Canadian Bill C-31
Prepared by: Simon Gebreselassie (Plight of Eritrean Refugee)
Ever since the conservative party won the majority in the last election, we have seen a number of pieces of legislation introduced and voted upon. Unfortunately some of this legislation passed with inadequate public consultation, or appropriate agencies were not consulted. In other cases, they were not given enough time to study the proposed legislation, and problems have resulted.
Let me give you some background to Bill C-31, the Immigration and Refugee act that the government introduced on Feb. 16, 2012.
This Bill will bring in a lot of legislation changes which affect immigrants and refugees who are seeking to come to Canada and also refugees who are here waiting for their claims to be heard or approved. It also changes the way family sponsorships are handled plus the ministerial powers have been altered as well. The minister will have a sole power to determine who are refugees – based on their country of origin – and the power to designate which country is deemed a safe country. While the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration claims that the announced changes will only deny services that are not included in basic care for Canadian, in fact they cut much deeper. One of the many changes that is being introduced is the Interim Health Program coverage for refugee claimants, protected persons and others, effect on June 30, 2012. From then on, and depending on their status, under rules for temporary federal health coverage a person will be eligible for basic and essential care only, treatment for conditions which pose a risk to public health and public safety, or no coverage at all.
The announced changes will:
• Create a two-tier system of refugee care in Canada, discriminating against refugee claimants on the basis of their country of origin
• Deny necessary medical care on arrival in Canada to resettled refugees or accepted refugee claimants with acute health needs
• Institutionalize gender discrimination
• Deny long-term, essential medical coverage to individuals who are living in Canada in limbo
• Offload cost to provinces.
Other impacts of Bill C-31 will have on Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) are as follows:
No appeal may be made with respect to any of the following Refugee Protection Division Decisions:
• Allowing or rejecting the claim made by a foreign national from a designated country of origin (DCO)
• A rejected claim that is stated to have no credible basis or to be manifestly unfounded
• Where the claim was referred as an exception to the Safe Third Country Agreement
• A determination that a claim has been withdrawn or abandoned
• Allowing or rejecting the claim of a designated foreign national (DFN)
• “backlog claim” a decision on a claim that was referred to the RPD before the coming into force of the new refugee determination system
• Allowing or rejecting the minister’s application to vacate refugee protection
• Allowing or rejecting the minister’s application for cessation of refugee protection
• The “deemed rejection” of the claim for refugee protection under Article 1F(b) of Refugee Convention, because of an order of surrender under the Extradition Act
• Decision on an application for a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA)
The broadening of so many areas where appeals are disallowed will make it much harder for legitimate refugee claims to be heard.
One provision in Bill C-31 that was introduced is also a concern to refugee protection. The legislative summary of the bill stated:
“Bill C-31 introduces a new provision governing inadmissibility… (U)pon a final decision that refugee protection has ceased, the individual who was previously a conventional refugee is now inadmissible to Canada, and therefore cannot remain in or enter Canada. Cessation of refugee… Involves situations such as the individual returning to his or her country of origin, reacquiring his or her citizenship or acquiring a new one, or simply that the conditions in the country of origin changed and a person is no longer in need of protection. The minister must make an application for cessation, on which the RPD decides. Bill C-31 makes the impact of cessation decision more serious, providing… that the permanent status may be lost.” This provision was amended as follows; No automatic loss of permanent residence status due to change of circumstances in their country of origin, removing provisions for what was described as ‘conditional permanent residence’.
Other main provisions of concern are ; provision to designate ‘irregular arrivals’ and ‘safe country’, a five-year ban on permanent residence applications and family reunification for “irregular arrivals” once they are recognized as refugees, speedy and inflexible timelines that prevent people from telling their stories and preparing their cases properly and mandatory detention for some claimants.
The Canadian government should suspend these changes and hold consultations with all concerned stakeholders on any future changes as it does not reflect Canadian value on immigration and refugee protection.