The New Red Menace

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Refugee rights experts say anti-terrorism legislation violates human rights.

Immigration experts say that both Bill C-36 and Bill C-11 violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for refugees. Bill C-36 allows for imprisonment without trial, electronic surveillance and secret trials. Bill C-11 is the soon-to-be-passed legislation regarding immigration policy.

Canada accepts between 20,000 to 30,000 refugees a year. In 1998, 22,644 refugees became permanent residents. In 2000–2001, Canada detained 8,790 people for an average of sixteen days. While the new laws are intended to speed up the application process, they are also expected to detain refugees for longer periods of time, and deport them in greater frequency.

Currently, refugees coming from countries with severe rights abuses are protected from deportation. Catherine Balfour of Amnesty International Toronto is concerned Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will be allowed to deport “anybody to anything,” since the new law allows deportations, even if that means sending refugees back to torture.

“Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the right of a person to not be subject to torture is unassailable. So Canada’s breaking international law,” says Balfour. And while they are in Canada, refugees often exist in legal limbo for years, open to deportation for minor infractions, often unable to work or go to school.

Refugee lawyers complain the new bill makes it impossible to fight deportations on equal footing with the CIC. “There is a significant increase in the power of immigration officers to exclude refugees on security grounds on the basis of information we can’t get access to,” says Anthony Norfolk, an immigration and refugee lawyer in Vancouver.

“Officials will be able to block refugees from risk assessment in an arbitrary way that we will not be allowed to see,” Norfolk says. “It’s quite frightening. Obviously it’s going to be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s just not consistent with Canadian tradition.”

Norfolk suspects ulterior motives. “I always say follow the money. Security is going to be a bigger business now because of fears that are entirely understandable. But the checks and balances are not going into the system at the same time.”

Montreal-based refugee lawyer Bill Sloan says the legislation propagates the view that there are “good refugees” and “bad refugees.” “If you want to deny someone their rights, first you’ve got to demonize them. You do this by making a distinction between legal versus illegal refugees. That’s bullshit.”

Sloan says refugees often have to escape their countries immediately, often by illegal means. “The documents you use to travel should not be what decide if you’re a legal or illegal refugee. Just getting here is so hard already.” Sloan also criticizes the selection process for immigration and refugee board members, and how immigration officers are appointed arbitrarily. “It’s a joke.” Norfolk agrees. “Qualifications are wide open,” he says. “The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be any proper evaluation process for those that are not good.”

Norfolk says applying for refugee status from outside Canada pits refugees against immigration applicants. “They look at somebody and say, ‘How would this person do as an independent migrant?’ The basic ideal is an Anglo- or Francophone university-educated breeding pair. It means everybody is fighting over the same demographic.”

As much as critics have to say about how the bill looks on paper, they are also worried about what they can’t see. “Most of the real impacts of the bills are going to be seen in the regulations, which are just decided internally,” says Gitanjali Lena of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “That ’s where the real meat of it will be.”

Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan has said most of the nineteen men who hijacked the September 11 planes entered the United States legally; she said intelligence gathering, and not stricter immigration or refugee policy, will stop terrorism.

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