House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugee.

Topics

The House resumed from March 15 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

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased with this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. This legislation would strengthen Canada's immigration and refugee program in a number of very important ways.

The legislation before us would build on our government's already impressive track record for welcoming newcomers, while preserving the integrity of our borders and taking action to crack down on those who abuse our generosity. Our government will be increasing the number of refugees we will resettle in Canada by 20% year over year. We will be increasing the number of resettled refugees by 2,500 additional refugees. This is on top of the fact that Canada is already receiving one resettled refugee out of every ten in the world. Canada has a very strong track record of providing assistance and sanctuary for refugees who are in genuine need of protection. Under our government, that track record has markedly improved.

As the Prime Minister has noted in the past, Canada not only has, relatively speaking, the largest immigration program in the world and the most generous system of sanctuary for refugees in the world, we also have a level of public support for immigration that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Canada welcomes thousands of new immigrants and refugees every year through one of the most generous and fair refugee systems in the world. Since 2006, the Conservative government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigration in Canada's history. This is a source of pride for our government and a reflection of the generosity of our nation.

However, while Canadians are generous, we are not naive. Canadians will not tolerate those who abuse our generosity. Canadians will not tolerate the acts of sophisticated criminal organizations whose only motive is profit and who prey on those who seek a better life by making promises that they can get them into Canada. Bill C-31 therefore introduces important reforms to deter individuals and organized crime groups from engaging in illegal and dangerous human smuggling operations.

In 2010, Canadians were given a sober reminder that our country is not immune from organized criminal groups intent on making a profit from human smuggling. The arrival of the migrant vessel Sun Sea came less than one year after the arrival of the Ocean Lady. The fact that these vessels reached our shores less than 12 months apart clearly demonstrates that human smuggling networks are targeting Canada as a destination and that they can use the generosity of our immigration system and the promise of a new life in Canada as a means of profit.

Recent international media reports of a massive smuggling ring headed for Canada that was recently dismantled in Togo are a reminder that human smuggling is a problem that will not go away. Human smuggling is a crime that recklessly endangers lives. We must take action now so we can address the challenges confronting us.

Yes, Canada is a welcoming nation but our government has clearly stated that we cannot tolerate the abuse of our immigration system, either by human smugglers or by those who are unwilling to play by the rules. Canadian immigrants who waited in line have no tolerance for those who use illegal means to jump the queue. That is why today our government is moving forward with the protecting Canada's immigration system act. Through this act, our government would crack down on those criminals who would abuse our generous immigration system and endanger the safety and security of Canadian communities. We would ensure the integrity and fairness of Canada's immigration system for years to come.

Among many measures under Bill C-31, our government would: enable the Minister of Public Safety to declare the existence of a human smuggling event and make those involved subject to the act's measures; make it easier to prosecute human smugglers; impose mandatory minimum sentences on convicted human smugglers; and hold ship owners and operators to account for the use of their ships in human smuggling operations. It is important to note that, unlike Bill C-4, Bill C-31 includes an exemption from detention for minors under the age of 16. Under this act, our government would also reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of an illegal human smuggling operation.

This includes measures like: preventing those who come to Canada as part of a human smuggling event from applying for permanent resident status for up to five years should they successfully apply for refugee status; ensuring the health benefits participants receive are not more generous than those received by the Canadian public; and preventing individuals who participate in human smuggling events from sponsoring family members for a five-year period. These measures are tough, but they are fair.

All Canadians expect our borders and shores to be protected and secure and our generous system protected from abuse. To those who want to jump the queue or target Canada for criminal gain, these measures would be a message: Canada will not tolerate human smuggling.

Human smuggling provisions in Bill C-31 have been widely praised. This is what Michael Deakin-Macey, past president of the board of directors of the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre Society said:

Canada is a generous country with an immigration system that treats both immigrants and refugees very well, however there are those who are not willing to wait their turn in line and criminals who would profit from this. Instead, they want to jump the immigration queue and make their way to Canada through any means available to them, often bypassing several hospitable countries and travelling halfway around the world to land on our shores.... As a result of this human smuggling, honest and legal would-be immigrants who are waiting patiently and anxiously in the queue are penalized while the smuggled refugees' claims are processed.... To all reasonable observers, the criminal enterprise that is human smuggling is an abuse of both Canada's generosity and the honesty of all the other immigrant applicants.... We are pleased that the Government has sent a clear message that it will not be tolerated, and we welcome the introduction of the legislation preventing human smugglers from in effect creating an unfair two-tier immigration system, one for the impatient rich and the other for the honest applicant.

The measures which our government is introducing in Bill C-31 would enhance our ability to crack down on those who engage in human smuggling and who try to exploit Canada's generous immigration system. They would strengthen our ability to protect Canadians from criminal or terrorist threats. They would respect our international obligation to provide assistance to those legitimate refugees who need our protection and help to start a new and better life.

From coast to coast to coast, Canadians want to help those in need or those who genuinely need our protection. That does not make us naive and it does not make us pushovers. Canadians want tough but fair measures to stop those who would abuse our generosity from becoming part of Canadian society. That is why our government is taking action. That is what our government is doing today and this is what we are going to continue to do in the future.

I urge all members to support this important piece of legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that has come to my attention is that most of the strengthening of Canada's immigration system will happen anyway without this bill. In June of this year there will be implementation of the former Bill C-11, which in fact does the things the government keeps talking about need to be done. They are already going to be done.

What is so urgent and necessary that we undo what was agreed to before and now present something completely different, much more restrictive and not agreed to by the other parties in the House? Can the member outline what significant differences there are that are so egregious, that so many false refugee claims would not be captured by the existing Bill C-11?

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10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly there are gaps in what was in Bill C-11. Those gaps are being completed by this bill. That would actually prevent refugee claims from countries where there are no persecutions or prosecutions taking place.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:10 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, if members noticed, today I am wearing green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, which is tomorrow. I notice a bit of green in the chamber today, which is wonderful. That is my heritage. My relatives came to Canada well over 100 years ago because of great opportunities. We have the greatest country in the world. The bill today is an effort to make sure we maintain Canada as the best place for people to come to. We all recognize that there are issues with our system. This bill would tighten up on people who take advantage of our generous system.

I want to ask my colleague if his constituents would agree that people with no identities who could pose a risk should be let onto our streets before their identities are determined?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canada clearly is one of the best countries in the world, certainly for me. I have lived in many countries, and Canada is the best country in the world.

We want to keep it that way. That is why we want to make sure that some of the measures in this bill would actually help us prevent criminals and other people who are abusing the system from coming into this country, making it not the best country in the world.

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10:15 a.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, members will notice that today I am wearing grey. The reason I am wearing grey is because of the dark cloud that is hanging over heads because of this bill. There are so many problems with this bill that I do not even know where to begin.

First, I would like to thank the member for his exposé. I think it was well considered although flawed.

Parts of this bill talk about exceptions for safe country designations, where members of the LGBT community may very well not be able to have access to our refugee system. The minister would not be able to use those designations any more to determine whether a country is actually safe. I would say being gay in Mexico can be very dangerous. In fact, many people have lost their lives.

I do not agree with the way this bill is written. I would really like to hear the member's comments on how lesbian and gay people in the world would be able to access this great country of ours. I think one of the reasons it is such a great country is because we welcome people who are in danger in other countries. With this bill, we would not be able to do that. People's lives would be at risk. I would like to hear the member's comments on risking people's lives for political purposes.

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, there are countries where gays, lesbians or whatever bent someone may have are quite safe, and actually perform very well from that point of view.

There are abuses by claimants from countries like Mexico that have taken place in the last year. We can see where claims of being “of that gender” or whatever have been made, when it is totally false. In fact at one point I think there were 1,500 people coming in from Mexico every month.

There is a balance that needs to be made. I believe this bill gives that balance.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:15 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, in light of the fact that we are talking about our clothing colour, I am wearing some green but also some black today in honour of my heritage but also to remind people that it is a gloomy day here in the House.

The bill undoes a lot of good work that took place in the last Parliament and, although I asked my friend opposite what exactly the differences were, all he could say was that there were gaps. What the government is now doing is creating gaps, where those gaps had been filled, where there was agreement by the parties to fix the problems with the legislation in such a way that all circumstances were taken care of. We have now created a whole bunch of gaps in this legislation that are glaring by their example, as was evidenced a few moments ago.

Those in some countries who may be declared safe but who happen to belong to the gay and lesbian community may in fact be refugees. However, under this new bill, they would not have the opportunity to be exempted from the rather horrendous provision of having to have a hearing within 15 days and, if they do not win, they are out.

Government members argued at some length in earlier speeches that a significant percentage of supposed refugee claimants abandoned their claim in the course of that period of time. We, on this side of the House, agree that we do not want fake claims. We do not want to encourage a system where people are coming to this country merely to abuse our system. Bill C-11, in the previous Parliament, would have fixed the problem of the fake claimants. It would have fixed the problem to everyone's satisfaction and to the minister's satisfaction. The minister praised the bill. What has changed between Bill C-11 of the last Parliament and now in terms of Canada's refugee system? Absolutely nothing. Nothing has changed since then to warrant such new and draconian measures being placed into this legislation.

The new law would have taken effect in June of this year. We could have had a law that had been through the process and was ready to roll, that fixed all of the problems, which are being talked about again in the House, of the abuse of Canada's refugee system. Those things would have been fixed and we are throwing it away. We are wasting an awful lot of time, energy and resources, but for what purpose?

One of the things that is glaring in the bill that maybe is the purpose is the absolute power it would give the minister. The minister would have the absolute power, and despite the comments from the other side that he would consult, ultimately it falls within the power of one human being to determine for most of the planet whether people are safe from persecution or not.

Lord Acton of Britain stated that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men”. Those words were spoken over 100 years ago in the British system to describe what happens when someone is given too much power. It becomes a corrupting influence. I have the utmost of regard for the current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. I think he will probably do a good job, but who knows who will come next?

We in Toronto have discovered just what happens when power is given to the person in charge. During David Miller's term as mayor, there was a big push on the part of the mayor to give the mayor more power to select an executive committee and to run things in a much more autocratic way. We can see what happened. We ended up with a mayor who is now abusing that power, who is running amok and who now faces the possibility of being stripped of his office as a result of the power that he has used.

That is what comes from putting too much power into the hands of one individual, and that is part of what the bill would do. It would create a system that would put everything into the hands of one individual, and we do not know who that individual will be next.

We also have situations where exemptions, exceptions that were provided for in Bill C-11, have been eliminated. For example, an individual in my riding is a coroner working for the police in what will probably be designated as a safe country. The person came to Canada as a refugee because the police told him that they could no longer protect him because he had given too much evidence against the criminal gangs that happen to exist in that country. Although the country is generally safe, that individual had to leave a beautiful home, a successful practice and quite a well-to-do lifestyle in that country because his life was in danger. The person has now gone through several stages of applying to be a refugee, which is very difficult to establish for an individual coming from such circumstances.

The bill would probably send that person back to that country to probably be killed because that country is designated as safe country, and that is wrong. The minister needs the ability to find exemptions. Individuals need to access to the legal system and access to justice, but that is being denied them by this 15 day maximum time period.

I also want to talk a bit about the old Bill C-4, which is now rolled into this bill, the Sun Sea and Ocean Lady part of the bill that suggests that persons who the minister, again leaving the power in the hands of one individual, a different minister this time, declares as irregular arrivals would make victims of those individuals.

We have heard over and over again about how the government is on the side of the victim. It is not here t in this bill. Those individuals who were innocent until they arrived in Canada are now the victims and are now to be punished by being incarcerated the day they set foot in Canada as soon as the minister declares that arrival to be an irregular arrive, which clearly would have been the case with the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, and probably many other arrivals we do not even know about that the minister is keeping tabs on.

That is wrong. It is wrong to create victims where victims do not exist. We all agree that persons who engage in human smuggling ought to be punished, ought to be rooted out and ought to be held to account. However, not the individuals who are seeking refuge in this country and found that the only way they could get here was through this kind of mechanism. That is how desperate people are in these countries. They accept that they need to get here through human smuggling because they have no other way to get here. We have now made victims of those individuals and that is not in keeping with what the government keeps telling us that it is all about.

We are, in fact, on the side of the victims. We are, in fact, on the side of the individuals who have been persecuted in their own country, escape by whatever means and who should not be victimized. They should not be made into criminals merely because of the means of their arrival in Canada.

The final little piece of the bill is making e victims of children. In the previous bill, Bill C-4, the government forgot that persons under 16 probably should not be slapped in jail. What has it done? Instead of saying that the parents of children under 16 will not be put in jail, the government has now said that the parents will be put in jail but the children will not. Where will that leave the children? What kind of message does that send?

I will wrap up by saying that we should not be making further victims of the children who come to this country as refugees but that, apparently, is what the bill would do.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are many parts of the bill that make me feel uneasy. At the very end of his speech, my friend mentioned the part that I would like to concentrate on.

The Government of Canada over the years has a very checkered history when it comes to detention. We do have a history of sending refugees away, sometimes to their death. We do have a history of detaining and jailing Italian Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians and Japanese Canadians. Therefore, there is a very slippery slope with respect to those kinds of measures in the bill.

I will talk about detention for a moment and children in particular. In the bill, children will have two choices. They can either stay with their parents in detention or are put into foster care. I do not think either of those are good options. For children, who have just come to the country and may not know the language that is spoken, to be put into foster care away from their parents, regardless of their age, is not a good option, The other option is to stay with their parents in jail. I wonder if my friend would like to make a further comment on that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House start from the premise that people who come here as refugees should never be incarcerated, no matter how they arrive. However, the government appears to be trying to fix things by moving jigsaw pieces in a puzzle that actually will not fit together. Admittedly, there is a suggestion that we need to crack down on the people who would smuggle individuals but we do not do that by making victims and we do not do it by making victims of children. It is like a Sophie's choice for the parents. They can either have their children in jail or send them to live with someone else. That is wrong. We should not put people in that position. No one should put people in that position.

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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's statement exemplifies again, what I have seen as a new member of Parliament, the positions of members in the House where we have the same feeling about things but very different approaches to dealing with them.

This may be more of a comment than a question. My hon. colleague is standing in the House and basically making the assumption or telling all Canadians that all irregular arrivals to this country are legitimate refugee claimants and that they are victims. He does not seem to be acknowledging that there are people who arrive on our shores who not only pay human smugglers but who are criminals and are dangerous people. I will not say that is every one of them. I certainly agree with some of the concerns that he has about it.

However, it would be responsible for him to stand in the House and recognize that some of the people arriving on Canadian shores in an irregular fashion are the kind of people we do not need or want in Canada and should be detained until we determining their intentions. Canadians deserve to be protected from them. Legal claimants who have gone through the system should have the integrity of that system protected by making them enter Canada the proper way.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to agree with my hon. colleague. I wonder if he would put amendments forward to the bill to do exactly what he just suggested. He suggested that we should distinguish between people who are criminals and those who are not, even if they come as irregular arrivals. We agree. We do not want criminals using Canada as a refuge anymore than the Conservatives do but we should not be punishing people who are not criminals simply because of the mechanism by which they arrived in this country.

Going back to my friend's comment about arriving from Ireland many years ago, to some, the Irish immigrants were criminals in their own country and should not have been permitted entry into the country, but here we are. We should not be determining people's criminal status on the basis of how they arrived here. I would welcome any amendments that the member opposite would like to put forward to the bill to create that distinction.

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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canada's refugee system is among the most generous in the world. In fact, Canada currently welcomes one out of every ten resettled refugees worldwide. Our humanitarian efforts have been recognized by the United Nations.

Since World War II, Canada has provided a safe haven for over one million refugees. As a Canadian, I am proud of this compassionate tradition of ours. There should be no doubt that Canada's government is committed to continuing this proud tradition. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, an increase of 2,500 refugees compared to 2010.

In introducing Bill C-31, our rationale is simple. By focusing the resources of our system and providing protection to those who genuinely need it, we will improve our ability to help those in need. The Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was passed in June 2010, made some important reforms, but the fact is that gaps remain in the new system.

For one, the asylum system is already overwhelmed by a significant backlog of cases. The growing number of bogus claims from European Union democracies is only exacerbating the problem.

The facts speak for themselves and are strong proof of the need for Bill C-31. It is very telling that the opposition in its criticism does not refute any of these facts, but instead chooses to conveniently ignore them.

Last year Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union. This amounted to a quarter of all refugee claims made last year. That is more than from Africa and Asia. Canada's top source country for refugee claims was Hungary, an EU member state. In fact, Canada received 4,400 claims from Hungary alone last year, double the amount received the year before.

Virtually all claims from the European Union in the past two years were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. It has become quite apparent that too many of our tax dollars are being spent on people who do not need our protection. These bogus refugee claims from the EU are costing Canadian taxpayers $170 million per year.

Building on the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the passage of Bill C-31 would save taxpayers a whopping $1.65 billion over the next five years. I think Canadians would agree that this money could be better spent elsewhere rather than on failed refugee claimants who abuse our refugee system and use it as a backdoor into our country. This is precisely what is being done right now under the current system. We are using taxpayer dollars to support people who should not be here in the first place.

Indeed, the average failed refugee claim currently costs taxpayers approximately $55,000. That is because the current system is far too slow. On average, it can take up to 4.5 years from the time an initial claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. During this time, claimants can access taxpayer funded health care and receive taxpayer funded social assistance for several years while their claim is still pending. Endless appeals and long wait times mean greater costs to Canadian taxpayers.

These bogus refugee claims are bogging down the system. This is negatively impacting genuine refugees who are in need of Canada's protection. People in genuine need of our protection now wait up to 20 months for a decision on their claim. This is unfair to genuine claimants. As a result, our message to genuine claimants who are waiting patiently in line is that we are sorry it is taking so long.

This just is not fair. It is an abuse of our country's generosity. It robs genuine claimants of their ability to get protection quickly. It deprives them of the peace of mind they and their families deserve.

The NDP and the Liberals, by not supporting Bill C-31, are telling immigrants who patiently waited in line that the opposition supports queue-jumping and those who break the rules to get to the front of the line. The opposition is on the wrong side of Canadians, especially Canadian immigrants who followed all the rules.

Given these problems with the current refugee system, it should be obvious to any Canadian that further improvements are needed.

Bill C-31 would not only improve upon the current refugee system and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, it would also make it faster for genuine refugees to get our protection.

The success of the new system hinges on our ability to speed up the current processing times for refugee claims. This is essential because the less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and to queue-jump the regular immigration process. Also, speeding up the current processing time for refugee claims means genuine refugees will get our protection more quickly.

Hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board for claimants from safe countries would occur within 30 to 45 days. In comparison, under the current system it takes an astounding average of 1,000 days to process a refugee claim.

I want to make one important point very clear. Every eligible claim will continue to be heard by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. In addition, every failed claimant will have access to at least one recourse mechanism, such as the refugee appeal division or the Federal Court.

These new processing timelines not only mean people who are in genuine need of Canada's protection will receive it more quickly, they also mean we can more quickly remove those who do not.

This is what was written in the Globe and Mail about Bill C-31:

The immigration minister's...refugee reforms, aimed at making the process more efficient and decisive, are generally good. If implemented, they will improve the unwieldy asylum program....The legislation rightly focuses on weeding out claimants who are not genuine, and stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries such as Mexico and Hungary that are democracies with respect for basic rights and freedoms....Fast-tracking refugee claims from these countries, and ensuring failed claimants are promptly deported, is an excellent way to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse.

The spike in unfounded claims from democracies where human and democratic rights exist and which are not typically refugee producing is proof that we must act decisively to deter abuse of our refugee system.

Quick removals would deter abuse and contribute to reducing the overall costs associated with these bogus refugee claims.

We need to send the right message to both types of refugee claimants: the genuine and the unfounded. Those who truly need our help will get it even faster, but if someone is not in need of protection, that individual will be sent home quickly.

