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 refugee.

Topics

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-11.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support sending this bill to committee so it may be studied more thoroughly, along with all issues pertaining to immigration and refugees.

This bill raises a number of concerns. We have already pointed out several inconsistencies relating to refugee status.

I would like to talk about two people I know personally from my riding. A man and woman, now married, are refugees from Tanzania and they are still waiting for their children. They have been fighting to bring their children to Canada for five years. They were asked to submit to DNA testing. The UN even had to intervene to do a comparative study and ensure that these children really are the children of this refugee couple in Canada. Now that we have received the results, we hope things will speed up, but there are still some obstacles.

When the children of legitimate refugees in Canada spend five years in refugee camps, we have every right to wonder if the measures proposed by the minister are rigorous enough to ensure that refugee claims under the family reunification program are being assessed correctly.

A number of countries are considered safe. We have a major problem with this provision in the bill. Who can determine with certainty whether or not a country is safe? Apparently Mexico is considered a safe country. However, on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website, Canadians travelling to Mexico are discouraged from visiting certain regions of the country because doing so would put their lives at risk.

If it is too dangerous for the lives of Canadians and Quebeckers, is it not too dangerous for the Mexicans living there? Why are Mexicans who want to be free from the shackles of the drug wars and power struggles throughout their country not allowed to claim refugee status? Are we perhaps underestimating the safe nature of that country?

Yesterday, a new government was elected in Hungary. At first glance, that country seems safe. The right wing government has two thirds of the seats. With that many seats, it can implement measures to advance its program without having to consult other political parties. Hungary may have been considered safe yesterday or today, but tomorrow human rights there might not be respected the same way and the situation might change.

The House has passed a bill on free trade with Colombia. And yet there is a call for greater respect for human rights in that country. If a Colombian citizen applied, could he be considered a refugee in Canada if we have a free trade agreement with his country? We have to wonder.

In Colombia, abortion is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence. In more than 70 countries around the world, homosexuality is illegal and even punishable by death in some countries. What would happen if people from those countries came here? We know what our Conservative colleagues think about homosexuality. In a country where homosexuality is legal and part of our daily lives, a minister who offered a subsidy for Toronto's gay pride parade was rebuked and put in her place.

Therefore, we have good reason to ask whether giving the minister the latitude to designate safe countries without consulting this House is an acceptable measure.

On the other hand, we are pleased that the minister wants to speed up the refugee claim process. However, we must not move too quickly and we must be careful. We all know that a refugee is often someone who has left their country in a hurry with nothing, without documents or money, and is truly destitute. When a person leaves their country with absolutely nothing, it takes a little more than eight days to obtain the necessary documents.

We might be able to do something, to make some changes to the bill so that the person's first appearance is scheduled more than eight days later. This would allow the person to obtain documents, think about what he wants to do, how to do it and better understand what is happening. The person would have the opportunity to consult the various organizations in the community that could help him.

It has also been noted that there are some changes in the bill with respect to the refugee appeal division and we are pleased that it is finally being implemented. In fact, the Bloc Québécois has introduced two bills to create and implement the refugee appeal division, even though it was contained in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that this House voted on. Neither bill was successful. One version even died after being adopted by the Senate. When it returned to the House, the bill died because, if I recall correctly, the House was closed for an election.

It is unfortunate because, since 2005, the number of people applying for refugee status has more than doubled, from 20,000 then to 60,000 today. That is truly a lot of people claiming refugee status.

On the weekend, I got a call from a psychologist who works with victims of rape, incest and sexual abuse. She told me about a woman who had been imprisoned last week because she claimed refugee status and was not believed. This woman is from Guinea, where customary marriages are still common. She was married at a very young age to a much older man, who abused her sexually and physically. She had very obvious signs of torture on her body, and even a scar from an iron on her breast. The hospital here in Canada was able to determine that this woman really had been abused.

This woman claimed refugee status, and after having lived in Canada for some time, she met a man from her country of origin, fell in love with him and married him. After getting married, she pursued her claim for refugee status, but she was told that her marriage with this man was not genuine and she was accused of fraud. She was told that she had only married this man to obtain refugee status and sponsorship, although they had been legally married in front of the entire community. They are together, they are married, and they are now expecting a child.

