Jason Kenny, Minster of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism speaks to the media with Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa Thursday June 16, 2011.
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
But critics say the bill unfairly punishes refugees, who could be detained for a year and barred from receiving permanent resident status or sponsoring family members for five years.
The bill, if passed, would also make it easier for the government to rescind refugee status for people who have been in Canada for many years, but no longer face persecution in their homeland.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney made the announcement Thursday.
The anti-human smuggling bill -- which the Tories tried unsuccessfully to pass in the previous parliament, but re-introduced Thursday -- would also set mandatory minimum sentences of three, five, or 10 years for those convicted of human smuggling, depending on how many people they smuggle into Canada.
In Oct. 2009, the Ocean Lady migrant ship arrived on the west coast carrying 76 Tamil refugee claimants. Earlier this week, four men were arrested in Toronto in connection to that ship.
Last summer, the MV Sun Sea arrived with nearly 500 more Tamils, all seeking refugee status.
The government claims criminal human smuggling gangs are charging upwards of $50,000 for a spot on the boats, and view Canada as an easy target.
The new measures, Kenney said, will deter would-be customers of human smuggling operations.
"What we're trying to do is to put a big question mark in the minds of the potential customers about the prospect of quick family reunification and we're trying to say to them that you, even if you get asylum status in Canada, it won't necessarily be permanent," he said. "We believe that those doubts seeded in the minds of potential customers will significantly depress demand and the price point, making it frankly uneconomic for the smugglers to provide the service to Canada."
But New Democrat immigration and citizenship critic Don Davies blasted the government for unfairly punishing people -- including children -- who are fleeing persecution in their homeland. The new measures in the bill would apply to anyone, even those deemed bona fide refugees, who are part of an "irregular mass arrival," such as a migrant ship.
Davies said the NDP had "hoped" the government would have listened to the opposition's concerns from the last Parliament and put forward "proper solutions, rather than playing to optics."
The NDP suggests boosting the number of immigration officers in foreign embassies and accepting more refugees through the United Nations as a way of reducing demand for human smugglers by making the legal channels easier to access.