Farag: Smuggler bill misses target, damages Canada

I am writing to express my opposition to the passage of Bill C-31, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act.

This act, now before Parliament, would allow the government to impose mandatory incarceration of many asylum-seekers based on vague criteria at the discretion of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Once designated as having arrived in an ‘irregular manner’ and subsequently detained, asylum-seekers will be unable to have their case reviewed for 12 months. Twelve months of incarceration without charges of criminal offense or recourse to appeal is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, not to mention a scar on the reputation of our country that has prided itself on upholding human rights.

Bill C-31, in name, is directed against human smugglers. However, it is not the smugglers who suffer the consequences, but innocent men, women and children. These are people fleeing persecution in an attempt to regain their rights to liberty, health and wellbeing – rights protected by international and Canadian law. Where such detention exists, or has existed in the past, studies have found high rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder directly related to incarceration among detained refugees during and post-release. Children, pregnant women, and survivors of major violence are particularly at risk.

These consequences add to health-care costs as well as impede refugees’ ability to integrate, and contribute positively to society. Twelve months of incarceration also comes at a great cost to be paid by Canadian taxpayers. A 2005 estimate suggests a day of incarceration in a federal facility costs about $250; for a family of four, one year of detention would cost more than $350,000.

According to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 31: “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened (Article 31, (1)).”

Bill C-31 is a direct violation of this convention, as well as other international charters ratified by the Canadian government and written to protect the health and human rights of all people. It punishes without distinction, assumes guilt until proven innocent, and further victimizes a vulnerable population.

Is this bill worth violating the values that make us proud to call Canada our home?

Alexandra Farag
MD candidate (2015), Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry