Balanced Refugee Reform Act

An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Jason Kenney  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, primarily in respect of the processing of refugee claims referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board. In particular, the enactment

(a) provides for the referral of a refugee claimant to an interview with an Immigration and Refugee Board official, who is to collect information and schedule a hearing before the Refugee Protection Division;

(b) provides that the members of the Refugee Protection Division are appointed in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act;

(c) provides for the coming into force, no more than two years after the day on which the enactment receives royal assent, of the provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that permit a claimant to appeal a decision of the Refugee Protection Division to the Refugee Appeal Division;

(d) authorizes the Minister to designate, in accordance with the process and criteria established by the regulations certain countries, parts of countries or classes of nationals;

(e) provides clarification with respect to the type of evidence that may be put before the Refugee Appeal Division and the circumstances in which that Division may hold a hearing;

(f) prohibits a person whose claim for refugee protection has been rejected from applying for a temporary resident permit or applying to the Minister for protection if less than 12 months have passed since their claim was rejected;

(g) authorizes the Minister, in respect of applications for protection, to exempt nationals, or classes of nationals, of a country or part of a country from the 12-month prohibition;

(h) provides clarification with respect to the Minister’s authority to grant permanent resident status or an exemption from any obligations of the Act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds or on public policy grounds;

(i) limits the circumstances in which the Minister may examine requests for permanent resident status or for an exemption from any obligations of the Act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds; and

(j) enacts transitional provisions respecting the processing of pending claims by the Minister or the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The enactment also amends the Federal Courts Act to increase the number of Federal Court judges.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.
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Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of motions whereby there have been consultations among all parties and I think, if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent for them. I will begin with the first one.

I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act, be deemed to have been amended at the report stage as proposed in the report stage motion in the name of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism on today's notice paper; be deemed concurred in as amended; and that the House be authorized to consider the bill at third reading later today.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:10 p.m.
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Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

moved that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commence third reading of Bill C-11, the balanced refugee reform act, which would reform Canada's asylum system to make it both faster and fairer. I encourage all hon. members to support the bill.

I am pleased to report that the proposed reforms in the original version of Bill C-11 received widespread support. However, many concerns were raised in good faith by parliamentarians and others concerned about Canada's asylum system. We have, in good faith, agreed to significant amendments that reflect their input, resulting in a stronger piece of legislation that is a monumental achievement for all involved.

These amendments, I am happy to say, create a reform package that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled.

There is a remarkable spirit of co-operation around this bill. It is amazing to see that a consensus could be reached on such a sensitive issue by all the parties in the House with their divergent views.

I will just add that I have been here for some 14 years and in a minority Parliament for several years. It is very seldom that we see all parties working together on anything. To have seen all parties come together, following a diligent and serious debate on this very complex matter of policy that involves people's lives, is truly remarkable. It is a commendation to all Canadians that, indeed, notwithstanding the political differences here, at least from time to time this minority Parliament can work and, in this case, it has worked. That only happened because of the diligence and good faith of those parliamentarians who worked most closely on the bill. I commend, in particular, my parliamentary secretary, the member for St. Catharines.

I would like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the Bloc’s immigration critic, the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber, who demonstrated an incredible knowledge of these reforms and this aspect of our legislation. He was open to an agreement, which was really unexpected at the start of the process.

It is rather rare for a so-called ordinary member to have an opportunity to implement an idea taken from a private member’s bill. The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber proposed a bill to implement the appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. That was rejected by the House because it was not part of a larger reform of the asylum granting system.

Thanks to his tenacity and dedication, Bill C-11 gives all rejected asylum seekers access to a new appeal division. This is thanks to his efforts. I would like to salute him and thank him for his remarkable efforts.

I would like to acknowledge the great efforts and remarkable spiritedness and diligence of my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, who is a long-standing spokesperson for refugees, for people who are in need of our protection. She brought a great deal of compassion to this debate but also a tremendous knowledge of the complex details of refugee policy. To quote my new favourite newspaper, the Toronto Star, the fact that the member for Trinity—Spadina and I could come to an agreement on a matter as delicate as refugee reform is nothing short of a miracle. Miracles happen.

I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the member for Vaughan, the official opposition immigration critic, who first raised this issue last spring, in March 2009. He worked with us in good faith to advance the cause of a fair and fast asylum system. I regret that he ran into some internal political difficulties in his own caucus.

Not to sour the note, there was at least one member of this place, the member for Bourassa, who was not exactly representative of the kind of consensual approach that has characterized this bill. In fact, he engaged in the kind of lowbrow demagoguery that really has no place in debates on immigration, suggesting that this positive reform would “build walls around Canada”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In point of fact, the reforms that this bill will allow us to implement will lead to a 20% increase in the number of resettled UN refugees, who we will welcome to our shores, victims of ethnic cleansing, warfare or persecution. There will be some 2,500 a year, year after year, who will find the certainty of Canada's protection and to whom we will be giving protection, thanks to these reforms, thanks to the broadmindedness, the soft-heartedness but also the hard-headedness of members from all sides.

