Evidence of meeting #40 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 c-31.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Catherine Dauvergne  Canada Research Chair in Migration Law, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law, As an Individual
  • Sharryn Aiken  Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual
  • Kelsey Angeley  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
  • Karina Fortier  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
  • Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International
  • Béatrice Vaugrante  Executive Director, Amnesty International Canada Francophone, Amnesty International
  • Christoph Ehrentraut  Counselor, European Harmonization Unit, Federal Government of Germany
  • Excellency Bernhard Brinkmann  Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Canada
  • Anja Klabundt  Counsellor, of European Harmonization Unit, Ministry of the Interior, Federal Government of Germany
  • Roland Brumberg  Counselor of Unit Immigration Law, Federal Government of Germany
  • Ioana Patrascu  Legal Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Asylum Unit, European Commission
  • Angela Martini  Policy Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Border Management and Return Policy Unit, European Commission

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

No. The delegation from Brussels is part of Ambassador Brinkmann's group.

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you so much for the clarification.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

May 7th, 2012 / 11 a.m.

His Excellency Bernhard Brinkmann Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, honourable members of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning. It's a great pleasure to be here. I'd like to thank you for inviting us to this important hearing.

This bill is of interest to the European Union, mostly on two aspects. First I would like to say that we are ready to answer any questions you might have on how we deal with these issues in Europe, but we're not here to comment on your legislative process. It's not for us to comment on draft bills you deal with. We are more than happy to answer any questions you have on our own policies.

Why is this of particular interest to us? There are two aspects. The first is immigration policy. For us, Canada is a model as concerns the immigration policy and the resulting multicultural society you have, the pluralism. You probably know that in Europe we have some difficulties with these issues, with integration. Some have stated it's the end of multiculturalism, and so on. Therefore, we watch all this with great interest, and we have made reports on that to Europe.

The situation is also different in Europe, of course. We have nation states with very homogeneous populations, where immigrants stand out, whereas in Canada, as you know, almost everybody is an immigrant or is descended from immigrants. Immigration into Europe is mostly of a different quality than in Canada. In Canada you choose most of your immigrants. You want qualified people, whereas in Europe most immigrants come from the south, and the majority are almost illiterate, and so on. So it's a different situation.

The second aspect of why it's interesting for us is the visa issue. Citizens from three of our member states—Romania, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic—still require visas to come to Canada, whereas Canadian citizens have visa-free travel within the entire European Union. For the countries concerned, but also for the European Union as a whole, it's a serious issue because of matters of principle. Our visa policy is based on the principle of reciprocity. If you grant visa-free access to one country, then that country should also grant you visa-free access to its territory. It's also because of solidarity among member states. This is a problem, especially the reintroduction of the visa for the Czech Republic. We are working to solve this issue as soon as possible.

That is linked to asylum policy, I would say; therefore I would like to briefly explain to you immigration and asylum policy in the European Union—just the big headlines—and leave it to the experts to go into the details.

The issue of immigration and asylum is traditionally a responsibility of the member states and national competence. They deal with that in accordance with the applicable international instruments, like the Geneva Convention, and their national laws. However, since 1999, at the European level we have tried to work on a common asylum policy. Like so many things in the European Union, it is a work in progress—a process in progress—and we're still working on it. We do that through legislation at the European level, mostly with directives that then have to be implemented by member states through practical cooperation and the harmonization of national practices.

We work under the principle of minimum standards. That means that member states, individually, can go further in the protection of refugees and grant more rights or more favoured treatment. There are minimum standards for protection: material conditions, such as housing, food, etc.; access to the labour market, which would be granted after 12 months in the territory; and assistance for vulnerable applicants, such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, and victims of torture and violence and so on.

After a maximum of six months after they have applied for asylum, they should have their “first instance” procedure.

You may know that in the European Union we have free movement of persons. But also within the 23 member states we have the Schengen, in which there has been an abolition of border controls. You can drive from one member country to the other inside the Schengen area without even slowing down. It's like going from Ontario to Quebec. There are no border controls at all. That means completely free movement, which also applies, of course, to asylum seekers. That has resulted in a problem we call “asylum shopping”. People apply for asylum in one member country, and when they're refused there, they go to another one and reapply there.

To resolve that problem, there is the Dublin II Regulation, which serves to determine which member state is responsible for dealing with an asylum claimant. It's based on certain criteria, such as country of first entry and so on.

