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

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course the UN convention on refugees, which Canada is signatory to, does require every signatory to provide an initial assessment of every refugee claim. Therefore, Canada, in doing that, is doing nothing more than meeting its international obligations.

One of the major criticisms by many of this bill is that those who come from designated safe countries would not have access to an appeal to the refugee appeal division, whereas people who come from countries that are not so designated would. This would create a two tiered appeals system.

In the previous Parliament, all parties in this House, including the government side, the Conservatives, agreed that that was not fair. In the previous incarnation of this bill, the government agreed that all claimants should have access to the refugee appeal division because there could be mistakes made at first instance.

We all agree that we need a quick and efficient system but the New Democrats say that we could have an efficient system that is also fair.

Why would the member and his government put forward a bill that has a two tiered appeals system? Canadians would never accept that their neighbour can appeal to the court of appeal but they cannot depending on where they come from.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty clear that this bill achieves the balance Canadians would like to see. It has a number of factors in it and the issue the member opposite is speaking about is part of that. It talks about the importance of dealing with human smuggling and the importance of reforms to our asylum system. The NDP would have to admit there are people who file bogus refugee claims to try to get into our country and to access the generous benefits that we have in this country. I find it interesting that the member opposite is standing, but earlier today we were talking about his participation in rallies with organizations that do not recognize there are any bogus refugee claimants in this country. We all know that there are. We are trying to deal with that. We are trying to make it fair for honest refugees and for Canadians as well.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to be aware of the fact that from what I understand, all political parties inside the chamber support the idea of having a designated safe countries list. The difference is that the Conservatives have done a double flip-flop on it. Originally, they did not want the minister to establish an advisory group so they made their first flip. They said it made sense, that there would be an advisory committee that would recommend to the minister which countries should be on the safe country list. Now the Conservatives have done another flip-flop saying they have changed their minds on this legislation and now they are going back to that it should be the minister who decides. Whether it was Michael Ignatieff or other Liberals, NDP, Conservatives at one time, they supported the other way.

Will the minister acknowledge the need to do yet another flip-flop and agree to an amendment that would reinstate the advisory committee?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, one of the problems with the Liberals is often when they are offered something from us and we have said let us work together, they say that they do not want to do that, that they are not going to co-operate with us. Then they come back later and say they wanted the deal even though they did not want to support it. We have seen that with legislation. Often they will come back and criticize legislation that they oppose and criticize positions that we have taken.

Just before the March break, there was another example of that with the eco-energy bill, a bill which both the Liberals and the NDP have opposed strenuously. At every point they have voted against it. Then they asked us to put it back in. This is one more example of that. Lots of people have said that this legislation is necessary. I could read some of those comments. The Globe and Mail said that the immigration minister's “refugee reforms, aimed at making the process more efficient and decisive, are generally good. If implemented, they will improve an unwieldy asylum program”.

There are pages of comments from people who have come forward and said this is important legislation and that we need to pass it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to confirm what the member for Winnipeg North said. All of us in this House want to provide improved safety and treatment of refugees as they come to Canada.

Has the government provided any costing for the detention of refugees who are deemed irregular entry? Do we know what this bill will cost?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we clearly know what it costs now. If the member was listening to my speech, she would have those numbers because it costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year for us not to deal with bogus refugees.

I want to talk about the fact that immigration has changed my own riding. It is a rural riding in southwestern Saskatchewan. People would think perhaps that we have not had a lot of immigration, as we did 100 years ago when the land was settled by people who came from around the world. However, over the last few years Saskatchewan has had a tremendous influx of immigrants. They have changed our communities in very special and good ways.

We want to see claimants who have immigrated honestly from other countries. We do not want to see people jumping the queue and taking their place. We welcome folks from around the world.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this punish refugees and give a break to smugglers bill. Why do I say that? Even though this bill is supposed to go after smugglers, the people who would be hurt are the genuine refugees.

Two weekends ago we celebrated St. Patrick's Day. I was thinking about the Irish refugees who came to the shores of Toronto. At the turn of the century, over 50,000 Irish refugees arrived on the shores of what was the city of York, before it was called Toronto. At that time, the city of York had only 30,000 residents.

How did the Irish refugees arrive? By irregular means, by boats. Did they have any identification with them? Most likely not. Should they have been locked up? Under this law, if passed, I suppose they would have been locked up for at least a year.

