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

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, we all know the common saying that a decision made by committee is like camel designed from a horse with a hump on it. I think if we go through that process it would take a long time to make these decisions.

In the regulations the minister has a very transparent process whereby he consults with professionals and other departments related to our overall foreign affairs relationships to determine where these safe countries are.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this bill has a number of aspects that are likely to be found in violation of the Charter of Rights, particularly the section allowing detention without access to counsel for up to one year for any group of people coming to Canada designated by the minister, without criteria, as an irregular entry. I find that the most egregious section, but there is much in this very complex bill that is worrying.

There are very tight timelines for people arriving here to make a decision and to file within 15 days their appeal and to find a lawyer. There is unrealistic pressure on people coming to our shores, including the requirement that people be put in detention up to one full year without access to counsel.

Would the hon. parliamentary secretary explain how this would pass a charter challenge?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the premise of that question. Anyone who comes to this country and is landed would be given the full treatment under the charter in recognition of their refugee claim. Whether they are detained or not, I think it is grossly unfair to have them wait over thousand days before we process their refugee claims. I think 35 days is much more humane and fair. It would certainly be a swift removal so that they would know exactly where they stood with respect to their refugee claim.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. It is legislation that will improve this country's immigration system in a number of very important ways. Immigration is central in our country's history to our prosperity, our international reputation, our generosity and humanitarianism, and our great success as a nation.

In so many ways Canada is a country that was built by immigrants. Since Canada's earliest days, we have opened our doors to millions of newcomers from everywhere in the world. They have helped to make Canada the peaceful, free and diverse country that it is today.

My family is one of those families that came here as immigrants. My mother, Panagiota Bissas, and my father, John Menegakis, came in the mid-1950s, 1956 and 1957 to be specific. My parents were given every opportunity and are excellent examples of how people from all over the world have come here and have built families and certainly have contributed to our beautiful nation.

Whether those newcomers are pursuing economic opportunities, seeking to unite with family members, or looking for security and stability or asylum, Canada has long been a destination of choice for people around the world.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of immigration. That is evident in all of its actions and policies. Since 2006 the government has had the highest sustained level of immigration in nearly a century. In fact, since 2006, the Conservative government has welcomed an average of 254,000 people per year. This is a 13% increase over the level of immigration under the previous Liberal government.

We have also continued to strengthen and support our generous refugee system, which is an important expression of Canada's compassion and humanitarian convictions and of our international commitments. Canada remains one of the top countries in the world to welcome refugees. In fact, we welcome more refugees per capita than any other G20 country. Because our government understands the importance of the immigration system to Canada's future, we also understand the importance of remaining vigilant about keeping that system functioning in our national interest. To do so, we must always be prepared to make improvements to the system according to changing circumstances and identified shortcomings. Indeed, a dynamic country such as Canada requires dynamic and flexible immigration policies that adapt to the times.

It is the government's responsibility to ensure that we have a strong, effective and efficient immigration system. That is why I am very pleased to be speaking today about legislation that is designed to fulfill exactly that responsibility.

Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in three very specific ways. It will further build on the long-needed reforms to the asylum system that were passed in Parliament in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. It will also allow Canadian authorities to better crack down on the lucrative business of human smuggling by integrating measures which the government previously introduced in the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. It will enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants which will strengthen our immigration program in a number of ways.

I mentioned earlier the fact that our refugee system is among the most generous in the world and that Canada admits more refugees on a per capita basis than almost any other country. That is certainly true, but when there is a system in place as generous as Canada's, it is particularly important to guard against the abuse of that system and our generosity.

Indeed, for too many years our refugee system has been abused by too many people making unfounded claims. Our system has become overwhelmed by a significant backlog of cases. More recently we have grown more and more concerned about a notable upsurge in refugee claims originating in countries that we would not normally expect to produce refugees. This is adding to the backlog.

