Kenney unveils amendments to immigration bill
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney bowed to opposition pressure Wednesday and announced proposed amendments to Bill C-31, the legislation designed to overhaul Canada's immigration and refugee system.
The bill originally allowed for a large group of asylum seekers who were smuggled into Canada to be detained for up to one year without a review by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Kenney said his proposed amendment would call for a detention review within 14 days, and then again six months after arrival.
"We believe this strikes the right balance," Kenney told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"It ensures there will be a review of detention by the independent quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board. It also ensures that we have enough time to truly identify smuggled migrants and ensure that they do not constitute a security risk."
Kenney noted that the amendment is "a response by the government to the concerns raised by several individuals, including the opposition parties."
Kenney said another proposed amendment will give the immigration minister the discretion to release smuggled migrants who have not been found to pose a security risk to Canada. Also, migrants who receive a positive review from the IRB "will be released immediately.
"We have no intention to detain bona fide refugees," Kenney said.
Another amendment says the government will not strip refugees who have had their claims approved of their permanent residency status if conditions improve in their country of origin. The government does, however, retain the right to apply to the IRB to revoke the protective status and permanent residency of anyone found to obtain these through fraudulent means.
Yet another amendment to the bill aims to prevent asylum seekers whose claims are denied from going into hiding ahead of their pre-deportation reviews.
"We'll be proposing an amendment to say that if a failed asylum claimant coming from a safe democratic country loses their claim, there will be a three-year bar on their access to a pre-removal risk assessment, to remove any incentive for them to go underground to avoid removal from Canada," Kenney said.
One of Bill C-31's key aims is to speed up the refugee process. One way in which it aims to do that is by allowing the immigration minister to declare any country as "safe."
Under the legislation, refugees from safe countries who have their claims denied may be quickly deported without an appeal.
Kenney had previously touted the need for the bill, saying refugee claims had skyrocketed in recent years. The legislation was proposed after two cargo ships full of Tamil migrants arrived on the British Columbia coast, one in 2010, the other in 2011.
The bill would also require that would-be visitors who apply for visas to travel to Canada be both fingerprinted and photographed.
Earlier Wednesday, the New Democrats released a statement opposing the legislation, saying it puts too much power into the hands of the immigration minister. The NDP also say the bill will do little to curb human smuggling.
With files from The Canadian Press