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 refugees.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's comments, but they remind me of a recent response of his in a similar situation. In response to a Montreal Gazette editorial, the minister wrote not unlike that which he said in response to my comments today:

It is simply incorrect to suggest that C-31 includes any new powers, or loosens any of the criteria in Canada's immigration laws pertaining to the removal of refugee status.

However, as Professor Sean Rehaag of Osgoode Hall Law School pointed out in his response to the minister, who, I suspect, will have a response to that as well, the issue we are concerned about has to do with the cessation provision in Bill C-31 which authorizes the stripping of people's refugee status that underpin their permanent residency, thus making them subject to deportation. As Professor Rehaag noted:

This is a sweeping change to Canadian refugee law, one that puts the permanent residence of tens of thousands of recognized refugees at risk.

While this may not be the sweeping change that has been so characterized, it clearly is a change, unlike that which the minister himself so characterized.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism continually says that Canada exceeds our obligations of international law by simply giving a refugee claimant a hearing. Under the 1951 refugee convention, host countries have the obligation to assess the claim of any asylum seeker who reaches their territory.

Of course, there is no refugee queue. Everyone has the right to seek asylum regardless of how many others are doing so at the same time. There is no obligation in international law for a refugee to seek asylum in the nearest country. Refugees often escape to the nearest country. Often the country is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and has no legal obligation to protect them. Those people are often at risk of arrest, abuse, detention, demands for bribes, forced labour, et cetera.

I would like to make a brief comment on the minister's comments on previous Bill C-11 about the independent committee to assess designated safe countries. What he said then was that those amendments “go a long way in providing greater clarity and transparency around the process of designation”. That is what the minister said about the committee in the last Parliament and he scrapped that committee in this Parliament.

Why does my hon. colleague think the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism may have changed his opinion on the process of designating safe countries?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know why the minister would have changed his opinion. If the minister wants to offer a response as to why he did, I invite him to do so.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière
Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to express my support for Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

If there is one thing that Canadians can be proud of, it is the way we treat foreign nationals who seek our protection. Our asylum system is one of the most generous in the world. Currently, Canada opens its doors to one in 10 of the world's resettled refugees.

Our humanitarian efforts have even been recognized by the United Nations. Since the second world war, Canada has granted asylum to over one million refugees. As a Canadian and a Quebecker, I am proud of our humanitarian tradition. Our government is determined to maintain this tradition that Canadians are so proud of.

Canada welcomes 10% of the world's resettled refugees, more than almost any other country. Our government has also increased the number of resettled refugees, with plans to settle 2,500 more by 2013 for a total of 14,500, which is a 20% increase.

The rationale behind Bill C-31 is simple: by focusing our system's resources on the people who genuinely need our protection, we will be better able to help those people. But we can make our system more generous only if we correct the problems in it.

We got closer to that goal with the passing of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in June 2010, but the fact is that gaps remain in the system. We need more robust measures that are more like the ones in the bill that was first introduced.

For example, our asylum system is already overwhelmed by a significant backlog of claims. The growing number of bogus claims from European Union democracies is only exacerbating the problem. When we consider that virtually all claims from the European Union in recent years were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent body, it is quite apparent that too many of our tax dollars are being spent on people who do not need our protection.

What are we to make of the fact that most claimants from the EU abandon or withdraw their claims, if not that the claimants themselves believe they do not need Canada's protection and therefore filed bogus claims?

By building on the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, Bill C-31 would save hard-working Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. I think Canadians would agree that that money could be put to better use than dealing with bogus refugee claimants who abuse our system to enter our country through the back door. Yet that is just what we are doing now. We are using taxpayers' money to help people who should not even be here.

A failed refugee claim costs taxpayers an average of $55,000 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. A number of cases have dragged on for more than 10 years. During this time, claimants can receive free health care and social assistance while their claims are pending. Long wait times mean greater costs for Canadian taxpayers.

It also takes too long for people who need our protection to move through the system. Those who truly need our protection now wait approximately two years—20 months—for a decision on their claims, which is unfair to genuine claimants. Our message to genuine claimants who are waiting patiently in line is that we are sorry. We know that they need protection, but they must wait two years before we can tell them whether they will get it. This is just not fair. It is an abuse of our country's generosity.

This situation deprives genuine claimants of their peace of mind and of the opportunity to quickly obtain protection.

In view of these problems, further improvements to our refugee system are obviously needed. Canadians have had enough. They want our government to take action and improve the system. That is exactly what we are doing with Bill C-31.

