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 drugs.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about fairness. Without question, Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, Canadians, and we are hearing this every day in our ridings, have no tolerance for those who would abuse our generosity and would take unfair advantage of our country.

At some point we have to have a balance. We must take action to crack down on the abuse. Our government is committed to strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, one of the changes that has been made to the bill from the previous human smuggling bill is the detaining of children under the age of 16.

Could the member comment on that specific change and how it strengthens the bill?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the protecting Canada's immigration system act will make our refugee system faster and fairer for everyone. It will put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits.

At the same time, the bill will provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 12th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beaches—East York.

I rise today to add my strongest objection to Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System act. I find it ironic that the bill would be given this title. It would do anything but protect our immigration system. In fact, the bill would set out to dismantle our immigration system, damaging it legally, socially, morally and internationally. I find the omnibus nature of the bill very disturbing.

This particular bill groups together two major pieces of legislation, Bill C-4, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System act, and C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform act from the last Parliament. Then it introduces the mandatory collection of biometrics for temporary residents. These are three major issues that deserve adequate attention and debate.

I have already stood in the House and expressed my strong objection to C-4, yet components of the bill reappear here in C-31. The bill would attack refugees rather than human smugglers. By placing an overwhelming amount of power in the hands of the minister, the bill would allow the minister to designate a group of refugees as an irregular arrival. If the minister believed, for example, that examination for establishing identity could not be conducted in a timely manner, or if it were suspected that the people were being smuggled for profit, or a criminal organization or terrorist group was involved in the smuggling, designated claimants would then be subjected to a number of rules. They would be mandatorily detained on arrival, or on designation by the minister, with no review by the Immigration and Refugee Board for their detention for a year. Release would only be possible if they were found to be true refugees. If the Immigration and Refugee Board ordered their release within a year, even then the Immigration and Refugee Board could not release people if the government said their identities had not been established, or if the minister decided that there were exceptional circumstances.

Decisions on claims by designated persons could not be appealed to the Refugee Appeal Division. A designated person could not make humanitarian and compassionate applications. A designated claimant could not apply for permanent residency for five years. If the person failed to comply with the conditions or reporting requirements, that five year suspension could be extended to six years.

This raises a number of concerns. First, this is extremely discriminatory as it would create two classes of refugee claimants: real refugees and designated claimants. This is possibly a violation of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms' equality rights, as well as the refugee convention, which prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence.

Second, detention without review is a clear violation of the charter rights. The Supreme Court already struck down mandatory detention without review on security certificates. This legislation would imply indefinite detention on the basis of identity with no possibility of release until the minister decided that identity had been established. Arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties.

Third, designated persons would have no access to the Refugee Appeal Division. This means that these claimants would not have the right to an appeal, thereby removing any system of checks and balances.

Additionally, the mandatory five year delay in applying for permanent residency would further delay the family reunification process, forcing claimants to wait eight to ten years to be reunited with their spouse or child living overseas. Last, this legislation would create an undue barrier for humanitarian and compassionate claims. I am extremely concerned with the idea that the minister could name someone a designated claimant based on irregular arrival with no explanation of what constitutes an irregular arrival.

If we look at the history of the legislation of this nature, introduced by this government, we can see that it has glaring resemblances to Bill C-49 in the last Parliament.

Bill C-49 was hastily drafted by the government when Canadians witnessed the spectre of boats coming to the shores of British Columbia, carrying some of the most damaged and wounded people on earth. These were people fleeing, as the minister has rightly pointed out, one of the worst civil wars in the world, in Sri Lanka. Never ones to pass off a good photo op, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Public Safety were in British Columbia, holding news conferences where they publicly accused the people on these boats of being bogus refugees, harbouring terrorists and trying to jump the immigration queues. They called these people “queue jumpers”.

I find this extremely confusing. The government seems to be speaking out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, we have the Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to the Sri Lankan civil war as a great atrocity where numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed. On the other hand, we have the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Public Safety accusing people fleeing this very violence of being bogus. This is completely absurd. Which one is it?

