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

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I, too, listened with interest to my colleague's comments. The unfortunate part of many of the comments that have been made today is the rhetoric that is involved. She used the term “jail”. My colleague across the way used the terms, “prison camps” and “treated as criminals”. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are simply trying to identify the identity of the persons who are coming here.

Does she not agree that it is important we know whether those who come here to seek the protection of Canada are in fact terrorists or have been involved in criminal activity in their country of origin? Is that too much to ask for the safety of Canadians?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Kitchener—Conestoga to be a person of faith and compassion. I ask him to consider that these may in fact be jails. We do not yet have detention centres. Some of the people from the Sun Sea were placed in jails. That is a fact. Therefore, how are we going to deal with numbers of people?

I agree with the point entirely. We need to know who is coming to our shore. We need to identify them. Those things can be done without a blanket presumption.

For instance, the way this legislation would work is if people come by ship, they are automatically detained. If they arrive in an airport, they are not. I do not understand why it is that we assume that only the dangerous people come by ships. If they come to a crossing by car and say that they are political refugees, their treatment is different.

The government, in its legislation, has not provided consistency in the way in which these streams of political refugees are to be treated.

I can only see it as a public relations ploy to start by saying that if people come by ship, they will be deemed an irregular entry. If we do not call it prison, if we do not call it jail, if we do not call it internment, the detention facilities in this legislation could well end up being the county jail.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

I am proud to be part of a government that is effectively balancing ensuring that we offer protection for legitimate asylum seekers with maintaining the integrity of our immigration system and our security, all while ensuring that we build an immigration system that allows those who seek to come to Canada to contribute to the economic needs of our country and allowing them to be welcomed here more expeditiously. That is all thanks to the vision and dedication of the hon. Minister of Immigration, who I am proud to stand alongside today.

Canada already has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. Canada welcomes more resettled refugees than almost any other country in the world.

However, in order for our asylum system to continue to be generous and to work effectively, Canadians need to know that it is not vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately, for far too long, our immigration system has been open to abuse by those who do not want to follow the rules, or do not want to wait in line like everyone else, but would rather use the asylum system as a back door to jump the queue. This abuse undermines Canadians' faith in our immigration system. It costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year and, most unfortunate, it means that genuine refugees who need asylum are waiting far too long for Canada's protection.

Canadians gave our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. They have told us loud and clear that they want us to put a stop to this abuse. With Bill C-31, we are acting on that mandate.

Bill C-31 would make important and further much needed improvements to our asylum system. It includes provisions to crack down on the despicable crime of human smuggling and it provides the government with the authority to require biometric data for anyone seeking temporary status in Canada. Together, these improvements would make Canada's immigration system faster and fairer.

Today I am going to focus my remarks on the refugee reform provisions of Bill C-31. The Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was passed recently, was a good start and included much needed reform to Canada's broken asylum system. However, our government has always been clear that refugee reform is not a static issue and further steps would be taken if and when required. Recent waves of bogus refugee asylum claims from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union have made it clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system are needed and needed urgently.

The statistics speak volumes. Last year, Canada received 5,800 refugee claimants from the European Union, which represents a 14% increase from the year before. This means that claims from the European Union made up a quarter of all claims. This is more than the number of claims received from Africa or Asia.

Last year, the top source country for refugees was Hungary, a member of the European Union. It is very telling when we look at the global distribution of refugee claims made by Hungarian nationals. In 2010, 2,400 refugee claims were made by Hungarian nationals. One hundred of them were made to other countries outside of Canada, while a whopping 2,300 were made in Canada. That means Canada received 23 times more claims from Hungary than all the other countries in the world combined. Although these claimants have access to 26 countries in which they can move, work and live, they are choosing Canada and they are choosing Canada for a reason.

Appallingly, bogus claims from the European Union last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. What is more, in the last few years virtually all refugee claims from the European Union were withdrawn, abandoned by the claimants themselves, or rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board.

