Evidence of meeting #31 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 claimants.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Dawn Edlund  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Jennifer Irish  Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Les Linklater  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Daniel Thérrien  Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice
  • Michael MacDonald  Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Public Safety Canada

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

All right, thank you very much.

Subclause 81(1) of Bill C-31 allows you, Mr. Minister, to designate groups as “irregular arrivals” retroactively for anyone who has arrived since March 31, 2009. This would include claimants who arrived on the migrant vessels Ocean Lady and Sun Sea. Retroactive punishment is actually prohibited in our charter with respect to the Criminal Code. Why do you think it is appropriate here? Do you think that this will actually invite court challenges that will tie up the legislation for years to come?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Firstly, I need to clarify, it's not the Minister of Immigration who would have the authority to designate irregular arrivals, but the Minister of Public Safety. Secondly, I reject again the characterization of immigration detention as a form of punishment. It is not. It is a necessary tool to assist us in identifying people and ensuring that they're complying with the immigration laws in respect to their actually being admissible to Canada. Thirdly, yes, I do anticipate that any changes we make to immigration laws may result in legal challenges, but we're confident that these changes are lawful.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

A major concern is that designated claimants can be mandatorily detained on arrival, or on designation, with no review of their detention for a year. Why have you created a new detention regime that applies only to some refugee claimants?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, smuggling operations are typically undertaken by criminal organizations. In the particular case of the two vessels on the west coast, they were used by criminal organizations who used to be involved in running arms in a civil war. These are dangerous organizations. We know that either criminal or very dangerous groups facilitate this.

Secondly, people are knowingly entering the country illegally. They're paying a criminal network to come here. I think that shows a certain amount of bad faith on their part, to say the least. They're not seeking to come through the normal means of acquiring a visa.

Finally, they typically destroy their documents. We need to be able to identify who they are, without constantly spending all of our resources on repetitive detention reviews.

I should underscore that smuggled migrants will still have access to the asylum system. If they are deemed to need Canada's protection they will be released from detention. Under the faster timelines in our new system that will typically happen two to three months after the referral of their case.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair (Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims) Jinny Sims

Thank you. That timing was perfect.

I'd now like to turn to Mr. Leung for five minutes.

April 26th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

My question is also directed to the minister. Thank you, Minister, for being here.

I think there is a lot of misconception in the public, and certainly also in the opposition's line of questioning, about the detention centres. They seem to portray detention as being a jail, behind bars, in the worst of conditions. Perhaps you can elaborate for us what the facilities are like. Based on the ones I have visited, that is definitely not the case.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, immigration detention is not a new concept. It's not a new power. It has always been a feature of our managed immigration system and that of every other country I know of. We use it far less often than peer countries as a tool for immigration integrity. This bill would really not change that fact.

The notion that it's a prison is ridiculous. People who arrive in Canada and are put in immigration detention are free to leave the country any time they choose to.

Finally, on the notion that they are prisons, I would invite people to actually visit our detention facilities managed by the CBSA. For example, the major facility we have in Toronto used to be a hotel. People have hotel rooms and fresh-cooked meals there every day. There are special facilities for families. It's what you would call a minimal security facility, with a fence around it to ensure that people stay on site.

The notion that this is Alcatraz or something is a ridiculous demagogic trick by people who really don't seem to care a whole lot about reinforcing the integrity of our system.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Thank you.

As parliamentarians, one of our primary exercises is to safeguard the assets of Canadians and therefore spend their tax dollars wisely. On the assisted volunteer return and reintegration program, perhaps you can elaborate on how this program helps us save money and facilitates the return of those detainees to their countries of origin.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

This is an idea that we picked up from other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom. Initially it will be a pilot project. If we find it to be effective we'll roll it out and apply it on a permanent and broader basis.

The idea is that when an asylum claimant has their claim rejected and they run out of their last recourse, the CBSA will sit down with them immediately and say: You have two options. You can cooperate with us in a removal, and if you qualify for assisted voluntary removal we will pay your travel expenses back home. We will provide you, through the assistance of an agency such as the International Organization for Migration, with some kind of modest re-establishment stipend to help you re-establish an apartment or pay for initial expenses when they get back home. The consequences for you legally will be much less serious if you cooperate in this way. On the other hand, if you choose to go underground and seek to avoid removal, that will be used with prejudice against you if you ever hope to come back to Canada in the future under status. Things will be a lot more difficult.

We have found in other jurisdictions that this approach is very effective. It has a high take-up rate. It makes removals quicker and much more humane, because people are cooperating with their own removal.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Thank you.

My final question has to do with how all of these changes affect our safe third country agreement, because Canada has this international obligation to handle refugees in the same manner as many other countries. How does the safe third country agreement impact that?

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

The safe third country agreement was negotiated about a decade ago. I think it came into effect in 2003, was it?

4:45 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Les Linklater

It was negotiated in 2002.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, that was in 2002, but it came into effect a couple of years later. This was to deal with a large wave of asylum claims on the Canada-U.S. border that was very disorderly. The premise of the agreement was that foreign nationals living in the United States who come to a Canadian border crossing had already had access to a fair asylum system in the United States, and we discouraged asylum shopping. So they are, in principle, ineligible to make a claim in Canada unless they benefit from one of the exceptions. This legislation does not change that.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair (Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims) Jinny Sims

Thank you very much.

Now I would like to turn to my friend, Mr. Menegakis. Please excuse me if I am crucifying names. I will learn.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

You know what? You pronounced it excellently. Thank you.