Some of the refugee claimants and the refugees who arrived on the MV Sun Sea now live in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge River. Many of them have told me stories of their trip to Canada and their arrival in British Columbia. Many of them had UNHCR refugee cards. Upon their arrival, the people who greeted them gathered all of their refugee cards. When there was not the same number of cards as people, all the people aboard were told that they had not presented adequate identification and documentation when they came. Regardless of whether they had refugee cards, they were all detained. Thankfully, many of these people have now been released, but some are still in detention. Some of these people who had refugee cards are still being detained.

I am going to go back to the idea of an irregular arrival. This concept is not defined in this legislation. Based on the history of this bill, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that irregular arrival means arrival by boat. This bill is essentially saying that people who arrive in an irregular fashion, or by boat, are not refugees but rather are criminals. This bill is saying that people who wish to flee war, conflict or persecution but do not have the means to pay for a plane ticket so instead risk their lives by throwing themselves onto a rickety cargo boat and spending months crossing an ocean are not real refugees. No, the government is saying they are criminals. They are not real asylum seekers. They are not really fleeing a horrible situation, leaving behind their homes, livelihood and families with hopes of creating a better life here in Canada. No, these people are criminals. This is what this bill and the government are telling us.

Furthermore, if they fail to provide adequate identification, they can be detained without review. Most refugees who come to Canada do not have documentation, regardless of which process is used to enter the country. When people flee their home nation, they leave everything behind. How can we expect people who have left a war-torn country to carry valid identification? This concept of queue jumping, as the minister likes to say, is completely bogus. These people still must go through the same immigration process as any other immigrant to Canada. When people are fleeing persecution or war, they cannot be called queue jumpers. For refugees, there is no queue to jump. There is no lineup for people who are in serious danger; people living through a civil war; or people being persecuted because of their gender, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera. When people's lives or the lives of their families are called into question, there is no line. These people must leave their country immediately. Once they are safely here in Canada, they must joint the same queue as everyone else who wants to gain some sort of status in our country.

The second part of this bill comprises of Bill C-11, from the last Parliament, and the calling of safe countries. In the 40th Parliament, after a lot of work and compromises, Bill C-11 passed this House with all-party support. It was scheduled to come into effect this spring. However, before the legislation that was passed by this House could even have a chance to come into effect, the members opposite have including the original legislation, Bill C-11, excluding any part of the amendments that were accepted by all parties, in this current omnibus bill. The government has not even given the original Bill C-11 from the last Parliament a chance to work.

The Conservatives are using fear-mongering and fear tactics to scare the current immigrants in Canada and current Canadians. They are pitting Canadians against immigrants and new immigrants against other newer immigrants. This type of fear tactics is absolutely wrong.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her informed and enlightening speech.

When I was a teacher, I often told my students that it is impossible to find a simple solution to a complex problem. However, I get the impression that this has become the Conservatives' speciality. They present everything to us in black and white as though it were possible to cut right down the middle and say that there is a good side and a bad, black and white, when, in reality, life is full of grey areas to which we need to learn to adapt.

Is this bill not just another example of a black and white view of a problem? I would like the hon. member to provide some clarification in this regard.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. The immigration system in Canada is very complex. Just saying that we are going to put a whole bunch of legislation together, that we are stopping debate on it and not letting the democratic process run itself out, that we are just going to make safe countries, that we are going to stop people who are coming by boat because there are fake refugees in our country and that we are going to now ignore the parliamentary processes that have been established by ignoring the committee and the work that the citizenship and immigration committee is going to be doing, or is doing, is absolutely another example of the government's black and white easy fix to every problem, “Let's just rewrite the law, because that's what we do”.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the point to which the member just made reference. I, too, sit on the citizenship and immigration committee. We are spending thousands of tax dollars to do a study on biometrics.

Like her, I was surprised that the government introduced a bill with regard to it. We are still in the midst of a study. I would argue that the minister is, once again, undermining the work of the citizenship and immigration committee.

Could she be clear and succinct on the point of the minister undermining the efforts of the committee?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleague from Winnipeg. The minister is clearly undermining the processes of the citizenship and immigration committee. The committee has been tasked with the job of looking into whether biometrics would be a good way to go for the government and for our country to protect the safety and security of our borders. Yet, instead of waiting for the committee to hear expert witnesses and feedback from Canadians and then waiting for the report from the committee, the minister just goes ahead and says that he has made the decision and that he does not care what the committee says.

