Plenty of fear-mongering on refugee issue

Are they scoundrels or less than competent? That seems the choice when it comes to the Harper Conservatives’ proposed legislation on human smuggling.

And the law is just a symptom of our bizarre approach to broader immigration issues.

Bill C-49, introduced after a boatload of Tamils arrived off Vancouver Island, is grandly called the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act. (Which sounds like a Maoist slogan.)

All the opposition parties rejected the legislation, which died with the last government. Stephen Harper has pledged to pass it if he gets a majority.

It’s a bad law. False refugee claimants are already deported. And human trafficking is already a serious Criminal Code offence.

What this bill does – besides political posturing – is to introduce penalties for legitimate refugees who arrive in a group.

Unlike other refugees, they would be barred from applying for permanent residence or reuniting with their family for five years even if their claims are accepted. They could also be detained for a year without any right to challenge their detention in court.

So a refugee, fearing death or persecution in his homeland, who cobbles together money for false documents and a plane ticket and makes it into Canada is treated one way.

His neighbour, with less money, who chooses a dangerous three-month journey on a ship is treated much more harshly.

It makes no sense. Either people are legitimate refugees or they aren’t.

The law was rejected by a majority of MPs. It’s unlikely to survive a constitutional challenge. And it won’t accomplish anything.

The Conservatives either haven’t thought this through or are attempting to use a bad law to win votes.

The sleazy election flyer I got from attacking Michael Ignatieff for being “weak on border security, dangerously soft on crime” suggests a cynical political ploy at the expense of refugees.

That would continue a pattern.

When the Sun Sea arrived in Canadian waters last summer with 492 Tamil passengers, the Harper government did much fear-mongering about terrorists on the ship.

So far, two people have been found to have ties to the Tamil Tigers, a group that used terror tactics against the Sri Lankan government. They have been deported. Another 30 are still being investigated.

The other 460 were deemed no threat and their refugee applications are being assessed.

Still, the Conservatives are warning about the dire threat posed by migrants and citing the danger posed by the Tamil Tigers.

But, at the same time, the party has nominated Tamil Ragavan Paranchothy as a candidate in a Toronto suburb. (Toronto has a community of some 200,000 Tamils.) Last November, Paranchothy hosted a TV special marking an annual commemoration of dead Tamil Tiger fighters. He described them as “strong and faithful people who stood guard for the Tamils, fought for freedom and peace.”

And The Globe and Mail reported this week on consultants working in China who make illegal immigration to Canada possible for anyone with money. A federal program welcomes immigrants with $1.6 million in assets, skills and a clean record. The consultants fake the skills and records. The immigrants get a clean way Canada.

The government has yet to talk about bills to curb those abuses.

And, as the Conservative government frets about a few hundred men, women and children risking their lives for better futures, it brings in more and more people on temporary work permits to provide cheap labour.

Canada had 281,000 immigrants last year. But there were 283,000 people here on temporary permits, at the request of employers. The number has increased 76 per cent increase since 2006.

Our government will accept temporary foreign workers to clean our hotel rooms, but won’t welcome refugees looking for a safe future.

That seems a  bizarre attitude for an underpopulated, demographically challenged nation of immigrants.

Just as it seems bizarre to introduce bad laws to score political points.

Footnote: Immigration is a touchy election issue for the Conservatives. All parties attempt to woo “ethnic” voters, who tend to favour measures that increases immigration, particularly family reunification programs. The Harper party also stress their social conservativism, which aligns with the traditional values of many of the communities.

But at the same time, the Conservative rhetoric on refugees attempts to appeal to other voters nervous about new Canadians.