Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says his party will vote against the Conservatives' proposed human smuggling legislation, Bill C-49, because it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights.


Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says his party won't support a proposed law on human smuggling, saying it punishes 'the victims, not the criminals.' ((Canadian Press))

Other opposition parties also lined up with the Liberals against the controversial bill, diminishing its chances of passing second reading.

"We feel after much thought and reflection that this bill is in violation of the charter," Ignatieff said Wednesday, after his morning caucus meeting.

"Mandatory detention is just not in the Canadian tradition. We think it's not charter-proof, as a result."

Bill C-49 would increase the minimum fines and jail terms for those caught bringing illegal aliens to Canada.

However, the proposed legislation would also affect the people being smuggled. Refugees could spend as much as a year in detention facilities while their claims were being processed.

In its current form, the legislation punishes "the victims, not the criminals," Ignatieff said.

Liberals will vote against the bill when it eventually goes to second reading, Ignatieff pledged.

But it isn't clear when that will happen. The Conservative government hasn't yet set a second reading date.

However, Ignatieff said the Liberals are still game to work with the Tories on "a bill that works."

According to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former federal justice minister, the bill is "littered with charter violations."

"It authorizes mandatory detention for up to 12 months, without independent review — something the Supreme Court of Canada has already pronounced itself on, in the [Adil] Charkaoui case, as being illegal."

Bill crafted after MV Sun Sea incident

The Conservative government tabled its smuggling legislation in October, two months after the MV Sun Sea ship carrying hundreds of Tamil migrants docked in B.C.

At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the "abnormal" arrival of the MV Sun Sea created "significant security concerns" that could prompt his government to review current laws.

The government has the right to create measures to discourage future mass migrant arrivals, but Bill C-49 doesn't target the real problem, the Canadian Bar Association said in a statement Wednesday.

Both the Bloc Québécois and NDP said they aren't interested in supporting the bill. The Conservatives have so far refused any compromise, and the NDP won't support a law that "targets refugees," said New Democrat MP Olivia Chow.


  • An earlier version of this story identified Irwin Cotler as the Liberal justice critic. In fact, he is a former Liberal justice minister. Liberal MP Marlene Jennings is the party's justice critic.
    Dec 01, 2010 2:35 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press