House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham
Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I come from a riding that is one of the most diverse in the entire country. In fact, some of the individuals who, unfortunately, were on one of those ships actually ended up in my riding. Many have remained in hiding. They are in fear of the people who smuggled them here. They have a huge debt that they have to somehow try to pay off. These individuals are not enjoying their Canadian experience because of the way in which they came to this country.

When talking about compassion, it would be compassionate to have a refugee reform process that was changed unanimously by the House. It would be compassionate to change the immigration system so that a million people are not waiting to come to this country by cutting it in half. It would be compassionate to increase settlement services for immigrants, including those in my riding, and in my community, which is one of the fastest growing communities in the country, so they can have access to local services to help them find jobs, help them learn English and help them improve and be like my parents who came to this country in the 1960s and who worked very hard.

Unfortunately, the Liberals do not understand that when the immigration system and the refugee system are improved, we are actually looking after the economy because immigrants, people who come to this country, are an important part of helping make this country as great as it is and as great as it will be.

I have a question for the hon. member. Why, when we see the devastation that these people coming over on these boats have suffered, will the member not simply join with us in attacking the people who deserve to be attacked, the people who force these poor people onto ships and force them into a life of debt, the criminals, the smugglers? The member should work with us to pass this legislation so we can get the smugglers out of the system and have a better refugee system so people who come here can enjoy their Canadian experience and will not need to live in hiding across this country.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is all smoke and mirrors. I have seen this double-speak from the Conservatives over and over again.

Can the Conservatives look Canadians in the eye and tell them that people who are smuggling refugees into Canada are on those ship? The smugglers will not be on the ships. Only the refugees will be on the ships. Smugglers will not knowingly jump on these ships to come to Canada along with the refugees.

In talking about compassion and how we have evolved over the years, I migrated to Canada 31 years ago and it took two years for our family reunification application to pass at that time. Under the Conservative government, we have seen family reunification times grow every year.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member recognized that immigrants do contribute to the economy. I want to kind of twist that comment around to this particular bill.

Would the hon. member agree with me that the longer legitimate refugees are held in settlements the longer they are prevented from being able to become active in the Canadian economy and that not allowing for a faster process does have a negative impact on those who are here legitimately and who are not allowed to participate but are locked up for greater periods of time under this administration? Would that not make some economic sense as well?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member. The best way to help our refugees is to integrate them into our economy and into our country as soon as possible. The way to do that is through the process we have in place. We have the Immigration and Refugee Board that deals with refugees. We have a system that works.

However, we do need to provide more resources to our law enforcement agencies and to the Immigration and Refugee Board so these individuals can be processed quickly and become productive citizens of this country and contribute to the economy.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, foreigners accepted as refugees cannot become permanent residents for five years, so they are not able to study. Earlier, members were talking about the economy. If these refugees have to wait five years to receive recognition of their education equivalency or to have access to university for those who already have a degree, this means that we lose out. We cannot retrain these newcomers and they end up trapped in poverty or being economically dependent.

Does my colleague not think that there is a contradiction when we say that we must stand up for the Canadian economy, yet we are closing the door on these people for five years, not allowing them to retrain or to contribute their professional skills to Canadian society? Is that not a contradiction?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has asked a wonderful, very sensitive question.

The Conservatives always talk about one thing and then do another. If they were really concerned about helping immigrants and refugees integrate into our communities in this wonderful country and to help our economy, they would be putting procedures in place to do just that. They would be helping the Immigration and Refugee Board to process them faster so we could get them into our system and become productive citizens. However, the way the Conservatives have this set up it will take five years.

My colleague is absolutely right. The people that are coming here may want to go to university or college to upgrade their education so they can integrate into our society and get the jobs that will help them and their families. Certainly that does not seem to be where the Conservatives want to go on this.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, we heard just moments ago the question from the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage in which he referred to this bill as assisting refugees in “enjoying their Canadian experience”. I wonder, how is jailing refugees--men, women and children--in Canada for a year somehow an enjoyable Canadian experience?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I talked about this earlier in the House and I will repeat it. I am the father of two children and I cannot imagine my children being subjected to this sort of Draconian measure that is being brought in by the Conservatives.

