Unbalancing refugee reform

When the Balanced Refugee Reform Act came up for discussion in parliament in 2010, the then-minority Harper government was forced to compromise with the opposition parties in order to get the legislation passed. But that was then.

Now that the Prime Minister has a majority in the House of Commons — and a thoroughly stacked Senate — it looks like those compromises may be about to be revisited (Kristen Shane, “Thought refugee reforms were settled? Think Again: Advocates fear return of proposals that were ‘extremely damaging to refugee rights,” embassymag.ca, 1 February 2012).

The Harper government is considering changing a law it supported that would dramatically alter Canada’s refugee system—before much of that law even takes effect.

This has led some refugee advocates to fear a return to an earlier version of the legislation they say was damaging to refugee rights….

The refugee reform act, Bill C-11, received royal assent on June 29, 2010, with support from all parties in the House. But it only passed after opposition critics and refugee advocates appearing before the House immigration committee studying the bill voiced concern over several parts of the original bill the government had tabled. One part prevented designated groups from accessing a new appeal body. The Conservatives were governing as a minority and needed opposition support to keep their government afloat, so they agreed to changes.

Government departments had expected many of the changes in the Act to come into effect at the end of 2011.

But on Aug. 19, 2011, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that the Balanced Refugee Reform Act wouldn’t take effect until June 29, 2012, the latest date legislatively possible.

Immediately, rumours started swirling among refugee lawyers and academics that Mr. Kenney had delayed the expected implementation date because the government was looking to change the law. The thought was: the Conservatives, free from the minority yoke, have a firm majority in both the House and Senate and so they have the space to flex their policy muscles without fear of their government falling as a result.

Mr. Kenney left the door open to changes in a September interview with Embassy. “Look, I’m not going to rule anything in or out,” he said.

Last week, the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that the government is considering changes to the law.

Former Immigration and Refugee Board chairperson Peter Showler believes that refugee advocates are right to be fearful about the coming revisions:

The changes in general will be more in line with what the government originally proposed in Bill C-11, before it compromised as a minority government.

For now, however, the exact changes the government plans remain unknown.

What do the Conservatives risk if they go back on the previously agreed compromises? Olivia Chow, the NDP immigration critic at the time the compromises were agreed upon, suggests that the Harper government may have voters wondering if they can be trusted.

“If Harper’s Conservatives decide to betray all of the people that participated in putting this balanced approach together and go back on their words, [they] could do so, but a promise made should be a promise delivered,” she said.


Photo by asw909

Tags: Balanced Refugee Reform Act, Bill C-11, Human rights, Immigration and Refugee Board, Olivia Chow, Prorogue state, Refugee, Stephen Harper