Bill C-11 (Historical)
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.
Jason Kenney Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
September 26th, 2012 / 7:45 p.m.
Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the member for Winnipeg North. Let me try to answer the last part of his question first, that being is the whole aspect of detention.
The member is correct. He and I both travelled to Vancouver, Laval and also Rexdale, Toronto, to view the detention facilities at all three of those locations.
He mentions Bill C-31. Part of the reason we actually did the tour was based on a number of witnesses called for by the official opposition, but also by his party, who came forward with respect to the study on the safety and security of our borders that the committee is currently working on. Witness after witness from the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party came forward and made all kinds of overtures about what they felt the conditions of the detention facilities were.
I think I have the support of the member for Winnipeg North on this. We looked at all three facilities. None of the facilities are similar in nature in terms of how they are organized and run. However, I know we would both agree that the treatment of the individuals who were under detention at those facilities is far superior than any one of their witnesses was prepared to commit and admit to at committee. Therefore, I have a deep appreciation for our ability to go on the tour of these three facilities to understand what they were all about and to see the treatment of those individuals who were detained there for specific reasons.
The member mentioned the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady. What happens about two or perhaps three times every decade is that ships come in from offshore because smugglers believe they can take advantage of the people who are on those ships. They force them to pay enormous, ridiculous amounts of money to stuff them onto these boats and then bring them to Canada because we had the reputation of having a system that was broken with respect to refugees. The ships would come here because it was believed to be so easy. The smugglers told the people on these ships to claim refugee status in Canada and that they would be automatically granted refugee status. Those people, who wouldn't have identification, were smuggled onto these ships and brought across. It was very unsafe. The member has seen these ships. He knows how unsafe they are.
I wish that when the Liberal Party was in power for 13 years and had the opportunity, it would have changed the immigration system and addressed the issue of those who are claiming refugee status here. The refugee system was broken.
Both Bill C-11 and Bill C-31 get at the very heart of what the problem is. That is that over 60% of those who apply for refugee status in Canada are either bogus claims, withdraw their claims or go back to their country of origin because they had learned that this was a system they could take advantage of.
I wish we would have had the Liberals' support at committee and with the bills that we passed in this legislature. We have Bill C-43 coming up to get rid of foreign criminals in this country. I hope the member will consider supporting that.
Citizenship and Immigration
September 21st, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.
Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows I cannot speak to the specifics of an individual case, but the policy she speaks to in terms of how the Immigration and Refugee Board treats issues in this regard was passed under the previous Parliament under Bill C-11. Every member of Parliament and every party supported that legislation in terms of starting the process of reforming our refugee legislation.
Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act
June 19th, 2012 / 10:40 p.m.
Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today against the second reading stage of Bill C-15. Before my colleagues across the way start saying that I do not like the military and all of those things, I will stress that it is because I so strongly support the men and women in our military who sacrifice so much to serve our country and put themselves on the line that I find it very difficult to support this legislation. Surely, our men and women who serve us at home and overseas in unimaginable circumstances deserve due process, and that is what this is all about. It is about transparency, accountability, t doing the right thing and natural justice.
When I look at Bill C-15, I do acknowledge that the government has taken a baby step in the right direction. However, it is only a baby step and does not go far enough.
As I look at the legislation, I experience déjà vu. Not too many days ago I stood in the House and talked about another bill, Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was legislation that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism praised as being a miracle. It was legislation that all political parties worked on and together they included elements that would address human smuggling, put processes in place that would speed up processing times and short-term detention for people who did not have identification verification, all of those things. I want to acknowledge my colleague from Trinity—Spadina who did such an amazing job on that file. The government side and the other opposition party also praised that legislation.
Then, lo and behold, out of the blue we then had legislation that went backward and undid so much of the work that was done. Bill C-11 was the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and we ended up with Bill C-31 in its place, which undid all the work that was accomplished in Bill C-11. That is exactly the déjà vu I am experiencing now.
Once again we had legislation that was in Parliament, Bill C-11, which had been acclaimed but was still not fully implemented, and then it was undone. On the other hand, Bill C-15 undoes the amendments that were accepted in Bill C-41. Once again, we need to look at what the drive is behind this. The drive behind it seems to be the majority my colleagues are experiencing across the way. I was really hoping that after a year of being a majority government it would have gotten over that and gone on to do the work of Parliament in a way that respects the role of the opposition and, of course, the contributions the opposition has to make when it comes to legislation.
As I was saying, I was experiencing déjà vu. Here we are with this iteration of Bill C-15, and none of the compromises, amendments that were made in Bill C-41 are in it. Why? It is so tiring to hear about how the Conservatives are all about the military and how the opposition does not care about the military.
