Friday, August 13, 2010

Refugees, terrorists ... or what?

A conservative friend of mine and I actually agreed on something while we were taking a trip to Toronto yesterday ... something has to be done to stop the flow of those who would abuse our normally generous system of asylum for refugees.

I am of course talking about yesterday's seizure by the Canadian Navy of the MV Sun Sea which came to our Western shores after an odyssey of many months and after having been turned away by Australia.   Many if not most of those on board (who have been living in squalor and after paying tens of thousands of dollars each for passage) are likely legitimate refugees, and of course we should process their claims compassionately.   But it is also highly likely that some on board are members of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), a listed terrorist organization in Canada, the US and the EU.   Not to mention those who actually organized the voyage are gangsters -- to put it mildly.

Canada finds itself in this bind almost every year, even almost every few months, thanks to a 1985 Supreme Court of Canada decision, Singh v. Employment and Immigration. which declared that everyone has a right to an oral hearing to determine their rights under due process, even stateless persons.    Significant was that in the 6-0 decision three of the justices found such a right under the Charter of Rights' guarantees of "security of person" and "fundamental justice", while the other three found it in Diefenbaker's Canadian Bill of Rights which prohibits "depriv[ing] a person of the right to a fair hearing in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations."

While no doubt this bipartite decision was the right decision (since it was founded in both the Constitution and statutory law, respectively) this unwittingly led to a huge backlog in refugee claims, one that persists twenty-five years later.   Being the son and nephew of refugees from Croatia from a time when it was a part of Yugoslavia (and both my father and uncle were persecuted for their religious beliefs whilst serving in the military), it does bother me that the line between legitimate refugees and those who are merely seeking better economic opportunities is increasingly blurred.   Far worse, however, are those in the underground who take advantage of the situation and create a black market to try to smuggle in those who truly need help.

This really isn't a time for partisanship.   After a long civil war, there is no doubt the Tamils in Sri Lanka are suffering even greater persecution from the controlling elements of the Sinhalese majority.   Those who have come here fleeing real and well-founded persecution (the standard under the four Geneva Conventions) must be granted protection.

But those who have no other interests other than economic ones should have applied through the regular process.   And those who would spread terrorism or organized crime should be sent home at the earliest opportunity -- or prosecuted here for their extortion and wilful neglect of their "passengers".

Expedite the process if we have to, but let's not screw it up either and send an innocent person home -- after all, one ship we sent back in 1939 -- thanks to the anti-Semitism of many Canadians including the most ardent "monarchists" -- headed right to a Nazi death camp.     There is no reason why this situation should turn into another "Voyage of the Damned."   That would be, in my opinion, even worse than what we're dealing with right now.

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Steven M said...

This is a very interesting post. It is worth noting that while we face on average one headline boat like this per year, Australia last year had approximately 100 boats attempt to land 5,000 people.

From 2001-2008, Australia would detain people in islands off the shore of Australia for the duration of the refugee processing.

Do you think that Canada should adopt such a system to tend the tide?

What do you think of Bill C-11, the Conservative-NDP-Bloc legislation that recently overhauled Canada's refugee laws?

BlastFurnace said...

Thanks for posting your comment, Steven.

I am not familiar with all aspects of the legislation. I am worried about a few points, however. First is that the appeals process divides refugees from "safe" and "unsafe" countries.

Clearly those fleeing persecution have come from an "unsafe" situation so how do we determine which is which? We've already managed to piss off the Czech Republic by requiring visas for visitors from there (in an attempt to reduce the number of Roma who are applying as refugees) -- unlike the other 26 EU members states for which no visa is required. Given Europe's open borders this seems contradictory on our part, and a possible sticking point with our current free trade talks with the EU.

Second, the bill prevents people who are finally denied from applying for reconsideration for at least one year (giving them a chance to stay until conditions in their home country improve). We're at risk of violating our obligations under several treaties, including the UN Convention on Children's Rights.

Finally, Canada remains one of a few countries that still hasn't ratified the Convention on Aboriginal Persons. What do we do if a Native American, a Maori or an Aboriginee seeks our protection?

Clearly this is something the courts are going to have to consider. The Senate let this one go by way too fast, as I see the bill got Royal Assent.