This bill will not just improve the current system and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, it will also provide genuine claimants with protection sooner. The success of the new system depends on our ability to expedite the processing of claims, which is essential. The less time claimants spend in Canada waiting for a decision, the less incentive there is to abuse our generous refugee system and to queue-jump the regular immigration process. In addition, by speeding up processing times for refugee claims, we can provide genuine refugees with protection more quickly.

With Bill C-31, for example, claimants from designated countries of origin could have an IRB hearing within 30 to 45 days, as opposed to the 1,000 or more days it currently takes.

Let us be clear: the independent Immigration and Refugee Board will continue to hear every eligible claim, as it does now, regardless of the claimant's country of origin. 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 that people who are in genuine need of Canada's protection will receive it more quickly, they also mean that we can more quickly remove those who do not.

Given the recent spike in the number of unfounded claims from countries that respect human rights and defend democratic values, and that are not usually source countries for refugees, we must absolutely deter the abuse of our refugee system. Quick removals would deter abuse and contribute to reducing the overall cost of our asylum system.

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 allow us to continue to meet our domestic and international obligations.

These measures will also help to maintain the balance and fairness that are the foundations of our refugee system. Canadians gave our government a clear mandate to preserve the integrity of our immigration system. Bill C-31 delivers on that mandate.

This bill to protect Canada's immigration system will help to provide a quicker and more secure beginning here in Canada for victims of violence and persecution from around the world. At the same time, it will prevent bogus claimants from abusing the generosity of our immigration system and from benefiting from our health and social welfare services, which are paid for by taxpayers.

Canadians, and Quebeckers in particular, take great pride in the generosity of our immigration system, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country.

For all of these reasons, I urge all of my hon. colleagues in the opposition to support this important bill and to help us pass it quickly.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening all morning to members on the government side speak to the bill. Since we arrived here in May we have been listening to the government continually attacking the most vulnerable people in our country.

Government members describe the way in which refugees come to this country as if it were some kind of decision made by them in far-off countries because it would be fun, because they could scam the system and because they could do a lot better in Canada. That is not right. People who come to our shores, especially those who come by way of the egregious activities of human smugglers, come here because they have no choice. They are fleeing their home countries because they want to save their lives and the lives of their families.

I want to ask a question of the member opposite that plays very much to things that the government apparently is concerned about. The Conservatives talk about how we are losing so much money and how the system is broken. Would it not be better to hire more people to fill the vacancies at the IRB and get the claims processed faster?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the protecting Canada's immigration system act will provide a quicker and more secure beginning here in Canada for victims of violence and persecution around the world. It will also help us prevent false asylum seekers from abusing the generosity of our immigration system and receiving significant taxpayer-funded health and social services.

Canadians, and Quebeckers in particular, take pride in the generosity of our immigration system, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, contrary to the preamble to the question from the member opposite talking about attacking the most vulnerable, Canada has the most generous refugee system in the world.

Many of us in this room have had the privilege and honour of working directly with refugee claimants when they have come here. We have helped them find their way through those early days here, find a place to live and find a place to work. I cannot understand why the opposition would not understand that it is important we have a system in place that actually ensures the security of the Canadian population.

One of the misconceptions that has been repeated over and over again by the opposition, all through this debate and especially this morning, is this myth that somehow Bill C-31 includes the mandatory detention of everyone who arrives as part of a human smuggling event. I would like to ask my colleague to explain the exemptions that are there for those who are under 16, and also how once an actual claim is processed the claimant is no longer detained in the detention centre.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying in my speech, Canada has the fairest and most generous immigration system in the world. However, Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and take unfair advantage of our country. We have to take steps to clamp down on these abuses. Our government is determined to strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system. The protecting Canada's immigration system act will make our refugee system faster and fairer. This legislation would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving taxpayer-funded health and social services.

The bill will also make it possible to offer protection more quickly to those who really need it. The bill will save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.65 billion over the next five years.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-31, a very important piece of legislation. I hope to put some of this into context.

I wish our new elected official from Toronto—Danforth, Mr. Craig Scott were able to participate. He has yet to be sworn in. He has a legal degree from Oxford, London School of Economics and Dalhousie University. He can certainly provide an international lens to this. Canada is not an island. It is important to deal with the issues of worldwide refugee problems, whether they be violence, hunger, persecution for religion or beliefs or not having beliefs. This is something that Canada has to do with other nations.

I have empathy for the minister having to deal with a difficult file. Karen Boyce in my office is directly assigned to deal with immigration matters. She has worked diligently for 10 years, since I was elected in 2002, processing many claims for people, because we have such a backlog in our system. Sadly, we are not even funded to have a direct immigration person. However, in my office we are dedicated to that service. Karen has basically dedicated her life over the last 10 years to helping people. There is not a day that goes by that she does not change somebody's life.