When I look at this legislation, I wonder how much my colleagues sitting across the aisle really care about the men and women who serve in our military and put their lives at risk and why the Conservatives have chosen to ignore key recommendations from a critical report written by Antonio Lamer, which was issued in 2003. There were 88 recommendations in that report. Out of those 88 recommendations, only 28 have been dealt with to date.
I am not fully blaming my colleagues across the aisle. The other opposition party also had an opportunity to implement the recommendations that were made in the Lamer report and it chose to sit on them. I do not know why, maybe it was dealing with a lot of other issues. Surely, no other issue can be as important as ensuring that the men and women who serve in our military get justice and get treated fairly.
We have all of these things going on. One good thing that I suppose we could say, as could my colleagues across the aisle, is that Bill C-41 was never acclaimed.
My colleague who spoke just before me is such an eloquent speaker. I just hope that one day in the future I can emulate even 10% of what he is able to express so clearly and so succinctly.
As my colleague said, the government had the opportunity, because the bill was at the report stage, to deal with it before Parliament was shut down for the last election. However, it chose not to.
Here we are a few days before Parliament closes and, again, through bullying tactics, we will sit until midnight every night this week. Why was the legislation not introduced earlier so we could have dealt with it? It could have gone through all the stages.
Here we are at 10:50 p.m. on the Tuesday night, before Parliament recesses on Friday, debating the treatment of our men and women who serve in the military to give them the kind of fairness that we expect as civilians. Where are the priorities of the government? Certainly not with the men and women in the military. The government seems to have other priorities.
When I looked at all of this, and I will go through this in detail, I was struck by a quote from the Minister of National Defence in February 2011, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on National Defence, the same defence minister who occupies the seat today. This is what he said when he endorsed the summary trial system:
—the summary trial system strikes the necessary balance between meeting the unique disciplinary needs of the Canadian Forces and the needs to respect the rights of individual members of our military....Canadians similarly need to know that their country's military system will treat those who serve fairly and in a way that corresponds to Canadian norms and values.
Does the minister still believe in those words? If he does believe them, why is the minister not accepting the fact that the summary trial system is tainted with undue harshness? Sentences are resulting in criminal records for minor offences. Why is the minister ignoring the need for greater reform than the baby step that is being proposed in this legislation?
When we look at all of this, we really begin to question the motives and what drives the government.
In the previous iteration last year, the NDP put forward some amendments. Quite a few were accepted. Other important amendments that were passed at committee stage at the end of the last parliamentary session are not in Bill C-15, although a couple are. The ones that are not there include the following.
First, the authority of the Chief of Defence Staff in the grievance process, responding directly to Justice Lamer's recommendation, is not included in the bill. Second, changes to the composition of the grievance committee to include a 60% civilian membership is once again not included in the bill. Third, a provision ensuring that a person who is convicted for an offence during a summary trial is not unfairly subjected to a criminal record. Once again, that is not included.
What would address some of our concerns with this legislation? We absolutely need further amendments and we need to ensure that the summary trial system is fixed. Summary trials are held without the ability of the accused to consult counsel. There are no appeals or transcripts of the trial. The bit that I find very hard, maybe because of the background I have had, where I have always believed that if people are accused of something, they have the right to representation. Then they have the right to go before a person who is fairly neutral. In this case, people end up having to go in front of one of their commanding officers. If they go before one of their commanding officers, I am not sure how independent that is and what kind of pressure that puts individuals who are there to advocate for themselves without legal counsel. This absolutely puts undue pressure on our armed forces when they can be convicted for very minor service offences.
I am sure that some members previously had employers somewhere, other than the Canadian people. Perhaps they had some kind of an accusation against them, or maybe they came to work late or whatever and before they knew it, there was a grievance. They then had to defend themselves, in other words, put their case forward. First, they could not get representation. Second, they had to go before their employers. Imagine the kind of depressing effect that has on people when they have to go in front of someone who has that much power and authority over them? That actually has a chilling effect on even the accused's desire for justice because they are afraid of the kind of impact that could have on their career and so on.
The kind of minor offences we are talking about, and I think I could often be accused of these, are: insubordination, and I think I was born with that one; normal quarrel and disturbances, almost everyone in the House would have to be charged at some time or other; absence without leave, imagine all those young people at school ending up with criminal records because they were away without leave; drunkenness and disobeying an officer's command.
This is a very serious business. I really do not want to make light of it because it actually affects our military. However, at the same time, when I am reading some of these trivial things, I am thinking that we are going to give our men and women who serve our country, without holding anything back, a criminal record for these. If they end up with a criminal record, once they are out of the army, crossing that border could become almost impossible.
