Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act
Vic Toews Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
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Private Members' Business
March 1st, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-452, which seeks to address the issue of human trafficking. I have already spoken several times about different aspects of this issue.
For example, in April, I spoke in favour of Bill C-310 to combat human trafficking in Canada and abroad. Then, in October, I spoke about Bill C-4, which seeks to combat the irregular arrival of refugee groups. At that time, I spoke out against the government's approach, which risks unduly punishing legitimate refugees rather than going after traffickers.
The issue of human trafficking is very broad and takes many forms. It is very important for Parliament to address the various forms of slavery because I firmly believe that the state has a duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society.
I am pleased to support Bill C-452, which amends the Criminal Code in order to provide consecutive sentences for offences related to procuring and trafficking in persons. It also creates a presumption regarding the exploitation of one person by another and adds circumstances that are deemed to constitute exploitation. Finally, it adds the offences of procuring and trafficking in persons to the list of offences to which the forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
I am pleased to support this bill because, first, instead of punishing victims of human trafficking, it seeks to punish procurers and traffickers. I would like to commend my colleague for introducing this bill because she really took the time to consult the community and get the primary stakeholders in the field involved.
I would like to mention some groups that support the principle of the bill. They are: the Council on the Status of Women, the Comité d'action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale, the Association féminine d'éducation et d'action sociale, the Regroupement des centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel, Concertation-Femme, Concertation des luttes contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, the Collectif de l'Outaouais contre l'exploitation sexuelle, the diocèse de l'Outaouais de la condition des femmes and Maison de Marthe. It is important to consult experts and the community stakeholders affected by this issue.
In order to help hon. members grasp the scope of this problem, I would like to quote some excerpts from a recent RCMP report on this issue:
Recent convictions of human trafficking have mostly involved victims who are citizens and/or permanent residents of Canada trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been mostly associated with organized prostitution occurring discreetly behind fronts, like escort agencies and residential brothels.
...foreign national sex workers who engage illegally in the sex trade are vulnerable to being exploited and trafficked.
Organized crime networks with Eastern European links have been involved in the organized entry of women from former Soviet States into Canada for employment in escort services in the Greater Toronto Area and possibly in massage and escort services in the Montreal area. These groups have demonstrated transnational capabilities and significant associations with convicted human traffickers in the Czech Republic, Germany, Belarus, and Israel.
Some convicted offenders of domestic human trafficking were found to be affiliated to street gangs known to law enforcement for their pimping culture.
[Finally, we note that] [s]ignificant human trafficking indicators were identified in some cases involving foreign national domestic workers who were smuggled into Canada by their employers. These live-in domestic workers were controlled, threatened, underpaid, and forced to work by their employers.
There is no question that the violence associated with this type of trafficking mainly affects women and girls, and therefore children. In 98% of the cases, the victims of sexual exploitation are women.
I want to point out that aboriginal women are overrepresented among victims. As I explained earlier, this is a worldwide phenomenon that represents a lot of money. According to the UN, this crime reportedly brings in $32 billion a year for organized crime groups.
Since we are talking about sexual exploitation, I want to mention the controversial comments made by Tom Flanagan that were reported in the news this week. Tom Flanagan is a former advisor and mentor to the Prime Minister. This week he said that looking at child pornography does not hurt anyone. This libertarian said:
What’s wrong with child pornography—in the sense that it’s just pictures?...I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.
Although he later apologized, these uninformed comments are quite shocking coming from someone so educated and with so much influence. It is shameful. For someone to look at child pornography, the child pornography must first be produced, which means that children suffer and become victims of abuse.
As Elizabeth Cannon, the president of the University of Calgary, said, “...child pornography is not a victimless crime. All aspects of this horrific crime involve the exploitation of children.”
I know that the Prime Minister has condemned Tom Flanagan's shameful comments about victims of child pornography. But the Prime Minister has been surrounding himself with some rather unsavoury people, which would lead us to believe that he is the one who is lacking judgment. In addition to Tom Flanagan, who trivialized child sexual exploitation, there is Arthur Porter, the fraudster involved in the McGill University Health Centre scandal who was appointed by the Prime Minister to the Security Intelligence Review Committee. There is also Bruce Carson, a former member of the Prime Minister's inner circle who is now facing charges of influence peddling. And, of course, there is Senator Brazeau, who was appointed to the Senate even though there were many complaints of misconduct against him, and he has now been charged for assaulting a woman.
So it does not mean much to me when government members criticize opposition members for being too soft on criminals. They should start by taking a look at their own ranks. But I digress. I will now get back to talking about the content of the bill.
As I said at the beginning, this bill is a step in the right direction. However, we need to address the issue of human trafficking with a far more ambitious plan that mobilizes human, police, electronic and material resources and goes far beyond a simple bill. I would like to see a comprehensive program that addresses the root of the problem, helps victims and supports the work of law enforcement agencies. I would like to see this bill studied in detail in committee, so that we can specifically look at whether it is constitutional to reverse the burden of proof in relation to the presumption regarding the exploitation of a person.
The other problem with this bill is that it provides for consecutive sentences for offences of procuring and human trafficking. That is the key measure in this bill. It may be struck down by the courts. The Supreme Court of Canada often cites the principle of proportionality in sentencing. For example, the bill provides that a pimp who assaults and exploits a woman would receive consecutive sentences. But even if we pass this measure, the courts may adjust the sentences for each offence in order to comply with the principle of proportionality. The punishment must fit the crime.
