House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugee.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think the part of my discussion that he obviously did not listen to was the whole debate surrounding bogus claims.

Legitimate claims are welcome, and they will be heard by a fair and impartial system. Bogus claims are what has been tying up the system. Ninety-five percent of these bogus refugee claims never ever show up for a hearing. Many of these are coming out of democratic countries in the European Union.

We have to find a way to plug that gap, and we are going to do that. I think the majority of Canadians support us in that attempt.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, a member of the opposition talked about her family. That is a tremendous story. I suspect Vietnamese boat people were the refugees who came in 1979-80.

Those people who fled Vietnam went to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees processing camps in Southeast Asia where their claims were assessed. They were then referred for resettlement. Canada accepted some 60,000. That is what we encourage refugees to do, seek UN regional resettlement opportunities, not get in a leaky boat, paying $50,000 to a criminal gang.

Does the member not agree with me that it is better that people pursue the normal, legal UN route for regional refugee protection as opposed to using dangerous smugglers to cross the Pacific Ocean?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, what we just heard was the minister's point of view. There are two totally different issues at stake here. We are not about to try to ignore refugees from around the world. Canada steps forward and does more than our share. We carry more than our load of accepting refugees from around the world. We will continue to do that.

However, we will not be the dumping ground for every syndicate and smuggling organization on the planet.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-31. My colleagues across the floor will be happy to hear that I have almost lost my voice. So, this will be different than some of my speeches in the past. However, it is for a good cause.

We are talking about Bill C-31. First of all, what is dangerous about this bill is the concentration of power that it puts in the hands of the minister. We know very well that a minister should not have any say in processes that have been democratically created. For instance, in the past, to determine whether a country was safe or not, a panel of experts, including human rights specialists, had to be created. This bill gives that power to the minister. Why create a system that is much more arbitrary and less democratic to replace an existing process, an institution that has proven successful for Canada?

The government will agree with me that our immigration system was very well structured, despite certain delays. It does need some changes, but does that mean the government has to destroy our democratic institutions? Is that what the government is talking about when it talks about modernizing our Immigration and Refugee Protection Act?

I do not believe that the changes proposed by the minister will modernize the system. I believe they represent a step backwards. The government wants to control everything. I could give a number of examples. My colleague told me about a young Mexican he tried to save and help. Mexico would not be considered an unsafe country, and most refugees from Mexico would be sent back there. Yet all international organizations agree that Mexico is not a safe country. I sit on the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights. The subcommittee heard testimony from a Mexican delegation about how dire the situation was for people in Mexico. Human rights are constantly being violated by the government, which is corrupt and has been infiltrated by criminal organizations. It is very difficult for homosexuals in Mexico to live openly, even though the country is not considered to be unsafe.

Certainly, some European countries are democratic and developed in a sense, but there is pressure on human rights advocates and the rights of homosexuals, women and young women are not respected. Even though there is no armed conflict or danger, these people are often mistreated, arbitrarily imprisoned or tortured.

I have done a lot of work for Amnesty International, and I have met many political prisoners from countries like Greece, which would certainly not be considered unsafe, people who had acid thrown in their faces because they campaigned for human rights and union rights.

The powers the bill gives the minister are not democratic. They are arbitrary. It is not modernizing when a bill destroys our democratic institutions and puts powers in the minister's hands. I am not saying that the minister is acting in bad faith, but I wonder why the government has to destroy our democratic institutions to give itself powers.

It is important to know that there was a great deal of opposition to Bill C-4 across Canada. Many credible organizations, lawyers' groups and international agencies spoke out against Bill C-4 saying that it violates international conventions, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the fundamental rights of refugees. It is important to say that, even though the government dropped Bill C-4 from the order paper, it has reappeared in Bill C-31.

It is the same thing. It is called an omnibus bill. The government introduced its omnibus bill on criminal justice. It is doing the same thing today in the House by including clauses that go against the fundamental rights of Canadians and refugees, and that violate a number of basic principles of justice and of our democratic society. This bill has hidden clauses in order to keep the public in the dark. It is a practice commonly used by right-wing governments. They keep the public in the dark by withholding information so that the public is unaware of what is going on.