Last year, at the beginning of the economic crisis, the Minister of Labour said that if there was no work in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, workers should go out west, where there is work. This woman's husband listened to the minister and went out west to support his family. The couple was then told that their marriage was not genuine because he went to work out west to support his family. That is unbelievable.

Last week, this 42-year-old woman, who has type 2 diabetes, was put in jail. She is now at the immigration detention centre in Laval. On April 28, she is going to be sent back to her country, where nobody will take care of her or her soon-to-be-born baby. Yet this very day, G8 ministers are in Halifax talking about maternal and child health, and the Prime Minister wants to introduce a maternal and child health initiative.

We cannot even take care of people here who are suffering and who could die if they return to their home countries because they will not receive adequate care. They could die. In Guinea, there are no doctors to provide the care that this woman will need until she gives birth because she has type 2 diabetes and is obese.

In reviewing the immigration system, we have to begin by making sure that public officials and judges have solid reasons for turning down applications from all individuals who have legitimate claims.

People have all kinds of reasons for wanting to stay here. A claimant might be a man who just wants to support his family. In contrast, a claimant might be a woman who says that she was forced to marry and will be found guilty by her ex-husband's family if she goes back to her home country. In these countries, women are held responsible if their husbands die. They can be charged and may suffer greatly.

How can we justify sending people back to countries like those whose values differ so dramatically from our own? Why would we support women in developing countries and save their lives when we do not support women and save their lives when they come here to ask for our help? I would really like to know. I am really confused about this, and I would like an answer to that question very soon.

I hope that this woman will be allowed to stay here. I hope she will not be sent away before her baby is born. It would be inhumane to send a woman in such a high-risk situation back to her country.

The refugee appeal division should have been implemented earlier so that this women could really appeal the decision made against her. Unfortunately, we are told that the refugee appeal division will come into effect by 2013 or 2014. That is three years from now, three long years for people who are suffering and wondering whether their claim will be heard. I hold out very little hope that this will happen.

I have often heard the minister talk to refugee, immigrant and other groups, and I believe he tells the truth. But I would like that honesty to extend to the measures he introduces.

I know that it is not as easy for a party to be in government as in opposition, because it has to take budgets and other factors into account. But the government members also have to consider what their colleagues are saying and calling for.

I hope this minister will do what he needs to do to ensure that all genuine refugee claimants can obtain refugee status. Too many people around the world are suffering. Moreover, we signed the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which means that we must not take refugee claimants' sexual orientation or country of origin into consideration, or what they are or what they do.

All we must consider is what they need.

We will support Bill C-11 so that it goes to committee and we can suggest amendments and correct measures that we feel are slightly random, unjustified or unjustifiable. I hope that everyone who is watching today will support what the Bloc Québécois is doing so that all refugee claimants can obtain refugee status.

In conclusion, the men and women who sit in the House have ideals and values similar to our own in some areas. I am certain that we will make the right decisions. We will do everything we can to ensure that the parts of the bill that we are not happy with are amended. Otherwise, the bill will not meet our expectations or refugee claimants' needs.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech, her work and her compassion for refugees and immigrants. She is an extremely compassionate woman.

First of all, I would like to confirm that one of the criteria for designating a safe country of origin is a very low acceptance rate for asylum claims from that country.

The member used Colombia as an example. At present, the IRB accepts 76% of asylum claims from Colombia. A country with such a high acceptance rate will never be included on the list of safe countries of origin. I am talking about countries with much lower acceptance rates. For instance, one country's acceptance rate is under 1%, while Colombia's is 76%.

Most European countries, even France, designate safe countries of origin in order to speed up the processing of claims. It is not meant to prevent anyone from accessing the system, but simply to speed up the process. France has 14 countries on its list of safe countries of origin.

The final point I would like to make pertains to the refugee appeal division. The member was mistaken when she said this division would be implemented in 2013-14. As soon as the new system is brought in, a new appeal division will thoroughly review most of the cases of claimants who have been denied by the IRB. We want to establish this division immediately.

I am pleased that the Bloc wants to send this bill for review in committee, where reasonable amendments can be proposed. In the end, however, we must ensure that these amendments help create a system that is both fair and effective.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, it was my understanding that the refugee appeal division was a pilot project that would be run in the greater Toronto area and would only be accessible to certain refugee status applicants. It was also my understanding that the real appeal division would be put in place in 2013-14.

