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Immigration reform: will the Liberals oppose ‘safe country’ clause?

Queers fear legislation could harm gay refugees

With the Liberal Party’s position still not nailed down, the Commons immigration committee cancelled a June 3 meeting, which would have continued their clause-by-clause study of Bill C-11.

The Liberals continue to deliberate on the refugee bill’s safe-country-of-origin provisions, amidst talk of a caucus revolt.

“I think it will leave us more time to find an agreement that will reach a consensus,” says Bloc immigration critic Thierry St-Cyr. “We know a lot of amendments were submitted. I know there was discussion within the Liberal caucus, modification of their position, so now things are clearer. Those extra days will leave all members the opportunity to have a final text that will fit everyone’s concerns.”

“I’m glad that there’ll be more careful consideration so that we can fix the flaws of the bill,” says NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow.

Chow says that focusing the public’s attention on the Liberal position – and the calls received by Liberal MPs as a result – likely contributed to the pushback in the caucus on the safe-county-of-origins clause.

As written, the bill would deny refugee claimants coming from designated countries of origin access to the Refugee Appeals Division as a way to deal with spikes in claims from certain countries.

The Canadian Press (CP) reported on Wednesday that the entire Quebec caucus of the party made it known they wouldn’t support the bill, even with the changes agreed to between the minister and the Liberal immigration critic, Maurizio Bevilacqua. This has led to a promise by leader Michael Ignatieff to rethink the party’s support for the bill.

The CP article also said that some Liberals privately complained that Bevilacqua was using this deal to gain Conservative support for a potential bid for the mayoralty of Vaughan, Ontario.

“We’re waiting for the leader to make a statement,” says Liberal MP Alexandra Mendes, a member of the immigration committee, declining any further speculation on the position until then.

Mendes did say, however, that she would rather see the bill die than see the designated country-of-origin provisions passed into law.

On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CP that he would rather withdraw the bill than see further changes, including scrapping the designated country-of-origin provisions.

Kenney and Bevilacqua had previously agreed to circumscribe the minister’s ability to designate “safe” countries of origin and lengthen the timelines to an initial interview at 15 days rather than the original eight, and a hearing in 90 days instead of 60.

But other parties on the committee would rather Kenney not kill the bill over this impasse.

“It’s important that the rights of everyone are the same, whether you’re coming from country X or Y,” says St-Cyr. “As long as this is respected, I’m ready to work on any other measures that could fit the will of the government and those principles.”

“The Refugees Appeal Division should be implemented, and I would certainly hope that he understands that we need a fast but fair refugee reform package,” Chow says. “The bill that they put in front of us was fast, but not fair. Can we get to something that would work well? I think so – we just require people listen to each other and be willing to work together.”