Evidence of meeting #29 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was system.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Amipal Manchanda  Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Les Linklater  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

March 27th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you once again, Mr. Chairman.

I must emphasize that I would be pleased to reappear before the committee in the future, whenever you wish, to continue to answer your questions about the departmental budget. However, I believe your current invitation is for me to address the issue of your examination of immigration security in Canada.

We are grateful for your hard work, for your participation and for the comments you provide.

I'd like to begin my own remarks on this issue today by stepping back a bit, because I find that there is often a false dichotomy made in discussions on security in the immigration system.

To have a frank and fact-based discussion about this topic, it's important to first address a certain false notion. Simply put, some people believe that there is a zero-sum choice to be made between a secure immigration system with integrity and an open, generous immigration system that reflects our humanitarian tradition. Some would say that we need to choose one at the expense of the other. But I fundamentally disagree. In fact, security and open immigration are complementary, not contradictory, concepts.

By developing laws, policies, and practices that make our immigration system more secure, we ensure that we can maintain our generous approach to immigration, for which we are internationally known.

We often have candid and even passionate debate in Parliament and throughout the country about the future of our immigration system. But we are fortunately extraordinary, in that Canada is one of the only developed countries without any strongly organized or dominant voice of xenophobia or anti-immigrant sentiment in our politics. That's because there is a broad consensus of public support for immigration across the political system. But I believe that this support is conditional. I believe that the condition is that people must see that we have an immigration system characterized by the consistent application of fair rules.

It is particularly telling that opinion polls consistently show that newcomers are among the strongest advocates for rigorous standards and policies that strengthen the integrity and security of the immigration system.

We do not need to look very far to see what happens when integrity is undermined. It has happened in other western industrialized countries, where public support for the entire immigration system falls after widespread illegal migration and consequent abuse of public resources have gone unchecked.

The pro-immigration New York Times liberal columnist Thomas Friedman described that phenomenon in the United States this way. He said that when the system has integrity, it makes the population at large more secure about immigration and “able to think through this issue more calmly”. He said that “Porous borders empower...anti-immigrant demagogues...which dumbs down the whole debate”.

Mr. Chair, I think we can all agree that we never want Canada to get to that point. That's why strong enforcement of immigration security must remain a priority. It's why whenever we find exploitation and abuse of our system, we must move to close loopholes and make the system more secure.

The committee is aware of the many measures the government has introduced in recent months to strengthen the integrity of the immigration system, including our efforts to crack down on human trafficking, our anti-fraud initiatives, the introduction of biometrics legislation, and our plans related to the Canada-United States Action Plan for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness.

I will touch on each of these briefly.

One of the major loopholes we are in the process of closing is the one international human smugglers try to slip through. We have a legal and moral obligation to put an end to criminal human smuggling operations that threaten both Canada's security and the lives of desperate people around the world.

We believe that the human smuggling provisions contained in Bill C-31 will help us crack down on this heinous commerce and thereby help to make our immigration system more secure. The bill will impose stronger penalties on both smugglers and shipowners and dissuade them from trying to take advantage of our country.

The enhanced detention provisions in Bill C-31 are also intended to protect the security of our system. It's important to stress that these provisions, which are far less harsh than those in place in many other liberal democratic countries, protect the security of the system by giving our officials the time they need to establish the identity of anyone who comes to Canada as a designated irregular arrival—typically a smuggling operation.

Of course, all of those who arrive in Canada will maintain the right to file a claim for refugee protection and receive a full and fair hearing on the merits of their claim before the independent quasi-judicial IRB. But by creating barriers to quick permanent residency for smuggled refugees, our anti-human-smuggling measures will create disincentives for people who are thinking of committing to pay up to $50,000 to a criminal network to smuggle them into Canada.

Mr. Chair, another serious immigration security loophole we have been active in trying to close involves the high incidences of fraud that plague our system.

Fraud, in its many forms, poses arguably the greatest challenge to our security efforts.

