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 system.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bramalea—Gore—Malton
Ontario

Conservative

Bal Gosal Minister of State (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canadians want a timely and effective refugee system, one that provides protection to those who genuinely need it in a reasonable amount of time. At the same time, Canadians want a refugee system that is able to quickly identify and remove people who seek to abuse our system.

Illegitimate claimants clog our refugee system and create unnecessarily long wait times for those truly in need of Canada's protection. Under the current system, the average asylum claim takes four and a half years to come to a conclusion. Some cases even take longer than a decade. Illegitimate claimants come here at a huge cost to Canadian taxpayers with the average unfounded claim costing $55,000. They also bog down the system which results in genuine claimants waiting long periods of time before they receive Canada's protection.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act seeks to address these problems with the refugee system by providing faster protection to those in genuine need, but quickly removing those who are not, to support a more robust refugee system and prevent fraud in our immigration system in general. This legislation also recognizes that our country must be at the forefront of current technologies.

Protecting Canada's immigration system act aims to strengthen Canada's immigration and refugee system in three ways. First, it would 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. Second, it would give Canadian authorities the tools needed to crack down on the lucrative business of human smuggling. Third, it would introduce biometric technologies for screening certain visa applicants.

Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on that mandate.

Taken together, these three elements seek to help improve the integrity of our immigration and refugee system. Here is how.

One of the problems with our current refugee system is that it takes far too long for claimants to make their way through the system. This applies whether the claim is legitimate or not. This makes Canada an attractive target for illegitimate claimants since they know they can remain in Canada for several years while their claim is processed. Currently, it takes an average of four and a half years from the time a refugee claim is made until a failed claimant has exhausted all legal avenues and is removed from Canada. During this time, claimants can access our generous social benefits and establish themselves here in Canada.

To help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada, this bill would further expedite the processing of all refugee claims, particularly for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. This policy would provide the government with an important tool to respond to spikes in claims from countries that do not normally produce refugees.

In 2011, Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union. That is more than we see from Africa and Asia. Virtually all these claims from the European Union are abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. In other words, these claimants were not in genuine need of protection; they were bogus refugees.

Canada's top source country for refugee claims is Hungary, which is a stable democratic country. The number of refugee claims from Hungary in 2011 was 4,400. That is up almost 50% from 2,300 in 2010. That is 18% of the total percentage of refugee claims in Canada. In comparison, in 2011, Belgium received only 188, the U.S. only 47 and France and Norway only 33 each. In 2010, a total of 2,400 Hungarian nationals claimed refugee status around the world and 2,300 of these were in Canada alone. That is right; Canada received 23 times more bogus refugee claims from Hungary than did all other countries combined.

Even though virtually all these claims were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected, these applicants knew they had several avenues of appeal which allowed them to prolong their stay in Canada. These bogus refugee claimants cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million per year.

This is proof that Canada has become a target for bogus refugees. We must take action to crack down on this abuse. Canadian taxpayers work very hard and do not appreciate it when their hard-earned dollars go toward supporting foreign nationals who should not be here in the first place.

Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on that mandate. Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.6 billion over five years.

These new measures would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of our generous refugee system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees. By improving the refugee system in these ways, this legislation would also ensure that those refugee claimants who really do need our protection would get it even faster.

The second part of this legislation would enable Canadian authorities to crack down on human smugglers who seek to abuse our generous refugee system. It would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on those convicted of human smuggling.

At the same time, it recognizes that shipowners and operators are one part of the problem. The other part involves those who seek to use the services of a human smuggler in order to get to Canada. This legislation, therefore, also aims to reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of dangerous voyage.

The third part of this legislation would introduce new biometric technology to screen visitors to Canada. This legislation and the regulations would make it mandatory for certain visa applicants to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications.

In order to protect the health and safety of Canadians, it is critical that we stay on top of new technologies, including the methods used by fraudsters to manipulate our immigration system to fraudulently gain entry into Canada.

Linking an individual's biometric data with his or her biographic data would help us to more quickly identify applicants. It would therefore become much more difficult to forge, steal or use someone else's identity to gain access into Canada. Biometrics would make it easier to prevent known criminals and previous deportees from entering Canada. It would make it easier to prevent serious criminals, failed refugee claimants and terrorists, among others, from re-entering Canada by using false identify documents.

