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.

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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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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
Government Orders

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?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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
Government Orders

March 16th, 2012 / 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
Government Orders

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
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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?