We think it is important to be very proactive on this file. I have repeated on many occasions now that Canadian citizenship is precious, and it is not for sale.

We have made it a priority to guard against unscrupulous consultants who try to skirt the rules and help others to lie and cheat their way into becoming citizens.

We have begun to close this loophole through legislation and regulations that impose penalties on unauthorized immigration representatives. Individuals who are found guilty can be subject to fines of up to $100,000 or two years' imprisonment, or both.

I would like to thank all of the parties for their cooperation in adopting this bill, during the last Parliament, in order to create better regulations pertaining to consultants.

Moreover, as we just said, we have created public awareness campaigns to warn prospective immigrants against crooked consultants and residence fraud.

And we have begun the process to revoke the citizenships of more than 2,000 people who obtained them fraudulently. As a measure of how proactive we have been on this file, consider the fact that before we began our anti-fraud campaign, Canada had only revoked the citizenship of 69 people.

More recently, we have begun efforts to deter marriage fraud. Immigration to Canada should not be built upon deceit, as is the case of thousands of fraudsters who dupe Canadian citizens into marrying them as a way of obtaining citizenship. They too often abandon their Canadian spouses as soon as their scam is successful and they are admitted as permanent residents. And then they too often go on to divorce and sponsor new foreign spouses, which I call the revolving door of immigration marriage fraud.

To crack down on this activity, we recently announced measures to put a five-year ban on the ability of foreigners sponsored to Canada through the spousal program to divorce and sponsor others into Canada, which happens typically for commercial advantage—they get a fee for that.

Mr. Chairman, identity fraud also creates problems for the security of our system. That's why l have been very excited to promote our biometrics plan, which, as you know, is before Parliament and being discussed in our estimates today.

Under the existing system, visa applicants only need to provide initial written documents to support their applications. But biometrics--that is to say, digital photographs and fingerprints--will provide much greater certainty of the identity of the person and whether or not they represent a security threat, whether they've been deported from Canada as a failed asylum claimant, as an inadmissible criminal, or indeed whether they are on terrorist watch lists, for example.

This will greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applications and the growing sophistication in documentary fraud.

I should mention in passing that just a couple of weeks ago in India some major arrests were made in a large operation specializing in document fraud. These efforts of cooperation overseas are paying some dividends.

As part of our perimeter action plan that Prime Minister Harper signed with President Obama last December, we will be establishing a common approach with the U.S. to recording and sharing the entry and exit information of travellers crossing our shared land borders. The Border Services Agency will be establishing the system, but CIC is also involved and will be developing policy changes.

Under the current system, many travellers entering Canada from the U.S. can confirm their identities by an oral declaration or through documents of lesser reliability. The new policy will simply require travellers to present a prescribed document when entering our country.

This universal requirement for secure documents from everyone who crosses the border will create a more secure border system and a more secure North America. It will facilitate the flow of legitimate travellers and reduce confusion at the border.

Under this system, CBSA will also collect and record the entry of travellers and share this information with the U.S., which will do the same with us. The data collected by one country will serve as the exit data for the other, so it will be a seamless system.

This will help verify whether temporary residents have exceeded the authorized period for their stay or whether permanent residents have met residency requirements. This will really help us to crack down on fraud in our citizenship program, for example.

As part of the perimeter action plan, we will be establishing a common Canada-U.S. approach to screening travellers before they reach our shores.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman, I have to raise a point of order.

The rules are quite clear that witnesses get ten minutes. We're approaching twelve minutes.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm sorry. I thought—

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

It cuts into our time to ask questions, which is something we're all looking forward to doing.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

That's absolutely a fair point. I was trying to rush through this.

I'll just conclude with apologies by saying there are a lot of technical aspects to this,and without going through the balance of my presentation, I'm happy to take questions on this.

Thank you, Chairman.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Leung.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister and the members of your staff, for attending.

When we look at prospective foreign nationals immigrating to Canada we screen them for health, safety, security, education, skills, identity fraud, a whole host of things. Out of all this, do any other deficiencies still exist, in your opinion?