Alternatively, the use of biometrics would also bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool to confirm identity. These measures would put us in line with our international partners, such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, the United States and Japan.

All these reforms are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. Bill C-31 would make our immigration system faster and fairer. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.

I implore my fellow members of the House to vote in support of this legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I looked at the legislation and we would be creating two tiers of refugees.

What really concerns me is that the not so acceptable refugees by the minister's standards, which standards are very arbitrary and unknown to all of us right now, would be detained. When those people are put into a detention centre, and prison would be another word for it because they are not going to have travel documents, what would happen to the children?

We have to remember that some of these children and families will be arriving from wartorn countries where they would have spent years in refugee camps. They will arrive looking for refuge at a safe haven called Canada and we are going to put them into prisons.

What will happen to the children while the parents are imprisoned?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bal Gosal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is completely false. According to Bill C-31, there is an exemption from automatic detention for minors under 16 years of age.

We want to have a fair refugee system and this bill would create a fairer system for our country. Our government is committed to strengthening Canada's immigration system and that is what we will do with the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I had another question in mind, but the response of the Minister of State for Sport to my colleague's question missed the point.

We understand the changes that improve the bill, between Bill C-4 to Bill C-31, in that children under 16 are not to be automatically jailed for the year with their parents and older siblings over 16. However, I think the question was what would happen to children under 16 who would not automatically be interned, but who would be with their families when they arrived in Canada. I hope one would presume out of compassion and any common sense that we would want to keep children with their parents. I think that is the essence of the question.

Although I am now surrendering my own question to pursue another matter, could the Minister of State for Sport respond to that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bal Gosal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, with this bill we are trying to stop foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees from abusing our generous immigration system. They could receive lucrative health care funded by Canadian taxpayers. That is what we are trying to stop with this to create a fairer immigration and refugee system. Children under the age of 16 would not be jailed.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, I will follow-up with this question.

Let us say we have refugees from India. They are deemed to be bogus and are imprisoned. They have two or three kids who are between the ages of six and nine. What happens to these children? Are they imprisoned? Are they kept at the pleasure of Her Majesty's government? Are there are any provisions at all in the current form of the bill to deal with that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bal Gosal Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Mr. Speaker, as mentioned, we are trying to create a fair system. Children under the age of 16 can either choose to stay with their parents or they can be released to provincial custody, while the case is being processed.

At the end of the day, we are trying to create a fair system where we can stop foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees from abusing our system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my NDP colleagues for expressing their points of view on immigration and the shortcomings of Bill C-31 so brilliantly.

I agree with my colleagues and I have reservations about this bill, which should be reviewed and amended. There is no doubt that in a world as globalized and complex as the one we live in, the Canadian government must always make it a priority to protect Canadians and keep them safe. However, the approach proposed by the Conservatives clashes with Canadian values and fails to achieve the primary goal, which is to protect our borders while remaining a welcoming and attractive country for immigrants.

I would like my colleagues on the other side to justify the glaring deficiencies in this bill to the House. First of all, one of the clauses in the bill concentrates too much power in the hands of the immigration minister by allowing him to decide which countries will be designated as safe countries of origin, which will reduce the number of refugees coming from these countries. An elected official, by himself, cannot replace an impartial expert panel. In addition to handing over too much power to the minister, this type of procedure leaves the door wide open to partisanship that is directly associated with our country's foreign policy objectives.

The NDP believes that immigration and support for refugees cannot be manipulated in this way merely to serve the country's economic interests. A sound immigration policy should promote Canada's economic development, but it cannot ostracize refugees who are seeking asylum in Canada without violating our international obligations. How can this government claim that only the minister has the expertise and holds the truth in immigration law in Canada?

Another very important point concerns the status of thousands of permanent residents. The bill would make it easier to cancel the claim for refugee protection if the circumstances were to change in the refugee's country of origin, even if he or she had become a permanent resident of Canada.

