Whether or not you like Bill C-11, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s major refugee reform package, it is nonetheless well on its way to becoming the law of the land with little or no amendment.

To the horror of many refugee advocates, the bill got an unexpected boost from the Canadian Bar Association, which “welcomed” the bill just three short days after its more controversial elements were revealed on March 29.

Refugee advocates were so busy trying to get their poorly-funded and poorly-run organizations to reach consensus and articulate their recommended changes that they forgot editorial boards across the country would be running with what they had -- a public that seemed to be fed up with the current system and the apparent approval of a major lawyer’s group, never mind that the CBA also said that it had “a number of concerns with the legislation.”

Kenney’s team put this legislation together behind closed doors and then rushed it to second reading, and then to committee. Notwithstanding the fact that reforms were expected for many months before, refugee advocates were somehow caught off guard when the package was announced and didn’t realize that when a government introduces controversial legislation, the response has to be immediate and co-ordinated.

The NDP, whose constituents generally favour a generous refugee system, found itself having to carry the torch of opposition, more or less on its own.

Well, they have now been joined by the Liberals who announced, in writing, their official opposition to the bill. Last week, Liberal immigration critic Mauricio Bevilacqua demanded four “clear revisions.”

First, the bill requires refugee claimants to explain the substance of their claim within eight days of making their claim. The Liberals want to make sure this process is “procedurally sound” and that timelines for initial hearings afford an adequate opportunity to arrange for appropriate legal representation.

Second, the Liberals want further clarity on the independence and qualifications of bureaucrats who will be replacing the cabinet-appointed members of the Immigration and Refugee Board currently deciding these claims.

Third, Kenney intends to fast-track refugee claims from countries that he alone will designate as “safe.” The Liberals want “transparency and accountability” in this process. That’s about all they can ask for given that Kenney told the Commons immigration committee last week that this provision is “integral” to the bill and he is not “inclined at this point” to eliminate the safe country proposal. Given that reality, perhaps he can be persuaded to agree to a sunset clause which will automatically retire the designation, say after two years, to ensure that sitting immigration ministers are forced to routinely re-assess human rights records of countries designated as safe in order to ensure that the designation remains appropriate.

Finally, Kenney proposes to deny refugee claimants the right to make an application for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds while their refugee claims are pending. It’s proposed that they will have to wait at least one year after the claim has been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn to make such an application. The Liberals want “more flexibility” in this proposal to ensure no one falls through the cracks.

None of these are bad ideas. I hope someone in Ottawa is still listening.

– Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email metro@migrationlaw.com

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