In my view, that means that the appeal division does not exist because it would not apply to Quebec for the time being. That is why I stated that the appeal division will only be operational in 2013-14.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the intervention of the member in this debate. I want to ask her about the vulnerable refugee claimants that she was speaking about in her speech. She was talking about women who were victims of sexual assault and that was part of why they had sought refuge in Canada. She also mentioned gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks who might have faced violence in their home countries and who were fleeing to Canada to find safety and security.

There has been concern raised about the eight day timeline for the original interview and that many people coming to Canada, especially the people who are most vulnerable, like the people she was talking about, would have difficulty in that interview, talking with an authority figure when, in their home country, that was probably the last kind of person to whom they would give the personal details of their situation.

Could the hon. member talk about any concern she might have about the timing of that original interview, given the vulnerabilities of some of the people who will be making refugee claims in Canada?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

The fact that the timeframe is so short is one of our concerns. Eight days is a very short period of time. We are proposing at least 28 days, a period that would not be that much longer but long enough to make a difference in the life of a person.

Moreover the first people to meet with refugee status applicants are now public officials. That also makes a big difference. The second person they will meet with is a judge. We have been asking for a long time that the applicant not always be referred to the same person. If a person has refused to grant refugee status once to an applicant, this same person will not have changed their minds about the applicant the second time.

We have to admit that some headway has been made. However, some truly important changes must still be made to the bill.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, on the same subject of that streamlined timetable, there has been concern raised about the ability of refugee claimants to get appropriate legal advice. Some folks have said they fear the streamlining will actually force people into the hands of unscrupulous immigration consultants for that kind of advice or that it will make it impossible to obtain the advice of a lawyer, and that it will put pressure on immigration lawyers in terms of the timeline. Others have suggested that perhaps we need a system with duty counsels to advise people in the circumstances of that initial interview.

I wonder if she could comment on the provision of legal advice to claimants, given the proposed streamlined schedule of this legislation.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, once again, I thank my colleague.

We know that there is a corrupt system of agents who, on the pretext of helping people applying for refugee status, fleece them of every last penny of their savings.

It would be best that some kind of board be established to ensure that applicants are given good reasons, that they are asked the right questions and that they receive the proper support. Based on what is currently happening, as we have seen in televised documentaries, a large majority of the individuals do not meet the conditions and, furthermore, take advantage of, use and usurp a great deal of the rights and money of the people they are supposed to represent.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this debate on Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act.

The Conservatives, in their penchant for giving bills nicknames, have called this the “balanced refugee reform act”. I am hoping beyond hope that this will be the case with this legislation but there have been some serious concerns raised about the bill and I hope to speak to some of those.

Canada has always been a haven for refugees. We as a country have done very well by those refugees who have arrived here and made Canada their home. Whether it was the United Empire Loyalists at the time of the American revolution, Hungarians in 1956, people from the Unites States who resisted the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese boat people after the end of the Vietnam War, or people from the People's Republic of China after the events of Tiananmen Square, Canada has benefited greatly from these significant refugee movements. Those are just some of the movements of political refugees that have seen people come to Canada.

There have also been significant refugee movements fleeing economic problems and other social problems in their country of origin. We saw the Irish in the 19th century at the time of the potato famine. We saw Scottish emigration, eastern European emigration and emigration from Asia and Italy. In fact, my own family and probably many of our families came to Canada as economic migrants. All of these groups and many others have contributed greatly and continue to contribute greatly to building our country.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Hear, hear!

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

I appreciate the minister's applause. He did speak about that in his remarks as well. However, there have been failures of our immigration refugee policy that left people unprotected. One of the most egregious of those cases was the Jewish refugees who came to Canada during World War II and were not welcomed and were turned away. There were also the people on board the Komagata Maru who arrived in Vancouver at the turn of the last century and were returned to India.

Our failure to welcome refugees has had terrible consequences as well for those individuals. When we turn away someone whose life is in danger, the possibilities are not very positive, to say the least.

However, Canada overall has been known as a country that welcomes refugees and does it in a way that most other countries do not, which is something that is very significant. We were recognized by the United Nations for our efforts in refugee resettlement in 1986 with the Nansen medal. Canada is the only country to have been recognized in this way. Other individuals and agencies have been recognized but Canada remains the only country to have received the Nansen medal.

