Evidence of meeting #32 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 countries.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Les Linklater  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Peter Hill  Director General, Post-Border Programs, Canada Border Services Agency
  • Jennifer Irish  Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Michael MacDonald  Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Public Safety Canada
  • Alexandre Roger  Procedural Clerk, House of Commons
  • Joe Oliver  Director General, Border Integrity, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Marie Estabrooks  Manager, Biometrics Policy (programs and projects), Emerging Border Programs, Canada Border Services Agency
  • Chuck Walker  Director General, Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Alain Desruisseaux  Director General, Admissibility Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Sean Rehaag  Assistant Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, and Representative, David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights - University of Toronto
  • Audrey Macklin  Representative, Professor, Faculty of Law and School for Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto, David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights - University of Toronto
  • Barbara Jackman  Lawyer, As an Individual

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Good morning. This is the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, meeting 32, on Monday, April 30, 2012.

The orders of the day—this meeting is televised today—are pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, April 23, 2012, 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.

I have to figure out a way of shortening that down. It's too long to read.

First of all, did you all miss me last week?

8:45 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, yes, terribly.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

Chair, I just want to say welcome back. Obviously we really did miss you.

In your absence, though, Mr. Lamoureux had no trouble with the title at all. So I'm not sure if that's a....

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

He's a better reader than I am.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

I see.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

First of all, I want to congratulate Ms. Sims on her appointment to the committee.

I know you'll do a fine job. You've been on the committee in the past. Welcome. I'm sure you'll give Mr. Dykstra a run for his money.

8:45 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I will try.

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Indeed. I gather that you and Mr. Lamoureux chaired the meeting in my absence. I thank you for that.

We will get to business. We have a large group of people.

We have, from the department, Mr. Les Linklater, assistant deputy minister of strategic and program policy.

Good morning to you, sir. I understand you're going to be speaking for up to five minutes.

We have Jennifer Irish, the director of asylum policy and programs.

I understand the two of you were present at the last meeting, when the minister was here.

We have Marie Bourry, the executive director and senior general counsel of legal services.

Good morning to you.

We have Mr. Michael MacDonald, the director general of national security operations directorate. He's with Public Safety Canada.

You were here last Thursday as well, I understand. Welcome.

From Canada Border Services Agency, we have Mr. Peter Hill, the director general of post-border programs.

You too will be speaking for up to five minutes, sir.

Finally we have Mr. Joe Oliver, the director general of border integrity from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Good morning to you.

Mr. Linklater, we'll start with you. Thank you.

8:45 a.m.

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

Good morning, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.

Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today. We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act—legislation that would strengthen and improve this country's immigration system.

In particular, I've been invited to address the asylum system reforms and the human smuggling measures in Bill C-31. I and my other colleagues in the next panel will be happy to address any questions you may have with respect to the biometrics measures in Bill C-31.

To begin, Mr. Chair, allow me to note that Bill C-31 further builds 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. The proposed new measures would further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries that generally don't produce refugees. They would also reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada.

It may surprise some committee members to know that Canada receives more asylum claims from countries in Europe than from either Africa or Asia. Last year alone, almost one quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada were made by European Union nationals.

I think we could all agree, Mr. Chair, that EU countries have strong human rights and democratic systems similar to our own, yet they produced almost 25% of all refugee claims to this country in 2011. That's up from 14% the previous year.

In recent years, virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned, or rejected. The refugee reform measures in Bill C-31 would help prevent abuse of the system and would ensure that all of our refugee determination processes are as streamlined as possible. This would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees.

Cracking down on human smugglers is an important element of protecting the integrity of our immigration system, Mr. Chair. That's why Bill C-31 would also help the government take action on the dangerous yet lucrative business of human smuggling.

Bill C-31 would establish mandatory detention for up to a year for individuals who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, in order to determine their identity and admissibility, including whether they have been involved in any illegal activity.

Mandatory detention would exclude those designated foreign nationals who are under the age of 16. Also, once an individual's refugee claim has been approved, that individual would be released from detention.

Bill C-31 would reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling by limiting the ability of those who do so to take advantage of our generous immigration system and social services.

In closing, Mr. Chair, let me say that the proposed measures in Bill C-31 strike the right balance between ensuring the safety and security of Canada and Canadians, and making sure that those who are in need of Canada's protection continue to have access to it.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll now turn to Peter Hill, my colleague who is director general at the agency.