This strategy is condemned in many countries. One might say we are living in a dictatorship here. We do not have access to information and information is being hidden from Canadians. For the government to then blame the NDP is completely intolerable. The Conservatives form the government. They need not lay blame on the opposition parties. This government has a majority. If the government's bills violate the rights of Canadians, then it is the government's fault. The government need not blame the NDP.

Bill C-31, like Bill C-4, once again concentrates power in the hands of the minister. For example, humanitarian considerations cannot be cited when a claim is pending or within one year of a failed claim.

It is important to know that, after filing a claim, claimants have a very short period of time—15 days—to prove that they are not safe in their country. These people are at a disadvantage and cannot speak neither French nor English. They are given a mere 15 days to prove that they are in danger in their country. The government talks about red tape and so forth.

The government has 15 days to examine the claim, or it is rejected. That does not make sense at all. Our life could be in danger even if we come from a developed and democratic country. The minister must know this.

I have also heard the minister talk about illegal immigrants. We know that there is a difference between refugees and immigrants. Refugees are people who arrive in Canada, but without going through the same process as immigrants. That is understandable. They left their country in a hurry. They did not have the time to obtain a visa, because they were in a very dangerous and unsafe situation. We are talking about countries such as Greece and others. These people were in such a dangerous situation that they had to leave the country quickly without going through the process. For that reason, generalizing the process will not solve the problems.

They talked about bogus refugees, of thousands of false claims. Only two of the 27 countries in the European Union have problems. Should all refugees throughout the world be penalized because applications from only two countries present a problem? I do not believe so.

I have a question for the minister: who is going to arrest the so-called human smugglers? Where will they be when the refugees go to jail? What about the human traffickers? Who will arrest them? The minister should know that the people smuggling refugees are not usually in Canada. They are back in the home countries. The minister should know that. Will putting children and refugees in jail help the RCMP and government officials arrest those people? I do not think so.

Individuals and their families will be put in even greater danger. Families will not be allowed to bring their children or grandparents until they have been here for five years. A person can obtain refugee status, but cannot bring family members over. That makes no sense. Worse still, if a refugee's claim is denied, family members will be barred from applying. If a family is truly in danger, a person trying to save his family will be penalized just because the minister has decided that the country is safe.

I will give other members a chance to ask questions now.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, before the hon. members deliver their speeches on this issue, I urge them all to study and really understand Canada's asylum system and this bill, rather than rising here and spewing nonsense. The speech we just heard was full of strange allegations that have nothing to do with reality.

For instance, the member said that all asylum seekers from Mexico need Canada's protection. However, 90% of asylum seekers from Mexico are refused by our legal system, through the Immigration and Refugee Board. In other words, most of them do not need Canada's protection. She said it is inappropriate to talk about bogus claimants, but nearly two-thirds of refugee claimants in Canada are rejected by our fair and balanced legal system. She should have nothing to say to that.

For instance, nearly all refugee claimants from the European Union withdraw their own refugee claims. Does she not agree that we need to have certain tools to deal with the waves of bogus claims from developed, democratic countries, like those of the European Union?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the European Union, I am fully aware of the situation. I travelled to Europe myself and heard from many countries about this. Canada is having problems with claims from only two countries, and yes, most of those claims are not legitimate.

However, Mr. Minister, you know very well that Bill C-11 solved all of those problems and that negotiations were held with the opposition. Now that you have a majority, you are pointing the finger at the NDP.

Will you negotiate with us? No. Will you include the amendments that were proposed in this bill? No. So, we will not take any lessons from you, simply because you claim we do not know this bill. We know very well that you will do whatever you want, but this is a mistake.

You have problems, but this bill does not solve them. Stop generalizing the situation by saying that we are going to be overrun with refugees from all over the world. We are having problems with only two European Union countries. This does not mean we should penalize refugees from everywhere else.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I would like to remind hon. members to address their comments to the Chair.

The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Immigration is out of touch with reality. Instead of blaming my brilliant colleague, who did her homework and read the bill in detail, maybe he should go out into the field, visit various communities in urban areas and see what refugees are really up against.

