House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

First, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie.

As the member for Laval—Les Îles, I rise today in Parliament to speak on a very difficult piece of legislation, Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act. These proposed amendments deal with the fundamental right of individuals to seek protection in other countries, and specifically in Canada, when their government wilfully refuses to protect its citizens.

Instead, many of these individuals live in terror, afraid for their lives and for those of their families. In some instances, they are subjected to decades of civil war. They are subjected to cruel and unusual torture, in most instances at the hands of their own government, the same government that had pledged to serve and protect their human rights.

I also speak today in the House for the voices of the many women and children who have been subjected to force and violent rape by armies given the authority to ethnically cleanse a country. All this is done while the government stands silent. It not only does not protect its citizens but it does not even bring the perpetrators to justice. Many of the more than 50 wars that are going on in the world today have been going on for decades. The number of victims runs in the millions. Today, if the amendments that we will be asking for are not allowed to be incorporated into Bill C-11, then Canada's Conservative government will take away those rights to protection.

In the few minutes I have before me, I will speak to three areas of this bill: first, the eight-day rule, second, the right to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and, third, the notion of safe country of origin or, as described in clause 12, proposed section 109.1, designated countries of origin, where parts of a country within a country would be considered safe by the Canadian refugee authorities.

Implementing an eight-day information-gathering rule goes against everything Parliament has put in place to allow claimants a fair and impartial refugee hearing with the support of competent legal counsel. Eight days is not enough to give counsel time to gain the trust of the claimants.

I am talking about people who go through many countries before they get to Canada, who have lived illegally and who have slept just about anywhere before they came here. We are asking them to sit down with a lawyer, explain their problem and try to give all the details within the very short time of eight days. How can we expect a poor man, women or child, because often children come all by themselves without the help and support of their parents, to trust that person who is in front of them within eight days?

Eight days is definitely not sufficient. Eight days is not enough time to secure adequate cultural interpretation. We know, for the majority of the time, that counsel would be working with a third language. Very few of the refugee claimants who we receive in this country speak one of the two official languages.

On the issue of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, the bill before us would require a claimant to wait a full year before reapplying after his or her claim for refugee status has been rejected. These people will be in complete limbo during that one year period. What would happen if, after discussions with a lawyer, a claimant realized that his or her claim was made on the wrong grounds, given the situation he or she experienced? What if the claimant wants to withdraw a claim and make a new one on humanitarian and compassionate grounds this time?

Claimants who withdraw their claims before the hearing date should be entitled to apply for permanent residency. Under this bill, however, claimants who withdraw their claims before their IRB hearing date have nowhere else to turn. All doors and windows are then closed to them. They currently have no other choice than to face removal.

I would like to speak about a case I heard about last night, that of a young woman from Guinea, in Africa, who was a victim of spousal abuse and who will now be deported from Canada. Her abuse by her partner was so severe that she is permanently branded on her left breast, and even underneath, from the mark of a hot iron. When she tried to get the authorities in her country to protect her, she was not able to get the authorities to do so. That is exactly what a refugee is, somebody who goes to the authorities in her own country and does not get the protection of the police and of the judicial system.

According to her Montreal counsel, our system denied her refugee status. She told us and friends of hers told us that if she were to go back to her country of Guinea, then she would be again under the control of this man who so cruelly abused her.

Not only has Canada's humanitarian and compassionate system failed to allow this woman to remain, but we are sending her back on Tuesday, although she is now married to a Canadian citizen and is now in a high-risk pregnancy. Tuesday is tomorrow.

Here are some of the details. One, if she is forced to go back to her country, the chances are very, very high that she will run into the man who was her first husband, who will very likely never understand or accept that she has now remarried. Two, she is now in a high-risk pregnancy. She cannot really be put into an airplane.

Where is the clemency? Where is the justice? Where is the compassion? Where are the humanitarian grounds on which the minister could allow this woman and her unborn child to stay here, because it is up to the minister and his department?

Her counsel, who has sent me a copy of a letter that was recently written to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, said that her Canadian physicians, right here in Canada, in Montreal, have confirmed that travelling would be extremely dangerous.

This is one case among many. Before I became a member of Parliament, I was a member of the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board.

As an IRB member, I reviewed hundreds and hundreds of cases. It is true that, in some cases, there are individuals who try to push through our system, but it is also true that the vast majority of people whose cases we see are like this woman from Guinea who needs our help.

