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Liberals debating provisions of refugee bill

Queer groups seek amendment to remove 'safe' country of origin clause

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Credit: Photo by Radey Barrack, Flickr, CC 2.0

The Liberals are mulling over their final position on a contentious clause of the refugee reform bill currently being studied by the Commons citizenship and immigration committee. Between a legislative committee meeting on Tuesday night and the regular caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, the party hopes to arrive at a position.

As currently drafted, the bill would see those refugee claimants who come from countries that are designated as “safe” be denied access to the Refugee Appeals Division if their claims are rejected.

Refugee groups, as well as queer rights groups including Egale Canada and the Rainbow Refugee Committee, are opposed to this provision and want it stricken from the bill.

“It’s been a difficult issue for us,” says Liberal immigration committee member Alexandra Mendes. “It’s not definite yet. I would say that 40 percent of us are definitely against it; I would say another 20 percent are wavering, and the other 30 are neither here nor there. But there is a strong current of opposition to this, but between tonight and caucus tomorrow morning, we will — I hope — come to a position.”

“We’ve said clearly that we’re going to go through clause-by-clause on this,” says Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. “There is a Refugee Appeals Division in this bill. We think that this is two-thirds of a loaf — it’s not perfect, it’s not perfectly satisfactory, but we think it’s progress.”

Mendes indicates that her party’s immigration critic, Maurizio Bevilacqua, has been trying to negotiate with immigration minister Jason Kenney to find amendments that would make the bill more palatable to the Liberals.

“The question of the designated countries remains a big thorny issue, because the minister doesn’t want to cede on that point,” Mendes says. “For us it’s clear. This is a question of individual rights over collective rights. Either you have the right or you don’t. We’ve been a country that has defended individual rights above any other rights, so I believe we should stick with that.”

With clause-by-clause study of the bill underway and due to conclude on Thursday evening, Mendes indicates that three of the four main amendments proposed by Bevilacqua have been accepted by the minister.

“The Refugee Appeals Division being offered to every single applicant, not just those who go through the direct line, but even those that come through the designated list exclusion,” Mendes lists as one of the likely victories.

“We did get the timelines increased, because it was ridiculous, the eight days [for an interview] and the sixty days [for a hearing], Mendes adds. “The humanitarian and compassionate grounds — which is one I fought for — it’s going to be offered and possible for claimants to apply on humanitarian grounds even before they’ve had a hearing on their refugee claim, so it’s going to be a process they can start from the very beginning. That’s something very reassuring for me at least.”