Canada’s shameful refusal to offer asylum to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany aboard the SS St. Louis
in 1939 would have been perfectly possible under the provisions of a new refugee bill the Conservative government wants to push through by June 29.
The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers explains that under the proposed Bill C-31, “The SS St. Louis was piloted by human smugglers intent on abusing Canadian immigration system. The passengers are part of a ‘human smuggling event’ and will be automatically detained for one year. If their refugee claims are rejected, they will be deported back to Germany with no chance to appeal the negative decision.”
That’s among several reasons the Right Reverend Dennis Drainville, Anglican Bishop of Quebec, has added his voice to the chorus of opponents calling for the proposed legislation’s withdrawal.
Bill C-31 gives arriving refugees just 15 days to prove their claims, and 15 days to appeal a refusal. It removes an expert, independent advisory body from the process for designating certain countries as “safe,” thus removing safeguards against countries being designated on the basis of political, trade and other considerations. The bill permits the minister of citizenship and immigration to seek to revoke an individual’s refugee status and deport them at any time up until they gain citizenship. A person’s permanent residence could be revoked should the circumstances in their home country change or should they return home for any reason, including to see a sick parent or to look for a lost child. This last provision will apply equally to those who were recognized as refugees in Canada and those who were processed overseas when sponsored by church groups such as the Diocese of Quebec’s Noella Project.
“The concentration of wide-reaching and vaguely defined powers in a political minister, with no mechanisms of judicial accountability, displays a dangerous inclination away from the rule of law and principles of responsible and democratic governance,” said Bishop Drainville, himself a former member of the Ontario legislature. “The diocese is deeply concerned that major portions of this law fail to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with international law.”
Over recent decades the Canadian churches have been in the forefront of efforts to ensure that Canada offers protection to refugees, through refugee sponsorship, through legal action, and through calls on the government for the fair, just and humane treatment of those who arrive here seeking asylum. The Diocese of Quebec supports an immigration system that is fair, independent of political considerations, and affordable. Bill C-31, however, is unconstitutional, undermines our humanitarian traditions, and violates our international obligations.
With Bill-31, Canada would be turning its back on its tradition of welcoming the stranger. As Christians who share this tradition, we demand that Bill C-31 be withdrawn at once.