We have been able to bring about these reforms that will help to save 2,500 additional lives every year as we welcome more resettled refugees and give them more support for their successful integration. This bill does not build walls around Canada, as the member suggested in a fit of demagoguery. Rather, it breaks walls down so that Canada can be true to its vocation as a place of protection and refuge for those most in need of it.

We can all be proud of the Canadian asylum granting system, although all the parties acknowledge that it is typified by extensive backlogs and lengthy processing delays. This is not a temporary situation that arose just recently. It is typical of a broken system that has been that way for a long time.

I do not need to belabour the point. We all recognize the system in many respects is broken, with a 60,000 person backlog taking 20 months for an initial protection decision, with some nearly 60% of claims being rejected, with our number one source country, a European Union democracy, from which 97% of claimants go on to abandon or withdraw their own claims. Therefore, it is imperative that we find a way to deter abuse so that those who really need protection get that protection faster and those who seek to abuse Canada's generosity are removed from this country much more quickly.

That is what Bill C-11 would achieve. The bill and its related regulatory and operational reforms would create a new information-gathering interview at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board early in the claims process. It would put in place independent decision makers at the Refugee Protection Division of the IRB who are not political appointees. They in fact would be appointed according to a transparent process. It would create a new fact-based refugee appeal division.

This is something that refugee advocates and more especially the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber have been demanding for years.

It would create the certainty of Canada's protection for bona fide refugees in about four months rather than the current 19 months. It would allow for the removal of false claimants in about a year rather than several years under the status quo, which would yield about $1.8 billion in savings for Canadian taxpayers.

It would allow for the possibility to fast track the processing of claims from designated countries, as well as the identification and expedited processing of manifestly unfounded or fraudulent claims. It would create a new pilot program of assisted voluntary removals for failed claimants. It would invest $540 million in new resources for the refugee system, including the enhancements to resettlement from abroad that I mentioned.

As I mentioned at the outset, the government was open to the idea of making thoughtful improvements that would help achieve what I believe we all want: a quick, fair asylum granting system.

During second reading of Bill C-11 in the House of Commons, I listened to all the speeches. During the debates and consultations, the government took constructive criticism into account and recognized the need to work together with the opposition to design a bill that reflected the parliamentary consensus.

The reforms we are proposing should have been implemented long ago. They would have enabled us to use our resources to protect people who really need it.

Bill C-11 would put in place authority to develop a designated country of origin list. This list would include countries with a strong record of human rights and protection of their citizens and that are not normally refugee producing, probably in the end, no more than a handful of countries.

We need such a tool to deal with large spikes in unfounded claims from typically safe democratic countries, claims that are often later abandoned or withdrawn, suggesting that claimants may not have been in need of our protection in the first place. I am confident that we will seize the opportunity before us to implement these reforms.

As the IRB presently delivers the majority of risk assessment making through the Refugee Protection Division, and additionally the refugee appeal division under Bill C-11, the IRB is the logical organization in which to centralize the function of risk assessment, which we have done through an amendment to the original bill, moving the pre-removal risk assessment for failed asylum claimants to the IRB.

The government has also heard the concerns expressed by a wide range of stakeholders regarding the proposed deadlines. To respond to those concerns, we have agreed to move the deadlines back, to 15 days instead of eight for the initial interview by the information gatherer that is being incorporated in the Act, and to 90 days instead of 60 for the initial hearing, which will be incorporated in the regulations in the section dealing with processing times in the Refugee Appeal Division.

The deadlines proposed for the interview and the subsequent hearing are reasonable, realistic and fair, and for certain exceptions, in particular in cases where there is evidence of trauma or vulnerability, the officers handling the interviews would have the power to adjourn an interview.

The decision-makers at the first-level hearings will be trained in accordance with the same standards as are used in the present system and hired in accordance with the values of the public service: merit, transparency, access, representativeness and fairness.

The government has worked with our colleagues in other parties to make further changes to our policy direction with respect to the designated country approach. These changes are reflected in amendments passed by the standing committee with support from all parties. We have accepted an amendment from our colleagues in the Bloc that gives claimants from designated countries access to the refugee appeal division while ensuring even faster processing of their claims than was originally proposed in Bill C-11.

The amended designated country provisions maintain the intent of our policy to more quickly process and remove claimants from designated countries. Criteria for the purposes of designation have also been included in the legislation. These include the volume of claims from that country, the acceptance rate at the IRB for claims from that country, the human rights record of that country and the availability of avenues for seeking protection and redress in that country.

While a review would be conducted against all four criteria, the amendments ensure that the quantitative thresholds established in regulations actually trigger the review. In other words, a review for designation could only take place if certain quantitative thresholds established in regulations are met. Countries that do not meet this threshold would not be reviewed. Manifestly unfounded claims would also be a factor in country designation decisions and would be reflected in regulations.

I would like to express my thanks to the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, because he was the one who heard the experts and the other people who actually came up with idea that was seriously considered and approved by the standing committee. This is a very flexible tool for dealing with fraud when it arises in our refugee protection system.

