House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on a question asked by the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification earlier.

I understand that the requirement for the mandatory detention of children has been removed. If the parents are mandatorily detained and are given the option of what to do with their children, most parents who have just fled from somewhere and are seeking asylum would want to keep their children close to ensure they are keeping them safe.

What is the government really trying to do with these children? Is the government saying that it will not mandatorily detain them but that it is really the parents who are putting their children in detention centres? Is the government just trying to pass the buck once again?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a fellow member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, my colleague will be well aware of the testimony brought to that committee by experts in matters of immigration, particularly refugee matters.

It was an expert who brought our attention to the study done by the Australian Human Rights Commission on the effect of detention on children and separation from their parents. The impacts are quite alarming. The separation from family seems to be a clear contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Mississauga—Brampton South.

I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system and we are acting on that mandate.

Bill C-31 would make significant improvements for our refugee system. It would crack down on human smuggling and provide the government with the ability to collect biometric data from foreign visitors to Canada. This legislation would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer. It would put a stop to the abuse of our generous immigration system while, at the same time, provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.

Bill C-31 is the latest step by our Conservative government to ensure that our immigration system is no longer being abused by foreign criminals, bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.

Today, I will focus my remarks on the provisions included in this bill pertaining to biometrics.

Canadians from coast to coast to coast have told our government that the safety and security of their families is one of their top priorities. They want their government to pursue policies that keep criminals off the streets and foreign criminals out of the country. They should expect no less. Our Conservative government has listened and is doing exactly that. Bill C-31 would provide the government with the authority to collect biometrics, fingerprints and photographs from foreign nationals who want to enter Canada. Security experts from across the globe agree that fingerprints are one of the most effective ways to determine the true identity of an individual and to combat identity theft and fraud.

Biometrics would be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out. In short, biometrics would strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and help protect the safety and security of Canadians while helping to facilitate legitimate travel.

The use of biometrics would put Canada in line with most other western countries that are already using or preparing to use biometrics in immigration matters, countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, the United States and Japan, among others. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who have entered Canada in the past.

I want to provide the House and all Canadians with some real-life examples of cases that clearly demonstrate the need for biometrics to be implemented. For example, Esron Laing and David Wilson were convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. They returned to Canada three different times. In fact, they are known as the yo-yo bandits because, just like a yo-yo, they kept coming back. I know that three times seems like a high number but I am sad to say that many serious criminals are deported and manage to return Canada many more times than that.

Another example is Anthony Hakim Saunders who was convicted of assault and drug trafficking. He was deported on 10 different occasions and, just like the yo-yo bandits, he kept coming back. Edmund Ezemo was convicted of more than 30 charges, including theft and fraud. He was deported and then subsequently returned to Canada eight times. That is incredible. Dale Anthony Wyatt was convicted of trafficking drugs and possession of illegal weapons. He was deported and returned to Canada on at least four separate occasions. Kevin Michael Sawyers was convicted of manslaughter. He was deported and returned to Canada twice. Melando Yaphet Streety served a jail sentence in Canada after he was linked to four underage girls working in Toronto's sex trade. This criminal was deported and then returned to Canada within the same year. Once he returned to Canada, he continued his life of crime.

My final example is the case of a human smuggler from Iran who the IRB found has repeatedly engaged in the despicable crime of human smuggling. There really are few crimes lower than human smuggling. He was removed in 2007 after he arrived in Canada with a suitcase full of fraudulent identification in his briefcase. However, using false documents yet again, he managed to enter Canada a year later.

Unfortunately, this is only a small sample of the serious criminals entering and re-entering Canada. There are even cases in which serious criminals were able to re-enter Canada 15, 19, and even 21 times using false identities and documents. This absolutely has to stop.

Our officials are very highly trained and do their best to catch identity theft and fraud. However, fraudsters have become more sophisticated, and so have the documents they produce. Biometric data will go a long way to determining the true identity of criminals and preventing them from entering Canada in the first place.

After years of inaction by previous governments, our Conservative government is taking the prudent action required to end this. We will be unwavering in moving forward on the implementation of biometrics.

