House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was grain.

Topics

Vacancy

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that I have received a communication notifying me that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely, the Hon. Warren Allmand Esq., member for the electoral district of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, by resignation effective February 24, 1997.

Accordingly, pursuant to paragraph 25(1)( b ) of the Parliament of Canada Act, on Monday, February 24, 1997, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a new writ of election for the said electoral district.

It being 11 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Quebec Contingency Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Speaker

The order for second reading of Bill C-341 standing on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. Harper, the former member for Calgary West, cannot be moved. Unless the House decides otherwise, the motion will be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should enter into discussions with provincial governments to limit the social assistance available to failed refugee claimants who are remaining in Canada to make appeals to the courts and transfer the onus of providing further assistance to these individuals to immigrant and refugee aid societies and other organizations.

Mr. Speaker, my motion, which calls on the government to reduce the financial burden of failed refugee claimants on Canada's social assistance network, is the result of considerable research and communication with a number of organizations and agencies in this country, in particular in the province of Ontario.

At the outset I wish to say that there is little question that Canadians willingly accept the responsibility of providing safe refugee accommodation to an internationally proportionate number of refugee seekers. In fact, Canadians welcome the opportunity to provide a new home to those who through no fault of their own are persecuted or displaced by political events and turmoil.

To be clear, Canadians do not want to stop accepting refugees. To be equally clear, that is not what this motion is about. What this motion is about is to recognize that failed refugee claimants can represent a tremendous burden to Canadian taxpayers. Consequently, the federal government should limit the opportunity for failed refugee claimants to receive welfare.

In the context of this debate let us define what criteria are used to determine an individual refugee.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees cares for and repatriates or resettles some five million refugees and displaced persons each year. A distinction must be made between a displaced person and a convention refugee.

A displaced person is one who, as the result of a natural disaster or political turmoil, has been rendered homeless and who is outside his or her own country. A convention refugee is one who, because of membership in a particular political or social group, religion, race or nationality, cannot return to his or her home country for fear of serious persecution. Obviously not all displaced persons are convention refugees. Most can, at one time or another, be repatriated.

According to UN estimates there are approximately 20 million displaced persons or refugees in the world, but only approximately 60,000 of them are genuine convention refugees. This number is particularly important. In 1993, when I acted as the party's immigration critic, the immigration department claimed that Canada had accepted about 25,000 convention refugees. This position was maintained by the immigration department despite the fact that the UN said that only about 25,000 of those 60,000 convention refugees who were in need of immediate resettlement were resettled worldwide. In other words, there were something in the neighbourhood of 35,000 convention refugees who needed a new home who could not be placed anywhere. Yet our country, through our refugee determination process, took in somewhere around

35,000. If we took in 35,000 through our process, why were there still 35,000 genuine refugees not placed? That is the question that begs to be answered. Unfortunately I have received no answer to that dilemma from the Liberal government.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

An hon. member

And never will.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

And never will, as my colleague points out. The question has been asked numerous times.

In my travels to many of the points of entry in this country, I have determined there is a flow of refugee claimants, tens of thousands a year, coming into the country, and many are determined not to be true refugees.

Consider the border crossing at Fort Erie. In 1993 over 7,000 entered through that port and claimed refugee status. By law, according to the present situation at least, the department of immigration is obliged to give them oral hearings.

Of the 30,000 to 35,000 who claim refugee status every year, slightly under half are really accepted as refugee claimants. That leaves in the neighbourhood of 15,000 to 20,000 who have been rejected as refugee claimants. We can read in the 1994-1995 estimates on immigration the cost that has been initiated by the department of immigration for hearing a claimant, a failed claimant, in our process through our court system once that individual has arrived here.

The figure from those estimates is between $30,000 and $50,000 per claimant. Of course, much of that cost is generated as a result of the state's having to support the claimant. Unfortunately many of the refugees do not speak the language and are not really expected to either. The provisions for refugee claimants will certainly be different than they would be for those who immigrate through normal channels. It is understood that many refugees will not have the skills, which I believe for the most part is acceptable to Canadians.