My colleague is right to give the example of a Mexican from the LGBT community who received death threats for various reasons, including his sexual orientation, and who claimed refugee status in Montreal. He told me about his reality, and it is incredible. The minister is wrong to blame the opposition, which is doing its homework. He should go out into the field.

I wonder if my colleague could comment about that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, one hon. member will certainly appreciate and identify with what I am going to say.

I want to remind the minister that immigration is more than just a photo of the minister and the Prime Minister with representatives of certain cultural communities in a restaurant or a cultural organization. Immigration is much deeper than a little certificate that is sent to representatives of cultural communities with a photo taken with the Prime Minister and him.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canada is a welcoming and generous nation. In fact, Canada welcomes one in ten of the world's resettled refugees, almost more than any other country in the world. Our Conservative government is increasing the number of resettled refugees by 20%, to 14,500.

In addition to resettled refugees, many people flee their country of origin because they are persecuted and fear for their life. Unfortunately, Canada's immigration system is being abused by people who are not refugees, by people who would rather break the rules or pay to be smuggled into the country instead of waiting their turn in line.

For far too long, foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees have abused our immigration system. This abuse comes at a great cost. It is not just the monetary cost borne by Canadian taxpayers. It also comes at a cost to genuine refugees who are waiting longer than they should to get a decision on their claim and receive Canada's protection.

Today I stand in defence of genuine refugees, in defence of Canada's border integrity and for all Canadians whose abundant generosity has been exploited. The facts speak for themselves. Canada receives more refugee claims from the European Union than from Africa or Asia. More specifically, EU member state, Hungary, has become Canada's top source country for refugee claims. Hungarians made over 2,400 refugee claims around the world in 2010 and, of those, 2,300 were made in Canada. That is 23 times more claims made in Canada than in the rest of the world put together.

Further, in 2011, Canada received more than 4,400 claims from Hungarian nationals. These numbers have risen dramatically to the point where Hungarian nationals constituted 18% of all claimants to Canada in 2011. Yet, in the last few years, virtually all of the refugee claims from EU nationals were rejected, abandoned or withdrawn.

The average failed refugee claimant costs approximately $55,000. That means that the unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year alone cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. The facts make it clear that our immigration system is being abused.

Bill C-31 would make several improvements to our asylum system that would make it faster and fairer. An essential feature of Bill C-31 is the ability of the government to designate safe countries that do not typically produce refugees and who respect human rights. It is proposed that hearings on claims for people from safe countries would generally occur within 45 days compared to the current system in which it takes over 1,000 days for a decision.

Under Bill C-31 , all eligible refugee claimants, including those from designated countries, would continue to receive a fair hearing at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and would be able to seek judicial review of a negative decision to the Federal Court. To put the huge financial costs of bogus refugee claimants in perspective, it is estimated that Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers approximately $1.6 billion over a period of five years.

In addition to refugee reform, Bill C-31 includes measures to crack down on human smuggling. Human smuggling is a serious and despicable criminal offence that endangers human lives while stuffing the pockets of criminal organizations. This bill would send a clear message that the abuse of our immigration system by human smugglers will not be tolerated and every effort will be made to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.

The proposed legislation would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and impose mandatory minimum prison sentences of up to 10 years on convicted smugglers. We must change the perception of Canadian shores being a vulnerable target for these migrant vessels. It is important to continually strengthen our laws to ensure that we have the tools necessary to hold offenders accountable.

Bill C-31 also deals with the pull factors that result in migrants choosing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be smuggled into Canada. Experience has shown that both the push and pull factors must be addressed to effectively deter human smuggling. It is important to underline that when migrants arrive as part of an illegal smuggling operation, they usually do not have documentation or have fraudulent documentation. It takes time to establish their identities and determine whether they pose a threat to the safety and security of Canadians and whether they are architects of the operation.

It is completely reasonable and expected by Canadians that smuggled migrants would be detained until their identities have been established and decisions made on their claims. To suggest that these people should immediately be released into our communities without knowing whether they pose a threat is completely irresponsible. It is important to note that under Bill C-31 minors under the age of 16 would not be detained.