These proposed measures will continue to meet our domestic and international obligations. They will also maintain the balance and fairness that are the foundations of our refugee system. I am confident that they will honour the spirit and support for refugees that Canadians value.

I urge all members of the House to support this important legislation and help to provide a quicker and more secure beginning here in Canada for victims of violence and persecution around the world.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech.

I do not know if he shares my concerns, but it seems as though there is a fundamental problem with balance in this bill, which puts more power into the hands of the minister by allowing him to determine which countries should be designated safe and to restrict the number of refugees from those countries. Does this worry the hon. member?

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10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the rhetoric that has gone on with the bill over the last number of days is not important. What is actually in the bill and the facts are important.

In the previous bill the rules were quantified in regulations. The bill puts into legislation the definition of a safe country and the qualifications for a safe country. The applications that are turned down by a large majority, those that do not qualify, from certain countries will define what is a safe country. It is the applications that will define that, not the minister. We are putting it into legislation. We are not waiting for regulations for that to happen. We are being proactive.

That is what the minister has done on all immigration files. He has been proactive to make a difference for Canadians and to make a difference for legitimate refugees.

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10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has been a wonderful mentor to me since I have been in this House.

I would like to thank the minister for his work on this file. I have had the honour to work with the minister for two years. His courage in demonstrating and enacting transformational change on this file is incredible. I am sure that Canadian history will show his courage and foresight in protecting our country.

Our immigration act has been one of the cornerstones of Canada's reputation abroad. My parents are immigrants. Many other people in this House are immigrants themselves.

We need to strengthen the system because Canada is a fair and generous place in the world and we want it to remain so.

The hon. member talked about several things. He talked about fairness. He talked about making sure the timelines are much shorter for genuine refugees and being able to screen out the bogus refugees, saving Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. That is money which could be used to much better effect in this country over time.

What does the hon. member think the overall impact of this legislation would be on Canada's reputation around the world?

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10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, as members have experienced, even the member for Malpeque, unless he is talking to himself as usual, refugee claimants come into our offices. Some of them have been in Canada for three, four, five years. This legislation would help to remove the backlog so their cases could be heard on a timely basis. Legitimate refugees could have their cases heard, the decisions made and their families could move forward with their lives.

That is not happening under the current system. The change proposed in Bill C-31 will speed up that process to make sure that those legitimate refugees who come into our offices on a weekly basis get their cases heard and become Canadians as soon as possible.

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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I was worried for a moment. I was thinking there would be a family hug over there, but not quite.

The member talked about the concerns for legitimate refugee claimants. We agree that legitimate refugee claimants have to be processed quickly. The problem with this particular piece of legislation is that it will make victims of people who are already victimized.

Does the member not see that to be the case? There will be those who have been taken advantage of by shysters, who think they will be coming to their dream world in Canada, and then they are made victims.

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10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned when the member for Malpeque claims he is thinking.

My answer is simple. What exists now is that those shysters, as the member called them, present Canada as a place where it is easy for people to get refugee status and they can get into Canada because it is an open door. The way this legislation is structured makes sure that those criminals know that Canada is not a free ride, as they have been trying to sell to those poor people who get on their boats.

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10:45 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am deeply saddened that Canadians must once again rise up to oppose a morally despicable bill. This omnibus bill quite simply stands for the opposite of a Canada that is open to the world. I would like to remind the House that the people who will be treated like criminals after this bill is passed are refugees, and thus people who are already victims. They are women and children, victims of torture, abuse and rape. They are the victims of the most abject poverty.

A few months ago in the House, I spoke out against Bill C-4, which has now been incorporated into Bill C-31. This bill uses an outdated refugee system and makes the situation much worse. There are already 450 immigrants with no status imprisoned in Canada. No charges have been laid against them, and they have no idea when they will be released or whether they will be deported. The detention centres where they are being held are prisons. These institutions are holding people captive against their will.

Canada is already guilty of imprisoning children who are seeking asylum. We are imprisoning people who have not been accused of any crime without giving them access to a lawyer. We are systematically imprisoning people who are traumatized by political conflicts, abuse and extreme poverty. The excessive use of detention centres to imprison asylum seekers is a disgrace to our country's integrity, and the bill being debated here only makes matters worse.

There are a number of problems. First, Bill C-31 indicates that anyone who is arbitrarily deemed to be a designated claimant at the whim of the minister will automatically be detained and will not have his file reviewed for a full year. I must remind the hon. members that this is unacceptable. We should not be imprisoning asylum seekers.

Bill C-31 gives the Minister of Immigration excessive and abusive power. This bill gives the minister the absolute power to designate a refugee claimant as irregular thereby taking away his liberty and mobility and even compromising his safety. The minister can destroy lives without any control mechanisms or checks and balances.

The minister alone will decide which countries refugees can come from and which ones they cannot come from. Categorizing countries like that is absurd. Knowing the state of the country is not enough. That is just one factor. A person's characteristics can make a normally safe country very dangerous for that person. A person who is lesbian, gay or transgender can be subjected to systemic discrimination and persecution even in a country that the minister considers safe.

I fear for such people from countries that the minister designates as safe. Furthermore, there is no way to ensure that a country will not be designated safe for purely political reasons. Refugees from Mexico, for example, are rarely granted refugee status in Canada because, for reasons of international relations, the government does not want to admit that Mexico can be very dangerous.

Mexico is becoming more and more dangerous for many people. Earlier this year, one of my constituents came to my office with his family. He was about to be deported after having lived and worked in Canada for eight years. He had not committed any crime. He was about to be deported and would be facing an extremely dangerous situation upon returning to his country of origin. He feared for his life. Because the process is not very transparent, we do not know if he was deported for a specific reason or simply because the minister decided that refugees from Mexico are not legitimate.

Such excessive power with no accountability should not be given to a single institution, let alone a single man. That is why an independent organization made up of non-partisan experts should be in charge of such decisions, which should never be left up to the immigration minister.

I want to close my speech by focusing on how this bill will, in particular, victimize refugee women. I have consulted with the Ending Violence Association, which along with MOSAIC and Multicultural Family Support Services, has recently completed a fulsome study on the safety of immigrant refugee and non-status women in Canada.

The Ending Violence Association is facing a major crisis. Immigrant and refugee claimant women who are experiencing abuse and violence cannot leave the situation of abuse if they are dependent on their husband who is the principal refugee claimant. They will immediately lose their status if they leave him. He could categorically withdraw his sponsorship and she would be deported. Especially if there are children involved in the situation, it is plain to see how Canada's immigration and refugee laws are currently facilitating and perpetuating violence.

We must take account of these women and children through our laws. To not address this systemic problem is in my opinion criminally negligent. When I explained to the representative from the Ending Violence Association some of the new laws that would likely be passed by the government, her face went white with fear.

In general, we can see how each and every point in this omnibus bill will make the lives of abused refugee and non-status women worse. They will have more fear and less legal protection, less access to health care and less access to services. They will have the threat of imprisonment and deportation hanging precariously over their heads and those of their children.

The bill would make it impossible to women to apply for humanitarian and compassionate appeals unless she did so upon her point of arrival. This makes no sense if she is living in a situation of domestic abuse.

I cannot see how this legislation will improve our immigration and refugee laws when every clause inspires fear in me and those who work every day protecting and advocating for refugees who are surely one of the most vulnerable populations in Canada.

I urge the House to scrap the bill entirely, since many of its provisions are entirely contrary to our Constitution and to the UN convention relating to the status of refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, regrettably it is clear that the member neither understands the current refugee system, nor the bill before the House.

As the minister, I am someone who works and advocates every day for refugees. I am the minister who welcomes to Canada 1 out of every 10 resettled refugees from around the world. I am the minister who is increasing the number of convention refugees who we resettle in our country by 20%, who is increasing the support that we give them for their establishment and integration by 20% and who is creating, for the first time through this bill, the refugee appeal division to create a full fact-based appeal for the vast majority of rejected asylum claimants.

The member talked about a Mexican failed asylum claimant who would be deported because “the minister had determined that Mexico was a safe country”.

First, there is no such power under the current system. Second, what the member does not understand is that such a failed claimant would have had a full hearing before the quasi-judicial IRB on the merits of the case and been rejected. The claimant would have made an appeal to the federal court and lost, would have had a pre-removal risk assessment, an independent decision, and been rejected on the facts of the claim, would have appealed that to the federal court and lost, would have made an humanitarian and compassionate application for permanent residency, another risk assessment, and had the facts reviewed and been rejected as unfounded and would have appeal that again to the federal court.

There are typically between six and eight quasi-judicial and administrative decisions that are taken on asylum claimants in the current system before they typically face removal from Canada, yet the member says that this system is facilitating torture and violence and is criminal negligible.

The member is insulting all of the independent, judicial and quasi-judicial decision makers, our courts and our tribunals. I would ask her to apologize to all of those highly trained decision makers for the slur she has just made against the fairness of our system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, in the case of the Mexican family, the children were in fact Canadian. The family had been here a long time. It had paid its taxes. Eventually what happened was its refugee status was revoked on the basis of the fact that the family came from Mexico. The family members then cried in the court and because of that they were sent to detention for weeks and deported after that. That is exactly what happened.

When I appealed to the Minister of Public Safety for this not to happen, as it seems out of the norm, he politely said “no” and the family was deported the next day before it had any chance to appeal, see lawyers or anything of the sort.

Therefore, the minister really needs to look at what is happening. People get deported before they have access to these systems.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud of the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for not apologizing to the minister, because the biggest problem with this bill is indeed that this government seems to always insist on playing partisan games.

When a party introduces a bill of this scope at a time when there are so many headlines in the news on this issue, that raises a red flag for me. What particularly saddens me about this legislation is that the Conservatives are still talking in terms of bogus refugees and people who abuse the system. They are trying to cast the whole idea of refugees in a negative light. However, this is a very serious matter, and some cases are just horrifying and truly appalling in certain countries. Yet, the Conservatives would have Canadians believe that all refugees are fraudsters and abusers who come here to steal their jobs, and all kinds of such nonsense.

I would like to thank the member again for not apologizing, because she definitely does not owe anyone an apology. I wonder if she could talk a bit more about the arbitrary nature of this legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has only 30 seconds left for her reply.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the major problems with the bill is it would concentrate more power in the hands of the minister, who clearly does not know what is going on within his ministry, by allowing him to name safe countries and restrict refugees from those countries. Under the former Bill C-11 that was passed in the previous Parliament, which from what I understand enjoyed approval by all parties and was balanced, there was a panel of experts, including human rights experts, that was to designate these countries. This is no longer case.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I hate to stop the hon. member there, but we have to move on to statements by members.

The hon. member for Yukon.

World Water Day
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, international World Water Day, recognized annually on March 22, helps focus attention on challenges related to the world's fresh water. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on how protecting this life-sustaining fundamental resource is of paramount importance to Canadians.

Water is one of the symbols that define our country. That is why this government takes the job of protecting Canada's freshwater resources so seriously. We have a comprehensive approach to ensure clean water for all Canadians and we have taken concrete and measurable action to advance that approach.

In February, we released a plan to implement enhanced oil sands monitoring, which will provide high-quality data on a region's biodiversity. This integrated monitoring program, which is being advanced jointly with the Province of Alberta, will rank among the best in the world.

These measures show that we have a real plan to protect fresh water and that we are acting to achieve measurable results for Canadians. We will continue to work with our partners across this country and internationally so that water is clean, safe and sustainable, now and for generations to come.

Cougar Flight 491
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, three years have passed since the tragic Cougar helicopter crash took the lives of 17 workers in Newfoundland's offshore and it has been over a full year since the Transportation Safety Board released its findings and recommendations.

The report of last February called upon Transport Canada to require all class A helicopters to meet the 30-minute run-dry requirement following the loss of main gearbox lubricant. This requirement would have changed the outcome of Cougar flight 491.

The Conservative government has followed the Americans' lead and waived the 30-minute run-dry requirement on all existing helicopters, even over water.

It is time the government recognized that Canada's coastal reality is unique and that Canadian lives are sacred. Transport Canada and the Conservatives have not put a priority on safety and the government has allowed search and rescue standards to lag behind international norms.

It is time for the government to put safety and search and rescue first for our offshore, for our north, for our Great Lakes and for all of Canada.

Canadian Defence Executive of the Year Award
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to recognize one of my constituents who has received a very prestigious award. Spencer Fraser, general manager of Meggitt Training Systems Canada, has won the Canadian Defence Executive of the Year Award by the Canadian Defence Review magazine.

A former officer of the Royal Canadian Navy, Spencer proved himself to be a leader and one that commanded the respect of those who served with him. Graduating from the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Spencer would go on to serve a two-year stint with France's navy.

One of Spencer's main objectives is being honest with the customer and delivering what he has promised. Under Spencer, Meggitt Training Systems has flourished and his style has led to that business growing in Medicine Hat.

It is his desire that Canada be a world leader in the production of unmanned military vehicles. This is a major contribution to ensuring that our armed forces are kept safe.

I wish Spencer all the best and congratulate him for having won this prestigious award.

John F. Dee
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I rise here today to pay tribute to the life of John F. Dee, who passed away last Friday in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, after a tough battle with cancer. John worked for Canadian Pacific for his entire career. He was a long-time member of his local Baptist church. He enjoyed gardening, fishing and a good dose of political debate.

A Liberal to the very core, even when he was too sick to visit friends and family, he found the strength to come out to a recent Liberal event in Grand Falls to meet our leader, the member for Toronto Centre, to show his unwavering support for the Liberal Party of Canada. He said he needed to “speak out with [his] dying body” that what has been happening in this country is intolerable and needed to change, and that we are the party to be that change.

Our thoughts and prayers are with John's wife Shirley, his sons Gary and Wayne, daughters Sandra, Linda and Barbara, and their family during this difficult time.

May he rest in peace.

St. Patrick's Day
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow the Irish diaspora will celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

The impact of the Irish in Canada is well known. The most famous Irish Canadian, of course, is a father of Confederation, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, one of the greatest orators and men of letters in Canadian politics. His life, unfortunately, ended far too soon by assassination not far from his political home, the House of Commons.

Most Irish came to Canada during the great famine. There are many memorials in Canada commemorating this event. At Grosse Île, Quebec is in fact the largest famine grave site outside of Ireland. Over 5,000 Irish graves are there, as well as the graves of those selfless French Canadian nurses, doctors and others who welcomed and cared for the Irish newcomers as if they were their own brothers and sisters. It is one of the most poignant places in Canada.

However, the Irish story in Canada continues with pride and joy. They continue to come to Canada from the Emerald Isle to work, to study, and many to stay and call Canada their home.

I would like to recognize all of the contributions of the millions of Canadians with Irish heritage and welcome all other Canadians to celebrate with us.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Canada Post
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Sana Hassainia Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to draw the attention of this House and of the minister responsible for Canada Post to the fact that 10,000 people from Verchères—Les Patriotes will no longer have access to postal service effective March 26. Autoroute 20 separates Domaine des Hauts-Bois from the rest of the town of Sainte-Julie, and the only road linking the two is a viaduct that is being demolished in a little over a week.

Domaine des Hauts-Bois's only postal outlet has been closed since March 5. The town's 10,000 residents therefore no longer have any postal services since the other points of service in Sainte-Julie will no longer be accessible to them and especially to the countless people who do not have a car. Many seniors live in this area, and most of them have a hard time getting around. It is unbelievable that they are being denied such a service.

Last June, the government declared that postal service was so important to the economy that it was worth attacking the workers' constitutional rights in order to protect it. It is time for the government to be consistent for once and to take all the necessary measures in order to provide permanent postal service in Domaine des Hauts-Bois.

The Hastings Helpers
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. No community or its people understand the value of these words more than the hard-working people of the village of Hastings in Northumberland—Quinte West.

Faced with the difficult task of dealing with a bridge closure in their community, the good folks of Hastings have worked together to establish the Hastings Helpers group. The Hastings Helpers is a grassroots community organization launched by resident Tonya McColl-Smith, to develop ways of assisting community members affected by the closure of the swing bridge.

During difficult times, co-operation and optimism are vital to the continued prosperity of any community. I would like to personally thank the Hastings Helpers for their dedication to their fellow citizens and I invite all members of the House to join me in saluting the good people of Hastings and the Hastings Helpers as they move forward in these challenging times.

Jamaica
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, later this year, Jamaica will celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence. On August 6, 1962, Jamaica became the first British colony in the Caribbean to gain full independence. This significant achievement became an inspiration to other island colonies of the region.

Later this month, cities across Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, will be hosting Jamaica 50 festivities led by members of the Jamaican community. These celebrations will not only reinforce the Jamaican diaspora's pride in its heritage but also provide a timely opportunity for Jamaican people to renew their commitment to their Canadian home.

Next week on March 22, Her Excellency Sheila Sealy Monteith, High Commissioner for Jamaica to Canada, will be at the government conference centre to begin the festivities celebrating all that Jamaica has achieved in the last half-century.

Please join Senator Meredith and me as we welcome this important milestone and celebrate the goodwill and warm ties that bind Jamaica and Canada.

New Democratic Party of Canada
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on this last sitting day of the House before change comes to Ottawa. Next Monday, we hope to add the talented voice of Craig Scott to our caucus to continue Jack's work in Toronto—Danforth.

That is not all. New Democrats will also gather together in Toronto to pay tribute to Jack Layton, who taught us all that we can make a difference and do so with honour and integrity.

Then we will elect our new leader who will come back to lead a caucus that is stronger and more united than ever. That is because of the humble strength of our current leader who was given the impossible task of leading us through this difficult time. She stepped up and I applaud her for the job she has done.

Thank you, Nycole, for all your work as our leader. I also want to thank you on behalf of our caucus, our party and all Canadians and Quebeckers who want the best for their families.

Co-op Week
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week we celebrate Co-op Week in Canada, which honours the best in co-operative education. We recognize the critical importance of the role colleges and universities play, as they celebrate outstanding co-op students, employers and staff members. This is our time to honour co-operative education in Canada.

We recognize employers and students who reflect the best in co-operative education. This select group of highly trained individuals receives experience in a work-integrated environment and enters the workforce with essential employment skills. Employers prize these graduates because they use them immediately upon hiring them, and in permanent positions. Co-op practitioners and institutions give passionately of their time and energy to ensure that opportunities exist for students seeking co-op work terms. We must thank employers who provide work-integrated experiences for students in partnership with educational institutions.

Let me add the thanks of this House to the dedicated institutions, employers, students and co-op staff. Canada's strong co-operative education system is recognized throughout the world because of that amazing commitment. Let me add my personal acknowledgement to Londoner, Kirk Patterson, chair of Co-op Week for Canada, for his leadership.

Enabling Accessibility Fund
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is hard enough for any person to get through life in Canada if he or she has a disability. Statistics Canada says there are nearly 3 million Canadians with disabilities.

The enabling accessibility fund was created to improve accessibility and reduce barriers for these people. Since 2008, the fund has gone through five projects calls and approved 644 projects worth $67 million.

One would think that would be good news for Canadians with disabilities. However, it is only true if one lives in a Conservative riding. Data released by HRSDC reveal that nearly 85% of this fund went to Conservative-held ridings. Conservatives represent barely half of Canada's population. This is clearly unfair: it discriminates against people with disabilities living in opposition-held ridings. It is an example of shameful pork-barrelling by a party that ran against such odious behaviour.

To restore credibility, the government must put into place an unbiased, non-political evaluation process, to ensure that all Canadians with disabilities have fair access to this fund. That is what Canadians expect of their government.

Montfort Hospital
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, next Thursday will mark the 15th anniversary of the S.O.S. Montfort rally. The support for the Montfort Hospital is a testament to the strength and determination of the Franco-Ontarian society to which I belong. The commitment of $200 million over 20 years made by this government in June 2006 has doubled the scope of the hospital's services.

Too often, the suggestion by an Ontario commission to close the hospital is politicized, and demagogues blame a former provincial premier. Yet this situation never would have occurred if the federal government of the day had not made drastic cuts to health care transfers.

