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

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I did not intend to get up, but the member never answered the question he was asked. It was a very serious question.

I know the member. I have been in his riding. There are a lot of new Canadians in that riding, and they came in under our current system.

What we are worried about is abuse of the system, unnecessary detention. If the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is to be the sole decision-maker on what is a “safe country of origin”, I do not believe, given the record of the Conservative government, there would be proper accountability. It dangerously politicizes the refugee system. We know of so many other areas where the government has really been unaccountable.

How can the member stand in his place and say that he has confidence in this new system when he knows that his own government would politicize the system for the government's own reasons?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member were to research the record-setting results of this immigration minister, he would find that the minister is a very logical, very intelligent and very unbiased minister in the recent history of our Parliament.

To answer his question, in my opinion, this bill actually sets up the criteria. It tells how the system would work, what the maximum time would be to have a hearing and what the maximum time would be to make a decision as to whether a person is a genuine refugee or not. If the person is a genuine refugee from a designated country, which is what he is talking about, that genuine refugee would get the results within 45 days, hopefully. In those 45 days, the person would get his or her papers and move on with his or her life.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, on the latter point raised by the member for Malpeque, there is no politicization proposed. There is nothing dangerous proposed. No access to our asylum system would be restricted by the bill at all. Every asylum claimant from every country, regardless of the means of their arrival, whether it is a smuggling operation or not, would have the same access to a full fact-based appeal on the merits of their case before the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board. We would not refoule anyone who has been deemed by our legal system to face danger.There is nothing arbitrary about the designation process of certain countries. I refer the member to section 58 of Bill C-31, which is a page and a half of criteria by which the designation process would be conducted.

Does the member not agree with me?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the minister mentioned, there will be a set criteria. I mentioned the same thing. The minister talked about the set criteria for the designation of countries. There will be a set criteria on how the applications will be processed in a timely manner and how the cases will be determined.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. The bill would protect the integrity of the system. We cannot allow abuses of the system to undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.

As we have heard, Bill C-31 would do three things. First, it would make further much needed reform to the asylum system. Second, it would enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants in order to strengthen our immigration program. Third, and the area I will focus on, there are measures that would help crack down on the growing and dangerous business of human smuggling.

I do not think it comes as a surprise to any hon. member of the House that our government is pushing ahead with reforming our immigration and refugee laws to put an end to human smuggling.

Canada enjoys a global reputation as a nation that cherishes fundamental freedoms, that champions democracy and freedom of speech, and that believes strongly in the benefits and opportunities that come from a diverse, multicultural society. That is not disputed.

Most Canadians, and I include myself in that category, have a chapter in their family history that includes immigration and resettlement. For some it was added recently; for others that chapter was written three or four generations ago. There are countless individuals and families around the world who want to add that same chapter to their family history by coming to Canada. Canada is a destination highly desired by many.

The unfortunate reality is that there are individuals and criminal organizations that see our generous immigration system as an easy target to make a high profit with low risks. These criminal elements use Canada's reputation to conjure up their own outlandish stories of how refugees can bypass the proper channels by paying a set fee and arriving en masse. Human smugglers convince these individuals that they will be processed quicker and will be able to start a new chapter of their lives sooner than if they apply to come to Canada by other methods. We have seen strong evidence of this with recent events on Canada's shores.

Until recently, most Canadians believed that any large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something they would read about in the papers or hear about on the news from other countries.

That changed in 2009 when Canadians witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady which carried 76 migrants. Less than a year later close to 500 migrants arrived on a second vessel, the MV Sun Sea. Shortly after that, a sea container was uncovered at the port of Montreal revealing yet more individuals who had tried to enter Canada illegally.

Canadians are becoming very much aware of this problem. It is a reality that must be faced. They want the government to act, and the government has acted.

I have heard from my constituents, and like all Canadians they have told me that they want our government to act decisively to crack down on those who would endanger the lives of men, women and children by selling them false dreams and transporting them in unsafe vessels or shipping crates. This disregard for human life is an affront to all Canadians.

We must therefore act before another tragedy strikes, such as the one that occurred off the coast of Indonesia last December when close to 200 irregular migrants destined for Australia perished when their vessel capsized in rough waters.

We cannot rest on our laurels and wait for the next incident. That is why our government introduced legislation in October 2010 to crack down on human smuggling. That is why the 2011 Speech from the Throne underscored this government's commitment to combat human smuggling, which can place migrants in dangerous situations and undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.

Today we are proud to see these changes included in Bill C-31, which encompasses some important reforms that would strengthen our immigration and refugee system. These changes would help us to meet the challenges associated with human smuggling while continuing to provide protection to those who require it most.

With this legislation we are delivering on our commitment to Canadians to combat human smuggling, a crime that undermines trust in Canada's immigration system.

First and foremost, the proposed reforms would allow Canada to crack down on human smugglers who would abuse our generous immigration system and endanger the safety and security of Canadians. It also proposes measures that would act as a deterrent for those who are planning and organizing human smuggling operations. Those who plan human smuggling and think it is low risk would now have to reconsider given the measures that would be implemented in this bill.

