bc-100917-mv-sun-sea-tamil

The Sun Sea before its arrival in British Columbia in August. The Tories introduced legislation to deter similar refugee arrivals. (Department of National Defence)

The new Conservative bill to combat human smuggling is being poorly received by an immigration expert, who say it punishes the wrong people.

"I see very little in this legislation that has to deal with human smugglers," said Lorne Waldman, a lawyer who represents more than 100 Tamil refugees who came to Canada aboard the Sun Sea in August.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews went to the port of Vancouver Thursday to unveil Bill C-49, which they said will crack down on smugglers who profit to the tune of millions of dollars a year by bringing refugees to Canadian shores.

The bill increases the minimum fines and jail terms for those caught bringing illegal aliens to Canada. Smugglers who bring more than 50 people into Canada would face as much as 10 years in prison. 

However, the proposed legislation would also affect the people being smuggled, critics say.

Refugees would lose the ability to get a mandatory detention review within 48 hours, and they could spend as much as a year in a detention facility while their claim is processed.

As well, anyone found to have been smuggled into the country is subject to a five-year ban on leaving Canada or applying to sponsor their families to come to the country — even if their refugee claim is subsequently proved valid.

"Now they are introducing a mandatory minimum, and that is the only one that has any real relation to smuggling at all," Waldman said. "Most of the other measures are related far more to punishing [those] who try to come by smuggling."

Holding someone in a detention centre for a year is a clear violation of someone's charter rights, he said. "You can't hold someone that hasn't been charged with an offence indefinitely for up to one year."

Waldman hopes to see changes in the bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.