It is important we talk about this, and think about some of the language that is being used here by the government. In the last couple of minutes I jotted down the words government members are using: protection, take advantage, security of population, abuse, crackdown, bogus. These are the types of words that the government is using to describe the most vulnerable who are coming to our shores, whether they be refugees or immigrants.

I think about this, and I think about my grandfather, Fred Attwood, who came to Canada after the Second World War. How courageous he must have been to come across the ocean, to Windsor, Ontario where he had never been before. He had to try to find a job and save money to send back for his wife, daughter and young son who had been left behind. I thought about how courageous it was. When we go to citizenship ceremonies, we think about how courageous people are. Also, there are the ones who are being persecuted and who do not know their fate. They are often dealing with children.

Let us be straight about this. Canada needs immigration and refugees. That is a reality for us to sustain our quality of life. That is necessary. We have a small population growth right now. That is not going to do, the day we need our pensions paid for, our economy moving and important new skill sets.

Let us put a face on some of these people the government is saying are dangerous, are security issues, who have problems and who we have to make sure are not going to be threatening the general public. They are people like K'naan. He was born in Somalia. He spent his childhood in Mogadishu and lived there during the Somalian civil war which began in 1991. Is a person like that a threat? He is a refugee.

How about Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada? She emigrated from Hong Kong as a refugee in 1942. She came here, making her mark and contributing to Canada.

How about Fedor Bohatirchuk, a chess master? He has since passed away, but he was persecuted in Ukraine. He came to Canada and contributed for many years.

Sitting Bull, the Sioux chief. He left America for Canada as a holy man who led his people as tribal chief during the years of resistance in the United States. Sitting Bull eventually came here to Canada from the United States.

These are the people we are talking about. So when we see a system that is going to be put in place, we have to be very careful. I do not like the language that is being used. I do not think it is fair. I do not think it is right. It feeds into the base, the negativity. It is almost exhausting to see that this is what Canada is about, that we literally have a refugee problem that is overwhelming the capability of our current government, and that we have to gut our immigration and refugee policies to deal with this plague before it destabilizes our country. That is almost the message the Conservatives seem to be trying to paint.

We do have problems with our immigration and refugee situation. We do want to make improvements. There is no doubt about that. However painting it in this context, locking up people, tearing families apart, having no defined dates, having no capabilities to be able to advocate for themselves, is this what we are trying to espouse?

I do not like to see lists. I have seen this in the past. I was in the Canadian embassy in Washington in 2003. The ambassador said that Canada was going to have certain citizens who, when they entered the United States, would be put on a list because they came from a different country. I asked if we were going to protest that. He said that we were going to accept that. I said that is wrong, because that list is going to grow. Sure enough, it did. It went from 5 countries to 17.

Now there is a situation where our own citizenship is being tiered and defined by the U.S. to this day, with no resistance from the government, not the previous Liberal administration, not the current administration. We have accepted the fact that they will not validate our legal and due process to assign citizenship to the people we want to come into our country. We have allowed them to tier that.

What happens on the Windsor-Detroit border every day is ironic. We have doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, a whole slew of people, some of them were born in Pakistan 40 years ago, who are saving lives.

This is the funny part. Their credentials are not recognized in Canada, so they have to go into the United States and serve in the hospitals there. They are considered a threat to the United States at the border, in many respects because they happen to come from a country that the United States defines as being insecure or having issues, despite having Canadian citizenship. They are actually fingerprinted and photographed. Then they go to their jobs, saving American lives every day.

Ironically, they sometimes save Canadian lives, because when the hospitals are full in Windsor or if there are problems with people that cannot be solved, instead of being sent to London sometimes they will be sent to the United States. They get treated by a doctor who is not qualified to treat them in Canada and cannot get a job here. It is unbelievable. We have not been able to solve that in over 10 years.

The problem we have with this bill is it does not deal with the real situation of the backlog. I am concerned with the delays that are going to take place by not having appropriate staff levels.

We see this on a regular basis. For people waiting for security clearances, what happens is their health clearance goes null after its expiry date. Then they try to go back and get that and have their security clearance go null again, or wait in advance for many years. We have many cases where people are waiting for many years because of security reasons. We understand and appreciate that. However, why would we not put the resources to get these people moving?

Once again, we are connected to the world in regard to refugees. When there is a situation as in Sri Lanka, or in the past with Jews out of the Second World War, it is for all the world to contribute and do its due diligence to ensure that those who are vulnerable, through no fault of their own, get protection. Hopefully, we can restart their lives so they can contribute to our country and planet.

