Evidence of meeting #42 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 chair.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jennifer Irish  Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Monique Frison  Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Warren Woods  Manager, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Chair, I'm wondering if it would be okay for us to allow for some opening comments in regard to the bill before we get into the clause-by-clause by whomever would like to provide opening comments.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

I'll agree to that.

Who wants to go first?

Ms. Sims, you asked for it. Or will it be Mr. Lamoureux? You asked for it, you can go first.

May 9th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

I'm quite flexible. I'm more than happy to go first, Mr. Chair.

I did think that it was important, just before we get under way with the clause-by-clause, to highlight some of the presentations that were made and some of the concerns that we have expressed.

We understand that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism did have a press conference at which he made some fairly substantial changes. I thought it might have been appropriate for the minister to come before the committee--given that we're going to be going into clause-by-clause--to indicate, as a courtesy, what sorts of changes he would like to see and maybe provide the justification up front with us. If he could take the time to present them to the media, he could have provided the courtesy of doing likewise here for the standing committee.

Having said that, I think we have been fairly clear on concerns we've had with regard to the Liberal Party of Canada's position in regard to the presentations that were made. All in all, there were very excellent, high-calibre presentations. I want to pick up on a few of those points.

We still believe the idea of mandatory detention is just wrong. This is something that will be challenged in our Constitution and will be challenged successfully.

With regard to the safe country list, we believe the government was wrong to change what was in the previous legislation, which would have had a panel of experts bring forward a recommendation to the minister. We believe the minister would have been best advised to go back to that system, for which there was unanimous support from the House. So we believe the government was wrong to do that.

With regard to concerns with respect to families, when we talk about mandatory detention, we're going to be dividing up families, we're going to be preventing families from being able to be reunited. We heard presenter after presenter talk about how that is damaging to the family and is also going to be costly to our system. The idea of having a ten-year-old being in foster care while parents are locked up in a detention centre is just wrong. The idea of a refugee being determined to be an irregular refugee and then put into detention, and then, after being declared a refugee, having to wait five years before they will be able to sponsor their spouse or their child is again just wrong. We look to the minister to be able to address that particular issue.

We're concerned with regard to the whole issue of this two-tier system that's being set up for refugees. I think that if you take a look at the bigger picture here, Mr. Chair--and we've had a few presenters who made comment on it--worldwide there are over 10 million refugees, people who would like to be able to leave their countries for whatever reason--over 10 million. Canada has had a fairly decent record in terms of being able to play a leadership role in dealing with the whole issue of refugees on a worldwide basis. This particular bill, if it passes without amendments, will greatly diminish and tarnish our record. It takes away our ability to provide that leadership. So when we look at it, there are 10 million refugees worldwide, and we get 15,000, which is a fairly significant number, but there are only 60,000 worldwide that actually get accepted.

We are taking away some of our responsibility in terms of being able to address that refugee problem throughout the world by bringing in legislation that in essence establishes a two-tier system. We need to be very clear on that fact. A refugee who flies in through the Toronto airport and a family that might appear via another means, at a different type of port of entry, are going to be treated differently, and the government needs to acknowledge that. We believe that it is against UN resolutions, and that through time that is going to be well demonstrated. The direction we are moving in on that is just wrong.

We're concerned with respect to the timelines that are being talked about. This is something about which presenter after presenter talked at great length. How can you expect someone in 15 days to prepare themselves or get themselves into a position in which they can feel comfortable and know that they're going to have a chance to explain the situation?

Many of these individuals are not afforded the opportunity to come to Canada with the background information that is required, nor to even be able to substantiate who they might be, and yet we're expecting them to be able to get everything in proper order, including dealing with issues such as where they will be sleeping, how they are going to be fed, identifying how they're going to be able to get representation, and what kind. In many cases, because of this time restriction they won't even be able to get any form of representation. What impact is that going to have, Mr. Chair?

Those are the types of concerns that I believe at the end of the day are going to deny genuine refugees the opportunity to come to Canada.

When we talk about mandatory detention for two or more, as much as we would love to see mandatory detention disappear completely, the idea of increasing it to a more reasonable number.... I might suggest 5,000, but if I say 5,000 it would no doubt have no chance at passing. But at the very least, to say two I believe is just compounding the problem of mandatory detentions in the first place.