Manifestly unfounded claims would also be a factor, as I have said. The concept of the manifestly unfounded claim is well established with the UNHCR and is focused upon cases which are clearly fraudulent in nature.

These amendments provide for greater transparency around the criteria that will have to be met to designate a country, and also clearly limit the powers of the minister.

Regulations would also require that a designation can only be made if an advisory panel including at least two independent human rights experts recommends it.

These amendments go a long way in providing greater clarity and transparency around the process of designation.

Amendments also propose to schedule a hearing for designated country claimants earlier than for other claimants, within 60 days of the initial interview, as opposed to 90 days.

The bill also proposes that the refugee appeal division would hear an appeal from a failed claimant from a designated country within 30 days following an application, as opposed to the 120 days for claimants from other countries.

With these amendments, the same policy objective would be achieved but by speeding up processing timeframes rather than denying access to the new RAD at the IRB, which was initially proposed in Bill C-11.

As well, faster processing, including prioritization of failed designated country claimants for removals, would ensure that designated country claimants could not stay in Canada for long periods of time.

The government further proposed an amendment to allow the RAD to expedite the appeal of a claim that is determined to be manifestly unfounded, that is to say, essentially fraudulent claims. This would ensure that appeals of such claims would take place in the same expedited timeframe applied to failed claimants from designated countries.

Manifestly unfounded claims would have 15 days to file an appeal at the RAD and appeals would be considered within 30 days of the filing. The processing time standard at the front end, however, would be the same as for claimants from other countries, 15 days for the information-gathering interview and 90 days for hearings following that interview.

This new provision would respond to spikes in fraudulent claims more quickly than would the designated country designation.

Also under the proposed amendments, if either designated country or manifestly unfounded claimants chose also to apply for judicial review, their removals would not be stayed and they would be subject to priority removal.

With these amendments we would still be providing fast protection decisions for those in need with quality first-level decisions by an independent quasi-judicial body. We would continue to provide for expedited processing of claims from designated countries without denying the claimants access to an appeal.

In fact, we would actually do a bit better under these proposed reforms and amendments than the bill as originally tabled. Claims from designated countries would be processed in an estimated 120 days, about half of the processing time of most claims and about 10 times faster than under the status quo.

Claims determined to be manifestly unfounded would have the same arrangement for expedited appeal as designated country claimants.

We have also agreed to other amendments which clarify the existing policy and respond to certain concerns that have been raised, including the fact that considerations associated with undue hardship would continue to be examined in applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The risk assessment under sections 96 and 97 of the act would be eliminated from that process, as initially proposed, to avoid redundancies in the refugee protection system.

With the exception of the committee's decision to eliminate the one-year time limit for access to applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, I will be happy to say that I completely approve of the amendments approved by the committee.

With respect to the limitation on humanitarian and compassionate applications, the government continues to believe that these measures would contribute to the overall effectiveness of the system and deter abuse.

In general, however, the amendments proposed would continue to enable us to achieve our objectives of expediting processing, deterring abuse and giving claimants access to the Refugee Appeal Division.

As I said earlier, the amendments are actually an improvement from the original proposal, a real and unique win-win situation for all involved in this debate and for legitimate claimants as well as for Canadian taxpayers. That is because the fast-track process would be even faster than our original timelines.

I look forward to taking questions on the technical aspects of the bill and the associated regulations.

Let me close by thanking all parliamentarians and members of the committee who so diligently exercised their true role as legislators and for giving evidence and hope to Canadians that we can work together to achieve sound public policy.

I thank all of the hard-working officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada who, quite frankly, have worked on this issue for years and with tremendous diligence in the past several months. I thank as well my own political staffers, particularly my policy director, Mr. James Yousif, who has done remarkable work in advising me and the government and making this day possible.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will have the opportunity to make a speech a little later today to convey my feelings about the bill.

I myself am fairly satisfied with this bill. The result is a real improvement, and everyone left committee satisfied. It was not one of those compromises where everyone was a little angry. All the participants believe that this is a good bill.

However there is one question that concerns me, and that is everything that is left in the regulations. That will be the subject of my question to the minister.

The legislation includes certain criteria and a mechanism that allows the minister to establish a list of designated countries. But there is nothing in the legislation explaining how this list will be periodically reviewed, or what would prevent a country from staying on the list indefinitely simply because no one has done a review.

What does the minister intend to put in the regulations in this regard?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. We did something extraordinary in committee. I provided the committee with draft regulations setting forth the criteria and process for the designation of certain countries.

The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber and the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina proposed expanding our regulations so that the panel of experts providing advice to ministers on country designation can conduct a periodic review of designated countries. It is quite clear that it is not our intention to keep certain countries permanently on the list of designated countries. That list would be reviewed periodically by the panel of experts.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased this bill is in front of us. I have two areas on which I will ask questions.

