National News

Anti-Smuggling Legislation Violates Refugee Rights

Proposed new legislation aimed at tackling human smuggling falls far short of Canada’s international human rights and refugee protection obligations and will result in serious violations of the rights of refugees and migrants, said Amnesty International in response to the tabling in Parliament of Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, on October 21st.

The Bill severely restricts a number of essential rights of refugees and migrants if they arrive “irregularly” in Canada as part of a group that the government designates to be a “human smuggling event.” In effect, their rights are violated solely on the basis of how they have travelled to Canada and how many others have traveled with them. The restrictions include harsh powers of detention without timely review, denial of access to appeal processes, and serious limitations on freedom of movement and family unity.

This discriminatory treatment, with respect to such a range of important rights, contravenes the well-established right to be free from discrimination, enshrined in several treaties binding on Canada, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The proposal not only violates rights, it ignores the reality that many refugees, who have a well-founded fear of persecution, turn to smugglers for assistance in reaching a country of safety such as Canada, because of desperation and a lack of other options.

“Particularly outrageous is the proposal that all refugees arriving with a group that the government decides to designate as a human smuggling event would face mandatory detention for up to one year, with very little opportunity for review. This constitutes a serious violation of Canada’s international and constitutional obligation not to subject individuals to arbitrary detention. As well, using detention to penalize refugees for irregular entry into a country very clearly contravenes Canada’s obligations under Article 31 (2) of the Refugee Convention,” stated Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch.

Neve added that, “detention of refugee claimants should always be a measure of last resort and must be for reasons clearly recognized in international law, such as demonstrated concerns about security or an inability to confirm an individual’s identity. Punishing refugee claimants through automatic detention based solely on the mode of transport and the number of fellow travelers is impermissible. Detention should never be used as a means of deterring other refugees from seeking safety.”

If an individual does arrive in an irregular group that is designated by the Minister, under the Bill their right to apply for permanent or temporary residency in Canada would be restricted for five years. This would make it virtually impossible for the individual to travel anywhere outside of Canada during that time. The Refugee Convention requires States to provide refugees lawfully staying in their territory with travel documents so that they may travel outside the country, unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require. That is not possible without a permanent or temporary resident’s permit.

The Bill will also lead to violations of the right to family life, which is protected in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Individuals who arrive as part of a designated “human smuggling event” will not be able to apply for family reunification for five years, even though their claim for refugee status in Canada is accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board. “Keeping families apart for such lengthy periods violates rights, is mean-spirited and impedes the ability of newcomers to integrate and begin new lives in Canada,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch. “Such an approach is in nobody’s interests. Nobody wins.”

Individuals arriving in Canada in this way will also be denied equal access to justice. Unlike other refugee claimants, they will not be allowed to appeal a negative refugee decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Appeal Division. “An appeal is a fundamental safeguard in refugee decision-making, where a person’s life and liberty may be at stake. To withhold the opportunity to appeal solely on the basis of how an individual has arrived in Canada is punitive and discriminatory,” said Béatrice Vaugrante.

Amnesty International agrees that countries should take action to discourage human smuggling that is dangerous, exploitative and involves criminal elements. Smugglers often abuse the rights of the individuals to whom they provide passage. Measures to tackle smuggling must, however, ensure that the rights of refugees and migrants relying on smugglers are protected. “Bill C-49 does not get it right in drawing the line between tackling crime and upholding rights. It goes after smugglers, in large part, by punishing the individuals who turn to them – in desperation – for assistance,” said Alex Neve. “Those provisions of the Bill that are discriminatory and will lead to human rights violations must be withdrawn.”

Attack the criminals, the traffickers and smugglers, not the victims

Despite all the hype, the government’s new bill on human smuggling will do nothing to tackle the real problem. It risks criminalizing legitimate refugees and humanitarian workers, but will be ineffective in convicting those who victimize them.

“The Conservatives like to make big announcements about changes to the law, but what they should be focusing on is being smart on crime,” said New Democrat Immigration critic Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina). “This bill won’t stop criminals. Without the testimony of the victims, it is close to impossible to convict traffickers, smugglers or crooked consultants.”

The bill creates another class of refugee claimant and concentrates power in the hands of the Minister to decide which claimants should be segregated and held to a far different and more difficult standard than other refugees. It also makes it a crime to help a refugee who is violating the Immigration Act, even if the person is not aware of the violation – potentially criminalizing churches and refugee assistance groups as well as thousands of well-meaning Canadians.

“Instead of announcing this ill-conceived bill, the government should be working to enforce the strong and balanced laws we already have,” said NDP Public Safety Critic Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway). “The issue is enforcement and this bill does nothing to address that. What we need is increased resources for enforcement agencies.”