Our government is acting responsibly and in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers by introducing reforms to address the increasing number of bogus refugee claimants. These bogus claimants, many of whom withdraw or abandon their own claims, seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system and receive generous social benefits, like welfare and health care, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

One of the central features of Bill C-31 is the ability of the government to designate countries that generally do not produce refugees and process their claims more quickly. Under Bill C-31, the factors that would lead a country to be designated would be clearly outlined in both law and in regulation. The most important factors are objective and quantitative and refer to the actual acceptance rate of claims from a given country. This means that the designation of a country as safe would be based on the results of decisions taken by asylum claimants themselves, such as the decision to withdraw or abandon their claims, and by the decisions rendered by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and not by the minister.

In addition, unlike the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which had quantitative and qualitative criteria specified only in regulation, this proposed legislation has qualitative factors enshrined in legislation, while the quantitative factors would be set out in ministerial order. In this way, the criteria used to trigger a country for review for designation would be even more transparent and accountable than under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

Under Bill C-31, claimants from safe countries would have their cases heard on an expedited basis. More specifically, the independent IRB would hear their case in 45 days instead of the more than 1,000 days that it takes now.

It is important to emphasize that under Bill C-31, every eligible refugee claimant, regardless from which country they came, would continue to receive a hearing from the independent IRB. Furthermore, as is the case now, all refugee claimants, including those from designated countries, would be able to make an application for review of a negative decision by the federal court. Bill C-31 actually adds appeal rights by creating the refugee appeal division to which the vast majority of failed claimants would also have access.

I also note that with Bill C-31, Canada would continue to exceed its international and domestic obligations. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the 1951 UN Refugee Convention require that all refugee claimants be given the opportunity to have their claim heard. The process in Canada goes above and beyond its domestic and international obligations and that would not change under Bill C-31.

Canada has and will continue to have one of the most generous refugee systems in the world. All refugee claimants will continue to have their case heard by the independent IRB. Furthermore, every failed refugee claimant will continue to have access to at least one level of appeal. People deemed in need of protection will not be returned to their country of persecution regardless of what country they have fled. In fact, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized the validity of providing expedited processing for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin. António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said:

—there are indeed safe countries of origin. There are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries.

He also stated that as long as all refugee claimants had access to the system, it was completely legitimate to accelerate some claims.

Former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, also recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe and even advocated rejecting all claims from those countries, which Bill C-31 does not propose to do. Furthermore, many democratic European countries already designate certain countries as safe and accelerate asylum procedures for those claims from those countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland among others.

Canadians are proud of their welcoming and compassionate nature, but Canadians also have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and take unfair advantage of our country. Bill C-31 would prevent bogus refugees from abusing our system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, it would provide protection more quickly to genuine refugees who are truly in need.

We need to send a clear message to those who seek to abuse our system that if they are not genuinely in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly. At the same time we can ensure that those who truly need our help will get it even faster.

I urge all members of the House to support this important bill and ensure its timely passage.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to point out that the NDP strongly opposes Bill C-31, because it punishes refugees instead of providing them with a fast, equitable system. In addition, the bill concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by allowing him to designate safe countries and restrict the number of refugees from those countries. The problem with this bill is that, under the current Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the minister can make exceptions to safe country designations to exclude LGBT individuals, who suffer a great deal of persecution in their countries, which are considered unsafe.

My question for the Conservative member is this: will the Conservative members do the right thing and amend Bill C-31 to ensure that LGBT groups can live safely and immigrate easily to Canada as refugees?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 26th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I note that in some of the hon. member's comments there were some very misleading statements.

I would argue that it is certainly much fairer to those who seek to come here as refugees to know that they will have their claims processed much more quickly. By ensuring that we are able to eliminate the bogus claims from our system more quickly, we will also be able to be fairer to those who come here and genuinely need our assistance.

