03/28/2016 02:31 EDT | Updated 03/29/2017 05:12 EDT

Conservatives' Bills Continue To Haunt Immigrants And Refugees

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Canadian passport

When I first heard about the Conservatives' Bill C-31, the act that enables the government to strip refugees of their permanent resident status, I almost cried. I was outraged and I felt sad. I cannot imagine the fear and suffering of those being targeted by this bill.

How bad is Bill C-31?

Mazin Helmy Al-Obeidi was a political prisoner under Saddam Hussein. He deserted from Hussein's army and participated in activities against the dictator. For this he spent many years in jail as a political prisoner.

In 1998, he escaped from jail and fled to Lebanon. There, in 2000, the UNHCR, and then the Canadian government in 2002 recognized him as a refugee. He was accepted for resettlement in Canada in 2007 after extensive background checks due to his service in the Iraqi army. He became a permanent resident upon arrival in Canada in November 2007.

After the downfall of Hussein, Al-Obeidi travelled back to Iraq to see his family. He carefully followed all the legal requirements as a Canadian permanent resident. He was last in Iraqi in November 2012.

On Dec. 15, 2012, C-31 changed the Canadian refugee law. The new law is retroactive and within it is the cessation provision. The provision has the effect of striping a refugee of their permanent resident status. Cessation provision is used to target refugees who travel back to their country of origin irrespective of the circumstances at the time of travel.

Although Al-Obeidi had traveled back to Iraq after Hussein was no longer a threat and at the time of travel, there was no such law. The retroactive effect of the cessation provisions of C-31 could cost him his permanent resident status.

Al-Obeidi passed his citizenship test in January 2014. He was expecting to be called to take the citizenship oath, but instead Canadian Immigration launched an investigation and later filed an application to cessate Al-Obeidi's permanent resident status and freeze the processing of his citizenship application.

Faced with the dire consequence of being deported, Al-Obeidi brought his case to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The board dismissed Canada Immigration's cessation application but the government appealed to the Federal Court. It took another year to have the court dismiss Canada Immigration's review application.

Although Al-Obeidi won his case but he has suffered enormous stress due to the uncertainty of his status, not to mention the financial burden of the legal fees he had to incur.

Al-Obeidi may escape deportation but hundreds, maybe thousands, of refugees who have been living in Canada as permanent residents are still living in fear. Baharch Esfand and her daughter are also being targeted. Esfand landed in Canada in 2006 with her husband and daughter as refugees.

Bahareh's husband was found to be at risk in Iran; she and her first child were classified as refugees under the principle of family unity.

Since landed, Bahareh gave birth to her second daughter in Canada. The family is now a well-established self-supporting family of four that has called Canada home for almost a decade. Prior to the implementation of C-31, Bahareh visited her family twice in Iran. When Bahareh filed a citizenship application in 2014, Canada Immigration launched the cessation process to revoke her permanent resident status.

Even though Bahareh's husband and one of their children are Canadian citizens, it does not affect the government's determination to revoke her and her other daughter's permanent resident status. Bahareh brought her case to the IRB and CIC's cessation application was dismissed in 2015. CIC filed an application to the Federal Court to review the IRB decision but was unsuccessful. Undeterred by the defeats, CIC filed an appeal to the Federal Court decision and this case is still in the legal process.

A government internal bulletin has shown that the Conservative government has set an annual target of a minimum of 875 cessations for the Canada Border Services Agency to execute.

As a result, refugees are being investigated, their permanent resident status in jeopardy and cases are ending up in court. Since the cessation process is often triggered by the filing of a citizenship application, the cessation persecution of CBSA has brought fear to the refugee community and many are afraid to apply for citizenship.

The Conservatives' Bill C-31 is not only unjust and inhuman, it is wasting the court and taxpayers' precious resources. The permanent residents that are being targeted are refugees that have already been scrutinized by and recognized as refugees by the Canadian government. These newcomers are grateful to Canada's compassion and generosity. They work hard, contributing to our community.

Bill C-31 has nothing to do with fraud and terrorism. Although the NDP has been advocating to repeal it, the present immigration minister has only promised to review the Conservatives' law.

The Conservatives' anti-immigration/refugee values and actions are simply not in doubt. They were restrained when they were in minority government but once they became majority, our immigration system entered a dark age. They first installed Bill C-31 to target the refugees, then in 2014 enacted Bill C-24 that turned immigrants and their families into second-class citizens.

During that time, the Conservatives scrapped 280,000 skilled worker immigration applications, people who had been waiting for years to have their application processed.

They stripped tens of thousands of foreign students of the opportunity to seek work and stay in Canada. They raised the bar for immigrants to become citizens.

If the Conservatives had won last year and continued as a majority government, I have little doubt that after targeting refugees, first, immigrants would have been the next target to strip off their citizenship.

When the Conservatives were in a minority, they made an effort to reach out to the ethnic immigrant community, but once they formed a majority government, their true face was exposed. Fortunately, they only served one majority term, but the damage is already done.

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