Once again, I would like to say that I support the content and principle of the bill, but I would like to hear from experts in committee so that they can provide us with constructive proposals.
Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
October 4th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This legislation includes many provisions relating to immigration. Some are valid and interesting, while others seem less appropriate.
In short, the bill grants more power to the minister by giving him the authority to rule on the admissibility of temporary resident applicants. It removes the minister's responsibility to review humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It grants the minister a new discretionary power to issue an exemption for a member of the family of a foreign national who is deemed inadmissible. The bill also amends the definition of “serious criminality” to restrict access to the appeal process following an inadmissibility ruling. It increases the penalty for false representation and, finally, it clarifies the fact that entering the country by resorting to criminal activities does not automatically lead to inadmissibility.
I would like to begin by sharing something with hon. members. I am always a bit uncomfortable when we talk about immigration, and that is for a very simple reason: I am not myself an immigrant. I live in the country in which I was born. I never have to question myself. I live in my home country, with my relatives and with my language. My cultural references are the same as those of the majority around me. I never had to consider emigration as an option. If I left to live elsewhere, it would only be for a while. It would not be emigration but, rather, an extended stay.
I know what I am talking about, because I lived abroad. I once was the one who had to adapt. I had to work hard to learn how to function in a foreign language that I did not fully master. I developed new social skills that I was not familiar with. In Russia, I changed. I developed a bit of Russian in me. Thanks to this subtle change, by the time I left Moscow, I had acquired a Slavic heritage that will always stay with me. Mores vary from one country to another.
At the same time, because I was forced to adapt to this otherness, I was becoming increasingly more Quebecker and Canadian. I understood more clearly what it meant to be born in Canada. I could not but realize that the relationship I had with my country was one of trust. I knew that Canada would always be there for me.That trust generated a feeling of pride. I am convinced that many here know what I am talking about.
If I mention my stay in Russia, it is because I want to make us think. During the debate on Bill C-43, we should think about our relationship with the rest of the world. We have been debating the reform of the immigration system since last fall. I am referring to Bill C-4 and Bill C-31. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-43, because it gives me a chance to level a criticism at the government. Not only am I not pleased with the tone used by the government when it talks about immigration and refugees, but I am even more upset by the tone and the comments of some members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
I do not want to preach to anyone, but, for me, it is important to distance myself from the unenlightened remarks we sometimes hear. Pride in one's own country should not give rise to disdain for another's. Nor should it necessarily give rise to an undue fear of foreigners. That is silly and simplistic.
I remain convinced that the government's interest in ethnic communities that have settled in Canada is purely mercenary. The government is not comfortable with immigration and even less so with refugees. My impression is that they see jihadists and smugglers everywhere. I am not accusing them of that; it is just the impression I get. I am sorry.
That said, of the three government bills to reform the immigration system, Bill C-43 is the least contentious. It deals with the faster removal of dangerous criminals.
Who could be opposed to that, really? Not the Canadian public, not the NDP. Canada is not a haven for failed tyrants, multimillionaire dictators and petty mafiosi of every description.
In support of this bill, the government wants to show us lists of expert witnesses who agree that dangerous criminals should not be allowed into the country. Really? What a revelation.
I can assure the government that no one, anywhere, wants people who are guilty of serious crimes to be walking free among us and abusing our hospitality.
But I wonder what the government plans to do in order to really crack down on these criminals and to protect Canadians. That is the burning question because the answer is turning out to be a little disappointing.
Basically, Bill C-43 gives more discretionary powers to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister will be the one to decide who can stay and who must leave right away. So he will become a kind of James Bond, working 28-hour days to protect Canadians from evil, twisted foreigners and their illicit master plans.
Bill C-43, like Bill C-4, gives the minister more arbitrary powers. I am well aware that we have to crack down on criminals who would come here and put our peaceful communities at risk. No one would ever say otherwise; but why must it be the minister who decides?
The answer is simple. It is so the minister can cut off the appeals launched by those charged with crimes. The minister could then decide to kick out anyone filing an appeal, or, let us come right out and say it, everyone filing an appeal.
All this will help us save time and money and will send the problem far, far away to other less sympathetic shores. When you get rid of a problem, have you not solved it?
With this bill, the government says it is attacking a specific, urgent problem by creating a legal limbo and opening the door to arbitrary measures. This is worrying. How far will the minister's authority go? Where will the limits to these new powers be set?
I just want to say to the government and to the minister that granting discretionary authority is not the answer to every problem. The minister cannot micromanage everything by himself in his office as soon as an exceptional case turns up. That is not a system, that is a despot.
Another very important detail is that they want to prevent all family members of a convicted criminal from visiting Canada. They have been careful to cast a wide net. The idea behind this is that the members of a Mafia family, or some kind of gang or the families of overthrown dictators will not be able to come to Canada and will not be able to bring their problems here. It is clearly a desirable goal, in and of itself. However, there are always exceptional cases, even though they are rare, and the minister's discretionary powers will not be intermittent. They will be enshrined in legislation and create a legal limbo that will last forever.
Furthermore, this is a huge undertaking. All family members of criminals sentenced here or abroad will have to be identified, and the road to Canada barred for them. Since the departmental cuts were made, this difficult task will have to be carried out quickly and well with fewer human resources.
The government wants to get rid of the backlog in the immigration system by creating massive research projects for immigration office employees. I imagine there is no other solution.