We have refugees who have been deemed refugees. They are going to be in a position in which they're not even going to be able to travel to a third country to meet with a family member, which raises a lot of concerns. This is something completely new, Mr. Chair, that the government is doing here, which is going to have a profound impact upon families.

My suggestion is that as we go through clause by clause, Mr. Chair, we take into consideration the real impact this is going to have on refugees, here in Canada and abroad, and how this whole issue of Bill C-31 is going to impact Canada's reputation as a world leader in dealing with refugees in a fair way.

I think that if you canvassed Canadians as a whole, you would find wide support for recognizing that we have a role to play in the whole refugee area of immigration, Mr. Chairperson. At the end of the day, what we want to see is a system that not only processes in a reasonable timeframe, but that allows us to be able to say that it is fair, that there is such a thing as judicial overview. This legislation does not allow for genuine judicial overview, in many different ways, Mr. Chairperson. That's why I think that it's critically important and of great value for the committee as a whole to be reviewing it.

Ms. Sims from the New Democratic Party made the suggestion that we recess this particular committee. If the will of the Liberal Party were able to prevail in this committee, I can tell you that we would allow the previous legislation to take effect and over the next number of months would review exactly what it is that Bill C-31 is doing and how we might be able to improve upon it so that we were being fairer to refugees and were building the relationship that Canada has among countries throughout the world and building the whole leadership role that we could be playing.

That's why I think we're maybe being a little too quick in wanting to pass things through. I realize that there was a decision by the committee a few days back saying that by midnight tomorrow things have to pass their way through. But as you say yourself, Mr. Chair, with the unanimous support of the committee.... And I can tell you that the Liberal Party's position would be to allow for proper and adequate time to ensure that we get this thing right.

We owe it to not only today's refugees but to future refugees that we get this system right. We do feel that on many fronts, most of which I've already highlighted.... I highlighted the primary concerns in regard to this bill, Mr. Chairperson, and ultimately I believe we should be seeing where the government feels.... That's why I thought it would be great to have some opening remarks on the issue.

I don't know, because I was in a caucus meeting prior. All I've been told is the Minister of Immigration had a press conference. Yesterday, because of a courtesy, we had asked that people submit amendments in advance so we had a sense of some of the amendments the government had provided. I don't know if everything the minister had commented on is all pertaining to those amendments. Are there other things he made reference to? We don't know that. That's why I thought it would be most appropriate to have some opening remarks.

I'm very much interested in hearing about what the core feelings are from the New Democrats in regard to this particular bill. I think the New Democrats and Liberals in some ways support looking at some of the amendments. You can see we're both thinking alike when it comes to the issue of mandatory detention, at least in good part, it would appear.

We're both thinking alike in terms of why the government said 16 years old as opposed to 18 years old, the age of majority in terms of detention. So if you're 17 years old the government feels they should be put into a detention centre. Both opposition parties have recognized that's wrong. It should be bumped up to 18.

I don't know if the minister has changed his mind on that particular point, but I think there is value for the government to change its mind. I think there are common grounds in looking through some of these amendments.

There might be one or two others we might want to throw in that I didn't get to see in the booklet that was circulated, Mr. Chairperson. But I think for the first time what we saw was a sense of cooperation from all three political parties here by submitting the amendments in advance. The next best thing would have been to have some dialogue on those amendments prior to our even going into the clause-by-clause, because maybe there is some merit in terms of Mr. Dykstra saying we could be sympathetic to this, given the NDP and the Liberals are okay with the 16 to 18 bit. To have that sort of dialogue I think would have been healthy for the committee.

When I sit back and review the process, generally speaking, we had concerns right out of the get-go, the get-go being when the bill was introduced in second reading when the government made the determination they had to bring it in through time allocation. We did have some concerns in regard to the number of witnesses, but that was agreed upon that we would limit the witnesses. I do appreciate the fact that I was able to get the number of witnesses we were able to get. We could always get more. We could always use more witnesses, Mr. Chairperson, but the witnesses themselves were of very high calibre. It was, I thought, very beneficial.

There are a number of comments they made that really come to mind. I realize I might be getting a little long-winded here, Mr. Chair, but there were some more interesting ones.