My colleague, the MP for Vaughan, has declared that on this side of the House, the refugee appeals division was happy that at last it will be implemented. I am certainly happy personally, but it is clear that claimants will not be in Canada long enough to allow them to be present for those appeals. How can a refugee claimant appear before the appeals division to make her case heard if the new law implements a short eight-day period to gather information?

Other MPs have talked about the most controversial aspect of Bill C-11: the Immigration and Refugee Board will hear the case but the applicant will not be able to appeal to the IRB. Furthermore, this is all tied to the decision that will be made by the department or the minister—we are not exactly sure which one—regarding the designation of safe countries.

When I was a member of the IRB, we received refugee claims from Sri Lanka. People were told that if they went to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, they would find refuge and would not need to come to Canada. It was not recognized that, in Sri Lanka, it was perhaps harder to travel to the capital than it is in Canada because of the dangers faced by the refugee claimant.

The bill does not say which authority will be responsible for designating safe countries or the criteria to be used. I would like to share some anecdotes based on my experience as a former member of the board.

There are some countries in Europe where homosexuality is recognized and is not illegal. They are democratic countries, as the minister rightly stated earlier. However, from my experience on the Board, I know that when some homosexuals arrive in Canada, they say that they were beaten and persecuted in their country of origin and that they went to the police but did not receive any protection. The laws of their country also did not afford them protection.

Although there may be a law on the books, that does not mean they have protection. Although a country is democratic, that does not mean that these people will be protected in the outlying, rural, mountainous areas of that country. Protection on paper is one thing, and it is important; however, it is not the same as real protection. People are persecuted and are unable to obtain help from their country and its justice system.

We must ensure that our Canadian law can distinguish between people who wish to take advantage of our system and those who do are not protected by their country's justice system.

Just because a country is democratic does not mean that it will protect its citizens when necessary.

My comments are based on discussions I have also had with NGOs that have worked with refugee claimants for years and know the system very well.

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3:25 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her comments. Her compassion for refugees is quite evident.

I have just a couple of comments.

First, the member raises the question of the eight-day triage. I should point out that currently, when refugee asylum claimants arrive they have an initial interview with somebody from the CBSA. Counsel is almost never present. The proposition is for a triage interview that would not be a legal hearing. It would simply be an opportunity for someone from the independent IRB, far better trained than officials at the CBSA, to get the essential outline of the claim, identify whether or not someone has a manifestly well-founded claim and to recommend them for priority treatment so they can get faster protection.

However as to her point with respect to Sri Lanka, one of the criteria we propose for the designation of safe countries is that, of their principle source of claims, the vast majority are unfounded. In the case of Sri Lanka, 91% of claimants are people who have a well-founded fear of persecution. Therefore a country with such an acceptance rate would not be even remotely considered for inclusion in the designated safe country list.

Finally, I have a question for her.

The Leader of the Opposition, her leader, said on August 13 of last year, “I want a legitimate, lawful refugee system that welcomes genuine Convention refugees but then says, look, there are a number of countries in the world in which we cannot accept a bona fide refugee claim because you don't have cause, you don't have just cause coming from those countries. It's rough and ready but otherwise we'll have refugee fraud and nobody wants that”.

That is what the hon. Leader of the Opposition said last August 13 in Saint John, New Brunswick, and I would like to know whether the member for Laval—Les Îles agrees with her leader in that respect.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to what the minister said about Sri Lanka.

I have represented the riding of Laval—Les Îles in this House for 13 years. The example I gave dates back to the time when I was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board, many years ago. At the time, Sri Lanka was not a safe country. Colombo was designated as a safe city in Sri Lanka. I think the minister was mistaken about what period I was referring to.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her very cogent and thoughtful comments on the bill. I also thank the government for bringing forward these changes and for bringing forth an appeal process.

However, a number of very experienced people in this area have raised a number of concerns and I am hopeful that we genuinely will allow for significant amendments.

The member raised important concerns that I have heard from a number of members in the House about the safe countries of origin list. I would like her to comment on the fact that a number of people, including Amnesty International, have raised serious concerns about this and questions whether it is appropriate to designate a country of origin as a safe place and that in fact the process should be based on the claimant, not on the country of origin.