What I am saying is that the substance is good, but the form seems deficient. The government wants to protect Canadians and better manage our immigration system. The New Democratic Party recognizes that immigration is a priceless resource for Canada and wants to ensure that our system is effective, professional, swift and reliable.
The NDP also recognizes that action must indeed be taken to prevent the abuse of our system. The government is trying to resolve the issue, but it is going about it the wrong way. We think this is a worthwhile bill and that it must be studied in committee. We have already said that Bill C-43 has many admirable elements that deserve our support. In particular, the NDP is pleased that the bill exonerates the victims of human smugglers and that their victim status is guaranteed. Apparently, the government has learned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I listened carefully to the speech by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism when he introduced his bill. I find it somewhat disorienting to hear him use the word “foreigner” to describe people who have not officially obtained their Canadian citizenship even though they are permanent residents.
All of us, without exception, are the descendants of immigrants. I am getting tired of seeing the Conservatives dismantle what has taken decades to build: Canada's reputation as a compassionate, equitable and fair country. A country that stands up for itself, that knows how to say yes, but also knows how to say no and how to show someone the door when it is necessary, as is the case with serious criminals. I do not want to hear that such and such a budget has tripled; frankly, in a department the size of Immigration, money is not everything. We are not dealing with columns of numbers. We are dealing with human beings who have often been more unlucky than we have. I would appreciate it if the government would stop hiding behind its accounting ledgers.
In conclusion, I am aware that the Conservative government has had to tackle immigration reform but is not terribly interested in it. And with good reason. As soon as the word “immigration” is spoken on the other side of the House, the word “economic” follows in the next sentence. They do not understand that some departments have obligations to the public, and are not just companies that must make a profit. A country is not run the same way as a business. But I am wasting my breath trying to tell them so.
Some institutions exist for reasons that are not strictly economic. Immigration is an inevitable global phenomenon and it will increase in the years to come. Canada would be well-advised to have its immigration system structured by people who see beyond simple economic interests.
Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act
October 4th, 2012 / 11:10 a.m.
Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, Canada has a reputation for being a welcoming country, but unfortunately, under this government, problems with our immigration system keep piling up. Instead of dealing with the cumbersome bureaucracy, the Conservative government has instead introduced another bill, on the heels of Bills C-4 and C-31, that will not do much and, in fact, will cause more problems of injustice.
Bill C-43 seeks to deal with crime and speed up the deportation of immigrants who commit crimes in Canada, but also of permanent residents who have become Canadian citizens.
My colleagues in the official opposition and I, along with colleagues from the other opposition parties, all agree that it is important to have a reliable and fair judicial apparatus. People who commit serious crimes and who are not Canadian citizens should indeed be punished, but let us not be deceived by this bill. The fight against crime is just a smokescreen. The real purpose of Bill C-43 is to give the minister more discretionary power and to remove all flexibility from the justice system and all independence from judges. This will only further politicize our immigration system instead of making it fairer and more efficient.
The bill will make a number of changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I will name a few.
It will change the appeal process in certain cases, which goes against a fundamental right; permanent residents, refugees and illegal immigrants who receive a prison sentence of six months or more in Canada can no longer appeal their deportation; the bill will also allow authorities to hold at the border individuals who pose a risk to Canadians; it will require Federal Court judges to impose certain detention conditions on a person deemed inadmissible; it will put more powers in the hands of the minister—he could decide to deny temporary resident status if doing so is justified by public policy considerations interest, but unfortunately, the bill does not define “public policy considerations”; in fact, the bill gives the minister the power to define “public policy considerations” himself—; and the bill removes the right to appeal if the prison sentence was six months or more.
The first problem with this bill is that it does not differentiate between a minor offence and a serious crime, which is what the hon. Liberal member pointed out. An immigrant who receives a six-month sentence would automatically be deported. The right to appeal is revoked. In addition, the bill redefines “serious criminality” and includes minor offences. With no right to appeal and with such a broad definition, we can expect to see court challenges. This approach is not at all consistent with Canadian law.
The other problem, which is even more serious, has to do with the discretionary power the minister wants to give himself. He is the one who decides whether to issue a visa or not, but he is no longer required to consider the humanitarian circumstances of the situation. That is a double standard. In fact, we get the impression that the minister is targeting immigrants and refugees, forgetting that the vast majority of them are not criminals.
There is no question that this bill will end up eliminating the safeguards that allow our justice and immigration systems to deal with particular circumstances. Immigration officers and judges no longer have the power to examine the cases before them. That is quite serious. Judges have the power to judge, but they no longer have the power to do so properly. Way to go. The minister is imposing a standard model on the system. Abuse of power is a very real possibility. If the government makes mistakes, how will the people affected be able to defend their rights? They have no recourse, and that is serious.
The goal of the bill is commendable, but all those aspects give us reason to fear that there is a breakdown in our Canadian justice and immigration systems.
The fundamental question is this: do we want major decisions in criminal law to be made by a minister? In a state governed by the rule of law, such as Canada, the principle of balance between the judicial, governmental and legislative powers is essential.
Why is the whole process being so politicized? What is the justification for this discretionary power? The Minister of Immigration answered this recently by saying that he did not have the time, and added that it was important to act when foreign nationals were at an airport. It does not always happen like that, and things are not always so simple. In fact, it is always more complicated.