When federal health care transfers were reduced from 50 to 14 cents of every dollar, the provincial government was forced to close 44 hospitals, including Ottawa's Riverside and Grace Hospitals, and merge 14 others.

Since then, this federal government had made major strides in this area. It now provides 30 cents of every dollar spent on provincial health care, and counting.

Canadian Hunger Foundation
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, founded by the Hon. Mitchell Sharp, the Canadian Hunger Foundation, CHF, is now celebrating 50 years of service. CHF works with numerous partners in 52 countries around the world to break the cycle of poverty.

The organization changes lives and creates solutions to combat the effects of drought, disease, and devastating poverty in rural communities. Its approach is grounded in sustainability. It respects and empowers the local population as architects of their own development in building peace in post-conflict areas; in reconstructing the lives of those struck by disaster; in empowering women; and in protecting the environment.

I was recently given the opportunity to visit one of the projects managed by CHF in South Sudan and was impressed by the positive impact of peace-building efforts and the success of a micro-food processing enterprise led by women.

I congratulate the staff of CHF for their passion and devotion and thank the thousands of Canadians who contribute annually to CHF. Their generosity is truly helpful.

Member for Papineau
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, surely it comes as no surprise that earlier this week the Liberal member for Papineau expressed his support for an NDP-Liberal coalition.

He said:

—if by 2015, with the election approaching, and neither party has got our act together enough to shine and to be the obvious alternative, then there will be a lot of pressure for us to start looking at that.

Really, is this a platform that he will advocate during the Liberal leadership race? Or, will he be taking this plan to the new NDP leader later this month?

It is clear that while our Conservative government has focused and will continue to focus on Canadians' top priority, jobs and economic growth, the Liberal member is already looking at coalition plans in order to protect his Papineau seat from challengers in the next election.

Incidentally, I wonder whom he is supporting for the NDP leadership.

Seniors
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government continues to ignore the real causes of elder abuse. Although it launched an awareness campaign in 2009 about such abuse, the government refuses to take real action to help seniors. That is unacceptable. Our seniors built this country and made us who we are today. We owe them a great debt.

All the experts agree: seniors need their independence and better living conditions, meaning more home care and affordable housing. Unfortunately, this government would rather build prisons than look after those seniors most vulnerable to abuse. Before it is too late, this government must develop a concrete strategy to ensure that all seniors are safe. That is what the NDP has done.

Seal Hunt
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, the documentary The Hidden Faces of the Seal Hunt won the audience award at the sustainable hunt and biodiversity film festival in Paris last week.

Filmmaker Raoul Jomphe attended the festival to accept the award, together with Denis Longuépée, president of the Magdalen Islands Sealers Association, two staunch supporters of this viable and humane hunt.

Through footage of the hunt as well as interviews, the documentary shows the positive impact of the sealing industry on small coastal communities, where sealers can earn up to 35% of their annual income from the hunt. The film also explores conservation, biodiversity and animal welfare.

Our government continues to make the case for this type of economic activity, which is important to many coastal communities. I would like to congratulate Mr. Jomphe on winning this award. The seal hunt will be under way soon, and I wish everyone a successful hunt.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, made public that he would like to make a presentation to the procedure and House affairs committee. He wants to update the House, through the committee, as to the status of the voter fraud investigation his office is conducting.

Will the government agree to let Mr. Mayrand appear before the committee? Will it commit that the hearing for Mr. Mayrand will be done in public, not in camera?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as the opposition House leader well knows, these are questions that are properly asked at the committee, of the committee. In our House of Commons, the committees are masters of their own process. They make the decisions about which witnesses they will call. I expect they will deal with that matter when we return after the constituency week.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

If that were only true, Mr. Speaker.

Here are the facts: Elections Canada received 700 legitimate complaints concerning fraudulent calls. People whom the Conservatives had previously identified as non-supporters were called back and told to go to the wrong place. That is a system. The Conservative government cannot deny it. Blaming the Liberals is not good enough.

When will there be a public inquiry to uncover the details of systematic electoral fraud?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, once again, the New Democrats are making false allegations. The NDP MP for Winnipeg Centre has already had to apologize for making false statements about this matter. The NDP used a website to generate bogus complaints to Elections Canada, which suggests that they are exaggerating the situation and making false allegations. We are co-operating with Elections Canada because we want the truth to come out.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the 700 complaints came from Canadians, not from New Democrats.

The Conservatives have also been careless and haphazard with the F-35 file.

The Conservatives have really messed up the plan to replace the CF-18s. The Auditor General is about to release a report confirming that the Minister of National Defence misled Parliament on the subject of the F-35s. That is very serious.

Has the government seen the report—we know that it has—and did it mislead Parliament?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, obviously, I have not seen the report in question. It would be inappropriate to speculate on such a report. I think the normal practice is that we respect a new officer of Parliament. The report will be tabled in Parliament before it is commented on.

Canada has been a partner in the F-35 program for almost 15 years. Our plan is to continue in the program. As we have not signed a contract for purchase, we retain the flexibility to remain within our budget. Ultimately, however, the government will ensure that the Royal Canadian Air Force has the equipment it needs to do the job we ask of it.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government's answers on the F-35 have been a bit stealth-like, evading questions every day. We have been warning the Conservatives about their misguided approach to the F-35s. Now the Auditor General is set to report that defence officials have misled Parliament on the F-35 deal. The Conservatives have just run with Lockheed Martin's numbers and have failed to do their homework. Once again, corporate interests trump Canadian taxpayers under this Conservative government.

Has the government seen the report by the Auditor General, and what is it going to do about it?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I will not comment on speculation. Canada has been a partner in the joint strike fighter program for 15 years. Our plan is to continue in the program. We have not signed a contract for purchase, as we have said.

Ultimately, we will ensure that we address the forthcoming report. As of now, we are not going to speculate.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians want answers to these questions. All they are getting from the minister is doublespeak. This is not the first time the government has been blasted by the Auditor General for complete mismanagement of military procurement. Helicopters come to mind. Even a British MP thinks Canada should get its money back for the subs boondoggle. Now we learn that the Auditor General agrees with New Democrats that this government has misled Parliament in its crusade on the F-35.

Will the government finally agree to hold an open and fair competition to replace the CF-18s?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we respect the important work of the Auditor General. Parliament will receive the final report in the near future. Until then, it would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on rumours of what may or may not be included in that report.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, coast to coast, victims of election fraud are now telling their stories. Tim McCoy in Ottawa, Charles Cochrane and Lori Bruce in New Brunswick, Peggy Walsh Craig in North Bay, Astrid Dimond in B.C. and hundreds more in at least 31 ridings all got calls from Conservatives, Conservatives who tried to stifle Canadians' basic right to vote. There is one common thread: the Conservative database called CIMS.

Will the government give Elections Canada and the RCMP full access to that little chamber of horrors known as CIMS?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we know that the Liberal Party acted in a very deliberate, disgraceful, deceptive and dishonest fashion during the election. When it made calls, it used phony people, phony numbers and very divisive messages. That is what the Liberal Party did. We know that the Liberal Party used Liberalist, the Liberal database, to make these calls.

Will the Liberal Party turn over all of its information to Elections Canada? Will it assist Elections Canada in this? It is clear the Liberal Party has a lot of questions to answer.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government says that hundreds of people with irrefutable evidence of election fraud are just smears. If that is true, give Elections Canada full access to CIMS and produce the scripts used by Conservative callers. How did the callers know which specific individuals to target with disinformation to keep them from voting?

On top of that, even Conservatives have alleged funny money and fishy bank accounts in Vaughan, and voters' lists were padded in Rouge River and Nipissing.

When will we get a royal commission to restore faith in Canada's electoral system?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we do not want to wait for a royal commission. We want Elections Canada to do the work that it has been authorized to do, the work that this Parliament has put faith in Elections Canada to undertake.

What is remarkable though is that the Liberal Party is not assisting Elections Canada. It sat on the highest hill of hypocrisy criticizing this government while it knew full well that it had made deliberate, deceptive, dishonest and disgusting calls right across this country.

Canadians want and deserve answers from the Liberal Party. When will they get them? When will it assist Elections Canada?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only are we assisting Elections Canada, but we are asking questions of this government. Why will my colleague not reply? What is he afraid of? Why will he not give an answer?

Canadians—real, flesh and blood people—like Lori Bruce from Fredericton and Peggy Walsh Craig from Nipissing and many others are all saying the same thing: they were called during the election campaign and asked if they would be supporting the Conservatives, and they replied no. Later, they were called back and given false information.

Is the government accusing these people of lying and being part of a conspiracy? Will the government take what happened to them seriously and tell Canadians what really went on? How does it translate—

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. parliamentary secretary.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, we know what happened. The Liberal member for Guelph made fraudulent calls, misleading his own constituents by giving them a false name and number. After that, he had the audacity to rise in the House of Commons and engage in a smear campaign against our government, without any proof. After getting caught, he had to admit that he himself had violated the Canada Elections Act. The Liberal Party is the one that should disclose what it did during the election.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fact is only the Conservatives are being investigated. The evidence is mounting. This scandal is not going away. Every day new information comes out that makes things look worse for the Conservatives. People received calls to identify how they would vote. The information was entered in the Conservatives' voter database. If they were not voting Conservative, those people received fake Elections Canada calls telling them to go to the wrong poll locations.

Pointing fingers at the opposition will not cut it. When will the government explain its role?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has had to apologize for making just those kinds of unsubstantiated smears outside the House, not once, not twice, but many times so far.

The New Democratic Party is being investigated by Elections Canada for its 2009 AGM and its 2011 AGM, once it submits that report, for taking illegal donations that breached the Canada Elections Act. Other investigations have been alluded to in the media that involve NDP members, certainly not this party.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary's spin simply is not working. It is only the Conservatives who are under investigation. Maybe they are not taking this seriously but Elections Canada sure is.

Elections Canada is broadening its search Canada-wide, with hundreds of new tips flowing in. It is finding new evidence that it says is “gold”.

As evidence against them mounts, when will the Conservatives stop pointing fingers and evading questions, and call a public inquiry?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, just a few short months ago, the NDP, very deliberately and very deceptively, tried to siphon money off into the Broadbent Institute using money from taxpayers. Those members had to apologize to Elections Canada, they had to refund that money and they had to admit that they broke the law.

Ed Broadbent may be a great unifying force within the NDP but he was not entitled to that money.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, the noose is tightening around the Conservatives in Elections Canada's investigation of their electoral fraud, but this government continues to turn a deaf ear. It is trying to shift the attention and claiming that with the exception of a young volunteer who has been magically transformed into a master fraudster, this is not a big deal.

Will someone across the way take this situation seriously and stop mocking all these voters who were cheated in the last election?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I was hoping the hon. member would rise to apologize on behalf of her party for breaking the law by siphoning money off into the Broadbent Institute through a Canadian tax credit, for which Canadian taxpayers were on the hook. After getting caught, the NDP had to pay the money back.

We are co-operating with Elections Canada because we want the truth to come out, and we will continue to co-operate.

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government's responses are becoming utterly ridiculous.

CBC is reporting that the voters who were sent to the wrong polling stations had clearly indicated that they would not vote Conservative. The Conservatives can try to create a distraction with their same old stories about the opposition, but the fact remains that electoral fraud benefited the Conservatives and no one else.

In order to restore Canadians' trust in our democracy, a public inquiry needs to be called.

When will the government finally act in the interest of the people and not just in the interest of its party?

41st General Election
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is a big mystery. Where are the questions from the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre? He rose in the House several times to make false allegations about the Conservative Party. After he was caught making false allegations, he had to apologize for his remarks. Now, he is not saying a word, and he was the one who made all the NDP's false allegations. I wonder where he is. We want to see him and hear him apologize.

Broadcasting Industry
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, today we learned that BCE intends to purchase the independent Quebec firm Astral Media. This is Canada's largest specialty TV broadcaster and has a large radio portfolio. This purchase is a perfect example of the increasing concentration we are seeing in the Canadian media.

What benefit would this stifling of competition bring to Canadians? Why should they be forced to pay higher prices on things like access fees to line the pockets of a handful of media giants? What action will the government take?

Broadcasting Industry
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, the aspiration for an acquisition has been announced but there is a process that will unfold. The CRTC will be involved in the process and, within the CRTC process, as my hon. colleague should know, will be the opportunity for the public to make its views known. If my hon. colleague is a citizen and wants to make his views known he will have the opportunity to do so.

Broadcasting Industry
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, there will be less competition and higher prices with Bell taking over Astral. There is also the issue of local content. People in the regions no longer have news about their area. All decisions are made in Montreal and Toronto. This concentration of the media deals another blow to local content.

What guarantees do people have that local content will not suffer with this acquisition? Can the government guarantee that local content will not take a hit?

Broadcasting Industry
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, the process has just started. An announcement was made this morning, and the process is now under way. Naturally, the CRTC will be involved in this process. If my colleague and his counterparts also wish to be involved in the process, they can take part in the public hearings, as this is now the CRTC's and not the government's responsibility.

Telecommunications
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, telecommunications infrastructure is critical to our modern economy. Without access to the Internet, people cannot do business. That is why consumers and the industry have both asked the government to help improve coverage in rural regions.

The minister's plan is based on the assumption that a business may be able to purchase two spectrum blocks. What if that does not happen? There is no plan. Why is the minister playing games with rural Canadians' access to the digital economy?

Telecommunications
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, we said that we took a balanced decision to create more choices for Canadian consumers with this decision. It is not just stakeholders who support this decision. The hon. member himself said after the decision:`

...we heard the intention of the government to cover 90 percent of the Canadian territory within five years. We like the idea. I come from a rural riding. There are major problems of coverage in my riding so this is something that is very dear to me...

Telecommunications
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, we like the goals, but we are skeptical about the results that will be achieved. In this case, there is much to be skeptical about.

The government has made all kinds of statements, but it has provided no proof that these measures will reduce costs for consumers, particularly rural consumers. The exclusion of one company because of requirements to deploy to rural areas will effectively eliminate competition and end up reducing consumer choice.

Yesterday, the minister stated in committee that he did not know how he intended to spend the proceeds of the auction.

Will he promise the House that he will use a portion of the funds to guarantee equal access for Canadians in rural areas?

Telecommunications
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, this government has taken steps in exactly that direction over the past several budgets and the hon. member's party voted against them every time.

How do we know that we got this decision right? Let us take a look at another reaction. A new player, Mobilicity, called the decision a real victory for Canadian consumers. Meanwhile, an incumbent, TELUS, noted that the new rules “will allow all competitors to have fair and reasonable access to the critical 700 MHz spectrum in the upcoming auction”.

We took a balanced decision and consumers will come out ahead.

Broadcasting Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister may not understand how important the spectrum auction is to our economy and society but Canadians do. Sixty thousand people signed OpenMedia's letter to the minister calling for a set aside of spectrum for smaller companies. Instead, the minister chose to ignore consumers and new entrants, forcing Canadians to pay higher prices for poor service, especially in rural areas.

It is like a bad TV commercial. Consumers ask, “Can you hear me now”, but the minister never listens.

When will the minister finally listen to the needs of Canadians?

Broadcasting Industry
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Once again, Mr. Speaker, I would refer the hon. member to his own party's industry critic who said:

...we heard the intention of the government to cover 90 percent of the Canadian territory within five years. We like the idea. I come from a rural riding. There are major problems of coverage in my riding so this is something that is very dear to me...

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, misleading Parliament has become the mantra of the government, whether it is its dishonest defence of Conservative election fraud or, as now revealed, the F-35 boondoggle.

The Auditor General will be releasing a report that will find DND has misled Parliament on the F-35 purchase.

How can the Minister of National Defence explain away this damning indictment or does the minister share the low standard set by the Prime Minister when he deliberately misled Canadians on a non-existent contract?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Kick him out.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The member knows that the term “deliberately mislead” is unparliamentary. I will ask him to withdraw that portion of his question.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw the word “deliberate” but the Prime Minister did mislead this Parliament.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it is very sad to hear that kind of commentary, in all honesty.

The Prime Minister has already addressed this question himself in the House. We have been very clear. We have not signed any contract for a purchase. We, like the previous Liberal government, have signed a memorandum of understanding related to the program. It is unfortunate that the member opposite would not respect the explanation on the part of the Prime Minister.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that the Prime Minister and his posse of ministers told us over and over that they had a contract. In fact, on January 14, 2011, he said, “Cancelling a contract that way would be completely irresponsible. The opposition parties must stop playing partisan games with these crucial contracts.”

The government is trying to fool the public once again. It misled the public in its election campaign. Now the Auditor General has caught the Conservatives in the act, and they do not know what to do next.

What will the minister do about this “contract”? Will he tender it given that this is about taxpayers' money?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, we respect the work of the Auditor General of Canada. Parliament will receive the final report in the next little while. Until then, it would be totally inappropriate for me to comment on rumours of what may or may not be in the Auditor General's report. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate and I will not do that.

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the national chief, Shawn Atleo, and the former prime minister, Paul Martin, have passionately demanded that the government end the discrimination in education funding for on reserve children, a difference of $3,000 to $4,000 per child. Unfortunately, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development called the recommendations of the first nations education panel aspirational. The national chief has called for a $5 million increase.

Will the Prime Minister commit today to finally listen and include no less than $5 million in the budget for—

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Aboriginal Affairs
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, our government has already made great strides in improving education outcomes for all first nations students by seeking tangible results. We are signing tripartite partnership agreements with the provinces and the first nations communities. We have developed an innovative program like the first nations students success program. These are producing real results. We continue to invest in on reserve school infrastructure, rehabilitating and replacing schools. We will stay on track with that course.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, a British MP blasted incompetence on behalf of the Canadians for buying four used subs from the U.K. without any due diligence.

These subs have spent 10 of the last 13 years docked and are riddled with problems and yet the out-of-touch Minister of National Defence continues to say that everything is okay and he continues to pour untold millions of dollars into this “dumb deal”.

When will he admit that these subs are a failure? Will he listen to the British MP and get taxpayers their money back for this botched deal?

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as the member well knows, this purchase was made by the previous Liberal government.

In any event, the Royal Canadian Navy has advised that in 2013 it expects to have three of the four submarines continuously available for operations. This will include a high readiness submarine on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts.

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again—

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

We already have submarines that cannot go underwater and now the government wants to purchase planes that do not even fly. Those submarines cost $750 million—they should not be proud of that—plus the billions of dollars needed for repairs. This government—

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

How can our soldiers trust the Conservatives when they signed—

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

National Defence
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the best way I can answer whatever that question was is to say that the public and our Canadian Forces can trust our government to do the right thing for them. The no defence party over there would have no appreciation for that whatsoever.

Air Canada
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, every day, traveller safety is being compromised. Pilots and machinists are overworked, tired and, above all, frustrated by the government's intervention in their dispute with Air Canada. Worse still, aircraft maintenance is being done more and more by subcontractors in countries that have less rigorous standards.

Workers have a fundamental right to free and fair bargaining.

When will the minister stop violating the rights of Canadian workers?

Air Canada
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, as everyone knows, we were acting in the best interests of the Canadian public. Our government was concerned about a disruption at Air Canada and what damage it would do to our fragile economy. The impact of an Air Canada work stoppage on the Canadian economy is estimated at about $22.4 million per week and a huge decline in the Canadian GDP of almost $1 million per week.

This government acted swiftly. We took action. We moved forward to ensure we protected the Canadian public and also all those travelling families over the March break. We are pleased with what we did. We look forward to ensuring there is no work stoppage in the future so the Canadian economy can keep growing.

Air Canada
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, which is it, a fragile economy or a strong economy? I cannot get it.

Conservatives have been recklessly meddling in the Air Canada negotiations. It only adds fuel to the fire. In the end, it is travellers and our economy that will suffer from the unbalanced approach of the Conservatives. Service quality will be affected and even safety could be at risk.