What this really means is that the new Conservative bill might result in thousands of refugees with permanent resident status having that status withdrawn and being expelled from Canada. We know that under the current legislation Canada's protection may already be withdrawn if, for instance, calm has been restored in the refugees’ country of origin and they can live there in safety, or if they obtain citizenship in another safe country. However, once they had obtained permanent resident status, these nationals were guaranteed the right of residence and could keep their status unless they committed a serious crime or fraud in order to obtain permanent resident status.

Why should we toughen up the existing legislation if it is only to frighten immigrants who are trying to rebuild their lives in Canada and who will have this provision hanging over them like the sword of Damocles?

This type of provision will undoubtedly prove to be counterproductive because future immigrants, most of whom are skilled and interested in contributing to Canada's economic prosperity, will instead choose other countries where their lives will be less constrained and more stable in the long term. Furthermore, the fact that this government is not required to strictly apply this law makes too much room for vague and ill-defined powers and uncertainty as to how the law will be applied.

In this regard, I will quote Le Devoir:

An average of 25,000 refugees a year have obtained permanent resident status over the past five years. The number last year was 24,700. On average it takes between 18 and 22 months. They must then wait three years before applying for citizenship, which takes an average of 19 months. It takes a minimum of five to six years to become a citizen, if the process goes quickly. Under the new legislation, the thousands of refugees admitted every year are at risk, not to mention those who simply have not yet applied.

In addition to this major concern, I would like the government to explain why its new bill contains a clause that prohibits entry of asylum seekers who were incarcerated in their country for more than 10 years, and why no discretion is given to a tribunal in the case of political refugees. We all know that thousands of refugees flee their country of origin because they run the risk of having to serve, or they have served, prison sentences because of their religion, ethnicity, political convictions or sexual orientation.

This type of unfair legislation quite simply endorses the discriminatory position that certain countries impose on their citizens rather than helping them to start their lives over in a supposedly fairer and more democratic country such as ours. I am not saying we should be bringing criminals to Canada, but we should be helping refugees who have been unfairly accused in their home countries.

Bill C-31 permits the arbitrary designation of irregular arrivals and their mandatory detention, which is completely unconstitutional. Need we remind this government that the arrival of refugees by irregular means, such as by boat, is legitimate and that we must respect the international treaties regarding refugee rights that we have signed? Canada has recognized these humanitarian rights in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, called the Geneva convention.

An individual's right to life, liberty and security of the person is also spelled out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is therefore mandatory in Canada to protect refugees and not expose them to persecution. Those persons who arrive in Canada by their own means can claim refugee protection at any Canadian border or at an immigration office within Canada.

However, according to the new proposed legislation, irregular arrivals will be subject to maximum mandatory imprisonment of one year if they are 16 or older. They will not be able to apply for permanent residence or sponsor a family member for five years and will not have access to the new Refugee Appeal Division. Now, that is a two-tier system. It is totally illegitimate and unfair to immigrants and flies completely in the face of Canadian values.

In its press release announcing the new bill, the Conservative government accuses “bogus refugee claimants” from what it considers to be safe countries of slowing down Canada's immigration process and penalizing the “good” immigrants. The government even contends, “These bogus claims cost Canadian taxpayers upwards of $170 million per year. That's why the government...introduced the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.”

The government is therefore proposing savings of $170 million to protect an immigration system that will never be 100% secure. What, then, is the total cost of imprisonment? We do not know. Can the government provide an estimate as to the cost of this legislation?

I would like to remind Canadians and my colleagues in the House that Bill C-11 from the previous Parliament had to do with balanced reforms concerning refugees. I would also remind the House that that bill was the subject of many compromises and was supported by all parties. By bringing a bill like Bill C-31 back to the table, this government is doing three things that are totally unacceptable.

First of all, it is preventing anyone from seeing the effectiveness and the value of legislation that has already been passed, since Bill C-11 is being killed before it even came into force. Second, it is arrogantly rebuffing all the work that was done on Bill C-11 by introducing a new bill that is practically identical, but ignores all the amendments adopted in the previous Parliament. Third, it is disgracefully wasting taxpayers' money by forcing us members to redo work that was already done respectfully and conscientiously.

