House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Syria
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I see the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs rising. I am not sure this is a point of order. It sounds more like an appropriate question to be made during question period but I will give the minister a brief chance to respond.

Syria
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly have, in my eight or nine months as Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with a good number of Syrian Canadians, people with family in Syria and people who have immigrated from Syria. I met with four representatives just this past week. Last year, I met with our former colleague from Mississauga, Omar Alghabra, to get his perspective on things.

I will keep in close contact with them.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the record so it is clear. All of the machinists, baggage carriers and others actually provide services to both Jazz and Air Canada. It should be noted that the Minister of Labour made a point that was factually correct.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was going to get up on another point of order on Air Canada because that last statement was not correct.

I would like to ask the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons what the House's plans are for the rest of this week and for the week of March 26.

I am particularly curious to ask the government House leader to confirm that the reason the budget is being brought down, as opposed to tradition, on a Thursday is that the next day, when the debate would start, is a Friday when we have little time. It is a way of hiding the budget from the Canadian people because of the negative backlash the government is expecting.

It is an ongoing pattern, the Minister of Finance ducking all sorts of questions in this regard. It is another technique. I just want the minister to confirm that this is just another technique by the government to limit debate around serious issues confronting this country.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on the contrary. It has been suggested in the past when we have had budgets on Thursdays that we were doing that so we could go out and talk to Canadians about it for several days. Clearly, our interest is to tell Canadians about our economic action plan 2012 which is focused on keeping taxes down and creating jobs and economic growth for Canadians. We hope we will be able to speak about it a lot to Canadians. We are confident that they will see that we share their priorities strongly. I thank the opposition House leader for giving me the opportunity to explain that.

We will conclude this hard-working, productive and orderly week in Parliament by continuing debate on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act this afternoon and tomorrow. We will also debate that bill on Monday, March 26.

Next week is a constituency week where we will all be hard at work in our ridings.

The highlight of the week we return to Ottawa will be when the Minister of Finance rises in the House to present Canada's economic action plan 2012. That will be on Thursday, March 29 at 4 p.m. Canadians can look forward to our economic action plan which will include, as I indicated earlier, important measures focused on jobs and economic growth.

I understand that the Standing Committee on Finance agreed to a responsible work plan for its study of the financial system review act, Bill S-5 so that this House can pass the bill before Canada's banking laws expire in mid-April. Canada has the world's soundest banking system. It is important that we keep it this way. That is why I trust we will see a responsible approach to this bill in the House, similar to what we saw at committee. In anticipation of the bill being reported back to the House tomorrow afternoon, I will be giving priority to report stage and third reading of Bill S-5 on Tuesday, March 27 and Wednesday, March 28.

If we have additional time on those days, I hope we can finish second reading debate of Bill S-4, the Safer Railways Act, and then deal with Bill C-12, the Safeguarding Canadians' Personal Information Act, at second reading.

On Thursday, March 29, we will resume debating Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, before question period. After question period, the House will turn to Bill C-15, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act.

Friday, March 30, shall be the first full day of debate on the budget.

The House resumed from 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

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to 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.

While I listened to the debate on Bill C-31 with great interest, I noticed a very disturbing and continuing trend by the Conservative government. Attention must be drawn to the irresponsible and undemocratic procedural tactics used by the government during this debate.

Through Bill C-31, the government has continued to display its fervour to obstruct the parliamentary process. On Monday, March 12, the government broke its own record for silencing debate. The Conservatives' mind-boggling 18th declaration against democratic debate in the House of Commons is an affront to the majority of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservative Party in the last election.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism falsely claims that his government has the authority to ignore the opposition because it received the majority of seats in the last election. By unnecessarily limiting debate, the government is directly stifling democracy.

Canadians elected members of Parliament of all parties to defend their interests. It is reprehensible when this government prohibits the representatives of all Canadians from making their views known. The only explanation for such action must be that the Conservatives are afraid that too much debate will expose the many flaws in their illogical legislation.

This is not the first time the government has introduced a time allocation motion but the 18th time in under a year. Time allocation is only one procedural method that the government has abused to deny Canadians proper, transparent and democratic debate.

