Human smugglers will face mandatory prison terms and illegal migrants will have a harder time qualifying to staying in Canada under new legislation introduced Thursday by the Conservative government.
The complex and lengthy “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act” tabled Thursday in the House of Commons will target both human smugglers and the people they transport to Canada.
The bill, introduced to put a stop to ships full of migrants landing on Canada’s shores, increases penalties for those caught supporting human smuggling and extends punishment to anyone who aided a smuggling operation.
The proposed legislation would impose a 10-year mandatory minimum jail sentence on human smugglers ushering in more than 50 people at time, officials say.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who introduced the bill at a news conference in Vancouver, called human smuggling “a despicable crime that recklessly endangers human lives” and said the new rules were necessary.
“Are these measure tough? Yes, undoubtedly, because in order to make human smugglers and fraudsters think twice, they have to be,” Toews said. “But they are also fair: fair to those who legitimately and legally wait or have waited in line for a better life in Canada, and fair for all Canadians.”
The bill gives the federal minister of public safety the power to decide whether a migrant’s arrival in Canada is “irregular” and to subject them to tough new restrictions while they remain here.
Irregular asylum seekers would be put on a five-year probation under the act, forbidding them from leaving Canada or applying to sponsor their families to come to Canada.
The bill would also allow them to be detained for up to a year in order, while they are assessed for any threats they may pose to Canada.
These same migrants can also be re-assessed within five years of arrival, to determine if they still need Canada’s protection and shelter.
Illegal migrants under “probation” will be required to remain in Canada and will not be able to apply for immigration. This will also make them unable to sponsor family members who wish to come to Canada.
Illegal migrants will be barred from returning to Canada if they return to their home country or otherwise demonstrate they no longer are in need of protection.
If individuals apply for refugee or protected person status and are turned down, they will not longer have access to an appeal at the Immigration and Refugee Board. Instead, they will have to appeal to the Federal Court for a judicial review of the decision they are protesting. But they won’t be able to stay their removal from Canada while the court hears their decision.
Illegal migrants will also be limited to the same health benefits that members of the government and Canadian public receive.
Bill comes under criticism
Opposition critics are already complaining that the bill will do little to crack down on human smuggling, and risks criminalizing Canada’s refugees.
“This is going to give the minister absolute power, above the courts,” said NDP public safety critic Don Davies.
However, neither the Liberals nor the NDP would say whether they will support the bill. Critics from both parties said they wanted Ottawa do something about human smuggling, but said the bill tabled Thursday likely does more harm than good.
“It will make it more expensive and make it more dangerous for asylum seekers,” said Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau. “We have huge concerns about those provisions.”
Prosecuting human smugglers
The proposed new law would also make it easier to prosecute human smugglers.
If the bill becomes law, it would make it possible for human smugglers to be prosecuted if they violate any aspect of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. At present, they can only be prosecuted if they knew the people they were smuggling did not have the documents they needed to be admitted to Canada.
The new law would expand the definition of a human smuggler to include anyone who “knows or is reckless as to whether” an asylum seeker has broken the law.
Individuals found guilty of human smuggling would be slapped with jail sentences that escalate if they are working with or for a criminal organization, or if they harm, kill or put other peoples’ lives at risk.
Owners and operators of the ships used for human smuggling will also be punished if they file false or misleading paperwork with authorities, or if they fail to comply with any instructions of the Minister of Transport may direct towards their vessels. These punishments will be made possible by amending the existing Marine Transportation Safety act, which currently has minimal penalties for the same offences.
Critics say Canada already has stiff jail terms and fines for human smuggling, but has not been active enough in applying them.
The government also appointed Ward Elcock as its first special adviser on Human Smuggling and Illegal Migration.
The special adviser will be responsible for advancing Canada’s efforts to combat human smuggling on the international stage, by working with partner countries and relevant organizations.
Elcock is a career public servant who previously served as the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, as well as the deputy minister of national defence.