First, often with legislation, unless we have the best public servants to implement it, sometimes there can be problems. During the committee, we had a lot of discussion as to how the hiring process would take place. Would the minister briefly describe how people of the highest merits will be hired and how it will be a very transparent process?

Second, when the bill comes into force and the regulations, spending will be needed to create the refugee appeal division and to hire staff for it. Could the minister give us a description on his plan on implementing Bill C-11 and also the hiring process?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me emphasize that for all of the consensus that is here, this is a compromise. I do not think either the government or any of the opposition parties see this as everything they would hope for.

The member for Trinity—Spadina is correct to place the emphasis on implementation. In that respect, my officials advise me that it will take approximately 12 months from royal assent of this bill to put the new system in place and to launch it. There are many operational changes to the IRB, the Canada Border Services Agency and other agencies, including my ministry, such as the creation of the refugee appeal division. Therefore, these things will take time.

However, we hope the implementation will be about a year from now, and I invite the opposition to hold us to account on that objective.

With respect to hiring of the new public service decision-makers who will be situated at the refugee protection division of the Immigration Refugee Board, I can assure the member there has been an exchange of letters between the chairman of the IRB and the chairperson of the Public Service Commission, providing an undertaking that these positions will be open to both internal and external competition. Current staff or GIC appointees at the IRB will be able to apply, as will people in the broader federal public service or people outside the federal public service who feel they are qualified. Those applications will be considered in a fair and transparent manner, consistent with the principles of the Public Service Employment Act which governs hiring practices of all other quasi-judicial boards and agencies.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I know the minister also wanted to thank the members on this side of the House, the members for Oakville, Oak Ridges—Markham, Richmond and Fleetwood—Port Kells, who sat on the committee and did tremendous work on behalf of the government. I also compliment the chair, the member for Dufferin—Caledon, who oversaw a lot of the process as we worked through 42 clauses. It was not always easy, but he did a good job. In fact, he kept the parliamentary secretary in line on a regular basis.

The minister should be complimented, too, for the work he did. He spent tireless hours with both staff and the ministry to ensure we put forward a bill that would be passed in the House. I extend compliments for his hard work and determination both on behalf of the government and also as an individual who truly believed that the reforms were necessary. It looks like it is ready for third reading.

Could the minister comment on the draft regulatory issues that were brought forward and presented by him at committee with respect to designated countries? He spoke about the details. Could the minister spend a little time answering why those were so important in this process?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. Catharines for his good work. Let me echo his remarks and congratulate all members of the standing committee, including those on the government side who worked so diligently on this.

With respect to the designated country provisions, we need a tool to address large waves of unfounded claims that come from what most people would generally regard as safe democratic countries, waves such as 20 years ago from Portugal, in the mid-nineties from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in 2000 from Chile, in 2003 and 2004 from Costa Rica and right now from Hungary again. These large waves will receive rejection rates higher than 95%, or 99%. They do not happen spontaneously. They are coordinated and organized. We need a tool to send a message to those who organize those waves that clearly false claimants will be returned to their country of origin in a short period of time rather than the several years under the status quo.

That is why we felt so passionately about the need for an accelerated process for designated country nationals and claimants. Opposition members, quite understandably, wanted to see some criteria, a legitimate process. They did not want to see an abuse of ministerial discretion in this respect for a politicization of the process.

Therefore, we responded with the criteria that I outlined in my speech. The process will be guided by an interministerial committee of relevant agencies and ministries that will consult with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. This panel will include two external human rights experts. They will look at the quantitative criteria that I have outlined: 1% of claims over any one of the preceding three years, only 15% or less of which are accepted. If the country meets those quantitative thresholds, there will then be a qualitative assessment of that country's compliance with international human rights norms and protection for their citizens.

We believe this is a very high standard and should not lay any concerns about problematic designations of countries.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

June 15th, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I begin by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration for the leadership he has demonstrated throughout this process of turning our commitment to refugee reform into reality. His openness to change, his ability to seize the one in a generation opportunity to deal with a sensitive and often difficult area of public policy is to be commended. It is proof that in our vocation, when we answer the call of public service, we can achieve great objectives for the sole purpose of demonstrating the fact that we are not in this place for some vanity trip or the power of self-indulgence. Rather we are here to bring about positive change to the lives of people and a great willingness to do good for society and show respect for our democratic institute and indeed the democracy within which we live in our country.

Throughout this process the minister has demonstrated a great capacity and work ethic as well as political know-how and leadership. It is not always easy to negotiate. Sometimes it can be quite difficult. People have certain views on issues and they express them openly and sometimes forcefully, because that is part and parcel of what democracy is truly all about.

I want to underline the fact that the minister's willingness to share the credit with his fellow members of Parliament on both sides of the House of all political stripes really speaks to his generosity of spirit and dignity as a parliamentarian. For that, I want to express my gratitude for all he has done.

This issue really began over a year ago, in March of last year, when I asked the question of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration in relationship to some of the major challenges that the refugee system in Canada was facing and had faced for a while. The issue of backlogs, for example, and many others were brought to light by an Auditor General's report that had some major concerns about Canada's refugee system and we needed to do something very quickly to rectify this issue.