For example, when I had posed the question in terms of the two-tier refugee to what was happening in Germany, they made it very clear there is no two-tier. All refugees are treated the same.

When we had issues related to Australia, we find out through the committee meetings that these massive detention centres are very costly and it's not healthy for the families.

The government would ask question after question in regard to the cost of refugees. I believe every Conservative member of this committee made reference to the cost factor. Do you recognize the cost? We have to do this for the cost. What came out of the committee was the fact of the additional costs that are going to be incurred because of the separation. By putting someone into detention, there's going to be the potential for long-term health care ramifications and the cost to health care. Not only should Ottawa be concerned about this, but all provincial governments should be concerned about it. Health care is the greatest single expenditure.

I know that in the province of Manitoba mental health is one of the growing areas of cost. Here we are, saying that we are going to put these people into detention centres. I'm thinking of the whole Australia situation, Mr. Chairperson, in which they talk about those costs. It wasn't just the building of prisons—or detention centres, because I know the government is sensitive to “prison” versus “detention centre” and trying to pick up the differences between the two—but there is a significant cost.

If you put an eight-year-old child into a foster care home and then have mom and dad in a detention centre and you keep them apart for a year, and then after they've been apart for a year they're reunited, you can't tell me that there is not going to be a cost. I don't know whether the government has even recognized that cost factor, Mr. Chairperson.

I wasn't at the minister's press conference, so I don't know whether he has dealt with that particular issue, Mr. Chairperson. I hope he has, because there is a significant cost difference when you have that sort of separation.

I get back to the process issue, Mr. Chair. The reason I bring it up is that I thought the time allocation in second reading was not appropriate. I honestly thought there should have been more time for all members of Parliament to contribute to the debate before it came to committee.

Then once we got to committee, the quality of the presentations was excellent. I suspect that's why we have so many amendments coming forward to the bill. But now, because of the opposition's maybe being a little too generous, we put in a time allocation ourselves rather inadvertently, saying that it has to pass by Thursday night. With hindsight, I think that may have been a mistake, Mr. Chair. I think maybe what we should have done is allow ourselves to continue—

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Try to stick to the bill, Mr. Lamoureux.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

It's because—

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

On a point of order, I'll hear Mr. Menegakis.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Chair, initially Mr. Lamoureux asked whether we had some time for brief opening remarks. Is there a time limit on this?

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

No.

Thank you, Mr. Menegakis.

Mr. Lamoureux, please continue.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I didn't mean to be too extended in my comments. I just thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to express myself, because on many of those presentations I only had five minutes. This allows me to air a little bit of frustration, and I'm sure my colleague from across the way can sympathize with why it is that we are so concerned about Bill C-31.

The point is, Mr. Chairperson, that in trying to address the legislation and in listening to all of the presenters who made presentations, I have had the opportunity to discuss with members of my own Liberal caucus. There are a number of concerns that we have raised in regard to the bill. What I did was highlight some of the major concerns.

I have before me a series of amendments. I don't necessarily want to go through all of the amendments, because as we go clause by clause we'll be afforded the opportunity to talk about those amendments. But the concern is.....

To the credit of the NDP, I think Ms. Sims recognized it right up front by saying that we need to set aside some additional time so that we can ensure that we are afforded ample opportunity to thoroughly discuss each amendment. I think that would have been a very good motion, had it been allowed to go ahead, Mr. Chair. It's not necessarily a reflection upon your particular ruling—I abstained from that particular vote, I must say—but I think there would have been some merit to it.

There was one in particular that, when I was looking through the bill late last night—

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Lamoureux, I have no problem with your speaking generally about the bill. I think when we get into specific amendments you should wait until that clause is called before you start commenting on that particular clause or that particular amendment. The purpose of what you're doing now is to make some introductory comments. Those comments are in order. But you're now moving into amendments, and I don't think that's appropriate at this time.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Okay. Let me just wind up, then, Mr. Chairperson, on a point.

In going through the amendments that I did, as I pointed out, I noticed there were some amendments where there seemed to be a general consensus between two parties. I think there was even a consensus I had noted with all three political parties.

I want to approach the committee and the clause-by-clause with an open mind. There will be some that we'll want to withdraw in terms of some of the amendments that we had put forward. There might be one or two that we would like to add to it, only because of timing we weren't able to quite get those in. I'm hoping I'll still be afforded the opportunity to be able to put those in.