One of the successes of Canada's refugee policy has been the fact that there has been a significant grassroots and community involvement in refugee resettlement. We have seen that in most of our communities. There are individuals who participated in the resettlement of a refugee and worked with a family, for instance. Many agencies and community organizations work on these issues. Many of them are related to the private sponsorship program, which has been an inspired part of Canada's refugee legislation, where groups of Canadians can get together and participate directly in helping the resettlement of refugees and refugee families in Canada. That was a brilliant policy decision and continues to be a backbone of our refugee policy.

Canadian churches have been very active in sponsoring and resettling refugees in Canada and they remain one of the key players in our refugee policy.

All of this has led to the fact that there is considerable ownership of our refugee policy at a grassroots level in Canada. Because so many Canadians have been directly involved in the refugee process, they believe they have an important interest in the policies and in legislation of the kind we are debating today.

Canadians recognize that the job is not done and far from it. Millions of people still languish in refugee camps near trouble spots around the world. That number is not reducing in a significant way and continues to be very troubling. The conditions in those refugee camps are also very difficult.

Far too many people are still persecuted, even to death, for their political views or for their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity around the world. Steadily, in many ways, we have been making it harder for those people to escape their own country and find a safe haven here in Canada.

We did things like the safe third country agreement with the United States that said that if a refugee came through the United States before making a claim in Canada they could be returned to the United States. I think that was abandoning Canada's responsibility to those people when Canada's policy was different from that of the United States when it came to offering people protection.

We introduced things like documentation requirements before people board airlines to fly to Canada ensuring they had documentation when often many refugees and people who are escaping persecution do not have the required documents.

In recent years, our refugee determination system has been a mess, frankly, because we have used it as a political football. We have seen many political considerations given, political appointments in terms of people who were sitting on the IRB, and other ways that we have played games with our refugee system at the cost of protecting people. That has resulted in huge backlogs in our refugee determination process.

Our previous governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have allowed this backlog to grow. At the end of the last Liberal government, the Liberals had taken some important steps to improve the situation. They had made progress with regard to the backlog and the Immigration and Refugee Board, the IRB, was at a point where it was almost caught up in a sense when the Conservatives came to power in 2006. There was still a backlog but there will always be a backlog situation in any of these agencies. However, the IRB was to the point of believing that the backlog was manageable and one that would not have produced many serious delays at that point.

Unfortunately, when the Conservatives came to power I think they played politics with the IRB. They refused to reappoint board members who had been appointed by the Liberals and they also refused to appoint new board members. The result was that the backlog ballooned back to where it had been in earlier years. As a result of that backlog, the unfairness also grew. We lost many experienced people from the IRB in that period. The IRB lost that experience, that ability to do an effective and fair job.

The Auditor General even became involved when she warned that the system was collapsing under the huge backlog. This is another situation where the IRB and refugee process as a political football came back into play. I believe the crisis today was created by the Conservatives, by the current government, and now they are creating a solution to the problem that they created. It is a bit of a revolving door and one that continues to concern me.

Conservative and Liberal governments have also shown great disrespect to the existing immigration and refugee law, and that is primarily for their refusal to implement the refugee appeal division which is a feature of the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This act was brought in and debated in 2001, given royal assent in 2002 and contains a provision for a refugee appeal division, something that the minister described as “dormant”. Well the reality was that the Liberals and Conservatives refused to implement that part of the law that had been debated and passed here in the House of Commons and in the Senate. It was never implemented. I think the refugee appeal division would have brought a measure of fairness to our refugee determination system.

The refugee appeal division, RAD, came about through negotiation when the government of the day wanted to move from two member boards at refugee hearings to one member boards. The compromise to ensure fairness was the refugee appeal division. It was not an expensive proposition. It would have cost $8 million to $10 million to establish and $2 million a year to run, not a significant sum in terms of our overall expenditure in the refugee program, but it would have added a measure of fairness to that process.

There was a distinct lack of respect for the process in the past and I wonder if the current legislation before us has a provision for a refugee appeal division, but I do not know. My expectation of fairness of actually seeing that implemented, I have to say, I am a little cynical given our experience with the existing RAD and the fact that it was never implemented.

