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

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-11 attempted to deal with the backlog and had the support of all three political parties. It too attempted to deal with the backlog by speeding up the process. The member would find all party agreement on wanting to speed up the process.

If a 25 year-old comes here as a legitimate refugee and has done nothing wrong and is trying to save his own life by entering Canada, and is then told that he has to wait at least five years before he can sponsor his daughter or his son or his wife, he will be into his thirties before he can see the spouse he left behind because someone was trying to kill or torture him.

Is that fair?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, our immigration system is far too generous to bogus refugee claimants, who would like to take advantage of our system and all of the services that federal and provincial governments provide in terms of social assistance, education, health care and so on.

If a legitimate refugee comes to this country, Bill C-31 would actually help that person. The bill would help speed up the process and get a person who is in real need integrated into the country faster and sooner. The bill targets bogus individuals who are trying to take advantage of our country and our system and Canadian taxpayers.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to represent the incredible people of beautiful Langley, British Columbia.

I thank the member for Brampton—Springdale for his commitment to improving the Canadian immigration system. He is an inspiration to all of us in this House. I wish more people had the passion that he has to ensure we have an immigration system that is well protected.

This is a great opportunity to speak to this bill before us today. We do need to protect Canada's immigration system and I believe that Bill C-31 would allow us to do just that. This legislation would help us maintain the faith that Canadians have in our immigration and refugee system. Our great nation has been built on the hopes and ambitions of people from other countries who choose Canada as a home and we continue to depend on contributions of newcomers to help preserve our prosperity and the wonderful quality of life that we experience in Canada.

For that reason, Canada opens its doors to more than a quarter of a million immigrants and refugees every year. In fact, since 2006, our Conservative government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigrants in Canadian history. Is that not incredible? We have a well-earned reputation around the world for the generosity of our immigration and refugee system.

Unfortunately, though, this generous reputation has made us a target for criminals who want to abuse our system for their own gain. I am talking about the crime of human smuggling. I am sure all members have heard of and recall the irregular arrival of the Sun Sea in our waters off British Columbia in August 2010 with its 492 passengers. That incident and others have shaken the faith of Canadians in our immigration and refugee system. They fear some immigrants may have links with organized crime or even terrorist organizations. Canadians wonder if authorities can assess and expedite the entry of so many people into Canada at once without making a mistake. They might well ask that because, frankly, our current system is not designed to process quickly such an influx of people or complex cases arising from transnational, sophisticated human smuggling ventures.

That is why a key provision of Bill C-31 would allow us to bring in new rules to deal with irregular arrivals. Currently, for example, an immigration officer can detain a foreign national entering into Canada. This would include where the officer is not satisfied or not certain about the person's true identity. The Immigration and Refugee Board reviews these kinds of detentions within two days. If the person is still in custody, the board will look at that case again within seven days. Subsequently, it can look at it every 30 days after that.

Our current system is not meant to deal with mass arrivals in one location, which is what can often happen with human smuggling. As a result, authorities do not have adequate time for complete and proper identity, admissibility and security checks. We have a problem then. Depending on the complexity of the case, a security check can take days, weeks or even months. If a person arrives with no documentation, as is often the case with people who arrive en mass, the process can literally take years to complete. The reality is that the people carrying out human smuggling know this is how our system works.

I hope that all members, particularly those in the opposition, will change their minds and support this legislation.

Under this proposed legislation, the Minister of Public Safety would declare the arrival of groups as irregular in two situations: one, if the minister believes the identity or admissibility of the arrivals cannot be determined in a timely manner; two, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect criminal elements or terrorist groups are engaged in human smuggling for profit or for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization or terrorist group.

If the minister does designate the group as an ”irregular arrival”, then authorities would detain all the individuals who have arrived under these circumstances. These individuals would remain in detention until the Immigration and Refugee Board determined they were refugees. Under the proposed changes to our asylum system, this would take only a few months in many cases. If, after a year, an individual still has not been identified and is still in custody, the board would review his or her case and decide whether there should be continued detention or release.

