From the Asian Pacific Post:
The Federal Conservatives’ plan to overhaul how immigrants are selected for Canada will shut the door on minority groups, those in need of a safe environment and curtail family reunifications say critics of the scheme.
Accusing the government of “showing anti-immigrant feelings,” former B.C. Premier Ujjal Dosanjh said the Tory government is trying to assume unbridled powers to determine who enters Canada. Dosanjh, who has served as Canada’s health minister said: “During the last two years of Tory rule, Canada allowed in 36,000 fewer immigrants than during the previous two years. And now they have introduced this bill hidden in the budget implementation bill.”
Ordinary Canadians will not be united based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, with overseas family members left behind because of extraordinary circumstances, said NDP Immigration Critic, Olivia Chow.
Additionally, huge unilateral power will be given to the Minister of Immigration and Citizenship to dispose of and discard immigration applications presently stuck in a massive backlog, she said.
Chow announced that when Parliament resumes at the end of March, she will introduce a motion to delete the entire offensive Immigration and Refugee Protection Act amendment that was hidden deep inside the Conservatives’ budget implementation act, Bill C-50.
“If the budget bill passes with the immigration section intact, as of February 27, 2008, refugee children in Canada will no longer be able to bring their family to Canada,” said Chow.
Immigration minister Diane Finley has defended the changes saying it will allow the government to eliminate the immigration backlog and to speed up the entry of skilled workers.
These significant changes to Canada’s immigration laws were slipped into the budget implementation bill in the Commons last Friday. As they were contained in the budget bill, they are a confidence matter.
If the amendment is passed, the changes would indeed speed up the processing of applications for skilled workers, but they would also throw other claimants to the back of the line and reject others outright.
The bill will likely become law, unless the Liberals — who have abstained or voted with the Tories on recent confidence motions — vote against the bill with support from other opposition MPs.
Finley said the changes are needed because Canada’s workforce will need additional workers in the years ahead. “Everywhere I go, employers from every sector are telling me they’re just screaming for help . . . whether it’s people to wash dishes and make sandwiches, or whether it’s the highly-skilled engineers and medical professionals. There are shortages right across the country,” she said.
Under the bill:
1. The immigration minister would have the power to reject applications by individuals already determined to be inadmissible by immigration officers.
2. The minister would also be able to set limits on the types of immigrants that can have their applications processed in a given year.
3. Also, any claimant seeking to immigrate to Canada on humanitarian grounds would already have to be in the country to have their application processed.
Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver, said more than 900,000 prospective immigrants worldwide could immediately be stripped of their right to a visa if the law is passed.
Immigration lawyer Zool Suleman, who represents Laibar Singh, the disabled man in Abbotsford who has avoided deportation for several months, is concerned that the proposed bill gives too much power to the minister, creating a closed and non-transparent system.
“There is no reason why the necessary changes can’t be made through a hearing process . . . because as the bill stands if the minister makes really bad policy choices, there would be no way to challenge it other than through an election,” he said. “Is the government saying the only way to be responsive to the public is to have power in the hands of the minister? In which case, why do we have parliamentary hearings in the first place?”
Suleman is disturbed that the bill was hidden in a budget bill, which he sees as a blatant political move because to him, it’s clear the Opposition doesn’t want to force an election.
“If they don’t want the government to fall, then these changes will go through,” he said. “It was a purely tactical choice.”
Many leaders from immigrant groups have derided the changes as anti-immigrant and anti-family reunification. But some have expressed hope that the bill could speed up the slow immigration times.
Satbir Singh Cheema, director of employment services at the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) is optimistic about the benefits the proposed bill could have on the shortage of labour.
“In all fairness, we need to give the government a chance to prove itself,” he said. “The minister wants to streamline the process because the waiting lists to come to Canada are getting bigger by the day.” However, he cautioned that the new bill would not be received kindly if ulterior motives were at hand. “Overall this is a good thing as long as this bill is not used to cut down on the number of people coming in,” he said. “That’s the catch.”
But the price for rearanging priorities is high, said Chris Morrissey, a volunteer for the Rainbow Refugee Community, a group that advocates for same-sex refugees. She believes that the proposed bill signals a shift in priorities from humanitarian to economic ones.
“Rather than improve our system so that it provides clearer opportunities to protect people’s human rights, resources are being put into economy,” she said. “It’s based on economic values rather than on human rights.”
Most recently, Finley refused to intervene in the case of Malaysian refugee Kulenthiran Amirthalingam who was deported March 6. Amirthalingam has already been jailed for being gay and could potentially face a jail term of up to 20 years. (See accompanying story)
Morrissey is alarmed that the Canadian government is willing to send Amirthalingham back to Malaysia where homosexuality is outright condemned.
“I’m surprised that they would send somebody back to Malaysia because it’s very clear that there are specific sanctions and a lengthy prison sentence against homosexuality there,” she said. “It’s totally reprehensible that somebody would be sent back under those circumstances.”
Morrissey pointed out that Amirthalingam’s case is another reminder of the humanitarian problems that arise from Canada’s reluctance to create a refugee appeal division because if he had access there might have been a different outcome. But then again, if the new priorities are based on Canada’s economy, compassion is not really an issue anymore, she said.
“The government is so desperate to close the door on immigrants that it will ignore the painful mistakes of previous Conservative governments that tried to do the very same thing,’’ Liberal MP David McGuinty told The Canadian Press.
“(Former Canadian prime minister John) Diefenbaker tried to shut out immigrants by capping the system only to abandon his plan a month later because his policies were short-sighted and misguided.
“Why does the minister insist on closing Canada’s doors to the newcomers we desperately need to fuel our labour and our population growth even though history shows this is absolutely the wrong approach?” he asked.