Some 14% of the people of my riding are immigrants. Among them are thousands of permanent residents who work hard and contribute to the social and economic development of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and the greater Quebec City region. Thousands of them are also worried about their status and want answers.

The NDP believes that we must fulfill our duty to refugees while maintaining an effective, impartial immigration system. Bill C-31 puts refugees in a class with criminals. The bill is ineffective and leaves too much room for the political manoeuvring that characterizes the party across the floor. The government needs to redo its homework.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, there are a number of errors in the member's speech, including her statement that the designation of safe countries will be made arbitrarily by the minister himself. In a bill, when it is a question of a power being given to a minister, it is a power that is a responsibility of the department. Ministers never intervene on a matter of designation without seeking the expertise of all the officials in the department.

In the bill, there are clear, firmly grounded criteria for the designation of safe countries. There are also numerical and mathematical criteria. For instance, the IRB will begin the study of claims for the countries from which 75% or more of asylum claims originate. It is therefore the IRB’s decisions that will determine that.

Secondly, she repeated that the bill gives the minister the power to withdraw permanent resident status from refugees, which is an error because it is totally false. The current legislation gives the IRB the power to withdraw refugee status or permanent resident status from individuals who have committed fraud, for instance. There is no change in this regard.

The member must not spread fear among legitimate refugees, who have absolutely no reason to worry about this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, I think this fear exists already, and we in the NDP are not the ones who created it. This fear really exists.

In the bill, it clearly states that the minister can make the decision, and while he may consult a panel of experts, it is up to him to make the final decision. He can therefore make unilateral decisions. It is much too much power in the hands of a single individual.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member has just said that the bill gives the minister the power to withdraw permanent resident status from refugees. Where did the member find this information, in which clause of the bill? I wrote this bill. I have the bill right in front of me. There is no clause in this bill that gives the minister the power to withdraw permanent resident status. What clause is she talking about? It does not exist.

In addition, she is talking about a two-tier system. I would like to remind the member that, during the last Parliament, Bill C-11, supported by the NDP, aimed at creating a two-tier system, that is, an accelerated process for asylum seekers from designated safe countries.

Why is she against a two-tier system now, when her party was in favour of such a system in the last Parliament?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my remarks, I said that amendments had been proposed to the previous government's Bill C-11 and that we were starting from scratch in this current Parliament. We could have taken the amendments previously approved by the three parties and continued with the work at hand.

The bill refers to sending refugees to a safer country. What country is safer than Canada? Why do we not keep out immigrants and refugees? And why would we send them to a so-called safer country? What safer country is there than Canada?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, is the member aware that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees clearly stated that it was entirely legitimate and normal according to the essence of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees to permit refugee systems and to designate certain countries as safe countries, that is, countries from which refugees do not normally originate?

Is she against this UN policy?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will certainly not question UN policies. However, when a refugee comes to Canada because Canada is a safe country, it is important that we keep the refugee and even support him by providing him with all the services that he needs to become a citizen, a worker, and to develop our labour market. We are in great need of labour.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise in support of this important legislation. We all know Canada is a compassionate nation. We have a generous spirit that compels us as Canadians to protect the vulnerable.

In fact, Canada has one of the most generous immigration and refugee systems in the world. We resettle approximately 1 in 10 of the world's resettled refugees, more than almost any other industrialized country in the world. We are continuing our tradition as a leader in international refugee protection by increasing the number of refugees resettled from abroad by 20%. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, or 11% of the refugees resettled globally.

The plight of the world's refugees has always moved us to help. Some 30 years ago, people from all walks of life helped to rescue and resettle more than 60,000 Indochinese refugees in Canada. This effort firmly established private sponsorship as a vital component of our refugee program and, in fact, private sponsors across Canada have stepped up and helped more than 200,000 refugees in the past 30 years.

The government is also active with our international partners to help those in need. Take for example, the government's commitment to resettle up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees from Nepal. We have already welcomed more than 3,600 Bhutanese refugees in several communities across Canada. In addition, we have resettled over 3,900 Karen from Thailand.

