Saturday, May 31, 2008


by Harsha Walia

Recently the Conservative government introduced amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, buried in the Budget Implementation Bill C-50. By making it a matter of confidence, the government forced opposition parties to accept them or call an election.

Despite being opposed to the Bill, the Liberals chose to safeguard their own electoral interests over the principles of justice and fairness. Immigration Minister Diane Finley has attempted to downplay Bill C-50's significance by characterizing it as "small changes to modernize the system"; while launching an unprecedented multimillion dollar advertisement campaign, largely running in 'ethnic' media only and containing very few substantive details. The ads are the first time that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has launched an ad campaign to promote legislation that Parliament has not yet passed.

Under the proposed changes, even if someone meets the necessary - already stringent criteria for a visa (such as a permanent resident visa), the ministry can arbitrarily reject the application. Humanitarian and Compassionate applications no longer have to be examined if the applicant is outside Canada. The ministry will have the power to decide the order in which applications are processed, regardless of when they are filed.

The minister will also have the power to issue quotas and restrictions on the country of origin and category of person. This modification would sanction racism similar to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act or the 1911 Order in Council prohibiting the landing of "any immigrant belonging to the Negro race."

The government says there will be no discrimination as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be respected; however the Charter does not apply to potential immigrants. Furthermore, the government says the instructions will be transparent; however this publication will occur after the Bill comes into effect and will not be subject to any consultation or approval process.

The government says these amendments will not give them power to intervene in individual cases. However, the very nature of these changes is to allow for discretion in rejecting or discarding applications that meet the existing criteria.

The government has said that the changes will not affect family reunification. However, the bill includes the power to issue restrictions in the Family Class category and overseas Humanitarian and Compassionate claims.

The government says these changes will not impact refugees. However, refugees will be affected by the withdrawal of the legal right to permanent residence if they meet the requirements of the law and the elimination of the right to have an overseas Humanitarian and Compassionate application examined.

The main justification the government is providing for Bill C-50 is that it will fix the backlog. However, instead of getting rid of the inexcusably long waiting list by easing immigration bureaucratic controls, their solution is to give themselves the power to simply kick people off the list.

An array of organizations have expressed their opposition, including the Canadian Bar Association, Canadian Council for Refugees, Canadian Arab Federation, Canadian Labour Congress, African Canadian Legal Clinic, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Chinese Canadian National Council.

The major lobby for Bill C-50 comes from business organizations who want immigration policy to meet labour market needs, meaning immigrants are disposable other than their value as labour. The Conservative government says they are "welcoming record numbers of newcomers" but the reality is that migrants are not welcome unless they are wealthy, super-professional, or are willing to work as temporary workers without basic legal protection. In Canada today, the number of people admitted each year on temporary worker visas is greater than the number admitted as permanent residents.

What motivates the Canadian government and businesses to recruit temporary workers is that they are essentially indentured servants. A 2006 North-South Institute study documented systemic abuse amongst migrant workers, including low wages, long hours with no overtime pay, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and being tied to the "importing" employer.

Bill C-50 and the Safe Third Country Agreement creates a "Fortress Canada" by disallowing up to 40 per cent of asylum seekers, and the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership sanction the favouring of migrant workers as labour market commodities while creating an increasingly hostile climate to family class immigrants, refugees, and displaced migrants.

At the same time, the Conservative government has hypocritically and opportunistically made announcements to acknowledge the Komagata Maru tragedy and allocated money to commemorate the Ukrainian-Canadian internment and the Chinese Head Tax. Yet these historical injustices are being perpetuated through racist, exploitative, and restrictive policies such as Bill C-50.

Harsha Walia is a member of No One Is Illegal.

(This article is from the June 1-15, 2008, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited.)


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