I would also point out regarding the decision to hear the cases of those who are coming here from the listed countries, they will make their cases in 45 days rather than a thousand days. I would argue that is much fairer than what currently exists.

I would also note regarding the second point made by the member that the changes we are looking to make actually enshrine in legislation some of the objective and quantitative measures to ensure that those decisions are based on actual decisions of the claimants themselves or decisions rendered by the IRB rather than some arbitrary decision of the minister.

I think the member's claims are completely false.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first member of the Conservative Party who has said that the former leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, supports the safe country list and who then tries to give the impression that somehow our former leader might have supported Bill C-31.

First and foremost, let us make it very clear that the former leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, would not support Bill C-31. The Liberal Party does not support Bill C-31.

The truth of the matter is that Michael Ignatieff supported the concept of the safe country list, but so did the leader of the Conservative Party, our current Prime Minister, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism first brought that in with a consensus that there be an advisory group that would decide which countries would go onto the safe country list.

Why are the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the member not supporting Michael Ignatieff and the Prime Minister when the latter agreed to an all-party supported proposal that would have seen an advisory committee decide on countries to be included in the safe country list as opposed to just this particular Minister of Immigration having that authority?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, it is very unfortunate the Liberal Party is choosing not to support legislation like this, legislation that is very balanced and fair and seeks to ensure that we provide protection for those who are genuinely in need of our protection in a quicker and more expeditious fashion, while also saving the taxpayers of Canada hundreds of millions of dollars by ensuring that we do not have to deal with bogus claims from countries we should not be dealing with.

It is really unfortunate that they will not support legislation that is balanced and fair and in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers. I would like to read the actual quote from former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff:

I want a legitimate, lawful refugee system that, to get to the openness point, welcomes refugees...and then says, look there are a number of countries in the world in which we cannot accept a bona fide refugee claim because you don't have cause, you don't have just cause coming from those countries.

Otherwise, he said, we will have refugee fraud and no one wants that.

Finally, I will just point out that designation of these countries as safe countries will be based on the results of decisions by asylum claimants themselves to withdraw their claims or by decisions rendered by IRB, not by the minister.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin talking about such an important matter as the status of refugees, I would like to say that it is good to be able to rise in the House and speak to one of this government's bills. Given the number of times that the Conservatives have invoked closure since the beginning of this parliament, Bloc Québécois members, and those of the other opposition parties, have been muzzled on too many issues affecting the interests and values of Quebec and Canadians. I am disappointed, but not surprised, because standing up for democracy is not the Conservatives' strong suit. Come to think of it, I find it difficult to come up with one area where they excel.

The bill we are debating touches on two aspects of my introduction that might seem to be off topic: Quebec values and the Conservatives' lack of regard for democracy. I said Quebec values, but I will correct myself. They are actually universal values.

Bill C-31, which we are debating today, takes a dim view of refugees, treating them like a burden and a potential threat. Nowhere in this document do we see the real will to help these people who have experienced real tragedy. According to the minister, they take advantage of our welcome and cost Canadians too much money.

While defending his bill, the minister said the following in February:

There is a whole narrative in the community about how they can come to Canada and benefit from social welfare and all kinds of other social programs, health insurance...

For too long, we have spent precious time and taxpayers' money on people who are not in need of our protection, at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers...

This smacks of avarice and prejudice.

This is how the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism explained and defended his Bill C-31 in the House on March 6:

Canadians are worried when they see large human smuggling operations, for example, the two large ships that arrived on Canada's west coast in the past two years with hundreds of passengers, illegal migrants who paid criminal networks to be brought to Canada in an illegal and very dangerous manner.

Canadians are also worried when they see a large number of false refugee claimants who do not need Canada's protection, but who file refugee claims because they see an opportunity in Canada's current refugee system to stay in Canada permanently and have access to social benefits...our country's protection.

