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 refugees.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 16th, 2012 / 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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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.