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

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed from March 12 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

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has six minutes left to finish her remarks.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 threatens this common vision of hope and our collective desire to build a nation where compassion is the rule, a nation that opens its arms and offers a fair opportunity to those seeking asylum, safety and protection.

I must state clearly that Bill C-31 puts aside all the hard negotiated and balanced compromise on immigration reform that all parties, including the government, worked to achieve in the previous Parliament in former Bill C-11.

Unfortunately, the balance and the compromises that were achieved at the time have disappeared. Instead of punishing human smugglers, Bill C-31 attacks the refugees who are the victims of these unscrupulous people. Even more worrisome, the minister is giving himself certain powers that will jeopardize a system that must be fair and must honour international conventions.

Under Bill C-31, the minister will establish a list of safe countries and a list of countries that are considered unsafe. What is troubling is that this list will be established by the minister, rather than by a panel of experts in international relations, not to mention that this list will change depending on his assessment of the safety of the countries on that list.

In the previous more balanced immigration reform act, Bill C-11, the decision on whether or not a country was safe was left to a board of human rights advisers, not a minister with a red pen.

Perhaps most troubling of all, Bill C-31's unbalanced approach to immigration reform enables the minister to revoke the permanent resident status of former refugee claimants if the minister decides that their country of origin is no longer threatening.

There are many permanent residents that have made my riding their home. It can take years for someone to obtain permanent resident status, as many of my constituents know. Imagine the anxiety they would feel, how vulnerable they would be to know that the minister could revoke their status on a whim, just as they have begun to rebuild their lives.

In the meantime, these constituents have settled in Montreal. They have made friendships and have married. They have worked hard to make a living so that one day their children can go to school, college and university, and participate in our society. They have come to build lives and share in the prosperity and security that too many of us born here take for granted.

My colleagues know as well as I do that when the government makes rash decisions, our constituency offices are the first to hear about it. Our constituents turn to us when they can no longer count on government services, for example, because the delays have become untenable or because the process has become fundamentally unfair.

We respond to calls from our constituents who hope to be reunited with a spouse overseas and who, after months and years, can no longer wait and confess to us that their marriage is about to fall apart. We open our doors to mothers who come with their children, begging us to intervene because they are about to be deported in less than two hours and they are overtaken by desperation.

Decisions made by governments have very real and very human consequences, often far from Ottawa; we see that every day. The government needs to put more resources into processing requests, well-trained human resources that can meet the demand.

Bill C-31 epitomizes this government's callous vision of a society made up of two classes of citizens: good Canadians and those whom the Conservatives consider profiteers.

It is no accident that Canada is called the “new world”. Our country is a land of immigrants, a land that welcomes immigrants, a beacon of safety and hope and opportunity for a better life. That is the Canada whose values I stand for.

That is why I am urging the government to forget about Bill C-31, as it forgot about its predecessor, Bill C-4. I am asking the government not to repudiate the historic compromises that all parties achieved when they reformed our immigration system by passing Bill C-11 during the previous Parliament.

Those are the reasons why I oppose Bill C-31.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from LaSalle—Émard for her wonderful speech on Bill C-31. This is a huge bill that would reform our country's refugee process. Canada is a country that welcomes immigrants. She had much to say about human rights, which are very important to her.

This bill gives a great deal of power to the minister, who would be able to decide the fate of refugees on a case-by-case basis. Would it not be better to rewrite the entire bill to make the process fairer for refugees coming to Canada? I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question. What is disconcerting and troubling about this bill and others, as we noted recently, is that the decisions are being put into the hands of a minister, whether it be the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism or the Minister of Public Safety. In a democracy, it is important that power be shared and that there be checks and balances. In other words, the process must include a mechanism whereby decisions can be appealed, and it must involve an outside body that can determine whether there was any political interference in the decision-making process.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, I really appreciate the speech my friend from LaSalle—Émard just gave. I know her interest in the rights of Canadians.

We were visited at the subcommittee on human rights for foreign affairs and international trade by five human rights defenders from Mexico. They told us horrendous stories of the abuses in Mexico. One particular telling piece of information was that there are 120,000 widows. There was a delegation from a protest group who met with the president. Fourteen people went in, and subsequently, five were murdered.