I deal with cases of people who were stopped, had charges of drinking and driving even 10 years ago and were still finding it difficult to cross the border.
Is that the way we want to treat our men and women when they go looking for certain jobs? As members know, there are jobs where people deal with the public and there is a requirement for criminal record checks. If we did any of these things, as long as we were not too far out there, we would not end up with a criminal record. Military members are already held up to such high standards, so why are we, in the idea of criminality, stooping so low as to give them a criminal record? We really need to pay attention to this.
It is not easy living with a criminal record, but I will not get into that. The members know that anyway. If they have not experienced it themselves, I am sure they have had constituents who have come and talked to them about it.
Regarding reform of the grievance system, I absolutely understand grievances and I also understand accountability and transparency. Whenever we have professionals, whether the RCMP, teachers or any other profession that we hold to account, one of the key things is that civil society has engagement. Once again, this bill fails to address that. It is really critical when grievances are under review, there be a representation from civil society on the panel. This would give it that authenticity that we often talk about, and the accountability.
At this stage, I will read a quote from the Lamer report. It is quite amazing. I did not know this gentleman, but he is very learned obviously, because he gets to the heart of the matter. He writes:
Grievances involve matters such as benefits, personnel evaluation reports, postings, release from the Canadian Forces...all matters affecting the rights, privileges and other interests of CF members...unlike in other organizations, grievors do not have unions or employee associations through which to pursue their grievances...
I want to stress this. He says:
It is essential to the morale of CF members that their grievances be addressed in a fair, transparent and prompt manner.
That becomes really critical when we take a look at reforming the grievance system.
I will read a quote from Colonel Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel from the Canadian Forces and military law expert. In February 2011, before the committee, he said:
—I find it...odd that those who put their lives at risk to protect the rights of Canadians are themselves deprived of some of those charter rights when facing a summary trial. If Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland have seen fit to change the summary trial system, it begs the question: why is Canada lagging behind?
I plead with my colleagues across the way to see the light of day and please address and give fairness to our military men and women who serve us so unselfishly.
Citizenship and Immigration
June 11th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition from dozens of people in the Vancouver area calling on the Government of Canada to withdraw Bill C-31, a bill that punishes legitimate refugees and does nothing to stop human smuggling.
The petitioners point out many troubling aspects of Bill C-31, including: giving the minister the power to hand-pick which countries he thinks are safe without advice; creating two tiers of refugees based on how they arrived in Canada; a five-year mandatory wait for bona fide refugees to become permanent residents and reunite with their families, again based on how they arrive in the country; and treating 16-year-old refugee claimants as adults, including detaining them.
With the third reading vote scheduled for tonight, it is the last chance for the Conservative government to do the right thing.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 8th, 2012 / 1 p.m.
Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am puzzled by some of the comments made by my colleague, so I have a couple of questions which I hope he can answer.
Is he aware of Bill C-11? Not only was it passed by this House but it was actually praised by the minister. Its actually known as the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. That act actually has all of the needed elements for the safety and security of Canadians. All of the features that would be required are in there.
Also, the member talked about people jumping the line. We are not talking about people arriving here on a holiday. We are talking about people who are escaping life and death situations. They are asylum seekers under the UN conventions. They are coming here in a legitimate way to escape persecution.
Is the member aware of Bill C-11 and what is in it, a bill that has not even been acted upon yet?
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 8th, 2012 / 10:40 a.m.
Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his contribution at committee. We spent hours and hours, days and days, listening to witnesses and working through the bill. He was probably a little surprised that two very significant amendments were proposed by the government and were accepted. In fact, I have to thank the member. Both of the amendments put forward by the government were supported unanimously by the government, NDP and Liberal members at committee.
What we have in the bill, and it has been through the legal process in terms of understanding the designated safe country origin, is a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of how the designated safe country process would work. As good as Bill C-11 was, it lacked the accountability of how that designated safe country process was going to work. It was actually going to be in regulation. We are much more transparent in our approach to designated safe countries with Bill C-31 because the process is actually in the legislation itself.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 8th, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.
Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill.
There are a number of issues in Bill C-38, our budget bill, that have a lot to do with immigration. I appreciate the member's description of what the opposition's role is in terms of keeping the government to account and accountable. However, what he failed to mention was the amount of time allocated in committee for both Bill C-31 and Bill C-38. Bill C-38 was given an unprecedented amount of time for debate, more than for any other bill in recent history. The fact is that the member would not and did not acknowledge the hours and hours spent debating each and every one of these clauses at committee, which is part of the parliamentary process. He did not even want to acknowledge the time given by the government, in agreement with the opposition, to have that debate.