Conversations took place with my caucus colleagues a number of times throughout this process to see how we could better improve the legislation. The minister in his answer essentially said that he would welcome discussions about the refugee system and really opened up a sincere dialogue between members of the opposition, myself included, and his department. He was actually very much involved in ensuring the concerns that were raised by my caucus, for example, were addressed in our own conversations about how to better address some of the challenges. The minister in his speech has really covered all the areas that we needed to address and he also clearly has outlined the concerns.

I am speaking at length about the process today, as we reflect on Bill C-11, because what is very evident to me, and I am sure to members of the committee who worked diligently on this and to everyone who cares about the refugee determination system in Canada, is that if there is a sense that there are issues that need to be dealt with in Parliament in a very open way, and if we, as parliamentarians, have the political will to bring about positive change, things can be achieved.

I read with interest an editorial in the Toronto Star, and this is a headline I am sure the minister will treasure for a while:

Miracle deal on the Hill.

Political miracles are still possible on Parliament Hill.

It ends by saying:

The real miracle would be to transform this isolated incident into standard operating procedure.

I think we need to reflect upon that. We need to reflect upon the fact that minority governments can produce great legislation. However, there has to be an openness. There has to be an openness to dialogue. The answer really does not lie in shouting at one another but rather in putting thoughts on paper, discussing, and being open to changes that may even mean giving up some things that are very dear to you.

When we look at what I hope will become a case study of Bill C-11, I hope, with all due respect to other ministers in the government, that they take a page from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to see how they could facilitate a better performance of Parliament.

I can speak at length about the changes, the significant amendments that were made, but I am underlining the issue of co-operation, because I sense that it is what Canadians are really seeking. Canadians are seeking from Parliament a new style, a new way of doing things. They look at us, and they want to know that when we rise in the House, we are not thinking only about our own personal agenda. It goes beyond personality. Rather, it goes to the core of what proper representation in the House is truly all about. We can, as a House of Parliament, get up every morning with the ultimate reality in our minds, and that is that we need to come up with the best possible policy available to deal with the challenges Canadians face.

As I look at some of the significant amendments to Bill C-11 that were already mentioned by the minister, whether it was the Liberal Party pushing very hard on the humanitarian and compassionate applications, whether it was the work of the NDP and the Bloc on designated countries, whether it was the member for Vaughan, if I can refer to myself, pushing for changes to timelines on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, or whether it was dealing with the minister—and may I say that receiving an e-mail at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. was common during these negotiations—it speaks to a willingness to get things done.

As we look down the list of humanitarian and compassionate changes, timelines, the financial commitment of over $540 million made by the government, we can see that this is serious. We answered the call of Canadians. We answered the call of concerned individuals and organizations that deal with refugees. We answered the call of individual Canadians, who felt that our refugee system was, quite frankly, being abused. They wanted parliamentarians in the House to stand up for our country, for the dignity of our system, and for the integrity of our system. This is a bill that goes in the right direction. It is a thoughtful bill. It is a bill that in its original form was a bit flawed. However, with the work of parliamentarians on both sides, we were able to achieve positive change.

When we looked at the advisory panel, when we looked at the trigger points to designate countries, which was a major issue in my caucus, as some members may recall, eventually, we found solutions.

The minister, in his wisdom, when he found that a certain partner was not at the table, sought other partners. At the end of the day, the minister and the country got what we needed. That is more important than a political victory.

What is important is that we, as parliamentarians, have been able to deliver to the people of Canada what is rightly theirs: a bill and a policy that addresses their key concerns. It addresses those things they care about, those issues they talk about around the kitchen table, those concerns of families, of refugees, who have to wait years upon years for a decision to be rendered. Now they will not have to.

If this system works well, what we will need to remember is that public life is about people, at the end of the day. If we can relieve the pain that some of these individuals have felt over the years because of a flawed system, then we have done our job. If we can stand up as parliamentarians and say that we have a refugee system that has elevated Canada's status as a system that is fair, that is just, and that allows individuals to come to our country to seek refuge, then we have done our job.

Upon reflection, as we think of the process of that very first question to the minister, of his openness in his response, of the work done by members of Parliament on all sides, of the agreements and disagreements, and of the tension, and may I say, today, the relaxation, we begin to comprehend in a very real way that positive change in this chamber is indeed possible. Things can, in fact, happen for the better.

There are many refugees who have come to this country who have made great contributions. They have enriched the cultural fibre, the economic fibre, of our country. We welcome them with open arms, because we have a responsibility, as people in one of the greatest democracies on earth, to play our role as parliamentarians. We engage in an international and global society, a global village, where countries and citizens need one another to create the type of global environment in which we mutually benefit from each other and mutually benefit from the gifts we have been given.

I want to particularly say that from a governance point of view, Bill C-11 represents a good model to follow, because although we have certain views and some very strong views on issues, I think that the give-and-take is extremely important in the creation of good public policy.