Once again, he is going ahead, undermining the committee and not respecting Parliament and the processes that we have in Parliament.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the speech and the questions and answers between my colleagues who sit on the immigration committee. However, I want to tell members I have a completely different perspective on this, and that is the question I would like to put to the member.

We just completed a report on backlogs. One of the first things the minister did was listen to what we had said about the whole issue around super visas for parents and grandparents to come to this country in a much quicker manner. The committee made the recommendation. The committee discussed this for a number of weeks. The minister made the decision even before the committee had finished the work. There is not a minister who is listening more closely to his committee and to the reports that are coming forward than the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Let me also point out that there is backlog upon backlog in the refugee system, an average of 55,000 per file. I would like to know why the member and her party will not support a process that would quicken this and ensure that refugees, true refugees, come to our country in the appropriate time and appropriate manner.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is funny that the day after the minister came to the committee, when we were contemplating looking at the possibility of super visas, he then went off and made an announcement. Was it suggested at the committee because he was ready to make an announcement?

The same thing happened here. A committee is looking at the potential of biometrics, but it has not even decided if biometrics is a good way to go. We are still listening to experts from Canada and around the world who are providing us with their expertise. The committee has not even made a report, yet the minister has already made his decision as to what he will do.

This is not a minister who waits for the report and study to come from a committee before making his decisions. This is a minister who makes decisions and then makes a suggestion to the committee that it should study this. It is really the opposite of what the parliamentary secretary is saying.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, as yet another member of the citizenship and immigration committee, I am pleased to stand and talk to Bill C-31, although I am disappointed to have to do so under time allocation.

Bill C-11 of the previous Parliament, which Bill C-31 seeks to replace, is due to come into effect in June 2012, a mere three months from now. Bill C-11 was a product of a minority Parliament, but according to the minister, it was also the product of good faith, something that should guide the way that all Parliaments, minority and majority alike, function.

The minister told Canadians that he listened to all the speeches on Bill C-11 and that:

During the debates and consultations, the government took constructive criticism into account and recognized the need to work together with the opposition to design a bill that reflected the parliamentary consensus.

What emerged from this approach to developing legislation, according to the minister himself, was “a stronger piece of legislation...a bill that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled”.

That progress, that monumental achievement for all involved, as the minister once described Bill C-11, is now about to revert to the slower, less fair, weaker piece of legislation in the form of Bill C-31 and the collective wisdom that informed Bill C-11 all but erased. What is left is a bill characterized by a terrible irony.

This is a bill that is meant to set out how to treat people who have fled their country of origin on the basis of persecution or fear of persecution on grounds that are protected by human rights laws and convention. Yet this is a bill that is dismissive, if not actually contemptuous of the rights and freedoms that Canadians and citizens of many other countries around the world feel are fundamental.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, for example, is not reflected in the bill. Bill C-31 carries over from Bill C-4 the power of the minister to create a second, or in the terms of the bill, a “designated” class of refugee that face mandatory detention upon arrival. Such detention in the absence of good reason and sound process clashes with section 7 of our charter, which provides for the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

Further, group detention of refugees implies the detention of individuals without specific assessment and therefore grounds. Such arbitrary detention raises a violation of section 9 of our charter, and that is the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

The fact that there is no review of the detention for at least 12 months raises further issues. Section 10 of the charter requires that everyone arrested or detained has the right to be informed promptly of the reasons therefore, retain and instruct counsel and to be informed of that right, to have the validity of the detention determined within 48 hours and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

These are not the rights and freedoms of Canadians alone. They are what we call “human rights” and we consider them to be inalienable. In the language of our charter, they “belong to everyone”.

Long before our charter, we were signatories to the Charter of the United Nations. As a signatory to the UN charter, we reaffirmed our “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small...”

What follows is our signature on a number of United Nations declarations and conventions and our participation in that organization all for the purpose of putting these beliefs into practice. Most relevant to today's debate is the International Bill of Human Rights, the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Today I would like to focus on the latter and the treatment of children under Bill C-31.

