Canadian Refugee Reform Bill including Biometrics clears Commons
A new version of the 2010 Bill C-11 (or Balanced Refugee Reform Act) was passed by the Canadian House of Commons in a vote of 159 to 132.
Building on the reforms stipulated in Bill C-11, the new bill Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act include: more reforms to the asylum system; measures to address human smuggling; and adding the requirement to include biometric data as part of a temporary resident visa application.
The new bill looks at Canada’s asylum system, particularly in providing faster protection to legitimate asylum seekers and deporting bogus refugees. Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney has intended to fill the gaps in the system as Canada’s immigration system is threatened by the growing trend of illegitimate refugees, especially those coming from the European Union.
In a press release from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) in February, the statistics show an increase of refugee claims from EU nationals from 14% in 2010 to 23% in 2011. The unfounded claims from 5,800 EU nationals seeking asylum in Canada is costing its taxpayers nearly $170 million. “Too many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees,” said Minister Kenney. Passing this new bill can actually save provinces and territories about $1.65 billion over five years in social assistance and education costs.
Another important component of the new legislation is for visa applicants to provide biometric data such as fingerprints and photographs to visit Canada. This move on using biometrics will bolster Canada’s existing measures in facilitating legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool for confirming identity.
However, controversies cloud the passing of the new bill as some contentious elements that were previously omitted were reintroduced. Under the new bill, the Minister will be able to create a “safe” list of democratic countries that are generally non-refugee-producing countries. It is feared that this will politicize the process that is supposed to be fair and impartial.
Also criticized was the human smuggling provision that not only ran counter with that of the international law but that it undermines family reunification. NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims pointed out that “there’s nothing in this bill that will go after smugglers in a way that they are going to catch those international smugglers,” as reported by the National Post newspaper.
The government clarified that there were, however, modifications made in terms of smuggled migrants who are considered legitimate such as they will not face prolonged detention. Also minors under the age of 16 will be exempt from detention.
Minister Kenney countered critics by insisting that the government has used a “constructive approach” to the bill through dialogues and debates. He added that the minister does not have all power in drawing the list but that the legislation contains strict criteria governing ministerial directives.
What is important is putting reforms to deter abuses of Canada’s immigration and refugee system. “Canada has a fair, well-managed system that does not tolerate queue jumping,” said Minister Kenney.