New Democrats have long called for more RCMP officers, a central complaint line and simple protocols for all victims who have been cheated, trafficked or smuggled. At present, those who file complaints to the immigration officials are wrapped in a bureaucratic maze and often told to go to CBSA, or the RCMP, to Human Resources Canada or to local police.

More resources are also needed for overseas Visa offices. Refugees often languish in camps for years before they are approved by Canadian officials.

“The best way to stop the boats from coming to Canada is to speed up the processing of refugee claims overseas,” said Chow. “Parliament already approved a strong and balanced refugee law a few months ago. Conservatives should work to enforce the law, allow genuine refugees to stay and deport bogus ones quickly.”

Child Advocacy Centres get $5.25m

(OTTAWA, October 7, 2010)

Canada has announced funding for the creation and enhancement of Child Advocacy Centres across Canada to help better serve young victims and witnesses of crime.

The $ 5.25 million in funding over 5 years will be available through the Victims Fund at the Department of Justice.

Provincial/territorial victim services, non-governmental organizations or existing child advocacy centres may apply for funding to establish a child advocacy centre in their jurisdiction or expand the services for an existing CAC.

Rob Nicholson, M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Shelly Glover, M.P. for Saint Boniface and Parliamentary Secretary for Indian Affairs and Northern Development made the announcement.

“The Government is committed to supporting victims of crime, particularly the most vulnerable among us – our children,” said Minister Nicholson. “Today’s investment will assist in making it easier for children’s voices to be heard throughout our criminal justice system.” Child Advocacy Centres (CACs) aim to minimize the trauma of being a child victim of crime. CACs are a collaborative team of professionals who work in a child-friendly setting to help a child victim or witness navigate the criminal justice system.

The work of the CAC staff greatly reduces the emotional and mental harm to the child and their approach often improves the quality of evidence brought forward in trials. Better evidence can lead to more charges laid, a higher rate of guilty pleas and convictions, and more appropriate sentences.

“Child Advocacy Centres make a significant contribution to helping young victims of crime, and preparing witnesses to reduce the trauma and assist the prosecution,” said Glover. “Our Government has made protecting families and the most vulnerable in our society a priority.”

Newcomers get help with work experience

Ottawa, October 5, 2010 — Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney today announced a new program to help newcomers gain valuable Canadian work experience, a significant hurdle for many immigrants.

“Newcomers are key to building a stronger Canada ,” said Minister Kenney. “The Federal Internship for Newcomers program helps immigrants use their skills in the Canadian labour market as they begin their new lives in Canada.”

This program offers newcomers the opportunity to acquire temporary Canadian work experience in fields relevant to their skills and experience. Newcomers can benefit from work placements within the federal government, which facilitates a smoother integration into the Canadian labour market for program participants.

“Our government is committed to helping newcomers succeed,” said Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. “This program is an example of how we are taking action so that newcomers can maximize their talents and contribute to Canada ’s long-term economic success.”

Over the past two years, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC ) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC ) piloted two similar internship initiatives. This year, in addition to CIC and HRSDC , several other federal departments and agencies are taking part in the expanded initiative, including: Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, Natural Resources Canada, and the Canada Border Services Agency. Compared to last year, these additional organizations represent a quadrupling of the number of federal organizations offering opportunities to newcomers. Besides these organizations, a number of other departments and agencies have already confirmed their interest in participating in the program.

Over the past year, CIC and HRSDC were able to extend opportunities to 29 interns. This year, the number has more than doubled, with over 60 interns participating in the fall intake. In addition to the policy, program and administrative positions offered last year, new internship positions have been added in fields such as finance, translation, communication and science. The expansion of this program follows up on a recommendation by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

In addition to the departments and agencies that are ready to hire interns this fall, many others have expressed interest in a future intake. As the new program gains popularity, it is expected that the numbers will only increase as more federal organizations join the program.

CIC and participating departments and agencies are partnering with World University Services Canada, Local Agencies Serving Immigrants, Hire Immigrants Ottawa, and Service Intégration Travail Outaouais to select interns.

Michael Ignatieff announces Liberal Family Care Plan

OTTAWA (Oct 5 2010) – Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff today announced the Liberal Party’s plan to stand with Canadian families by helping family caregivers with the cost of caring for sick or aging loved ones at home.

“Families look after each other,” said the Liberal Leader. “Canadian families want to shoulder the responsibility of caring for their loved ones at home, but they also want a government that stands with them.

A Liberal government will invest $1 billion annually in a new Family Care Plan to help reduce the pressure on hundreds of thousands of struggling Canadian families. The Liberal Family Care Plan includes two new measures: a new six-month Family Care Employment Insurance Benefit, similar to the EI parental leave benefit, so that more Canadians can care for gravely ill family members at home without having to quit their jobs; and a new Family Care Tax Benefit, modeled on the Child Tax Benefit, to help low- and middle-income family caregivers who provide essential care to a family member at home.

