In the Blog

Why Bill C-31 is gonna hurt.

March 29th, 2012     by Call Me They     Comments

Have you heard of Canada’s Japanese detainment camps of World War II? It’s one of a number of major racist, violent chapters of Canadian history. Well, here’s the bad news: soon, Members of Parliament are voting whether or not to bring them back. Or at least, conditions very similar to them - but this time for refugees.

I know, it’s unbelievable. That’s the power that this bill wields right now: few people are aware of it.

Coco Riot

Comic text: PM Stephen Hamper in The Bill-Shit C-31 or how to screw refugees (even more) SH: “This is MY land. This is MY land. This is MY land.” (stolen land) SH: “Ha! There are all these people trying to come to MY land and take advantage of it, lazy bums!” SH: “WT(beep)!!! They keep on coming even with my super border guards.” Border guards: “Stephen Hamper!” “Stay out you parasites! What gave you the right to come to Hamper’s land?” Refugees: “Refugee seeking is a RIGHT.” “Ugh, he’s ugly!!!” SH: “You are milking me dry!” Refugee: “No, I want to build my life in a safer place.” SH: “See, they claim the right to come because they are coming from whatever genocide, bunch of crybabies. It’s not like us rich western civilized countries have contributed to their massacre or something.” SH: “I have an idea. I am the boss. I am going to change the law.” SH: “With my bill-shit C-31. ME ME ME ME. What a bill-shit idea! Such a smart white guy I am.”

Here’s what’s Bill C-31 is about. The Conservative government is looking for ways to save money, and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has proposed to cut down on the number of “fake” refugees. This is based on the idea that we waste money every year looking after people who pretend that they need our help.

That’s against the law. Canada promised the United Nations in 1969 that basically, no one is illegal. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees declared that no refugee should be punished for gaining illegal entry. Besides, most of us are settlers here, but the government somehow feels entitled to decide who can and cannot come.

What Minister Kenney is suggesting right now is against our values and our law. It’s pretty evil, too. His proposal is that we cut down on refugees by hurting them, really badly, when they arrive. Here’s how:

- If refugees come via agents in groups bigger than 2, they will serve a mandatory detention of one year minimum.

What does this mean? Well, a lot of refugee families come to Canada with the help of an agent. If their country is at war, it can be almost impossible to go through the routine legal processes of proving stable bank accounts, legal notaries and necessary visas. They often pay an agent enormous amounts of money, often all the money that they have, to help them gather the papers they need, as well as their travel arrangements. But Bill C-31 will punish them for using an agent, because it makes it hard to judge if they are “real” or “fake”refugees. They will be punished with an entire year in detention. That’s not fair - in fact it’s ludicrous.

- Kids over 16 will be automatically detained. Kids under 16 will choose between detention and state care. -The Immigration Minister will get to choose which countries are “safe.”

What does this mean? Well, Minister Kenney can declare, for example, that because Hungary isn’t at war, Hungarians shouldn’t be able to plead refugee asylum because their country is “safe.” But a refugee might be a Roma person fleeing from frequent attacks and death threats by Hungarian right-wing extremists. Hungary might not be war, but their Roma minority are still in danger. According to Bill C-31, that won’t matter anymore, and they will still be rejected as fake refugees.

-This bill will be retroactive, and permanent residents can get their status revoked

This is a very scary part of the proposal. To use another hypothetical example, if I’m a gay Mexican permanent resident, and Minister Kenney declares Mexico to be safe, he can send me back there to homophobic persecution, even if I’ve been living in Canada for years, with best friends, a girlfriend, a cat, a drag king career, 3 books on loan from the library … it won’t matter. I will be deported.

Elisha Lim

Poster text: If Bill C-31 is passed, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will be able to designate entire countries as “safe.” This is catastrophic for queers because it eliminates individual circumstances. For example, a Mexican refugee fleeing violent transphobia may be deported back to their country on the basis that their country of origin is “safe.” It will be retroactive, and can result in the deportation of permanent residents who have lived in Canada for many years, as our friends and our community.

Even the name ‘Bill C-31’ has a haunting racist legacy in Canada’s history. 27 years ago another Bill C-31 perpetuated sexism against Indigenous women as part of Canada’s notoriously oppressive Indian Act.

The Indian Act is the Canadian governments’ method of controlling and categorizing Indigenous communities, and deciding who is ‘eligible’ for federal Indigenous status, and who isn’t. Aside from being a humiliating and oppressive interference in Indigenous communities, it was also very sexist. Then in 1985, a proposal called Bill C-31 was passed to make it less sexist, but in a condescending way: Indigenous women went from having no rights to having second-class rights.

This is how: previously, women who married non-Indigenous spouses were stripped of their status, and could not pass their status on to their children. The 1985 Bill C-31 gave them diminished status — they could now confer status to their children, but not to their grandchildren.

How did the government have the nerve to interfere with communities that it has already abused so much? Now they are doing it to another vulnerable group, with the same name: Bill C-31.

You can read more about the current Bill C-31 against refugees here. The real strength that this bill has is that not a lot of people are paying attention to it, whether because of local elections, NDP elections or student strikes.

Let me tell you how Coco and I are fighting it, because it was easy, and even fun. We typed our postal code into the Parliament of Canada site and used the email address to send our MP an email. He was really nice! He answered that he totally agreed and was happy to hear our support. He even sent us a funny photograph of himself joining our protest. So we got to make friends a little bit with our cool Montreal francophone MP.

MPs are just regular folks. When you send them emails, it influences them to fight for you in Parliament. And that’s their job, after all. Find out who your MP is, and tell them to fight this Bill.

You have the power!

With lots of love, Coco and Elisha

Tags: activist report

« A week with Girls Learning Code

Recommended Reading Round-up: Responses to Ian Brown’s Male Gaze article »