However, a failed claimant with an estimated cost of $30,000 to $50,000-I have heard that estimate as high as $100,000 per claimant-is a substantial burden to the taxpayer. Those claimants are supported at every turn by the present government. It is tax dollars that support them, although they are not legitimate claimants.

The reasons for this motion is to see that some form of communication be established with the provincial counterparts to curb this excessive cost and to take much swifter action for removal if the claimant is not legitimate.

On the issue of cost, there are 15,000 to 20,000 illegitimate claimants at a cost of between $30,000 and $50,000 per claimant. What does that add up to? We are talking about legal aid, welfare costs, support services right across the board, many of which are downloaded on to the provinces. There is a hit on the three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal.

The motion I have presented here speaks to that concern. It certainly speaks to the concern of a lot of Canadians who are aware of what is happening. However, many are not aware. It is incumbent on opposition to point these very glaring discrepancies out. Unfortunately the government across the way chooses to ignore much of the concerns expressed. It chooses to ignore what a lot of people have been telling it.

Why is it that the government refuses to deal with an issue that is so clear? From my experience thus far and from those people I have spoken to at this point I have come to one conclusion. The government is not listening to the concerns of the average person. It is listening to a very small group of special interests, many of whom are supported by and receive compensation from federal government grants. Lobbyists, advocates of all sorts, and consultants are seeking to keep the situation as is and for it not to be changed.

The public is growing weary of having to contend not only with the burden of cost but with some of the problems that have resulted because of poor screening processes of those people who are accepted as refugee applicants.

The list of concerns grows. It has become clear through several examples of refugee claimants-and I say claimants and not refugees themselves-being accepted in the country who were not given any status whatsoever and were involved in some very violent crimes. Many of those individuals have a tendency to be protected by the state in spite of the fact that they have been a burden on the state and should be removed immediately.

There have been clear violations of some individuals coming from overseas who have the means. They have the money or the wherewithal to end up in this country. They also have this very questionable chequered past. Mr. Abdirahman is one such individual who has been cited as having been involved in genocide in his own country. The list can be extended beyond what presently exists that may have hit the news. The recommendations and the policies set forth by the Liberal government encourage for some unknown reason selection of people like Mr. Abdirahman and those from questionable organizations in other countries of the world.

To my way of thinking and the thinking of a lot of Canadians these are not acceptable refugees. Certainly they are running from something else, but many of them should be tried in their own countries for some of the things they have done.

Let us get back to the point in question, the support level generated by both the federal and provincial governments because of federal legislation of those who have failed in their claim. When a claimant has failed in his application to be accepted as a refugee it is clear that the government should withdraw services. Why should legal aid continue to be pumped into the inexhaustive appeal process to follow? Why should the people of this country have to pay continually through their tax dollars for the support of such individuals?

It is obvious the average Canadian has not been heard in this debate at all.

When the matter was first raised in the House there was reaction from the other side, from some of the special interest groups and from the immigration bar association trying to squelch debate on the topic. The terms so often used were: "You are discriminatory. Those are racist comments". Is that what government and debate have resorted to, to squelch a legitimate issue? Those comments are wearing rather thin.

The Reform Party has put forward some proposals. In 1994-95 my office printed a document on a proactive approach to the protection of refugees in Canada. It is an alternative and it is important that we look at alternatives.

The Reform Party is suggesting the target number of persons accepted by Canada as convention refugees should stabilize at approximately 10 per cent of the total immigration intake.

We have talked about immigration levels. There has always been a history of fluctuation in the immigration levels in Canada, up until the last few years when it has been extremely high and there has been no adjustment or opportunity for the newcomers to integrate into Canada, into society and into the workforce. As a result other tensions have built up.

