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.

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The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There are still two minutes left for questions and comments for the hon. member for Windsor West.

The hon. member for Nickel Belt.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Windsor West for his intervention on this very important bill. Given the fact his riding borders on the U.S. border, as he said in his speech, he has had one staff member dedicated to immigration for the past 10 years. I would like to ask the hon. member how bill C-31 would affect not only him and his staff but also the people in his riding?

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is of great concern because we have a number of different immigration files from countries with lots of troubling issues. If we had further complications with people being detained and held, there would certainly be repercussions for their wellbeing once they have run through the immigration system.

We all know that being detained for a long period of time or separated from family creates trauma. Right now, we actually have few psychological services available in the Windsor region area, especially for youth and children. Therefore, I would be worried about the imprisonment and locking up of people who would later become Canadian citizens and their not having the support services to deal with those tragedies and complications.

It ultimately affects our economy. The health and welfare of people is necessary for them to be productive. That is one of the concerns I have with the bill, that is, not having the services to be able to point people in the right direction.

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3:35 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

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

All Canadians should be concerned about the increase in refugee claims in recent years from countries that are generally considered to be safe and democratic. That is because the numbers clearly demonstrate that an increasing number of refugee claimants in Canada simply do not need our protection. This has been a concern for some time. Allow me to provide an overview of the statistics that demonstrate this from the last year alone.

In 2011 a significant portion of refugee claims came from the European Union. Claims from this region alone accounted for 23% of all claims last year, up from 14% in 2010, more than from Africa or Asia. On average, EU claims were abandoned in 14.5 months or withdrawn in 10 months. In recent years virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. The bogus claims from among the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. Hungary, an EU member state, has become Canada's top source country for such refugee claims. Hungarians made over 2,400 refugee claims around the world in 2010. Of those, 2,300 were in Canada. That is 23 times more claims made in Canada than in the rest of the world put together. By comparison, the United States received only 32 Hungarian refugee claims in 2010. I think these numbers speak volumes.

Our refugee system was designed to provide protection to those who genuinely need it, people who have escaped brutal regimes, violence, oppression and persecution in these countries. These people need to come to Canada for protection or they risk losing their lives. However, the majority of claims are coming from safe and democratic countries that respect human rights. The fact that Canada receives more refugee claims from the democratic European Union than from Africa or Asia should be a clear wake-up call. Clearly, there is something wrong with our refugee system and it needs to be fixed.

This is how immigration lawyer Julie Taube summed up the situation under the current immigration system. She said:

I’m an immigration and refugee lawyer in Ottawa, and a former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. I can tell you from theory and practice that the current refugee system is very flawed, and cumbersome, and definitely needs an overhaul. It takes up to two years to have a claimant have his hearing. And there are far too many bogus claims that clog up the system, and use very expensive resources at a cost to Canadian taxpayers.

....I have clients who’ve been waiting since 2009, early 2010 to have their hearing, and I represent many claimants from, let’s say Africa, the Mid East countries, who base their claim on gender violence or Christian persecution in certain Middle East countries, and they have to wait, because the system is so clogged up with what I consider to be unfounded claims from citizens of safe country of origin.

The reality is that instead of waiting patiently to come to Canada through the immigration process, too many people are trying to use our asylum system as a back door to gain entry into Canada. These bogus claimants do not want to play by the rules. Instead, they use our immigration system to get to the front of the line. All the while these claimants clog our refugee system and make those who legitimately need it to wait far too long before their claim can be dealt with. Let us not forget the huge expense to taxpayers and the enormous waste of taxpayer dollars. On average, a failed refugee claimant costs approximately $55,000. The simple fact is that the generosity of Canada's social benefits, including taxpayer-funded welfare benefits and our general health care system, which is a source of immense pride for Canadians, is the draw factor for many European claimants.

The designated country of origin policy would provide the minister with a more flexible tool to respond to spikes in unfounded refugee claims. To help reduce the pull factors for unfounded claimants, the designated country of origin policy would allow for expedited processing of refugee claims from countries that do not typically produce refugees. It is important to note, however, that whether or not a country is designated, every eligible refugee claimant would continue to receive a hearing before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Claimants from those countries would be processed in about 45 days compared to 1,038 days under the current system.

All claimants, regardless of country of origin, would continue to have the ability to seek judicial review of their claim by the Federal Court. Claimants from countries of origin that have not been designated would get access to an additional level of appeal for the first time, as they would have access to the new refugee appeal division.