The NDP has always called for an effective, fair and streamlined refugee process and we have said that there are some principles that need to be the foundation of our refugee determination process. We believe that each case should be assessed on its individual merit. We believe in the need to invest in high quality initial decisions and that we need to get it right the first time. It needs to be a non-political process and the decisions need to be made by an independent body. It needs to be a simple system that avoids unnecessary rules. The necessary resources to ensure that the system functions appropriately need to be in place so that backlogs can be avoided. We also need to remember at all times that human lives are at stake and that we need to uphold human rights standards throughout this important process.

New Democrats have long proposed some specific measures for a fast and fair refugee process. These include that all appointments of IRB board members should be done by an independent appointment commissioner with set criteria for expertise in refugee matters. Such a merit-based appointments process was championed by our former leader, Ed Broadbent. We believe that there needs to be a crackdown on unscrupulous immigration consultants by banning them from the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing room and providing legal aid for proper representation. A provision for appropriate legal representation for refugee claimants continues to be a real issue in our refugee determination system.

We believe that we need to hire more permanent refugee protection officers to clear the backlog. We have seen this done in the past with some success. We also believe that we need to set up the refugee appeal division so that consistent decisions can be made based on fact and law. Parliament mandated, as I mentioned, this refugee appeal division in 2001 but the Liberals and Conservatives chose to ignore the law and not put it in place.

Bill C-11 has some serious flaws. Some of the key organizations that have an interest in the refugee process have outlined some of the problems.

Whenever I look for information on our refugee process, I look to the work of the Canadian Council for Refugees, which is an umbrella organization of many Canadian refugee serving organizations. It has delineated its concerns with this legislation, which I believe merit close attention. One of its key concerns is the designated countries of origin list. This bill would empower the minister to designate countries whose nationals would not have access to the refugee appeal process. This is the so-called safe countries of origin list. The council points out that the word safe does not appear anywhere in Bill C-11, which seems somewhat problematic given the intent of this legislation.

The council also believes that this is an unfair proposal because treating claimants differently based on country of origin is discriminatory. It believes that each case must be assessed individually. It believes that some claimants will be particularly hurt, including women who are making gender-based claims and persons claiming on the basis of sexual orientation. In many countries that are otherwise considered peaceful or safe, there can be serious problems of persecution on these grounds.

Claimants from designated countries will face a bias against them even at the first level since decision-makers will be aware of the government's judgment on that country. There will be an overall presumption of safety in certain countries that will affect the process.

Some claims from countries that are generally seen not to be refugee producing are among those that most need appeal due to the difficult issues of fact and law, such as the availability of state protection. The denial of fair process to these claimants may lead to their forced return to persecution, a violation of human rights law.

The Canadian Council for Refugees says there are other concerns as well about designated countries of origin. It says:

Having a list of “safe countries of origin” politicizes the refugee system. There will be new diplomatic pressures from countries unhappy about not being considered “safe”.

As currently drafted, the amendment would give the minister a blank cheque to designate any country, part of a country or groups within a country without reference to the principles of refugee protection. Those are serious issues that have been raised by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The council goes on to note that it has problems with the eight day interview and hearing process after 60 days. The government has proposed that claimants be interviewed by the Immigration and Refugee Board after eight days and that their hearing take place 60 days later. The council believes that eight days after arrival is too soon for a formal interview. The interview is used to take the claimant's detailed statement about his or her claim. It would be unfair to the most vulnerable claimants, such as those traumatized by experiences of torture or women unaccustomed to speaking to authority figures.

Some claimants are ready for a hearing after 60 days, but others are not, including refugees who need to build trust in order to be able to testify freely, such as persons who have experienced sexual assault. Other refugees need more than 60 days to gather relevant documentation to support their claim, especially those whose claim relates to a newly emerging pattern of persecution or those who are in detention.

Again, there are very serious concerns about holding hearings before claimants are ready to deal with that important part of the process.

The Canadian Council for Refugees also raises concerns about decision makers and who is making the decisions in this process. It notes that first-instance decision makers would be civil servants rather than cabinet appointees. Members of the refugee appeal division would be appointed by the cabinet.

It says that this does perhaps go in some way to dealing with problematic political appointments, but it also raises some concerns, noting that assigning refugee determination to civil servants is fundamentally problematic because they lack the necessary independence

It also notes that limiting appointments to civil servants will exclude some of the most highly qualified potential decisions makers, from a diverse range of backgrounds such as academia, human rights and social service. It believes that will affect the quality of decisions.

