For those that value the liberal democratic paradigm in Canada, be alarmed. With Bill C-31 in Parliament with a majority government, the principle of equality before the law faces erosion in ways that threaten the rights of refugees and refugee claimants, and by extension, every Canadian. Indiscriminate, mandatory detention and the deliberate removal of the right to a fair hearing for certain classes of people (among other clauses in the Bill’s current form) constitute corrosive elements on our justice system. Any measure that restricts the right of a person – whether the most vulnerable or most powerful – from receiving equitable treatment in the eyes of the law is a threat, not only to those targeted, but to our society as a whole. A slippery slope indeed.
Less a shocker than an extension of a manifestly anti-refugee political trajectory, Bill C-31 is part of a legislative climate that has witnessed more steps backward than forward since Canada became the first (and to date, only) country to receive the UNHCR Nansen Medal in 1986 for ‘outstanding services in supporting refugee causes.’ It was a proud moment, but a fleeting one. Take a minute to mull over the U.S.-Canada Safe Third Country Agreement (STC), one of the more profound regressions. STC allows the U.S. – a country with a rocky past in its outlook on torture and recognition of gender as grounds for refugeehood – to make binding decisions on refugee claimants before they ever arrive in Canada.
Would we force Canadian criminals to be tried in Florida and face the death penalty? Why design a system for our society if we lack the resolve to respect its outcomes?