We know that it could be women at risk, there could be sexual orientation at risk, there could be a number of factors, even though generally the country is deemed safe, democratic and according to the rule of law. I wonder if the member could elaborate a bit more on the number of concerns that she has raised and the concerns raised by Amnesty International, particularly on the issue of the safe country of origin.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree. I gave the example of people who had filed refugee claims because they were homosexual and were not protected by their country's legal system.

I chose this example in particular because it is not directly related to democracy. That country, which will remain unnamed, is considered to be a democratic country, which has passed laws to protect these people, and is currently on the list of safe countries.

However, even though I am no longer a member of the Board, I meet people who have no reason to tell me about their problems, and I know that these people were not protected in their country.

I did not have time to mention this during my speech, so I would like to add that I hope this bill goes directly to committee after first reading. It is an extremely important and complex bill, and we must give the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration as much time as possible to discuss it.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to echo what my colleague from Laval—Les Îles said. We hoped the bill would be sent to committee immediately after first reading so that we could make the necessary amendments to it.

On the whole, we support the minister's initiative to change refugee protection. These changes were urgently needed. But the bill has some serious flaws, most of which my colleague already mentioned.

For my part, I would like to talk about how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees looks at safe countries and come back again to the issue of sexual orientation and gender, which can be seen as grounds or reasons for abuse in refugee claimants' countries of origin, even countries that are generally considered democratic.

There is another problem as well. I do not know whether it has already been raised, but I would like to mention it. It seems that $540 million has been earmarked for this reform, but it is not included in the budget.

I would like to ask the minister where the government is going to get the money to proceed with this reform. Does it plan to cut spending in other areas or other parts of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration? If so, where is it going to make cuts to pay for this reform?

I would also like to make mention of the vocabulary we use in referring to asylum seekers or political refugees. It is dangerous to talk about bogus claimants and even very harmful to the whole refugee system.

We need a reasoned, respectful discussion based on facts, rather than just on insults and simplifications. Not everyone who applies for refugee status may need protection. Some people may feel threatened when in fact they are not, but that does not mean they are abusing the system. They may have had very good reasons for leaving their country of origin, even though those reasons do not make them refugees under the law.

Refugees are some of the most vulnerable members of society and are, therefore, easy targets for attack as non-citizens in a foreign country, in this case, Canada.

Denigrating labels, especially those given by the government, have a serious negative impact on the public's perception of refugees and non-citizens in general. This often surfaces in public discourse about immigration and refugee status.

There is an enormous amount of confusion about the rights of refugee claimants. They are seen as perpetual system abusers. But many of these people have very serious and obvious reasons for seeking asylum in Canada.

I will now come back to two questions that complement those asked by my colleague from Laval—Les Îles. In terms of funding, where will we find the $540 million needed to see the reform through to the end? There is also the question of vocabulary. Is it be possible to be more careful when talking about people seeking asylum? We need to look at how we treat them and talk about them.

The question of safe countries has been debated at length. The minister has made some clarifications about the 8 days and 60 days. However, it would be extremely important to very clearly define, in committee, the impact of the interview that takes place within eight days and the repercussions this interview would have on the application.

In general, the minister's reform proposal is a great initiative. It is a good start. It was urgent and necessary. However, we must agree that other discussions will be necessary in order to improve it and make it as good as possible.

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3:35 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that on a number of occasions in her speech today my colleague touched on the fact that these reforms are necessary and that she and her party are supportive of a number of the reforms in the legislation. In fact, it sounds like she would like to get this bill to the citizenship and immigration committee, on which she was a member, as quickly as possible.

One of the points that she raised, and on which I seek some clarification from her, concerns a reform in the legislation for the expansion of an additional 2,500 refugees, asylum seekers, to our country, 2,000 of whom would be those in private lives who would be able to provide that care and that sponsorship, and 500 additional government-sponsored refugees.

Another issue that she spoke to was the issue of being kinder or nicer, or something to that effect. I would like to suggest that our legislation, because of this reform, speaks exactly to the type of kindness that this country has and speaks exactly to the type of kindness that we need to generate through our refugee reform policy. I would ask the member if she would make sure to clarify her point on that.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, it actually had little to do with that. Yes, I recognize that the government is proposing to increase the number of refugees that will be accepted in Canada yearly. However, it has very much to do with the vocabulary the government often uses around the question of asylum seekers. It is in that sense that I was hoping we would be very careful on how we speak about refugees and asylum seekers.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her speech. It was not so long ago that she sat with us on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We miss her.