The question of appointments to the RAD remains unresolved. Under the bill they would be political appointments, which will affect the quality of decision making.

The CCR notes problems with the appeal and pre-removal risk assessment. It notes that the pre-removal risk assessment still exists but that it is an ineffective and inefficient system. Also it believes that, for some claimants, this will continue to be an issue because of its inefficiency requiring a whole second structure to do the same work as the immigration and refugee board, something that is not fully addressed in the bill.

The Canadian Council for Refugees is also concerned for the humanitarian and compassionate consideration provisions of the bill. The bill would bar refugee claimants from applying for humanitarian and compassionate consideration while their claim is in process and for 12 months afterwards.

Applicants for H and C consideration would also be barred from raising factors related to risks here and in the country of origin. The CCR believes that H and C consideration is necessary as a recourse to consider human rights issues including the best interests of children and potential risk to persons. Closing off this recourse may be contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those are some of the concerns raised by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Amnesty International, another well-respected organization that has a key interest in refugee policies, also has very serious concerns about the safe country of origin list. It says that such lists constitute discrimination among refugees that is strictly prohibited by article 3 of the refugee convention. Article 3 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is about non-discrimination. It states:

The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.

Amnesty International also notes in a statement on this new legislation:

...over the course of nearly fifty years of human rights research around the world we have consistently highlighted it is not possible to definitively characterize countries as safe or unsafe when it comes to human rights. We are very concerned that decisions about which countries to include on any such “safe country of origin” list will almost inevitably be influenced by considerations other than human rights, including trading relationships and security cooperation with other governments.

One of the other organizations that has taken a very key interest in this is the Canadian Bar Association. Its citizenship and immigration law section is very concerned about the bill and asked that it be subject to a referral before second reading so that the committee could deal with the very serious concerns that are raised in it.

Yesterday I met with a refugee activist in British Columbia who is also very concerned about this legislation. She was very concerned that safe countries do not necessarily mean that all the people of those countries are safe and that the legislation needs to talk about safe people. She was also concerned about the language around bogus claims and abuse of the system, which she thinks was not particularly helpful in all of this.

There are many concerns about this legislation. I hope we can have a very fulsome debate on it and one at committee as well. I would have preferred that we got there before second reading so it could be a really extensive debate at committee.

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1:45 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his thoughtful remarks.

He closed by suggesting that the matter go directly to committee before second reading. That is not the normal way Parliament considers a bill. We are engaged in the normal form of parliamentary debate, and I hope the NDP will support having the bill go to committee.

The member has enumerated a number of points with which his party is in agreement. I just wanted to point out that in his own community the Vancouver Sun has said:

The package of reforms proposed by the Conservative government for Canada's refugee system is badly needed.

I would point out that the Victoria centre for refugees has endorsed this as being an important and necessary package. We have pages and pages from those involved stakeholders. The Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society says the changes to the refugee system proposed by the federal government are a big step in the right direction.

The head of the Catholic Immigration Society says is strongly in support of stopping the abuse of the inland refugee determination system and will continue advocating for this with colleagues across Canada.

I could go on. There is very broad support for this.

I just want to say that the member's concern with respect to the shortfall in IRB appointments has been addressed. We are basically at full capacity at the refugee protection division of the IRB. There was a short-term lag in appointments. That was precisely why we were implementing a far more rigorous pre-screening process that is situated at the IRB.

I want the member to understand that we have radically improved the process. Now, of all the people who apply to sit on the IRB, only 10% are recommended to the minister by the screening committee for appointment. Then the minister has to ensure there is an appropriate demographic, gender and linguistic balance as well as a balance of professional backgrounds. We have done that, staffing the IRB up to its full level.

I appreciate the member's constructive remarks, but what we need in this debate is balance. What I did not hear entirely from him was a balanced concern about the fact that six out of every ten claimants in our system are subsequently found not to be in need of Canada's protection. In our number one source country, 97% of claimants go on to withdraw or abandon their claims.

I have a very simple question for the member. In addition to ensuring that the fairness and basic principles of natural justice and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are enshrined in these reforms, it is important on the balance side that we disincentivize false claims, which are often encouraged by bottom-feeders in the immigration industry, both here and abroad. Would the member not agree?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for participating in this debate today. It is not always the case and he deserves to be applauded for that.