I go to Cancún from time to time, as do other Canadians. It is as though there were two different worlds. The real concern is, if Mexico is designated as a safe place, there is this other part of Mexico. In the northern part and the coastlines, horrendous violations are going on, many of which have been attributed to the military. This strikes me as a major flaw in the bill. I would like the member's comments.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for giving us such a clear example. As a Canadian, I see Mexico as a vacation destination, but we do not know everything that goes on there. It is often human rights experts and people from that country who can tell us what is happening. That is the case with Mexico but also with some European countries that are currently in the spotlight. We have spoken a lot about it with reference to Bill C-31. Often, eyewitnesses can come and tell us what is really happening. That is why, in a democracy, it is very important to have a system of checks and balances.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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10:35 a.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canada has a long-standing and well-respected reputation as a nation that welcomes more than 250,000 refugees and immigrants every year. As I indicate to my constituents, that is the equivalent of building the city of Winnipeg every three years. We get a tremendous number of people coming into this country, given our generous refugee and immigration system. With Canada's population of approximately 33 million, that puts stress on government and infrastructure at all levels. Our immigration system is one of the most generous and fair systems in the world.

We have heard time and time again that Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and take advantage of our country. Make no mistake, there are those who look at Canada's generous immigration system through a different lens. They see it as an opportunity for exploitation, an opportunity to make profit by skirting the rules and smuggling people into our country. They have no regard for our rules and no concern for the safety and the well-being of their passengers.

Over the past several years we have seen more incidents in the media about human smuggling criminal operations at work around the globe, sometimes with tragic results. Two years ago, 30 people died when their wooden boat operated by suspected human smugglers capsized off the coast of Australia's Christmas Island. Also, close to 200 irregular migrants destined for Australia perished when their vessel capsized in rough waters off the coast of Indonesia last December.

Recent incidents in Canadian waters and on Canadian soil are a clear indication that these migrant smuggling syndicates are focusing their efforts on our nation. The headlines tell the story. There was the irregular arrival of two boats off the coast of British Columbia within a year of each other.

Human smuggling organizations around the globe continue to actively target Canada as a destination of choice. There must be stronger laws in place that specifically condemn the practice of human smuggling for what it is. It is a dangerous criminal activity that risks the lives of those smuggled and undermines Canadian sovereignty and our immigration system. I will be returning to these themes, but we must act now to prevent human smugglers from targeting Canada.

Bill C-31 contains important provisions that would help to address the growing threat of human smuggling, a despicable activity. Before I go into the specifics of our legislation, I would like to take a moment to provide some context to what we are talking about.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime refers to human smuggling as a deadly business characterized by the following trends and patterns. First, human smuggling is increasing as more criminals are providing these services to irregular migrants to evade national border controls. Second, the crime of human smuggling is a low risk, high reward activity, meaning that more criminals are turning to this practice as a means of generating significant revenues. Third, smugglers continually evolve in their tactics in order to respond to changing law enforcement efforts by states that must respond to this activity. Lastly, smuggling puts the lives of those smuggled at risk.

All of these trends and patterns illustrate the need for all countries, including Canada, to be vigilant in responding to this crime. That is exactly what we are doing in Bill C-31. The bill contains firm and reasonable measures that address specific challenges related to human smuggling and irregular arrivals. What are those challenges? I would like to quote from a case in the Ontario courts which summarizes them quite accurately. The judge noted, and I quote directly, that:

The implications of human smuggling are profound and far-reaching. The integrity of Canada's borders is compromised when criminals such as these smuggle illegal aliens across. There are no checks on the type of people entering, making it possible for criminals and terrorists to move back and forth between these countries at will. The risk to society generally of this kind of criminal activity is great.

He continues:

It is important for national security and public safety to send a message that those who would compromise our international borders in this manner will be dealt with severely. Illegal smuggling of human beings cannot be permitted to become a profitable business operation in Canada.

Those observations demonstrate the importance of improving our responses to this crime and safeguarding the integrity of Canada's borders. That is exactly what we are proposing to do in Bill C-31.