We are suggesting that it be 10 per cent of the total intake, in or around 15,000. The target of immigration levels would be 150,000 per year or thereabouts. The number of self-declared refugees arriving at our ports of entry would be sharply reduced if the word was clear out there in the immigration and refugee channels. It is known worldwide that Canada is a soft touch. All they have to do is land on our shores and declare they are refugees. Then they are entitled to all the support the Liberal government liberally generates in that direction.

With this restriction, and making it clear that the level of support on these appeals will not occur, the numbers will drop. The number of persons accepted as convention refugees through the inland determination process would be sharply reduced.

What will that do? It will open up slots for legitimate refugees. On the compassionate side of things that is what we should look at, not what we are experiencing here where legitimate refugees are being shut out because of a process that pays no heed to them. The inland process must be sharply curbed. With this form of communication to provincial governments since many on the provincial side are footing the bill in some respects although there are social transfer payments, it would be more of a legitimate concern expressed to the Canadian people and much more acceptable than what is happening at the present time.

To make sure the balance takes place it is our suggestion that the Government of Canada work in conjunction with the UN first to identify those who are legitimate. Second, it never hurts to have a watchdog over the process and encourage the UN representatives to examine our record of refugee determination.

There is a need for trade-offs. Looking at it from the compassionate side, Canada is doing an injustice to tens of thousands of genuine refugees overseas who are much easier to settle than those involved in the expensive inland determination process, many of whom are actually queue jumpers of the immigration line.

I encourage members across the way to give serious consideration to the motion. We are entering a time of substantial restraint This is one area that can be shored up and supported by the Liberal government.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Essex—Kent
Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, we on the government side certainly encourage debate on this topic. It is very important to all Canadians.

Over the years our country has developed a reputation as a good international citizen. We take our responsibilities to others very seriously. When we sign a deal or shake hands with a partner we know they are getting a good deal from Canada. They respect our abilities for doing that.

We have always played a role of honest broker. Many times it is a role that suits us very well. This is something of which I know every member of the House is very proud. People know they can count on Canada when the chips are down.

This has shone through our actions over the last 50 years. We can see it in our commitment to United Nations peacekeeping, a Canadian invention. Canadians have worn the blue beret with a great deal of pride in hot spots around the world.

It shows in our commitment to third world development. Organizations like CIDA have allowed disadvantaged areas to gain the skills and expertise they need to promote sustainable growth and development.

We can see it in our support of international organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization. We can see it in our commitment to offering protection to refugees and people fleeing misery and death. Our humanitarian record is second to none. It should be a source of pride.

Over the last 50 years we have provided a safe haven in the world of desperation and fear. We have been a symbol of hope to people who have come all but a circle of very difficult times. We have given refuge to those who have been subjected to experiences almost beyond our imagination.

We have been compassionate in both word and deed. We have not allowed our hearts to cloud our heads. At no time have we let our desire to make difference override our common sense.

This is reflected in our refugee determination system. It is a fair system that balances our desire to help others with our clear need to protect Canadians and the integrity of the institutions we value. It is a good system that has been recognized as being one of the world's best.

I understand the hon. member's concern that there are people abusing the system and taking advantage of our generosity. That is clearly unacceptable. The refugee determination system is designed to protect individuals who most need it, individuals who through no fault of their own are in desperate circumstances. It is not a back door for unscrupulous people wanting to circumvent proper immigration channels.

We need to guard against these few criminals because their very presence impacts on the reputation of our system and causes us to lose sight of the plight of genuine refugees. That is why safeguards are in place. We have good screening methods to make sure that people who are not convention refugees are identified and dealt with properly.

I understand there is concern about failed refugee claimants accessing Canada's social assistance programs. I share this concern. However, to suggest that these people simply be cut off betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the refugee determination system and the plight which many people in the system face.

Implicit in the motion is the idea that all failed refugee claimants are trying to abuse the system. It suggests that because someone in the refugee determination system is not found to be a convention refugee, they must be trying to pull a fast one on the Canadian people and should be punished. This simply is not the case. In fact, it could not be more wrong.

The definition of a refugee was set out in the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees. It established that a refugee is someone outside his or her country of origin who could not return home for fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Over the last five decades this definition has worked well and has proven to be flexible enough to deal with many different types of persecution.