Unfortunately, we are moving forward without the support of the opposition. The NDP and the Liberals are opposing this bill and the authority to implement biometrics as an integral part of this bill. Not only do they not support the implementation of biometrics included in this bill, but the opposition also voted against the funding needed to put biometrics in place. In other words, the opposition NDP and the Liberals have repeatedly voted against our government putting a stop to serious criminals, like the ones I listed above, from entering Canada and living in neighbourhoods among their constituents, my constituents, and all Canadians who just want to protect their families from foreign criminals.

The opposition is on the wrong side of Canadians on the issue of biometrics. They are off-side with the numerous security experts and other stakeholders who have praised our government's decision to move forward with biometrics. For example, according to The Globe and Mail, the implementation of biometric identification such as fingerprints and photos for people who apply for visitor's visas is a “...welcome change [that] will guard against the use of false identities”.

The Montreal Gazette had this to say:

The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities.

On this side of the House we believe in facilitating the process for legitimate travellers and we have taken several steps toward that end. However, our government also takes seriously its responsibility to keep serious criminals, suspected terrorists, and war criminals, among others, out of Canada.

Canadians, including my constituents in Etobicoke Centre, have made it clear that they want us to take action to protect their safety and security. That is exactly what our Conservative government is doing with Bill C-31. Biometrics is one of the most effective ways to ensure that criminals can no longer use increasingly sophisticated false documents to enter Canada.

In short, biometrics will strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system. In fact, all of the changes included in Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians will be protected.

I urge all members of this House to stop and listen for a moment, to support this important bill and ensure its timely passage in this House.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, from one member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, through you to another member, I would point out that we are currently engaged in a study at the committee on the very issue of biometrics. Lots of experts are coming to talk to us. It surprises me to see the member opposite giving such a hearty speech in support of biometrics. In my world, we would call that prejudice, the making of decisions and coming to some judgment about biometrics before we have even done the study and listened to the experts.

I am wondering, what does the member opposite actually think we are doing at the standing committee when we are actually studying, listening, and talking to experts on the issue of biometrics?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not a prejudice to defend the safety and security of Canada and the families in our constituencies. It is an important role and responsibility our government has.

As the parliamentary secretary has said earlier on, that the minister listens, as he did in other matters involving the committee. He listened and acted early, especially on issues with visas. He is listening now as we go through committee and listen to experts talk about biometrics and securing our borders.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the member makes reference to the fact that biometrics would have resolved those horrendous or terrible crimes he talks about. Most Canadians, I think, would believe that refugees who had committed those type of crimes and were deported would have had their biometrics take already, such as fingerprints and live ID pictures.

It is only after being in power for six years that the government has finally brought biometrics to the table. It bundled biometrics in with other aspects of legislation to which the opposition is opposed. Therefore, I question how genuine the member's belief is that the opposition is somehow supportive of these criminals when he knows full well that we are not. I would ask him to provide more clarity on that issue.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not suggesting that the opposition is in league with criminals. However, I think they are short sighted in their opposition to this bill and because of that they will allow more criminals to enter Canada.

This government has a responsibility to respect all Canadians and their families from these types of criminals entering Canada and biometrics will be a significant feature in doing that.

This is a forward-thinking government. We act. We do not wait, and we get it done for Canadians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the member for his extremely well done speech. He serves the committee well and understands the file. I wanted to ask him a question from his riding's perspective.

We can come to the House of Commons and speak to particular issues and the impacts they have across the country, but this is really one of those issues that hit home time and time again in each of our ridings. The member deals with visas and permanent residency and refugee applications in his caseload, as well as the folks who come into his office to talk about those. I am wondering if he could allude to how much this bill would assist him from a local perspective in delivering local services to his constituents.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think biometrics would go a great length to help us solve a lot of the open files that we have and have seen in the past, not only in my riding but also in other members' ridings. It would eliminate the confusion that exists in some of these cases and files.

I think this is the right road and the right path for Canada and all Canadians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South
Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak in the House today on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. I congratulate my hon. colleague, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, for tabling this important legislation. I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-31 to ensure that it passes into law.

Canada has a proud humanitarian tradition of providing protection to those who need it. Every year of the roughly 20 countries that resettle refugees, Canada annually resettles between 10,000 and 12,000, or one out of every ten refugees resettled globally.

