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Australia Takes the Right Approach to Bogus Refugees


Australian authorities understand that a soft approach to illegal immigration and people smuggling is neither wise or compassionate.

Originally published in the London Free Press. Republished with the permission of the author.


Rory Leishman

 Author Notes

Freelance journalist, author of a weekly national affairs column for The London Free Press and Sun Media Newspapers in London, Ontario. Mr. Leishman's work also appears in various other journals, and he operates his own web site where others of his essays can be viewed. He can be reached via e-mail at rleishman@home.com.

 Essay - 9/10/1999

What can be done about the seemingly never ending influx of Chinese boat people posing as refugees? Canadians might well look to Australia for the right answer.

In a news release on Sept. 2, Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock disclosed that, "The Australian government today removed 85 Chinese boat people." From a Canadian standpoint, this was a remarkable announcement, inasmuch as all of these illegal immigrants had landed in Australia in late May and early June.

"Those involved were all from Fujian Province and were expected to pay organizers up to $36,000 for their trip to Australia," explained Ruddock. He added: "These people had no lawful right to remain in Australia. I hope in sending the group home it will show others from the province that such journeys are pointless."

Australia took in 11,360 legitimate refugees last year, including more than 1,500 from Africa. While Ruddock is proud of this humanitarian record, he is determined to curb people smuggling, especially in the aftermath of the tragic deaths by drowning earlier this summer of 15 boat people from Sri Lanka who were trying to enter Australia illegally.

People smugglers must realize, says Ruddock, "that Australia is not a soft touch when it comes to unlawful arrivals." To drive this message home, he has issued a press release in China, advising that, "All recent unlawful arrivals along the east coast of Australia have now been returned to China."

Meanwhile, what is Canada's Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan doing to curb the smuggling of bogus refugees into Canada? So far this summer, close to 450 boat people on three rickety ships from Fujian province have been caught landing in British Columbia. Others are evidently on the way, crossing the Pacific ocean for Canada at great peril to their lives.

In a public statement, Caplan has admonished that, "human smuggling is a crime and it cannot and will not be tolerated in Canada." What makes her think that human smugglers are any more likely than heroin smugglers to heed such warnings?

To those who call for the prompt deportation of bogus refugees, Caplan replies that anyone who comes to Canada, whether "by boat, plane, train, car or on foot," has a legal right to make a refugee claim. But that's also true of Australia.

Refugee applicants within Australia are entitled to a fair hearing before an independent Refugee Review Tribunal. Under terms of this system, people making transparently bogus claims can be deported within three months of arrival.

In contrast, the cumbersome system for processing refugee applications within Canada typically takes more than two and a half years to come up with a final decision. Why is that?

Judicial activists on the Supreme Court of Canada are to blame. In the 1985 Singh decision, they struck down the federal immigration act on grounds that stricter procedures were needed to uphold the legal rights of refugee applicants under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, refugee applicants with manifestly dubious claims are now entitled to a far more extensive set of formal hearings. In addition, they qualify for free legal aid, social assistance, education and health care benefits at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.

According to the Auditor General of Canada, the cost to the federal treasury of processing refugee claims is, "at least $100 million a year." For provincial treasuries, welfare benefits for refugee claimants alone cost more than $200 million a year.

Smugglers in Fujian province are spreading the word: Bogus refugee claimants can expect to live freely and in comparative luxury for at least two years in Canada, before skipping across the border into the United States. This situation is ludicrous.

Australia has a fair, humane and sensible refugee policy. So should Canada. Before some boatload of bogus refugees drowns off the coasts of British Columbia, the Parliament of Canada should amend the immigration act to allow for the indefinite detention of all illegal immigrants and the expeditious processing of refugee claims.

In addition, Parliament should declare that this law shall apply, notwithstanding any perceived conflict with the Charter. Judicial autocrats on the Supreme Court of Canada must be made to understand that they have no right to substitute their personal political opinions for the policy judgments of Parliament.

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