I have said that because we took exactly the same approach with Bill C-31. We opened the doors at committee and said that we should bring in all witnesses. The opposition members believed that this was a big, fundamental bill that would change the refugee system in our country so they wanted to hear from all the experts in the country. Even though we had gone through the entire process once already, we went through it again. I did not hear an acknowledgement from the member opposite for the efforts made in terms of our parliamentary process and listening to what people had to say, and not just witnesses but all members of the opposition who had the opportunity to present their changes, thoughts and beliefs on what the bill should look like. With respect to Bill C-31, there were two significant amendments that were made at committee. These were not amendments that had to be made. As everyone knows, there are enough votes at each of our committees here on the Hill for us to win without having to make changes, without having to do anything other than that this is what will be moved forward for third reading and this is the bill that will receive royal assent.
In our case, we heard from witnesses and we made two significant changes. One had to do with cessation. The way the clause could have been interpreted, an unintended consequence could have been the potential for that individual to lose permanent residency if the country of origin had changed status. We made adjustments to that piece of the legislation. We also made a significant change to the detention issue for irregular arrivals. The original clause included a detention period of up to 12 months. Upon hearing from experts and witnesses who presented their case, the minister and the government listened and made a significant decision. We said that individuals who arrive in what is deemed an irregular arrival, as we saw with the Sun Sea or the Ocean Lady in British Columbia, they would have a hearing after 14 days. Subsequently, if they have been determined to have or not have success with respect to their refugee application, they would be given another hearing after six months.
Therefore, contrary to what the opposition members have been saying over the last week about this government's position with respect to listening, it does listen and it has listened. Bill C-31 is a stronger bill today at third reading than when it was introduced at first reading. Contrary to what the opposition members are saying, this government does spend a lot of time listening, understanding and moving toward the best piece of legislation that we can put forward.
In fact, it speaks to our refugee system here in the country. We welcome more resettled refugees than almost any country in the world. Based on the continued implementation of Bill C-31, which encapsulates a number of pieces of Bill C-11, which was our original refugee reform act, we will have an additional 2,500 refugees per year settle into our country, which is a 20% increase.
It again shows that Canadians have always been known to be fair and compassionate. Our country has a long and proud humanitarian tradition. This bill only strengthens that tradition all the more.
However, it is safe to say that our system, and it is no secret, is also open to abuse. We see that abuse on a daily basis. We are a generous and welcoming people but we do not have tolerance for those who take unfair advantage of our country. Canadians have told us loud and clear again and again that they want a stop put to the abuse which exists within our immigration system. By introducing Bill C-31, and where we are today at third reading, we will see and have shown to those people in this country who have asked us to, that we will protect the integrity of immigration and our refugee system.
There are three main areas covered by the bill which are all interrelated.
First, Bill C-31 includes further and much needed reforms to our asylum system. While the Balanced Refugee Reform Act went a long way to reforming Canada's refugee system, further reform is absolutely necessary. The opposition likes to ask why. The answer is very simple but it cannot be found by using political rhetoric. This is all based on a very factual, necessary and purposeful argument.
We need to look at the cold, hard and indisputable facts. In 2011, Canada received a total of 5,800 refugee claims from democratic, rights respecting member countries of the European Union. That is an increase of 14% from 2010. That number is actually more than the number of claims that we receive from Africa or Asia. There is a simple problem here. The top source country for refugee claims is Hungary, which is an EU member state. Of all refugee claims in 2011, 4,400, or 18%, came from Hungary. That is up almost 50% from 2010.
What is even more telling is that in 2010, of the 2,400 claims made by Hungarian nationals, only 100 of them were actually made in countries other than Canada. They all came to Canada to make a refugee claim from one country, except 100. There is a problem here. There is an obvious issue that needs to be dealt with. It means that Canada received 2,300 claims from Hungary, which is 23 times more than any other country has received from Hungary. The fact that most gets to the core of why further refugee reform is needed is that virtually every one of these claims was abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. Refugee claimants themselves are choosing not to see their claims to completion, meaning they are not in genuine need of Canada's protection. In other words, their claims are bogus.
The reason these claims are bogus is that people are choosing to come all the way to Canada. They have a choice. There are 26 other countries right next door and most, if not all, are part of the EU. These bogus claimants come here to exploit Canada's generous asylum system because of the lucrative and expensive taxpayer funded health care, welfare and other social benefits that are allowed under the current system we have in place. In fact, these bogus claims y cost Canadian taxpayers in excess of $170 million, and that was just last year alone.
Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, is part of our plan to restore integrity to our asylum system and restore Canadian's confidence in our immigration system. The bill would make Canada's refugee determination process faster and fairer and would result in faster protection for those who legitimately need refugee protection. It would also, and this is the important aspect of it, ensure faster removal of those whose claims are withdrawn, those claims that are bogus and those claims that have been rejected.
We will speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways. For example, one major component of Bill C-31 is the improvements to the designated country of origin provision. This will enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally do not produce refugees, such as most of those that are in the European Union. Claimants from those countries will still have the opportunity to be heard in terms of their application and to be deemed refugees in Canada.
Contrary to what the opposition has said, there is, for every person who claims refugee status in this country, an opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to have their case determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board. We will change that process so that it will take close to 45 days versus close to 1,100 days that exists now, more than on average three years to process a refugee application in this country.
If 97% or 98% of claims from particular countries are abandoned or withdrawn, we can just imagine how many months and how many years an individual can take advantage of the Canadian system just because of the number of days it takes to get through this process. This will happen no more. We will turn the system around. We will ensure that everyone gets a hearing and we will ensure it is completed within and about as close to 45 days as possible.
The designated country of origin provisions, which I mentioned and are included in Bill C-31, would bring Canada in line with its peers. Countries, like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, all recognize that some countries are simply safer than others and we can presume them to be so based on criteria, both quantitative and qualitative, that are included within the bill itself. Therefore, refugee claimants from those designated safe countries may be reasonably considered under the expedited process, the 45 day process that I mentioned.
We have had some discussion about the UN lately. I am encouraged, or at least listening, when the opposition stands to speak in favour of pretty much anything that the UN does. I thought it would be important this morning to show that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has acknowledged that by saying:
...there are indeed safe countries of origin. There are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries
Mr. Guterres also agreed that as long as all refugee claimants have access to some process it is completely legitimate to accelerate claims from safe countries.
I will take that one step further. Abraham Abraham, who is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also is not opposed to the process upon which we have designated safe countries. He indicated:
...as long as this is used as a procedural tool to prioritize or accelerate examination of applications in carefully circumscribed situations, and not as an absolute bar.
We are not just implementing a process that is being used everywhere in a number of countries in the world. We are using a process that is endorsed and understood to be a correct one. It does not exist in our Canadian system as it is right now.
I want to underscore, despite what the opposition has said, that every refugee claimant will continue to receive a hearing before the independent quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board regardless of where he or she came from. Furthermore, every refugee claimant in Canada will have access to at least one level of appeal. These procedures exceed the requirements of both our domestic law and our international obligations.
I will add this is not the purpose nor the reason for passing the bill, but there is a financial benefit to the process in which we will now receive and determine refugee applications. We will save not just federal taxpayers, but provincial and territorial taxpayers, $1.65 billion over a five year period.
How will we use that money? The premiers, finance ministers and ministers of immigration across this country will tell us exactly how they could use that money, whether it be for settlement services, or whether it be for enhancing health care delivery. What we are offering is an opportunity for savings, an opportunity for that money to be used not to fund bogus claims, not to finance those who want to take advantage of our system, but to actually assist Canadians here in our country.
Unfortunately, what is lost in debate over the bill is what it will mean for genuine refugees who are fleeing persecution and who fear for their lives. Under Bill C-31, genuine refugees will receive Canada's much needed protection much more quickly. They will not be waiting three years in the determination process, but will be waiting as little as 45 days to know that they indeed have a home here in Canada. I cannot for the life of me understand how the NDP and the Liberals could be against that process.
Bill C-31 includes tough but fair and necessary measures to combat, deter and crack down on the criminal act of human smuggling. On this side of the House, we are not scared to face the issues of human trafficking and human smuggling. We will face them like no government in this country has before, and we will continue to do that.
Until recently, most Canadians believed that large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something they just read about in the paper. They thought it only happened in other countries, for example, Australia.
That all changed in 2009 when Canada witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady, which carried 76 migrants. It was almost as if it were a test case to see what would happen when the ship arrived, because less than one year later, the MV Sun Sea came, which held close to 500 migrants. This was not a cruise ship. This was not a ship designed to hold individuals. This was a ship designed specifically by human smugglers who take advantage of these individuals and extract as much money as they can, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, from individuals, who end up spending most of their lives paying that money back. The smugglers would put these individuals on not much more than a freighter to come across the ocean and land here in Canada.
Just as we have new members who are seeing individuals who are not true refugee claimants come to Canada to take advantage of our system, so we have human smugglers who understand the business of smuggling and the lowest common denominator in terms of which country will accept the individuals and how to take advantage of that. Not only are they taking advantage of our country, but they are taking advantage of the individuals.