In some of our health screening we still only screen for three basic items. I believe they are syphilis, TB, and HIV, but a whole host of other diseases can be a strain on our system.

In terms of skills matching with our economy, we definitely need to have a better idea of whether the skills they have practised overseas comply with ours.

Perhaps you can elaborate on some of these deficiencies and how we wish to address them.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, all applicants for permanent residency must undergo a medical exam and submit their results to CIC. If, for example, they have a serious condition, which would represent an excessive burden on Canada's publicly funded health care system, they would be deemed medically inadmissible.

Similarly, applicants with temporary residency who have higher public health risks are required to undergo an immigration medical examination to identify the kinds of diseases that you've mentioned, Mr. Leung. I would point out that the last Auditor General's report raised concerns that there are a number of medical conditions listed by the Public Health Agency of Canada we do not screen against.

I would invite input from the committee as to whether we should expand the number of diseases we should screen against. I think we also need to look at our partners on this. It's always a balance between public health and safety, and accessibility to Canada.

I don't think we want to ask all visitors to go through a rigorous test for every conceivable condition. We have to use what we call risk management principles in assessing whether someone constitutes a potential health risk to Canada.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

My next question refers to Canada's security. How do we best screen for evil intent? Very often, when people come in they pose no threat to us. Once they are within our borders, one of the hardest things to address is homegrown terrorism. I just wish to hear your comments on this.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Obviously, anyone who is or has ever been a member of a terrorist organization or a criminal organization or has been involved in serious crimes is inadmissible to come to Canada under sections 34 through 37 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. One of the reasons we do our security screening is to identify whether an applicant for temporary or permanent residency meets those criteria.

If we have a real weakness in our screening it is because Canada doesn't have an overseas intelligence agency. Our ability to identify people who might have been involved in terrorist organizations is limited to the information that we have available to us. This is why I think it's so important that we expand our information-sharing agreements with allied democracies, such as the United States, who quite frankly have much more robust information on who might constitute a security risk to Canada.

It's why I think biometrics will be much more helpful. Let's face it, a terrorist is not going to apply for a TRV under his actual identity. He's going to create a fake biographic identity. Getting the fingerprints can be helpful in screening those people out.

For those who have never belonged to a terrorist organization and who have never been convicted of serious crimes but merely have the intention of coming here as sleeper agents, it's very difficult for us to get in their heads and subjectively identify that kind of malevolent intent of which you speak. That's why, quite frankly, an open country such as ours can never exclude the possibility that some people will not disclose their intention to do us harm. We just have to use all of the technology we can, the best information that's at our disposal, and the good judgment of our visa officers and border officers to identify those who would do us harm.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

What measures are we taking to address many of these multicultural organizations that are in Canada? On the one hand, they could be perfectly great organizations that promote integration and multiculturalism. On the other hand, they could be just a front for nefarious activity. To what extent have we gone to examine that aspect of our public security?

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

That's a very good question.

Actually, a number of groups that work in the settlement area with newcomers have raised with me this concern. They have said that our settlement programs are designed to integrate people, not to inflame ancient enmities from their countries of origin. This concerns me a great deal, which is why, beginning with my speech at the global parliamentarians conference on anti-Semitism in January 2009 in London, I outlined certain principles that should govern our funding of settlement organizations.

I think the groups that apologize for acts of terrorism and terrorist organizations or extremism or groups whose leadership is involved in the promotion of hatred have no business receiving subsidies from my ministry or any other ministry in the government. We've actually removed funding from organizations that we believe have been involved in promoting extreme and hateful views. I make no apology for that.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Davies.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I left off talking about Islamophobia. I have a few more questions, Mr. Minister.

It would be very helpful if you, as minister for multiculturalism, issued a clear statement to the Canadian public against any form of Islamophobia or rising resentment against people because of faith, of being Muslim. Would that be something you'd be prepared to do?

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes. Not only would it be pertinent, but I've done it on many occasions. I will continue to do so.