The Conservatives go full steam ahead, picking winners and losers. Their approach is harmful to Canadians. When will the Conservatives stop meddling and allow a negotiated deal that works for everyone? When will Conservatives stop interfering with private businesses?

Air Canada
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, we are acting in the best interests of the Canadian public.

Early Wednesday morning, Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations was passed by the House of Commons. We put the public interest, the Canadian economy and Canadian flyers first.

By passing the legislation immediately, we have protected the public interest from the real potential scenario of a strike or work stoppage.

Unlike the NDP members, who really want to focus on aiding their union bosses, we are focused on ensuring the Canadian public is put first.

Health
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the hon. Minister of Health has been working diligently throughout this time of drug shortage.

I understand she has been meeting with Sandoz and other industry organizations, as well as with the provinces and territories, with an eye on ensuring that through working together, any future shortages be anticipated and dealt with promptly. I also know her top priority through all this has been Canadian patients.

Based on all that, would the minister update the House on the progress made this week?

Health
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Nunavut
Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged by this week's progress. Our government got a commitment from Sandoz and industry organizations to inform their clients and all Canadians regarding possible drug shortages in the future.

We have started processing all the application for alternate drugs within 24 hours and complete reviews within one month. We are in regular contact with the provinces and the territories and support them in their effort to deliver alternate medications to their jurisdictions.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, this week St. Petersburg adopted regressive legislation, outlawing any public discussion of homosexuality.

Since St. Petersburg is Russia's number one travel destination and many Canadians travel there each year, including many gays and lesbians, will the minister immediately issue a travel warning for Canadians planning to travel to St. Petersburg to alert them to the fact they could be subject to fines or arrest under this discriminatory legislation?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we are all deeply concerned by this legislation that runs contrary to core Canadian values of freedom of speech, of human rights and the rule of law.

Canada's ambassador has written to the Russian government to express our deep concern, and yes we have, at his request, put a travel advisory on our website.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his quick action.

Given that many countries fail to recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and therefore the ongoing threats to safety of lesbian and gay travellers in those countries, it is clear more needs to be done both to oppose the discrimination and to provide protection to Canadian travellers.

Will the minister commit today to improving the travel advice offered to Canadians on the Foreign Affairs travel advisory site by adding specific warnings for countries where it is unsafe for LGBT travellers?

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we are concerned when Canadians travel abroad, for their health and safety. We will certainly look at that. We have already done the advisory with respect to St. Petersburg.

One of the core responsibilities that I have as Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs is to promote Canadian values around the world and I will continue to do this.

Youth
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, this year, for the first time in nearly 40 years, millions of young Canadians are being deprived of an important job search tool. I am talking about youth employment centres, which have suffered further cuts. Certain groups in my riding are particularly worried about how this will affect youth at risk.

Need I remind this government that the youth unemployment rate is double the Canadian average?

Why are the Conservatives abandoning our youth?

Youth
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, in 2010-11 the youth employment strategy actually helped over 57,000 youth get the jobs and the skills they needed so they could successfully enter into the workplace. There is a permanent increase in the Canada student jobs, almost 40,000 jobs every year.

This government is moving forward, ensuring that young people have the jobs and the skills they need to enter the workforce. Why does the NDP keep voting against every one of these initiatives?

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, people with disabilities who did not vote the right way are victims of discrimination. Information from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development shows that nearly 85% of the $67 million from the enabling accessibility fund was used for projects in Conservative ridings.

How does the minister plan on remedying this disgusting imbalance and ensuring that all Canadians with disabilities are treated fairly?

Persons with Disabilities
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, the government created an enabling accessibility fund to help ensure community centres and public places were available and accessible to people with disabilities. The NDP voted against every one of those initiatives.

Projects were approved based on recommendations from public servants. The number of projects approved corresponded to the regions and proportionally to the applications received. Unfortunately, with so many applications, not all of those that applied would receive funding. However, every one of the projects that was chosen was based on merit.

Fisheries and Oceans
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, there is not a fisheries group in Canada that I have spoken to that supports the elimination of the owner-operator policy. They understand that it would be devastating to the fishery and devastating to the community where these fishers live.

Will the government listen to the fishers and the community leaders where these fishers live? Will the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans indicate to the House that he will not take our inshore fishery and give it to the large corporations in our country and, in doing so, destroy the economy of hundreds of small communities in Atlantic Canada?

Fisheries and Oceans
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we are doing. We are listening to fishermen from across the country, and Canadians in general, about how we can move the fishery forward, how we can improve the fishery.

Unfortunately the member across did not spend enough time listening to the fishermen and Canadians. That is why he is way down there.

Veterans Affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Veterans Affairs had a letter in the Charlottetown Guardian, praising the employees of his department. However, last Saturday he had a letter in the Chronicle Herald calling them a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy.

Why is the minister speaking out of both sides of his mouth? Is he not aware that we have Internet on Prince Edward Island? Why is he is calling the employees in his department inefficient, bureaucratic and stupid?

Veterans Affairs
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South
Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, our Conservative government values the good work done by our public servants. In fact, the folks at Veterans Affairs have dedicated their lives to providing wonderful service to our veterans.

We recognize the good work done in Charlottetown. It will remain a key focus of ours.

Shawinigan-Sud Tax Centre
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week we asked questions about the future of the Shawinigan-Sud Tax Centre. The parliamentary secretary responded by talking about employment insurance. The nonsense just keeps coming.

The question was clear: is the CRA tax centre in Shawinigan closing its doors or not?

Are hundreds of well-paid jobs going to disappear?

Shawinigan-Sud Tax Centre
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Egmont
P.E.I.

Conservative

Gail Shea Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, no final decisions have been made. We know we must spend taxpayer money wisely, while ensuring that our government programs are both efficient and effective and deliver a high level of service to Canadians. They must do all of this and ensure that the integrity of our tax system is also protected.

Shawinigan-Sud Tax Centre
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a region where the unemployment rate is already over 10%. It seems to me that a clear answer could help hundreds of workers sleep better over the next few weeks, even the next few years. All we need is a clear and simple answer to a clear question. Even the Premier of Quebec has shared his concerns with the leader of the NDP. Getting a clear answer to a clear question is the challenge of the day.

Is the Shawinigan-Sud tax centre closing or not?

Shawinigan-Sud Tax Centre
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Egmont
P.E.I.

Conservative

Gail Shea Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, the clear answer is that no final decisions have been made on any centres across the country.

Taxation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its alternative budget. Its budget would increase taxes on middle-class Canadians, engage in freewheeling government spending and close the doors to new markets for Canadian businesses. In other words, it is the type of economic plan the opposition would love to implement.

Would the Minister of State for Finance please tell Canadians what our government thinks of the call for new tax hikes in this upcoming budget?

Taxation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, our Conservative government is very proud of our track record on reducing taxes for Canadians and for entrepreneurs and helping those who create jobs. Unfortunately, some left-leaning think tanks that just simply echo the NDP's call for higher taxes are actually asking that higher taxes be put in the budget.

Let me be clear. That will not happen. We know higher taxes kill Canadian jobs. We do not want that to happen.

2015 Pan Am Games
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are demanding transparency about the government's $500 million contribution to the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games. There are reports that they have already gone over budget. Municipalities across the GTA are on the hook for 44% of capital costs, but they have no clue what is going on. Everything has been done in secrecy.

When will the government give municipalities, and all taxpayers, an open and transparent accounting of what is going on?

2015 Pan Am Games
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, we are certain that the 2015 games will indeed be a success for Torontonians and all Canadians. What we have put forward is a substantive commitment on behalf of taxpayers.

If he has any concerns with regard to our approach on transparency, when it comes to international sporting events, he needs to look no further than the efforts we made with regard to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, where we showed remarkable transparency, brought other governments to the table, showed to Canadian taxpayers how money was invested to ensure that the games were not only a success on the field of sport of play, but also a success for taxpayers.

We want to work with all the partners and ensure there is comfort among taxpayers with all the money that is being invested to ensure this is a winning event, not only sporting wise but also for taxpayers.

Guaranteed Income Supplement
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has introduced a bill that would automatically register all Canadian seniors for the guaranteed income supplement, to include those who are not receiving it but are entitled to it. An estimated 135,000 seniors are eligible for the GIS and are not receiving their cheques. Instead of saving money at the expense of our least fortunate seniors, we must help lift them out of poverty.

Will the government support our bill to automatically register seniors for the GIS or not?

Guaranteed Income Supplement
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, we are committed to ensuring that seniors in our country receive their benefits. We have done many things toward that goal. Whether it be in 2007, when we created automatic renewal for GIS, or whether it is the proactive sending out 600,000 applications every year to those who do not receive GIS, OAS or CPP, or whether it be increasing the greatest increase in GIS in the last 25 years, these are all things the NDP voted against.

We are standing up for seniors. I wonder why the NDP never does that.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, farmers, processors, transporters and others in the agricultural supply chain sometimes have issues with CFIA as their regulator. Sometimes this can be things like quarantines of a farm or inspectors not providing consistent inspection. Fortunately, I know our government is acting and launching a new CFIA service commitment.

Could the parliamentary secretary please update the House on this very new issue?

Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to improving service delivery for producers, consumers and other stakeholders in the food processing system.

I am happy to announce that we are launching a new complaints and appeals process. This new single window approach will provide a more transparent and accessible way for stakeholders to register complaints and appeals.

This commitment aims to improve interactions with CFIA stakeholders by offering a clear explanation of what the CFIA does, its service standards and what stakeholders can expect when dealing with the agency.

The Environment
Oral Questions

Noon

NDP

Sana Hassainia Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, two women in my riding are afraid of losing their home on the Îles-de-Boucherville in the St. Lawrence River. The Durocher family has been asking the federal government since 1997 to reinforce the embankment with rocks to prevent erosion. The situation is urgent: their ancestral home is in jeopardy and could be lost within two years.

Will the Minister of the Environment act quickly to protect all the homes located along the St. Lawrence as well as the archaeological and architectural remains of the municipalities along the St. Lawrence?

The Environment
Oral Questions

Noon

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, our government takes ensuring environmental stewardship of this country very seriously. We can certainly commit to looking into the member's question further.

Employment Insurance
Oral Questions

Noon

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, with less than two weeks to go before the budget, a large number of employed and unemployed workers are worried about the government's silence on the employment insurance program. They are worried about the imminent end of the three pilot projects that help people in many Quebec regions like mine, because the pilot projects are critical to ensuring the dignity of the men and women who have lost their jobs and the workers who are dependent on seasonal work.

Instead of pillaging the employment insurance fund, as they tried in the last budget, will the Conservatives show that they understand the needs of the unemployed by enhancing the employment insurance program and announcing—right now—the permanent renewal of the employment insurance pilot projects?

Employment Insurance
Oral Questions

Noon

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I will not speculate on what will be or will not be in the budget. However, I will say that our government's top priority is job creation and economic growth, making sure that workers are well supported and that we provide all of the opportunities for young people, older people, seasonal workers and others to have gainful employment in this country.

Decorum
Points of Order
Oral Questions

Noon

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order that relates to Standing Orders 16 and 18. Standing Order 16(2) states:

When a Member is speaking, no Member shall...interrupt him or her, except to raise a point of order.

Standing Order 18 states:

No member shall speak disrespectfully...nor use offensive words against...any member thereof.

The House started the 41st Parliament with a real commitment to respectful discourse, but there is no question it has slid badly. There is no one party which is solely responsible. Every party has played its part in making the atmosphere unpleasant and excessively partisan.

However, I must say that I found the treatment of the hon. member for Saint-Jean when he was posing his question today to be despicable. Imagine ourselves as teachers in a schoolyard where one child may not speak as clearly as the others and a bunch of bully boys decide to make fun of that child as he is speaking. We would look on that situation and as teachers, we would say, “Excuse me boys, you don't speak to so and so that way. Give him a chance”.

I know we are partisan, but do we have to be cruel?

Decorum
Points of Order
Oral Questions

Noon

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues who spoke. I would just like to say to them that I already know how to read, therefore I am learning to speak. Perhaps in a few years, I will know how to speak. I will be on the other side and I will speak to you.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's responses to 13 petitions.

International Day of La Francophonie
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Madawaska—Restigouche
New Brunswick

Conservative

Bernard Valcourt Minister of State (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) (La Francophonie)

Mr. Speaker, as the minister responsible for La Francophonie and on behalf of the Government of Canada, it is with great enthusiasm that I wish to invite all Canadians and parliamentarians to celebrate the International Day of La Francophonie on March 20.

It was on March 20, 1970, in Nigeria that Canada participated as a founding member in the creation of the Agency for Technical and Cultural Cooperation.

Who would have guessed that, in the next four decades, this modest intergovernmental co-operation agency would evolve into an international body composed of 75 member states and governments representing over 890 million people worldwide, including 220 million French speakers?

Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick participate actively in the efforts of La Francophonie, which, more than just promoting the French language, also promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law around the world, values upon which Canada’s foreign policy is based.

Spoken by more than 9.5 million Canadians, French is an integral part of our history, our identity and our daily lives. It links us, not only to our fellow Canadians, but also to French-speaking countries around the world and this in all fields, whether they be related to the economy, culture, arts or science, to only name a few.

As demonstrated by our roadmap for linguistic duality, our government remains committed to supporting the vitality of the French language everywhere in Canada. On March 20, we invite all citizens to celebrate the indisputable contribution of the French fact to our cultural diversity and our economic progress.

Best wishes to la Francophonie on its day, March 20.

International Day of La Francophonie
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, the French language is a jewel and francophone culture is the setting in which it is held, protected and displayed. If someone had told me one day that my love for the French language would result in me rising as a parliamentarian to promote and defend la Francophonie, I would not have believed it. That is why I will remain forever indebted to Mr. Layton for having offered me this wonderful opportunity when our relationship was still new.

This year, the theme for the francophonie festivities is “French is an opportunity”, and this opportunity is ours, in Canada. However, all too often, as with an old friendship, we take it for granted, and the things that we do, instead of bringing us closer, take us further away from the ideals that we were once committed to. Our credibility within an organization comprising 75 states and governments, representing 890 million people, including 220 million French speakers, will not grow unless we dedicate time, money and energy to the development of our francophone communities, which are all so different.

When it comes to la Francophonie, the international community often has its eyes on Canada, and Canada must play its role as a leader by defending and promoting the French fact. The French language and culture remain alive because men and women in Canada struggle every day to live in French. We have made the choice to have linguistic duality and so, as the saying goes, we must walk the talk.

On behalf of the NDP, I join in saluting the remarkable work of the Secretary General of the Francophonie, Mr. Abdou Diouf, but I would add my thanks to all those workers who, on a daily basis, add to the glory of the French language. On Parliament Hill, I think of all the translators and interpreters, as well as all those who are developing their skills in our two official languages. Thanks to them, Francophones can remain hopeful of growing up, living and growing old in French.

In closing, I make a wish each year, that we will continue to celebrate the international francophonie on March 20, but that on all the other days of the year, we will work tirelessly to meet the needs of the francophone communities in this country. I wish all francophones and francophiles, both here and abroad, all the best as they celebrate.

International Day of La Francophonie
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the many opportunities we have as Canadians arises from our membership in la Francophonie. We are one of the rare countries whose two official languages are international languages. This is an extraordinary asset that we must cultivate. French is part of Canada's past, part of its history, but it is also and especially part of its future, a future in which we must invest, in which we must believe, for it is the future of our children.

La Francophonie begins first at home, through Quebec's influence, through the development of Acadia and of all our official language communities. It is in the interests of all Canadians that these communities remain vital, now and forever. La Francophonie also entails broadening the scope of the francophone space in Canada. We must ensure that all Canadians who wish to do so have an opportunity to learn French, have access to French culture here and around the world and pass this valuable heritage on to their children.

La Francophonie is a gateway to the world, an immense window that looks out onto a number of continents, and an incredible cultural treasure. La Francophonie is an international organization that Canada, Quebec and New Brunswick must support and help resonate, for the francophone world expects such leadership from us.

This autumn, the Francophonie Summit will take place in Kinshasa, a symbolic expression of the enormous social, environmental and humanitarian challenges that are sweeping through the francophone world and that Canada must consider with determination. Canada will have to speak out in Kinshasa with a voice that is clear and firm for human rights, democracy, liberty and dignity for all French speakers in the world.

La Francophonie is also an underestimated marketplace, an opportunity and an outlet for our technologies and our expertise in French, and Canada has every incentive to make a significant investment in these areas.

In conclusion, let us hope that our membership in la Francophonie continues to inform Canadian foreign policy. We owe a great deal to the French language and French culture. We owe a great deal to la Francophonie. Let us give it a great deal in return.

Finance
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill S-5, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters.

The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House without amendment.

Poverty
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to present a petition that has been signed and presented by members of my constituency from Marion Bridge to Glace Bay to Howie Centre and the Sydney River area, all great spots and good people. These are people who care a great deal about those who live in poverty.

We know that poverty impacts almost 10% of Canadian and that it reaches into their health and well-being and educational outcomes. We know that many provinces have undertaken strategies to reduce poverty. The folks who support this initiative and signed this petition believe that the federal government should take a far greater role in this.

I present the petition on their behalf and support the principle of the petition.

Human Rights
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition from constituents of mine from the Ukrainian community and supporters of the Ukrainian community.

The petition is for equity and fairness at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. They call upon Parliament to ensure that the government ensures that the Holodomor and Canada's first national internment operations are permanently and prominently displayed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in their own galleries, and that the government suspend any further funding to the museum until issues surrounding the governance of the museum are reviewed and addressed in a transparent manner.

Sharks
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise here this afternoon to present two petitions. The first petition comes from Canadians living in Montreal and deals with the issue of shark finning, a horrendous practice that involves removing sharks' fins. As a result of this, many sharks are now on the endangered species list. The petitioners are calling on the House of Commons to take action.

Pipelines and Supertankers
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

The second petition I would like to present was signed by residents primarily in the Vancouver area and has to do with pipelines and supertankers.

The petitioners are asking the House of Commons to insist that our government look at the threats posed to the B.C. coastline, particularly by oil tankers. This coastline has been protected for 40 years by a federal-provincial moratorium that every provincial and federal government has respected since 1972 because of the very significant threat due to the specific ocean action and geographical conditions that apply in northern British Columbia.

The petitioners call for the protection of the coast from supertankers and a no to the pipeline projects.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 423 will be answered today.

Question No. 423
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

With regard to the report of the Standing Committee on Health presented to the House on December 2, 2010, entitled “An Examination of the Potential Health Impacts of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation”: (a) which of the recommendations presented in this report does the Minister of Health plan to implement; (b) when does she plan to do so; and (c) if she is not planning to implement them, why?

Question No. 423
Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Nunavut
Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, Health Canada monitors the scientific literature and funds studies on the health impacts of electromagnetic radiation and evaluation of exposure frequencies. Information on Health Canada research in this area is available on the Health Canada website: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/radiation/cons/radiofreq/index-eng.php.

In addition the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR, funds research investigating the effects of low frequency electromagnetic fields. Currently funded projects include a study examining the mechanisms by which extremely low frequency magnetic fields interact with biological systems; another is investigating the mechanism and effects of power-line frequencies on human brain processing.

Health Canada and CIHR are also contributing support and funding for the Canadian component of MOBI-KIDS, an international study which aims to assess the potential associations between the use of communication devices, including cellphones, and other environmental risk factors and brain tumours in young people.

Health Canada is also formalizing a process for an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada to review exposure limits through a literature review. The Royal Society previously conducted such reviews up to and including 1999, 2001-03 and from 2004 to 2007. The next review is expected to be undertaken in 2012 and the results will be communicated by Health Canada.

Health Canada will work with Industry Canada to explore how existing web-based and other communications materials on this topic might be improved. Health Canada’s work in this regard will begin in 2012.