There is a reason refugee reform is often not touched. It is difficult. It is sensitive. It is, at times, politically charged. People want to avoid that. However, I think that this citizenship and immigration committee has really demonstrated leadership in ensuring that these changes the minister stated in his speech were achieved.

As a final comment, I would like to see more of this in the House. I would like to see more Bill C-11s in the House. I want to see ministers who are just as open. I want to see opposition members who are just as forceful and aggressive and who care about people. In the final analysis, when we make our contribution to public life, we need to look back and ask if we made a difference in people's lives.

If the answer is yes, as is the case in Bill C-11, it is definitely a good day for Parliament. It is a good day for politicians. It is a good day for all parties involved. It speaks to the fact that when we gather our energies and focus on an issue of common purpose with good will and faith, we can succeed.

On a final note, during my negotiations, I was helped a great deal by a young man named Vince Haraldsen who works in the office of the Leader of the Opposition. I want to thank him. Obviously, I want to thank the chair, my neighbour from Caledon, for his great work, and all members of the committee. I express to all of them my sincerest gratitude for what has been a great experience.

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June 15th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, it is not often that anything productive emerges from the chaos of question period. However, it is true that a substantive policy question put by the member for Vaughan, in March 2009, made me realize that there might just be the possibility of common ground in this place on the hugely important issue of asylum reform.

I am a former director of question period for the official opposition. Perhaps, on occasion, we can allow substantive exchanges to replace partisan rhetoric, which is an inevitable part of the combative atmosphere that is the Westminster system. I would hope that we can sometimes emulate the kind of exchange the member for Vaughan and I had in March 2009.

Let me thank him again for his diligence on this, for his efforts to reach out and bring along members of his caucus, and for his responsible ideas. I would, perhaps, just ask him a question. One thing that troubles me about these reforms is that they need to work. This bill is a very carefully calibrated, balanced package of reforms. We know that previous efforts to adopt an efficient asylum system have been occasionally crippled by unexpected judicial decisions and by lawyers seeking to burden the system.

If that happens, I hope that he would agree with me that we are not closing the book on a fair and fast asylum system. It is an ongoing process. This Parliament will have to be responsible in the future for responding to developing circumstances, whatever they may be. For the people reading this transcript years from now, I hope he will convey that there is an ongoing responsibility to make sure that the system we are seeking to fix now does not become broken again in the future, for whatever reason.

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June 15th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister has raised an important point. It reinforces my thoughts on the fact that when negotiations are difficult and when people give it their all, we end up with a very good product. When we look back at all the months that have passed and all the exchanges we have had, the bill itself was improved to make it the best possible bill.

Obviously, like any new law, it will have its challenges. I can guarantee the minister that there will be some days, which I hope is not the case, when people will ask if this was the right decision. I think the minister and Parliament has benefited from the forceful debates and strong ideas because the bill itself was tested. It was certainly tested by people on this side of the House, and I can vouch for that myself, and I know that other parties went through exactly the same type of dialogue, discussion and internal debate. That is what benefits the final product.

It would have been very easy, hypothetically, if it were a situation where the government could decide everything. I do not think, quite frankly, that the minister would have had this legislation, which is superior to the one we originally looked at. That is the benefit of engaging individuals who are quite responsible and knowledgeable on this issue.

Even if there are challenges to this bill, it is my wish that the government of the day will not give up on the principles of the bill because they are sound.

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June 15th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear from my colleague from Vaughan about the prevailing tone during our discussions and deliberations, including during the clause-by-clause study last week. In this committee I have in the past sat through some rather stormy clause-by-clause studies, with series of amendments and subamendments that not always particularly well thought out or well placed, with bitter discussions and so forth. Last week, however, our debate was intelligent, orderly and thoughtful.

I know that the hon. member for Vaughan is himself a very level-headed person. As we saw in his speech today, he is very respectful of different opinions.

Does he think it a good thing that our committee be able to operate in this way, and can he continue to encourage all the members on this committee, including those from his caucus, to always conduct themselves with as much dignity and sobriety as he does?

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June 15th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, the way this entire bill was negotiated was quite different because we had a minister, as well as his staff, who were willing to sit down with people and we had opposition parties that were willing to work together.

I do not want to give the impression that the government got it right on everything. For example, on the issue of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which was a motion that I moved, as everyone will recall, it was the members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc who supported it, which was a good thing. The reality is, however, that the minister, although I am not sure, probably had to go an extra mile to ensure his cabinet would approve of that particular condition that we set.

Can this be duplicated everywhere? I do not know if these conditions will exist in other committees. Are these conditions that I wish could be duplicated? Of course I do because today my hon. colleague from the Bloc Québécois has a smile on his face, as does the member for Trinity—Spadina and the minister. The reason is that they feel within themselves that they have accomplished something positive and good for the country.

That is the reason for the smiles on their faces and I hope one day there will be more smiling faces in Parliament.