Bill C-31, as we know, reintroduces Bill C-4 to the House with some minor changes. One of those changes is with respect to the treatment of children in that Bill C-31 does not commit children to detention, but nor does it say what becomes of the kids who arrive in a group that the minister declares irregular.

International declarations with respect to the rights of the child go back almost a century. Over this time, what has remained constant in the successive iterations of such rights and the recognition that: children embody human rights; that they are entitled to special safeguards, care and assistance, including appropriate legal protection; that, “for the full and harmonious development of the child”, they should grow up in a family environment.

And finally, and therefore:

...the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance....

Such consideration and commitments to children and their families who form part of an irregular arrival are nowhere to be found in Bill C-31.

Interestingly, and hopefully instructively, others have gone before us to measure the impacts of mandatory detention of child refugees against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Australia, as the government side will know, has a mandatory immigration detention system. It applies to children who arrive in Australia without a visa, so-called “unauthorized arrivals”. The Australian Human Rights Commission studied the impacts of this system and concluded that this system breached the following convention provisions: article 37(b) and (d), which is to ensure that detention is a measure of last resort for the shortest period of time and subject to effective independent review; article 3.1, which is to ensure that the best interests of the child are of primary consideration in all actions concerning children; article 37(c), which is to ensure that children are treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity; and article 22.1, article 6.2 and article 39, which all protect the right of children to receive appropriate assistance, to ensure recovery from torture and trauma, to live in an environment which fosters health, self-respect and dignity, and to enjoy to the maximum extent possible their right to development.

It further found that children in immigration detention for long periods of time were at high risk of serious mental harm and that the failure of its country, Australia, to remove kids from the detention environment with their parents amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those children in detention.

In short, the commission recommended the release of children with their parents and that immigration detention laws be compliant with the convention and based on a presumption against the detention of children for immigration purposes.

I have taken this time to review the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission because it is a cautionary tale. Australia has gone before us down this path of immigration detention and, if it were not already obvious, there is at least now laid at the feet of the government more than ample evidence to suggest that it proceed with the detention of children and their parents in full understanding that such action is in conflict with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and causes harm to children and their families.

It is, in part, I am sure, because for our historic commitment to human rights, that from time to time people end up on our shores seeking safe haven or asylum from persecution and yet Bill C-31 proposes to deny to others the very rights and freedoms that define this country for ourselves and in the international community and make us so proud to be citizens of it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, regarding exemptions, the bill does include an automatic exemption for the detention of minors under the age of 16 and adults 16 years and older would be released from detention as soon as they receive a positive opinion.

I would like the member to acknowledge that this has been addressed for the children who are detained.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill would not protect the unity of the family in these circumstances, with the detention, effectively incarceration, of parents. It is very unclear in fact that the separation of parents from their children who arrive together in what the minister deems unilaterally to be an irregular arrival.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, under Bill C-11, which passed unanimously with the support of the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Conservatives, there was an advisory council that would ultimately determine and recommend to the minister what countries around the world would be designated as a safe country to be put on to a safe list.

Now the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has changed his mind thinking he knows best and that he alone should be the one who makes the determination.

Given the consequence of that particular designation, would he not agree that this is the wrong way of approaching the putting together of a safe country list and that the government should support an amendment that would be brought forward from the Liberal Party saying that it should be an advisory group, not the individual minister, that makes the determination of which country is a safe country?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the concerns of my friend from Winnipeg North. One of the hallmarks of the bill is the excessive powers that would be placed on or assumed by the minister himself. Without any disrespect to the minister, these are complicated issues and issues with respect to designated countries of origin should most certainly have the input of experts.

I remember not too long lots of noise coming out of the Conservative Party with respect to human rights abuses in China. Without commenting on the validity of those concerns, the government changed its tune on the issue of human rights, which, at one time, was a bar to trade with that country. Suddenly, China, without having changed its position with respect to human rights, became a friend .

There is clear evidence that such powers should not be assumed by the minister because they will be abused for partisan purposes.