I want to stress that the legislation would give the minister power to order early release in exceptional cases. I also want to point out that those under 16 years of age would be exempt from detention. I want to ensure the members of the opposition hear that. This is an important change from the previous human smuggling bill, Bill C-4. The opposition members do not like to hear the truth, unfortunately, but they have heard the truth and I hope the truth will set them free.

The proposed changes would give authorities the time they need to do proper background checks into identity and admissibility. This is absolutely crucial. When individuals with ties to organized crime or terrorists slip into our country they put the safety and security of all Canadians at risk.

On one hand, these incidents reinforce Canada's reputation as an easy target for human smugglers. On the other hand, they undermine the faith of Canadians in their immigration refugee system.

Our country needs newcomers to keep us strong. We can ill-afford for Canadians to lose trust and confidence in how we welcome immigrants and refugees. Our government is determined to address these challenges head on.

Centuries ago, when the first newcomers came to our shore, they harboured no thoughts about organized crime or terrorism, as some do now. They simply wanted a better life for themselves and their families. This same wish has drawn many people to Canada ever since. In 1906, my grandpa, my gido and baba came from Ukraine to Canada for a better life. As newcomers continue to take advantage of all our opportunities, they also contribute to our collective wealth in all sense of the word.

Together, to the envy of the world, we have woven a fabric that is a model of tolerance, compassion and prosperity. We cannot take this achievement for granted though. Indeed, as I speak, human smuggling is pulling at the fabric and threatening to unravel.

Irregular arrivals, like those on the Sun Sea, are making many Canadians question the merits of our immigration and refugee system. It will be a sad day indeed if our country loses faith in the merits of what new arrivals can bring us, so we must guard the vision of Canada closely. We must refuse to let criminal elements exploit our goodwill for their own ends. We must reassure all Canadians that we are ready to strengthen our immigration and refugee system. We must act now.

The provisions I have highlighted would give authorities more tools to manage large influxes of irregular arrivals. Officials would be able to do the necessary checks into immigration security and identity in order to protect Canadians. Other provisions would hold shipowners and operators accountable for their actions, including increasing the penalty for offences under the Marine Transportation and Security Act.

There are also proposed changes to our smuggling offence, including the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for persons convicted of smuggling. We know the opposition does not support getting tough, including mandatory minimums, but the courts need that guidance. These changes would go a long way to keep smugglers from doing their evil deeds in Canada.

We all need to get together and support this legislation. I thank the world's best environment minister for the incredible job he has done.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank our environment minister as well.

In his speech, the member mentioned the 400-plus people who came off the migrant vessel Sun Sea and called them a threat to our security and public safety. Those people risked their lives on a rickety cargo ship for two months to come to Canada's shores, holding their life in dear hand. Most of the people who came on that ship had UNHCR refugee cards. As the parliamentary secretary or the minster mentioned earlier, the Vietnamese boat people went back to get UNHCR refugee cards. Those people who came to our shores already had them. They had their identification taken away from them and then were told that they did not come with sufficient identification.

For the member to sing the tune that the minister sang before and say that people who arrive at Canada's borders by boat are considered irregular arrivals just because they are real asylum seekers who cannot afford an airplane ticket, is the member and the government calling people who do not have the ability to afford an airplane ticket bogus refugees?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her encouragement for people who cut into line, which is not what Canadians want.

Earlier I called the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the Minister of the Environment. Maybe it is the beautiful green tie he has on. However, we is the world famous, best in the whole world Minister Immigration and I want to thank him for his hard work.

I want to read a quote from Logan Logendralingam, who said, “We believe that the government should have the tools it needs to defend our borders and protect the fairness of our immigration. That is why we fully support new legislation that will target human smugglers who prey upon and exploit vulnerable people. Mandatory minimum sentences for convicted human smugglers will deter those who profit from putting human lives at risk. We understand that it is unfair for those who wait years to reunite their family members just to have others, who arrive through illegal means, jump ahead of them”.