Members can imagine refugees coming to the shores of a big country, to a city that does not have a lot of people, and being locked up for a year. A lot of them were sick. Who would have been able to help them? At the time, the medical officer of health risked his life to serve the Irish immigrants. In fact, a doctor lost his life due to a fever. What was shown to the Irish refugees was compassion and support. As a result, they built Toronto. They helped build Canada. Some of their descendants might even be in the House of Commons.

Had they been locked up, they would not have been able to work or support their families. Under the law that is in front of us, they would not have been able to sponsor their family members to bring them here. They would have been separated from their families for at least 10 years. Because they would have been locked up, they would not have been able to work. After they were released, assuming they were genuine refugees, they still would not have been able to become permanent residents for a long period of time. They would have been prevented from sponsoring their family members. Even after they had become permanent residents, their status could still have been revoked. What kind of stability would their lives have had? None whatsoever.

At the time, if Ireland had been seen as a safe country, many of those refugees would have been sent home.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' recommendation indicates that some countries are safer than others, but we have to determine each refugee's claim based on the person's circumstances. Some countries are considered safe countries, so to speak, but not for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. They could be gay bashed or killed.

How does one declare a country as safe? The previous law said that there would be an advisory committee made up of a team of experts who would advise the minister. This bill just got rid of that. The minister does not need any expert advice. He can just declare a country as safe and the people from that country would be fast-tracked for deportation in no time, without right of appeal to the Federal Court, and no humanitarian or compassionate consideration. They could attempt an appeal, but it would not stop them from being deported. That means individual refugees would not be treated equally under the law.

In Canada we have a fundamental belief that each case must be considered equally under the law. The bill would completely change that. It would treat refugee A completely differently from refugee B depending upon the person's country of origin. However, let us assume it is a gay man from a country such as Ghana or Jamaica. One could say that Jamaica is a safe country, yet people can be killed because of their sexual orientation.

The bill has a lot of flaws. I do not understand why the bill is necessary. Less than a year ago, all parties in the House of Commons worked with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and came up with a package called the balanced refugee reform act. At that time, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said that he was very proud of the bill because it had all-party support, was balanced and fair.

What has changed in the last eight or nine months? Nothing. Why is a bill that was balanced and fair all of a sudden no longer balanced and fair? Nothing has changed.

In fact, with regard to that bill, Bill C-11, the balanced refugee reform act, the immigration minister came to the committee and said, “This is such a fine bill. It will take us at a least a year to implement the bill. Give us one year and we will make the system perfect.” That is what was promised last June. It is not June 2012 yet. A year has not passed and the bill has not been implemented. The minister obviously has not had the time to implement the bill, and yet this so-called fast, balanced and fair bill all of a sudden became a big problem, and here we are debating another bill.

Think of the amount of money and time that has been wasted. A huge number of witnesses came to committee. There were forums in cities across the country. The immigration committee listened to all types of expert advice. All of that is gone. It is completely changed. The bill in front of us looks completely different. It is quite astounding. I cannot see what has changed in one year. The previous bill has not even been implemented and yet we are here wasting time and money debating a new bill.

What is the root problem? Why do we have such a backlog? Why does it take so long to determine a refugee claim?

Prior to 2006, the wait was one or two years. Things were going along and there were no huge problems. When the Conservatives came into power, they did not appoint any Immigration and Refugee Board members. As a result, for two or three years hardly any cases were being determined. A huge backlog was created because the Conservative minister did not appoint any IRB members.

It is the implementation of the law that is the problem. The law is not the problem.

On top of that, the CBSA said that it had difficulty deporting people because it does not have the right computer system. This is according to the Auditor General and admitted by the CBSA.

The real problem is the implementation of the law. There is no need to change the law. That is why members should not support this bill.

It is a very complex bill. I wish I had more time to address every element of it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 26th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member.

The member who spoke before her talked of bogus refugees. I find that shameful. A refugee is first of all a person. They are a refugee no matter what their reason for leaving their country, perhaps on ethnic or religious grounds, or to obtain protection because they are lesbian, gay, transgendered or transsexual. A refugee is a refugee. Refuges arrive in Canada without passports, with the clothing on their backs, without food and possibly even without money. They are refugees and they need humanitarian aid.

A refugee will be integrated into Canadian society and become a worker. We need workers, we need these people. As for the false paranoia that terrorists and the like masquerade as refugees, they do not have to hide among the refugees because they can hide anywhere.

Canada must continue to welcome refugees. What does the member think of that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, if there are bogus refugees, by all means deport them, but what we should not do is draft a law based purely on fear. That is what this is. This fear is going to drive us to build more detention centres so we can detain these refugee claimants, rather than allowing them to work, to make a living so that they can start paying taxes, because some of them are genuine refugees. By all means, if they are bogus, we should send them back. When we set a law, we should not be driven by paranoia and fear.

