commend the minister for introducing the Refugee Appeal Division. At this time, I know we will want to thank Senator Goldstein, who worked hard in this chamber to implement the Refugee Appeal Division. I have concerns about the lengths of time of the submissions to the board to perfect the appeal. I was pleased to hear Mr. Linklater, Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic and Program Policy, state that people will be able to give their comments when draft regulations are presented.
The fifth issue is the increase in the number of people being resettled from refugee camps. Having once been a refugee, I am pleased that the minister will increase his efforts and place more resources to bring more refugees directly from refugee camps to settle directly in Canada. That is to bring refugees to Canada with the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Also of great importance is the current resettlement program. Canada is among the many signatories of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and has taken it upon itself to guarantee refugees seeking asylum with programs and services that will not only efficiently and effectively ensure their safety, but also empathetically take into consideration their dire circumstances.
It is of great fortune that a government body such as Citizenship and Immigration Canada accepts referrals for refugee resettlement from organizations such as the UNHCR. In fact, the UNHCR Country Operations Plan 2008-2009 acknowledged Canada as an important contributor in offering asylum and resettlement to refugees in need.
The representatives assured the Senate committee that 10 per cent of all referrals to the government and CIC officials were women at risk. If this is the case, the minister and the officials of the Immigration and Refugee Board should make large strides to ensure that referrals by the United Nations High Commission for women at risk be looked upon with the utmost diligence.
Honourable senators, our country is very blessed. We have many public servants who work very hard for us.
Our troops are doing a yeoman's job under very difficult circumstances, and they sacrifice their lives for us. Our foreign diplomats are doing back-breaking work on our behalf. I have worked with Robert Fowler, Alan Bones and various others, and I can attest to their continued service, even in retirement. Our immigration officials also need to be acknowledged for the work they do on our behalf. They often put themselves in harm's way just for the sake of humanity.
In 1972, Canada was one of the first countries to heed the tears of Ugandan Asians. The immigration officials put themselves in harm's way to protect strangers. They went to Ugandan hospitals, to Ugandan mental homes and to Ugandan prisons where people were wrongly incarcerated. They negotiated with soldiers, and yes, at times went further. It was not an easy task to remove people from prisons in front of gun-toting soldiers. . They took people from jails and put them on Canadian planes. They stopped the soldiers from boarding the planes, stating that the planes were Canadian territory and the soldiers could not board the planes.
It is almost 40 years since we left Uganda, but there are not many Ugandan Asians who do not know what Michael Molloy and Roger St. Vincent have done for us. Many of us are alive today because of these immigration officials and other immigration officials.
They have gone beyond the call of duty. When Canadian professional institutions have questioned our credentials in Canada, these immigration officials have helped us out in explaining the challenges we faced when leaving Uganda.
Today, I want to pay tribute specifically to our immigration officials for their contribution in implementing our refugee system. As we try to improve our refugee system, we must not forget immigration officials such as Mr. Molloy and Mr. St. Vincent and many hundreds of others who, on a regular basis, put their lives at risk for the sake of humanity.
I thank them because my family and I would not be together today without their efforts.