In the summer of 2010, a group of 490 Tamil migrants arrived on our pacific coast on the derelict ship the MV Sun Sea and claimed asylum in Canada. A small percent of the thousands fleeing violence and insecurity who yearly arrive at our border declaring themselves refugees.
However, the government and some media framed the Tamil arrival as the evidence of a troubling trend – smuggling and queue jumping – and argued that measures were needed to dry up the market for people willing to be smuggled.
The government claimed that too many people are coming to Canada with “bogus” refugee claims — bogus because supposedly their motivation is not for protection, but for economic opportunities.
Add to this the many unscrupulous smugglers who are taking advantage of these economic migrants, as well as genuine refugees, charging them huge amounts of money to sneak into Canada.
This then was our government’s justification for introducing measures that included mandatory detention for 12 months and limited access to appeal mechanisms. In addition, claimants would not be able to sponsor family members to come to Canada for five years.
If they were “real” refugees, the reasoning goes, they would wait in the “queue” for Canada or some other wealthy country to invite them in.
And what’s wrong with waiting in the queue anyways? That’s fair, right? Plus, waiting patiently is the Canadian way.
Well, for many refugees there really isn’t a queue to wait in. Many are in a third country that deports people seeking asylum without process.
Moreover, not all people in danger can wait patiently for Canada to decide to invite them. They fear for their lives, and so sometimes take the desperate measure of paying a smuggler significant money to take them on dangerous sea voyages to counties like Australia, Italy, Yemen, and, very occasionally, Canada.
If they go to all that trouble, is it too much to ask to hear them out and treat them humanely while they are here?
Brian Dyck, the Refugee Assistance Program Coordinator for MCC Manitoba, has written a full article – Are refugees at our border crying wolf? – explaining the birth and development of the Immigration and Refugee Board along with significant concerns with the government’s proposed legislation Bill C-31: Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act.
Essentially, Brian says, Bill C-31 would limit access to Canada’s asylum system. While this may make it more efficient, it may not make it fairer. There is a real danger that genuine refugees in need of protection will be turned away or deported.
Bill C-31 is currently being debated at second reading, and it is expected to be sent to a House of Commons committee for study later next month.
By Tim Schmucker, MCC Ottawa Office Public Engagement Coordinator