Previously the Conservatives twice prorogued Parliament, preventing members of Parliament from representing their constituents in the House of Commons. It is not only in the House that the government has prevented open debate. In committee, we see the Conservatives dangerously abusing motions to go in camera far too often. What is the government trying to hide? It is a good question. Why does it fear transparency? Why can it not be honest with the Canadian people and debate the validity of their ideas instead of abusing procedural tactics?

Furthermore, Bill C-31 undermines the study on biometrics now under way at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I am surprised that the minister would include biometrics in the bill, not because biometrics are without merit but because the committee has not finished its study and therefore has not issued a report to Parliament. It seems the minister intends to subvert his own Conservative colleagues and the rest of the immigration and citizenship committee who have been working diligently at committee to hear from Canadians on this very important and very vital topic.

Canadians have a right to be heard. Unfortunately, the government does not have the time to listen. Sadly, this is not the first time the minister has undermined the work of the immigration and citizenship committee. The committee was previously studying the backlog of immigration. Midway through the study, the minister announced a freeze preventing people from sponsoring family members to immigrate for at least two years. Through his actions, the minister has displayed a complete disdain for the witnesses and their testimony heard at parliamentary committees. Clearly, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism thinks he knows best and does not listen to those who testify at committee. People come to committee to be heard and provide input into this most important discussion, yet they are not given the opportunity.

Now the minister has abandoned Bill C-4 before the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship could even study it, even though his own government used its majority to push the bill to committee for study. Go figure.

I find it striking that a minister of the crown could have such disdain for the committee under his portfolio. While the bill does not allow for the unconstitutional detention of those under 16 years of age, it does in fact violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms throught its use of warrantless detention for up to a year for those 16 years of age and older. I must ask the same question my colleagues have throughout this debate. What would happen to a six-year-old child whose parents were being unconstitutionally detained after a family arrived in Canada?

As I discussed when Bill C-4 was debated here in this House, in the Supreme Court's 1985 Singh decision, the highest Canadian court ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies, not just to Canadians, but to anyone who steps foot in Canada, whether or not they arrived legally.

Within Bill C-31, as was included in Bill C-4, are provisions that would enable the government to arbitrarily name refugee groups as designated foreign nationals and permit for the legal and unjust detention of said groups for up to 12 months, regardless of whether they were legitimate refugees or not. Section 9 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, under the heading of Legal Rights, ensures that everyone has a right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Section 11, under the same heading, states that any person charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time.

Liberals do not support an erosion of our constitutional rights, and for very good reason. The path the Conservatives are pursuing is a very slippery slope that would end in the trampling of the rights and freedoms of Canadians, similar to the warrantless search and seizure in the government's Bill C-30.

In addition, Bill C-31 would entrust the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism with far too much political power over our refugee system. Enabling the Minister of Public Safety to determine which groups were irregular arrivals while simultaneously enabling the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to personally designate safe countries of origin would give the ministers far too many discretionary powers and would offer no accountability or appeal system to protect refugees from the Conservatives' politically motivated agenda.

Canadians from coast to coast to coast are concerned with Bill C-31. I have heard from constituents throughout my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's, as I am sure other members of Parliament have heard from their constituents, that this is a serious piece of legislation. It is a flawed piece of legislation that must be addressed by this Parliament.

To quote a constituent of mine from St. David's, Elin Steele says:

I am particularly concerned that decisions such as designation of “safe” countries be left to the Minister as I do not believe the level of expertise is there. I am concerned that we, as a country, are not only living up to international obligations and standards, we are not living up to our perceived status, domestically and internationally, of fairness, justice and compassion.

My constituent is right to talk about the reputation that we have as Canadians. She talks about the reputation we have in this country. She is seriously concerned about what is going to happen to that reputation and how we will be looked at by those who are looking to Canada as a safe haven. Not only has Ms. Steele written to express her concerns, but other constituents throughout Random—Burin—St. George's have, as well. What I have given here is an example of the kind of concern that exists throughout our country. If it exists in Random—Burin—St. George's, it undoubtedly exists in other parts of Canada.