When we talk about refugees, think about people in the past who were refugees. Bob Marley was a refugee from Jamaica. Olivia Newton-John's grandfather was a refugee, as was Max Born. There is K'Naan, as I mentioned before. There are people like Jackie Chan. He was a refugee because of the Triads in Hong Kong. There is Jerry Springer, and I am not a fan of him, but his parents were German refugees. My own editorial opinion is he has not improved the television I watch, but the point is it is a free democracy.

There is Madeleine Albright. Under the system we are talking about, she would be considered a risk and would have to be vetted through our system the way the government wants to do it. Madeleine Albright and Harry Kissinger were refugees. As I mentioned, Sitting Bull was a refugee. I would bet if one were to look at some of the persecutions of people who did not want to participate in the draft during the Vietnam War, they would probably not be let in Canada anymore. Victor Hugo was a refugee. Here is another interesting refugee, Albert Einstein.

When we talk about this, we need to have some context. That is why I think it is important to note the language coming out. It was interesting to hear the minister talk about polls. In a question to one of my colleagues, he talked about polls wanting Canada to do this. We get calls and false emails all the time claiming refugees are getting all this money. It is not true. It is all a campaign of hate.

On an issue like this, sometimes the proper thing to do is not what is popular but what is right. That is hard to do sometimes, and the Conservatives do not understand that. They see this as a wedge issue.

When the Conservatives use the words, “bogus”, “crackdown”, “abuse”, “protection”, “take advantage”, “security of the population”, I refute that with the refugees who have contributed to Canada and this planet. We have to be there for them, not only in terms of passing legislation but in ensuring they can contribute to our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member spent the weekend at the NDP echo chamber because his comments have nothing to do with reality.

Here is the reality. Canada, under this government, is receiving more resettled refugees than any other country in the world per capita. We resettle 1 out of every 10 resettled refugees worldwide. We have 0.05% of the world's population and take 10% of resettled refugees, but that is not enough. This government is so open to our humanitarian tradition that we are increasing the number of resettled refugees that we are accepting as part of our immigration plan by 20%, but that is not enough. We are increasing the refugee assistance program to assist newcomers in need of our protection with their integration. We are increasing that by 20%, but that is not enough. We are so committed to ensuring that asylum claimants get a fair shake that we are creating, for the first time, the refugee appeal division at the IRB, a full, fact-based hearing process for failed claimants.

This government is maintaining what the UNHCR calls the model asylum system in the world. We are making record large contributions to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Why is the member denigrating the best record in the world when it comes to refugee protection?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot mention who is or is not in the House, but obviously the applause was not for my answer. I wish I were that popular. However, it is a pleasure to have the member for Outremont back in this place.

To answer the minister quickly, if our system is so good, why does he have to establish laws and measures to control it? If it is so good, why does the minister have such little faith in his own legislation? This debate is about moving the control of our refugee information into a small cabal as opposed to having due process to ensure that when refugees show up on the shores of Canada, they are going to have a fair and partial process to become part of our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Before we go to statements by members, the Chair would also like to welcome the new leader of the official opposition to the chamber.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Arthritis Society
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that the Arthritis Society has chosen me as honorary co-chair of the Walk to Fight Arthritis. As my colleagues are aware, I lived with arthritis for six years before I had a hip replacement last fall, even though I had already had a replacement in 2007. I know what it is like to live with this pain and difficulty. I am very proud to take on this role.

The march for arthritis awareness will take place in Montreal on May 27 in Jean Drapeau Park. I am very honoured to fulfill my co-chair role with very popular broadcaster Richard Turcotte. We are hoping that through this effort together we will increase awareness and support for the very important work of the Arthritis Society across Canada.

Snowsmart
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to highlight a new Government of Canada initiative that will increase the safety of young skiers and snowboarders across the country.

Last week I had the privilege of announcing the government's snowsmart initiative with the Minister of State for Sport in my riding of Simcoe—Grey and supported by the Blue Mountain Resort team of Dave Sinclair and Dan Skelton as well as municipal councillor Gail Ardiel and Mayor Ellen Anderson.

Our government has committed $200,000 to the snowsmart campaign in conjunction with Smartrisk, the Canadian Ski Patrol System and the Canadian Snowboard Foundation. The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that skiers and snowboarders across the country can participate in winter sports in a manner that is safe and prevents life-threatening injuries.

Many of the accidents that happen on ski hills are preventable and involve young children. It is up to us to lead the safety campaign that ensures that young skiers and snowboarders are hitting the slopes in a fun but safe way.

Canadians should be proud of our winter sport heritage and I am proud to be part of a government that supports safe participation of young people in winter sports.