However, there are exceptional circumstances where it does not necessarily fit. In these cases men and women are declared failed refugee claimants even though they find themselves in desperate situations. Does the hon. member really want to punish these individuals at their time of crisis?

I am happy to say that the system looks out for these cases. Mechanisms have been built into the system to take care of people in exceptional circumstances. There are provisions for judicial review in certain circumstances. There is a built-in risk assessment in the system as well. It ascertains the potential risk that failed refugee claimants may face should they return to their country of origin. This allows us to identify whether or not removing a person from a country of origin will constitute a real threat to the person's life.

Finally, there is also the potential for a humanitarian and compassionate review if a claimant feels that his or her case merits special attention due to extenuating circumstances. These are all means to ensure that people who genuinely need help get it.

Perhaps I should clarify something. These are the exceptions, not the rule. That is why we continue to be vigilant about finding and removing people who do not merit our humanitarian concerns. That is why we are making every effort to ensure that people do not linger in the system for longer periods of time. The key is not to punish people who are in the system. It is to make sure that people get in and out of the system as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The government recently introduced two measures to do just that. The first, Bill C-49, proposes to reduce refugee hearing panels from two members to one, thereby allowing quicker scheduling of hearings and faster decisions.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration also introduced proposed regulatory changes to streamline the risk assessment process for failed refugee claimants. Under these proposed changes the risk review will no longer be automatic. Instead failed refugee claimants will have to apply. For some, the review is just a formality and therefore a way to delay the process. The proposed changes will ensure that appropriate risk reviews are done thoroughly and efficiently.

It has been said that a country can be judged by the way it treats the most vulnerable in its society. By this criteria I think Canada has a lot to be proud of. We take care of our people. We feel the

obligation to share our prosperity with others. We have developed humanitarian policies which are fair and compassionate but they also make sense. They recognize that we cannot help everyone and that we must target our resources to helping those who most need our protection.

The motion before the House does not recognize certain realities of the refugee determination process or the situation of individuals using the system. It was developed from a false premise that those who have been found not to be convention refugees are scoundrels and should be punished. That is faulty reasoning which is reflected in a faulty motion the House should not support.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to speak to Motion M-126, tabled on February 27, 1996 by the member for Calgary Northeast.

With this motion, the Reform member is asking the federal government to enter into discussions with the provinces in order to limit the social assistance available to failed refugee claimants who appeal or challenge the ruling concerning their status. Furthermore, the motion also suggests that immigrant and refugee aid societies be responsible for supporting and helping these individuals.

This motion is typical and representative of Reform values and of its anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policy. That party is hostile to strangers and minorities. It disregards the history of Canada and forgets that it was built on immigration and that it needs immigrants to survive as a prosperous nation. That is the case especially in Alberta, where the member's riding is located, and in the other western provinces.

Is the author of this motion unaware of the fact that social assistance comes under provincial jurisdiction and that the federal government has no jurisdiction whatsoever in that area? Ottawa has no business interfering with the rules governing access to social assistance. Therefore, this motion is unacceptable because it leads to direct federal interference in an area of provincial jurisdiction. Also, this motion transfers the financial onus from governments to immigrant and refugee aid organizations, which is totally unreasonable and unjustified.

We must remember that these not-for-profit organizations lack the necessary funds to take on such financial responsibilities. Since it came to office, the Liberal government has made many cuts to the grants awarded to these organizations. It must be well understood that, according to the motion, only the obligation to provide assistance is transferred to the organizations. Nowhere is a transfer of money mentioned.

The very spirit of this motion is disturbing in that it is aimed at punishing people who are exercising their rights. Indeed, if someone decides to appeal the decision denying him refugee status, his social assistance benefits would be withdrawn or limited. When did our legal system start punishing people for exercising their rights?