Too much haste could produce the opposite effect and create a system plagued by abuses of power, as we heard earlier. It could trigger legal challenges and lapses with regard to our international obligations. The bill's intention is good, but the text really needs to be improved, to ensure that it respects our basic rules of law. The entire immigration system needs to be reformed, but certainly not with the radical measures proposed by the Conservative government.
Our system is marred by bureaucratic problems and arbitrary decisions. Since the Conservatives came to power, there has been a backlog of over 1.5 million immigration applications. Parents and grandparents who want to be reunited with their children and loved ones wait, on average, for seven years before receiving a decision. Skilled workers have to wait an average of four years. Some spouses and children who were supposed to be given priority wait three years—and these are the priority cases.
Instead of accelerating the processing of claims, the government is cutting programs for refugees. The planned cuts to the interim federal health program will deprive some people of health care services. The Conservatives are proud of that. They claim to be champions of the economy, but in reality, they are failing miserably. Many immigrants are still waiting for their foreign degrees and experience to be recognized. The federal government could create tools to recognize foreign credentials and allow these skilled workers to contribute to our economic growth.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates the financial loss created by the failure to recognize foreign credentials to be $4 billion a year. And what about the partisan appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board? Applicants' cases are not all treated the same way, and the criteria are not always applied consistently. Why does the government tolerate such an arbitrary and unfair process? This partisanship does not reflect well on Canada and denies immigrants access to a fair and equitable system.
This government treats immigrants like disposable objects. For example, it increased the number of temporary workers by 200% while allowing employers to decrease these workers' earnings by 15% as compared to the earnings of Canadian workers. Rather than encouraging the long-term integration of immigrants, the government is treating them like second-class citizens.
As the daughter of a refugee, I can say that the contribution of women and men, immigrants, refugees, people who come to start a life here is incredible. On average, newcomers are better educated and have a well-developed business sense. The rate of entrepreneurship among newcomers is very high, and they create jobs and participate in the local economy. We cannot assume that all immigrants are potential criminals. That is managing through fear. Foreign nationals can contribute to Canada both economically and culturally.
Let us also not forget that this country was built by people who came from all four corners of the earth and who chose Canada as their homeland. Why not improve our system to give skilled workers the opportunity to come and work in areas where there is a labour shortage? Instead, the government is cancelling the applications of 280,000 skilled workers, freezing sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents, and continuing to deny visas without reasonable grounds and without the possibility of appeal, thereby preventing families from being reunited for the weddings or funerals of their loved ones.
As New Democrats, we are in favour of a justice and immigration system that condemns violence, criminality and fraud. It is vital that we protect our country against criminals, while treating them fairly. We are prepared to work with the government on bills such as this one, but it must be improved and amended to make it acceptable from a legal standpoint. We believe that some aspects of the bill are constructive, but the traffickers at fault must be punished, not the victims.
Why do the Conservatives not put aside their ideology and make it possible for all of us to work on the bill in committee to make it better? It is possible for Canada to welcome newcomers and fight crime at the same time.
It is possible to do all that at the same time.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
June 1st, 2012 / 10:50 a.m.
Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, and to voice my strong opposition to the irresponsible NDP and Liberal amendments that will gut this necessary and important piece of legislation, which will improve the country's immigration system in a number of important ways.
Immigration is central to our country's history, to our prosperity, to our international reputation for generosity and humanitarianism and our great success as a nation. That is why I am pleased to speak today in support of a bill that is designed to ensure that our country has a strong, effective and efficient immigration system.
Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in three very specific ways.
First, it would further build on the long-needed reforms to the asylum system that were passed in Parliament in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.
Second, it would allow Canadian authorities to better crack down on the lucrative business of human smuggling by integrating measures that the government previously introduced in the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.
Third, it would enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants which would strengthen our immigration program in a number of important ways.
All these measures are important for many reasons and I would like to spell out how and why.
On refugee reform, Canada has the fairest and most generous asylum system in the world. In fact, we resettle more refugees than almost any country on the planet, and we are increasing that number by 20%, a record of which all Canadians can be proud. However, it is not a secret that our system is open to abuse. The facts paint a clear picture.
Last year asylum claims for democratic and rights respecting European Union countries made up a quarter of all claims in Canada. Shockingly, that is more than the claims we received from Africa and Asia. What is more, virtually all these asylum claims from the EU were either abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants or rejected by the independent IRB.
In other words, these people were not in need of Canada's protection when they applied to come to Canada as refugees, but they came anyway. They came to soak up our generous benefits and to try to jump the queue because they did not want to wait in line and follow the rules like everyone else. While here, these bogus claimants have access to our generous taxpayer-funded health care system and our welfare benefits. Indeed, the average bogus asylum seeker costs the taxpayers $55,000 each.
The opposition can argue against this bill, but they cannot argue with those facts.
The measures in Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would accelerate the processing of refugee claims, especially for nationals from designated countries that generally would not produce refugees. They would also reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada.
In short, these measures will help to prevent abuse of the system and will ensure that all our refugees determination processes are streamlined as much as possible. This will be accomplished without affecting the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international or domestic obligations with respect to refugees. Most important, by growing the refugee system in these ways, the legislation would also ensure that the refugee claimants who really needed our protection would get it even faster. For those who deserve to come to Canada, for those who are truly refugees, the system will become fairer and it will become faster.
As well with this new legislation, taxpayers are expected to save $1.65 billion over the next five years. This is money that can go to health care, to education, to roads, to all the other things that we hold dear in our country.