Canada has a record of compassion and concern for the world's most vulnerable, a record that we can all be proud of, but we are not pushovers. No Canadian thinks it is acceptable for criminals to abuse Canada's immigration system for financial gain through the crime of human smuggling. It will come as no surprise to anyone in the House that human smuggling is an issue of great importance to me. That is why I introduced Bill C-310, which would amend the Criminal Code to add the offence of trafficking in persons to the list of offences committed outside of Canada that Canadian citizens or permanent residents may be prosecuted for in Canada, among other things. I was very pleased earlier today to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as the first witness to appear on its study of my bill.

The simple fact is that our country has become a target for human smuggling. The arrivals of the MV Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady are a clear indication that Canada is a favoured destination for human smuggling networks, and recent international media reports have made it clear that human smugglers continue to target Canada. Just a few weeks ago, the media reported that a massive human smuggling operation headed for Canada was dismantled in Togo. Canada is a prime target for human smugglers. That is why we must take action.

Let us not forget what we are talking about here. Human smuggling is a transnational criminal enterprise that is a growing global phenomenon. Human smugglers consider their passengers to be little more than cargo. Migrants are typically stranded at sea on an overcrowded boat with unsanitary and unsafe conditions. As a result of these inhumane conditions, countless people die in human smuggling operations every year. By charging people large sums of money for their transportation, human smugglers have made a lucrative business out of facilitating illegal migration, often by counselling smuggled persons to claim asylum in the country to which they are smuggled. Once they arrive to their destination country, these migrants are often at the mercy of their human smugglers. Many of them are forced to work for years in the underground economy just to pay off their debts to the smuggler.

Interpol says that human smuggling syndicates benefit from weak legislation, and low risk of detection and prosecution and arrest compared to those engaged in other transnational organized crimes. If we do not take strong action now, more vessels will arrive and more lives will be put at risk.

The government will not stand by and allow these exploitive operations to continue. This legislation would enable us to crack down on human smugglers who prey on vulnerable migrants. It also aims to discourage those tempted to use this perilous form of migration. Here is how.

The legislation would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers. We would make shipowners and operators liable for the use of their ships in human smuggling. This legislation includes stiffer penalties and fines for shipowners and operators, as well as mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of human smuggling. At the same time, the government recognizes that ship operators and owners are only part of the problem. We must also discourage those who would consider using the services of a human smuggler. This bill aims to do that by reducing the attraction of coming to Canada by way of irregular arrival.

First, it would prevent illegal migrants who are part of the smuggling operation from obtaining permanent resident status for five years, thereby also preventing them from bringing their family members to Canada during that period. During this time as well, if refugee claimants return to their country of origin or demonstrate in other ways that they are not in legitimate need of Canada's protection, we can take steps to cease their protected status and remove them from Canada. This is because returning to the country from which they are claiming prosecution is very strong evidence that they are not in need of Canada's protection. Canadians, especially those who waited in line to come to Canada legally, have an innate sense of fairness and want our government to take action to prevent the entry of those who seek to use illegal means to jump the queue.

Through Bill C-31, our government is also ensuring that the medical benefits received by those who arrive by these means are not more generous than those received by the average Canadian.

In addition to these measures, this legislation underscores our top priority, which is to protect the safety and security of Canadians. The mandatory detention of irregular arrivals, excluding those who are under the age of 16, would provide us with the time needed to confirm these individuals' identities and whether they pose a threat to Canadians upon their release.

Simon Zhong, executive director of the Toronto Community and Culture Centre, has said the following: “Human smuggling is a criminal activity that puts people's lives at risk. It involves a network of international criminal organizations and Canada has become their target because of our compassion and fairness.... We support the government's proposals as we need to send a strong message that criminal human smuggling will not be tolerated. Smugglers need to understand that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible and that these proposals will make this easier to accomplish that”.

Canada is a compassionate nation of immigrants with a proud history and tradition of welcoming refugees, but every sovereign country has a responsibility to protect its citizens and its borders. The legislation before the House is a necessary step to protect our borders and the integrity of our immigration system. It also sends a message that the Government of Canada is serious about deterring human smuggling and the people who participate in it.

I urge all members of the House to give this bill grave consideration and, ultimately, their support.