OTTAWA - An advocate for Roma refugee claimants says "Gypsy fiction" is fanning the same kind of discrimination in Canada that her ancestors have faced for centuries in Europe.

Gina Csany-Robah, the executive director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto — the only one of its kind in Canada — gave an impassioned critique of proposed Conservative changes to the refugee system.

"It is very important to be able to depict what is the Gypsy fiction from the Roma reality," Csany-Robah told a parliamentary committee while denouncing Conservative efforts to address "bogus" refugee claims.

"The problem is that the fiction here influences peoples' thought process, even at schools ... and when they hear the discourse that's often in our media, it just compiles the problem."

She said the nomadic, crime-riddled, crystal-ball gazing Gypsies of lore are a fiction created by societies that have marginalized the Roma since the 13th century — including the death of some two million Roma in the Holocaust.

Csany-Robah, a Canadian-born Roma who says she is the first Roma ever to testify before a parliamentary committee, said "Apartheid-like conditions" continue in some parts of Europe.

Bill C-31, currently being studied by a parliamentary committee, will speed up refugee processing by giving the immigration minister the power to designate any country as safe.

Rejected refugee claimants from designated safe countries could be quickly deported with no avenue of appeal within the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has singled out escalating refugee claims from Hungary — the vast majority of which are rejected or simply abandoned — as a symptom of a system in need of an overhaul.

Some 4,423 Hungarians made refugee claims in Canada last year, up from 2,296 the previous year. It's believed the vast majority are Roma, and Kenney took the extraordinary step of going to Hungary and having his department distribute flyers telling people they were not eligible for refugee status.

"We need a fix," Conservative MP Rick Dystra, Kenney's parliamentary secretary, told the committee Thursday. "It's clear there is an opportunity for people to take advantage here."

However Maureen Silcoff, a lawyer for the Roma Community Centre of Toronto, accused Kenney of pre-judging the Roma cases.

"People who work with Roma refugees are at a loss to understand why this group is called 'bogus,'" Silcoff told the Citizenship and Immigration committee.

"Why has the minister not expressed concern about growing fascism and racism, instead of condemning Roma refugees?"

The government has attempted to address the refugee flood by imposing visa restrictions on certain countries, including Mexico. But that has caused diplomatic problems, particularly when dealing with countries within the European Union.

"Are the Roma claims proving to be a problem in light of free trade negotiations with Europe?" Silcoff prodded the Conservative MPs on the committee.

The proposed legislation will bring in fingerprinting and photos for those who apply for visas to visit Canada, and will give the minister of Public Safety the power to treat asylum seekers who arrive as a group differently from others.

These "irregular arrivals" can be detained for up to a year under Bill C-31, and won't be allowed to apply for permanent residency — or sponsor family members — for five years.

Kenney has said he'd like to see the Conservative majority pass the bill before the summer recess and have it come into force next fall.