Children and their parents are persecuted in the countries from which they come. They are persecuted by the smugglers on their journey to a safe country. And the Conservative government wants to put in place a Draconian law that would detain these young people for over a year.

The Conservatives are redefining compassion. Their definition of compassion is to put children in detention centres in this country.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments about the number of groups that are opposed to this measure. What our colleague fails to understand is that this was a clear part of our last campaign. It was one of our platform measures. It had been discussed prior to the House rising. Canadians knew what they were voting for when they supported this measure.

I would like to ask my colleague, why is he not willing to accept a strong mandate for this reasonable and fair approach that deals with this? Would he actually want those who have been sitting in the queue for years to take a back seat to those who are now jumping the queue by getting on boats that are operated by illegal smugglers?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a consistent way the Conservatives ask questions. They keep reinforcing that. My colleague said that we have already talked about queue jumping. When a person is being persecuted in a country where, for example, there is a war going on, there is no queue. The person gets on a plane or some other mode of transport and goes to whichever country will provide a safe haven. There are no queues. We should get that straight.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in support of Bill C-4, a bill which would prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.

Human smuggling is a nefarious industry, one that exists around the world. Unfortunately, thousands of people die each year because of illegal migration and the smugglers who facilitate this migration.

Parliament needs to take action to put an end to the activities of human smugglers who have chosen Canada as a destination for their business, which is the dreadful exploitation of human beings.

Every year thousands of people around the world die in illegal smuggling operations organized by human smugglers. These people are not humanitarians. They do not assist people to become bona fide refugees and protect them from persecution. They are profiteers.

In the particular context with which we are dealing, namely those smuggling syndicates that are targeting Canada and which managed to bring two large shiploads of illegal migrants to our west coast in the past two years, our intelligence agencies and security and police partners in Southeast Asia all told us that these syndicates of human smugglers are essentially the gunrunners, the smugglers who helped to fuel the civil war in Sri Lanka by illicitly bringing contraband arms, bombs and guns into a theatre of conflict leading to the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Since the end of the hostilities in Sri Lanka, these smuggling syndicates have been looking for a new business model, and instead of moving guns and bombs, they have switched to moving people for a very high price.

We know that those who have enlisted these smuggling syndicates to try to come illegally to Canada in violation of our immigration laws, in violation of our marine laws, in violation of international law, in violation of every principle of safe migration, have been willing to commit to pay up to $50,000 to the illegal smuggling syndicates. Typically, they pay about 10% of the fixed price as a down payment. A typical down payment to the smuggling syndicate is in the range of $5,000. The balance is typically payable over the course of time after arrival in Canada and very often through coerced participation in criminal activity.

As I mentioned, every year around the world thousands of people die in smuggling operations, whether they were migrants who suffocated in shipping containers crossing the English Channel or whether they were people who paid smugglers to go to Australia in dangerous shipping boats that crashed up against the shore.

We must act to send a very clear message that Canada is the most open developed country in the world to immigration, to newcomers, to refugees who need our protection and seek new opportunities. In order to maintain that remarkable openness, which by the way represents in Canada the highest level of immigration per capita in the developed world wherein we add .8% of our population per year through legal immigrants, and the highest level of refugee resettlement in the developed world through the 20% increase in our targets for refugee resettlement, by next year we will be accepting some 14,000 resettled refugees. Last year we welcomed 280,000 new permanent residents and we are increasing our program for refugee resettlement.

In order to maintain that generosity, that openness, and the public support which is necessary to maintain that attitude of openness, we must demonstrate to Canadians that our system is characterized by fairness and the rule of law.

One of the reasons that Canadians are so understandably upset when they see large scale smuggling operations is that it violates their sense of fairness and their belief that our immigration system is characterized by the application of fair rules.

