Stop the #Refugee Exclusion Act Bill C-31!

How the Proposed Immigration Bill C-31 Affects our Community and Why it Needs to be Stopped

 A community information primer by the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO)

What’s going on?

 Bill C-31, a proposed immigration law tabled in Parliament, if passed, will disrupt Permanent Residence as we know it. Targeted mainly at migrants in need of refuge –those fleeing persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, gender or sexual orientation –the law will drastically gut Canada’s already flailing refugee program.

 Such a move stands to threaten the safety, health, well-being and integrity of our communities.

Tell me more.

The new proposed immigration law is called Bill C-31. It was tabled in Parliament on February 16, 2012 with a push to have it passed and implemented by June of this year. Bill C-31, ironically titled “Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act,” is a re-incarnation of the widely criticized and condemned “human smuggling” Bill C-4 (previously C-49), retaining nearly all of its controversial provisions and reintroducing those aspects of the “Balanced Refugee Reform Act” (Bill C-11) that communities and human rights advocates pressured opposition parties to defeat back in 2010.

 Here’s what Bill C-31 proposes:

  • Stripping permanent residence and deporting permanent residents whose refugee claims were previously approved should the Minister decide, at any time, that they no longer need protection from their country of origin (or if the Minister decides their country of origin is now “safe”)
  • Collection of invasive biometric information for all applicants of  temporary resident (visitor) visas, study permits or work permits.
  • Mandatory detention of at least one year for refugees as young as 16 who the Minister designates as “irregular arrivals.”
  • A 5-year ban on applying for permanent residence for refugees designated as “irregular arrivals” even if their refugee claims are ultimately successful.
  • An additional 5-year year ban until refugees designated as “irregular arrivals” can sponsor their family members and be re-united with them in Canada.
  • Unilateral power for the Minister to name so-called “safe” countries in order to create a two-tiered refugee determination process based on nationality. Refugee claimants from these designated countries will have no right of appeal and will have very limited time to access lawyers and prepare for their cases.
  • Eliminating the right to file an Application for Permanent Residence on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds (“H&C Application”) until 1 year following the refusal of a refugee claim (Most refused refugees will be deported within the year).

How does this affect our community?

 Immigrants and refugees from South Asia move to Canada for a variety of reasons – to seek work and opportunities for themselves and their families, to flee conditions of war, poverty or persecution.  However in many cases, even after landing in Canada, they face multiple barriers in getting their skills and qualifications recognized, obtaining decent jobs for decent pay or accessing services they are entitled to. Nevertheless many in our community persevere and build better lives for their kids and families.

 South Asians are also the largest demographic among people of colour in Canada. Here in the Greater Toronto Area, nearly a quarter of the city’s population identifies as South Asian. Our communities have a long history in Canada dating back to the early 20th century and our community members have made invaluable contributions to all sectors of society – be it in health-care, education, social-services, arts and culture – and much, much more.

Despite this, our communities continue to be attacked, vilified and painted as system abusing refugees, and are accused of flooding Canadian visa posts with “fake marriage” sponsorship applications.  For example, over the last 2 years, months-long detention of over 500 Tamil refugees aboard the Ocean Lady and MV Sunsea, including children, was justified with false accusations that they are criminals and terrorists.

Gay rights references from the new citizenship guide have been removed and racist references to practices such as “honour killings” have been added, further stereotyping our communities. All the while women are made more vulnerable to abuse through the introduction of ‘conditional permanent residence’ for sponsored spouses. Avenues for family reunification have been closed by putting a moratorium on parental (& grandparental) sponsorships. Muslim women who choose to wear niqab (face veil) during the citizenship ceremony have been accused of being a security threat and have been the subject of debate and proposals to deny them access to public services.

Our agencies support South Asian communities through difficult and often stigmatized issues such as HIV/AIDS education, healthy relationships and more. Our services are premised on trust and confidentiality between clients and service providers. We strongly believe that increasingly stringent laws on immigration status that place people in insecure conditions and threaten their residency will negatively impact their ability to secure stable employment, housing and access to health services.

What are others saying?

 Bill C-31 is a continuation of a steady and relentless attempt to dismantle the refugee system and move the whole immigration system towards one of temporary migration, where increasingly, people are treated as disposable economic units. Many civil liberties and human rights organizations have already issued statements condemning the bill and exposing ill-advised rhetoric justifying its implementation.

For example, while the official press-release for Bill C-31 claims it will “protect the integrity of Canada’s immigration system,” the Canadian Civil Liberties Association asserts that it will actually“stand in stark contrast to Canada’s legal obligations under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” And further when the release declares the bill will “include further reforms to the asylum system to make it faster and fairer (our emphasis),” Amnesty International instead affirms that in reality it will “violate Canada’s commitment to uphold the 1951 Refugee convention and to abide by provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

 You can find statements issued by various organizations here:

No One Is Illegal
Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers
Amnesty International
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Council of Refugees
Roma Community Centre

What can I do?

1) Call and write your Member of Parliament. Tell them you want them to vote to scrap Bill C-31 – The Refugee Exclusion Act. To find their contact information, click

2) Have your organization, traditional council, union, community group, or artist collective write a short public statement/press release of support of migrants and against Bill C-31. You can use information within the primer and statements issued by organizations listed above for reference.

3) Always take a minute to write letters to the editor and comment on news stories – make a difference in public conversation! Reinforce your support for migrants and refugees, demand that Bill C-31 be immediately and entirely scrapped. All letters must be short (100 words), include name, mailing address and daytime phone number of the writer; state “Letter to the Editor” in subject; and content should be in the body of the email.

4) Stay Informed. You can join the low-traffic ASAAP Newsletter List-serv here:


For more information contact:

 South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO): Karin Baqi 416-487-6371

Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP): Yogi Acharya 416-599-2727ext. 225