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

11 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, if there is a reason to hold the individuals who have arrived here illegally because their identity cannot be confirmed, they will be held under the legislation. That is a prudent practice that most fair-minded Canadians would agree with.

I think Canadians would also say that they are concerned about whether the children need to be detained. Therefore, our government made this compromise, which is a reasonable one given the national security concerns and other concerns that our government has with respect to the integrity of the immigration system.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I find the hon. minister has conflated and confused the refugee stream with the immigration stream to this country.

The legislation on its face violates the 1951 refugee convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child which deals with children up to the age of 18, so the jailing of children 16 to 18 is still a problem, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Is the hon. minister prepared to accept that when refugees come to this country they are neither automatically illegal nor does the legislation solely deal with people who do not have identification with them? It deals with anyone who is deemed to have come by irregular entry.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, I agree with the member that refugees should not be detained. The issue is how we determine if they are refugees.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Madam Speaker, I am also an immigrant to this country and it took me four years to wait in the queue. If I were to see other people jumping the queue, I would be pretty upset. People do abuse the Canadian immigration system because they think it is so lax.

Could the minister comment on the fact that in order to keep good governance and keep our immigration system to be fair to all that it is necessary to have these rules in place?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, what I can say is what our Minister of Immigration has said. We need a consensus in this country to continue immigration. We all appreciate the good that immigration has done and immigrants and refugees but, if the broad base of people in Canada lose faith in that system, that impacts adversely on immigrants and refugees. This system establishes that balance.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

In a speech he delivered in the House when Bill C-4 was introduced, the Minister of Immigration said that we needed this bill's harsh measures against asylum seekers in order to communicate to them in no uncertain terms that Canada's streets were not paved with gold and that Canada was not the place for them.

As a case in point, the minister said that asylum seekers believe they will be given $50,000 upon arrival in Canada. We know this, obviously, is not the case. There are no such pots of gold awaiting refugee claimants at Canadian border points. This false and, ultimately, disappointing picture for asylum seekers of the easy prosperity that supposedly lies at the end of a long, arduous and sometimes deadly boat trip across the seas has been attracting the world's poor, persecuted and downtrodden to North America for well over a century. As well as the very real promise of freedom, this has been a point of attraction for immigrants and refugees who desperately seek a better life free from violence or squalor.

I do not think the minister's speech nor the bill would change this fact. We also need to realize that there is a flaw in the argument that Bill C-4, which is now part of Bill C-31, somehow will discourage people from coming to Canada.

The minister assumes that we live in a world of perfect information as the neo-classical economists regularly assure us in their economic models, but the fact is that would-be asylum seekers are fundamentally unaware of what awaits them here beyond the images they have borne of a hope they often desperately cling to. Indeed, not even the minister can extinguish the hope that is, in some ways, the psychological and emotional sustenance on which many people around the world living in harsh conditions survive.

It is a given that asylum seekers have a distorted view of the benefits that await them here in this country. There is no $50,000 pot of gold that awaits them when they arrive here. The corollary of course is that they also have a distorted view of any negative consequences that might await them should they arrive as refugee claimants aided and abetted by human smugglers. They cannot be expected to have accurate knowledge of the measures in Bill C-31, the measures imported from Bill C-4, that have been created in an attempt to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Canada.

Not only are would-be asylum seekers misinformed about what awaits them in Canada but many Canadians who have access to the 24-hour news cycle and who are generally well informed are themselves unaware of the manner in which Canada treats refugees upon arrival. I am sure many members in the House have received a chain email which I have been receiving if for about eight years now. I have been getting this email from highly educated Canadians, friends of mine, good people, good Liberals who believe in individual rights and who want fair treatment of immigrants and refugees. However, because it comes in on the Internet there is a tendency to take it at face value. I will quote from the email I have been receiving and that many members have been receiving. Only in Canada. It says:

It is interesting to know that the federal Government of Canada allows a monthly pension of $1,890 to a simple refugee, plus $580 in social aid for a grand total of $2,470 monthly. That’s $28,920 in annual income.