As I mentioned at the top of my remarks, the second piece of the protecting Canada's immigration system act incorporates measures that address human smuggling.
As my hon. colleagues are well aware, we debated that bill extensively throughout the fall sitting of Parliament. The anti-human smuggling measures contained the bill would help maintain the integrity of our generous immigration system, while curtailing the abuse of that system by human smugglers whose activities would undermine the security and safety of Canadians.
Cracking down on human smugglers is an important element of protecting the integrity of our immigration system. After listening to expert witnesses, Canadians and parliamentarians, the government has proposed amendments to the detention portion of that bill.
The amendments would allow for a first detention review within 14 days and subsequent reviews every 180 days. As before, a person would be released before this time upon being found to be a genuine refugee. As an additional safeguard, the government will also propose an amendment which allow the Minister of Public Safety, on his own initiative and at any time, to release a detained individual when grounds for that detention no longer exist. We are putting great protections in the system for true refugees.
Detaining individuals until their identity has been established is what any responsible government would and should do. The human smuggling groups include architects of these criminal operations, war criminals and serious criminals. These are not just perceived threats; these are real threats, threats to Canadians, threats to our seniors, threats to our children.
For example, on the Sun Sea, to date, four people have been found inadmissible to Canada for security reasons. One has been found inadmissible because of being guilty of war crimes.
In the Ocean Lady, to date, 19 people have been found inadmissible to Canada for security reasons, while 17 have been found inadmissible due to war crimes.
These are significant numbers. Unlike the NDP and the Liberals, our government wants to keep these people off the streets and out of our country. By opposing these provisions, the NDP and the Liberals are saying to their constituents that they want these inadmissible people, war criminals, these security threats, to be let into our communities where they will go underground immediately and be difficult to track and left to threatened the safety and security of all Canadians, our seniors, our children, our single moms. These people are true threats and it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure they do not have access to Canada.
The first component of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, would create a legislative framework for the long-planned implementation of biometric technology as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems.
This component of the legislation and its corresponding regulations that would follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for certain visa applicants to Canada to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications. Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than other documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening and enhance our security and help reduce fraud.
Biometrics form an effective tool to manage high volumes of applications and growing sophistication in identity fraud measures. Using biometrics will help prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using false identities to obtain a Canadian visa. It will help prevent innocent Canadians from being victimized by foreign criminals who should not be in the country in the first place.
Implementing biometrics will bring Canada in line with a growing list of countries that already use biometrics in their immigration and border control programs.
I stand in strong support of Bill C-31, and congratulate the minister and the parliamentary secretary for bringing in needed amendments. I will support the bill and I ask the opposition parties to do the same.
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.
Bill C-31—Time allocation motion
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
May 29th, 2012 / 10:30 a.m.
Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB
Madam Speaker, that question is just complete nonsense. The reality is that every member has had an opportunity to speak repeatedly on this bill. First of all, many of the elements of Bill C-31 were debated in the previous Parliament under the heading of Bill C-49. Second, in the earlier part of this Parliament most of the provisions of the bill were debated in the form of Bill C-4.
Altogether in this Parliament there have been 47.5 hours of debate, 130 speeches, meaning 130 MPs have spoken to the bill, and 43 hours of committee study. If there are any questions that have not been posed, or any views that have not been expressed during those almost 50 hours of House debate and over 40 hours of committee debate, I would really like to know what they are. I do not know who has been asleep at the switch.
I can say that I have followed this debate very closely. I have been in the House for almost every single hour of debate, and I do not hear new questions or new points of view. I just hear the same speeches being regurgitated over and over again. Eventually we must act in order to meet the deadline of June 29 and to keep our commitment to Canadians to fix the broken asylum system.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
May 17th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.
Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the good residents of York South—Weston, my constituents, to try to make some sense out of what is happening but I am afraid I am not able to make sense of it.
A bill has already been passed by Parliament to do what the Conservatives have been saying these past many months, since Bill C-4 and now Bill C-31 have come before us. Bill C-11 will take effect. For whatever reason, its implementation was delayed until June of this year, but it will take effect and it will solve the problem of 95% of refugee claimants from some European countries actually abandoning their claims because the provisions in Bill C-11 do precisely what the government says Bill C-31 would do. Therefore, what is the purpose of Bill C-31? It is really to put more control in the hands of the minister by making the minister solely responsible for determining which countries are safe and which are not.
That leads one to speculate wildly about what possible reason it could have for putting such control in the hands of the minister. We could speculate that it might have to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs or with giving favoured nation status in return for trade agreements. I have no idea. The problem is that we are rushing ahead with a bill that does the same thing as another bill already does. When we examine the difference, it is that the minister would have the power. It does not make sense. The portion of the bill that is new is the part that supposedly deals with human smuggling.
I was listening today to the U.S. ambassador, Luis CdeBaca, who is the head of the U.S. task force on human trafficking. So as we do not get confused, human trafficking and human smuggling are two different things. Human trafficking is engaging in slavery practices in other countries in the world and in countries close to home. What he said made me realize that had the kinds of things the Conservatives are proposing here been in place years ago, they would have prevented the praise that the U.S. ambassador gave us this afternoon.
