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At the editorial board

On the record: Jason Kenney Add to ...

Jason Kenney, the federal Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, visited The Globe and Mail editorial board on Monday. The following is an edited transcript of that meeting, which focused on the government's new legislation regarding refugee claimants and human smuggling, and the recent situation with refugees coming from Sri Lanka. Click on the links for more information about the legislation and the different responses to it.

There are several of these [human smuggling]syndicates actually competing with each other for this business. They were involved in the arms trade in the Sri Lankan civil war, but since the cessation of hostilities have sought a new business line, a new commodity to smuggle, and that is human beings ... They are charging people on average about $50,000 to be smuggled to Canada in the most dangerous and worst way possible - in dangerous vessels that either have been decommissioned or should be.

This poses a serious challenge to the integrity and fairness and public support for Canada's immigration system and our refugee protection system in particular. Since the arrival of the last vessel, there's been a very significant drop-off in the general public support for immigration, and public support for refugee protection in particular. That's something we need to be responsive to. Our security partners in Australia, for example, tell me they believe the syndicates targeting Canada have the logistical capability to deliver several large steel-hold vessels a year, each with hundreds of passengers ... Imagine this happening every month or every other month. That would fundamentally undermine public confidence and support for Canada's generous approach to immigration and refugee protection - which is one of the reasons we need to take action to deter the smuggling networks and disincentivize their potential customers from buying the package to come to Canada ...

The public is pretty clear in their condemnation of this ... They want an immigration system that's characterized by the principle of the rule of law and fairness, and they see this as a violation of those principles. And that feeling is strongest among new Canadians, in all of our research.

Some 60 per cent of Canadians have said we should prevent the boats from entering our territorial waters in the first place - which implies the use of force and the risk to human life, and that's a risk we are not prepared to assume.

Over 50 per cent of Canadians in polling have said that those from these vessels who are deemed to be bona fide refugees should be deported back to their country of origin ...

We have decided instead to produce a balanced package which recognizes and upholds our international and domestic legal obligations - the essential obligation under the UN conventions for refugees and torture is an obligation of non-refoulement - that is to say, if someone has a well-founded fear of persecution, a risk to their life, a risk of torture, you can't send them back to the country that they fear. And the package we propose would not do so ...

I believe that these migrants have mixed motives for coming to Canada: some are primarily economic migrants, some may well be bona-fide refugees ... and some of them have a mix of economic and political reasons ... I should say contextually, that since the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka, some 100,000 Sri Lankan refugees living in Tamil Nadu, India, have since voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has facilitated the voluntary return of many Sri Lankans living with temporary status in southeast Asian nations. The Canadian Border Services Agency has done a survey which indicated that a majority of successful Tamil asylum seekers in Canada have subsequently returned, at least for visits, to the country where they allegedly feared persecution ...

We acknowledge that the situation for Tamils in Sri Lanka continues to be difficult ... We are also working with UNHCR, Australia and other international partners on the possibility of what we call a regional protection framework, which would allow for greater opportunities for protection and re-settlement ... in the southeast Asian region. Some people think we should put all of our eggs in that basket, but in fact that's at best a mid-to-long-term remedy ...

We're also working with the transit countries to improve their border security practices ...

You cannot curtail a black market service only by focusing on the supply side. You need to disincentivize prospective customers ... That is in part why we proposed a temporary status for five years for people who arrive in what we designate to be a human smuggling event ...

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