News | Human rights advocates slam Bill C-31

Refugees detained unconstitutionally, say panelists

Students and law experts convened at Chancellor Day Hall yesterday to discuss Bill C-31, otherwise known as the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, and its impacts on the asylum-seeking process.

Hosted by the Human Rights Working Group’s Immigration and Refugee Rights Portfolio at the Faculty of Law and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre (MHMC), the discussion focused on the detention of refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in Canada.

Bill C-31 was passed on June 30 and impacts how refugees are treated in Canada in a variety of ways, including by limiting access to healthcare following changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP).

According to Idil Atak, a postdoctoral researcher at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), while systemic detention of refugees is considered to be the norm in Europe, Canada is still a long way from the international exemplar it sets for itself.

According to Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers vice-president Mitchell Goldberg, someone can be detained only if that person is a danger to the public, has a flight risk, or the authenticity of their identity is suspected.

The main issue of clarity of identity is nebulous, says Goldberg.  According to current legislation, if an immigration officer of the Canadian Border Services Agency is not satisfied with the person is who they say they are, the person will be detained.

Another issue with  Bill C-31 is that it allows for the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to deem some countries “safe.”  Refugee-status claimants from those countries are given a shorter time period to prepare their claims and are not entitled to an appeals process.

One such country is Mexico, which was designated safe a week ago.  “Most people are safe there,” said Goldberg, “but there are also people being killed there by drug cartels and corrupt police officers.”

“It is quite complicated to understand the law, even for people with backgrounds in law,” said Jenny Jeanes, program coordinator at Action Réfugiés Montréal, underlining the need for helping refugees understand their legal rights.

Once detained, the refugees are subject to a review after 48 hours.  If that review fails, another one is conducted seven days later, and then repeated every other thirty days, until the detainee is released.  But in the end it is up to the immigration officer, and not to the board member who does the review, to release the detainee.

When asked about the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) support of Bill C-31 by an anonymous speaker from the crowd, Goldberg said that he found it very disappointing as a Jewish person. He added that many other organizations, including the MHMC, had been critical of it.

Louis-Philippe Jannard of the MHMC told The Daily that he had asked the government to participate in the panel.

According to Jannard,  the officials responded, “we cannot be here, we are only applying the law so we cannot discuss the policy aspect of it.”


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