The Liberals have announced their opposition to Bill C-49, which the government says would crack down on human smuggling, but which opposition parties and stakeholder groups have denounced as targeting asylum seekers instead.
Along with the other opposition parties, they plan to vote against the bill at second reading, which would kill it before it goes to committee stage.
“We’ve tried to be constructive and positive, because human smuggling is a serious issue, but we feel that after much thought and reflection, that this bill is in violation of the Charter,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced after caucus on Wednesday morning.
“Mandatory detention for a year without judicial recourse or review is just not in the Canadian tradition. We think this bill is not Charter-proof as a result. Secondly, we feel very strongly – and this is the most important part – that it’s punishing the wrong people. It’s punishing the victims, not the criminals.”
Former justice minister Irwin Cotler lists the ways in which the law does not meet its Charter obligations, including the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in the Charkaoui decision that detention beyond 120 days in the cases of a security certificate was illegal, that the bill violates Canada’s international obligations, especially with regards to the Refugee Convention, and with political and civil rights with respect to the five-year limits on family unification and ability to seek permanent residence in Canada.
“In a word, this is a bad bill, an unconstitutional bill, a bill that is contrary to our traditions, our values, our rights,” Cotler says. “This is not a bill that Canadians would wish to support. In fact it assaults the values of Canadians.”
“If the opposition intends to vote against this strong but balanced effort to crack down against smuggling and queue jumping, they’ll have to stand up and vote for it in the House of Commons and be accountable to voters,” says Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
Kenney also found it curious that the Liberals waited until after the three federal by-elections to come to a decision.
Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau rejects Kenney’s characterisation of the issue.
“They are torquing up the issue of refugees and immigration,” Trudeau says. “They are encouraging Canadians to be more against immigration than ever in the past by not defending and being clear about the difference between immigrants and refugees.
“There is no queue for refugees, there is a process. They are blending the issues and stoking fears and apprehensions that Canadians may have when we get events like 400 desperate people arriving on our shores seeking asylum.”
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow is also happy to see the Liberal decision to kill the bill, especially considering the work that has been done regarding human smuggling with Bill C-35, which aims to crack down on crooked immigration consultants.
“We’ve already done the amendment at immigration committee to toughen up the anti-smuggling part of the Immigration Act through C-35, so we don’t need to support C-49,” Chow says. “We can just kill the bill.”