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JUSTICE PROROGUED FOR IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES: Legal Experts Warn of Rights Clawback as Parliament Returns

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Toronto, ON – March 2/2010: As Parliament returns on Wednesday, March 3, 2010, immigration and human rights lawyers fear an escalation of the Conservative government’s attacks on immigrants and refugees.

In the past year, Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has conducted a xenophobic smear campaign against refugees fleeing certain countries, painting them as “bogus” system abusers, while evading Canada's international obligations to protect people at risk. The government has announced that its 2010 immigration goals include refusing protection to larger numbers of refugee claimants at our border and introducing legislative changes that will likely deprive claimants from certain countries of a full and fair hearing.

Raoul Boulakia, prominent refugee lawyer and former chair of the Refugee Lawyers Association, states that the creation of a two-tier system threatens to railroad claimants at risk. This, he says, “follows years of under-resourcing refugee protection in Canada, and efforts to politically influence what should be an independent and expert tribunal.” He adds that “when push comes to shove, a government that treats rights and due process arbitrarily will be as likely to shove you as someone else.”

The last year has also seen the use of increasingly violent immigration enforcement, including midnight raids at women's shelters and US-style workplace raids carried out at factories.

“As Parliament returns from prorogation, we fear increased violence and harassment against already marginalized women and migrant workers with precarious status. We will be monitoring the government and will vigilantly oppose changes made behind closed doors,” says Zahra Dhanani, Legal Director of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC).

These changes have come alongside a historic shift in Canada’s immigration policy, which has gutted access to permanent residency while massively increasing temporary, precarious and employer-driven immigration.

“Temporary foreign work programs exist for corporate interests to provide them with a cheap and disposable labour force. The reality is that workers who speak out against their substandard working conditions risk both their jobs and deportation,” explains Naveen Mehta, Lawyer and National Human Rights Director for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.

Arrests, detentions and deportations as a result of unfair immigration decisions are on the rise, tearing apart families and communities. Several thousand people are deported from Canada each year, often to places where they face risk to their lives. The Conservative government’s “get tough on immigration” policy will contribute to the creation of a larger underclass of people with precarious immigration status, few rights and limited access to public services. As Parliament returns, the legal community will be monitoring developments in immigration law and policy and will demand accountability and democratic debate over any proposed changes.

The Immigration Legal Committee (ILC) is an autonomous working group of the Law Union of Ontario and is a subcommittee of No One is Illegal – Toronto, an immigrant and refugee rights organization. The ILC is composed of law students, legal workers and lawyers seeking to provide support to campaigns for immigrant justice and information and resources to organizations serving immigrant communities in Toronto. They can be reached at immigrationlegalcommittee@gmail.com.

Media Contacts:

Karin Baqi
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Katherine Ramsey
416-824-1255

Macdonald Scott
416-999-6885