Health Canada will continue to monitor the scientific literature on this topic.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 419, 420, 421, 422 and 438 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 419
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

With respect to the risk of corrosion and spills and other safety concerns arising from the transport of bitumen in pipelines, and to government action to address these risks: (a) how does diluted bitumen compare with West Texas Intermediate (WTI) in terms of (i) abrasive material content, (ii) acid concentration, (iii) sulphur content, (iv) viscosity; (b) to what extent is diluted bitumen more likely than WTI to cause corrosion or erosion in the pipelines through which they respectively flow; (c) what is the composition of diluted bitumen in Canada; (d) what are all of the volatile chemicals, persistent organic pollutants or carcinogenic substances present in diluted bitumen in Canada; (e) in the process of diluting bitumen in Canada, what are the (i) natural gas condensates used, (ii) other petroleum products used; (f) what is the process by which diluted bitumen corrodes pipelines, with specific reference to (i) abrasion, (ii) friction, (iii) high pressure, (iv) settling of sediment, (v) velocity, (vi) sulphur-reducing bacteria, (vii) other significant factors; (g) for all proposed or existing National Energy Board (NEB)-regulated pipelines, what is (i) the amount of hard sediment passing through the pipeline annually, (ii) the average pressure, (iii) the average temperature; (h) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to determine whether diluted bitumen can flow safely through pipelines; (i) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to determine whether or not conventional crude should be distinguished from diluted bitumen when setting minimum standards for pipelines; (j) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to design safety and spill responses and spill liability management capabilities that are appropriate specifically to diluted bitumen; (k) how does a diluted bitumen spill compare with a conventional light sweet oil spill in terms of (i) the impacts of the natural gas liquid condensate used to dilute the bitumen, (ii) diluted bitumen’s ability to form an ignitable and explosive mixture; (l) in the case of a diluted bitumen spill, at what temperatures would ignition of the spill occur, and what heat sources might cause ignition; (m) what, if any, are the (i) names, (ii) dates, (iii) conclusions, (iv) recommendations of research undertaken by the government concerning the environmental and economic risks of a diluted bitumen spill; (n) what, if any, are the (i) names, (ii) dates, (iii) conclusions, (iv) recommendations of risk analyses (including such factors as potential avalanches, flooding, remote location, rockslides, and snowpack) undertaken by the government concerning the danger of a diluted bitumen spill; (o) what, if any, are the (i) names, (ii) dates, (iii) conclusions, (iv) recommendations of analyses undertaken by the government concerning the possible economic, environmental, and social impacts of a diluted bitumen spill on First Nation and non-First Nation ways of life; (p) what are the challenges associated with clean-up specifically of a diluted bitumen spill, in rivers, wetland and marine environments (including when surface water is frozen), particularly as raw bitumen is heavier than water; (q) what appropriate clean-up operations might, in case of a diluted bitumen spill, be required in terms of equipment, personnel, and supplies, compared to a spill of light sweet crude oil; (r) what are the likely economic and environmental costs of a diluted bitumen spill compared to a spill of light sweet crude oil; (s) how might a diluted bitumen spill impact human health, including, but not limited to, (i) potential impacts both in the short-term and the long-term of exposure to toxins, including benzene, hydrogen sulphide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and n-hexane, (ii) potential impacts of exposure to toxins (such as arsenic, nickel, mercury and other heavy metals that do not biodegrade) that can bio-accumulate in the food chain; (t) what health and safety precautions does the government require emergency personnel to take when responding specifically to diluted bitumen spills; (u) what are all pipeline spills that have occurred from 1990 to 2010 in NEB-regulated pipelines, including (i) location, (ii) cause, (iii) affected area, (iv) environmental costs, (v) significant challenges to clean-up, (vi) impacts on human health, (vii) equipment, personnel and supplies required, (viii) economic costs; (v) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government taken to evaluate the need for new Canadian pipeline safety regulations and standards that reflect the unique characteristics of diluted bitumen, and to restrict further diluted bitumen pipeline development until adequate safety regulations are in place; (w) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken concerning changes to the design, operation and decommissioning of pipelines that may be necessary due to impacts of climate change, including but not limited to melting permafrost, changing moisture regimes, more severe storm events, increased incidence of forest fires, and slope instabilities; (x) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken regarding the adoption of pipeline regulations and standards that require new pipeline routes to avoid landslide-prone routes, and that provide an adequate risk assessment for risks to pipelines arising from landslides and snow avalanches; (y) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to evaluate the risk of pipeline spills caused by multiple incidents happening at the same time, including worst-case scenarios; (z) what specific action and investment will the government take to ensure (i) that bitumen pipeline operators will fix safety problems identified at their facilities, (ii) that bitumen pipeline operators keep their emergency procedures up-to-date; (aa) what specific actions will the government take to ensure that pipeline companies which transport bitumen employ emergency-procedures manuals that adequately (i) identify the hazards posed by the operation of the pipelines, (ii) assess the risks posed by those hazards, (iii) map nearby residences and evacuation routes, (iv) describe and locate emergency response equipment, (v) identify any environmentally sensitive areas potentially affected by an incident, (vi) explain governmental roles in an emergency response; and (bb) in what ways, if any, must the emergency-procedures manuals referred to in sub-question (aa) differ from those concerning pipelines that do not carry bitumen?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 420
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

With respect to Canada’s international commitments on climate change and the government’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol: (a) for each of the international commitments that the government has made concerning climate change, (i) what is that commitment, (ii) what are the government’s obligations under it, (iii) does the government plan to fulfill each obligation or not; (b) what specific actions or negotiating positions were taken in support of the government’s statements that it (i) “went to Durban in a spirit of good will,” (ii) “went [to the Durban climate change conference] committed to being constructive,” (statement by Minister Kent, Foyer of the House of Commons, December 12, 2011); (c) in detail, how does the government plan to achieve the goal of reaching a new international agreement on climate change with particular reference to (i) how the government plans to achieve legally binding commitments for all major emitters, (ii) how the government plans to find solutions to meet the agreed-upon-objective of staying below 2°C of warming; (d) what information does the Minister of the Environment possess that supports his statement that “increasingly, support is growing for Canada’s position – from the EU, to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, least developed countries and the group of 43 small island states” (statement by Minister Kent, Foyer of the House of Commons, December 12, 2011); (e) does the Minister of the Environment possess information that Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol is a positive step for Canada’s economy, in contradiction of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy’s projected costs of $21-43 billion annually by 2050 (depending on whether a low climate change--slow growth scenario or a high climate change--rapid growth scenario), and what is that information; (f) what, in detail, are the “radical and irresponsible choices” (statement by Minister Kent, Foyer of the House of Commons, December 12, 2011) that Canada was facing under the Kyoto protocol; and (g) what are the penalties to which Canada would have been subject to under the Kyoto protocol for not meeting agreed emission reductions, and what analysis does the government possess in support of the statements that these penalties would have entailed “the loss of thousands of jobs” and “the transfer of $14 billion from Canadian taxpayers to other countries--the equivalent of $1600 from every Canadian family—with no impact on emissions or the environment” (statement by Minister Kent, Foyer of the House of Commons, December 12, 2011)?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 421
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

With respect to increasing evidence for the threat of climate change and Canada’s response to it, including emission reductions and adaptation strategies: (a) do the government’s policies address the growing scientific consensus that the threat of climate change is now incontrovertible; (b) do the government’s policies acknowledge that continuing on a business-as-usual pathway could lead to (i) a potential temperature rise of 4°C by the end of the century, (ii) dangerous impacts for Canada and the world; (c) do the government’s policies acknowledge that the small number of climate change deniers who continue to contest either that climate change is real or that humans are causing it (i) are generally not climate scientists, (ii) employ arguments that have been discredited by the international scientific community; (d) do the government’s policies acknowledge that (i) while our scientific understanding of the climate system is not complete, the evidence is sufficiently strong to show that climate change poses a real threat, (ii) further delays in addressing this threat will entail greater risks and costs; (e) do the government’s policies acknowledge that if the scenario in (b)(i) becomes a reality, serious consequences, such as coastal flooding, extreme weather events, and forest fires, will intensify over the coming decades with significant costs for the economy and the environment, both in Canada and globally; (f) what research, if any, has the government undertaken or planned to undertake to assess the impact of climate change on the Canadian economy and the costs of adaptation to climate change, and what are (i) the names of these studies, (ii) the dates they were carried out, (iii) their conclusions, including projected costs and whether and under what circumstances said costs can be kept to manageable levels, (iv) their recommendations; (g) what are specific examples of how the government is taking advantage of “shorter-term opportunities to address climate change” (notes for remarks by the Honourable Peter Kent, P.C., M.P., Announcement on Domestic Climate Change Adaptation, Toronto, Ontario, November 8, 2011); (h) what sectors are to be included in the government's sector-by-sector approach to climate change, and what are the dates for the inclusion of each sector; (i) what concrete examples demonstrate the government's climate change plan has "a strong, corresponding international component" (notes, November 8, 2011); (j) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government carried out to “reduce the soot, methane, ozone and other gases” (notes, November 8, 2011) which are short-lived drivers of the climate system; (k) what research, if any, has the government undertaken to compare the costs of early mitigation of climate change with the costs of late adaptation to climate change, and what are (i) the names of these studies, (ii) the dates they were carried out, (iii) their conclusions, including projected costs and whether (and under what circumstances) said costs can be kept to manageable levels, (iv) their recommendations; (l) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government carried out to develop a pan-Canadian plan for energy efficiency with targets for the years 2020, 2030, 2040, and 2050; (m) what, if any, (i) action, (ii) investment has the government undertaken to implement low-impact renewable energy solutions in Canada for the years listed in (l); (n) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to develop a strategy for sustainable transportation in Canada with targets for the years listed in (l); (o) what actions, if any, has the government carried out to develop a fund for climate-neutral pilot projects that will allow municipalities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as much as possible, and to use carbon offsets to neutralize unavoidable emissions; (p) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to develop a plan to rationalize and phase out fossil fuel subsidies, with targets for 2015, 2020 and 2025, in order to achieve the goal of a ‘medium term’ phase-out; (q) what, if any, (i) research, (ii) action, (iii) investment has the government undertaken to develop a plan to increase research and development into and deployment of low-carbon technology in Canada; (r) what, if any (i) research (ii) consultations has the government undertaken to determine if, given various possible scenarios, an investment of $148.8 million over the next five years will be sufficient to help Canada adapt adequately to climate change by the target dates 2030, 2040, and 2050; and (s) what specific provisions has the government made to allow Environment Canada’s Adaptation and Impacts Research Section to undertake research to help Canada adapt to climate change?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 422
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

With respect to nutrition in child and adolescent populations in Canada: (a) does government policy include recognition and acceptance of the principle that Canada’s children and adolescents are entitled to nutritious food (i) regardless of where they live, (ii) regardless of their family income, (iii) particularly when economic forces undermine efforts by parents and caregivers to ensure healthy eating; (b) given that the 1992 World Declaration on Nutrition, to which Canada was a signatory, states that access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of each individual, what specific actions have the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Health Canada undertaken for children and adolescents in order to fulfill this commitment; (c) what percentage of children and adolescents in Canada is food insecure, (i) do disparities exist, including, but not limited to, disability status, ethnicity, gender, geography, socio-economic status, (ii) if so, specify; (d) what percentage of children and adolescents lives below the poverty line, (i) do disparities exist, including, but not limited to, disability status, ethnicity, gender, geography, socio-economic status, (ii) if so, specify; (e) what percentage of children and adolescents has, as a result of living below the poverty line, (i) poor nutritional status, (ii) poor health outcomes due to their poor nutritional status; (f) what percentage of members of each of the following groups is food insecure, (i) child and adolescent newcomers, (ii) children and adolescents who live in poverty, (iii) children and adolescents who live in priority neighbourhoods, (iv) Aboriginal children and adolescents; (g) what percentage of children and adolescents (i) involuntarily misses meals, (ii) lacks healthy variety in its diet; (h) does the government have information, and, if so, what is that information, concerning (i) how (g)(i) and (g)(ii) impact the caloric and nutrient intake of young children, (ii) how (h)(i) affects growth and development and school readiness; (i) what percentage of child and adolescent newcomers, children and adolescents who live in poverty, children and adolescents who live in priority neighbourhoods, and Aboriginal children and adolescents (i) involuntarily misses meals, (ii) lacks healthy variety in its diet; (j) what percentage of children and adolescents has fewer than the recommended daily servings of (i) vegetables and fruit, (ii) milk products, (iii) grain products; (k) what percentage of child and adolescent newcomers, children and adolescents who live in poverty, children and adolescents who live in priority neighbourhoods, and Aboriginal children and adolescents has fewer than the recommended daily servings of (i) vegetables and fruit, (ii) milk products, (iii) grain products; (l) what percentage of children and adolescents from all income brackets is vulnerable to inadequate nutrition, (i) for what specific reasons; (m) what percentage of elementary students and secondary school students does not eat a nutritious breakfast before school, (i) do disparities exist, including, but not limited to, disability status, ethnicity, gender, geography, socio-economic status, (ii) if so, specify; (n) what percentage of children and adolescents is vulnerable to poor academic, health, and socio-emotional outcomes as a result of inadequate nutrition; (o) what percentage of overweight and obese children and adolescents does not eat a nutritious breakfast; (p) how are children’s learning capabilities (including, but not limited to, creativity testing, voluntary endurance, and working memory) affected by how recently a child has eaten; (q) how does malnutrition in early life limit long-term intellectual development; (r) what impact, if any, does an inadequate childhood diet have on the risk of adult chronic disease; (s) how is the behaviour of children and adolescents (including, but not limited to, ability to concentrate, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and irritability) affected by whether or not they have eaten breakfast; (t) what research, if any, has the CIHR or Health Canada undertaken to assess whether schools play a role in shaping the dietary behaviours of children, and, if such research has been undertaken, (i) what are the studies, (ii) what are the studies’ dates, (iii) what are the studies’ conclusions, (iv) what are the studies’ recommendations; (u) what research, if any, has the CIHR or Health Canada undertaken to assess possible links between student nutrition and academic performance, classroom behaviour, and antisocial behaviour, and, if such research has been undertaken, (i) what are the studies, (ii) what are the studies’ dates, (iii) what are the studies’ conclusions, (iv) what are the studies’ recommendations; (v) what research, if any, has the CIHR or Health Canada undertaken to assess whether nutrition programs delivered at school sites are effective in providing children with (i) more nutritious diets, (ii) better cognitive abilities, (iii) better cooperation among children, (iv) improved discipline, (v) improved interpersonal behaviours, (vi) improved emotional and physical health, (vii) reduced risk of chronic disease, and, if such research has been undertaken, (viii) what are the studies, (ix) what are the studies’ dates, (x) what are the studies’ conclusions, (xi) what are the studies’ recommendations; (w) what research, if any, has the CIHR or Health Canada undertaken to assess whether nutrition programs delivered at school sites improve (i) nutritional adequacy, (ii) nutritional education, (iii) positive socialization, (iv) school attendance, (v) community mobilization, partnerships and social support, and, if such research has been undertaken, (vi) what are all the studies, (vii) what are the studies’ dates, (viii) what are the studies’ conclusions, (ix) what are the studies’ recommendations; (x) what percentage of children and adolescents is enrolled in a school district with (i) a nutrition program, (ii) nutritional guidelines for school meals; (y) what percentage of child and adolescent newcomers, children and adolescents who live in poverty, children and adolescents who live in priority neighbourhoods, and Aboriginal children and adolescents, is enrolled in a school district with (i) a nutrition program, (ii) nutritional guidelines for school meals; (z) what information does the government possess that explains why school sites are an effective venue to deliver student nutrition and what is this information; (aa) are there specific reasons why Canada does not have a pan-Canadian nutritional initiative delivered at school sites, and, if so, (i) what are these reasons, (ii) does the government have any analysis of the obstacles that would have to be overcome to develop a pan-Canadian nutrition program and what are those obstacles; (bb) what research, if any, has been undertaken by the CIHR or the government into a pan-Canadian nutrition initiative to be delivered at school sites, including (i) the cost per student per day, (ii) the annual return on investment of a pan-Canadian nutrition initiative delivered at school sites, (iii) the annual payback on a pan-Canadian nutrition initiative if the graduation rate increased by five percent, (iv) the annual return on investment of a pan-Canadian nutrition initiative if obesity, cardiopulmonary, and diabetes rates were reduced by five percent as a result of the initiative; (cc) what research, if any, has been undertaken by the CIHR or the government into fully funding on-reserve aboriginal student meals, including (i) the cost per student per day, (ii) the annual return on investment of a student nutrition initiative, (iii) the annual payback on a student nutrition initiative if the graduation rate increased by five percent, (iv) the annual payback on a student nutrition initiative if obesity, cardiopulmonary, and diabetes rates were reduced by five percent as a result of the initiative; (dd) has the government taken any action or made any investment, and, if so, what is the nature of said action or investment, to (i) initiate discussions with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible for agriculture, education and health to develop a comprehensive pan-Canadian school nutrition initiative, (ii) fully fund on-reserve aboriginal student meals; and (ee) what research, if any, has been undertaken by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and what economic impacts on the Canadian economy have been identified in said research, into (i) a possible economic stimulus resulting from the implementation of a pan-Canadian nutrition initiative delivered at school sites, including, but not limited to, the impacts on ancillary industries, such as, distribution, refrigeration, and service, (ii) the development of local markets for farmers?

(Return tabled)

Question No. 438
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

With regard to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and, more specifically, Small Craft Harbours (SCH): (a) how many properties under the ownership of SCH have been divested each year from 2006-2011 inclusively, (i) in what community and province were each of these properties located, (ii) what was the assessed value of each of these properties at the time of divestiture, (iii) what financial transactions took place (i.e., amounts), as part of the Divestiture of Non-Core Harbours program, (iv) who received financial compensation and/or paid financial compensation for the divested properties?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I wish to inform the House that because of the statements made earlier today, government orders will be extended by seven minutes.

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

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak in support of this important legislation, Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Some of my hon. colleagues who have already spoken have stressed our solemn duty as legislators to help ensure the integrity of our immigration system. I could not agree more with that sentiment. Canada's immigration system is internationally renowned and we would not have a country today if it were not for the generations of newcomers we have welcomed to our shores.

In fact, our Conservative government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigration in Canadian history, a remarkable achievement. I have no doubt that a number of my hon. colleagues who are sitting in this House right now and participating in this very debate were, at one point in their lives, newcomers to Canada or their parents and grandparents were. In my case, my parents were born in eastern Europe, so I lived the life of an immigrant family and I know full well the promise of this country.

Immigrants come to create a new life for themselves and for their descendants, and to help build our great nation. They certainly have done so. Newcomers and those family members of many others here in the House today helped contribute to the richness and diversity of our country and to make it the free and prosperous society it is today.

So it goes without saying that protecting Canada's immigration system is extremely important and it falls upon every hon. member of this House to ensure that we enact laws that protect and ensure the strength of that system. I believe that the measures in Bill C-31, once enacted, will do exactly that, so I am very happy to support the legislation.

Some of my hon. colleagues have spoken already about the measures in this legislation that would help carry out long needed reforms to the refugee system. Others have spoken about measures in Bill C-31 that would help crack down on human smugglers who may try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system.

In the time I have today, I will focus my remarks on the third important piece of the protecting Canada's immigration system act, namely, those measures in this legislation that would enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening temporary resident applicants.

Establishing the identity of foreign nationals who seek to enter Canada is a fundamental part of both visa assessment and border processing. Better identity management and the use of biometrics are crucial to keeping Canada's borders secure and strengthening the integrity of our immigration program. The bill we are debating today would provide the government with the authority to collect biometric data from visa applicants. All hon. members in this House should welcome this historic development.

Under the existing system, visa applicants only need to initially provide written documents to support their application, documents that can be easily forged or stolen. However, biometrics, photographs and fingerprints would provide greater certainty in identifying travellers than documents.

Biometrics will be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters and criminals become more sophisticated, biometrics will improve our ability to keep out violent criminals, terrorists and others who pose a risk to Canada.