“Our Family Care Plan reflects the value of family caregivers – their value to our economy, our health, our families, and our communities,” said Michael Ignatieff, who made the announcement at the home of a caregiver who has spent her life savings to care for her husband, who has a rare form of cancer.

“Canadians want choices when it comes to caring for their families,” said Liberal Heath Critic Ujjal Dosanjh, who joined MP Ignatieff at the announcement along with Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, who is a family caregiver.

PM Harper launches Mississauga BRT

PM_BRT The Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit project has been officially started. The Mississauga BRT system is an east-west transit corridor from Winston Churchill Boulevard to Renforth Drive.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Mississauga to announce the official commencement of the project noting that the BRT would be the public transport equivalent of a super highway. Prime Minister Harper said that “The GTA is the pulsating heart of the National economy” with its dynamic financial, manufacturing and technology businesses.

The buses will carry thousands of passengers daily through 12 Mississauga stations along an 18-kilometer corridor paralleling Highway 403 and Eglinton Avenue dedicated exclusively to buses. The BRT will be a key link in the 100-kilometer corridor connecting municipalities all the way from Oakville to Pickering. Bob Dechert, Member of Parliament for Mississauga – Erindale said that the project represented a major improvement to mass transit in the Mississauga area and the GTA making it faster for residents to get to work, school, medical appointments and community events.

“It would encourage people to leave their cars at home thereby relieving congestion and reducing air pollution and green house emissions and making our economy more efficient,” he said. Harinder Takhar Minister of Government Services for the province of Ontario said the project would create 2500 new jobs. Hazel McCallion, Mayor of Mississauga noted the project would be on time and on budget. She said congestion in the GTA was a very serious issue that could affect the economic progress of the area.

The GTA is home to about 60 Fortune five hundred companies. The BRT system is expected to be completed in 2012. The project is made possible through funding from the federal government, the Province of Ontario, GO Transit (A Division of Metrolinx) and the City of Mississauga.

(Story and photo by Edward Akinwunmi, Mosaic Edition)

Internationally Trained Architects get funding

The Government of Canada is funding a project that will make it easier for internationally trained architects to find work in their field. Architecture Canada will receive over $1.6 million in Foreign Credential Recognition Program funding for its project entitled Integration of Broadly Experienced Foreign Architects in Canada project.

Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, made the announcement recently. “Attracting and retaining the best international talent to address existing and future labour market challenges is critical to Canada ’s long-term economic success,” said Minister Finley. Through this project, Architecture Canada will create a fair, efficient and timely pan-Canadian system for evaluating and licensing architects with international education and work experience.

The organization will also work with Athabasca University to develop bridge-to-work programs and language training courses aimed at improving labour market integration for newcomers. Courses will be offered at the new Centre of Architecture at Athabasca University in September 2011.

“Architecture Canada and the Canadian Architectural Licensing Authorities welcome the grant from the federal government to undertake this worthwhile study,” said Mr. Jim McKee, Executive Director of Architecture Canada. “The architectural profession is committed to increasing the number of architects in practice to provide services to our clients in Canada and abroad.”

Through Canada ’s Economic Action Plan, the Government of Canada is working with the provinces and territories and other partners, such as employers, to address barriers to foreign credential recognition in Canada. This partnership directly contributed to the development of the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, which was announced in November 2009.

Halton meets Latin America

Hostess_Hmc(April 24, 2010 Oakville, Ontario)

Ricardo Lampert, Argentina born lawyer could remember 10 years ago when he came to Oakville. He felt he was the only person not born in Canada because of the low number of minorities living in the area.

Today, he is not regretting his choice to come to Canada and raise his family. Lampert was the speaker at the Annual Fundraising Gala of Halton Multicultural Council (HMC) held in Oakville. The advice given to him by a counselor at the HMC to get a Canadian experience by working in the insurance industry has been rewarding. He wrote the examinations to gain entry into the industry and was able to get a job few months after arrival in Canada.

He is now the Senior Associate Manager in the Oakville Office of Sun Life Financial. Ricardo Lampert has paved the way for many newcomers in the insurance business by providing them the opportunity afforded him by Sun Life Financial. He became a citizen in 2006. “We are Canadian citizen and we are so proud to achieve our dreams of raising our children in the best country in the world,” he said. The theme of this year’s gala was “Halton meets Latin America.”

Mike Wallace, Member of Parliament, MP for Burlington told Mosaic Edition in an interview that the Halton area had tremendous opportunities for newcomers. “The opportunities are varied and immense depending on the skill set of the newcomers,” he said. Halton region is well positioned to take advantage of nearby cities. He said “if no appointment is available in Halton there could be jobs available in surrounding cities like Mississauga, Brampton and Hamilton. Mike Wallace is proud of Canada’s multiculturalism. “Canada is very accepting, caring and “we have an obligation to help people settle and become Canadians at the first opportunity.”