8:50 a.m.

Peter Hill Director General, Post-Border Programs, Canada Border Services Agency

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And thank you to the committee for the opportunity to be here today. When I last appeared at this committee, the CBSA's mandate as a border enforcement agency was outlined in addition to its role in administering Canada's immigration laws. Building from that appearance, I would like to focus my remarks today on how Bill C-31 would impact the CBSA, should Parliament pass it into law.

First, I would like to speak to the impacts on refugee reform.

The implementation of Bill C-31 would not change the CBSA's operational responsibilities in processing refugee claims upon arrival at our ports of entry. What would change for the CBSA, however, is that the agency would be expected to remove individuals within one year, where possible, following the last negative decision on their claim for asylum in Canada.

To enable us to address potential increased removal demands, the CBSA has put in place a removals strategy that includes expanding the assisted voluntary returns and reintegration pilot program. This program encourages voluntary returns as a cost-effective and timely option that complements traditional enforced removals by providing increased counselling, education, and incentives to leave.

This program has proven to be successful in other countries. As better integration assistance is provided for participants, it ensures that they would be less likely to attempt to return to Canada.

I would now like to focus on the human smuggling component of this legislation.

When people arrive in Canada as part of a suspected human smuggling operation, it is the responsibility of the CBSA to determine whether or not these individuals are a threat to Canada. Under the current system, the existing detention review periods of within 48 hours, seven days, and 30 days are not designed to deal with cases involving large volumes and complex human smuggling operations.

The task of distinguishing genuine refugees from those who may pose a public safety threat are complex and time-consuming. By allowing Canadian authorities the additional time necessary to investigate, individuals can be assessed more effectively and their cases dealt with more efficiently.

As such, the mandatory detention provisions are necessary in order for Canadian authorities to investigate persons whose identities have not been determined or who may be inadmissible for reasons of criminality or security. After one year, those found not to be refugees would have the grounds for their detention reviewed by the Immigration Refugee Board after a period of 12 months has passed since their initial detention, and then again at the end of six months. In addition, individuals could be released on application to the Minister of Public Safety if, in the minister's option, exceptional circumstances warrant an early release.

Specifically regarding the detention of minors, I would like to add that in all cases this is considered a measure of last resort. The CBSA's position has been and will continue to be, under Bill C-31, to always consider the best interests of the child.

Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you today. The CBSA is committed to ensuring Canada's immigration laws are respected, and we will continue to take appropriate enforcement action to ensure the safety and security of the Canadian public.

Thank you.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Linklater and Mr. Hill, for your presentations. The committee will now have questions for you.

Mr. Menegakis.

April 30th, 2012 / 8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, all. Thank you for being here today and for testifying before us on this beautiful, bright Monday morning.

I want to speak a little bit about how Bill C-31 would reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling. What we want to do, of course, is limit those who use those channels.

First, why do you think certain individuals seek Canada for asylum rather than a country that is near by? Something must attract them for them to want to come all the way to Canada.

8:55 a.m.

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

Les Linklater

I think the attraction Canada presents is really a reflection of our success as a country that is built on immigration. The generosity of our system, which has been held up by the United Nations as a model for other countries to emulate in refugee determination, puts Canada in very good stead. The very generous social safety net supports—once they are determined to have permanent resident status—and the number of strong legal institutions and numerous appeals in place currently, lead individuals to take the risk of either claiming asylum here, or more dangerously, seeking the assistance of smugglers to gain access to Canada.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

When the minister appeared before us last Thursday—you were here, Mr. Linklater—one of the things that struck me was the amount of time it takes for a bona fide, legitimate asylum claimant to be processed today versus what the case will be if Bill C-31 is implemented.

Can you give us those numbers one more time, please?

8:55 a.m.

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

Les Linklater

Sure. At this point it's taking about 20 or 21 months for a refugee claimant to have a first-level hearing at the IRB. That means someone who—as the minister quite eloquently said on Thursday—has scars on their back and is in desperate need of protection is handed the form to fill out and told to wait 20 months before their hearing is scheduled, at which point they would be approved.

With the new system, an individual who was in desperate need of protection would have the first-level hearing at the IRB within 45 days if they were from a designated country. For all others it would be within 60 days. That would allow them a much faster consideration of any claim and a much faster pathway toward permanent residency for those who are found to be in need of Canada's protection.