Millions of people have come to Canada through our fair and generous immigration or refugee resettlement programs. In my experience they are those who most profoundly resent those who would pay illegal criminal networks to be smuggled to Canada illegally, avoiding the legal system.

My friend opposite and others have said that there is no so-called queue for refugees. First, I do not know how he knows that all or most of those who pay smuggling syndicates are refugees. We constantly hear from the critics that when we talk about our efforts to stop smugglers from targeting Canada we are talking about refugees. How do they know that? We know that many of the people in the two vessels who came to Canada most recently were coming from India transiting through Thailand, both democracies, both with the rule of law and protection for human rights. Perhaps colleagues opposite did not see the CBC report from Chennai in Tamil Nadu in India. Tamil Nadu is a region of southeastern India where tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Sri Lankan Tamils migrated during the conflict in Sri Lanka, where they sought temporary protection or new opportunities.

The CBC interviewed a group of several young Sri Lankan Tamil migrants in Tamil Nadu, India who said they had made down payments of up to $5,000 to these syndicates to be transported to Canada. They were not in a war zone. They were not subject to persecution. They said they wanted to come to Canada because they had heard about our “free monthly salaries”. We have to be very careful. We cannot and should not prejudge newly arrived migrants as to their prospective refugee claims. Some may be refugees; some may not. Many may just be seeking economic opportunity and heard that Canada is a soft target and therefore they are willing to pay smuggling syndicates.

What this bill seeks to do is maintain Canada's commitment to our domestic and international legal obligations with respect to refugee protection and to respect our humanitarian obligation to protect bona fide refugees fleeing persecution while at the same time changing the business model of the criminal smuggling syndicates. That is the objective of this bill.

We seek, first, to increase in the bill penalties for smugglers so that there will be a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years for those who are found to participate in a human smuggling event which involves at least 50 individuals or in which there are exacerbating circumstances such as loss of life. We also massively increase the monetary fines for the owners of ships involved in these voyages. It is typically ships, but I should point out that the bill could address non-marine human smuggling events which have occurred in Canada.

That is an important message, but let us be realistic. I have studied this issue very closely. In fact, just last month I was in New Zealand and Bangkok, Thailand meeting with international partners and our own security agencies, as well as international police forces. I was trying to get a better understanding of the nature of these smuggling enterprises. It is very clear that we cannot impose Canadian law in terms of these sanctions on smugglers who operate overseas. The kingpins of these syndicates very rarely come to Canada. They are most typically jumping around between transit countries in Southeast Asia beyond our legal reach.

Having said that, there is an important dimension of our fight against human smuggling which is not formally in the legislation. It is an operational dimension whereby our government, through the good leadership of my colleague, the hon. Minister of Public Safety and the security and police agencies under his ministry, have dispatched additional resources for investigation and co-operation with the governments, police and intelligence agencies in the transit countries. Thanks to the additional resources that we have put into the region, we have managed successfully to prevent any of the planned voyages that were to target Canada. We know, without getting into operational or confidential details, that several voyages were planned for Canada that have been successfully interrupted, thanks in part to the co-operation of Canadian security forces in the region.

Having said that, let us be clear. In any black market there will always be someone willing to provide the contraband good or service if there is sufficient demand at a sufficiently high price point, because we are talking about profiteers. If they are able to get commitments of up to $50,000 to come to Canada, they will continue to try to find the vessels and put together the complex logistics to bring people from Southeast Asia to Canada. Therefore, in this legislation we must reduce the price point that people are willing to pay to be illegally smuggled to Canada through these criminal syndicates. That is the objective of the bill.

I think some opposition members have not studied the issue in all of its subtlety, or perhaps they do not understand how we are trying to disincentivize people from being willing to pay up to $50,000 to the smuggling syndicates. That is what the bill seeks to do.