I look forward to being able to get into the clause-by-clause, but I would encourage all members to seriously look at any sorts of limitations we might have put in, especially given that we understand the minister is prepared to make some changes to the legislation.

I look forward to the dialogue and other opening remarks that might be there.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Lamoureux.

Ms. Sims.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you very much.

It's not going to come as a surprise to anybody around this table that the NDP is very, very concerned with the kind of speed with which we're going through this legislation. I don't know about the rest of my colleagues, but after hearing the hours and hours and days and days of testimony, there is a lot for us to review. It's not only the verbal testimony we heard, but the very thick briefs that were submitted. To read and digest all of that before we get into clause-by-clause, as you can imagine, all our brain cells need a little bit more time. That is why I brought that motion forward, or tried to, to say that we should suspend. It was not to say that we should never come back to it; it was to suspend.

New Democrats are concerned about the lack of time we're going to have. This was also eloquently stated by other witnesses, such as Peter Edelmann, from the National Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association. On May 1 he said: “What is of particular concern is the speed with which this complex legislation is being passed without the time to properly study it.” I really want to stress that: “without the time to properly study it”.

We're being asked to pass a bill on a very short timeline, and we don't know how many more unintentional consequences there will be. And they are in this bill. No one that I'm aware of has been able to study this bill in depth in terms of all of the unintended consequences. We simply haven't had time to study in depth this piece of legislation. Never mind not having studied the legislation, we've had witnesses—legal, community groups, refugees—who have come to present to us, and I don't think we've had adequate time to give all of that testimony due consideration either.

Notwithstanding that, there are key areas in this bill we have major concerns with, but as the official opposition we want to make things work. We are not here to try to slow things down. As a matter of fact, we can't wait to get to clause-by-clause, so I'm planning to keep my comments fairly brief. We do want to make things work. That's why we have submitted 20-plus amendments. We will be looking forward to seeing the amendments. We've seen them, actually, but we look forward to hearing the rationale. And if there are additional amendments from either the Liberals or the Conservatives, we will give them due consideration. We want to make this work for some of the most vulnerable people who are going to be arriving on our doorstep, and we want to ensure that they are granted due process.

Some of our key concerns have been highlighted and corroborated by many, many witnesses. I wish I had the time to read into the record all that they said, but we don't. These concerns include:

—The provision that gives the minister the power to hand-pick those countries he thinks are safe. This would do away with an independent panel of experts.

—The ability to detain refugee claimants for a year without review. Once again, that causes us major, major concern, because not only are we looking at contraventions of our international obligations, but of our own charter and constitution and habeas corpus.

—Measures to deny some refugees access to the new refugee appeal division, which, once again, is simply an anathema.

—A five-year mandatory wait for bona fide refugees to become permanent residents and reunite with their families.

Once again, I want to stress that one of the things we've often heard is about the security of Canadians, about protecting Canadians. Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, agreed to by the parties and praised by the current minister, actually addresses those concerns, because current legislation allows for identification and security checks to be done before people are released.

With all of that in mind, one of the things we are very, very committed to and want to appreciate is that there has been some movement from the minister. We saw a little bit of it in the clause, and from what he said today we're looking forward to more. We will be looking at his proposals closely at committee and taking them very seriously.

That said, we've also heard overwhelmingly from witnesses in the past two weeks that this bill is fundamentally flawed. Tweaking it is not going to fix it. This bill does nothing to prevent human smuggling, since our punitive measures for smuggling are already there. What it does is punish yet again the most vulnerable people arriving on our doorstep.

We have a bill in place that could actually become operational. We could take a look at Bill C-11 over a longer period, study it, and make sure that we do it right. It's in all our interests to make sure that we do all our legislation right. We will be looking at all of the measures. My colleague from the Liberal Party clearly articulated the concerns that we have expressed, and that witnesses have expressed as well. On this piece of legislation, we need to take a break. We need to suspend and make sure that we do it right.

I want to appeal to my colleagues across the way. Let's take a suspension, let's operationalize Bill C-11, and let's do this right.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Dykstra.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

We will enjoy the opportunity to get to clause-by-clause and work through this process. We spent hours and hours listening to witnesses. It's time we start to act.