That is what the NDP wants but that is not what Canadians want.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that there are literally tens of thousands of Canadians who would dispute his comments in terms of the Minister of Immigration.

All one needs to do is look at some of the actions of the government, such as the freezing out of parents and grandparents, to the building up of hope with the super visa, which turned out to be a super disappointment in the eyes of thousands of individuals who tried to get their parents to come here through the super visa.

There is some concern in regard to why the government tends to want to demonize the whole refugee community. It is best said in terms of when the member makes comments about the boats, the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea. I know the minister will remember. He was on the back of the ship with the Prime Minister proclaiming that refugees were all these bad people.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

No, that is not at all what he said.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Well, he did not say “bad people”, but there was a powerful message when the minister stood with the Prime Minister on the back of that boat. That is reason we have the legislation that we have here today.

Would the member tell the House how many of those refugees who were on that boat were terrorists or criminals? Could the member give us any indication as to how many of those who were on those—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Langley.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member questioned as to who was trying to demonize the immigration system. It was the 13 long years of Liberal government that demonized the immigration system. It created a backlog where people had already died and yet were still in the system.

It took this minister and this government to make a commitment to clean up that Liberal mess. The Liberals made a mess of the immigration system, the environment system and the justice system. There was nothing they touched that they did not mess up.

This government is taking action and I thank that minister again for his hard work.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak very strongly in opposition to Bill C-31, which has been given another one of those new-speak titles, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

It is really a reincarnation of the previous Bill C-4, which I spoke against on second reading, so I will repeat some of those same arguments. Essentially this new bill has most of those same flaws as the previous bill.

I am opposed to the bill based, first, on my personal experience. In the 1980s, I became involved in refugee work, largely around the political crisis in Central America. I became the co-founder of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre and I opened my own home to refugees who fled for their lives, having had other members of their families killed or tortured as a result of violence in Central America. I also worked as an international human rights monitor in East Timor, Ambon in Indonesia and in Afghanistan. Therefore, I have seen the situations which create the international refugees who seek safety for themselves and their families in Canada.

I am also opposed based on my concerns about the bill being a violation of both Canada's Charter of Rights and our international obligations, in particular, the designation of certain claimants as irregular arrivals and creating a second class of refugee claimants who are subject to various severe measures, including potential detention for a year.

Members on the other side like to the point to the fact they have improved the bill because now children will not be kept with their parents in detention, but will be sent into some limbo outside detention.

The bar on applying for permanent residency status for five years means it would be very difficult to reunify families because individuals would also not be allowed to sponsor their families for five years and would have no access to the refugee appeals division.

It is also based on my general opposition to the new-speak we see again and again on the other side of the House in taking away the status of permanent resident, which would imply, once an individual is granted it, they would be allowed to stay in Canada permanently. Under the bill, a permanent resident would no longer mean permanent. It would be subject to a decision of the minister to decide whether individuals could stay in the country or whether they would have to go back. Individuals, having brought their family to safety, having established themselves in Canada, after an arbitrary decision by the minister, they could be forced to leave and return to that country and give up all the progress they have made in re-establishing their lives.

It is also based on my doubts about how we have come to have the bill in front of us. The previous bill, Bill C-11, passed in the previous Parliament, was a compromise between all parties working on the immigrant and refugee system, but it was never allowed to work.

What we have before us is another unfortunate example of what I call government by headlines and the politics of resentment. In particular, in Conservatives speeches we hear lots of reference to queue-jumping, to exploiting our generosity and playing on the emotions of Canadians about somehow, someone getting something to which he or she is not entitled.

The Conservatives like to pick the extreme examples. They like to pick the exceptions, which no one would support, and then attempt to make public policy on those exceptions.

I am also opposed to this because it is another case of a policy based on the concept of deterrence, which the government likes to use in criminal justice. It is a concept which has no basis in fact. Tough penalties would of course deter law abiding citizens. As one of the witnesses who appeared at the public safety committee said, “Yes, tough sentences deter you and me because we have something to lose. They deter all law-abiding citizens who understand the concept of community. They do not deter criminals”.