We all know the stories. On board many of these ships are criminals and terrorists from a country and the human smugglers themselves who, unbeknownst to others, are dressed as if they are also in a position to claim refugee status in our country.
That is going to change. We are going to let the world know that human smuggling is not only unacceptable in this country, but that there will be a very significant price to pay for those who want to get into this business.
We do not have to look too far back to the past number of short weeks and months to know that we are catching these individuals. They are being sought out. They are being charged and they will be convicted. That is how we will stop this business.
There are so many more parts of Bill C-31 that are critically important, whether it be human smuggling, whether it be the issue of irregular arrivals, or whether it be the system itself in terms of how long it takes. We are moving from a system that takes 1,000 days on average to answer a refugee application submitted to the minister to one in which it will take anywhere from 45 days for those who are coming from designated safe countries, versus those who are coming from non-designated safe countries. There is an appeal process in place for each one of these individuals.
There is a process in place where we are now responding to those who truly deserve to be in our country. The best part of all of this is it sets in place a process that is fair to Canadians.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 1st, 2012 / 12:50 p.m.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I kind of wish I did not have to speak to Bill C-31 at report stage because it is a bill that we in the NDP very much oppose. We are very concerned about its passage through report stage and on to third reading.
Our colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, has worked so hard in committee. She tried valiantly to make amendments to the bill at committee to improve it.
I will begin my remarks by reflecting on the history of the bill. It has an interesting history. There was an original bill which was amended to become Bill C-11, as a result of the Conservative government being in a minority Parliament. It was interesting that at that time there was some co-operation and collaboration to actually remove some of the worst aspects of the bill and to move forward with a bill that was more acceptable to members of Parliament. Of course, now there is a majority Conservative government and it is very disturbing to see that what the Conservatives did was rather than continue with former Bill C-11, they came back with a bill that is quite horrifying in terms of what it will do.
What I find disturbing is that when we hear the speeches from the government members, on the one hand they say that the bill is all about fairness and balance and that we are going to be treating refugees in a proper way and respecting international conventions and Canada's history around refugees. Then on the other hand, everything that comes out of the Conservatives' mouths is basically about abuse of the system.
It is the same kind of mantra we hear so much on the government's legislation around law and order, the Criminal Code and criminal justice. It is always about focusing on what the Conservatives see as abuse and changing laws in massive widespread ways that have an impact on society as a whole. It is a very disturbing pattern that we have seen with the government. It is a tactic the Conservatives use to divide people.
There are fears about people coming to Canada. People have many fears, but when we see a government deliberately playing on those fears and exploiting people's concerns, whether it is about immigration, refugees, or whatever it might be, it feels really bad. It feels like this is absolutely what we should not be doing. Our laws should be based on overall merit, objectivity and the public interest, rather than singling out abuse. We have seen that many times in the political environment. An example would be the attacks on people who are poor, who live on welfare. We call it poor-bashing, where laws are designed to basically scapegoat people on welfare when the rate of abuse is no more than for people in the financial sector who are involved in abuse. It becomes very much a class issue, a term which we do not use very often in the House. It becomes a way of singling people out, of targeting particular segments of our community by saying there are good people and bad people, there are criminals and there are victims, making that very simplistic division.
I wanted to begin that way because we see it so often in much of the legislation that is coming forward. Unfortunately, Bill C-31 is no different. It is a bill, like many other bills from the Conservative government, that confers greater power and authority on the minister.
I am the health critic for the NDP. We have seen recent changes in the health field around the Food and Drugs Act that will do the same thing for the Minister of Health. It will confer much greater power in terms of decision-making away from expert advice, away from a broader notion of public interest. It becomes much more of a partisan, and I would say ideological, decision-making process. Bill C-31 which deals with our refugee system is no different and in fact is probably worse.
There are many reasons to oppose the bill. One is that it concentrates more power in the minister's hands. For example, he would designate what are safe countries without any advice from independent experts.
Another major concern is it will restrict access to the humanitarian and compassionate consideration grounds for a refugee. This will be very problematic. It means that people will have to claim, at the beginning of the process, whether they will file for refugee status or humanitarian and compassionate grounds consideration. This will be a huge issue because people may not know at that point which avenue they will need to pursue. As it is now, people can go through the process and they can also file on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and know it is a due process on which they can rely.
The big concern is the arbitrary designation of so-called irregular arrivals and all that means, This raises huge alarm bells. I remember reading over the years what had occurred in places like Australia where it had mandatory detention and the kind of xenophobia and violent public discourse that took place as a result of that kind of government practice and legislation. Many of us feel this is something Canada now seems to be embarking upon. It is absolutely the wrong way to go.