First, these measures would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of persons as an irregular arrival, thereby making those involved subject to the act's measures. Canadians expect as much. Canadians demand that the government take action along those lines and perhaps even to a greater extent. I would add, though, that there are safeguards in place that would ensure the minister cannot delegate this authority given the significant consequences that flow from a designation.

Second, it would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers, including broadening the definition of the offence of human smuggling to better capture all the ways this crime occurs and make it easier to prove the offence was committed.

Third, it would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on convicted human smugglers.

The sentence length would escalate based on factors such as if the offence was committed for profit or in association with a terrorist or criminal organization. I do not think anyone would disagree that is a significant consideration and should factor into the sentencing or the consequences. Another factor would be if the person who committed the offence endangered lives, caused bodily harm or death to any of the persons smuggled. The persons being smuggled undergo an extreme amount of suffering and are in danger. People are putting them in that position simply from the motive of profit. Those considerations need to be taken into account in the sentencing provisions.

Some may question the need for such mandatory penalties given the offence can already be punished by life imprisonment. Our government believes strongly that the most harmful manifestations of this crime must be clearly denounced. Our proposed mandatory minimums would do this. Not only would this denounce these types of actions but I believe it would also deter these types of actions. It is important to note, however, that these would only apply in situations where aggravating factors can be proven, factors which reflect the most harmful, serious and reprehensible aspects of this crime.

Fourth, the bill proposes measures that would hold shipowners and operators to account for the use of their ships in human smuggling operations. It is important that liability and accountability be placed on those who allow their assets to be used in this fashion.

In addition to these deterrent measures, the bill includes other measures required for the proper identification and investigation of those wishing to enter Canada as part of an irregular arrival. This includes establishing the mandatory detention of participants in designated human smuggling events to allow for the proper and full determination of identity and admissibility and any other investigations. It is in this last point that we will see wording changes in the legislation to expressly exclude designated foreign nationals under the age of 16 years.

Bill C-31 includes other reforms to help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling operations. For example, it includes measures to prevent those who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, including those who subsequently obtain refugee status, from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years. It also includes measures to enhance the opportunity to rescind the refugee status of those who return to their country of origin for a vacation or demonstrate in other ways that they are not truly in need of Canada's protection. Finally, it would prevent individuals who participate in designated human smuggling events from sponsoring family members for a period of five years.

Our government believes that these actions are tough but fair. More than ever before, Canada must take a strong stand with our international partners and allies to help end the illegal practice of human smuggling.

I would urge all members to support this bill and ensure its swift passage.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill: Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

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

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 reminds me of what governments have done over the years to people on welfare: scapegoat the target, demonize people, design the system to basically take away people's rights, and focus on a minority of cases to whip up public frenzy. That is exactly what this bill is doing around refugees.

One section of the bill that I am very concerned about is the humanitarian and compassionate consideration. I do a lot of casework in my riding, as I know others do as well. The bill would require that a person choose at the beginning whether to file for refugee status or an H and C consideration. That would be devastating for someone who is making a claim. An individual may not know at the time about an H and C application.

How on earth can the member defend limiting the H and C consideration? All of us know that for many people, at the end of the day, that is all they have left. To take that away seems to me to be quite disgusting, very unfair and very harmful.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that those who are legitimate refugees would have the opportunity to establish their cases and, to the extent that they are able, they would receive the appropriate status. As the system was, people could apply by any means. They could jump the queue and go through a number of processes to stay in the country. They could apply for humanitarian and compassionate leave under a number of circumstances, after having settled. In fact, some cases take four and a half years or longer to settle. By that time they could have married, had children and built a case for humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The provision in Bill C-31, as I understand it, would allow for an application for humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but not under a number of conditions and after a number of years. A claimant could apply once and either be successful or not. If they made an application before the board, the board would make the appropriate determination.

What I like about the bill is it would start to focus the time in a narrow window so that cases would be disposed of fairly quickly, instead of taking a number of years.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am smiling because the member said that the bill allows for taking into consideration of human hardship and compassionate grounds. Compassion from that party? I do not think so.

The member also mentioned that there are safeguards in place surrounding the ultimate power of the minister. Would he care to list those safeguards? I do not find the safeguards in the bill to be very strong. Could he outline to me what they are?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, certainly, it is a compassionate position to allow people who apply for their status to have it determined in a reasonable period of time and to allow then for that provision.

What is wrong is a situation where there is a buildup of legitimate cases because the previous government was not prepared to deal with claims that were bogus, or allowed others to jump the queue and clutter the system so they could not have determination. In fact, many claimants from European Union countries would apply and then abandon those applications over time, after they had an opportunity to be in the country for a great length of time.

There are specific provisions in the legislation that if the claimants themselves from the country of origin abandon their claims, or do not pursue them, and a great percentage, let us say 60% or so, do that, or if the refugee board refuses up to 75% of the applicants from a particular country, those are the kinds of objective bases that we might use. If a country has a democratic system, if it has a judiciary and if it protects human rights, those countries might not be the ones that we would want to allow applications from.