Bill C-31 also includes provisions to ensure that the health benefits received by those who arrive as part of an illegal human smuggling operation are no more generous than what are received by the Canadian taxpayers who fund these benefits. Further, Bill C-31 would also prevent smuggled migrants from sponsoring subsequent family members for a period of five years. By addressing the pull factors that lead to the use of criminal human smugglers, Bill C-31 would be more effective at deterring this despicable crime from happening in the first place.

Finally, Bill C-31 would provide the government with the authority to collect biometric data from temporary residents seeking entry into Canada. 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 violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out of our country. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who have entered Canada in the past. Under Bill C-31, foreign criminals would be barred from entering Canada thanks to biometrics.

Further, biometrics may result in faster processing and shorter wait times for legitimate visitors and immigrants to Canada, as visa officers would have an additional tool to help them make their decisions. The use of biometrics would put Canada in line with most other western countries, such as Australia, the U.K., the European Union, Japan and the United States, which are already using or preparing to use biometrics in immigration matters.

Bill C-31 would strengthen the integrity of our immigration system. This would mean that genuine refugee claimants would receive Canada's protection sooner. It would also mean that bogus refugee claimants who are abusing Canada's generosity would be processed and removed from the country more quickly. Bill C-31 would provide an expedited secure process for those who are genuinely in need of asylum and protection. It would provide a just framework from which Canadians could feel secure in knowing that their tax dollars were contributing to a structured and thoughtful refugee system.

Finally, this bill would protect our borders from dangers that all Canadians stand united in opposing. These changes are necessary and deserve the support of all parliamentarians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, parliamentarians on this side of the House will never support a bill that would jail children. The government thought that was a good idea, to bring forth a bill that would jail refugees, men, women and children, for up to a year.

The government has made one change and will now only jail children who are 16 or 17 years old. However, what happens if a refugee family arrives with an eight-year-old child? Do we really think that those parents are going to stay in detention for a year and allow the state to separate them from their eight-year-old child? Absolutely not. We all know what will happen: The eight-year-old child will stay with the parents. Hence, we are still looking at children being jailed with their parents, and the government knows it.

The minister has said that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees approves of his designation of certain countries as safe. New Democrats have checked and what the high commissioner has really said is that if Canada is going to have a system designating countries as safe, there must be an appeal on the merits from an initial decision. Bill C-31 denies refugee claimants from designated safe countries an appeal before the refugee appeal division. I know the minister is not a lawyer, but he should know that an appeal to the Federal Court is not an appeal on the merits; it is an appeal only on natural justice.

My question for the member is this. How can she justify a bill that deprives people of access to the refugee appeal division depending on the country they come from, in violation of what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has required?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, when I was at home in my riding over December and January, I had an opportunity to meet with many of my constituents, who absolutely understand that our system is being abused.

To be clear, Canada has the most fair and generous system in the world. Canadians know this. Whether addressing refugee reforms, human smuggling or implementing the use of biometric data, Canadians are very aware that all of these things need to be addressed. That is what we are doing through Bill C-31.

This bill would provide more protection more quickly to those who are truly in need. It would weed out the bogus claimants who are abusing our generosity. It would save Canadian taxpayers at least, as we have said many times, $1.6 billion over a five year period.

To underscore my comments on these facts, I would like to quote from The Edmonton Journal editorial, “Good moves on refugees”, from February 17:

Given the financial stress placed on our system by those numbers, there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective means of weeding out the bogus claimants from Europe and elsewhere. Simply put, we cannot continue to give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it costs that much money and taxes our social systems unduly to do so.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the importance of science to the fishery.

As a result of the intervention by the government with respect to the Fisheries Act and what it refers to as a modernization of the fishery, we are seeing little respect being given to science and to the scientists who play such an important role in ensuring the sustainability of our natural resource. Whether it is dealing with the cod stocks, or any species or fishery for that matter, science is so important to ensuring that when we put quotas in place we know exactly what we are doing. Any decision that we make with respect to the fishery should be based on science, as well as input from those who engage in the fishery, whether it is those in the fish processing side or in the harvesting side.