He said that he was proud of the fact that Canada was one of the very first countries to abolish slavery. In fact, Canada accepted refugees from none other than the United States. Those refugees came to my former hometown of Windsor through the underground railroad. If this law had been in place, who knows what would have happened to those individuals who are now the ancestors of many prosperous and well-deserving families of this country, some in my riding? Those individuals could possibly have been detained in jails for up to a year and prevented from supporting or sponsoring their families. It beggars belief to imagine a regimen similar to what is being proposed by the government to deal with a supposed irregular arrival problem by detaining refugees.
We have heard the government say over and over again that it is on the side of the victims. This is making victims pay. These individuals are the victims of a crime. That crime is perpetrated by the smugglers and yet the government's reaction is to punish the victims. They are the only people it can get its hands on, because the smugglers have long gone, so it punishes them.
I have heard the Minister of Justice suggest that once people know that Canada's laws are such that it is not welcoming and victims will be punished, it will dry up the supply. It is a supply side economics argument, which we have heard a lot from the government, that it will dry up the supply of potential victims of crime.
The problem with that is that there are not a lot of Canadians who read the Criminal Code before they commit a crime, and I doubt very much that there are a lot of people in Somalia, Sri Lanka, or wherever these people come from, who have an opportunity to read Canada's immigration legislation to determine that they will go to jail if they pay someone $10,000 to bring their family over to Canada. That is just not going to happen. We do not publish our legislation in all the languages that might be spoken in these countries either. It is just strange.
In addition to those victims being punished, the minister is suggesting that we will not have to worry because the government will deal with refugee claimants from countries that he has designated as safe countries—he or she, depending on who the minister might be. The minister will determine which countries are safe, and people from those countries will be booted out of this country really fast if they are not true refugees. How do we determine whether they are true refugees? We do that by giving them a chance to plead their case within 14 days. They then have no access to appeal and no access to the refugee appeal division.
There are in fact two classes of refugees. There is a class of refugees who come from countries that the minister has not designated, and we do not know which countries those are yet, and there is a class of refugees who are legitimate refugees in every sense of the word, but who come from countries that the minister designates as safe. They, therefore, would have only one kick to get their suggestion that they are refugees before a tribunal and they have no access to the refugee appeal division. The minister has stated on several occasions that they could file an application in Federal Court. The trouble is that they will be deported long before an application in the Federal Court goes anywhere.
The other thing that bothers me about the attitude of the government toward the whole refugee system is that the minister has suggested on several occasions that he is upset that refugees skip over other countries before they come to Canada, that they should go somewhere else, that they should not come to Canada. I am proud of the fact that they want to come to Canada. We all should be proud that we have such a welcoming and such a wonderful mélange of all the countries of the world that people feel comfortable in coming to Canada. We should not force refugees to go somewhere else simply because they happen to pass by another country on the way. That smacks of a being reluctant to take refugees in the first place, although I know that possibly is not what the minister meant.
The minister also talked about jumping the queue. He does not want refugee claimants to be in a position to jump the queue ahead of legitimate immigrant applicants. He has now created the biggest immigrant queue-jump in the history of this country by eliminating what might be 300,000, and I am not sure of the exact number, legitimate applications for immigration to this country with the stroke of a pen and putting everyone else ahead of those people. Every other applicant to this country would now jump the queue if they applied post-2008, or whatever the year was that it was changed. Those individuals have jumped the queue and the rest must start again. That is so wrong, yet the minister says that he does not like queue-jumpers. He is talking out of both sides of his mouth.
The other issue that covers this whole immigration thing is the issue of temporary foreign workers. It is another example of the doublespeak we get from the government about how it wants to welcome refugees and welcome new Canadians, but we will now have a situation where temporary foreign workers are being allowed into this country and will be paid 15% less than everybody else. That will drive down wages. The minister says that it is only for those jobs where we have a shortage. We know there are jobs out there. Airline pilots are being brought in as temporary foreign workers. There is no shortage of airline pilots in this country, but we have companies bringing airline pilots to this country as temporary foreign workers, and now they can pay them 15% less. That is just going to drive down wages in this country.
Those are the kinds of immigration policies that we do not agree with, including this bill.
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
May 17th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.
Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC
Mr. Speaker, for two weeks in a row, we heard testimony from experts, front-line workers and refugees who came to express their concerns about Bill C-31 while it was being studied by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I want to remind the House that a policy without justice is an inadequate policy. Bill C-31 completely jeopardizes refugee rights, and creates two classes of refugees.
The NDP does not support Bill C-31. The Conservatives should withdraw it so that the new Balanced Refugee Reform Act can work. Never before have the rights of refugees been as threatened as they are under the Conservatives. Never has our democracy been as discredited as it has been under the Conservative government, which is incapable of respecting the compromises consensually agreed upon with the other parties.
The government is unable to remember that the ratification of international refugee or human rights conventions requires us to make our legislation and policies consistent with the provisions of the international conventions we have signed. The experts who spoke to us reminded us that Canada is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. They feel that Bill C-31 protecting Canada's immigration system act respects neither the letter nor the spirit of the convention.
Let us first recall that Bill C-31 is an omnibus bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, unfortunately by incorporating into Bill C-4 the most unreasonable provisions of former Bill C-11, which received royal assent in June 2010. This bill raises serious concerns in addition to those already raised by Bill C-4, the unconstitutional nature of which we have raised and highlighted in our previous interventions. All the witnesses we heard during the committee's study of the bill agreed unanimously.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of the concerns with this bill, both in terms of the Canadian charter and the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. In response to Bill C-31, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has said that, like the sorry Bill C-10, Bill C-31 is extremely complicated.
