06/19/2012 08:16 EDT | Updated 08/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada Under Bill C-31 Is Not the Place I Found Refuge


Forty years ago my family and I arrived in Canada, desperately seeking refuge from Idi Amin's Uganda. We had lost everything. We were scared, desperate and were left with nothing but the clothes on our back. However, despite the fact that we were forced to leave the only home we had ever known, we were extremely fortunate. The Canadian government and the Canadian people welcomed my family along with thousands of other Ugandan Asians with open arms. When our own country had abandoned us, you welcomed us into yours. For that I will always be grateful.

Having once been a refugee, my greatest fear is that one day Canadians, as fair-minded as they may be, will close their doors to other refugees if they feel that their refugee system is being abused. Therefore, I will be the first one to state that there must be a fair, consistent, efficient immigration and refugee system in our country. However, I do not believe that Bill C-31: Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, is the answer. Not only is this bill unconstitutional and inconsistent with Canada's international obligations, it will change the face of Canada as we know it.

Having successfully made it's way through the House of Commons, Bill C-31 is now in the Senate where it will be studied and debated. As the critic of this bill, I had the opportunity to address my colleagues at the second reading of Bill C-31 earlier this week where I shed light on a few of the many controversial and unjust provisions of this legislation. It was here that I set out to explain the impact the passage of this bill would have on our country, and the threat that that it would certainly pose to core Canadian values such as justice, compassion and acceptance.

For example:

  • A vote to pass Bill C-31 would be a vote to create a two-tiered refugee system, one that does not provide all refugee claimants with a fair hearing based on the facts of the individual cases, and one that discriminates against refugees based on their country of origin.

  • A vote to pass Bill C-31 would be a vote in favour of treating refugees who have been victims of torture, abuse, persecution and gender-based violence as criminals, rather than as victims.

  • A vote to pass Bill C-31 would be a vote to pass a piece of legislation that directly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and directly contradicts a number of Canada's international obligations.

  • A vote to pass Bill C-31 would be a vote in favour of denying the most basic essential healthcare to refugees, even to pregnant women who require natal care.

  • Finally, a vote to pass Bill C-31 would be a vote in favour of sending 16 and 17-year-old children -- who have come to our country desperately seeking refuge -- to jail-like detention centers for a minimum of six months.

This is not the Canada that I know. This is not the Canada that 40 years ago welcomed my family when we desperately sought refuge. We as Canadians must preserve the justness and integrity of our immigration system. However, we must do this while staying true to principles of acceptance, tolerance, compassion and fairness; principles that make us all proud to say we are Canadian.