I feel very concerned because when we have the minister making decisions without expert advice, those decisions can become very political and partisan. Yes, we are in politics, we all make political decisions, but when we deal with something as fundamental as a refugee process that is governed under international, UN and Geneva conventions, how we approach that is critical. Therefore, having the minister saying what is a safe country or saying that, for example, the European Union is not a safe country misses the complexity of our global environment.
I recently saw a film called Never Come Back, which is about the Roma in Canada. The film begins by speaking about Roma people who have settled in, particularly in the communities of Hamilton and Toronto. At the beginning, we think these are great contributors to the local society. There were people working in schools and long-term care facilities as cleaners and in pizza places and they had a soccer team. We wonder whether these people have been persecuted or are they refugees. Then the film takes us back to their home communities and we see the unbelievable persecution that the Roma had experienced, which was horrifying. It is something that is going on as neo-Nazism, xenophobia and violence against targeted minorities grow.
It is very alarming that the simplistic approach of the bill and the fact that it would give the minister so much power would possibly mean that many people who would be refugees legitimately fleeing persecution, hard-working Canadians who will make an enormous contribution to our society when they come here, would be cast aside for political reasons. We have been told that the bill is about getting at abuse. There is this heavy-handed approach at basically eliminating the possibility of many legitimate people from also coming through.
That is only a bit of what I wanted to say. However, it is another sad day that this legislation will go through. The bill has been resoundingly criticized by every major organization that deals with this issue. Even new groups, like the Canadian Doctors for Refugees in Canada, are so concerned about regulatory changes involving refugees and their health coverage. Because of that, they formed a new group and 50 of them visited the offices of elected members. We have not seen this before. I think it is because this kind of legislation will impact so many levels of our society that people who have not spoken out before are now saying they have to speak out.
We hope that possibly some of our amendments on report stage will be approved. I am skeptical about this, but nevertheless we will continue to speak out against this kind of legislation.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 1st, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.
Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC
Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleague is referring to the terrorists and criminals that might enter Canada.
The only problem is that he clearly has not read former Bill C-11, which already prevents such individuals from entering. How can he justify new legislation to send away terrorists who are not even in Canada because they were already screened out at the gate?
Why pass legislation that simply oppresses people and incarcerates children, but does nothing to deal with terrorists because terrorists do not enter Canada?
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 1st, 2012 / 10:20 a.m.
Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-31 but before I get into my speaking points, I did not have an opportunity to reply to the parliamentary secretary for natural resources but I want to put on record the very clear NDP position on this.
First, I want to acknowledge the good work done by the member for Newton—North Delta and the member for Vancouver Kingsway. The member for Newton—North Delta indicated that witness after witness at the committee meetings studying Bill C-31 told us that the legislation was fundamentally flawed, unconstitutional and that it concentrated too much power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
Bill C-31 would effectively punish legitimate refugees and do nothing to stop human smuggling because none of the NDP substantive amendments were adopted by the government members at committee and because MPs from all parties just passed the balanced refugee reform package in the last Parliament. The member for Newton—North Delta recommended that all clauses be deleted from this legislation. I think that is a fairly clear position from the NDP.
I also must correct the record around the member for Vancouver Kingsway. I know all members of the House at various times selectively quote from speeches and press releases, but I want to indicate that the member for Vancouver Kingsway actually said that Bill C-31 was a bill that was “...unconstitutional, violates international conventions, punishes refugees and harms Canada's long reputation as a responsible recipient of those needing protection”. That is from the website of the Canadian Council for Refugees. I think that is fairly unequivocal about the NDP position on Bill C-31.
As responsible parliamentarians, the New Democrats studied the bill very carefully. I would remind people that it is another omnibus bill, which seems to be a pattern that we are seeing from the Conservatives.They are not allowing parliamentarians to divide bills up and have thorough and considered study of each section of the bill to ensure we are not having unintended consequences and that the impact is exactly what the bill was intended to do. We have seen other examples in the House where we have had to go back and correct after the fact when we have made errors in bills that have been passed.
Bill C-31 would repeal most of the compromises from the former Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was from the 40th Parliament. It received all party support. Again, members from the New Democrats worked very hard with other parties to ensure that it was a more balanced approach. Bill C-31 re-introduces Bill C-4, human smuggling, which targets refugees instead of the smugglers, and it introduces the collection of biometrics for temporary residents.