This bill would make it harder for human smugglers to undermine the integrity of Canada's immigration system while still continuing to offer protection to refugees. This has always been the position of our government. The 2011 Speech from the Throne underscored the government's commitment to combat human smuggling which can place migrants in dangerous conditions and undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.

During the last election, we were also clear. Our platform reiterated that it is not fair that criminal human smugglers and bogus claimants abuse Canada's generosity and jump the immigration queue ahead of those who follow the rules. Members probably know from their own experiences in riding offices how many legitimate immigrants are waiting to come to Canada, yet because others are jumping the queue, they and their families are suffering as a result. Quite frankly, that is not fair.

The bill before us today makes it clear that Canada and Canadians do not and will not tolerate the despicable crime of human smuggling. Canada has always been a strong and visible supporter of international efforts to fight human smuggling. Bill C-31 would provide law enforcement officials additional tools to investigate and prosecute individuals who organize, engage in and profit from human smuggling.

As hon. members are aware, our existing laws against migrant smuggling target a very specific manifestation of human smuggling. The crown must prove that the accused knew the people being smuggled did not have the documents needed to enter Canada. This bill proposes to change this law and broaden the offence to provide a more comprehensive response to the various manifestations of this crime.

The first way it does this is by expanding the offence so that proof that the accused knew that any part of the act would be violated, and not just the failure to have the necessary documents, would constitute smuggling. The focus then is on the smuggler breaching the act, as opposed to whether the smuggler knew that the individual did not have the documents. That specific knowledge, of course, is very difficult to prove in any prosecution.

The second way this offence would be broadened is by adding the mental element of recklessness to the offence. This would mean that a prosecutor could lead evidence showing that the accused was subjectively aware of the substantial risk, but without absolute certainty that the smuggled persons would be entering Canada in contravention of the requirements of the act, and proceeded despite the risk.

This is a fairly common term in our criminal law. It is probably expressed best in the concept of wilful blindness where essentially someone knows there is something wrong but proceeds anyway and suggests that he or she did not know specifically what was wrong. In fact, that person is wilfully blind. The law has never viewed that as an excuse. I think this amendment would bring the legislation into that stream of well-established law in Canada.

These amendments would provide our police and prosecutors the necessary tools to respond to human smuggling in all of its forms. Bill C-31 proposes mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of human smuggling. Depending upon the circumstances of the offence, these mandatory sentences would range up to a maximum of 10 years for the most grievous offences such as those conducted for profit by a criminal organization or terrorist group, or endangering the lives or causing the death of smuggled persons.

These mandatory penalties are highly tailored and respond to the most harmful and dangerous manifestations of a practice that is done with little or no regard for any of those being smuggled. Similarly, this bill would increase the penalties for violations of the Marine Transportation Security Act, such as refusals to comply with a ministerial directive to leave Canadian waters or for providing false or misleading information to officials. In such cases, individuals would be liable for fines of as much as $200,000 and up to $500,000 for a subsequent offence. These changes will deliver a strong, clear message. It is a message that must be delivered before the next migrant vessel sails for our shores, and that risk is very real.

Bill C-31 will deter human smugglers from mounting such ventures. Indeed, we must do more than simply express our distaste for human smuggling. There is also the simple yet profound matter of exercising our right as a sovereign nation to protect our borders. Canada has the right to decide who enters this country and there is no question that Canada is very generous in that regard, as I indicated in my earlier remarks. At the same time, we have an international obligation to assist those in need.

The existing rules allow a foreign national or permanent resident entering Canada to be detained if an immigration officer considers that person's detention necessary in order to carry out a proper investigation to make sure that the person is who they say they are. This is nothing different from what happens in our courts on a daily basis. If someone goes to court and a court cannot identify them, that person will remain in custody, whether a Canadian citizen or not. That is the general rule in our criminal justice system. If someone cannot identify who they are and the court is not satisfied who they are, that is the regular rule applied within our criminal justice system. What this essentially does is to extend the same principle to foreigners and illegal migrants who come to our country and then demand entry. Our country must have the same rights that it exercises in respect of citizens who refuse to identify themselves with those who are not citizens or, indeed, those whom we have no idea who they are. This is prudent and it must be done. There is nothing in their background that would make them inadmissible to Canada, but we do not know who they are.