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June 15th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, since we are talking about smiles, I would like to start off on a lighter note. Over these past weeks and months, the most frequent method used to discredit adversaries was to accuse them of forming a coalition. This is the popular thing to do right now. Earlier, I calculated that there are 10 possible combinations. There is the possibility of a Liberal-Conservative coalition, a Bloc-Liberal coalition and so on. If we do the math, we can see that there are 10 possible coalitions. Based on what has been said during question period over the past few months, there is always one party that is not in the coalition and that will insult its adversary by saying that there is a new coalition. That is what has often happened and what is happening again today.

In fact, we have formed an 11th coalition, one that is perhaps surprising because it involves all four parties. This bill was passed unanimously. It is in front of us for a third and final reading. In all likelihood, it will be passed a bit later.

The people who are watching at home and who are seeing the minister and the critics from the other parties smile, laugh and converse might wonder what is happening in the House today. Anyone who watches question period expects the opposition to say that the government's actions make no sense and that it is not doing things the way it ought to. Then the government says that the opposition knows nothing. But this is different because, frankly, our committee work was infused with this same spirit of co-operation, which I believe is necessary and in line with the behaviour expected of us by the citizens who elect and choose us.

The committee worked very hard. We had long evenings of consultation. We had consultations during the day but also at night because we wanted the changes to be implemented quickly. However, we wanted to do our job properly and take the time to hear everyone's comments.

I believe we did everything we could. We did as much as humanly possible. I remember sessions on Thursday evenings when members were a bit tired and would start joking around a bit. I made a point of apologizing to certain witnesses who were wondering whether MPs took things seriously. With all due respect, I think we did good and necessary work.

At the same time, following lengthy consultations, there were exchanges between people from the different parties. Contrary to what people often think, we talk to our Liberal, New Democratic and Conservative colleagues. We had discussions that led to a rather interesting and effective situation in which we could proceed with a clause-by-clause review, in other words, that time in committee when we vote on the clauses of the bill and make amendments.

We managed it in just a few hours without any drama. I believe that the majority of the votes were unanimous and a few were on division. There was no animosity in the discussions. We finished relatively early that evening and we would have finished earlier still if we did not have to go back and forth between Parliament Hill and downtown Ottawa three times to vote in the House. Maybe the fact that we got some air and walked around a bit got our minds in gear and allowed us to come up with this solution.

As those who spoke before me have pointed out, there is a general sense of satisfaction with the result of the committee report.

This is not the sort of compromise where you go home saying you had to give up this, you got that, you had no choice and you have to live with the end result. We are pleased with what we accomplished. Of course, it is not the bill that I would have written or that the members for Trinity—Spadina or Vaughan would have written, and it is not the bill the minister had drafted. It is something else, the result of everyone's contributions, but it is not an awkward compromise, an agreement we are forced to accept with resignation because we have no choice. It is good work.

We want to thank everyone who had a hand in amending the bill. Needless to say, we want to thank the minister, who was open and wise enough to come and talk with the critics from the various parties and who was open to new ideas. He did not reject them out of hand, just because they came from party x or y or a separatist party, which unfortunately sometimes happens in the House. We had good discussions. In some cases, the minister also convinced us that some amendments might not be appropriate. We worked hard, and as the member for Vaughan said, I hope many other ministers will take a page from this minister's book.

We would obviously also like to thank the parliamentary secretary, who worked hard as well. He was always very respectful and very open to the proposals made by the other committee members and the witnesses who appeared. I want to thank the Liberal and NDP critics, with whom I worked closely in many ways. Together, we achieved something very worthwhile.

We also want to thank the people who were our raw material, the people who appeared before the committee to tell us what they knew about the reality of refugees. We heard from lawyers, representatives of the Quebec and Canadian bars, refugee advocacy groups, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Fédération des femmes du Québec and all sorts of groups that work with these people every day and have an intimate knowledge of what they go through. We even heard from refugees who had gone through the process and who came to testify.

These people provided the material that helped us achieve this result. I honestly do not think we can simply say that we did a good job as parliamentarians. It is true that we did, but it was only possible because of those who got involved, participated in these consultations and provided us with the material we needed to get results.

I find it interesting that, although the public is unfortunately too often cynical and disillusioned, this refugee protection reform will perhaps be a positive example for all those who hesitate to get involved in politics or to appear before this type of committee, who hesitate to take the time to draft briefs, thinking that nothing will change, since everything is already decided in advance. These people will perhaps realize that they can contribute and help make changes to legislation.

Personally, I would also like to thank all those within my party who worked to help me, particularly my researcher, Marie-Eve Therriault, as well as Annie Desnoyers, from the office of the House leader, who is a formidable resource on House procedure. I am sure that many parties in the House would love to have her work for them, but her heart is obviously with the Bloc Québécois; she is already taken.

Let us talk about the bill, because that is what we are discussing today.

First of all, I would like to point out the major improvements that appear in the version before us today, things that were not present at first reading or second reading. The Bloc Québécois will support this bill, albeit with some reservations, because we still have some concerns. We want to ensure that it will be implemented. It is a good bill and it is far better than the status quo. No one will be surprised to hear that I am especially pleased that there is now a refugee appeal division that is accessible to everyone.