As with Bill C-4, Canadians do not support the trampling of their enshrined Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor do they support the trampling of anyone else's enshrined charter of rights. We believe in caring for others. We believe in reaching out to others. We believe in letting them know that Canadians are caring and that they are welcomed here.

The Liberal Party will continue to stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and oppose this dangerous bill. This bill that is so flawed that we have to make our views known, we have to try to get changes to the bill. Liberals believe that there must be judicial oversight and an appeal process to enshrine the internationally guaranteed rights of refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rarely rise on these kind of occasions. I have to express some frustration, listening to the hon. member complain about the lack of time available.

The time we allocated for this was based on the best we could get from our consultations with members of the other parties, some of whom are not prepared to tell us how long they want. But this was an exception. Some people did tell us.

In fact, even on the second day of debate, the member for Winnipeg North asked, “What's the hurry? Why can't we allow for 15 to 20 hours of debate?” That was asked after two days of debate had already taken place and a further 15 to 20 hours of debate was already in the motion. We were doing exactly what he stood and said we should be doing.

Now the Liberals are complaining that there is inadequate process. Members can see my position as House leader, trying to deal with them. Clearly, there is no willingness to co-operate, to give clear indications of the time.

My question for the whip from the Liberal Party is, will you commit, today, right now and here on this floor, in view of the complaints you are making and your public declarations, that you will actually give public declarations of how long you wish to see each bill debated so that we have a reasoned co-operative process in this House?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would remind the hon. government House leader to address his comments to the Chair and not directly to colleagues.

The hon. member for Random--Burin--St. George's.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from the government House leader. The issue, and I have raised it time and time again, is about time allocation. The member knows only too well that we need to have open dialogue and open discussion. Every time he has raised it we have always said that we would check with our critic and get back to him. We have been co-operative. It is not like we do not get back to them.

The issue is this is the 18th time in a year that there has been time allocation. This is a place where we are supposed to debate legislation. This is a place where we are supposed to be able to represent the interests of our constituents, no matter what party one represents.

At the end of the day, when time allocation is imposed time and time again, what happens is we get legislation that is flawed.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am fascinated by the argument that the member presents. She complained throughout her speech that she is not being given the opportunity to debate the bill. She used the entire time not to come up with one addition, one recommendation, one supposed solution or enhancement to the bill, but in fact, she spent the whole time complaining about process.

She obviously needs to hear from her counterpart, the Liberal critic at the citizenship and immigration committee, because the last time we heard from a witness, one recommended by the Liberal Party, Mr. Cheema, he could not go on long enough to endorse 100% what we are doing with respect to this bill and what has been happening at Citizenship and Immigration. In fact, he complimented the minister on a number of occasions. It is surprising that I have heard two mistakes in the presentation this afternoon.

My question is, if there is something in the bill that the member is so against, or if there is something that would improve the bill, what is it? Let us have her get up today and make a recommendation as to how this bill could be improved from what it is right now.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague across the way referenced the member for Winnipeg North. He is a superb member of our party and he certainly is a good representative for us on the citizenship and immigration committee. He has put forward several amendments.

My question for the government would be, are you prepared to accept his amendments instead of standing up and complaining that I am talking about process? Of course I am talking about process when we do not have time to debate a bill of this significance and what it means to people who are looking to our country as a safe haven. Why do you not accept the amendments that are put forward? Why is it that only the government has all the answers?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am not making any kind of comment on the amendments. I encourage the hon. member to address her comments to the Chair and not directly at other colleagues.

The hon. member for Bourassa has less than 30 seconds.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate and thank my colleague for her speech.

My question is simple. As the former immigration minister, I know that a minister must have certain powers, but that he must not have arbitrary power. He must also work with the system and ensure balance.

Does the member agree that if we want Canada to maintain its reputation, we must not start painting everyone with the same brush? Each immigration case, each refugee case is unique, so it would be a mistake to designate a country as being supposedly safe.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. We should all recognize that in this world no two people are alike and no two situations are alike. If we are not prepared to look at cases that come forward on an individual basis, then we are not doing what we should be doing under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in fact applies to everyone who sets foot in our country.