Osgoode lawyer debate human smuggling act

Osgoode prof says Bill C-49 is unconstitutional

Several Osgoode Hall Law School professors are concerned with what they say is the unconstitutional nature of Bill C-49 which would prevent human smuggling and enact stricter enforcement of immigration laws in Canada.

Proposed by federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the bill aims to deter refugees from arriving illegally.

In an effort to deter human smuggling, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act would impose new penalties against people and potential refugees that employ human smuggling efforts.

Kenney was not available for comment, but according to the Vancouver Sun he stated he believed the new law, if passed, would not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or international law, and he expected the immigration industry and special-interest groups to oppose Bill C-49.

“Quite frankly, that indicates to me that we’re on the right track,” said Kenney at a press conference Oct. 21.

Sean Rehaag, one of the Osgoode Hall Law School lawyers speaking out against the bill, said it has a potential ability to deny refugees essential services and fundamental rights, and can designate groups of people as “irregular arrivals.”

Rehaag, together with several other Canadian law professors, feels that Bill C-49 violates Canada’s responsibility under the International Refugee Convention, a treaty that involves over 180 countries.

“The idea of targeting asylum seekers with penalties because of the way they come to the country is extremely problematic,” said Rehaag. “[The bill] changes the penalties with respect to human smuggling and imposes sentences and restrictions on human smugglers and asylum seekers.”

According to Krisna Saravanamuttu, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), news of the bill appeared in response to the arrival of the MV Sun Sea on the shores of Vancouver in August. Cramped into tight quarters aboard a vessel, nearly 500 Tamil asylum seekers fled from Sri Lanka, a country criticized internationally for allegedly having an appalling human rights record.

Saravanamuttu echoed Rehaag’s concerns.

“If passed, Bill C-49 will give the federal government the ability to arbitrarily jail refugee claimants, deny permanent refugee status, bar refugees from reuniting with their families in Canada and revoke refugee status after it has already been granted, amongst many more draconian measures,” he said.

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