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Critics decry detention, fingerprinting in refugee bill

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – The federal government is proposing massive changes in the way refugees are processed in this country. But critics fear the reforms, lumped into one single omnibus bill, won’t get enough scrutiny.

One of the changes proposed in Bill C-31 would impose automatic one-year detentions for adult refugee claimants who arrive by boat.

That has UBC law professor Catherine Dauvergne concerned about breaches to the human rights code. “That represents a very significant human rights infringement that the government had been pursuing under separate legislation that has now been moved into this bigger legislation,” she explains. “That would be a breach of international human rights law and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The changes also include giving the immigration minister the ability to establish a ‘safe country’ list. Refugee claimants coming from one of these countries will be stripped of their ability to appeal a decision rejecting their claim. “International refugee law, which Canada is committed to, requires that everybody have their claim reviewed in a fair manner. Of course, it is reasonable to be skeptical of people who come from places that are safe, but you still have to take those claims seriously,”  Dauvergne insists.

“It’s unfair to lock people up because they’ve come in a boat. It’s unfair to take people’s rights away because it appears they’ve come from a safe country.”

The bill will also implement the gathering of biometric information, like fingerprints and photographs, from people applying for student and visitor’s visas. Dauvergne says that information could be collected from as many as half a million people a year, and amounts to privacy infringement.

“This legislation is far-reaching in a whole bunch of different directions,” she claims. “The government is pouring huge resources into the system but it’s putting them in a place that promotes government interests rather the human rights of individuals.”

The law could be subject to legal action. “But it’s very hard to challenge immigration provisions in Canada. The government, for decades, has limited non-citizen access to the federal courts. The court challenges will come slowly, but they will take years,” Dauvergne says.