I do not have enough time in 10 minutes to go through all aspects of the bill but I will touch on a couple of points. The bill would concentrate more powers in the hands of the minister by allowing him or her to name safe countries and to restrict refugees from these countries. Under the former Bill C-11, this was to be done by a panel of experts, including human rights experts. It would restrict access to humanitarian and compassionate consideration. It includes a clause that would prohibit refugee claimants who have been incarcerated in their home country for over 10 years and would not allow for tribunal discretion in the case of political prisoners. One that has been pointed out in this context is Nelson Mandela who was convicted and sentenced for sabotage in the apartheid era of South Africa. Although the New Democrats agree that Canada should not accept those with a criminal background, many refugees are actually fleeing political persecution and some consideration must be given to those refugees.
The bill would allow arbitrary designation of irregular arrivals and their mandatory incarceration.
Bill C-31 re-introduces most of the provisions of Bill C-4, which were widely condemned by refugee advocates and are likely unconstitutional. It would change the Balanced Refugee Reform Act 2010 without even implementing the law as it is. That act was passed by the minority Parliament after a series of compromises led by the NDP and was set to come into effect in June 2012.
I want to emphasize a couple of key points. The bill would punish refugees and would not address the problem of human smuggling. We just passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act last year and the Conservatives are going back on that compromise that they spoke in favour of mere months ago. The minister wants to concentrate more arbitrary power in the minister's hands to treat refugees differently depending on how they come to Canada.
There were some amendments that were considered. This was not only through the NDP but also by refugees and stakeholder groups. A couple of these amendments were to allow for initial detention review at 14 days initially and subsequently at six months, and to clarify that the government would not have the power to revoke the permanent residency of successful refugee claimants if conditions should change in their countries of origin unless it was found that they obtained their status through fraudulent means.
However, it is important to note that these amendments did not deal with a number of very serious situations: provisions that would give the minister the power to hand-pick which countries he or she thinks are safe without the advice from any independent experts; measures to deny some refugees access to the new refugee appeal division based on how they arrived; and a five-year mandatory wait for bona fide refugees to become permanent residents and reunite with their families, again based on how they arrive in the country.
A number of other serious concerns were highlighted as potentially unconstitutional or potentially in violation of our international obligations.
We are specifically talking about refugees but many of our constituency offices end up dealing with significant amounts of casework as a result of immigration, whether it be visitors visas, refugee claims or a number of other factors like that. I am dealing with two cases in my riding. One case concerns a family member who is now in Canada. The person is professional, hard-working and has been in the country for a number of years. Her sister has been applying to come to Canada as a resident. She has been on the list for seven years and she is a skilled, professional worker. We have no idea what is going to happen to her application. Despite the number of years she has been on the list, the amount of money she has paid and that she has done everything that she needed to do, she will not be able to come to Canada even though she is one of those skilled workers we are looking for. This family, which has been waiting patiently for seven years, has been thrown into turmoil.
The second case I am dealing with concerns a visitors visa. The person was born and raised in Canada and he married somebody from another country. This woman has adult children in the other country who are professionals and who have extended families and property. They just want to come here to visit mom and dad. These family members have been repeatedly denied visitors visas because they are deemed to be a threat or risk to not return, despite their very clear ties to their home country. What will happen in this case is that this Canadian family, with significant assets in this country, will sell its assets and move to the country where the woman's family lives. What we will have here is the loss of a professional and his wife who live in the country and the loss of their significant assets because the other country will welcome them with open arms. We need to look seriously at some of this processing.
In its comments on the amendments, the Canadian Council for Refugees stated:
While the CCR welcomes changes that improve protection for refugees in Canada, the majority of the CCR’s key concerns with the bill remain, including:
Provisions to designate ‘irregular arrivals’ and ’safe countries’ (also referred to as ‘designated countries of origin’) that discriminate simply because of a person’s origin or method of arrival
Speedy and inflexible timelines that prevent people from telling their stories and preparing their cases properly
A five-year ban on permanent residence applications and family reunification for “irregular arrivals” once they are recognized as refugees
Mandatory detention for some claimants
The Canadian Council for Refugees concludes:
Unfortunately, other amendments represent a step backwards with respect to restrictions for claimants from ‘safe countries’ applying for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA). In its original form, Bill C-31 put in place a 12-month bar; the amended version of the bill will increase this to 36 months. This change renders the PRRA ineffective.
We have an organization that works hard on behalf of refugees and it cannot support this bill. Surely the opinion of somebody who has the face-to-face knowledge from working for years with refugees should be considered.
I will close with a comment by Dr. Meb Rashid who said that as a physician who has had the privilege of working with refugee populations for over 10 years, he was deeply concerned about the impact of mandatory detention on the health status of an often overly traumatized population.
I urge all members of this House to oppose the bill.