The most draconian measures in Bill C-4 have again been made part of Bill C-31. Take automatic and mandatory detention, for example. Bill C-4 proposed mandatory detention for one year for people fleeing persecution in their country of origin and entering Canada without identity documents in their possession.
Clearly, the safety of Canadians is a priority for the NDP. That is why the current immigration legislation provides for detaining foreign nationals when their identity is not known, when they might run away, and especially when public safety is at risk. So we can see how the provisions on detention found in Bill C-4, which are being reintroduced in Bill C-31 are a direct violation of our Constitution.
Furthermore, the jurisprudence constante of the Supreme Court is categorical in this regard. The Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Bar Association, the Young Bar Association of Montreal and other legal experts who gave testimony were categorical about the unconstitutional nature of detention under Bill C-31, and specifically the detention of children.
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the detention of children and defines a child as a human being under 18 years of age. We are asking that the age of the child be consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Finally, the experts whom we have heard from in committee have hammered away at the point that the detention of children is prohibited because it is detrimental to them psychologically, mentally and physiologically, and to society as a whole. For example, Australia had introduced mandatory detention for asylum seekers, but it had to backtrack, because, not only did detention cause costs to skyrocket, but it also destroyed the fabric of society and communities.
Why are the Conservatives attempting to put themselves above the rule of law, which is a key principle of our democracy, even though they know what our highest court said about detention in the Charkaoui case? Why are they asking the House to pass a bill that we know will be subject to court challenges, as a number of experts reminded us?
Why are they attempting to mislead the House by proposing that it pass laws that they know violate not only our Constitution, but also the Canadian charter and human rights conventions that our country has signed? Pacta sunt servanda is a principle of international law. Signed conventions have to be respected.
There are also deadlines that violate a principle of natural justice. Lawyers specializing in refugee rights have said that they are deeply troubled by the short time frames that Bill C-31 gives refugee claimants to seek Canada's protection. They find that Bill C-31 drastically changes Canada's refugee protection system and makes it unfair.
Bill C-31 imposes unrealistic time frames and unattainable deadlines on refugee claimants and uses the claimants' inability to meet those deadlines to exclude them from protection.
In fact, under the terms of Bill C-31, refugee claimants have only 15 days to overcome the trauma of persecution, find a lawyer to help them, gather the documentary evidence to support their allegations, and obtain proof of identity from their country.
If their application is dismissed, refugee claimants would have 15 days within which to file an appeal under Bill C-31. As anyone can see, the deadlines imposed on refugee claimants do not allow them to make a full response and defence.
Under our justice system, the greater the risk to life, the longer the time frame accorded to the person being tried to prepare his defence. Bill C-31 does not respect this principle of fundamental justice. A number of witnesses pointed this out to us.
I am also deeply concerned not only about the new term—designated country of origin—that Bill C-31 introduces into our legislation but also about the undemocratic nature of the process for designating the countries in question. Under Bill C-31, the minister alone has the power to designate safe countries of origin, without first defining the designation criteria for these countries that refugees may come from.
According to the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the designated safe country list and the unilateral power granted to the minister dangerously politicize Canada's refugee system.
Refugee claimants who are on a designated safe country list have even less time to submit their written arguments and will not be allowed an appeal.
Bill C-31 also relieves the minister of the obligation of justifying why a country is safe or considering the differential risks that certain minorities face in a country that is safe for other people.
If Bill C-31 is passed, refugees will become more vulnerable because their fate will depend on the political whims of the minister and the government. Failed claimants from designated countries of origin can be deported from Canada almost immediately, even if they have requested a judicial review of the decision. In other words, a person can be deported before his case is heard.
The Geneva convention stipulates that the personal fears of victims of persecution are to be taken into consideration. Nowhere does it say that international protection is given to victims of persecution because of the country in which the persecution occurred, or whether or not the victim used clandestine means to reach a state that is a party to the convention.
It is not only in undemocratic countries that religious minorities are persecuted. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not restricted to undemocratic countries. Persecution based on race can occur in any country in the world. All member states of the European Convention on Human Rights are democratic countries. But the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is replete with decisions condemning democratic states for their abuse of individuals.
The government has frequently invoked the UNHCR's favourable opinion of the safe countries of origin list.
I would like to conclude by mentioning my final concern about the changes being made by Bill C-31 with respect to applications on humanitarian grounds. These applications are a tool that allow individuals to remain in Canada, even if they are not eligible for other reasons. Unfortunately, under Bill C-31, applicants awaiting a decision from the Refugee Appeal Division cannot simultaneously submit an application on humanitarian grounds.
I would like to point out that our country has always been in the forefront where basic human rights are concerned.
The refugee problem is a human rights problem and, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people are acknowledged to have these rights, whatever their race, religion, political beliefs or lifestyle.
Asylum seekers are above all human beings. They are to be treated with respect, humanity and dignity. More than anything else, they fall into the category of vulnerable people who need our compassion and our protection. What is involved here is universal human justice.
This bill and these universal values are poles apart. That is why Bill C-31 should be rejected.
May 10th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB
Yes, absolutely. I recommend not putting any sort of time limit in terms of what might happen in third reading. We should try to allow for full and open debate.
I say that, Mr. Chair, because when we look at the title of the bill, it is very clear. The idea behind it was to try to improve the system. Based on that, I would argue that ultimately this bill attempts to deal with a crisis that really does not exist.