For example, by reducing some of the privileges that normally exist for asylum claimants in Canada, should someone who has arrived in a designated smuggling event under this bill be found by our legal system to be a bona fide refugee in need of our protection, we will not send them back to their country of origin. We will therefore respect and conform with our international and domestic legal obligations. However, there is no obligation on Canada to grant such persons immediate permanent residency, which is normally the case for successful asylum claimants.

What the bill would do would be to say that we would grant people who are deemed to be bona fide refugees who have arrived in a designated smuggling event a temporary residency status in Canada for up to five years, after which we would then reassess the conditions in their country of origin to determine whether the country conditions have improved and whether the risk that was determined at their refugee hearing still continues.

If at that point there is a determination that conditions have improved significantly in that country, that they would no longer face risk if removed, they could then face removal back to their country of origin. However, should conditions in that country not have improved after five years, they would then have access to permanent residency in Canada as a further reflection of our humanitarian instinct.

During those initial five years, here is the key disincentive. Such individuals would not be entitled to the privilege of sponsoring family members to Canada because here is the key aspect of the bill. We know that people are prepared to commit to up to $50,000 based on a calculation that they subsequently will be able to sponsor family members, so the $50,000 price point is really not associated with just the migration of one individual, the smuggled individual, but indeed all subsequent family members who may follow that successful claimant. There is a commercial calculation being made here that the $40,000 to $50,000 price point may lead to permanent residency for the primary migrant and then subsequently permanent residency for members of the family who in turn could help to pay off the debt to the smuggling syndicate.

In the bill we are seeking to create a doubt, a question mark in the minds of those who constitute the market for the smuggling gangs. Will they be able to get permanent residency in Canada? That would no longer be a certainty. Will they be able to sponsor family members and help pay off the debt? It would no longer be a certainty. We are very strongly persuaded that this is a balanced approach.

Thirteen months ago, when the last large vessel arrived off the west coast with some 500 illegal migrants, Canadians were understandably disturbed with this large scale violation of the integrity of our immigration law and with this mass human smuggling voyage. At that time public opinion polls consistently said that about two-thirds of Canadians thought the government should prevent such vessels from even entering Canadian territorial waters. About 55% of Canadians, and an even higher percentage of new Canadians, immigrants to this country, said that if people who arrive in such a vessel get access to our refugee system and are deemed to be bona fide refugees, they should be immediately returned. That is what the majority of Canadians said.

As a government, we do not believe that approach would respect our legal or humanitarian obligations. Let me be clear. Contrary to some of the demagoguery we hear from critics of the bill, we would continue, notwithstanding that public opinion environment, to allow illegally smuggled migrants who file the refugee claim access to our asylum system, which is the fairest asylum system in the world, bar none. They would continue to have access to that system. We would not send back a single person who is deemed by our legal system likely to face danger of persecution or risk to their lives in their country of origin.

This bill exceeds our international and domestic legal obligations with respect to non-refoulement of refugees. The opposition says that this is like refusing to allow Jewish refugees to come here during the second world war. Nonsense. This approach would allow any refugee, or even a false refugee claimant, access to our asylum system. It would simply reduce some of the privileges that normally are provided to asylum claimants in order to reduce their willingness to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a smuggling syndicate.

One of the contentious aspects of the bill is the enhanced detention provisions. I would invite members of the opposition, perhaps at committee, to ask members of our Canada Border Services Agency and lawyers from my ministry about the difficulty of processing hundreds of smuggled asylum claimants who are seeking release from detention, because we have to do detention reviews under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act every two, seven and then subsequent 30 days. This means that with several hundred people we have a non-stop revolving door of detention reviews which is massively inefficient.

I would also point out there has been a red herring created by the opposition about mandatory detention for up to a year of all smuggled migrants. The minister, under the bill, would have the authority to release people in exceptional circumstances, such as children. Under the new asylum system adopted by Parliament last year in Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, bona fide asylum claimants will receive a positive protection decision and therefore permanent residency within about three months of making their claim. Such smuggled migrants in the asylum system who are bona fide refugees would be automatically released from immigration detention when they receive a positive asylum decision, and permanent residency in about 90 days.