They certainly would not deter genuine refugees fleeing for their lives and they certainly would not deter the profiteers engaged in human smuggling. They already face maximum penalties of up to $1 million and life sentences. Therefore, if tough penalties were deterrents, we would see no human smuggling because there are no penalties bigger than that in the Canadian legal system.

However, make no mistake, I believe in deterrents based on what actually works. If we look at all the literature on criminal justice, it is the same things that also apply to refugee claimants. What works is the certainty of being caught and the swiftness of prosecution. Therefore, the certainty that a bogus claim would be identified and the speed with which that claim would be dealt with is what would deter those claims, not making restrictions on legitimate refugee claimants' rights and their ability to access the process.

The real solution is to apply more resources to the front end of our existing system so that those who make claims know that their claims will be dealt with in a matter of weeks or months, not a matter of years, and they know that bogus claims will not succeed in our system.

The government appears to set out some very nice targets in the bill that these new categories of refugees will have to meet, but in the absence of new resources the government will not meet those targets either. Therefore, we will pass a bill, which endangers the rights of many legitimate refugees, without achieving the swiftness the government claims will result from these measures because it will not have the resources in the system to actually accomplish this.

I will now turn to what I think is the most serious flaw in the bill, which is the process of designating certain countries as safe countries. This is a flawed concept and, once adopted, creates another second class of refugee claimants and provides severe restrictions on the rights of those who come from what is designated a safe country and on their ability to make effective refugee claims.

There was a compromise reached in the previous bill, Bill C-11, which said that safe countries could be designated, but it would be done by a panel of experts, not the minister, and the designation would allow for the exemption of certain geographic areas or certain classes of persons. We all know that there are certain countries where things are completely safe and other regions of the country where things might not be safe.

Under this bill, the designation of a country is either safe or not safe. It is safe for everyone in every place or it is not safe. The previous bill would have allowed the designation of women, in areas where violations of rights against women are rampant, as an exempted class, so the country might be safe for men but not for women. It would have allowed the designation of gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, who are rarely safe in most countries around the world, as a class of people who could come from what was otherwise a safe country. The bill does not allow those designations of classes or geographic areas as exempt from the safe country designation.

Now I will turn to the particular situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees under the bill. I want to do so not just because I am a gay man and also an immigrant whose basic decision to move to Canada was, in large part, based on the criminalization of homosexuality in my country of origin at the time. It is a big part of why I stand here today. The safe country concept will have a disproportionate impact on these refugees from my community. Those coming from a designated safe country are required to make a claim within 15 days of arrival. In that 15 days they have to decide whether they would make a humanitarian and compassionate claim or a refugee claim. When I came, I would have had no idea what that meant, and in 15 days I would have had no ability to figure that out. I firmly believe that most refugees will be in that situation. As well, they have only 15 days to find legal representation. If they come from a society, and sometimes from a family, where declaring their sexuality meant great losses on a personal level and a great threat to their safety, they have only 15 days to change their mindset whether to go and talk to a stranger and confess everything that has happened in their personal life that caused them to become a refugee.

From personal experience, I can say that would have been very difficult for me to do. I know it is very difficult for the current lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees.

There is a particularly large problem with the 15-day limit because the claimant would then appear before an adjudicator, a single individual who would have no knowledge of the situation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities in the country of origin. Therefore, not only would individuals have to make their personal claim about their sexual orientation and how that made them unsafe, they would also have to demonstrate how their community was unsafe in their country as a whole. I doubt there are any refugees from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities who would be able to do so in that 15-day period.

Without identifying the individual, I want to talk for a moment about a refugee who came from the Caribbean when he was 17 years old. His life was threatened when it was found out that he was gay. Every day he went to high school in a taxi, paid for by his aunt from Toronto so that he could finish high school at home. Then he was spirited to Canada. When he went to make a refugee claim, he did not want to talk about the personal experiences that made it necessary for him to flee. He did not want to confess to being gay even to his lawyer. It took six months for his lawyer to get the full story from him and then document what had happened to him in his country of origin. Therefore, to try to do that in 15 days is virtually impossible.

