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Refugee reform bill passes Senate, with concerns

C-11 due to receive Royal Assent within days

Bill C-11, which will reform Canada’s refugee laws, has passed Third Reading in the Senate and is due to receive Royal Assent within days. And while the bill passed the Senate unamended, there were nevertheless concerns, mostly about the way in which the law will be implemented.

The Senate’s social affairs committee adopted the report unanimously, but added a condition that Parliament should review the system in three years, says Liberal Senator Art Eggleton. The committee also emphasized the need to get the “best possible people into these new jobs,” he says.

Lorne Waldman, an expert on immigration and refugee law, told committee that he hoped the appointments made to the new Refugee Appeals Division (RAD) would be the most senior and experienced members of the current Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), and that the civil servants appointed to the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) would be experienced career civil servants.

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) and the Canadian Council of Refugees (CCR), both of whom were present at the committee hearing, echoed Waldman’s concerns.

“According to the bill, the RPD — the first line — is civil servants,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the CCR. While the law doesn’t disqualify the Board from looking externally, Dench says that experience has shown that some of their best members in the past have come from outside the civil service — from human rights organizations, academics, and people with a wider range of experience in dealing with refugees.

Other concerns remain about the bill, though both Waldman and the CBA felt the bill should be passed in its current form given the all-party consensus that allowed it to pass in the Commons.

“We’re concerned that there’s no provision for change of circumstances that could arise,” says Mitchell Goldberg, executive member of the CBA National Citizenship and Immigration Law Section. The CBA is also concerned about “the ban on temporary resident permits, and we do not in any way support the Designated Country of Origin — even though the damage is mitigated by the fact that everybody gets access to an appeal,” says Goldberg.

The CCR remains concerned about the interview process built into the bill, feeling that its purpose remains undefined, while the Personal Information Form that claimants had to file within 28 days under the current system is being eliminated.

“We really are very concerned about the hole in the law that there’s no opportunity for someone to bring new evidence for 12 months after they’ve been rejected as a refugee if they have a personal change in circumstances that makes them at risk,” Dench adds.

While the bill states that most of these provisions have up to two years to be implemented, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the committee that he hoped to have them all implemented simultaneously within 12 to 18 months.

Queer groups spoke at Commons committee hearings, and they successfully lobbied for amendments to remove some roadblocks for queer refugees.