I was certainly surprised to learn that Canada receives more asylum claims from countries in Europe than from either Africa or Asia. Last year alone, almost one-quarter of all refugee claims to Canada were from European Union nationals. Let us think about that. European Union countries have strong human rights and democratic systems similar to those in Canada, yet they produced one-quarter of all the refugee claims to this country in 2011. That is up 14% from the previous year.

It can take up to four and one-half years from an initial claim to remove a failed refugee claimant from our country. Some cases have taken more than 10 years. The result is an overburdened system and a waste of taxpayers' money. For too long we have spent precious time and taxpayers' money on people who are not in need of protection at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers.

In recent years virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. That means the unfounded claims from the 5,800 European Union nationals who sought asylum last year to Canada cost Canadian taxpayers an astounding $170 million.

Many members of the House will remember that back in June 2010 we passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The act contains long-needed improvements that will result in faster decisions and quicker removal of those failed claimants who do not need our protection. However, it has become clear that gaps remain and that further reforms are certainly needed. We need stronger measures that are closer to the original bill we introduced in March 2010.

The measures of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, will build upon the reforms passed in 2010. These new measures will further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. It will reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada. As well, with this new legislation we expect that taxpayers will save about $1.65 billion in just five years.

An Edmonton Journal editorial stated:

Given the financial stress placed on our system by those numbers, there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective means of weeding out the bogus claimants from Europe and elsewhere. Simply put, we cannot continue to give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it costs that much money and taxes our social systems unduly to do so.

[Bill C-31] is a tough, no-nonsense document that speeds up the review process and takes much of the financial burden off the Canadian taxpayer...Bill C-31 is worth supporting.

Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star said:

I do think our refugee system is, if not quite broken, under a tremendous amount of stress. The acceptance rates for some of these countries—Hungary, Czechoslovakia before a visa restriction was imposed—are one, or two, or three per cent. So it's a tremendous burden on a system that really I don't think we have that much to apologize for.

So I think there is a lot of public policy behind this....I think this might put the system more or less on a better, stronger footing for genuine refugees.

In conclusion, these measures will help prevent abuse of the system and will ensure that our refugee determination process works more effectively. This will definitely be accomplished while maintaining the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees.

I urge all members of the House to support this important bill which will make important reforms to strengthen Canada's asylum system, something which is desperately needed and on which the previous Liberal government refused to act.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find support from all parties for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, during the debate tonight pursuant to Standing Order 52, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my office has been consulted by the Conservative Party on this motion. I do not wish to block the motion. I see that all the other parties are in favour. I gather this is more or less a routine procedure with respect to emergency debates to have a motion that says all parties consent that we really do not have to be here. I find it unfortunate, but I certainly will not block it.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair appreciates the point raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Does the hon. member for Peace River have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague serves with me on the citizenship and immigration committee.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration has been tasked with studying biometrics as an option for immigration, monitoring entry into and exit from the country, and yet before the committee has even finished the study and produced a report, the government is saying that this is going to become legislation. Does the government not respect the standing committees that are established in this Parliament?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not necessarily accept the conclusion which the hon. member has come to, that the government does not respect the wish of the committee.

Certainly this legislation is the framework which gives the minister and the ministry the opportunity to pursue the good work they do to ensure that our borders are secure at all times. I know that the minister is waiting with much anticipation for the results of our very important study. We are studying the issue of security and biometrics, which will give an additional tool to officials to ensure that those who are seeking to come to Canada are indeed the people they claim to be, and that they are good, law-abiding citizens in the countries from which they come.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could comment on the component where the minister can say that someone is an irregular arrival. He is referring more to arrivals by boat, but it also applies to individuals who would land at any of our airports.

Someone who is labelled as an irregular arrival could be detained for up to a year. After that detention there would be a five-year waiting period before the person would be able to sponsor someone. A 26-year-old man who has left a country where his life was threatened and has managed to escape that country would be waiting years. It would be five or six years before he could even put in an application to sponsor someone, his child, for example, which could then take another five or six years. His six-year-old child would be 17 or 18 years old by the time the child arrived here.

I wonder if the member could comment in terms of the fairness of that aspect of the legislation.