She is familiar with Bill C-291 that I introduced. The purpose of the bill was to implement a refugee appeal division, which is being partially presented in the bill before us today. My colleague worked on promoting this appeal division. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in the House because of the Liberals. During the vote, 12 MPs were absent. They had won the previous vote by three votes and then had the nerve to keep four members seated and have them abstain from voting. The bill was defeated by only one vote.

Considering all the effort she made in promoting this bill, is she not a little disappointed in the behaviour of her colleagues who have abandoned refugees?

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member will understand that I am not going to make any comments on the behaviour of my colleagues with respect to what happened before the holidays. However, I can say a few words about the appeal process presented in the bill. It is a start, but it is not a complete response.

This is part of the work the committee will begin rather quickly, I hope. We have to look at how this appeal process will work, as my colleague the hon. member for Laval—Les Îles pointed out. Asylum seekers will rarely be given the time to stay for an appeal. This is something that absolutely must be discussed.

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3:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, when the minister tabled his bill, he described how we needed to make these amendments to ensure the process was fast and fair.

I would suggest that it is probably more appropriate to say that it would be timely and just. I wonder if the member could speak to that issue, particularly in the avenue of having access to legal counsel. Does the member think legal counsel should be available at all stages of the process?

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I most definitely agree that legal counsel should be available at all stages, especially at the appeals process where the refugee claimant must be given enough time and elasticity to present when that appeal goes through.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here to speak to Bill C-11, which provides for equitable reforms with respect to refugees. It is about time we looked at this because the process for dealing with refugee claims submitted by people who show up at our border crossings has been a big problem for a long time now. These people come to Canada claiming to have been persecuted in their home countries. Because they get no protection there, they come here to ask Canada for protection.

The number of claims awaiting processing has skyrocketed over the past few years. Processing delays are far too long for all cases, particularly those based on the Geneva convention, which defines a refugee claimant. People who submit claims live in limbo for years, but they deserve a faster response.

This also happens to other persecuted individuals in extremely difficult circumstances around the world. These people submit their refugee claims in good faith because in many cases, they believe the legal definition applies to them, but their cases are dismissed after they have spent several years in Canada. They may have jobs, friends, families, houses. The wait times are also far too long for some unscrupulous opportunists who take advantage of the situation to try to stay in Canada as long as possible or even permanently.

This problem is due in large part to negligence on the part of the current and former governments, which hired too few members. This has been the norm at the Immigration and Refugee Board for a long time now. When there are not enough board members to process claims, when staffing levels are only two-thirds what they should be, fewer claims are processed and wait times go up.

I have a very hard time understanding this situation. Why did the government not take action sooner? Why did it not take steps to shorten wait times?

The committee often studies what is going on in immigration. I have become deeply convinced that, unfortunately, wait times are being used as a tool to manage the arrival of immigrants or, in this case, refugees. Allow me to explain.

Normally, in the health care system, wait times are due to an insufficient allocation of resources, which is involuntary because resources are scarce. Because more people need services than there are resources allocated, wait times increase over time. That is why only a certain number of people can be treated every year.

Where immigration is concerned, it is somewhat the reverse situation. Insufficient resources are voluntarily allocated to processing claims so as to not exceed the quotas and objectives that have been set. This is never acknowledged officially or publicly, but almost everyone agrees that only a certain number of people can be admitted to Canada every year.

Society has the ability to absorb a number of people from all over the world. Means are therefore sought to try and control the influx. For many years, it suited governments to have prolonged processing times. It helped slow down the influx of refugees, who figured it would be complicated to get into Canada and that it would take a few years. This acted as a disincentive.

It became a problem when the government lost control and found itself with long wait periods and a process so complicated that it almost acts as an incentive for people to come to Canada. They figure that their claims will take years to process and, during that time, they will be in a safe country and will not have to fear for their safety.

So previous governments and the current government are to blame for part of the problem, but at least we have a bill before us that is aimed at tackling the problem.

I recognize that there is a problem and that it is good to have a bill to deal with that problem. I believe that this bill contains some interesting principles. The Bloc Québécois will support it at second reading to send it to committee.

We asked that this bill be sent to committee even before second reading so that we would have complete latitude to study it and suggest constructive improvements. But the government did not opt to go that route. I hope that if we work together in committee to make the bill better, we will not get bogged down in “proceduritis”.

