Andrew Cash
MP for Davenport

Speech on the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act” – September 20, 2011

Mr. Andrew Cash (Davenport, NDP): Mr. Speaker, our party, as many of my colleagues have eloquently said, does not believe that Bill C-4, as it stands right now, would come close to dealing with the issue of human trafficking.

We have many refugees living in my riding of Davenport. We have advocates on their behalf. I have met with these people, with these refugees’ advocates, and they tell me we are dealing with very vulnerable people who are themselves victims of crime.

I have also sat down with members of the business community. These are self-employed small business people, such as roofers and people in the building trades. They follow the letter of the law, and yet they are competing with unscrupulous criminals who are running other kinds of construction and roofing companies and employing groups of individuals who may or may not be themselves victims of human trafficking, although we cannot determine that, and their ability to compete on a level playing field is thus severely compromised.

They come to my office and speak both of frustration about their own business and about a severe and intense concern for these groups of people they see working in very unregulated work environments with no oversight, with no rights, with no recourse, but with fear for themselves and fear for their families. There is nothing in this bill that would address these very serious issues in communities right across the country.

In fact, the incidence of prosecution for human trafficking is very low. In Ontario, up to 2010 there have only been a handful of prosecutions. In fact, in Toronto itself there have been no prosecutions. There are reasons for that, but those reasons are not addressed in this bill.

Many of our good people in law enforcement and in prosecution see evidence of human trafficking, but it blurs with other kinds of crimes that they are unfortunately much more used to seeing and much more able to prosecute, such as living off the avails of prostitution.

We are saying that the bill does not address the issues of the actual criminals in this situation, but would in fact punish the victims. This seems bizarre to us.

The bill came up in the last Parliament and was roundly rejected by the majority of parliamentarians and the majority of Canadians. The majority of Canadians did not vote for the current government, and the majority of Canadians still reject the bill as it stands today.

I want to remind the House that there was a time many years ago, in an economic downturn, when we accepted a staggering number of refugees. In fact, the largest single group of refugees in our history was accepted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979 to 1980 we welcomed, as we should, 50,000 to 60,000 Vietnamese refugees, whom we then called boat people.

My eldest son’s best friend in grade school was the son of a Vietnamese boat person who, when he finally got off that boat, arrived in Canada with absolutely nothing. Today he has a successful small business, owns a home, has a full-time job and has children who no doubt are going to contribute in staggeringly positive ways to our country.

This is the great Canadian legacy of which we should be proud. This is what Canadians expect from their federal government and the kind of leadership that Canadians expect Canada to display to the world. Instead, we see a draconian measure that does not give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to adequately prosecute human traffickers, the criminals in this case.

My riding has refugees and children of refugees. I have no doubt that those families, if given the right kind of attention and support, will become exemplary members of the Canadian family. There is nothing at all in the bill that addresses this issue.

On the issue of the Vietnamese boat people, studies were done which tracked our friends in the Vietnamese community who came in 1979. They found that within 10 years the unemployment rate among the Vietnamese boat people was 2.3% lower than the average unemployment rate at the time for Canada. One in five had started businesses and 99% of them had successfully applied to become Canadian citizens and, by and large, a much lower than average number had to avail themselves of Canada’s social safety net. This is the kind of success that compassion brings. This is the kind of success on which Canada has been built. This is the kind of success that we on this side of the aisle believe we should proudly trumpet to the world.

As I said, Canada has a very low rate of conviction for human smuggling. This low conviction rate is due to many factors. The police and RCMP need the tools to deal with this issue effectively. We do not see this in the bill. The bill does not deal with the issue. These are immigration issues, but the government seems to think they are public safety issues. The Conservatives are playing politics with refugees.

We can talk about refugees in sort of a general way, but my riding has refugees who want to contribute to Canadian society. They are here because where they were was a place that they could no longer be, a place they had to flee. Canada has always been a country that welcomed and provided support to those in our world who were terrorized, brutalized and abandoned. That is the kind of Canada the party on this side of the aisle believes in and that is why we in the NDP are very opposed to the bill.