This particular legislation does have compassion for those who want to have their claims heard in an appropriate and expedited fashion.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased 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. As we can tell by the title, it covers quite a broad range.

We, as a party, have quite a number of concerns with the bill. First and foremost is what seems to be the amount of power granted to the minister. As previous speakers talked about, the bill does bring some accountability. However, we have seen the government in other venues talk about bringing in more progressive legislation, for instance its accountability act. Yet, ever since the Conservatives formed the government we have seen anything but accountability. In fact, the debate on this bill is a prime example, as there are time limitations again.

What we have seen from the government is less debate, more closure, less transparency and less openness. We certainly cannot go by what the Conservatives have promised in previous elections. If the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism were the sole decision-maker of safe countries of origin, there would be no accountability from our perspective and no recourse. It would dangerously politicize the refugee system. This would be all about giving one person in the country the power to choose who can claim refugee status and who cannot.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

That is wrong.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

The minister claims that is wrong. He will have the opportunity to stand and explain that. Certainly our interpretation of the bill is that is the case. Giving this particular minister all this power is indeed worrisome.

Allowing the minister to determine which groups were irregular arrivals would give the minister too much discretionary power with very little accountability.

I asked the previous member from the Conservative Party who would outline the safeguards. I really did not hear any safeguards that would amount to a whole lot.

The removal of an appeal process for those originating from a country on the safe list or from those identified as being part of an irregular arrival would not afford due process. We all know that due process is extremely important. We do not see due process in this section of the bill.

Our party is opposed to the lengthy, warrantless detentions coupled with an unfair review process where the first review would only occur after 12 months. The policies proposed really constitute cruel and unusual punishment. There should be balance in this kind of legislation. There does not seem to be balance or fairness in the act in terms of how the bill would affect people's lives. They come here, maybe abused by others in other countries and other systems. We need to protect those individuals. They come here with dreams and could find them so much dashed.

We do believe in reforming the system so that processing times are fair and reasonable for refugees. We do not think the bill does that to the extent that it should. As I outlined at the beginning, the amount of authority given to the minister is beyond.

The legislative proposal of the bill has quite a number of impacts. It would allow the minister to create a safe list of countries identified as being designated countries of origin. Claimants from those designated countries of origin would be subject to specific guidelines, including expedited application processing and denial of access to the refugee appeal division.

It would allow the minister to determine who was part of an irregular arrival, and therefore a designated foreign national. Designated foreign nationals would not have access to the refugee appeals division.

The bill would include all the proposed changes that, if members will recall, were in Bill C-4. However in Bill C-31, minors, those under the age of 16, would be excluded from the mandatory detention. On that we would have to say congratulations for that slight change.

Biometric data would be required from temporary resident visa applications or those applying for a study or work permit.

Refugees would be at risk of losing protection status. Changes would be made through the bill to prohibit individuals from applying for humanitarian and compassionate consideration while awaiting an IRB decision. Failed refugee claimants would not be able to apply for a year following negative refugee decisions. Those are the kinds of impacts that we see in the bill.

As a party, we cannot support the bill. In addition to the humanitarian and constitutional issues raised by the bill, key points which we oppose include the following: the ability of the Minister of Public Safety to unilaterally determine which groups would be irregular arrivals and, as I said, that would give undue power to the minister; and the ability of the minister to unilaterally determine which countries would belong on the safe list and would be designated countries of origin.

Again, what would be the absolute criteria in terms of making those decisions? Maybe the minister, if he does get up, could explain that further. There have to be more criteria than what we see in the bill currently, so that there would not be just political considerations on the part of the minister to make these decisions.

Another point is the lengthy mandatory detentions related to those deemed designated foreign nationals and the lack of a timely review process.

On this, Canadians are concerned, and rightly so. I would say that the government is correct in saying that there are concerns out there. When there are people who enter the country improperly, it does take too long to get decisions made for many in the refugee process. If people have to be removed from the country, it is a long and burdensome process.

Canadians are dissatisfied with that. It needs to be addressed through legislation. It has to be done in a way that is fair and balanced, and includes due process. We are concerned that at the moment it does not.

The last point I would make is that we are concerned about the removal of the appeal process of designated foreign nationals and individuals from designated countries of origin.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, the member portrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislation when he said that the bill concentrates, in the hands of the minister, the power to decide who may or may not make asylum claims in Canada.

That is patently and completely incorrect. The bill would do no such thing. All claimants from all countries, whether designated by the minister or not, whether they have arrived in a designated smuggling operation or not, would have the same access to an oral hearing at the IRB on the merits of their claim. No one would be denied access at the discretion of the minister or on the basis of their country of origin.

Safe country claimants and claimants determined to be manifestly unfounded would have an accelerated process, which the Liberals and the NDP already agreed to in the last Parliament in Bill C-11. What Bill C-31 changes is that it removes access to the refugee appeal division for safe country claimants. However, under the Liberals, for 13 years they refused to give any failed asylum claimants access to a refugee appeal division.

Why is the member opposed to a bill that gives the vast majority of failed claimants access to a fact-based appeal when his government, in which he was a minister, refused to give any failed refugee claimants access to a fact-based appeal?