Detentions of this kind must be reviewed by the Immigration Review and Refugee Board within 48 hours, and again within seven days and, if necessary, every 30 days after that.

The system works well most of the time. However, it is not designed to deal with those who arrive en masse at one location, as was the case with the MV Sun Sea in 2010. Border officials did not have sufficient time to carry out the investigations so vital to protecting public safety. That is why the bill would give them the authority to declare the arrival of a group of people in circumstances such as the MV Sun Sea as an irregular arrival if the minister was of the opinion that their identity or admissibility could not be determined in a timely manner, or if there were reasonable grounds to suspect human smuggling done for profit by a criminal organization or a terrorist group. If a decision is made to designate the arrival, individuals who arrive under those circumstances would be detained until the Immigration Refugee Board determined they were refugees who needed Canada's protection. This would not apply to those 16 years of age or younger.

If they were still detained after one year, their detention would be reviewed at the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing, which would decide whether their detention would continue. At any point during that period, there would be the authority to order early release where exceptional circumstances existed. Subsequent detention review hearings, if necessary, would follow at six-month intervals. These mandatory detention provisions would not apply to individuals who are under 16 years of age.

As I said, these detention measures are needed in the context of irregular arrivals. They provide Canadian immigration law enforcement officials with sufficient time to examine and investigate individuals to determine the identity and admissibility of each and every individual. Presently, the officers do not have the time to process these individuals, and so in a number of cases the boards order the release of individuals whose backgrounds we do not know, that is, who they are and what criminal or terrorists organizations they may be associated with.

The determination of identity may take days, weeks, months and even years, particularly if individuals arrive with no documentation, as they often do. It also takes time to verify any documentation provided, in some cases from overseas. All migrants must be interviewed, and often several times. At the same time, the detention provisions ensure that those found to be refugees and those in exceptional circumstances would be released.

It is not just the number of irregular arrivals but also the complexity of the human smuggling offence and the clandestine, sophisticated and transnational nature of the venture that extend the time required for officials to fully process individuals attempting to enter Canada.

These human smuggling ventures are launched from areas of the world where terrorist and criminal groups are known to be active. The threat is real. It would be irresponsible for our government to allow individuals to enter our country without fully determining their true identity and whether or not they pose a threat to Canada and Canadians.

Common sense dictates that we know who is entering our country in the same way that it is common sense for the courts, on a daily basis, to determine now whether the individuals before them are who they in fact say they are. As I say, this happens with Canadian citizens all the time, and it needs to happen with irregular migrants.

Canada will continue to afford a fair and independent hearing to all eligible asylum seekers and will uphold our obligations under international law to protect those who are found to be refugees.

We have heard from Canadians across the country that they are concerned about the threat of the illegal migrant process in terms of it potentially allowing suspected criminals and/or terrorist-linked individuals into the country. That such individuals attempt to gain admittance to our country taints our entire immigration and refugee system. It could also compromise Canada's reputation as a country able to secure itself against individuals connected to terrorism or organized crime. Indeed, it is our government's priority to defend the integrity of our immigration and refugee system.

The changes we are proposing with the bill will enhance the safety and security of Canadians and, indeed, protect the integrity of our immigration system.

A past editorial published in the Globe and Mail stated the situation we are facing with regard to human smuggling very clearly:

For immigrants, scams and crimes are broken promises that lead to broken homes and a burden of debt owed to middlemen. For Canada, that often means the entry of the wrong people into the country, while others Canada would prefer are forced to wait, or never get their chance to come.

This is certainly something we all hear about in our ridings from individuals who are looking to bring family members into the country.

Every successful incident of human smuggling encourages these reprehensible operators to continue their predatory schemes. Every successful incident of human smuggling encourages more people to try to take advantage of Canada's generosity by convincing individuals to cut in front of those who have followed the rules, who have filed the proper papers and waited patiently for the opportunity to begin a new life in the best country in the world.