The Reform member's motion also goes against the universality principle, which is fundamental to our social security system. Why should a fundamental right be denied to a group of people, in this case refugee claimants? Yet, the Supreme Court of Canada clearly ruled that these people are protected by the Canadian charter of rights.

Refugees do not choose their situation, let alone to live on social assistance. These people are already in an extremely precarious position. Consequently, withdrawing or limiting their only source of income is totally unacceptable. Moreover, we see that social assistance benefits have been reduced throughout Canada, particularly because of Ottawa-imposed cuts in social transfers to the provinces. If an additional reduction is made, we may ask ourselves what tiny amount will ultimately be left. Do we want people to die of hunger in this so-called "best country in the world", as the Prime Minister likes to claim?

Refugee status determination is incumbent upon the federal government, more specifically the immigration and refugee board, whose management and administration leave much to be desired. Time frames and delays in this matter are too long.

I recently questioned the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration about this. Her answer showed very little will to act to ensure that less time was needed to process refugee status claims. At present, it generally takes more than a year, and often as long as two, three, four or more years. That is unacceptable.

Since the Liberal Government was elected in 1993, the refugee claim backlog at the IRB has risen to over 30,000, a 75 per cent increase, and more than half of this number is in Montreal. This is especially unacceptable since the number of claimants has diminished these past few years. The IRB should work on stepping up productivity and enhancing its efficiency. Board members should be required to process a larger number of claims each year.

The 140 or so members currently process 140 claims per year on average. That is not enough. This excessively long turnaround time and the lack of productivity at the IRB and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration are responsible for the skyrocketing cost of refugee status determination.

The minister should also put an end to the patronage system used to appoint IRB members. So far, the best qualification for getting appointed to the board was to be a member of the Liberal Party or a defeated Liberal candidate in the last election, a contributor to the Liberals' campaign fund or a friend of the Liberals.

Meanwhile, many claimants require social assistance from the provinces, which end up footing the bill for the federal government's negligence and neglect, as well as for the unreasonable backlog at the IRB. Citizenship and Immigration Canada is also responsible for issuing work permits to refugee claimants. Often, permits are denied or take forever to be issued.

The vast majority of these individuals want to work. They are prepared to take any job that will earn them a livelihood. Only as a last resort do they apply for social assistance benefits.

It is imperative that a fair, efficient and, more importantly, diligent system for the processing of refugee claims be set up. Those whose claims are legitimate should have their status confirmed within a reasonable length of time, so as to minimize costs and the time these people are held in limbo.

All the federal government has to do is refund the provinces the expenses generated by the arrival of refugee claimants. Ottawa has sole responsibility for determining the rules and outcome of the refugee status determination process as well as for more general issues, such as admission to Canada and the return of refugees.

Why should the provinces, including Quebec, have to pay for providing refugee claimants with reception and support services, including health care? I said, and I repeat, that the refugee status determination process is a federal responsibility.

These people should have access to basic financial support when in need, to legal assistance, temporary housing, elementary and secondary education for children and language training, in French in Quebec and English in the other provinces. Funding for these programs must come from Ottawa.

For all these reasons, we are unable to support either the principle or the letter of Motion M-126.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to put this private member's motion in context. It does not bar the door to legitimate refugees. That is the last thing our country should do. As a matter of fact, throughout all of the world Canada stands as a beacon of hope to thousands and thousands of people. That should never change.

However, putting out the welcome mat does not mean that we have to be the doormat. That is what we are talking about.

Most Canadians intuitively understand the difference between welcoming people, in particular refugees, to our shores and being a doormat to anybody who wants to use and abuse the system. That is what we are talking about in this bill. We are talking about sending a message to the world, to people who would misuse our generosity and say to them you have an opportunity to come to our shores and apply for refugee status but if it is determined under a fair system that you are not a genuine refugee, then you cannot use taxpayer money indefinitely to try to work your way around the system. That is all we are talking about here.

We are not talking about barring the doors. We are not talking about being meanspirited. We are talking about using a little common sense.