Canadians are really worried about this, for crying out loud. If you want my opinion, this Conservative government is giving Canadians every reason to worry. They like it when people are worried because then they can justify military spending, trampling on people's rights and forcing the provinces to build jails. But this is about refugees, people who come here with nothing but their distress and desperation, not the economic immigrants who show up with half a million dollars. We are talking about people who are willing to risk their lives for a fresh start in Canada or Quebec.

In an attempt to justify his bill, the minister would have us believe that bogus refugees are flooding into Canada, that foreigners have figured out how to work the system: they pass themselves off as refugees so that they can take advantage of Canada's health insurance and social assistance systems. You would have to be awfully mean-spirited and ideological to say such crazy things. They are using exceptional cases to give themselves arbitrary powers that will have a direct impact on the lives of desperate people.

A document published in 2001 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states the following:

Unlike migrants, refugees do not choose to leave their countries; they are forced to do so. Economic migrants are persons who leave their countries of origin purely for economic reasons, to seek material improvements in their lives. The key difference between economic migrants and refugees is that economic migrants enjoy the protection of their home countries; refugees do not.

Bill C-31 fails to recognize the spirit of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees:

Considering that the United Nations has, on various occasions, manifested its profound concern for refugees and endeavoured to assure refugees the widest possible exercise of these fundamental rights and freedoms...

Where is that concern now? Where in Bill C-31 is the desire to assure those fundamental rights? They evaporated the moment the Conservatives got their majority. Gone, just like that.

There was Bill C-11, which was passed unanimously by this House. In a speech he gave on June 29, 2010, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism spoke glowingly about Bill C-11, and I quote:

Let me just close by once more thanking my colleagues in the opposition, my critics in particular who worked together with me in a remarkable act of cross-partisan collaboration to get things done for Canadians. As a result of their work we are seeing today what I think is a minor miracle. I came to this place three months ago to launch our Balanced Refugee Reform Act. We said at the time that we would listen to constructive ideas about how to improve the bill.

We did listen. We did consult. We had a remarkable cross-party consensus in the House of Commons and today in the Senate that will lead to a much better refugee system for Canada, a faster and fairer system, a system that provides enhanced procedural fairness for refugee claimants....

Now, out of partisanship and mean-spiritedness, the minister is throwing out Bill C-11, that minor miracle. Bill C-31 not only spoils the balance Bill C-11 achieved in terms of the procedure that should apply to refugee claimants, but it takes the Conservatives' twisted logic even further: it attacks the victims of human smugglers instead of the smugglers themselves by creating a subclass of refugees.

It is clear to the Bloc Québécois that the Conservatives are using Bill C-31 to send a message to people around the world who are persecuted that Canada no longer wants them. Frankly, this is disappointing.

I said at the beginning of my speech that standing up for democracy was not a Conservative value. This government is quite willing to stand up for the free market and rich oil companies, but standing up for people who are suffering, people who risk torture or death, people who do not think what the government would have them think, is the least of its concerns.

Bill C-31 reflects the government's desire to exercise power without sharing, even if it means destroying the consensus that was Bill C-11, because the opposition parties had a hand in it.

Bill C-31 exemplifies this government's lack of compassion. With Bill C-31, this government will definitely further tarnish the image that Canada and Quebec have built as a welcoming country and a safe haven for those who need it most. It is simply shameful.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, twice now, the government in power has expressed a certain viewpoint that really worries me. The Conservatives seem to be suggesting that legitimate claimants should be refused in order to see if they appeal the decision, to see if their claim was actually sincere. That is as absurd as saying that an organization should be refused a subsidy, because if it really needs it, then it will apply again next year. Before hearing that logic, I had no idea just how far the members across the floor were willing to go.