The introduction of biometrics as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control system is both long planned and long overdue, and more and more is becoming the international norm. Many governments around the world have already introduced biometric collection in their immigration programs. These include the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia. Therefore, what we are proposing as a government is hardly new. Because it is becoming so common in international travel, many visa applicants to Canada will already be familiar with this process.

The legislation under consideration today and the regulations that would follow would allow government to make it mandatory for prescribed travellers, students and workers from visa required counties and territories to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa, study permit and work permit applications. This would be collected before the applicant arrives in Canada and it would be collected again when someone enters the country to ensure that the person the visa was issued to is the person who appears at the port of entry.

Unfortunately, there are countless examples in the media, on an almost daily basis, of serious criminals, human smugglers, suspected terrorists and war criminals, among others, who have entered Canada, sometimes multiple times. The use of biometrics will help prevent violent criminals and terrorists, among others, from using a false identity to obtain a Canadian visa.

Criminals, like Anthony Hakim Saunders, who was convicted of assault and drug trafficking, was deported but returned to Canada, incredibly, on 10 separate occasions. Kevin Michael Sawyers, who was convicted of manslaughter, managed to return to Canada on multiple occasions. There are even examples of criminals re-entering Canada using false identities and documents up to 15, 19 and 21 different occasions. These are real and specific examples. This simply must stop.

Biometrics will help our government end this fraud and abuse. It will greatly help our front line visa and border officers manage high volumes of immigration applicants and the growing sophistication in identity fraud. While it is easy to see how using biometrics will help our own officials make decisions about visa applications, it is also important to consider how their use may provide benefits to the applicants themselves.

In the long run, the use of biometrics will actually facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants. For instance, in cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain, biometrics could expedite decision-making at Canadian points of entry. The time spent at secondary inspections could be reduced, and sometimes dramatically. Using biometrics could also protect visa applicants by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use an applicant's identity to gain access to Canada.

Canada will remain a destination of choice for visitors from around the world and, in the long run, the use of biometrics will facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identities of applicants. Again, it is one of the long list of measures our government is taking to make government more streamlined, efficient and cost effective.

For me, biometrics is simply a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the opposition NDP and Liberal members are voting against Bill C-31 and the ability of the government to collect biometric data. They do not support the government having one of the most important and basic tools available to protect the safety and security of all Canadians, including their constituents. Of course, we know that many members opposite did not campaign much in the last election campaign but I would recommend that they get to know their constituents. It would be most helpful in this particular case.

A tool that would help the government prevent the entry of violent criminals and terrorists into the country, the biometrics tool, is very important. Not only do the opposition NDP and Liberal members oppose the authority for the government to use biometrics, they also voted against the funding required to implement biometrics. The use of biometrics is increasingly becoming an international norm and, by passing Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, we will be ensuring that Canada keeps up with many other countries.

Biometrics will strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and help protect the safety and security of Canadians, while helping facilitate legitimate travel. This legislation would strengthen and maintain the integrity of an immigration system that has helped make our country great and would make our country even greater.

I urge all of my colleagues to join me in supporting this much needed legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette for his speech, because I know he really cares about this issue and he wants to work in the best interest of everyone. However, I wonder if he could clarify a few points about the bill that remain controversial, even among the people of my riding who have shared their concerns about this bill with me.

In a previous version of the bill, all the parties had agreed that the power to designate safe countries should lie with a group of specialists that should include human rights experts. With the new Bill C-31, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has carte blanche to designate those countries.

Why concentrate so much power in the hands of just one minister instead of relying on a group of people who have the expertise needed to make these decisions?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, my friend's premise is completely false. As the minister has stated, the old Balanced Refugee Reform Act was a good start and included much need reforms. However, our government has always been clear that refugee reform is not a static issue.

Under Bill C-31, the factors that would lead a country to be designated would be clearly outlined in both law and regulations. The most important factors are objective and quantitative and refer to the actual acceptance rates from a given country. Under Bill C-31, the decisions would be rendered by an independent immigration and refugee board, not the minister.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to the comments. One of the unfortunate facets of the Conservatives' approach is they put so many different provisions that have different meanings and applications into one bill and then use that as an opportunity to say, “But you voted against it”.

There are certain aspects of this bill that clearly we agree with. We agree with the notion that the refugee system is broken, which is why we passed Bill C-11. Bill C-11 does an enormous amount to streamline the refugee system in this country and to make it less likely that people could abuse the system.

However, the amendments being proposed to Bill C-11, and the addition of Bill C-4, make it impossible for this side of the House to agree to create a system where we would be making people victims. Even if people are refugees, we do not believe that the government, or any government, should make them victims. That is what this bill would do.

I would ask for the comments of the member opposite.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, obviously since Bill C-11 was passed, things have changed and we have to update our refugee and immigration system.

I have a personal story to tell with respect to refugees from when I was a high school student in Winnipeg. I am of Czech extraction. When I was a high school student my family was part of the Czechoslovakian community in Winnipeg. I remember very well the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Warsaw Pact invasion of my father's country. It was a devastating experience for all of us when we realized what could happen in the world. As a teenager, I witnessed refugees coming to Winnipeg, some of whom even stayed in our home. I take the refugee issue seriously and personally.

The abuses that criminals and fraudsters will undertake to take advantage of Canadians' historical generosity simply must be dealt with. We are doing that with this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleague is right to want to address the abuses present in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. That is a fundamental role of government. It is our duty to protect Canada from abuse.

The problem with this bill is that it throws the baby out with the bathwater. Historically, Canada has always welcomed refugees. During the time of slavery in the United States, there was an organization in Canada called the underground railroad. Small Christian communities knowingly and voluntarily agreed to break the law to help people escape slavery.

People like Diefenbaker, the Canadian Prime Minister who condemned apartheid in South Africa, would have been on our side. Diefenbaker would have condemned a bill that prevents us from helping people. That is the problem. Under Bill C-31, people working to save slaves would have been considered—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. The hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette has the floor.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I utterly reject that example of the member opposite. It is quite unfortunate that he used incendiary language like that. We have to clean up the refugee system. We will continue to admit legitimate refugees into our country, as we have always done.

However, dealing with criminals, fraudsters and those who do not belong here is the simple goal of this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will get right to the point. Bill C-31 is a blot on Canada's reputation. This bill will tarnish our international image as a host country. It will be a major step backward with respect to protecting refugees in Canada. It puts tremendous power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and fails to revamp Canada's refugee determination system. The purpose of this bill is not, as stated, to fight human smuggling or to help asylum seekers by expediting the process. Its true purpose is something else entirely. All it will do is punish refugees.

Bill C-31 is a patchwork of bits and pieces of old bills, including Bill C-4 on human trafficking, Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, and biometrics.

One of the bills introduced during this Parliament was Bill C-4. That bill received such strong opposition from lawyers and refugee rights organizations that the government dropped it. This bill would allow the minister to designate the arrival of refugees as an irregular arrival. The bill uses the phrase “a group of persons” without really specifying how many persons constitute a group. We presume that two people could indeed constitute a group. These designation criteria are far too vague and disproportionate and leave too much room for legal interpretation. A family fleeing a war-torn country would be a group of persons.

The most despicable proposal in this bill is the one whereby any person designated a “foreign national” will be detained for a maximum period of one year, without review and without any chance of appeal.

Immigration detention centres are already overcrowded. Accordingly, these designated persons will likely be transferred to provincial prisons to live with criminals. Under this bill, a person could be detained for 12 months without review.

According to the bill, a person in detention who receives permanent resident status will not be released since they are not entitled to a review of their case for a period of one year.

The government is not giving any thought to the distress felt by these people who have fled a country in the hope of having a better life. This government is not considering the desolation of these people who are fleeing persecution in their country and who now are being mixed in with the criminal population for a year without review of their case, as I was saying.

These measures go completely against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. The Supreme Court ruled in the Charkaoui case that detention under a security certificate is unconstitutional. That means that every person in Canada has the right to appear before a judge within 48 business hours. The Conservative government has no qualms about introducing a bill that is likely unconstitutional.

Under the Supreme Court ruling, detention has to be subject to a timely and regular review to ensure that it continues to be legal. All asylum seekers not arriving in groups, therefore arriving alone, are entitled to this review. Families would be exempt from this review because they constitute a group of two or more people.

Not only can a group be detained for a year, in addition, no exception is made for the individuals in the group, regardless of gender, age or health status. These inhumane provisions are a direct violation of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Indeed, this United Nations convention clearly indicates that no host country shall impose sanctions against refugees by reason of their illegal entry if they present themselves without delay to the authorities and give good reason for their illegal entry.

Canada is, in fact, a signatory to this convention.

The measures proposed in the bill are an attempt to discourage refugees from seeking protection in Canada. Not only are these people being detained without the right to appeal their case, but the implacable attitude of this government will end up increasing the number of removals. That goes entirely against the humanitarian values Canada espouses and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Moreover, this bill stipulates that refugees shall be banned from making an application for permanent residence for a five-year period after obtaining refugee status.

Once again, this bill violates the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees by prohibiting any person who has obtained refugee status from traveling outside Canada. The refugee will, therefore, have no travel document. That also violates the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Furthermore, refugee claimants will not be able to sponsor their families for a period of five years. That means, for example, that a 15-year-old teenager who enters the country illegally will not be able to sponsor his parents for five years. Bearing in mind these constraints alone and the average time it takes to process claims for refugee protection and applications for permanent residence, refugees will be separated from their families for seven years. These measures are discouraging for all refugee claimants.

The minister also reserves the right to designate a country as safe for foreign nationals without even benefiting from the expertise of a committee on human rights. This measure will result in the implementation of stricter deadlines to submit a claim for refugee protection. This will make it difficult to properly prepare an application, which may lead to a refusal.

Moreover, the refugee claimants from the list of countries deemed safe by the minister who have been forced to leave the country will no longer be entitled to file an appeal before the Immigration and Refugee Board. If they are determined to appeal, their only recourse is to seek a judicial review before the Federal Court. Despite this provision, there is a strong likelihood that the claimant will be deported to his country of origin before the court has had time to make a decision. Furthermore, this bill prevents the Refugee Protection Division from reopening files. This clause goes against the principles of natural justice. This bill needlessly takes away a jurisdiction that has always existed.

Another clause is being added to the long list of barriers to claims for asylum. Once again, this clause gives another discretionary power to the minister that allows him to detain any individual who is suspected of a crime. There is no guideline for the principle of suspicion. However, it does not stop there, because the bill specifies that it is possible to turn down any claim if a person has committed an offence, even if it is a trivial offence. Let us take the example of a person who, in his own country, refused to obey an order from the dictatorial government and dared to express his opinion publicly, and finds himself with a criminal record because of it. Canada would refuse his claim because of this offence, without even considering the cases of persecution for which that government is responsible.

This Conservative government is going even further in its indifference to the suffering of thousands of people who are fleeing persecution. In granting permanent resident status to refugees, Canada is offering them safety to settle in our country and quietly begin their lives over again. However, the Conservatives, with their misguided thinking, want to grant permanent resident status on a conditional basis. This bill would allow an application for permanent resident status to be suspended when the country of origin is on the list of countries considered safe and stable, countries that are put on the list by virtue of the minister's discretionary power.

That is not all. This clause is retroactive, which means that thousands of permanent residents will have to leave their new country and new life in Canada. Take the example of someone who left his country because of political persecution 30 years ago. When he arrived in Canada, he asked for asylum and we granted him permanent resident status. He began a family here, but 30 years later the government tells him that his country is safe and he can go back.

Bill C-31 is underhanded; it goes even further. The Conservatives also want to demand biometric data from applicants for a visitor visa, a student visa or a working visa. Biometrics has a reputation as a technology that gives considerable power to states for keeping an eye on people. Bill C-31 put forward by the Conservatives is a huge reversal in immigration policy and is aimed solely at refugees and asylum seekers, to their detriment. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is giving himself the right to make criminals of certain refugees and throw them in jail, without review of their files, for a period of one year.

The Conservative government is now interfering with the right of every person to defend himself. I believe that this bill is discriminatory and that it sets up a two-tier system for refugee protection.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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12:40 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, there were all kinds of factual errors in my colleague's speech. For instance, he criticized the system for being two-tiered. Indeed, we created a two-tiered system in Bill C-11 in the previous Parliament, and the NDP supported that bill. It simply means an expedited system for refugee claimants from a list of designated safe countries, which is a completely legitimate and normal system according to the UN High Commissioner. A similar refugee system is used by nearly all other countries in the democratic world.

His biggest mistake, however, was when he said that the government could designate a country as safe and then take away a refugee's permanent residency 30 years after he or she obtained it. There are no such provisions in Bill C-31. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Immigration and Refugee Board has always had the power to terminate someone's refugee protection and withdraw their permanent residency, for instance, when someone obtained it fraudulently.

Can the member indicate what clause in Bill C-31 gives the minister or the government new powers to withdraw refugees' permanent residency? There is no such clause.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, contrary to the minister's claims, this bill does give the minister too much discretion to designate certain countries as safe countries, without really being absolutely certain that they are. In that case, he should at least rely on the advice of experts who may perhaps be somewhat more knowledgeable about what is happening in these countries, in order to be sure that these countries are safe before rejecting claims and withdrawing these people's refugee status.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the bill does not take into account the fact that the people we are discussing are human beings and that there are special cases. I would like my colleague to talk more about that.

I am thinking of some very specific cases. We have heard the government's outrage over the treatment of the former prime minister of Ukraine, who is in jail for fraud or something. Everyone agrees that the charges were bogus.

If she were to seek asylum tomorrow for health reasons or in order to escape certain death, because she will spend her life in prison and she has health problems, the government would say that she is a criminal who has been found guilty of fraud and she cannot enter Canada. If my colleague is unable to answer, I would like the minister to explain what he would do in that specific situation.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

If we give the minister this discretionary power without establishing objective criteria and relying on a committee, people who have a criminal record because they took part in protests or were identified as political criminals could be denied refugee status. In my colleague's example, the claim by a person who flees persecution and imprisonment in their country would be denied even if, after checking, his or her criminal record proves to be bogus.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, introduced by my colleague, the hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

The measures in this bill include further reforms to the asylum system to make it faster and fairer, measures to address human smuggling, and the authority to make it mandatory to provide biometric data for a temporary resident visa application.

Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country. Canada welcomes 1 in 10 of the world's resettled refugees. That is more per capita than almost any other country. In fact, our Conservative government has increased the number of refugees that we will be resettling each year by 2,500.

Bill C-31 proposes changes that build on reforms to the asylum system based in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The proposed measures will provide faster protection to those who genuinely need refuge, and faster removal for those who do not. In particular, refugee claimants from generally non-refugee producing countries, such as those in eastern Europe, would be processed on average within 45 days compared to more than a thousand days under the current system.

It has become clear that there are gaps in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Canada receives more refugee claims from Europe than from Africa or Asia. Last year alone, 23% of all refugee claims made in Canada were made by nationals from the EU. That is up 14% from the previous year. This growing trend threatens the integrity of our immigration system.

In recent years virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. These unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. Too many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees. We need to send a message to those who would abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly.

Bill C-31 will save hardworking Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. That astounding savings really helps to put in perspective the magnitude of the abuse of our immigration system.

However, it is not just Canadian taxpayers who are severely affected by these bogus claims. Genuine refugees are waiting a long time to receive Canada's protection, which they desperately need, because bogus refugee claims are bogging down the system. This has to stop.

Bill C-31 also includes most of the provisions in the former Bill C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. There is one very important modification to note, though. Minors under the age of 16 would be exempt from the detention proposals designed to deal with mass arrivals from human smuggling operations.

Our government is sending a clear message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, including legitimate refugees. However, we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders. Human smuggling is a despicable crime, and Canadians think it is unacceptable for criminals to abuse Canada's immigration system for financial gain.

Mandatory detention for those 16 years of age and older remains in place for people who enter Canada as part of a designated smuggling event. However, once the identity of a claimant has been established and a refugee claim is approved, individuals would be released from detention.

The final component of the new legislation would give the minister the authority to make it mandatory for visa applicants to provide biometric data, meaning fingerprints and photographs, to visit Canada. Documents can be forged or stolen, whereas biometric data provides greater certainty, confirming the identity of the applicants when they apply.

Biometrics will be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics will improve our ability to keep out of Canada violent criminals and those who pose a threat to the country. In short, biometrics will strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system, while helping facilitate legitimate travel.

These measures would put us in line with our international partners, such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and the United States. They will help prevent violent criminals, terrorists and human smugglers, among others, from using a fake identity to obtain a visa. The use of biometrics would also bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool for confirming identity.

When asked about Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, this is one of the things the NDP immigration critic had to say:

—I think what we need to do is build a system that has a fast and fair determination process. And that’s something that I’ll give the [Minister] credit for. I do think that’s what his intention has been all along. And we all want to work towards that. We don’t want endless dragging on of this stuff because refugees, when they come here, you know, they do qualify for basic sustenance...it is at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer.

So we do have an interest in making sure there’s a quick determination that’s correct and fair and get these people into our communities, working and being productive taxpaying members of our society if they’re bona fide refugees.

We want a fast, fair system where we can give a sanctuary to people who need it quickly and we can weed out the people who don’t have valid claims, get them through a fair process. And if they’re not valid at the end of the day, deport them out of Canada swiftly.

I agree. That is exactly what Bill C-31 aims to do.

All of these reforms are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.

Bill C-31 sends the clear message that if people are in genuine need of Canada's protection, they will receive it. However, if they are abusing our generous refugee system, they will be removed quickly.

It sends a clear message that Canada will not tolerate queue jumpers. Every years, thousands upon thousands of people play by the rules and patiently wait their turn in line. Canadian immigrants want our government to stop the practice of people breaking the rules by abusing our refugee system or paying huge sums of money to despicable criminal smugglers to jump in front of the line.

To maintain the support of Canadians for our generous immigration and refugee system, we must demonstrate that Canada has a fair, well-managed system that does not tolerate queue jumping.

I urge all members in this House to support this much-needed piece of legislation.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and I would like him to speak a little about cases involving countries that are deemed safe. For example, Hungary and the Czech Republic are considered safe countries by Canada, even though there is systematic discrimination against the Roma in those countries.

In this particular example, how does the minister justify putting a country on the list of safe countries?

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member refers to Hungary. If I correctly understand the statistics, almost 100% of the claims made by those from Hungary claiming to be refugees were withdrawn by the claimants themselves. I appreciate the fact that the member brought up Hungary because that is an area of concern. The bill would address countries like that.

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12:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the entire debate on Bill C-31 I have found a persistent confusion of the issues of immigration and refugees. Just to get the terms clear from the beginning, the world in 2009 had more refugees than at any time in history. There were 43 million people who had been displaced from their country of origin and fitted the United Nations' definition of refugees. Of that number, only 1% are ever resettled into a third country. In 2009, of that number, four-fifths were being kept in refugee camps, basically in the developing world. Therefore, we are talking about a very small number of refugees who make their way to Canada. They are not in a queue. Refugees, by definition, cannot apply in their country of origin; they have been displaced.

I would like to ask the hon. member if he would clarify for us his understanding of refugees. Refugees are, by definition, people who come here in desperation. They do not form a queue in their country of origin to come as normal immigrants would.

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have to understand that this bill addresses those refugee claimants who come to our country. As I referred to in my speech, Canada has a very generous refugee program. As a nation, we accept more refugees than most other nations in the entire world.

I share the member's passion for those who are genuine refugees. We want to ensure that those people have the opportunity and are not backlogged and slowed down by those who abuse the system. We know that this has been the case for too long in our country.

It is the intent of this government, and it is what our constituents have asked, to fix this problem and ensure that we can address those who really do need the services that our governments provide.

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1 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, on the last question that was put, in fact there is a queue. There is the process of international protection all around the world.

