Weak immigration laws cause threat, politician says

By Dirk Meissner / The Canadian Press | Sept. 3, 1999

Victoria – Canada’s health and security is being put at risk by its weak immigration laws, the Reform party’s Immigration critic said Thursday.

Leon Benoit called for tougher immigration laws as Canadian officials began interviewing the third boatload of illegal Chinese migrants to arrive in B.C. waters since July.

Canadians face increased threats of contracting AIDS and tuberculosis from poorly screened immigrants and international criminals and terrorist groups find Canada an easy country in which to operate, Benoit said.

A total of 444 people, including an eight-year-old girl, have made the lengthy voyage from China to British Columbia packed aboard decrepit vessels.

Benoit said Canada must show the world it is prepared to get tough with human smugglers and illegal migrants.

He called for the immediate recall of the House of Commons to pass tougher immigration laws. Three Vancouver Island Reform MPs – Keith Martin, Gary Lunn and Reed Elley – joined Benoit at a Victoria media briefing.

Reform Party takes on Immigration! Leon Benoit | Keith Martin | Gary Lunn | Reed Elley

“The consequences are staggering,” said Benoit, MP for Lakeland, Alta.

“The first is the very security of our country, and I believe it’s been put at risk through this buildup of organized crime, of terrorist groups and of other criminal activity.

“The consequences are Canadians facing increased health risks through diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS, which are coming to our country increasingly through various types of immigration.”

Benoit said immigration costs to taxpayers are accelerating and Canada’s trade partnership with the United States is threatened, because the Americans are considering tightening their border to stop the flow of illegal migrants.

The Chinese migrants are believed to have paid human smugglers, known as snakeheads in China, thousands of dollars to take them to Canada.

The latest boatload arrived off the northern coast of Vancouver Island this week. The vessel was carrying 190 people.

The latest arrivals are being detained at Victoria’s CFB Esquimalt.

Most of the 254 migrants from the other two ships have claimed refugee status, but Immigration Canada has yet to rule on their status.

“The eyes of this country and the world are on Canada right now, knowing and watching for the response from Canada to this illegal immigration,” Benoit said.

Reform will propose a streamlined immigration law that speeds up the refugee determination process, he said.

Immigration Canada must be able to accept or reject refugees within days or weeks, he said. The current process, with hearings and appeals, can drag on for years.

Gary Lunn, Saanich-Gulf Islands MP, said Canada would send a strong signal to human smugglers if it shipped the migrants back to China.

“By sending them home you stop future boats from coming,” he said.

Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) said he didn’t necessarily agree with everything Benoit said.

Martin, a medical doctor, said the AIDS virus is spread through unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.

He did say Canada requires a stricter refugee determination process.

“Canada cannot be the caretaker of the world’s poor,” said Martin. “We only have limited resources.”

Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Reed Elley said the illegal immigration has touched a nerve with Canadians.

“This becomes a flashpoint for everybody in this country who feel their government is failing them somehow,” he said.

On July 20, the first ship with 123 Chinese nationals aboard was found off Nootka Sound and taken to Gold River on Vancouver Island.

A second ship carrying 131 people arrived Aug. 11 after a 60-day voyage from China. Those migrants were dropped in the water off the southern tip of Queen Charlotte Islands and told to wade to shore.

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