Does my colleague share any of my concerns about what seems to be a new form of immigration management?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

Indeed, there is a certain logic in this bill—a Conservative logic. It is a logic of distrust, a logic of fear, a logic that serves only Conservative interests. The more fear and doubt the Conservatives spread, the more vulnerable people will feel. The Conservatives want people to be afraid of anyone who is different, to believe that they are dangerous. We believe that treating people this way goes against the spirit of what we should be offering refugees who seek asylum in very particular circumstances and who deserve all our attention, rather than our distrust and rejection.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier I asked the Conservative member for Wild Rose a question on the status of LGBT refugees and the fact that Bill C-31 would close Canada's doors to those refugees depending on the security status of their country. Yet, the Conservative member did not even mention the LGBT acronym, nor the terms “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” or “transgender”.

I would like to ask my colleague from the Bloc whether he is also concerned about the Conservative policy that will make it difficult for people who are persecuted, who are receiving death threats and who are at risk of being killed in their country, to access Canada as refugees. Under this bill, those people are going to come up against closed doors in Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for his question.

Indeed, gay, lesbian and transgendered refugees have good reason to be concerned given the fact that this bill is a form of profiling.

The Conservatives' profiling could end up making one category of refugees eligible and sidelining another that might not correspond to Conservative values. There is good reason to believe that people will be treated differently depending on where they come from, but also depending on their sexual orientation and positions they may have held in the past.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the speeches from the other side, I truly believe there is a great misunderstanding of what a refugee is and how a refugee should be treated. I would stress the fact that Canada does more than its share in the international community to help those who need help.

We are talking about people here who arrive in this country, make false claims, clog up the system and delay the claims of those who need our help.

Why would the member opposite not support a bill that would benefit those refugees who are stranded in refugee camps around the world and who are under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member opposite for his question.

It is simple: the Conservatives have their own definition of what makes a good refugee. They add a criterion.

There is no such thing as a good refugee or a bad refugee. There are refugees. Refugee status was clearly defined by the UN in 1951.

I think that the Conservatives have a way of coming up with what is good and what is not. The purpose of their bill is not to help refugees, but to define what they think makes a good refugee or a bad refugee.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I understand the frustration the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville has with an answer like that. I heard the member opposite say that there was no such thing as a good or bad refugee, that they are just refugees. There really are legitimate refugees but there are others who are trying to abuse the system. The opposition does not seem to be able to comprehend or understand that.

We are here today to talk about Bill C-31 in order to deal with some of those issues. The title of the bill is protecting Canada's immigration system act, and that is what it would do.

Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. We welcome more resettled refugees than almost any other country in the world. That number is growing by an additional 2,500 because our government is increasing it by 20%, to a total number of 14,500 resettled refugees to Canada.

However, in order for our asylum system to continue to be generous, Canadians need to know that it is not vulnerable to abuse. That is something that the opposition does not seem to understand. For far too long, our immigration system has been open to abuse by those who do not want to follow the rules or wait in line like everyone else and would rather use the asylum system as a back door to queue jump. This abuse undermines Canadians' faith in our immigration system. It cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year and, most unfortunately, it means that genuine refugees who need asylum, who the opposition claims to have some concern for, are waiting far too long for Canadian protection.

Canadians gave our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. They told us loud and clear across the country that they want to put a stop to this abuse. With Bill C-31, we are acting on that mandate. Bill C-31 would make important, much needed improvements to our asylum system. It includes provisions to crack down on the despicable crime of human smuggling and provides the government with the authority to require biometric data for anyone seeking temporary status in Canada. Together, these improvements would make Canada's immigration system faster and fairer.

Today I will focus my remarks on the refugee reform provisions of Bill C-31. The Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which passed in 2012, was a good start. It included many needed reforms to Canada's broken asylum system. However, our government has always been clear that refugee reform is not a static issue and that further steps will be taken when and if required. The recent waves of bogus refugee asylum claimants from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union have made it clear that further reforms to our asylum system are needed urgently.

The statistics speak volumes. Last year, Canada received 5,800 from the European Union, which represents a 14% increase from the year before. This means that claims from the European Union made up a quarter of all claims, which is more than the claims received from Africa or Asia.