She mentioned the 43 million people who have UN convention refugee status. I will tell her what the queue is. For example, when the Indochinese boat people fled the communist depression in Vietnam, they went to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees settlement centres, where their claims were processed and then referred for resettlement. Canada took 60,000 people. There are millions of people like that around the world.

She has a tendency to confuse asylum claimants with refugees. In fact, almost two-thirds of the asylum claimants who arrive in Canada are determined by our fair legal system not to be refugees and not to be in need of our protection. From some countries, nearly 100% actually withdraw and abandon their own claims. They do not even show up for the hearing. Regrettably, they do show up for their welfare cheques. That is the problem we are trying to get at here.

I would like to know if the member would agree that we should be focusing our efforts on encouraging real refugees around the world, if they need to flee their country, to go to the regional resettlement options and seek protection from the first country to which they go.

For Tamils living in India, why would they need to travel through Thailand and Malaysia and bypass 40 other countries in order to seek protection in Canada? In those cases, it is not about seeking protection; it is about coming to Canada. Does the member agree?

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is I absolutely agree. This is another opportunity to thank the minister for the hard work he has done and for this excellent legislation.

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, although the minister and I do not always agree, perhaps particularly when it comes to the substance of this bill, I would still like to commend him for his efforts. I have noticed that he is always present during debate and it reminds me of my years as immigration minister. Although we strongly disagree, the fact that the minister is here shows that he takes his work seriously. We may disagree, but I would still like to recognize his efforts.

I have been there. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is living legislation. Over the years, difficulties and situations arise and we must determine whether we can improve things. However, we have to be careful not to put too much focus on ideology because we are talking about individuals. When I was appointed immigration minister right after the events of September 11, we had to come to terms with that reality. I often call the minister of immigration the minister of Canada. He is the one who ensures that Canadian values are protected since Canada is a country of immigrants. It was built on immigration. That is why this is a very delicate situation and anyone occupying the position of minister has to be very careful about the attitude he adopts and the policies he proposes.

I am among those who think that each case is different. When we start generalizing and labelling, it can result in errors and abuse. Canada is a generous country. We were among the first to work to protect refugees. The Conservatives will tell us that the government has increased the number of refugees selected, that it is sending people into refugee camps, that it is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and that it is choosing the people to bring into the country.

The reality is that Bill C-31 affects people who arrive in Canada. This is where we have to be careful. I was the minister who negotiated the safe third country agreement with the United States, which was then ratified by subsequent ministers. The first agreement in principle indicated that, since the United States had ratified the Geneva convention, if someone came through the United States, they could be sent back there to go through that country's process.

However, because each case is different, I put forward a series of exceptions. We have our own foreign policy, and our own way of doing things. Each case is different and we never know what might happen. We are against abuse and we want to protect citizenship and permanent residency. They are not rights. In a way, they are privileges. However, we must respect conventions, ensure that we do not make generalizations and protect individuals.

I have problems with this bill for several reasons. The first is the matter of safe countries. The hon. member for Saint-Jean asked some questions about this earlier, and with good reason. The Conservatives can answer and say that 100% of the people abandoned their claims. They can provide the clumsy answer that people are here to collect welfare cheques. Those answers are not really appropriate and are incorrect in any case. The reality is that, in Hungary, for example, there is a right-wing extremist movement and an anti-Semitic movement—we have seen news reports on this subject—that could lead to specific attacks on certain individuals. It could have to do with sexual orientation. That is true in all countries, and it could be true in Europe.

If, as minister, I decide that a country is safe, I have just created a problem. Basically, that is what I have a problem with. We have to protect the minister. A minister should not be at the mercy of a system, but neither should the system be at the mercy of the minister. There can be exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances, and that is why the minister must not be at the mercy of the system.

On other hand, we also have to protect the institution of minister. This is why I thought it was relevant in the other bill. There was a provision for a panel of experts. It cannot be said that just because 80% of things do not happen, the country is safe. There have to be some parameters and guidelines that will allow us not only to protect the minister and the system, but also our immigration procedures. In this case, we are talking about refugees.

They say that justice must be done and that it must be seen to be done. When it appears that there is a possibility of abuse, there is already a problem. Nonetheless, I understand that a minister, because he can use ministerial permits, has the power to make decisions about very specific situations.

Detention also poses another problem, even if children under a certain age are not detained. We have seen some really awful cases where the families arrive all alone. If the adult is in detention and the child lives somewhere else, that creates other social problems.

With regard to biometrics, I was the minister who once proposed that Canada should establish a biometric national identity card. I still think that we should do this and that we should think about how we manage entries and exits at the U.S. border, for instance, and about people coming in to Canada. Biometrics is not bad, but we have to understand that there are offline and online biometrics.

When we have biometrics online, it means we have access to a database. If we do not have a legal framework to protect that information, this is where we have a problem. However, if we have off-line biometrics, and I would propose an I.D. card where individuals could have their fingerprint or some other information, the only thing we would need is to have the technology that recognizes the information on the card with a green light, red light process.

That has been done in China. We have the technology. In Shenzhen, 140,000 people pass through during the weekend. It takes 10 seconds, but there are red lights and then they can be dealt with.

Instead of putting up a label saying that everybody might be a terrorist or might be bad, authorities know where to focus, but they have to be vigilant.

The next issue is that I have a feeling that Bill C-31 is unconstitutional. Legal experts will remember the Singh decision, which stated that people who claim refugee status are also protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From this point of view, whether we are looking at detention, or the right of protection from arbitrary detention or the right to life, liberty and security of the person, we have to be very careful. In fact, when we are drafting a bill, we may have good intentions and try to score points, but if it does not make it through the courts, it creates other kinds of problems.

I hope we can make amendments, and it is not just to take up more time. I am completely aware of the situation that the current minister finds himself in. It is not easy when you have to make decisions.

I was the last minister who had powers not only in terms of immigration and refugees, but also over deportations. After the events of September 11, protecting the safety of our citizens and of Canada is important and it is a huge responsibility. This is why, when we draft a bill and when we set up a system, we have to be sure that the system will pass the smell test.

Frankly, I believe that in certain areas, we can have all the statistics we want, but it is about what kind of process we want to have. How do we manage the access of the people who come here?

Some may say—and I expect that someone will ask me this question—that I was the minister who did not implement the refugee appeal process. When I was in office, we did not do it because we were considering how to simplify and speed up the process.

It is important to find a way to speed up the process while taking all circumstances into account, but it has to be done correctly. That is why I am asking the minister to make the necessary changes so that we can work on giving protection to those who need it, as I did when I was minister.

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1:10 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his constructive comments, for what he did as the former minister of immigration, and for his knowledge of this problem.

He raised the issue of Hungary and the designation of certain countries in order to accelerate the processing of claims. However, once Bill C-31 is passed, no refugee claimant from Hungary or the European Union, which are designated countries, will have access to a hearing before a decision-maker at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. That means that all claimants from all countries, regardless of the manner in which they entered Canada, including migrants who are smuggled into the country, will have access to the same system that currently exists, that is, a hearing before a decision-maker based on the merit of their cases.

The only difference is that the processing will be slightly quicker, which was agreed to by the opposition in the last Parliament in the form of Bill C-11. Moreover, claimants will not have access to the Refugee Appeal Division that his government and he, as minister, did not create.

Why is he concerned about the fact that we are not diminishing the rights of claimants from designated safe countries?

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I get the impression that each time the minister asks a question, he makes a speech. He thinks that if he repeats himself often enough, the message will sink in. That is not how things work. You do not create legislation overnight for a particular case. You make legislation for cases that might at some point arise. When you give yourself the ability to designate a safe country and to establish specific guidelines for a given country arbitrarily because you are the only person who can do so, it can lead to abuse and problems down the road.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Why not bring back an expert panel that could make recommendations along with the minister? Not only would that protect the system, it would protect the minister. That is where the minister has missed the mark.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech. I have a short question.

What concerns me about this bill is that it restricts recourse to humanitarian and compassionate considerations. I do not know whether my colleague shares this concern. A refugee claimant cannot invoke humanitarian and compassionate considerations while his claim is being processed or for one year following the refusal of his claim. Does that worry my colleague?

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, that type of thing can be cause for concern. When a person arrives in Canada and files a claim for refugee protection, he must not be considered a terrorist. When the Canadian Alliance was in opposition, every time I was asked a question, they would use the words refugee and terrorist as if they were interchangeable. We need to stop labelling people. People come to Canada for various reasons. Yes, an individual might come to Canada because he has heard about the country, but sometimes, he takes certain steps.

It is not just a question of the human smugglers. We despise them. We have to beat human smuggling. However, we are looking for the individual. Sometimes when we are looking for an individual, we have some specifics and we have to make sure that we protect that person.

That is why I said it is the type of thing that needs to be examined.

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1:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. friend from Bourassa if he is aware of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' funding profile. We have heard from the hon. minister that there is a queue for refugees. I continue to respectfully dispute this notion, but if there is one and we are depending on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide such assistance, why is it that Canada is not adequately funding this voluntarily funded branch of the United Nations?

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can assure my colleague that when we were there, we had an amazing relationship with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I have no doubt other members experienced the same thing. There is some relationship. I do not have the numbers, but if there is some capacity to work closely together, it should be done. I really believe that no matter what, specifically on that issue, we cannot do anything other than comply with the treaty and the organization itself.

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. I have enjoyed the debate and I will concur with my colleague opposite with respect to the minister and the fact that he has been present during this debate. It is an outstanding example for all parliamentarians.

We as Canadians are rightfully proud about our long-standing humanitarian tradition and about the fact that we are one of the top countries in the world to offer protection to those who are in need of asylum. There is no country in the G20 that welcomes more refugees per capita than Canada. We resettle one in ten refugees.

Canada is continuing its tradition as a leader in international refugee protection. Our government has increased the number of refugees we will be resettling by 2,500 per year.

Canadians are proud of our welcoming and fair nature. Nonetheless, few Canadians would disagree that our refugee system is in need of reform, as we see time and time again refugee claimants simply waiting too long for a decision on their claim. We also realize the need to stop those who are abusive of our generous immigration system, and we are therefore taking action to that end.

Canada's current asylum system is bogged down by bogus refugee claimants from countries that are democratic and safe. These claimants do not wait in line like everyone else. In fact, they make an attempt to jump the queue. This leaves in limbo those who genuinely are in need of Canada's protection but also allows those who really do not need our protection to unfortunately abuse our system.

Many genuine refugees have fled their homes because of unimaginable hardship and in many cases have been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they essentially start all over again. These genuine refugee claimants unfortunately are waiting years for determination on their claim. They are waiting because of an increasing number of refugee claims from safe and democratic countries. We should just look at the numbers for examples.

The total number of refugee claims from the European Union in 2011 was 5,800, a 14% increase from 2010. That is more than Africa and Asia.

Virtually all claims from the EU are abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. These are bogus refugees that are not in need of Canada's protection. They withdraw their own claims after they receive money unfortunately from our taxpayer funded welfare system and after they get taxpayer funded medical care. These claimants from the European Union cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million per year. That is simply not fair to Canadian taxpayers and it is not fair to genuine refugees who are waiting in line for Canada's protection.

Last year processing times for a decision on a claim before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada could take more than 20 months. It can take an average of four and a half years from the time a claim is made until a failed refugee claimant has exhausted all legal avenues and is removed from Canada. In some instances, cases have dragged on for more than a decade. Long delays encourage individuals who are not in need of our protection to use the refugee system as a way to remain in Canada. During that time, taxpaying Canadians pay for their health care and other generous social benefits.

Our government is closing the loopholes in our asylum system. We are listening to Canadians and acting in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers. No longer will these bogus refugee claimants be able to abuse our generous asylum system.

Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was previously passed, provided for faster processing timelines to quickly decide claims. It introduced a designated country of origin policy to further expedite the processing of claims from those countries.

As we proceeded with the implementation of that bill, it became clear that further reforms were needed. The rising number of refugee claims coming from countries that are not normally considered as refugee producing has warranted additional measures. This is why we have introduced a bill in addition to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

We need to send a clear and unmistakable message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly. At the same time, we need measures to ensure that those who truly need our help get it in a timely manner.

When the recent wave of bogus refugee asylum claims came flooding in from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union, it was made clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system were urgently needed. We are a responsible government that is not afraid to admit that our previous legislation was not strong enough in this area.

We have a mandate from the people of Canada to protect our immigration system. We listened and we are acting on that mandate.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make our refugee system faster and fairer. In this time of economic uncertainty, increased numbers of unfounded refugee claims create a financial burden on Canadian taxpayers.

Under the proposed system, claimants from designated countries of origin would get a hearing quickly, within 30 to 45 days, depending on whether they initially made their claim at an inland office or a port of entry. All other claimants would receive their hearings within 60 days. Let me be very clear about this. Under these new measures, all eligible refugee claimants would continue to be entitled to a fair hearing before an independent decision maker.

At this point I would like to quote what two very distinguished Canadian columnists have to say about our proposals and improvements.

John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail stated:

I think we need a system first of all that doesn’t cost too much....if you spend four years processing a bogus refugee claim, that’s the taxpayer who pays for it and that person may also be on welfare and other forms of social assistance during that time. So I agree. And I think there is broad public support for the idea that we need to process refugee claimants fairly and swiftly.

Another distinguished columnist, John Ivison of the National Post, stated:

I was talking to somebody today who was saying within four days of a claimant landing in Toronto, they can be claiming welfare. Now that's an obvious magnet for refugees all over the world. We have the most generous refugee system in the world. We have an acceptance rate of something like 50 per cent. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.

Well, how many people do you need to consult to figure out that Hungary should not be our leading sources of refugees? What had happened was that the ten, the top ten countries that we receive refugees from did not figure in the UN’s top ten list of refugees.

In closing, let me reiterate that the proposed protecting Canada's immigration system act builds on reforms passed in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. These new measures further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries which are those that generally do not produce refugees.

In addition, the proposals reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada. As a result, genuine refugees would receive Canada's protection much more quickly. Even after these changes, Canada's refugee determination system would still proudly remain one of the most generous in the world.

I urge all hon. members of the House to join me in supporting the bill in order to improve program integrity and deter abuse of our refugee system.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, what worries me most about this bill is the principle of safe and unsafe countries of origin. I have listened to the Conservative government's argument since we started debating this bill, but in my view, it does not hold water.

About a quarter of the residents of my riding were not born in Canada. A lot of people come to my office looking for refugee status.

When this legislation is passed and a journalist from Russia tells the member opposite that he has written critically about the government in office there, and that he is afraid for his well-being, but that our government believes that Russia is a safe country, what will he do?

I would like the hon. member to tell us what he is going to say to this person who is asking for help. Is the member going to say that he cannot help him because the minister has decided that his country is safe?

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1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

I certainly listened to the debate and I know this has been an issue of discussion.

The factors are objective and quantitative. The acceptance and designation of a country as safe is based upon decisions taken by asylum claimants themselves. The decision with respect to this is rendered by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, not by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

In the case which the member mentioned, they would be able to make a claim. That process would still be in place and they in fact would be able to make a claim.

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Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I may have misheard the member so I would just ask him to clarify. My understanding is that although Canada's approach to refugees has been a mixed record, which we have acknowledged, with periods of shame such as turning away the St. Louis, in general our refugee programs have been very progressive historically.

I think I understood the member to say that we were the country in the world that did the most for refugee resettlement. My understanding is that the United States remains the country where refugee resettlement amounts to more than the combined total of all other industrialized countries accepting refugees combined.

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1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that on a per capita basis Canada's resettlement of refugees is on a larger scale.

I want to address the member's earlier question to the member opposite. It was a valid question with respect to the amount Canada is paying toward the UN. My understanding is that it is in the neighbourhood of $70 million, which is the highest it has ever been in Canada's history and this continues.

She referenced a couple of other examples of which obviously Canada, in our nation's history, should not be proud. However, we should be very proud of our tradition. The minister is very much in keeping with this tradition. In my statement earlier today, I referenced the example of Grosse Île. Hundreds and thousands of French Canadians welcomed Irish to that island, treated them with dignity and respect, and cared for them. Unfortunately many of them gave their lives in doing so. This is an excellent example of what this country has done. It is a tradition that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who is of Irish heritage, is continuing today.

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Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, Conservatives like to talk about their support for families. In this bill, the section allowing designated people as irregular arrivals would have some very severe impacts on families. The first is the question of detention. If the parents were detained, what would happen to the children? The second impact is cascading results from those who would be barred from applying for permanent residency for five years and then for an additional five years they could not sponsor their families. This would create a 10 year gap in family reunification. Is the member concerned about the impact on families of these provisions for those who are designated as irregular arrivals?

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Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, this legislation would use the age of 16 in terms of not detaining children. However, the principle behind detention and behind the five year example that he gave is there have to be consequences for those who seek to jump the queue and those who seek to unfairly use our refugee system for their own benefit who are not genuine refugees. That is the issue.

We want to speed up the process for genuine claimants so they can have Canada's protection faster and can be resettled more quickly in Canada. The way to do that is to deal with the bogus claims that are currently clogging up the system. The point of this bill and of the last bill is to ensure that we can settle genuine refugees at a much quicker pace in the very generous fashion that we have, continuing to lead the world in this way. To do that, we need to unclog the current system and deal with the bogus refugee claimants.

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Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Sudbury, I will let him know that we will need to interrupt him at 1:37 p.m.. He has almost enough time for the full 10 minutes but we will need to pace it on that basis.

The hon. member for Sudbury.

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Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I truly am very disappointed that I will not have my full 10 minutes, but I appreciate the fact that you have given me six to seven minutes to talk about how I oppose the bill.

While I say that I oppose the bill, like my colleague from Edmonton—Leduc, I would like to tip my hat to the minister for being here throughout the entire debate. When we are looking at the importance of discussing ideas and trying to come up with the best legislation for the country, it is great that we can have this type of debate.

With that said, now that the hugs are over, I will move forward with my opinions on Bill C-31. New Democrats see this as an omnibus refugee reform bill that combines, in our opinion, the worst parts of the former Bill C-11 in the 40th Parliament and the current Bill C-4.

We see the main purpose is to repeal most of the compromises from the former Bill C-11, Balanced Refugee Reform Act, that received all-party support and royal assent in June 2010. It reintroduces Bill C-4, the human smuggling bill and introduces the collection of biometrics for temporary residents.

The naming of safe countries and the restriction of refugee rights, concentrating the power to determine safe countries in the hands of the minister, under the former Bill C-11, was to be done by a panel of experts including human rights experts. While we all can agree with the minister, we want to ensure that there would be a panel and human rights experts involved in this process, because no one is perfect. We want to ensure that immigrants could see that we do not leave it in the power of one person.

Refugee claimants from safe countries would face extremely short timelines before hearings, 15 days I believe. They would have no access to the new appeal division and no automatic stay of removal when filing for a judicial review. They would not be allowed to apply for a work permit for 180 days. The bill would also limit access and shorten timelines to file and submit a pre-removal risk assessment application and evidence.

In terms of restricting access to humanitarian and compassionate considerations, I do not think anyone would agree with that. Unfortunately, we are seeing this being pushed through by the government. A refugee claimant could not apply for H and C while the claim was pending for one year after a failed claim, in which time he or she would likely be deported. The bill would make it easier to terminate refugee protection if circumstances changed. This could apply to any legitimate refugee who had not yet become a citizen, potentially affecting tens of thousands of permanent residents. This would contravene international norms on the treatment of refugees and add uncertainty to individuals for years after their arrival. We have talked about how we have always been a progressive country in terms of immigration. I do not think that the bill, even though it may have been well-intended on the government side, does that.

Arbitrary designation of irregular arrivals and their mandatory incarceration is something that we on this side of the House definitely do not agree with. Bill C-31 reintroduces most of the provisions of Bill C-4, which are widely condemned by refugee advocates and likely unconstitutional. It would allow the minister to designate any refugee arrival of a group of two or more as irregular. We can use the examples of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady. These irregular arrivals would face mandatory detention for up to one year if they were age 16 and over, or until a positive refugee decision was made, whichever came first.

