Amnesty International says new proposals from the federal government to reduce human smuggling fly in the face of the Constitution and at least three international treaties Canada has signed.
The human rights advocacy group says the human smuggling bill violates the 1951 Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It also shows no respect for equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, said Amnesty's Gloria Nafziger.
"It's just a flagrant violation of so many rights, it just goes beyond the pale," Ms. Nafziger said. "Those treaties are the international treaties we signed on to and we have obligations to uphold and respect."
But B'nai Brith, a Jewish service and advocacy group, says that after much soul searching, it supports the human smuggling crackdown as necessary to stop organized crime and terrorist activity from infiltrating Canada.
"We know that so many members of the Jewish community are refugees and have received safe haven in Canada. But we had to weigh real refugees versus human trafficking, versus terrorist threats," said Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada.
"When you combine all of that, we think the government has taken a positive step forward on a very delicate issue."
Amnesty International is especially concerned about the bill's provision to put asylum-seekers in detention for a year.
That provision is a "serious violation" of Canada's international and constitutional obligation not to subject people to arbitrary detention, said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International's Canadian arm.
The bill introduced Thursday is aimed at deterring illegal migrants from showing up on Canada's borders. It would give the Minister of Public Safety the power to declare a "human smuggling event" that would impose harsher conditions on asylum-seekers.
The migrants would be detained automatically for up to a year and put on probation for five years, with no right to travel outside Canada, no right to sponsor their families and no right to apply for permanent resident status.
The bill would also stiffen penalties for ship owners involved in human-smuggling operations, and impose minimum mandatory jail terms of up to 10 years for organized-crime smugglers who put people in danger.
The goal is to make Canada so unattractive to human smugglers that they no longer see the country as a choice destination.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has begun a road show to promote the bill, trumpeting support from some ethnic groups and editorials.
The Tories anticipated a backlash from human-rights advocates, and made sure they had the backing of many community groups lined up.
Conservative MPs have been making fleeting but frequent references to support from groups such as the United Macedonian Diaspora and the Armenian National Committee.
Media were bombarded with news releases from the likes of the Taiwanese-Canadian Association of Toronto, as well as B'nai Brith.
"I'm convinced that this is the first serious attempt to deal with human [smuggling]" Mr. Dimant said, adding that Canada's actions will serve to encourage the international co-operation it will take to effectively combat human smuggling.
Amnesty International agrees Canada is sending a message to the world - but the wrong one.
"The minute that we begin to violate our international rights obligations here in Canada, it gives a licence to everyone else in the world to do it abroad," Ms. Nafziger said.
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