Refugee bill passes final hurdle in House

The government's controversial bill that further reforms Canada's refugee system passed a third reading in the House of Commons, by a vote of 159 to 132.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Monday that Bill C-31 will help prevent human smugglers from treating Canada like a doormat. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The government's controversial bill that further reforms Canada's refugee system passed a third reading Monday night in the House of Commons.

Bill C-31, which passed by 159 to 132, will now move to the Senate.

Earlier in the day, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said C-31 is designed to combat human smuggling and to ensure the asylum system is "fast and fair."

He said the bill's passage is a "long time coming" and that he hopes the Senate will pass it before Parliament breaks for the summer. The bill proposes changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which made a series of reforms to the refugee system when it was passed in 2010.

Kenney said Bill C-31 contains new tools to help "combat human smuggling criminals who want to treat Canada like a doormat."

The bill was given a rough ride by some refugee law experts and opposition MPs, who called for a number of amendments. The government did end up making some changes to the initial bill, but critics said they didn't go far enough.

"This is taking Canada in the wrong direction," the NDP's immigration and citizenship critic Jinny Sims said on Twitter after the vote.

Earlier, Sims called the bill "draconian" and said her party had to vote against it.

"There is nothing in this bill that will go after smugglers in a way that they're going to catch those international smugglers. This is really about punishing the most vulnerable citizens when they arrive here, putting their lives at risk and when they get here, we're going to throw them in prison," she said.

A 'black eye' for Canada

Sims said the bill will affect Canada's international reputation and defies international agreements.

"In the international community, I believe this is another black eye for Canada," she said.

The bill originally stipulated a judicial review would only be necessary after those refugee claimants designated as "mass arrivals" by the minister had been in detention for one year. The amendment introduced a 14-day and a six-month review of the detention of the "mass arrivals" refugees.

Kenney also introduced another amendment to clarify that the government would not have the power to revoke the permanent residency of successful refugee claimants if conditions improve in their countries of origin, unless it was found they obtained their status through fraudulent means.

Bill C-31 gives the immigration minister sole authority to decide which groups of refugee claimants are "mass arrivals" — a term which is not clearly defined in the bill.

The measure was sparked by the arrival of two boatloads of Tamil migrants off the coast of Vancouver in recent years. The bill would allow for those cases to be designated retroactively as "mass arrivals."

Several legal experts have argued that provision would almost certainly generate costly court challenges because it is inconsistent with the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Charter of Rights and Supreme court precedents.

With files from CBC News