By comparison the Old Age Pension of a senior citizen who has contributed to the development of Our Beautiful Big Country during 40 or 50 years cannot receive more than $1,012 in Old Age Pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement per month, for $12,144 in annual income.

That’s a difference of $16,776 per year.

Perhaps our senior citizens should ask for the Status of Refugees instead of applying for Old Age Pension.

That is what is circulating on the Internet here in Canada. It is so false, so prevalent and so ongoing as a form of a spam email that the Department of Immigration has actually put up a web page to try to clarify the situation.

There is a lot of misinformation both in Canada and overseas where people are getting their information from human smugglers about what awaits them here. That is true of the false benefits that await them. If we assume that, which is what the Minister of Immigration said, people think they are coming here to a pot of gold of $50,000 when they arrive, that somehow officers from the Canada Border Services Agency await asylum seekers with chequebook and pen in hand, we also have to assume that would-be asylum seekers do not know what is in Bill C-31. They do not know what was in Bill C-4. They will not be discouraged by the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Who will tell them about the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Will it be the human smugglers? Will the human smugglers tell them that they will take their money, that they will bring them over to Canada, then tell them about the new legislation that may put them in detention for a year and say that maybe they will not do that human smuggling deal after all? There is a flaw in that logic.

We all view legislation through the prisms of our respective political philosophies. For me and others in the House that prism is liberalism. Liberalism is fundamentally about the primacy of the rights and dignity of the individual. Of course, liberals recognize and understand that human beings are social animals, that we can only thrive in a group or community. Living in a group or community makes everything possible, including individual economic prosperity. A simple example is the real estate value of one's home is a function of the vibrancy of the community in which it lies: no community, no capital gain upon home resale.

Community is not only the context necessary for individual fulfillment and security. It is also a source of identity. Liberals believe in the inherent value of community, but neither Conservatives nor the NDP spread misinformation on this point. Liberals are communitarians. We believe in safe streets, believe it or not. We believe in social cohesion and maintaining the social fabric.

Where we differ from the Conservatives is that we put the individual first. In a court of law or in an administrative tribunal, the focus is on the individual, not the group to which he or she belongs. In matters of justice, when we have to judge, we believe that we must judge based on the individual's unique circumstances, not the circumstances of the larger and more amorphous group to which he or she may happen to belong.

As an aside, that is why we as Liberals have trouble with minimum sentencing. We believe the circumstances of the crime and the offender must be evaluated, namely by a judge with years of legal training and experience because, as Liberals, we believe in the power of reason to find as close an approximation of the truth as we can. We believe in the ability of judges to apply reason to the facts of the case and develop a sanction that is proper to the individual circumstances, including one that is just to the victims. We believe in victims' rights.

That is also why we object to judging a refugee claimant based primarily on his or her group affiliation or country of origin. We do not believe that a refugee's treatment at the hands of the Canadian government should be judged as a function of their country of origin, in other words, on the basis of their nationality essentially, anymore than on their race or ethnicity.

I will quote Audrey Maklin of the University of Toronto's Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, and lawyer, Lorne Waldman, both in regard to Bill C-31's predecessor, Bill C-4. They state:

The legislation also gives the minister the power to decree certain countries as “safe.” This formalizes in law the presumption that a refugee claimant from one of these countries is a fraud. Many countries are safe for most people most of the time. Refugees are usually people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so designating a country as safe tells us nothing about the risks faced by the people likely--

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The member's time has elapsed. Perhaps he can add some comments in questions and comments.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I regret that the member's time ran out because I found he was offering very thoughtful remarks based on first principles and dealing with some of the real issues, and I commend him for that.

There are a couple of points. He says that creating disincentives will not be effective because it will not be known by false asylum claimants overseas. In point of fact, we plan to consecrate an amount of money to advertising these new developments abroad, particularly media that would be in countries that are major sources of false asylum claims and human smuggling. This is what Australia and other countries have done.