I urge all hon. members to support the bill and the fine work that our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has done.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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10:55 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask three questions of the minister.

First, the minister and the government introduced Bill C-4, the human smuggling component that is rolled into the omnibus bill, back in June of last year. If this bill is so important and urgent, why has the government withdrawn that bill and slowed down the process and now rolled those exact same provisions into this new bill, setting back the progress.

Second, I know that the hon. member was a lawyer in his previous career. In that regard, I would note that one of the main criticisms of the detention process in this bill is that it involves detention without review by a court for up to a year. The legal community has expressed concern that this may violate the charter. In fact, similar provisions have been struck down in the security certificate case, and yet the government has introduced an identical provision.

Third and finally, I want to get the minister's comments on article 31 of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which says that a country may not impose penalties on refugees because of their irregular arrival to a country. Yet this bill would impose on people, even if they were deemed to be legitimate refugees, the penalty of not being able to apply for permanent residency or to sponsor family members for five years. This does not target human smugglers but refugees and is a clear violation of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. I would like the minister's comments on that as well.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, in respect of the process by which this bill is proceeding, I want to commend the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for the work that he has done. It is important to see this bill in the overall context of our immigration reform, which is absolutely necessary. Had the opposition said it agreed that Bill C-4 was important and that it would move the bill along quickly, I am sure the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would perhaps have viewed this differently. Yet the opposition has consistently opposed very prudent measures to protect our immigration and refugee system.

Contrary to seeing these provisions as penalties imposed on refugees, we have to see the measures in this bill as steps to protect the integrity of our immigration and refugee system. I think everyone recognizes that when they come here to this new country that we have a vested interest in ensuring that those who are not legitimate in their process of arrival have to be subject to very rigorous concerns.

Canada has no apologies to make for the number of immigrants that we accept in this country. I come from an immigrant background as well and understand what it means to have to follow the rules to get into this country. My ancestors were very fortunate to be allowed into this country, but we understood that there are rules. I still have relatives wanting to come to this country who are waiting patiently to come here. Every time an illegal, criminal—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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11 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. There were many members rising and I would like to give other members an opportunity to ask questions.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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11 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, one of the things the minister is aware of is that in Bill C-4 there was a requirement that even children be kept in detention if deemed to be among the irregular arrivals. The government saw the wisdom of the opposition, who suggested that we should not be holding 8 or 10-year-old children in detention. In that sense, there was an improvement in Bill C-31 from Bill C-4, and I applaud the minister for listening to the opposition's concerns regarding the detention of children.

My question for the minister is this. In the case of a child who is eight years old and arrives with a parent, what would be the circumstances of the parent being detained for up to a year and child not? What is the government suggesting in that situation?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
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11 a.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, the general rule is that we treat children in a different way from how we treat adults. Children should not bear the responsibility of crimes that their parents may have committed. If individuals come here illegally without proper documentation and we cannot determine who they are, the general rule is that the children are not committing the crime but they are obviously under the care and control of their parents.

As I understand it, in situations with some of the recent migrant vessels, the children have been placed into foster care in British Columbia. In those types of situations, the system has tried to take care of them. I know that has caused significant financial implications for the Government of British Columbia as it attempts to deal with that while their parents' application and identity are to be determined.

I think that is a reasonable compromise. This is an issue that was raised with me. We had long discussions about the line at which one should not have that automatic detention. We have settled on age 16 which I think is a reasonable compromise.

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11 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to come back to what my colleague was just saying about detention of adults. They would be sent to prison for a minimum of one year, but children 16 or under would not. This is a very important point. It would be nice to know what is going to happen to the children 16 or under. Will they be separated from their family or detained without really being detained?

In my riding, there is an immigration detention centre where refugees who cannot prove their identity are incarcerated. They are incarcerated in prisons on federal prison property. They are handcuffed. Women are separated from men. They stay there for 28 days on average, but some are there for months.

Not only does the minister have discretionary power, but these people will be incarcerated for at least a year and might be released after that. What will happen to the families? Will they be separated or not?