We need to understand that new Canadians come to our shores through three separate doorways. One is the sponsored immigrant status. A sponsored immigrant is usually when someone has a relative who has come here before and sponsors them. Another is the landed immigrant status whereby someone applies on their own merit under the point system and is able to come to Canada because they have the ability. We also have the category where people are able to buy their way in. The category that we are talking about right now is the refugee status.

Canadians should really think about how we handle refugees and people who come to our country under the refugee status. I ask members to think about this. By definition how is it possible for someone to arrive on our shores from the United States, from England or from another safe country and apply for refugee status? Would it not make more sense if our country were to go to those places in the world where people who are genuine refugees, who do not have the wherewithal or the money to find their way to our shores, and would it not make more sense for us to make the refugee determination on site so that when people come to our shores they do not have to have this sword dangling over their heads of are they going to be granted landed refugee status or not?

That brings to mind the Somalis in Toronto who were invited to our shores by our government, welcomed by our government and then put into this limbo for all of those years where they are not granted landed immigrant status. They are left in this limbo, where they must utilize Canada's social safety net because they cannot work. We cannot assume that refugees coming to our shores do not want to work. Everybody knows that is not true. The vast majority of people who come to our shores are just dying to contribute, just aching to be part of our country. But if we do not allow them to work, then they have to access our social programs.

We need to make sure that our refugee claimant process is swift, accurate, compassionate and once a decision has been made, allow people to get on with their lives. It is this never ending opportunity

for people to appeal and appeal. Meanwhile all the time they are doing so they are accessing the very short funds that all provinces find that they have for social security.

One of the reasons that the provinces have a dramatic shortage of funds for social security is, as we all know, that under the Canada health and social transfer the transfers to the provinces have been reduced by $7 billion by this Liberal government. Therefore the provinces find themselves having to deal with more and more expenses with fewer and fewer resources.

My hon. colleague from the Bloc who spoke earlier mentioned that this motion was out of order because welfare and items of this sort were a provincial responsibility and not the purview of the federal government in any instance.

While it is true that welfare is a responsibility of the provinces, we are in a federal state. This government will be announcing today that the Prime Minister is on the west coast in Vancouver and that he will make a great to-do about making a deal with the government of B.C. for residency requirements for welfare recipients. As long as the federal government has its oar in the water through spending and taxing power, it has a role to play in the purview of the provinces whether the provinces like it or not.

It is interesting to note that on every single bit of legislation that comes before the House, members of the Bloc are very quick to defend the honour and the jurisdiction of their province but they are not so quick to say that they would be quite happy to pay for it themselves. The idea is "send us the money and let us make the decisions on what we are going to do with it".

There is a very genuine role for the federal government to play. The federal government makes the determination for what the international covenants on refugee status and claimants will be. The federal government has a role in the transfer of resources from the provinces to pay for social assistance and the federal government sets the rules by which all members play. The federal government has a very real involvement in this issue.

This is our obligation as a nation. When we open our doors to refugee claimants, we should do so expeditiously. We should make it possible for people to come to our country, to become landed immigrants and eventually citizens, the vast majority of whom will make great contributions to our country. We can see in the mosaic that is Canada there are people of all nations from all parts of the world who are coming together to build the democratic land that is one of the most cherished in the world.

Our doors should always be opened to genuine refugees. But again, we do not need to be a doormat in order to extend the welcome mat to genuine refugees. When people who have come to our shores as refugees have under fair and impartial hearings been determined not to fit the refugee classification, then it makes sense to me and to thousands of other Canadians that the taxpayer not be obligated to foot the bill indefinitely. That is what we are talking about here. It is not meanspirited; it is merely common sense.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Motion No. 126 as proposed by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast. This motion advocates that the federal and provincial governments co-operate in order to limit the social assistance available to failed refugee claimants who are remaining in Canada to make appeals to the courts and to transfer the onus of providing further assistance to these individuals to immigrant and refugee aid societies and other organizations.

I understand the hon. member's concerns regarding the strains our social assistance programs are under. In this time of fiscal austerity and deficit reduction it is important to find ways to maintain the institutions which are truly important to our society.