He raised a number of issues in his comments. First, he talked about the normal process of a bill. One of the processes that is available to Parliament is a referral before second reading. The minister knows full well that means there can be the broadest possible revision of legislation, that new issues can be introduced by the committee into legislation.

When the bill goes to second reading and then is referred, that is more limited. By then, the principle of the bill has already been established, new concepts cannot be introduced into law and we are very limited in what we can in fact do in terms of amending the legislation before the committee.

Given the importance of this legislation, and I do not think anybody in the House disagrees that this is important legislation, that was an appropriate request. It came from many people who are directly and significantly involved in the refugee determination process in Canada. I am disappointed the minister does not see fit to consider that. I hear that he is willing to listen to possibilities of reform and change in committee, but there are limitations placed on that by the route he has decided to go.

I am also glad there are new resources being allotted to the refugee process. I wish it had been done a lot sooner. This process has always needed more resources dedicated to it to make sure it was fast and fair. We have already heard this morning members raising concerns that the new resources were not part of the budget package we have already debated in the House, so we need to nail them down, so to speak, to make sure they are really there.

I am also concerned that we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We are going down the road of establishing lists and saying that some claims are more deserving than others, but there will always be an exception to that rule. The consequences of getting this wrong are tragic. That is the whole point of having this kind of asylum process, to make sure people are not persecuted to the point of death in their countries of origin. We have to make sure we do this right.

To use language like “bogus” and “abusive” denies the fact that there can be a substantive claim, even from a country where there are a significant number of claims that do not seem to be related to persecution. Even the minister this morning, when he was talking about claims from Hungary, noted despite all the problematic claims from that country, that there were three claims from three individuals or families where there was a problem of their persecution in Hungary and that the process found in their favour.

We want to make sure there is a system that can be responsive to those particular exceptions and those cases are treated on their individual merits in the system. I have yet to be convinced that what we have before us is a system that will do that.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I too appreciate the fact that the minister has chosen to be in the House for this particular debate. Rather than a question, I have more of a comment for the minister.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration website has on it a place where people can go to discount some of the vile rumours that are out there these days. There is a particular email that is circulating saying that seniors are put aside, that refugees actually get more than seniors do in their pensions. Of course, that is incorrect. I am very pleased to see the minister has seen to it that it is refuted on the Department of Citizenship and Immigration website.

I would say to the minister that because of the fact that this particular email has been circulating since around 2001, perhaps the government would consider enclosing an insert with the pensions of Canadians to address this, because it is undermining new Canadians who are coming to this country and offering to help build it further. As we know, by far the majority who come here are good citizens once they attain citizenship.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for raising that issue, because it points to another important issue around how we support seniors, elderly folks who are refugee claimants in Canada. There is a problem with the kind of support they receive collectively from our community, from our pension system. Often, because they are not deemed to be eligible for old age security or the guaranteed income supplement, they live in a situation of deep poverty.

This is clearly something I do not think is acceptable to Canadians. They believe that people who have made a successful refugee claim in Canada should be supported so they can integrate into Canadian society and live a decent life. When those people happen to be senior citizens, that is even more difficult for them, since their work prospects are probably even more limited than other refugee claimants. We need to ensure that the support system, the pension and old age security systems, applies to those people as well.

This is very controversial and governments in the past have not been as clear as they could have been to explain how our pension system works, the cost of our pension system, how it works to support new immigrants and refugees in Canada. This could use the attention of governments. I am glad my colleague suggested to the minister that it be something the government take up.

Missing Children Society of Canada
Statements By Members

April 26th, 2010 / 1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Anders Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, May 25 is National Missing Children's Day. Every 10 minutes a child goes missing in Canada, a child is kidnapped from his or her home, school or playground. A child may be targeted for the purposes of child prostitution, child trafficking or worse. The motivation of the abductor is often to exploit, rape and murder.

The Missing Children Society of Canada has been helping law enforcement and searching families for almost 25 years. It is the only organization that becomes involved at the preliminary stage of the investigation. It assists police and adopt the investigation if the police classify the case as inactive.

On May 27, the Missing Children Society of Canada is hosting its annual gala dinner in Calgary. All proceeds will be allocated to investigating abductions and the disappearances of Canada's children. If people can attend or assist in any way, it would be pleased to hear from them.