I can tell the member that we know, through the good work done by our police and other agencies, the smuggling syndicates are paying close attention to the disincentives that have been proposed and we are confident the disincentives included in Bill C-31 will reduce the pull factors that we have for human smugglers and false asylum claimants.

However, if he does not think this package will be effective, then what does he propose as an alternative to deter human smugglers from targeting Canada?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the minister's sincere, I think, compliment on the effort I put into the speech because it is an important issue. I am glad that the government is investing in informing people of what really awaits them if they come here aided and abetted by human smugglers.

The issue is enforcement. It is good that the RCMP go overseas and investigates human smuggling rings. Also, we need enforcement in Canada. When an asylum seeker who is turned down at the IRB disappears into the woodwork, that is a breakdown of enforcement.

I hope the government will not only invest in information campaigns, but will invest as well in enforcement, both in terms of tracking what is going on overseas before asylum seekers come here and in keeping track of rejected refugee claimants in Canada.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague spoke mainly on the refugee aspect of this bill. I point out that Liberals were in government for 13 years and did nothing about creating some sort of further refugee protection. The New Democrats have continuously been calling for more further refugee protection, especially the Refugee Appeal Division. In the previous iteration of the bill we had agreement on this. Yet the minister, instead of letting Bill C-11 go through to fruition and seeing its impacts on society, has decided to quash it and have this omnibus bill.

Would the member please comment on that?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I suppose the NDP is fortunate in that it never has to say “when we were government, things were not always perfect”.

Unfortunately I was not in cabinet so I do not know what discussions took place. However, I do know that we brought in the Refugee Appeal Division, but it was not implemented at the time. I also know that when the member opposite's party was the third party—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Fourth party.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Fourth party, indeed. How quickly we forget.

We took the lead in negotiating with the government to make Bill C-11 more palatable by requiring that before the minister designate a country as a safe country of origin, that he or she consult an advisory committee.

We have been working to protect the rights of refugees, and we will continue to do so.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party agrees with reforming the system so processing times for refugees are fair and reasonable. After all, refugees are people seeking refuge, a safe place to go because life is untenable for them wherever they happen to be.

We are concerned that the government has taken this bill to reform the system and it has muddied the waters on it, using it as a vehicle for trafficking. The government is trying to say that it wants to separate the refugee from the trafficked person. No one is arguing the intent of that. We all agree with it. The question is to how it is being done. The process that the bill lays out is very unjust and it contravenes many pieces of international law, a charter and the United Nations convention on the rights of refugees. First and foremost, it gives two ministers the sole power to decide.

It gives the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the power to decide what a safe country is, with absolutely no accountability. There is nothing built in for sudden changes in circumstances in a country that sounds as if it is safe and in the offset is seen to be safe. I want to remind members of this. We thought Germany was a safe country and because of that, the people on the St. Louis were turned back to absolute death and to concentration camps. We did not know what was going on within Germany.

When we say we know about so-called safe countries, we have to look at countries that we trade with, countries that are on the surface a so-called European Union and developed countries, so-called democratic countries, where human, minority, women's, ethnic and religious rights have been denied to many groups and minorities within that country.

I go back to the issue of the Sinti and the Roma. Everyone likes to ask if the Sinti and the Roma cannot go off to one of the 25 European nations. I will quote Catherine Dauvergne, UBC professor, Canada Research chair in Migration Law. She said, “Some individuals have utterly inadequate rights protections, which is why some Roma are found to be refugees, in Canada and elsewhere”.

I go to the Organization for Security and Co-operation. I am the special representative for gender. I work closely with the special representative for migration and minority rights and we see in pockets of many countries, the denial of any rights to the Sinti and Roma. In countries like Italy and Spain, we see this happening and yet they are so-called democratic countries. The idea that the minister will designate safe countries is a slippery slope.

Not only that, but people coming from a so-called safe country have no recourse, if they apply as a refugee, to due process or appeal. That is an unacceptable thing under the rule of law. The Minister of Public Safety has the power of mandatory detention for a people who make a refugee claim and if that refugee claim is made with another individual or individuals, they can go to jail for one year because this claim has been made by a group. We do not even have the definition of what a group is. The group is anybody over two people. That in itself is an infringement on rights of people. It infringes on the right of association.