I say that because this bill can be broken into three parts, if I can generalize it very briefly.
One of them deals with the whole concept of speeding things up for the refugees. I believe that everyone inside this room and all of the witnesses who came before the committee recognize that the current system needs to be sped up. It's better for the refugees and the taxpayers. It's better for everyone. We recognized that a couple of years back. That's why we had Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. That bill did receive good, solid support, and it dealt with the issue of speeding up the process.
The second thing was for the minister to deal with human smuggling. This bill takes into account Bill C-11 and Bill C-4. You'll recall, Mr. Chair, that Bill C-4 is still on the order paper. It's all about the Sun Sea, the Ocean Lady, and human smuggling. I often make reference to the picture of the Minister of Immigration and the Prime Minister standing on the back of I think the Ocean Lady, but it might have been the Sun Sea, trying to highlight this “crisis”. The reality is that the system wasn't broken; the system was actually working.
When my colleague from the New Democratic Party made reference to both the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, there were well over 550 refugees. The current system identified security risks, and those individuals—I believe there were six of them—are still in detention today because the Government of Canada has concerns in regard to that. There should be no doubt among committee members that there is nothing wrong with the system we have here today.
The third and broader issue is biometrics. As I pointed out in an earlier comment, this isn't something new. It's been happening throughout the world. In fact, it was first introduced somewhere around seven or eight years ago as a pilot project. I think the committee recognized that fact, and that's the reason we were investigating the issue of biometrics and how it might be able to benefit Canadian society going forward.
It would have been a whole lot better to have completed that study, reviewed the pilot project that was initiated years ago, and then developed a separate piece of legislation in order to deal with that. Then we could have had witnesses or whoever else participate to have better definition or clarification of the regulations to address some of the questions that were being posed.
In principle, we have been consistent in saying that we do not support Bill C-31 because it does establish two tiers of refugees. There is the whole concept of mandatory detention. Even though I acknowledge that after listening to the committee and the public, the government and the minister did recognize that they had made a mistake—and that's a good thing—we are very concerned about this family separation issue. That's why I asked for a recorded vote on clause 81. I wanted to make sure that it was perfectly clear and that people in this committee realized that we were preventing families from being able to reunite, or at least this minister was.
From an opposition point of view, I can tell you that the Liberal Party will be watching very closely what this minister does and how he decides to use his new power potentially against those victims—I underline the word “victims”—of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady. They have come from a country in which they were victims. Is this minister going to revictimize them? We'll have to wait and see, but rest assured, this is an issue the Liberal Party will be following very closely.
We are concerned with the timelines. There's so much within the legislation, and that's why, at the end of the day, I believe we would have been far better off, at the very least, to bring back this bill six months from now. How could we make this a bill that would deserve the title we're giving it? Right now, I don't believe it deserves the assigned title.
If we were to allow more time and genuinely fix the bill, there might be some merit for this particular clause, but as it stands right now, we do not support clause 1. I look forward to the bill entering third reading and debate in the House, where I'll be able to add a few more comments from my perspective and the perspective of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
May 9th, 2012 / 7:15 p.m.
Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC
Mr. Speaker, on February 8, 2012, I rose in the House to ask the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism about the very worrisome situation at the Laval immigration holding centre, which is in my riding of Alfred-Pellan.
I was not satisfied with the answer and therefore I thank you for giving me the opportunity to again speak about this matter in the House today.
Things have happened since the last time we discussed this matter. In fact, Bill C-4, the subject of my question, has now been replaced by Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act.
There are three immigration holding centres in Canada: one in Toronto, one in Vancouver and one in Laval, in my riding. Refugees who cannot prove their identity are incarcerated in this facility, which looks like a prison. In fact, in Laval, the centre is located in a former penitentiary. Detainees are put in chains when they are moved and they are separated from their families.
The centre tells the refugees that the process for verifying their identity will take just a few days, but some will spend weeks, even months, at a place that operates as a medium security prison. It is terrible because, contrary to what the government believes, newcomers and refugees are not criminals and should not be treated as such.
Studies show that such prison stays will have adverse psychological effects on these individuals. Newcomers in these refugee centres are not entitled to access to psychotherapists or consultations with social workers. In fact, individuals with behavioural problems or suicidal individuals are transferred to a maximum security prison or are simply separated from the others.
This brings me to a number of questions. Is this the federal government's roundabout way of limiting immigration and the number of refugees in Canada?
We are talking about individuals who have left everything behind in their country of origin, in order to find refuge and to emigrate to Canada, a welcoming and developed country. I would like the government to put itself in their shoes for a minute. It must be awful to leave one's country for safety reasons and arrive at a place thinking it will be a welcoming land, only to quickly realize that you are given the same status as a criminal.
Some people prefer to suffer and put up with the pain rather than go to a hospital in chains.
Allow me to ask you a question: is there an emotion that hurts more than physical pain? The answer, Mr. Speaker, is humiliation. No one should be humiliated. However, that is what happens to new immigrants in these immigration detention centres. That is simply unacceptable.
We have learned that the government plans to make cuts of $84.3 million, or 5.3%, by 2015, and that includes a 13.1% cut to the Immigration and Refugee Board. We wonder how the government plans to remedy this situation. Passing bills such as Bill C-31 and making these types of cuts will stretch immigration processing from a few months to several years.
Why is the government doing nothing to remedy this situation, which is unbearable for newcomers? When will the government get down to work and suggest some real solutions?