Let me point out by way of comparison, because there is a lack of perspective in context here, that most of our peer democracies, most other liberal democracies, including those governed by social democratic parties such as the Labour government in Australia, have mandatory detention for all or almost all asylum claimants, not just illegally smuggled asylum claimants, but all or almost all asylum claimants.

That was the law adopted by the United Kingdom under the previous social democratic Labour government. That is the law in Australia under the social democratic Labour government.

I remember Prime Minister Gillard of Australia congratulating the NDP on its 50th anniversary. She actually defends a policy that puts under permanent detention all asylum claimants until their status is resolved. This is, by comparison, a radically more modest approach which only addresses illegally smuggled migrants for a limited period of time until they receive status, which under the new system would be three months.

In closing, the bill constitutes a balanced and humane approach to combatting the scourge of human smuggling. It would allow access to our refugee protection system for bona fide victims of persecution. It would reduce the massive pressure on our system when we face hundreds of people arriving at the same time. It would provide disincentives for people to pay tens of thousands of dollars to criminal networks to be smuggled illegally to Canada, and it would encourage them rather to seek regional resettlement opportunities or protection, if they are indeed refugees.

This is a bill that Canadians expect and demand. We must stand up for our tradition of protection of refugees and our legal and generous immigration system by combatting those who would abuse our country's generosity.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Questions and comments for the minister will have to wait until the House returns to this matter.

Infrastructure
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that on September 22 players of the Moose Jaw Warriors will play their home opener in an unfamiliar setting to them and to their fans. I am speaking about a landmark facility featuring a hockey rink, an eight-sheet curling rink and much more. About 250,000 people will pass through the doors each year, bringing tourism dollars to Moose Jaw.

The Government of Canada contributed through the building Canada fund. Other major donors include the Government of Saskatchewan, the City of Moose Jaw, Moose Jaw Soccer Association, Moose Jaw Warriors and JGL Livestock.

Mosaic, a potash company with its Canadian headquarters in my riding, secured the naming rights through a donation for operational funds.

I am pleased to inform members that Moose Javians made this project a reality through their remarkable generosity and community spirit. I am honoured to be part of this community.

It is game on at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.

Stanley Cup
Statements by Members

September 19th, 2011 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, in June all Canadians watched with heartbreak as Canada's team, the Canucks, lost the final game of the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins.

Being from the beautiful city of Vancouver, I made a few friendly wagers over the outcome of that series, most notably with my friend, the member Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

I rise today to honour that wage by standing in the House to praise the victorious team.

As it turns out, this is an easy task because the essence of the Bruins' victory lies in the heart of British Columbia.

Milan Lucic, the magnificent Bruins' power forward, is a product of, members guessed it, Vancouver. Mr. Lucic was born in Vancouver and learned his craft in the rinks of East Vancouver, including in the great riding of Vancouver Kingsway.

The incomparable, recently retired Mark Recchi, holder of three Stanley Cup rings, was also born in beautiful British Columbia, in Kamloops.

Therefore, as I rise to praise the Boston Bruins, I do so proudly with the full knowledge that their victory was only made possible through the contribution of outstanding British Columbians.

Rosalie Hall
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to thank my constituents for placing their trust in me. Scarborough Centre is right in the heart of Scarborough and it is a great privilege to represent such a diverse and vibrant community.

Since being elected to office, I have visited a multitude of different organizations and I am humbled to have met so many wonderful people who make up the very fabric of this great riding.

In fact, just last week, I was fortunate to be able to visit Rosalie Hall, a young parent resource centre situated right beside the Scarborough General Hospital. Serving the community for nearly 100 years, Rosalie Hall has focused in on the health, educational needs and the overall well-being of both young mothers and their children.

I would like to applaud and congratulate Mr. Alan Nickell, executive director, his staff and all of the remarkable volunteers at Rosalie Hall for serving the community and for their outstanding work in providing support and opening up new avenues for so many deserving young women and their families.