Evidence of meeting #45 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
  • Matthew Oommen  Senior Counsel, Legal Services , Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Monique Frison  Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Allan Kagedan  Director, National Security Operations, Public Safety Canada

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I realize that, Mr. Chair.

Never say “just a chairman”. Every person is special in his or her own way.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

You're right. Someone hasn't seen her loved ones in a while.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I just want to put on the record that it would be really critical. I'm sorry that we have not received the privacy impact assessments. I realize that we don't have them, and I also realize that we have these very tight timelines. I don't want to belabour the point, but I do want to say that it would have been good to have had them here.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

We now have amendment 22 on the floor.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I'm now going to speak to amendment 22.

The reason I stopped to ask for the privacy impact assessment of the biometrics was that it would help to inform my decision as we go along with this.

I think I've heard many people say that biometrics is the way to go, we're just catching up, etc. But one thing I will tell you is that Canadians care very deeply about their privacy.

We know that this is actually going to biometrics. We're trying them out first on visitors who come to this country. They are not Canadian citizens. But we respect other people's right to privacy, just as we respect our own.

I also acknowledge that in this legislation, as the minister explained it to us, we're talking about photographs and we're talking about fingerprints.

I also heard, when we questioned the minister at a subsequent meeting, that our attempt to collect biometrics is for verification of identification. It is for verification purposes and/or for purposes of national security. I think we live in a world in which we can see that there may be a need for that. If that's there, it's really important that such information be destroyed once verification is complete.

There are two things. One is that we have identified the person, and the second is that we know that the person is not a national security risk to us. Once we know those two things, we destroy that data.

I have serious concerns about the protection of that kind of data bias. I don't think we've had anything presented to us as to how it will be looked after.

We have put this amendment in after a great deal of thought and upon hearing the government's concerns and the minister's direct response that the only purpose of collecting this data is identification verification and national security.

In this amendment, we're also saying that once those two have been established, once verification has taken place, we need to destroy that data.

I have made it very easy for Mr. Dykstra to support this amendment because, as he knows, it reflects very truly what the minister said when he was before the committee.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Lamoureux.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Chair, I want to enter into a potential discussion on this issue. Biometrics was first raised a number of years ago, under the Liberal Party. When we were in government, we saw this as an issue that needed attention. The Liberal Party actually initiated a pilot project, and all of a sudden, fortunately or unfortunately—unfortunately, from my perspective—there was change in government and the issue of biometrics seemed to be put on the back burner.

Then we had the Minister of Immigration say, through Mr. Dykstra, that we're going to debate biometrics here in the committee, do a study on it, and, as my colleagues from the New Democrats have talked about, to try to get a better understanding of biometrics. This particular amendment is trying to put in some safeguards.

I do believe that at the very least the government's approach with biometrics is somewhat premature. It's premature in the sense that our committee has not even had an opportunity to provide a final report on it. We are waiting for valuable information to come forward.

Biometrics does have a potential role to play with different forms of visas, not just for refugees, but for working visas, student visas, and other forms of temporary visas, and I know the government is looking at that.

I think there could have been a more fulsome discussion that would have ultimately led to better legislation on biometrics. I look at this amendment as at least providing a little more definition, but I do believe we've really missed our mark in terms of dealing with the whole issue of biometrics.

Other countries in the world have been engaged in this for the last number of years, and it is only most recently that the government seems to have recognized this is a technology worth pursuing. But there are no safeguards. They have not put safeguards into place that go beyond the legislation we have before us, such as how the information that is gathered is going to be used, how it is going to be disposed of, how long we are going to keep it in records, and so forth.

With those comments, we are prepared to support this particular amendment. But we do believe the government would have been better off to incorporate biometrics in a separate piece of legislation at some point in the future, when we would have been able to have a more thorough discussion on it.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Ms. Sims, and then Mr. Dykstra.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, my colleague just made some excellent points about biometrics. I raised my concern at the beginning that we didn't have the privacy impact assessment in front of us.