Also, fingerprinting of asylum seekers has been introduced. These fingerprints are stored in a database called Eurodac. When an asylum claimant presents himself or herself, fingerprints can be checked to see if an application has been made and treated somewhere else in the European Union. If that's the case, the asylum claim is not admissible.

I should make clear that this only applies to third-country nationals—people who have come from outside the European Union who are asking for asylum inside the European Union. Between member states, we don't accept asylum seekers from one member state who is going to another member state. The treaty itself says that because we have democracies based on the rule law, and we have oversight of this rule of law and the principles of asylum and so on by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice and so on, an asylum seeker from a member state is inadmissible in another member state he or she goes to.

Finally, I have a comment on numbers. We have, on average, around 250,000 asylum seekers in the European Union. The number increased last year with the Arab Spring, as you know.

There are big variations from country to country. Some of the southern member states, which get boatloads of people coming over the Mediterranean Sea, have had a maximum influx. But to give you an idea—

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

You have less than one minute, Your Excellency.

11:05 a.m.

Bernhard Brinkmann

Okay. I won't go further with the numbers.

Finally, I will just say that at the European level, we try to help those member countries that receive the most asylum seekers through several funds. The European Refugee Fund is €630 million over five years. Related funds are the European Integration Fund, at €825 million, the European Return Fund, at €676 million, and the External Borders Fund, at €820 million.

I will stop here, and I will be happy to answer questions.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Ambassador. I appreciate your coming and bringing your assistants with you to brief us on what's happening in the European Union.

I will say, wearing another hat, that I'm the president of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, so I bump into Ambassador Brinkmann regularly. He keeps me well informed as to what's going on in Europe. It's a pleasure to see you.

We now have, from the Federal Government of Germany, Ms. Klabundt.

Are you going to address the committee?

11:10 a.m.

Anja Klabundt Counsellor, of European Harmonization Unit, Ministry of the Interior, Federal Government of Germany

No. I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Brumberg, who is doing the introduction.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Brumberg, you may proceed, please. Thank you.

11:10 a.m.

Roland Brumberg Counselor of Unit Immigration Law, Federal Government of Germany

Hello, everybody.

By now we have already heard a lot of things about the European system of asylum and immigration, so I will make it very short.

The German legislation is influenced by the European legislation—it has to be influenced by it a lot—and therefore I don't want to mention all these subjects again that we have heard about.

I will just start with numbers. In 2011 Germany had 45,000 asylum seekers. This was an increase of 10% compared to the previous year.

As far as national legislation is concerned, I might give you a very rough idea about the structure of our legislation in order to help you shape questions regarding our legal structure.

We make a systematic distinction between regular, legal, and illegal immigration on the one hand and the regulations on asylum seekers on the other hand. That means that only in cases of asylum claims are there special rules that are different from those in the regular regime.

If a person claims asylum, the person falls under a special procedure for the examination of the claim. If there is an appeal regarding the administrative decision on the asylum claim, then there are special modified procedures. Appeals against decisions on asylum cases follow the regular rules of administrative courts in Germany.

In the case of a positive decision on an asylum claim, a person would fall back into the regular immigration regime and would be granted some advantages towards gaining a permanent residence permit, as long as the asylum status is not withdrawn.

In the case of a negative decision, the person falls back into the regular immigration regime as far as deportation is concerned, so there are no special rules as far as asylum seekers are concerned. The same regulations apply as they do to anyone else not staying in the country legally. A person who has applied for asylum might be barred from getting a residence permit in other circumstances, such as under family reunification or as a student in the country. These are negative effects of having claimed asylum unsuccessfully.

This gives you a very rough idea of the German system. We look forward to your detailed questions.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you very much, Mr. Brumberg. I know there will be questions.

We will start off with a representative from the Conservative Party, Ms. James.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to extend a special welcome to all of our guests today. There are certainly a large number here, and I'm very delighted to see you all here.

Much of Bill C-31, which we're debating here, has to do with designating certain countries as safe countries. I know that many democratic European countries designate certain countries as safe and actually accelerate asylum procedures for claims from those countries. There's a long list of these countries: United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, and so on. This is not something new on the world stage. Canada is actually behind a lot of the other countries we're most commonly compared against.

I just have a question specifically regarding the United Kingdom, the U.K. The process for claimants in some streams takes as little as 10 to 14 days—that's what I've been told. Is this a correct statement?

I'm not sure who I should direct this to. Perhaps our guests—

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

It should probably go to somebody in Brussels.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Did you hear the question?

11:15 a.m.

Ioana Patrascu Legal Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Asylum Unit, European Commission

We heard the question.