In fact, my father came to Canada as a refugee and today I find myself in this hallowed chamber because of Canada's generosity and compassion. My parents worked hard for years, raised a family and created jobs for Canadians. They were always grateful to Canada and proud of their new homeland.

There is no doubt that our government is committed to continuing this proud tradition of ours. That is why we will uphold Canada's previous commitments to resettle more refugees. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, an increase of 2,500 refugees since 2010. That is an increase of 2,500 refugees.

Our generous immigration system is not only the envy of the world but also enjoys broad support among Canadians.

What concerns us is that in 2011, 62% of all claims were either rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada or were abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants. Considering that this represented more than half of all asylum seekers last year, Canadians would agree that far too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on these claims. Indeed, for the average failed refugee claim, taxpayers are currently footing about $55,000.

The bill is in the best interests of Canada and of genuine refugees themselves, but do not just take it from me. Listen to what the experts have to say. Immigration lawyer, Richard Kurland, called the Minister of Citizenship, and Immigration a “loophole closer”. Kurland said:

Finally someone recognized that the open wallet approach of the past, offering free education, free medicare, and a welfare cheque to anyone who touched Canadian soil making a refugee claim was not the right thing to do. So I’m glad to see today that finally, after several years, someone has the political courage to take the political risk of saying, if you’re from a European country and you can land in London or Paris or Berlin, fill out paperwork, and legally live there, work there, pay taxes there, you shouldn’t be allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. Buttress that with this reality check. Over 90 percent, and in some years 95 percent, of the target group, the Roma claimants, didn’t even show up for their oral hearings. They rode on the taxpayer.

We were just taken for a ride by a lot of people for a long time. Today that loophole is dead, and I really hope the word gets out to the smuggler community and back to source countries to not try it.

Julie Taub, immigration lawyer and former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board, says:

I can tell you from theory and practice that the current refugee system is very flawed and cumbersome and definitely needs an overhaul. It takes up to two years to have a claimant have his hearing and there are far too many bogus claims that clog up the system and use very expensive resources at a cost to Canadian taxpayers.

Immigration lawyer, Mendel Green, in support of the government changes, says:

The system is being re-designed to stop the abuses.

Paul Attia, from Immigrants for Canada, says:

Immigrants for Canada (IFC) represents the views of countless immigrants across our nation who hold strongly to the view that Canadian immigration policy should always be in Canada's best interests. The immigrants IFC represents worked very hard—

—like my father and mother in fact—

—and sacrificed much to arrive on Canadian shores, and who chose to do so in an honest and legal way. Accordingly, these same immigrants welcome legislation that works to ensure that people who have no valid claim to our protection are not able to use the refugee determination system to obtain permanent residence in Canada.

Julie Chamagne, executive director of Halifax Refugee Clinic, says:

We don’t want people coming here and taking advantage of Canada’s immigration rules. And you know, that does hurt the legitimate claims and that’s what [the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration] is saying.

Even the Globe and Mail applauded the government for bringing in needed refugee reform. It writes:

The legislation rightly focuses on weeding out claimants who are not genuine, and stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries...that are democracies with respect for basic rights and freedoms.

These experts support our government's actions to create a refugee determination process which is both faster and fairer.

The facts speak for themselves. Legitimate refugees would have their case determined faster and would not have to wait in a queue, while bogus refugees took their spot.

In recent years, over 95% of European Union claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. The total number of refugee claims from the E.U. in 2011 was 5,800. We received more refugee claims from the E.U. than from Asia and Africa, and it is a 14% increase over 2010. Something needs to be done. These numbers are just too dramatic and growing too quickly. The percentage of total refugee claims coming from the E.U. in 2011 was 23%, again more than came from Africa or Asia.

Canada's top source country for refugee claims was Hungary. The percentage of total refugee claims coming from Hungary in 2011 was 18%. My mother is Hungarian. The number of refugee claims from Hungary alone in 2011 was 4,400. That is up some 50% from 2010, a very dramatic increase. By comparison, in that same year, 2011, Belgium received only 188 claimants from Hungary, the U.S. received only 47 claimants from Hungary and France and Norway each received 33 claimants from Hungary. Therefore, for some reason, people are deciding to apply to Canada. I would suggest it is because we are being far too generous. The number of refugee claims made by Hungarian nationals in 2010 was 2,300.

