Refugee Rights Day and Bill C-31

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April 4th was Refugee Rights Day. Most of us probably didn’t notice that, but its worth looking into what is going on right now with regards to changes to Canada’s refugee system. The second reading of Bill C-31 is going to take place sometime after April 22.

When I think about Bill C-31, the words that come to my mind are those of Joy Kogawa, a poet and novelist. She wrote that: “As a Canadian of Japanese ancestry, I was branded in the core of my being as ‘the unwanted’ to be feared. What I crave is a country where iron bars – that exclude, categorize, diminish and punish – are used, instead, to build structures of healing and welcome. Of what are we so afraid?”

I want to know what it is that the Canadian government is so afraid of that it would look to try to impose yet more limits on those seeking asylum here. Already refugees face many challenges including the all to arbitrary decisions of judges. Bill C-31 would make things harder. It would discriminate against refugees based on how they arrive in our country, as though arriving by airplane is somehow proof that a person’s need for refuge is greater than that of those arriving by boat. It separates children from their parents. Setting a fifteen day deadline for refugees to deliver their case in writing is unrealistic. It is setting an arbitrary impossible deadline so that fewer people will be able to jump the hoop and stay in Canada. Bill C-31 allows the government new measures to revoke permanent resident status, allowing Canada to deport refugees years after being granted protection, so they can never truly feel secure here.

When I was living in Montreal, Quebec, I heard stories from those whose churches were giving sanctuary to those whom the refugee boards rejected. The people seeking sanctuary had become the friends and in a way, family, of the churchgoers. The churchgoers valued them so much they were willing to supply them with what they need to live. Refugees are not people to be feared. They are our future friends and neighbors. Or at least, they should be permitted to become that.

I want to bring up another point about Joy Kogawa’s quote. How we look at refugees affects not just those who might consider coming, but it also affects those who are already here. Laws like Bill C-31 communicate an acceptance of racism. They encourage us to see our country as under attack from “foreigners” who will take advantage of us. Think of the messages this sends to our children. Think of how a child from a minority would feel when he hears comments degrading other people he identifies with (such as others from the same ethnic background). Will saying “well, you came here legally” or “you’re Canadian, they’re not” really comfort such a child? If a white child hears complaints about “those people” not belonging here, how will he treat those classmates who do not match his concept of “who belongs here”? The underlying message of bills such as C-31 is to fear and reject others.

Let’s say no to that. Let’s refuse to be part of such nonsense. Speak out.

Information can be found at: http://ccrweb.ca/en/refugee-reform

Write to your local MP. Write also to the members of the Parliamentary standing committee that will be reviewing the topic. Their addresses can be found at http://ccrweb.ca/files/cimm2012.xls.

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