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  • Beauty contest participants listen to organizer's instructions during the rehersal for 'Miss Piranda 2011' Roma beauty contest, in Bucharest, on March 25, 2011. 'Miss Piranda' became a very popular beauty and belly dance contest among Romanian Roma comunity as the show promotes the most notorious and popular modern Roma music bands and singers. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Beauty contest participants wait to climb on the stage during the rehersal for 'Miss Piranda 2011' Roma beauty contest, in Bucharest, on March 25, 2011. 'Miss Piranda' became a very popular beauty and belly dance contest among Romanian Roma comunity as the show promotes the most notorious and popular modern Roma music bands and singers. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Roma singer Babi Minune (C), also known as Wonder Babi, performs as beauty contestants dance around him during their rehersal for 'Miss Piranda 2011,' a Roma beauty contest Bucharest on March 22, 2011. 'Miss Piranda' became a very popular beauty and belly dance contest among the Romanian Roma comunity as the show promotes the most notorious and popular modern Roma music bands and singers. The contest will take place on March 27. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Roma girls apply the finishing touches to their make-up prior to the rehersal for 'Miss Piranda 2011,' a Roma beauty contest Bucharest March 22, 2011. 'Miss Piranda' became a very popular beauty and belly dance contest among the Romanian Roma comunity as the show promotes the most notorious and popular modern Roma music bands and singers. The contest will take place on March 27. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Beauty contest participants performs belly dance on the stage during the rehersal for 'Miss Piranda 2011'' Roma beauty contest, in Bucharest, on March 25, 2011. 'Miss Piranda' became a very popular beauty and belly dance contest among Romanian Roma comunity as the show promotes the most notorious and popular modern Roma music bands and singers. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A girl washes her feet from a water tap in the interior courtyard of a block of flats in Baia Mare on July 21, 2011 where the mayor has decided to construct a wall around the flats housing a majority of Roma families. The debate about the concrete wall that has just been erected near two apartment blocs inhabited mainly by Roma in Baia Mare divides inhabitants. The construction of the wall has been completed on July 27, 2011 and is 100 metres long and six feet high. The mayor of this former mining city of 146,000 inhabitants, Catalin Chereches, has denied that the wall is turning the block of flats into a ghetto and insists that the wall was built to protect children from heavy traffic. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A woman breastfeeds an infant as French police evacuates a Roma camp on September 27, 2011, in Font Vert, a district of Marseille, south of France. Some 200 Romanian Roma Families lived in modified old caravans, located along a road beside a railway tracks. (BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Police officer watch on September 24, 2011 the house of Roma leader Kiril Rashkov after it was set on fire during a clash between members of the Bulgarian and Roma communities in the southern village of Katunitsa. A recent flare-up of inter-ethnic violence in Bulgaria is a taste of things to come because of glaring inequalities, rampant corruption and the weakness of the justice system, experts fear. They say that the ultimate blame for the ethnic tensions lies with the government and the way the seven-million-strong country has been mismanaged in the 20 years since the end of communism. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A toddler stands near his mother on April 5, 2011 in the Moulin-Galant camp in Corbeil-Essonnes, outside Paris, where about 70 Roma families live. (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A girl cries as women and children of Roma origins leave their homes on April 22, 2011 in the small, conflict-stricken village of Gyongyospata, in northeastern Hungary, as a far right militia was to arrive there for a three-day training camp. 277 Roma children and women boarded the five buses provided by an NGO to leave Gyongyospata, 81 kilometres (50 miles) from Budapest, before the Vedero militia sets up camp in the village, said the head of the local Roma community. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • French police evacuate a Roma camp on September 27, 2011, in Font Vert, a district of Marseille, south of France. Some 200 Romanian Roma Families lived in modified old caravans, located along a road beside a railway tracks. (BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Roma boy attends celebrations of International Roma Day in the Stolipinovo suburb of Plovdiv on April 8, 2011. Romania's Roma community is the biggest in Europe. Bulgaria has an estimated 700,000 Roma, or about 10 percent of the population, most of whom live in abject poverty. (DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A picture taken on August 18, 2011 in Nevoy, central France, shows caravans belonging to Gypsies parked on a field, three days ahead of the yearly evangelist meeting organized by 'Light and Life' (Vie et Lumiere) gypsy church convention. The religious meeting runs from August 21 to 28. (ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Romanian girl member of the Roma community carries a younger pupil back to their home at the end of their class at the local kindergarten in Hetea village, 200kms north from Bucharest, on March 28, 2012. In this deprived village of central Romania, the number of children enrolled at the kindergarten went from 89 two years ago to 174 today thanks to a program developed by NGO Ovidiu Rom in partnership with the local community. Almost 49 percent of children aged 0 to 17 are at risk of poverty in Romania, the highest rate in the European Union, according to figures published by the European statistical office Eurostat in February. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL MIHAILESCU (Photo credit should read DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Romanian children, members of the Roma community, are carried by a horse pulled cart back to their homes seen in the background at the end of their class at the local kindergarten in Hetea village, 200kms north of Bucharest, on March 28, 2012. In this deprived village of central Romania, the number of children enrolled at the kindergarten went from 89 two years ago to 174 today thanks to a program developed by NGO Ovidiu Rom in partnership with the local community. Almost 49 percent of children aged 0 to 17 are at risk of poverty in Romania, the highest rate in the European Union, according to figures published by the European statistical office Eurostat in February. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A Roma woman poses with her child in front of her caravan on September 1, 2011 at the Solidarity-based Lodging Area. (Getty)

  • French police evacuate a Roma camp on September 27, 2011, in Font Vert, a district of Marseille, south of France. Some 200 Romanian Roma Families lived in modified old caravans, located along a road beside a railway tracks. (BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A child plays as French police evacuate a Roma camp on September 27, 2011, in Font Vert, a district of Marseille, south of France. Some 200 Romanian Roma Families lived in modified old caravans, located along a road beside a railway tracks. (BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Costel, 5, and Abel, 6, walk with their mother Aurica Koskodar toward the kindergarten passing by houses inhabited by Roma community in Araci village, 200kms north from Bucharest, on March 28, 2012. In this deprived village of central Romania, the number of children enrolled at the kindergarten went from 89 two years ago to 174 today thanks to a program developed by NGO Ovidiu Rom in partnership with the local community. Almost 49 percent of children aged 0 to 17 are at risk of poverty in Romania, the highest rate in the European Union, according to figures published by the European statistical office Eurostat in February. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/GettyImages)

  • A member of Roma community arrives with his children to the local kindergarten in Araci village, 200kms north from Bucharest, on March 28, 2012. In this deprived village of central Romania, the number of children enrolled at the kindergarten went from 89 two years ago to 174 today thanks to a program developed by NGO Ovidiu Rom in partnership with the local community. Almost 49 percent of children aged 0 to 17 are at risk of poverty in Romania, the highest rate in the European Union, according to figures published by the European statistical office Eurostat in February. (DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images)