One-quarter of all claims are coming not from war-torn countries ruled by tyrants and plagued by persecution, but instead from democratic European allies. If this trend continues, that means that the unfounded claims from the 5,800 E.U. nationals who sought asylum last year will cost Canadian taxpayers nearly $170 million. Bogus refugee claimants do not only stop legitimate refugee claimants from gaining asylum, they also place a large burden on every taxpaying Canadian. We need to send a message to those who would abuse Canada's generous system that if they are not in need of legitimate protection, they will be sent home quickly.

In order to remove a failed refugee claimant from Canada, it still takes an average four and a half years from claim to removal and some removals have dragged out for more than a decade. While they are still in Canada, these failed claimants are eligible to receive social benefits. This contributes to their overall economic burden on Canadian taxpayers. At the end of the day, there is only one taxpayer, whether they are drawing social supports off the property tax bill, health and education supports off the provincial bills or from our federal tax coffers. For many years, Canada has spent far too much time, effort and money on failed refugee claimants who do not need our country's protection. This hurts those who very much do need our protection.

The refugee reform measures in Bill C-31 build on the reforms that were passed in the House in June 2010, as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. These measures would help prevent abuse of the system and would help ensure that all of our refugee-determined processes would be as streamlined as possible. The reforms proposed in this bill will speed up the processes of both deciding on refugee claims and on removing failed claimants. The cost to taxpayers of bogus refugee payments from the E.U. alone is $170 million per year. This bill would save an additional $1.65 billion over five years in social assistance and education costs to our provinces. Hard-working Canadians need to see better use of their tax dollars. They cannot afford bogus refugees. We need to crack down on the illegal abuse, while still showing compassion to those who genuinely need our help.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, why does the hon. member, who spoke so passionately, think it takes four and a half years? It is not because of delays by refugees who are trying to establish their status and get re-established in a new life after fleeing. It seems to me it is because of a lack of government resources dedicated to things like dealing with those claims and dealing fairly with some kind of an appeal process. Therefore, it is not the fault of the refugees, yet the bill also blames them.

The member talks about the Roma groups. She said that the government was going to cut off Hungary so Roma could not make claims. What about the gay or lesbian Roma who would like to make a claim? What about that person who might have a very legitimate fear of persecution and might have a very legitimate need for sanctuary in Canada? How will take care of that with a safe country list that cuts off entire countries?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, if people are coming from a designated country, for instance, the Roma, they can still absolutely make an application and they still have a right of appeal to the Federal Court. Everybody can still make an application and everyone still has at least one level of appeal.

To answer the first question on why it takes four and a half years to ten years, it is because people are applying and appealing over and over. The facts speak for themselves. Ninety-five per cent of those people who are currently filing claims abandon their own claim. They are simply there as placeholder claims so they can avail themselves of our social services.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, just over a year ago, the minister of immigration brought in Bill C-11 that, with the support of Liberals and New Democrats, ultimately passed. It was supposed to deal with the backlogs and streamline the system. The member even made reference to that bill.

Did the government mess up that badly that it had to reintroduce more legislation, when it did not implement the previous legislation even though it passed the House of Commons? Did that legislation not address the issues which, at one point in time, the minister of immigration told Canadians the bill would resolve the problems? It is like conceding the fact that the minister messed up the first time around. That is the way I think most people would interpret it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's important question gives me the opportunity to clarify.

In fact, as my speech indicated, the number of bogus claims coming from EU countries is growing exponentially, so, clearly, even more needs to be done.

I would suggest that we are building on an already very successful foundation, but the time has come to continue to act. That is exactly what our minister of immigration is doing. He is taking very reasonable steps in order to address this very growing problem.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary and a number of members of the Conservative Party who have spoke to Bill C-31 have talked about the cost savings. I have yet to see anything about what it will cost to have the families that arrive in Canada. We know that the refugee claimants who are deemed to arrive by irregular entry are to be detained for up to a year; that is, men, women and children 16 and over. They are still children between 16 and 18 under international law. The children under 16, if we use what happened with the Sun Sea as an example, are likely to stay with their mother in incarceration.

What will all of that cost the Canadian economy and are the figures the Conservatives are using about cost savings netting out the costs of jailing refugee families?