What is the real solution here? The Canadian Council for Refugees said scrap the bill. I certainly stand with it here today. The Canadian Bar Association has expressed its concerns about charter rights violations. Amnesty International said that the bill fell far short of Canada's international obligations.

What would I suggest? I would suggest that we go back to letting Bill C-11, the compromise bill, work and that we ensure the government provides a proper resource system so Canada can continue to be a safe place for refugees, genuine refugees, from around the world to make their home.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, that speech was essentially incoherent. The member criticized the current system, which is also the system wherein claimants have access to a full fact-based quasi-judicial hearing in front of a decision maker at the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board. Every claimant will continue to have the same access to the same natural justice and due process and refugee protection. Nothing changes.

In terms of 15 days, there is no limit on when foreign nationals who arrive in Canada can file a claim. They could be here for two years or four years as a student, as a temporary worker, as somebody out of status, and make a claim. There is no 15-day limit.

The member says that this will endanger the life of legitimate refugees. How? This does nothing to curtail the current generous access to a full review on the merits of an individual claim.

In terms of having to demonstrate the generalized risks that people might face if they belong to a particular social group in their country of origin, that is the same requirement under the current law. That is the requirement under the UN convention that someone must demonstrate he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on various criteria.

He suggested that under this bill the minister would have the arbitrary power to revoke permanent residency from people with protected status. That is absolutely, categorically and completely false. There is no change in the law proposed here in the prospective revocation or cessation of protected status or revocation of permanent residency. Those powers are vested in the IRB and there is no additional power proposed in that respect.

I invite the member to actually go back and research this, rather than spreading fear and hysteria on this important matter.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, if what the minister says is true, then I am not sure why we have the bill in front of us if it does not change anything.

He says that the 15-day deadline for filing a claim will not have any application, that people can wait as long as they like before they file a claim, except for the fact that they would have no status in Canada during that period, they would have no protection and they could be deported back to their country of origin. The only thing that provides that protection is actually filing the claim.

The minister is being some disingenuous in saying that there are no changes in the bill whatsoever and that all the rights and status remain exactly the same. It does not appear to do so and if it did, then I do not know why we have the bill here in the first place.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. What he said moves me deeply. My little brother is also gay. He had to leave Chile at the end of the dictatorship because of the terrible homophobia there. He has been granted refugee status. He is a man with a job, who contributes a great deal to the Canadian economy.

I would like to come back to the issue of human trafficking. I think personally that we are focusing on the wrong target. I have heard it said that refugee claimants who arrive by boat are criminals. The children are sent to foster homes, and so on. We are looking at the wrong target. The real criminals we should be putting in prison are the smugglers, the ones who are taking advantage of these people in distress. Instead of putting people in jail and putting children in foster homes, we should increase the number of employees and the number of judges dealing with refugee claims. There is money for this, but there is a shortage of professionals. I agree with putting smugglers in jail, but not the people who are living in misery.

Does my colleague not believe that we are focusing on the wrong people when we criminalize the people who are seeking asylum instead of the traffickers?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I often know how women feel when their arguments are described as incoherent, irrational and hysterical, because that is what the minister has just said.

However, it really does not catch the absolute danger that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face around the world. It is a crisis. It is not hysterical to point out that in more than 70 countries around the world it is actually a crime to be a gay or a lesbian.

As to the specifics of the member's question, again, the government likes to spend money at the back end of the system by detaining and imprisoning people instead of spending money at the front end of the system, in terms of research, policing and prosecution, which would ultimately eliminate the costs at the back end of detention.

It is a question of choices as to where we want to spend resources. I would like to spend those at the front end of our system, ensuring we have a fair system which cannot be gained or schemed by the bogus refugees, which cannot be exploited by smugglers, but which will provide fair treatment and justice for refugees.