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'A Right to Seek Refuge' Event Tonight

Free forum aims to explain how C-31 refugee bill endangers 'the right to be safe.'

By Hanah Redman 30 May 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Hanah Redman is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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'Being safe is a right that can't be taken away.'

With so much debate over high stakes bills like the federal omnibus budget tome (Bill C-38) and the ten-years-in-the-making copyright reform bill (Bill C-11), there's one piece of proposed legislation in Canada you may have missed.

Bill C-31, the immigration system reform bill, will be discussed at a free public forum in Vancouver this Wednesday evening.

The event, titled "A Right to Seek Refuge: Implications of Bill C-31," will present the proposed provisions and their potential impact on refugees. It includes a panel of various advocates of immigrant issues, and will cover the meaning of the bill in regards to groups such as Romani refugees, the Latino community, LGBTQ asylum seekers and torture survivors.

Event organizer Shayna Plaut, who once worked for Amnesty International, wants to dispel the notion that the immigration reform bill is only important for refugees and those who work with them.

"It speaks to a larger issue of who is allowed to be safe and who has the power to make those decisions in granting that safety. Being able to be safe is a right that cannot be taken away. So when it becomes politicized, that's really dangerous," Plaut said.

The federal government hopes to pass the bill by June 29.

"We still have some time in order to inform the public, and it's been noted that pressure from the public has created some changes in the current version of the bill," Plaut said.

For example, the original bill included a section which would allow the government to detain any refugees arriving by boat for a year without review.

"It's been changed, partially because of the pressure," Plaut said. The new version gives refugees a review in 14 days and another after six months.

Plaut hopes to achieve similar changes through public pressure by spreading awareness at the forum.

Session geared for the general public

Public forums concerning Bill C-31 have mostly targeted at immigration lawyers and refugee advocacy groups. This one is for the general public, Plaut said.

"The purpose of this event is to try and bring this information to a public that would be sympathetic but not familiar."

Plaut was surprised to learn that many of her progressive friends were uninformed about the existence or implications of Bill C-31, and was inspired to organize Wednesday's event in order to educate the larger community.

"It's very much walking down the same negative path that other countries have walked before," Plaut said, referencing a May 17 speech given by MP Don Davies, in which he touched on systems similar to the one Bill C-31 would create.

"Australia has adopted the same procedure that this bill would, and there has been no diminution of refugee claimants coming to the shores of Australia since it adopted those rules years ago. The government ignored that evidence," he said.

The Tyee-sponsored event will be held at the World Art Centre in Woodward's Building at 149 W. Hastings Street, Wednesday, May 30 (tonight) from 7 to 9 p.m. Panelists include Harsha Walia, Lobat Sadrehashemi, Elizabeth Csanyi and Sharalyn Jordan, along with guest speaker Lesley Stalker. Facebook page here.  [Tyee]

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