In many ways, this little piece being buried in this legislation reminds me a lot of another piece of legislation, called the budget. So many of the immigration issues are buried in there, including a backlog of skilled workers whose rights are being denied. There are other components as well.

I am really hoping we won't see too much of this in the future.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

I could comment on the last presentation, but I will indulge your advice on that, Mr. Chair.

I will note that when we've discussed biometrics in any of the previous amendments that have been suggested by either Mr. Lamoureux or Ms. Sims, the concern we have had, and continue to have when we see the amendments come forward, is that if we were to pass them, it would actually prevent the government from being able to collect biometrics to (a) check for a criminal background and (b) check for previous immigration history, which is critical to the success of implementing biometrics, at the same time as passing the bill. If someone is going to seek entry into Canada and they are not a Canadian citizen, and they do so through the means as suggested in the bill, then I think the adoption, as is, of the biometrics strategy within the bill is important, and it will be supported by the government.

I do note, though, that Ms. Sims is correct. I do recall when she did ask for that information and it was to be forthcoming. I just don't recall that we'd actually set a date so that we could have it before clause-by-clause, which we probably should have done. It's my mistake as much as anything else because I don't think the biometrics folks were thinking we needed it before clause-by-clause. I think they determined it was something the committee wanted to look at under its biometrics study, but not necessarily for the clause-by-clause.

I could be wrong, but if any of the staff here want to comment on that specifically, they are free to do so. I'm not asking for that, but if they want to make a clarification, it's probably a good time to do it.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

I'm presuming we will be getting that soon.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

We'll make sure, yes.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Monsieur Giguère.

May 10th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

You probably know the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is exactly the problem now.

We want to prevent criminals, people we do not want, from coming to our country. That in itself is good, but we cannot thereby harm refugee claimants and their families. Hence the problem of information-sharing.

Let me give you a very simple example. We want to know if an individual arriving at our border has committed any crimes in other countries. Canada files a request with Interpol, which has a database that is completely open to its members. Interpol checks its database and tells us that the individual is flagged, not as a criminal, but as an illegal immigrant in another country. They send us that information, but, in so doing, Interpol's open network is telling all its members that Canada has filed a request about that individual and has received a reply saying such and such. If the refugee claimant comes from an unfriendly country, the government of that unfriendly country will be informed that one of its citizens has applied for refugee status in Canada. If the refugee claimant goes back to his country, he will be in danger, and so will the members of his family who stayed there.

There's the rub. We do not want to prevent people from coming, but we want to screen those who do, in order to prevent criminals from entering. It's very commendable, but the problem is that we cannot endanger everyone arriving on our doorstep, honest people who still have families in their countries of origin. That is our problem. No one is giving us any guarantees about the sharing of information. In that respect, the amendment errs on the side of caution and that is clearly what we must do.

You have probably come across examples in your ridings. In my riding, I have dealt with immigration situations involving people who still have families in undemocratic countries and who are afraid to talk to us for fear that their home government will be informed about the situation. I am sure that it also happens in your ridings. My case is not exceptional. People who are afraid of their governments don't stop being afraid of them once they are in Canada, certainly not when they are knocking on our door at the border. That is the kind of situation that we have to avoid.

I am sure that, like me, you have absolutely no interest in helping an undemocratic government oppress even a fraction of its people. If you think you can improve on what this amendment is suggesting, go right ahead. We just want to do no harm. Around this table, I feel that we are unanimous in the fundamental desire never to let our country become the unintentional ally of an oppressive government.

I do not know what else I can say to convince you to support this amendment, but these are situations that you come across every day. The people on your riding staff deal with them, as do mine.

We have not received the information we asked for from the RCMP and the Canadian Forces. How will this database be managed? Who will have access to it? Will people flagged by the database be able to obtain the information that has been gathered on them? These are very important questions and we have no answers. As we wait for the answers, let us err on the side of caution.

We could take a 15- or 20-minute break. We could discuss it in more detail. You can introduce a technical amendment yourselves, to make sure that we will never do any harm, that we will never be the unintentional allies of oppression.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Mr. Dykstra.