I thank the minister for pointing out that the Bloc Québécois has been fighting for this for quite some time. I personally took up this fight and brought it to this Parliament with my private member's Bill C-291, which was introduced in the House in my name. It reached second reading and report stage in committee, but it was unfortunately defeated in the House by a single vote.

I could certainly make some sort of political statement, but in the spirit of co-operation that abounds today, I will refrain from doing so, for I am very pleased that we now have an appeal division. It is very important to have such an appeal division in order to be fair. All justice systems that are administered by human beings, who are not perfect and can be wrong and make mistakes, must have a mechanism to correct those mistakes. This is quite obvious, since all of our natural justice systems—our tribunals and courts—always provide the opportunity to appeal, even in matters that are far less serious. People go to court for a squabble between neighbours over a fence and if they are not satisfied with the verdict, they can appeal it to a higher court, explaining why they feel the decision was wrong.

It is obvious to me that in a matter that, quite frankly, is much more serious—whether or not a person will be sent back to a country where they risk persecution, torture, or even death—we must be absolutely sure that we do not make a mistake. In fence disputes, even a judge may be mistaken five or six times out of all the cases in a year, which is not very serious. However, in an application for refugee status, a mistake has serious consequences.

By establishing a refugee appeal division, we are assured that a mistake made at the first level can be corrected at the second level. I believe that the system will be more efficient with the appeal division. It will ensure that real jurisprudence, a body of jurisprudence, is established, and that decisions will be much more consistent.

For example, two brothers from the same country and with the same experiences were brought before two different board members. One application was accepted by one board member whereas the other was refused. I do not know which board member made a mistake but one thing is certain: one of the two board members made a mistake. The same case was presented but the outcome was different. I have often pointed this out. Lawyers have told me that they cannot tell their clients whether or not they will be accepted because it depends on which board member hears their case.

With an appeal division to which rejected claimants will be able to apply, or if the minister finds a decision maker to have been too lax in his decision, it will be possible to validate the decisions and to determine, after a period of time, which cases are accepted or not according to case law.

I also commend the fact that the committee has decided to maintain the possibility for refugee claimants to apply on humanitarian grounds. This is the safety net of our process.

In many cases, a person may be in situations of extreme difficulty and grave concern, and yet not meet the strict definition of refugee and be inadmissible. The definition of a Convention refugee is quite narrow. A person must not simply be seeking refuge and require assistance, but be truly persecuted and unable to find a place in the country where he would be protected. The hope is that, with a claim on humanitarian grounds, persons in this situation would be accepted.

There remain certain concerns, such as country designation. At first, I was not convinced. I was always concerned about whether diplomatic or political issues would interfere in the process.

I am relatively satisfied with the final text and the way it is drafted. Unlike some, I did not want the word “safe” to appear in the enactment, because in my opinion it would have introduced a value judgment. Countries could have brought diplomatic pressure to bear to obtain this label of safe country, whereas the more neutral term “designated country” does not pose this problem. I think that the two tools are balanced.

We also considered whether an interview is better or not as good as the previous form. Each method has its advantages and its disadvantages; time will tell. I think it is reasonable to trust in the professionalism of our public servants to conduct interviews properly in the best interest of the system.

Finally, I remain concerned by the complete absence of any possibility of reopening a case between the time someone receives a final decision from the refugee appeal division and the time he or she is actually deported. There might be personal events in his country: for example, his family might be massacred, with the result that when the final decision was made he was not a refugee, but he subsequently became one.

I hope that the system will be able to deal with this sort of case and that the Immigration minister of the day will take the proper action if such cases should arise.

I will close on what is perhaps a lighter note. In the end we decided to keep the title of the bill, since it can now be said to be truly balanced. However I can assure the minister that the committee will return to the charge on these next two bills, whose titles are frankly ridiculous. We will see to it that the titles contain objective criteria only, and not political opinions.

Personally, I emerge from this experience very satisfied: it is very rewarding. There are often difficult moments in our work as members. Sometimes, I stop at my desk, listen to question period, and ask myself what I am doing here, what is going on. But a moment like today is a good moment, and whatever happens to me in the years ahead, the day I leave politics I will be able to say that at least I did something important which had an impact on people’s lives, and possibly for many decades.

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June 15th, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
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St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the most important part of the statement by the member opposite was his conclusion, and that is one that I certainly echo. We come here, we do a lot of work, but when we look back on what we have done in the future, there will be points, certainly, that are highlighted in one's own career. I think the member has done a very elegant job of explaining that this will be a signature to which he can be very proud.

He did indeed spend a little bit of time speaking about the issue that faced all of us at committee, which was that the original bill had the safe country of origin. Based on a recommendation that he brought forward, the word “safe” was removed, but the designated country remained. He did briefly touch on why that was a preference for him, but I would like to give the member the opportunity to speak to the importance of this designation within the bill itself and why it needs to be supported by the House.