In many respects our social welfare system shows that Canadians care about offering a helping hand to those in need. This commitment is also evident in the way we treat refugees and refugee claimants. For decades Canada has opened is arms to people who have fled from terror and repression around the world. As Canadians we have an obligation to not look away.

As signatories of the Geneva convention on refugees we pledged to do our part as good international citizens. This is a responsibility I am proud to say we continue and we shall continue to meet.

We must be vigilant and not tinker with our refugee system in a needless or careless fashion. To suggest that we should take punitive measures against individuals who are not found to be convention refugees is a little misguided. I agree with the hon. member that we should not tolerate people who would abuse our system, but acting rashly or in a draconian manner is not the way to deal with that problem. There are people who do not fit the strict definition of a refugee but who are nonetheless in need of our assistance.

I think the hon. member is ignoring this group. He is simply implying that all failed refugee claimants are somehow charlatans or criminals seeking to capitalize on our generosity. This simply is not the case. There are some people who do not fit the strict convention refugee definition but who still deserve to have their cases examined as a humanitarian consideration. It would be distinctly un-Canadian to punish these people who have already experienced great suffering.

The definition of a convention refugee is very specific. Some individuals may find themselves in a refugee like situation but will still not qualify to be protected as refugees. As a compassionate country we should keep an eye open for these special cases. While it is important that the refugee determination process be governed by strict rules, it is equally necessary to have some flexibility and room for compassion. I am glad to say that our system allows us this latitude.

We have some mechanisms in place which help ensure that failed refugee claimants who are in genuine trouble do not slip through the cracks. There are instances in which a person, though not technically a refugee, may face torture or violence if they go home. We have a moral obligation to see that does not happen.

Moreover, there is also the potential for humanitarian and compassionate review of a claimant's application should the claimant feel that their case merits special attention due to extenuating circumstances. We should continue to be vigilant about finding and removing people who do not merit our humanitarian consideration. We should not let people linger in the system for long periods of time.

The key is not to punish people for using the system. Instead we need to ensure that the system works effectively and can process refugee claimants rapidly. Yes, there will always be those creative minds who create ways to financially benefit from any rule and regulation established by any level of government. We recognize that.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration has recently proposed changes that will protect the integrity of the system while at the same time speeding up the rate at which claims are processed. Bill C-49, for instance, proposes to reduce refugee division panels from two members to one. This will allow the IRB to schedule hearings more quickly and will permit it to render faster decisions.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration recently introduced proposed regulatory changes intended to streamline the risk assessment process for failed refugee claimants. Currently risk assessments are automatically made to ensure that failed refugee claimants will not be at risk if they return to their home country. Often this assessment is nothing more than a time consuming formality at great expense which is not even requested by the client. We have changed that and under the proposed changes the risk review will no longer be automatic. Instead failed refugee claimants will have to apply. This does not change our humanitarian commitment to people who are genuinely in need. This will simply ensure that appropriate risk reviews are done quickly and efficiently.

These changes will exclude certain groups such as those convicted of serious criminal offences. This will allow the government

to continue helping legitimate refugees and removing people who do not need or deserve our protection.

We must be vigilant to ensure that individuals who are found not to be convention refugees are treated fairly and with compassion. We have programs that do just that. We must continually look for positive ways to improve the good system we already have.

However, the motion before the House simply does not offer a constructive or workable solution. It fails to balance compassion with common sense. It fails to strike that fair and just balance which is a hallmark of our refugee determination system.

Social Assistance For Failed Refugee Claimants
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

The House proceeded to consideration of Bill C-66, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (Part I) and the Corporations and Labour Union Returns Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported with amendments from a committee.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I seek the consent of the House to withdraw Motions Nos. 4, 8 and 10 put forward by the Bloc Quebecois.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

What numbers?

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

Noon

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Motions Nos. 4, 8 and 10.

Canada Labour Code
Government Orders

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Do we have the unanimous consent of the House?