Friday, May 18, 2012

Parliament in Review - April 23, 2012

Monday, April 23 was the first day back in the House of Commons following the Easter break. And it featured some of the most lively and telling discussion we've seen yet on the Cons' anti-refugee legislation as the second-reading debate reached its end.

The Big Issue

As part of the refugee bill debate, Craig Scott made his first speech as the NDP's MP for Toronto-Danforth. And he wasted no time in showing what he'll add to the NDP's caucus:
One huge difference is that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that a person be a permanent resident before the person is able to sponsor family members, such as the person's spouse, children, or parents, to immigrate to Canada. Thus, under Bill C-31 irregular refugees would have no hope of reuniting with family in Canada for at least five years.

Currently, family class applications in this country are often processed at a snail's pace. It is not uncommon for it to take three years for a child or a spouse to be admitted and sometimes up to six years for parents. It is no stretch to say that a refugee who started out as a designated foreign national may have to wait 10 years for family members to join him or her.

If that is not enough, a designated foreign national refugee will not even be able to travel outside Canada to spend time with family, for example, in a country other than the country of origin which the refugee fears going back to. Why is that? Bill C-31 decrees that such a refugee will not be given travel documents until he or she becomes a permanent resident, that is, until at least five years have passed, despite the fact that the refugee convention requires that travel documents be issued to refugees once they are “lawfully staying” in the host country. Fortress Canada thus becomes prison Canada for the designated foreign national refugee. If he were still alive, Kafka could not have written Bill C-31 better if he tried.
Other speakers including Kevin Lamoureux also questioned why the Cons are so determined to keep families apart for a period of up to a decade. Kirsty Duncan pointed out how quickly patterns of human rights abuse can emerge and render obsolete the "safe country" designations the Cons want to use to attack refugees' rights. Guy Caron and Andrew Cash criticized the Cons' pattern of placing large amounts of power over individual rights in the hands of unaccountable ministers. Caron also lamented the politicization of refugee claims. Libby Davies highlighted the fact that organizations familiar with refugee issues were lining up against C-31, then observed that the bill would allow the Cons to retroactively attack refugee status if circumstances changed in a new immigrant's country of origin. Elizabeth May asked about the cost of locking up refugees rather than allowing them to contribute to Canadian society. Jinny Sims queried how refugees would take the Cons' admonition to play by the rules seriously when the 300,000 who did so in the current skilled worker program queue are being arbitrarily deleted. Anne Minh-Thu Quach and Massimo Pacetti pointed out that there's plenty of reason why refugees can't be expected to meet the ridiculous requirements placed on them by the Cons.

Meanwhile, for the Cons, Jason Kenney took umbrage at any suggestion that his party wanted to get tough on refugees - only to admit that part of the bill's purpose is deterrence to keep them from coming to Canada. And while Patrick Brown offered a boilerplate defence of a plan to require biometric information from new immigrants, Dan Harris rightly criticized the fact that the Cons were refusing to hear from a committee already assessing the use of biometrics.

But as tends to be the case, the Cons simply decided to ignore every valid criticism of their legislation, and voted down the NDP's proposed amendment before forcing the bill through.
 Pop Quiz

Caron received a response to his order paper question (#489) as to the criteria used to decide to close a processing centre in Rimouski and set one up for the primary benefit of Christian Paradis in Thetford Mines and the reason why the change was made. Your challenge: spot anything in the answer that amounts to an explanation of the decision beyond "because we damn well said so, that's why".

In Brief

Merv Tweed spoke to his bill to prevent Canada Post from hiking rates on books delivered between rural libraries. And the idea received multi-party support - though it's worth asking how Tweed's initial can be reconciled with the Cons' constant demand that Crowns be run as revenue-maximizing businesses or sold off to be turned into just that.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Allen offered a statement on cuts to food inspections through both the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canada Border Services Agency, then followed up in question period. Francoise Boivin served notice that the NDP won't hesitate to defend a woman's right to choice. Megan Leslie wondered about the minders being sent to accompany civil servants to a conference and report on their activities. Irene Mathyssen's question about how much money was being cut out of OAS was met with Diane Finley's response that her government's attacks on seniors' standard of living have nothing to do with deficit reduction. Carolyn Bennett slammed Leona Aglukkaq for singling out aboriginal health for massive cuts. And Caron asked adjournment questions about the Cons' lack of a realistic plan to foster research and development in Canada, while Jack Harris wondered what exactly the Cons plan to do with the influx of prisoners created by their dumb-on-crime strategy (especially as they indicated they planned to close some facilities).

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