Let us look at the main elements of the bill. No one will be surprised that I am going to start with the refugee appeal division. This bill finally provides for implementing this division, even though it has been in the act for quite some time. In fact, the 2001 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provided for an appeal division. At the time, two board members considered a refugee claim at the same time, and all it took was for one member to approve the claim for the claimant to be accepted. In 2001, the previous Liberal government told Parliament that it would reduce the number of board members from two to one, but that it would create a refugee appeal division to make up for the change and avoid arbitrary decisions. This Parliament voted for that. But the Liberal government unfortunately never implemented its own act and the refugee appeal division, and the Conservatives have not done so either.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has repeatedly tried to force the government to implement the division, the last time being when it introduced Bill C-291, which was passed at second reading but unfortunately defeated by a single vote at third reading because of a rather pathetic Liberal tactic.

I do not agree with the Conservatives' positions, but at least they were honest about the fact that they were opposed to the refugee appeal division and would vote against it. The NDP and the Bloc said they were in favour of the refugee appeal division and said they would vote to support it. The Liberals, on the other hand, said they supported it, but curiously, during the vote, 12 members were absent, that is, double the number of absent members of all the other parties combined.

The vote before and the vote after the vote in question were won by the three opposition parties by three votes, but when the time came to vote on Bill C-291, four Liberal members mysteriously remained seated and coincidentally, the bill was defeated by a single vote. That is a lot of coincidences at once. As we all know, that was the Liberals' strategy to try to appease their electoral base while still defeating the bill in the House.

I do not mean to dwell on the past, but I thought it was important to remind the House of what happened.

Let us now look forward. Why is the refugee appeal division necessary? Contrary to what is indicated in the bill before us, why should it apply to everyone?

All of our legal systems include the opportunity to appeal. The reason is very simple: because justice is administered by humans and humans can make mistakes, the system recognizes that the justice system can make mistakes.

Opportunities for appeal will therefore be included everywhere to correct potential errors.

The bill also proposes appeal mechanisms in our legal systems to ensure uniformity. The goal is to ensure a reasonable expectation that a certain type of case, say x, will produce a certain outcome and that every case like case x will produce that same outcome. That is not how it works at the moment.

Here is an example of how similar claims were treated differently by IRB members. This happened to twins, brothers from the same country. Their claims were reviewed by two different board members, and each one made a completely different decision. The cases were alike, they were brothers who had been through the same thing together, yet the board members did not make the same decision. Clearly, there is a lack of coherence. An appeal division would have made it possible to determine which board member was wrong or mistaken.

Appeal mechanisms seek to eliminate arbitrary treatment by giving our legal systems oversight over lower-level rulings. Some board members have rejected as many as 98% of the claims they have dealt with, while others have allowed nearly every claim that has gone before them.

If I were in court one day and someone told me before the hearing that the judge convicted in 98% of his or her cases, I would know that justice was not being served and that it was a farce. I would know the dice were loaded. But in a typical legal system with an appeal division, if every decision made by a board member or judge was overturned on appeal, the chief justice would eventually tell the judge that his or her rulings were a problem.

The same applies to the IRB. An appeal process ensures that those making the decisions in the first place really think them through. Decision makers have to remember that their decisions can be appealed. They have to really think about their decisions and consider whether they are likely to be upheld or systematically appealed.

That is not in the legislation. I know that there have been some intense discussions with the minister about the current potential for appeals in the legislation. There is none. I have been saying it all along, and I will say it again today. There are ways of getting around it, such as the judicial review process at the Federal Court. Very few applications are accepted. In all cases, only the procedural aspect of the application is examined. No one can request a judicial review on the basis of the facts. For example, if a member says that he does not believe a person's story and does not think he is credible, the Federal Court would never say that his story was credible and approve his application.

There is the issue of pre-removal risk assessments. This procedure is very rarely applied. In fact, only 2% of the applications involving new facts since the initial hearing are accepted. It is not truly an appeal mechanism. Neither is a permanent resident application on humanitarian grounds. Some people use it as a second attempt if they think there was an error with their case at the initial hearing. It does not fall under the definition of refugee status as adopted by the conventions supported by Canada.