The other thing is that in the bill, because it prevents family reunification, it is denying genuine refugees the power to bring their families together, and that is cruel.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity--Spadina for sincere concern for refugees. In the context of the NDP, she understands, unlike some of her colleagues, that there are fake claimants who do abuse our generosity, just as there are many legitimate claimants who need our protection. It is the need to recognize both sides of the ledger.

I appreciated her constructive work at committee in the last Parliament in the passage of Bill C-11. Will she not recognize that since that time, we have seen the explosive growth of unfounded claims coming from the European Union and virtually none of those claimants show up at their hearings?

Virtually all of those European claimants admit by themselves, of their own volition, that they do not need Canada's protection because they withdraw or abandon their own claims. Does she not think that we need flexible and fast tools to address large waves of unfounded claims such as those coming from the European Union?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. Within the law now, there are already means to fast track them. The key thing is to catch the smugglers, punish them, fine them, throw them in jail. The problem is with deporting the victims, because some of these people are victimized by their smugglers. They are told a pack of lies. They are told to come to Canada and get whatever they want. They pay a lot of money, their life savings, to the smugglers and the smugglers send them here.

Some of them are not refugees, we know that. However, the key thing is to go after the smugglers. The problem is, with deporting these people so quickly, we are not giving them the time to go to court to use them as witnesses to go after the smugglers and we can never catch the smugglers and try them.

What happens right now is in the last 10 years hardly any smugglers have been punished severely. It is very difficult to find them, catch them and convict them because their victims get deported before the court has a chance to go after them. That is why we need to go after the smugglers and not punish the refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, a bill that is designed to fulfill exactly that responsibility.

Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in three ways. First, it includes further reforms to Canada's asylum system to make it faster and fairer. Second, it includes measures to address the despicable crime of human smuggling. Third, it gives the government authority to make it mandatory to provide biometric data with a temporary resident visa application.

Canadians have understandably become concerned by the growing waves of claimants coming from countries that generally do not produce refugees, such as those in the European Union. I do not think there is a single person who does not find it cause for concern that one quarter of refugee claims last year came from the European Union, which is more than from Africa and from Asia.

Even more concerning is that virtually all of the claims from the EU were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. Unfortunately, it is hard-working Canadian taxpayers who bear the cost of these bogus claims and the costs are not cheap. The bogus claims from the EU last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. It is clear that too many people are abusing our generous immigration system and too many tax dollars are being spent on these bogus refugee claimants.

While the Balanced Refugee Reform Act was a positive step toward fixing many of the problems in our system, gaps remain that must be addressed. Bill C-31 includes many important measures to make the asylum system in Canada faster and fairer and to deter bogus claimants from abusing Canada's system. Under Bill C-31, claimants from countries which after extensive review have been deemed to be safe would have their claims processed in 45 days compared to the more than 1,000 days it takes under the current system. Also, bogus claimants would not have access to as many endless appeal routes that currently results in taking an average of almost 5 years to deport a failed claimant and in some cases more than 10.

However, let me be clear. Under Bill C-31, every eligible refugee claimant, regardless of what country they come from, would continue to receive a hearing before the independent Immigration Refugee Board. Just as is the case now, every refugee claimant would be able to seek juridical review by the federal court.

Bill C-31 adds a level of appeal for the majority of refugee claimants who would gain access to the new refugee appeals division. Bill C-31 would ensure that genuine refugees would receive Canada's protection faster, while those who would abuse our system would be removed from Canada more quickly. It would save Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years, savings in welfare and other costs associated with bogus claims.

As I mentioned at the top of my remarks, the second piece of the protecting Canada's immigration system act would incorporate measures that would address human smuggling. Several months ago in the House, the Minister of Public Safety introduced Bill C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. As my hon. colleagues are well aware, we debated the bill extensively throughout the fall sitting of Parliament.

Bill C-31 will replace Bill C-4, while keeping all of its long-needed measures. These measures would help maintain the integrity of our generous immigration system, while curtailing the abuse of that system by human smugglers whose actions undermine the security and safety of Canadians.

Cracking down on human smugglers is an important element of protecting the integrity of our immigration system. That is why it is entirely appropriate that the provisions of the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act have been included in this new legislation.

There is one notable change from Bill C-4, however, as Bill C-31 includes an exemption from detention for minors under the age of 16.