Joana Mathews, Executive Director Halton Multicultural Council said “Halton region is a very diversified area.” “For a newcomer, the first thing is to find where you are comfortable to live in the area. You need to be surrounded by families and friends as best as you can.” The annual gala featured the HMC Leadership Award presented to the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Services of Halton, SAVIS. Award recipient, Jacqueline Benn-John, Executive Director of SAVIS said, “Halton region is not static and the changing demography is a good reminder that we cannot afford to remain static. “SAVIS clients often require crisis support for trauma counseling. But we have also recognized that it may also require housing, language instruction, advocacy, court support, child care or healthy or nutritious food for their family,” she noted.

SAVIS, formerly Halton Rape Crisis Centre was established in 1987.It is a non-profit organization that provides free, confidential and non-judgmental 24-hour support to all survivors of sexual violence. Bill Allison, Founding President HMC and Trivi Mehedale, President HMC presented the award. The evening featured performances by various Latin groups including Azuca Latin Band, Heellas Colobianas, Ecuadorian dance group and Venezuelan Harpist, Mariaelba Chacon.

The HMC is currently seeking Board members for the 2010-2012 session. HMC membership and Board member Nomination forms are downloadable at www.halton-multicultural .org

(Story and photo by Edward Akinwunmi, Mosaic Edition)

Live-in caregiver program overhaul

Pearl of orient gift Vebron Erech Partosa,18 and his dad Orlando Partosa were misty eyed and emotional as they listen to the announcement of major overhaul of the Live-in Caregiver Program by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney.

Live-in Caregivers and their advocates sobbed openly and showed their emotion, occasionally clapping loudly as the Minister read through proposed changes to make things easier for many Filipino women who come to Canada as nannies.

Vebron Partosa told Mosaic Edition in an exclusive interview that the new proposals would help her mother, Elena Partosa, 43, a live-in caregiver now getting chemotherapy following her bout with cancer. “I thank the government for helping caregivers,” said Vebron Partosa. The proposed changes to the Live-in Caregiver Program eliminate the requirement for live-in caregivers to undergo a second medical examination when applying to become permanent residents. The change to this policy was advocated by Juana Tejada, a live-in caregiver who was diagnosed with cancer and faced deportation back to the Philippines because she failed the medical examination that would have paved her way to becoming a permanent resident.

Tejada was allowed to stay in the country through special ministerial intervention on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. She died at the age of 39. “Our government fully supports the ‘Juana Tejada Law.’ We propose to implement this change in her honour to ensure that no one else has to endure this same painful experience,” said Jason Kenney.

Another proposed change would allow live-in caregivers who work overtime to apply for permanent residence sooner. Currently, live-in caregivers must work for two years within the first three years of entry into the program before they can apply for permanent residence in Canada. Some caregivers could not meet the requirements because of various circumstances including pregnancies and loss of employment.

The new measure will allow live-in caregivers to be eligible to apply for permanent residence after 3,900 work hours, the equivalent of working a standard workweek for 2 years. Joelina Medina Maloto was delighted about this portion of the proposed changes. She has an ongoing legal battle against her employment agency . She was only allowed a few comments after getting a confirmation from her attorney who was present at the venue of the conference. Another live-in caregiver, Mary Grace Gallegos said nannies were made to work up to 18 hours in a day without receiving fair compensation for the extra hours despite signing a contract for 8 hours. The new measure will allow a portion of overtime hours to count toward the work requirement and enable caregivers to apply for permanent residence sooner. The changes would also increase the time that live-in caregivers are allowed to complete the work requirement from three to four years.

Employers of live-in caregivers will now be required to pick up the travel costs for live-in caregivers to come to Canada, medical insurance until they become eligible for provincial health coverage and work place safety insurance as well as any recruiting fees owed third parties. The Filipino community was no doubt happy at the proposed changes to the live-in caregiver regulations. Tobias Enverga, President of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Toronto, conferred honorary membership on the Minister.

Minister Kenney received a ‘pearl of orient’ in honour of his efforts to alleviate the hardship of Filipinas working as caregivers. Julius and Bunny Tiang made the presentation on behalf of the community. “The Government of Canada is taking action to protect foreign workers from potential abuse and exploitation,” said Kenney. In 2008, Canada admitted 12,878 live-in caregivers.

The proposed changes to the Live-in Caregiver Program will be published in the Canada Gazette December 19 for a 30-day comment period open to all Canadians. Final regulatory changes will be published after this period.

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Halton meets Latin America