The top source country for refugees last year was Hungary, a member of the European Union. It is very telling when we look at the global distribution of refugee claims made by Hungarian nationals. In 2010, 2,400 refugee claims were made by Hungarian nationals, 100 of them were made outside of Canada, while a whopping 2,300 were made in Canada. That means that Canada received 23 times the claims than any other country. Although these claimants have access to 26 European countries in which they can work, move and live, they are choosing Canada. We actually had even more than that in 2011 when it came close to 4,000 individuals. They are choosing Canada for a reason.

However, this is very expensive for Canadian taxpayers. Bogus claims from the EU last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. What is more, in the last few years virtually all refugee claims from the European Union were withdrawn, abandoned by the claimants themselves or rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board.

Our government is acting responsibly and in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers by introducing reforms to address the increasing number of bogus refugee claimants. Many of the bogus claimants who withdraw or abandon their own claims seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system and receive generous social benefits like welfare and health care, which costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

One of the central features of Bill C-31 is the ability of the government to designate countries that generally do not produce refugees and then to process those claims more quickly.

Under Bill C-31, the factors that would lead a country to be designated would be clearly outlined in both the law and in the regulations. The most important factors are objective and quantitative and refer to the actual acceptance rate claims from a given country. This means the designation of a country as safe would be based on the results of decisions taken by asylum claimants themselves, such as the decision to withdraw or abandon their claims, and the decisions rendered by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, not the minister.

In addition, unlike the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which had quantitative and qualitative criteria specified only in regulation, we believe that in this proposed legislation it is important that the qualitative factors be enshrined in legislation, while the quantitative factors would be set by ministerial order. In this way, the criteria used to trigger a country for review for designation would be more transparent and accountable than they were even under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

Under Bill C-31, claimants from safe countries would have their cases heard on an expedited basis. More specifically, the independent IRB would hear their case in 45 days instead of the more than 1,000 days it takes now.

It is important to emphasize that under Bill C-31 every eligible refugee claimant, regardless of which country they come from, would continue to receive a hearing before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board.

Furthermore, as is the case now, all refugee claimants, including those from designated countries, would be able to make an application for review of a negative decision by the Federal Court. Bill C-31 actually adds appeal rights by creating the refugee appeal division to which the vast majority of failed claimants would have access. Multiple levels of appeals seems to be very fair.

I would also note that in Bill C-31 Canada would continue to exceed its international and domestic obligations. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the 1951 UN refugee convention, require that all refugee claimants be given the opportunity to have their claim heard. The process in Canada goes above and beyond its domestic and international obligations, and that will not change under Bill C-31.

Canada has and will continue to have one of the most generous refugee systems in the world. All refugee claimants will continue to have their cases heard by the independent IRB. Furthermore, every failed refugee claimant will continue to have access to at least one level of appeal. People deemed in need of protection will not be returned to their country of persecution regardless of which country they have fled.

In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized the validity of providing expedited processing for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has said, “there are indeed safe countries of origin. There are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries”. He also stated that as long as all refugee claimants have access to the system, it is completely legitimate to accelerate those claims.

Former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, has also recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe. My colleague who just spoke talked about that. He recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe and even advocated rejecting all claims from those countries, which Bill C-31 does not propose to do. He said, “I want a legitimate, lawful refugee system that, to get to the openness point, welcomes genuine refugees … and then says, look there are a number of countries in the world in which we cannot accept a bona fide refugee claim because you don't have cause, you don't have just cause coming from those countries. Otherwise you'll have refugee fraud, and nobody wants that. Furthermore, many democratic European countries already designate certain countries as safe and accelerate asylum procedures for claims from those countries”.

Canadians are very proud of their welcoming and compassionate nature but they have little tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and take unfair advantage of our country. Bill C-31 would prevent bogus refugees from abusing our system and receiving lucrative tax funded health and social benefits. At the same time, it would provide protection more quickly to genuine refugees who are truly in need.

I urge all members of this House to support this important bill and ensure its timely passage.