I have spent a lot of time talking about the appeal division. I think that natural justice is something really fundamental, and we cannot ignore it. The problem with the bill before us is the exemption for so-called safe countries. The minister said that he would create a list, but we have no details about that yet, and people who come from these so-called safe countries will not have access to the refugee appeal division.

Finally, the bill takes a positive step by implementing the refugee appeal division and—let us be frank—by improving it in certain ways, for instance, with the possibility of presenting new evidence and testifying again. Nevertheless, a certain proportion of asylum seekers will not have this opportunity. In my opinion, that is a mistake. When it comes to equality of the most basic rights, we must not treat people differently based on their country of origin. That seems obvious to me.

When a person appears before a tribunal that will make a decision far less significant than one where the person could potentially be sent back to be tortured, killed or persecuted, the tribunal does not take the person's country of origin into account. When neighbours are in a dispute over a fence, neither party would ever be denied the right to appeal based on their country of origin. Everyone is treated equally, regardless of where they are from.

I do not see why this distinction would be made in the case of refugees. It is not necessary. The bill already provides for an expedited process, namely by suspending for one year the possibility of applying for a pre-removal risk assessment, a temporary resident permit or permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. These options that were once available to refugees no longer appear in the legislation. We do not think it is necessary to go so far as to prevent people from safe countries from using the appeal division.

I will now say a few words on the issue of deadlines, which are of particular concern to me. Deadlines do not figure in the bill, but I imagine they will be included in the regulations. It seems that the minister intends to give refugees eight days from the time refugee status is claimed to the time they meet with an IRB officer for help with the application. As I was saying earlier, although generally speaking it is a good idea to expedite the process, in some cases this can be problematic.

When a refugee from another country who has been persecuted and perhaps raped several times arrives in Canada, they are told that they have one week to tell their whole story. Many psychologists would say that you can work with a rape victim, for example, for months before they start talking about their experience. Perhaps we should include mechanisms to correct this. In addition, the interview will be used later, during the hearing and possibly the appeal, to discredit the person. They will be asked why they did not report certain things during the initial interview. We must ensure that the person's psychological state during the interview makes it possible to truly tell their story.

I also have concerns about the timeframe for the hearing, which is 60 days. It is a good thing if applicants who are ready do not have a long wait for their hearing. In some cases, however, it may be extremely difficult to obtain the evidence and documents that might be very far away. In some parts of the world, it can take two weeks for a document to arrive and another two weeks to send it back. That adds up to a month, leaving only 30 days for the lawyer to prepare the case.

Finally, I am very worried by the fact that, by and large, these reforms will be made by regulation, thus sidestepping Parliament. In addition, there is the matter of the timeframes I spoke about, the designation of safe countries, the assisted voluntary returns program that I did not have time to talk about, and so forth.

Yesterday's news reported on the case of a sick, pregnant woman, locked in prison and waiting to be deported. The government sometimes lacks compassion. Therefore, we are very reluctant to give it carte blanche. For that reason, we are asking the minister to submit the regulations in full before proceeding with a clause-by-clause analysis in committee. Thus, when we vote on the bill, we will at least be familiar with the proposed regulations.

I will be pleased to answer my colleagues' questions.

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4 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my counterpart from the Bloc Québécois for his comments. I find his remarks on immigration issues quite good. We always act in good faith. I commend him on his desire to see the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration conduct a serious study. I have already made a commitment to the hon. member for Vaughan to be open to any reasonable amendment that might be made to the bill. That having been said, we must make sure that the final piece of legislation will be in keeping with our desire to have an efficient and fair system.

I would like to remind the member that the backlog in the asylum system is a permanent one. It has averaged 40,000 claims over the past decade. There is nothing new about it. The reason why members of the IRB have experienced some problems is that a new pre-screening was introduced, which works very well. As the hon. member knows, the membership of the refugee protection division of the IRB is almost complete.

Finally, I would be prepared to table some draft regulations before the committee so that it can examine them.

The member commented on the discrepancies in decisions from different IRB members. The chairman of the IRB tells me that is because some members focus on certain cases from certain countries of origin and others from other countries of origin.

Our number one source country right now is a new democracy from which 97% of the claimants are withdrawing their claims subsequent to making them. Last year, of 2,500 claims made, only three were accepted as being in need of our protection, so there are some wide discrepancies.

In any event, I want to thank the member for his constructive spirit. I look forward to working with him in good faith at committee.