The final component of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would create a legislative framework for the long-planned implementation of biometric technology as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems. This component of the legislation and its corresponding regulations that will follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for visa applicants to Canada to have their photographs and their fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications.

Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening, enhance security and help reduce fraud. Biometrics form an effective tool to manage high volumes of applications and the growing sophistication in identity fraud. Using biometrics will help prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using a false identity to obtain a Canadian visa. Implementing biometrics will bring Canada in line with the growing list of countries that already use biometrics in their immigration and border control programs. These countries include the United Kingdom, other states in the European Union and the United States.

Bill C-31 has been praised from coast to coast to coast. This is what the Montreal Gazette had to say:

Canada has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation as a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution in their homelands.

At the same time, however, it has also gained repute as an easy mark for the unscrupulous who fraudulently use our generous refugeedetermination system as a way to get into Canada without submitting to standard immigration requirements and procedures....

The legislation also proposes harsher penalties for those who engage in human smuggling, as well as for asylum-seekers who pay smuggling syndicates to get them to Canadian shores. And it allows for the collection of biometric data -- fingerprints and digital photos -- of people entering Canada on a visitor visa, a work permit or a study visa.

Both of these measures are advisable. Human smuggling is an odious enterprise that should be severely punished. And while the smugglers' clients are perhaps desperate people in many cases, they are nevertheless participants in an illegal activity that should be strongly discouraged.

The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities....

Shielding the refugee system from false claimants is not only in the best interest of Canadians, on whom they are a financial burden, but also of legitimate applicants who stand to lose out if bogus claimants cast the system as a whole into disrepute.

Canada has a generous and fair immigration system that is the envy of the world. It has served Canada well and it has also served well those who come into our country legitimately, whether on a permanent basis or for a fixed period of time, seeking economic opportunities, protection from persecution or for family or personal reasons.

It is incumbent upon us to ensure that such an important system is always operating in our national interest as effectively and efficiently as possible. That means we have to preserve what works well in the immigration system and ameliorate the system in areas where there are shortcomings.

Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would do exactly what its name says. It would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugee claimants abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative, taxpayer-funded health and social benefits.

The measures in Bill C-31 are necessary to protect the integrity of our immigration system. For that reason, I encourage all my hon. colleagues to support the legislation and allow these much needed measures to be enacted in a timely manner.

It is a pleasure to stand in the House and speak to Bill C-31. This legislation has been needed for a long time in Canada. I congratulate the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in finally bringing this forward. This is a step in the right direction for all Canadians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to the Parliamentary Secretary's remarks, I would say that, in fact, many people do not like Bill C-4, which is part of Bill C-31, because it includes a number of human rights violations. No, this bill does nothing to tackle smugglers or criminals; it attacks refugees.

My parents came here as refugees by boat. If this bill had been in effect at the time, they would have been considered illegal refugees and they could have been detained, along with my two brothers, who were one and three at the time.

The bill says that children would not necessarily be detained. This means that after going through all of the terrible things they went through, my parents and my brothers, upon arriving in a strange country, would have been separated. That is inhumane. Our party is proud to be on the other side of the debate on this senseless bill, which has been condemned by Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Council for Refugees. I do not understand how this bill can be reassuring or fair, or how it can improve safety.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the member stands in this House as a member of Parliament, born from refugee parents, and I congratulate her.

That is exactly what the refugee system is about. However, that is not what the refugee system continues to do because it has been taken advantage of time and time again. We have to modernize the system. We have to bring it into the 21st century. We have to do that. There is no discussion about this.

The right of appeal will still be there. Children under 16 years of age will not be incarcerated. We have to look at the cost of bogus claims, $170 million to the Canadian taxpayers. We have to look at the abuse in the system, a $1.67 billion cost to the Canadian taxpayers. We have to cut down on human smugglers, and we have to look at biometrics as a way to do this. We cannot do that with 19th century and 20th century ideas. We have to do it with 21st century ideas.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has some hard numbers at his fingertips in terms of how much money we are going to save the taxpayer.

He says $1.6 billion and $100-some million in one specific area. It is good the government has those numbers. I must say that most people would encourage government to actually speed up the process. We do believe that the system needed to be fixed and sped up.

I have a question for the member. There is a cost to the bill. When we talk about detention centres, there is an anticipated substantial cost increase. Can the member tell us what the cost of that aspect of the bill is going to be, given that he knows where we are going to save money? Does the member know where we are going to be spending money and how much is it going to be?