Irregular arrivals could not apply for permanent residency for five years or sponsor their family for five years. They would have no access to the new refugee appeal division. This designation would create an unfair two-tier refugee system, one for regular refugees and one for irregular arrivals.

Looking at the background of this, the former Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, was supported by all parties in the last Parliament. Several compromises were made to the original bill, largely through the work of the member for Trinity—Spadina and the NDP. It made it acceptable to us and other opposition parties.

These compromises included establishing a panel of experts to determine safe countries, allowing access to appeal for designated nationals and those from designated safe countries, and greater timeliness for the start of the appeal process. Bill C-31, unfortunately, repeals almost all of these compromises.

What would we like to see from an immigration bill, something like C-31 specifically? We do not think the Conservatives have been effective at gaining support for this legislation by promoting fear and talking about the threat of refugees. I do not think anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, such as “bogus claimants”, “queue jumpers” and “criminal elements”, does anything to help any of the immigrants coming to Canada. However, I think civil society is solidly against these changes to refugee reform. Experience in other countries, such as Australia for example, show that measures such as these do not have a deterrent effect.

These measures target and punish legitimate refugees. Refugees should not be subject to political manoeuvring, but should be given fair and compassionate treatment. All of those who seek protection should be given equal rights, with equal rights to appeal. No country is free from persecution. This is especially true of women and gays and lesbians fleeing violence and persecution.

To summarize, refugees have the right to a fair hearing. The right to appeal is critical for vulnerable claimants at the mercy of an inconsistent and often arbitrary Immigration and Refugee Board. We do not believe that the bill will accomplish that.

I am sure I will have a few minutes on another day to continue, but with that I do wish everyone a very Happy St. Patrick's Day tomorrow and a great constituency week.

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Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for St. Paul's is rising on a point of order.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, looking at the blues today, it appears that my time ran out before I was able to correct the number in the ask. I would like to get it on the record that the national chief has asked for $500 million for education on reserve and that we, as the Liberal party, are asking for no less than $500 million in the budget.

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Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I do not think that is really a point of order. It is a matter of debate concerning discussions and debate earlier today perhaps.

I will let the hon. member for Sudbury know that he will have three minutes remaining for his speech, and also the requisite five minutes for questions and comments when the House next returns to debate on the motion.

The House resumed from February 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-350, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, as the Liberal critic, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, has already indicated, we will vote to send this bill to committee to ensure that it makes sense and to hear from experts as to whether it is even constitutional. I have serious concerns as to its constitutionality.

I am really troubled by what has transpired in Parliament since the Conservatives obtained their majority government. As I have said many times in this House, I am amazed by the obsession of the Conservatives with crime. Against all evidence, members of the Conservative government continue to propagate the myth that Canada is a hotbed of criminal activity.

This obsession and fixation with creating and then communicating this erroneous notion of rampant crime is really offensive to many Canadians. I will tell you why it is so offensive: Crime is on the decline in Canada and has been for some time. These facts matter. In any real democracy, laws are based on reality and evidence.

However, that is not the case in the Conservative world. Facts do not matter. Scaring Canadians seems to be their goal, and it is a goal without merit or honour.

However, facts do matter. The truth matters. Evidence matters.

Canadians expect their government to be honest. Canadians expect their elected members of Parliament and senators to enact laws based on facts and evidence. Canadians do not want law founded on feelings or ideology. Canadians do not want their laws to be reduced to a tool to fundraise from a small, narrow right-wing base.

I do find it very troubling that we have a government that essentially says to Canadians, “Facts are just facts and are really a nuisance, because they get in the way of our feeling that deep down, crime is rampant. So let us just proceed on that basis”.

That is the foundation on which the government operates, and by extension, it is how the members of its backbench operate. It is offensive to those of us who value facts and evidence. Yet what we have witnessed since last fall when Parliament got into full swing is a government and its members practically climbing over themselves, looking for any opportunity to look tough on crime.

Since Parliament has returned, over 90% of all private members' bills presented by the Conservative Party have contained some crime initiative or amendment to the Criminal Code. Again, this absurd obsession with manufacturing a crisis is very troubling.

Crime is not rampant in Canada. People are not roaming the streets in large gangs, causing widespread unrest. Police are not, as we speak, in riot gear throughout the country. However, to listen to the Conservatives, one would think there is an armed insurrection in Canada. These notions are false.

I understand that from time to time Parliament does need to make adjustments to our Criminal Code. However, the actions of the government and its members in tinkering with the Criminal Code through private members' bills will have long-term effects on the coherence of our criminal law.

The Conservatives, though, find themselves in a majority. This majority provides them with the opportunity to legislate their ideology, to do as they please, and facts be damned.

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Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order regarding relevance. I think the member is speaking to the wrong bill.

He has been talking about the Criminal Code. This is an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. He has not mentioned that the bill would require that convicted criminals give the proceeds of civil judgments to victims of crime.

I wonder when he intends to address the bill. Perhaps the member is mistaken and thinks he is debating a different bill.

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Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I appreciate the consideration of all members. In respect to points of order pertaining to relevance, it is true that members, while they do have great liberties to explore different ideas around the subject before the House, eventually need to bring those ideas back around so they are pertinent and relevant to the issue before the House.

The hon. member for Charlottetown.

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Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am a lawyer by training and have practised law for most of my adult life. I served as managing partner in a successful law firm back home in Prince Edward Island. I have some experience as a prosecutor with respect to narcotics offences and election offences. That is something that will probably come in handy before too long in this country. Therefore, I understand the harm that crime can have on individuals. I know it hurts families. I know it hurts communities. I value a tough justice system, but not a vindictive one. I value proportionality and balance. I value the courts and their judgment. I value the Charter of Rights.

However, one gets a very strong impression that the Conservatives have a view of justice that is arbitrary, vindictive and disproportionate. We have certainly seen this manifested in Bill C-10, a bill that would most certainly be found to be, in whole or in part, unconstitutional. In effect, we also saw it last night in the debate on Bill C-316.

The bill before us today proposes to do something that in all my years of practising law I have yet to confront.

What widespread epidemic problem does the bill seek to fix? Are there thousands of incarcerated people in receipt of a judgment from Her Majesty where we have to divvy up the proceeds? Is this an epidemic in our country?

We know the answer to that. The answer is: very, very few.

I am not a cynic by nature, but the actions and the behaviour of the Conservatives really do cause one to question their motives. I am sure there are many members who like it when we oppose the myth-based crime bills. They perhaps want to be able to write fund-raising letters to their right-wing base, collecting untold amounts of money by suggesting that the opposition is soft on crime and that we do not care about victims. That is the type of divisive government we have in Canada.

The bill has already had a rough ride, primarily because it was initially ill-conceived and not well thought out. It was originally proposed and rejected because of jurisdictional problems. A non-partisan researcher and lawyer associated with the non-partisan Library of Parliament, Michel Bédard, said:

—I have doubts as to the federal government's power to pass provisions of this kind. It's important to understand that, according to the division of powers in Canada, property and civil rights fall within provincial jurisdiction. Under that head of power, the provinces have jurisdiction over contracts and all private law, including debt priority ranking. That includes debts owed to creditors, in particular.... It's important to realize that federal jurisdiction regarding debt priority ranking is limited to certain well-defined areas, such as bankruptcy, tax collection and banks.

This is obviously something that will have to be discussed at committee.

I would close by saying this. The Criminal Code is not some pet project to be tinkered and played with by Conservative backbenchers looking for reasons to appear tough. The Criminal Code is not supposed to be used and amended by backbenchers in order to send out a press release, or to be used as an opportunity to put something in a householder or newsletter. That is not how we make laws in Canada. In fact, I should say, that is not how we used to make laws in Canada. That is the sad part of what is happening in Canada under this fact-free Conservative government.

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Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to the same private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). The bill would require that any monetary amount awarded to an offender pursuant to a legal action or proceeding be paid to victims and other designated beneficiaries.

I believe my colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, proposes this measure in good faith and attempts to tackle—

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. There is too much noise in the chamber. With due respect to members who have the floor, in this case the member for Hamilton Mountain, if members wish to carry on conversations, I ask that they take those to their respective lobbies and we will continue.

The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.

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Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that intervention.

As I was saying, I believe that my colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, proposes this measure in good faith and attempts to tackle an important issue.

The bill's intention appears to be to improve support and fairness for victims of crime and their families and to ensure offenders meet their obligations to society. That is something I know all members of this House support.

Victims of crime must, of course, be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. They need and deserve the support of their community and the support of their government. The government has an obligation to listen to and respond to the needs of victims, but the Conservative government's record on that score leaves a great deal to be desired.

My colleagues opposite spin a good yarn about defending and supporting victims, but when it comes to concrete action, they obstinately, and flying in the face of all evidence, pursue policies that will increase crime levels, increase recidivism and make our streets less safe than they are today.

From its omnibus crime legislation, which experts expect will actually create many more victims of crime, to the shameful decision to end the gun registry and destroy the attendant records, the Conservative government continues to promote policies that victims of crime oppose.

In fact, it is pretty clear that the government has about as much respect for the views of crime victims as it has respect for facts and evidence in public policy-making, that is, none.

The government fails to provide adequate supports for victims of crime and fails utterly to understand and address the root causes of crime. That is a fundamental difference between our approach and the approach of members opposite.

We want to help victims recover and to offer them every support we possibly can. We want to provide the necessary resources to help them heal and to put their lives back together after enduring experiences that, in some cases, are more terrible than any of us here can imagine.

I think any victim would tell us that among the best things we can do as legislators is to work towards a more effective criminal justice system and do everything in our power to prevent criminal behaviour in the first place.

The economically and socially responsible approach is to invest in crime prevention by investing in Canadians and in our communities. We can begin by committing to develop a coherent and robust national housing strategy and put in place a sensible plan to address homelessness. This country has as many as 300,000 homeless people on our streets, yet we remain the only country in the G8 that lacks a national housing strategy.

We must ensure that all Canadians have access to primary health care, including mental health treatment facilities and addiction programs.

We must ensure that aboriginal Canadians have access to the housing, health care and education resources necessary to build strong and vibrant communities.

We must ensure that young Canadians have opportunities through early learning, post-secondary education and apprenticeship programs to participate fully in our economy and become engaged, contributing members of society.

We must build and support a functional corrections system that offers effective rehabilitation programming that reduces the risk of reoffending when prisoners leave the criminal justice system.

What we have seen instead from the government is an abdication of responsibility for providing the kinds of social supports, that is, housing, health care, education and jobs, that are the foundations of an effective crime prevention strategy. We have also seen a complete failure on the part of the Conservative government to live up to its promise to put more police on the streets.

In fact, the government has failed crime victims. It has failed the criminal justice system. It has failed communities. But that is what happens when governments pursue public policy on the basis of ideology rather than evidence.

During the Senate committee hearings on Bill C-10, the Conservatives' omnibus crime bill, the Minister of Public Safety told senators to ignore the facts when it comes to public safety. He said, “I don't know if the statistics demonstrate that crime is down. I'm focused on danger.”

This is not the first time we have been told to ignore the facts by the Conservatives. In response to questions about Bill C-10, the Minister of Justice said, “We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics.”

Indeed, the blind pursuit of ideology, and a dogged determination to dismiss facts and evidence as inconveniences, is a deeply troubling hallmark of the Conservative government. It is unacceptable, and frankly, Canadians have had enough. Canadians deserve better and victims deserve better.

I regret that the legislation before us today is not part of the comprehensive, evidence-based, long-term view of Canada's criminal justice system that we need. However, I can broadly support the intended purpose of the bill, and it raises some issues that deserve closer examination. Victims deserve to be better supported and this bill may be one way to take a step in that direction.

I also support recommendations 12 and 13 of the Ombudsman for Victims report “Toward a Greater Respect for Victims of Crime in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act“, which calls for an amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to ensure offenders will fulfill their court ordered sentences, including restitution and victim fine surcharges, and authorizing Correctional Services Canada to deduct from an offender's earnings reasonable amounts for restitution or victim fine surcharges orders.

I do have some concerns with the bill. It would seem there are jurisdictional issues that may prove difficult to overcome. As my colleague, the member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, pointed out, the bill appears to be designed to create two civil law systems, one for prisoners and another for the rest of society. However, the protection of the law applies to all citizens, including prisoners.

As well, I am unaware of any existing problems with judgments being paid. I wonder if the bill really represents a solution to a problem, or whether it is in fact an exercise in wedge politics.

If the government is genuinely interested in providing effective and meaningful support for victims of crime, why does it not reinstate federal funding for criminal injuries compensation programs? These programs have largely collapsed because of a lack of funding. There are countless victims of crime who are suffering today, with no support, with no restitution, because the offenders have no money. Why does the government continue to ignore those crime victims?

Despite these significant shortcomings, I am willing to take a closer look at the bill to see where and how the broader objectives, the better intentions, can be supported.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage the members across the way to help make all conversations that we have in this place about victims more productive. I would encourage the members across to put aside ideology and to instead pay attention to facts, to evidence, to expertise and experience when it comes to developing policies on public safety. This means supporting and promoting proven and effective crime prevention strategies, which make both financial and practical sense, so we can work together toward reducing the number of victims of crime in our country.

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Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak in the House. My hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain gave a great and eloquent speech on the subject.

I, too, am very happy to rise today to give my thoughts on this private member's bill, Bill C-350, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accountability of offenders). Having given much consideration to it, I believe the legislation warrants enough consideration to be sent to committee for further study.

Using recent statistics, the cost of crime in 2003 was about $70 billion. What is even more shocking is that $47 billion of the costs were borne by the victims of crime. That statistic means that fully two-thirds of all costs of crime are paid by the victims. It is clear that we need to reduce these costs. The most obvious way for us to reduce them is to reduce the number and severity of crimes taking place in Canada. The problem is that the government's approach to reducing crime, in my opinion, is inherently flawed. If increased prison populations lead to decreased crime rates, then the U.S. would have a far lower crime rate than Canada, which is clearly not the case.

The government's omnibus crime bill contained a number of measures that New Democrats supported and were willing to fast track if they were separated from the more odious aspects of that bill. However, as is so often the case, the government was more interested in playing politics than in passing good public policy. The government rammed through the entire bill, which will massively increase the Canadian prison population without having any effect on crime rates, with limited debate and scrutiny.

While the government likes to talk about protecting victims, the bill did nothing in regard to the most important aspect of victim support, and that was ensuring that there were less victims of crime in Canada. It is good, however, to see that some members on the government benches are willing to take a more nuanced approach to dealing with crime and, more specific, with looking to help the victims of crime.

This bill would mandate that any compensation that would be awarded to an individual who committed a crime through a court settlement would not be immediately paid to the offender. Instead, any money owing in terms of child support, restitution to the victim of the crime, civil judgments or fines would be paid out of this award. Only once these outstanding debts had been paid would the court release the remaining funds to the offender.

New Democrats are committed to ensuring that the rights of victims are properly considered in all aspects of the criminal justice system. The victims ombudsman, which is supported on this side of the House, has had a lot to say on these aspects of the justice system. In a recent report, the ombudsman called on the government to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to include conditions ensuring that offenders complied with sentences imposed by the court, including restitution and compensatory payment of increased fines, and to authorize the Correctional Service of Canada to deduct reasonable amounts of income held to cover outstanding amounts corresponding to the specified compensation or increased fines.

In that sense, the bill seems to attempt to address those concerns. It is important to realize that the primary purpose of this compensation is to not punish them by taking away their money, but, instead, it seeks to acknowledge that crimes have an effect both on the victims of crime and on the offender's family and that, as such, offenders should be accountable to those groups. It is a shame, however, that the government did not include any of these provisions in its crime bill. It is very telling that it was excluded.

This bill, with its focus on victims and the families of offenders, is a step in the right direction from the party opposite. It is just a shame that it has to be pushed by a private member's bill and not by the government. Additionally, I believe we should ensure that the criminal justice system continues to focus on rehabilitating people who have committed criminal acts to ensure they are not trapped in the cycle of criminality.

By ensuring that offenders are required to honour these types of debts, the criminal justice system could go some way in fostering a sense of responsibility in offenders to meet their obligations toward the families, victims and the communities. Combined with adequate retraining and education programs, that could be a good way to ensure that rehabilitation would be given a central place in the criminal justice system.

However, some critics of the bill have argued that by forcing offenders to honour their debts before being paid compensation, we are treating offenders differently than we treat average Canadians. However, there is some precedence for forcing people to honour their debts to civil society. For example, courts can garnish the paycheques of individuals in order to ensure they make their child support payments. As a result of this, I do not think that it is unreasonable for parliamentarians to further study the possibility of the bill.

Critics have also argued that the bill may infringe on provincial jurisdiction. However, as I understand it, the bill would replace the previous private member's bill introduced by the same member on the same topic and then he changed some of the provisions in the bill to recognize the right of provinces to set priority of claims regardless of settlement. I look forward to hearing testimony at committee stage from legal experts to ensure that the changes made by the member are sufficient to overcome any worries regarding provincial jurisdiction.

Bills like these, which seek to ensure that offenders are accountable for their actions and that go some way to ensure the rehabilitation of offenders, are definitely a step in the right direction.

I truly look forward to further study of the bill at committee to ensure its viability and to further analyze its consequences.

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Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sincerely honoured to rise today to respond to the debate on my private member's Bill C-350.

I would like to begin by extending my appreciation for my colleagues opposite who took the time to participate in this debate, and I listened to their comments with great interest.

It is heartening to see that this bill has received a good deal of support during these debates from hon. members across the way, from all parties. This speaks to the bill's clarity and to its necessity. During these debates, hon. members have recognized that this legislation contains important improvements from the previous version introduced last year.

I would like to take the opportunity to stress the importance of passing this legislation. The changes which I am proposing to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are crucial to holding criminals accountable for their actions and to supporting victims of crime. Our government's commitment to increasing offender accountability in the criminal justice system is well documented. Just as well known is our commitment to supporting victims and rebalancing the justice system to bring their interests to the forefront. This is one area where most parliamentarians and law-abiding citizens agree.

This legislation would teach these offenders, some whom have never been responsible one day in their life, that in society we do have obligations and we do meet them. Putting an emphasis on offender accountability helps to correct negative offender behaviour and is a key aspect of our correctional system. Hopefully, this would ultimately help offenders take more responsibility for their actions in their rehabilitation by reforming them into responsible members of society.

I am proud to report that this bill supports victims of crime. If an offender is the breadwinner in the family and commits a crime that leads to jail time, the offender's family members is left struggling to fend for themselves. In many cases, the offender's family members are victims. Those families are left struggling, many times beyond belief, when the offenders go to jail. It is only right that any monetary award be directed to the offender's family before any goes to the offender.

Bill C-350 would ensure that offenders live up to their family support obligations and that is a critical part of this bill. When an offender breaks into a residence, doing harm to an innocent family and the family's property, it is only right that any monetary award paid to the offender be paid first as restitution to the victim. That is just common sense. It is only fair when an offender files a spurious lawsuit or court action and receives a monetary reward, the offender's debts be paid prior to being able to benefit from that reward.

For Canadians whose lives have never been touched by crime, it might seem that once an offender has been tried, convicted and incarcerated in federal prison the story is over. It is far from over for the victims of these crimes. For some victims, it may take months, years or even a lifetime of rebuilding their lives following physical injury and emotional distress. Some may never get to the point of closure, particularly those who have lost a loved one due to an act of violence. We have seen too much of that in the press recently.

In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, our Conservative government committed once again to providing support for victims. We have listened to victims of crime and as a result have introduced many measures that support the rights of victims as opposed to the rights of criminals. The passage of this legislation would be another step in supporting the victims of crime. That is why I urge all hon. members to stand up for the victims of crime and support this legislation.

I also wish all my colleagues a very happy St. Patrick's Day. I hope they enjoy their week in their ridings.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion. will please say yea.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 28 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 2:10 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, March 26, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:10 p.m.)