I want to remind members of the Vietnamese boat people who came to our country seeking refuge. Canada opened its arms to them. They went into communities that embraced them. Today, those same Vietnamese boat people are model citizens in Canada and we have benefited very much by their being here.

Let us look at another so-called safe country. In 1989, when the Tiananmen massacre occurred in April, if the Chinese students who were being threatened had come to our country a month later, they would not have been accepted and would have been jailed because they came as a group seeking refuge because of changed circumstances regarding Tiananmen Square . We have to learn from our past experiences.

Today, we do not need to take this kind of abuse of rule of law. We have technology and we have diplomatic relations with many countries. It is easy for us to talk to these countries to get information about a person of interest or about a suspicious person or group. I do not understand why we have to detain people for a whole year. We could use technology on this, if we want to be compassionate and understanding, to avoid harming people who are real refugees by sending them back to almost certain detention, torture and death in some instances. It is improbable that we cannot get this kind of information within 60 days.

The ministers should consider rule of law. If a government ignores rule of law, then it makes Canada a non-democratic nation. We love to talk about the pillars of democracy, rule of law is one of them. The government is ignoring rule of law and basing fear-mongering on the fact that there are all kinds of people coming to Canada who are terrorists. There are ways around this, so I do not understand why the government would ignore rule of law. There are ways in which the government can dilute the threat. It can use technology. It can talk to diplomatic people within the country and find out if these people are people of interest.

What is the process or the provision for the release of mass arrivals in the event that it comes to light that there were significant changes in circumstances within the country from which those mass arrivals came? I go back to China and Tiananmen Square. I go back to the St. Louis. I go back to the Vietnamese people. Is there a provision in the legislation that would allow us to say that we were wrong, that we are sorry, that circumstances have changed and that we need to accept these people? No. They would have been placed on mandatory detention immediately for a minimum of a year.

I want to go back to the list of safe countries. Should we put in a clause that says it would be mandatory to review that list if we hear from another nation or other groups about something suspicious going on in another country that we deem to be a safe country? Is there a way of going back and looking at a sunset clause on that place?

These are the kinds of checks and balances that we need in good legislation. We all have concerns about the backlogs. We care about that. Let us not forget that it was the government that failed to fill a lot of vacancies on the refugee board, creating that backlog. The Conservatives dragged their feet on that.

Let us not forget the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the government is a signatory. The minister has looked at that and said that minors under 16 years of age will be excluded from this, but we would be taking children away from their parents. Imagine children leaving their homes, going into some hole of a boat scared and frightened and then upon arrival, they are taken away from their parents who are put it detention without those children knowing where they will be sent. Imagine the psychological damage we would do to that child. That is totally abhorrent. It totally opposes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is cruel, it is inhumane and it also contravenes the 1951 refugee convention.

There is another piece in the bill that bothers us. People cannot apply on humanitarian and compassionate grounds for one year following a negative decision. What is this? Where do these people go? Are they stateless people? What happens to them? These are important questions we have to ask.

There is also a five year waiting period before an individual can apply for permanent residency. This would create a bunch of people with absolutely no rights.

Section 7 of the charter speaks to life, liberty and security of the person. The denial of access to families, denial of appeal violates that right to liberty of the person.

Section 9 of the charter speaks to the right not to be arbitrarily detained. This legislation would break that section.

Section 12 of the charter talks about cruel and unjust punishment. The bill would inflict cruel and inhumane punishment.

People who are afraid of torture, afraid for their lives or the lives of their families will do anything to come to safety. Australia found that it costs more to detain people than if there were a different set of circumstances. Australia is now looking at its bill.

This bill has a basis of political intentions. It appeals to the fear in people. It does not give information and education to Canadians to allow them to understand the reality of the circumstances of refugees and to understand the difference between refugees and traffickers. It therefore—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.