However, we are finding from the government little appreciation for science and the influence of science, in terms of the health of the fish stocks. When we look at the fish habitats and what is being said today by former Conservative fisheries ministers with the changes to fish habitats, it just does not make sense.

More than 600 Canadian scientists, including some of the country's leading experts in environmental protection and animal research, are asking the Prime Minister to abandon plans to remove habitat protections from the federal Fisheries Act.

It is serious when we have scientists, who know only too well how important this is, go to this extreme to plead with the Prime Minister not to go down this path. These people have the knowledge and the expertise. Those of us who serve in these positions, including the Prime Minister, ministers of the Crown and bureaucrats, are not on the front lines in terms of what happens in the fishery. It is the scientists we rely upon. They spend years researching these topics. The fishers and those who process and harvest the fishery have the knowledge necessary to ensure a sustainable fishery and to ensure that we do what is right in terms of fish habitats.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, these scientists say changing the law would be a most unwise action. It would jeopardize many important fish stocks and the lakes, estuaries and rivers that support them. They are encouraging, in fact, they are imploring, the Prime Minister to abandon this initiative, as it is currently drafted.

This is not coming from me. This is not coming from an MP for Random—Burin—St. George's, where my communities are primarily rural communities that depend very heavily upon the fishery to ensure that the people have a livelihood and can provide for their families. This is coming from scientists who have devoted their lives, as this is their area of expertise, to looking into these subject areas. They are looking at what the government is proposing here with respect to the Fisheries Act and they are saying it is wrong.

I am asking the government to listen to those scientists, to recognize how important it is that we listen to people with the expertise, the knowledge based on their experience and their research, that this is the wrong thing to do.

People have answers. The government does not have all the answers. The opposition does not have all the answers. However, I can say that people who spend their lives researching these topics do so seriously and they know that this is wrong. We are asking, on their behalf, for the government to take their request seriously.

6:35 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her interest in this matter. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to some of the comments she made.

Particularly, I want to address the issue of science and how the future of the fishing industry depends on science. I think we agree on this question.

Our department is a science-based organization. In fact, at Fisheries and Oceans Canada excellence in science is the cornerstone of all our operations. That does not mean, however, that we should simply rely on the ways of the past. As a department we cannot stand still in how we approach our scientific mandate. Therefore, over the past year we have implemented changes in how we organize and manage our scientific resources. As a result, there are more opportunities than ever for our scientists to work collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams to address complex multi-faceted challenges.

More to the point, we are using our science assets more strategically. This allows us to strengthen our regulatory capacity and explore new approaches for meeting our crucial oceans management and marine and fish habitat conservation and protection mandates.

The Canadian government is consistently working with our partners domestically and internationally to ensure that future generations inherit healthy oceans and ocean resources. We are protecting our ocean resources on a number of fronts and we are achieving real results.

Scientific knowledge and consultation with our stakeholders will continue to be the basis of our policies. This knowledge and experience will be vital as we continue our work to protect Canada's diverse marine and aquatic resources.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of our ocean resources using the best science possible. To do that we depend on our scientific institutes, laboratories and centres of expertise for vital information to make fisheries conservation decisions that are both environmentally sound and economically productive. We will continue to use the knowledge gained from our scientific research to inform decisions and policies that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Given the current financial environment globally, within Canada and within government, it makes good sense to step back, re-calibrate and set a new direction. Therefore, over the past year we have reviewed all of our policies, programs and services. That will ensure they are consistent with our core mandate, relevant to Canadians and effective and efficient in meeting our objectives. In short, we have been moving forward, not backward. Even better, we have been moving forward as a department, together with our partners and stakeholders. That is something in which we can all take pride.

What I am saying is this. Deficit reduction is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity for renewal and transformation. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to take a hard look at ourselves to find better ways to do things. We need to ask ourselves what our core business should be, what the right capacities are, and whether there are better systems and ways of delivering services that will help us keep delivering excellence to Canadians and meet the many demands of the 21st century.

I can assure the House that our future investments in science will be designed to augment our research capacity and assure sustainable fisheries and trade into the future.