Bill C-31 is necessary since the many days it takes to process refugee claims is what attracts unfounded claimants to Canada in the first place. On average, it can take up to four and a half years from the initial time a claim is made until the failed claimant is removed from Canada. In the most extreme cases, the entire process has taken up to 10 years. As a result of the improvements in Bill C-31, those who truly need our protection would get it even faster and those who do not would be sent home more quickly. Moreover, Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.65 billion over five years.

It is no surprise that Bill C-31 has received widespread praise from across the country. This is what the Globe and Mail had to say about the bill:

[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....

The legislation rightly focuses on weeding out claimants who are not genuine, and stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries such as Mexico and Hungary that are democracies with respect for basic human rights and freedoms....

Fast-tracking the refugee claims from these countries, and ensuring failed claimants are properly deported, is an excellent way to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse.

Canadians are proud to have the 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 must take action to crack down on this abuse and strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system. The protecting Canada's immigration system act does just that. It would make our refugee system faster and fairer. It would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, this bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.

Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on that mandate. If we want our refugee system to work more efficiently and to provide protection to those who genuinely need it in a reasonable amount of time, then I encourage all members of this House to vote in support of this legislation.

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3:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, a number of lawyers gathered at a news conference and pointed out a number of flaws with this bill. I will just ask the member about one in particular, the mandatory detention for up to a year without review of those designated by the minister as irregular arrivals. We know that in the security certificate cases, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a virtually identical provision to that clause as being unconstitutional. We simply cannot have laws made by Parliament that lock people up without review.

I wonder if my hon. colleague would care to comment on what he thinks about that part of this bill, particularly in light of the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that very clearly says that that is unconstitutional, and which these lawyers say will absolutely be challenged as soon as this bill becomes law, if it does.

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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, we believe that the act meets the scrutiny of the constitutional requirements and, obviously, knowing that some people may be detained when they are irregular or illegal immigrants, we are certainly mindful of their human rights and their needs. No system is perfect, but first and foremost we must protect Canadian society by ensuring that we have an immigration system that is fair to all.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to make reference to a change the government did make between Bill C-4 and Bill C-31. It acknowledged, as the opposition at the time had clearly indicated, that it would be wrong to put eight-year-olds or youth in detention centres because the minister deems them to be irregular arrivals. Under the new legislation, the government has now said it will not detain youth under the age of 16.

However, there are some really fundamental problems with Bill C-31. In this member's opinion, is the government prepared to accept amendments that would make this legislation better? One in particular is in regard to establishing an advisory committee that would allow for appointments to a board that would recommend to the minister which country should be considered a safe country.

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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has raised a valuable point. Obviously the bill will be the subject of further debate. No one has the market cornered on good ideas. Certainly, we will welcome any improvements to the bill that may make the bill more effective and fair to Canadians and immigrants coming here.

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3:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the parliamentary secretary, and I have asked this before, about the cost of mandatory detention of people deemed to have arrived by irregular entry.

If Australia's example is any indication, we will not be saving money. We will be spending more money than we ever spent before on the mandatory housing and internment of families and people who come here and are deemed irregular entries. Australia expects to spend $668 million on its 19 immigration detention facilities in the next fiscal year.

Could the hon. member tell us if the government has costed this? Will there be savings or will there be significantly more tax dollars required?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, certainly no one measure comes without costs. What is particularly important in this case is making sure that refugees and immigrants who come to Canada do so in a legitimate fashion without abusing the system.

Those who do not come here in the fashion that is anticipated by the law will be detained. Of course, there is a cost to that. Obviously there is an offset to this cost of keeping these people here. By getting them out more quickly moneys are saved. There is a trade-off. Certainly we have to put first and foremost the fairness of the system before the costs associated.

We are all immigrants to Canada and we welcome those who come here legitimately.

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March 26th, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, although I was not an MP in the previous Parliament, I know that this bill is the logical successor to Bill C-11, which was passed in the 40th parliament. I know enough about this file to say that the bill was negotiated by all parties, including the NDP.

A number of my colleagues, such as the member for Trinity—Spadina, worked very hard to ensure that the bill—which contained some of the measures included in this new bill—would be acceptable to everyone and would bring people together.

What I find fascinating is that none of the negotiated measures are found in this bill, even though they were quite acceptable to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, the member for Calgary Southeast, who said:

However, many concerns were raised in good faith by parliamentarians and others concerned about Canada's asylum system. We have, in good faith, agreed to significant amendments that reflect their input, resulting in a stronger piece of legislation that is a monumental achievement for all involved.

Am I dreaming? What has become of the “stronger piece of legislation” that the Minister spoke about? But more importantly, what has become of the good faith?

This bill is the latest manifestation of a new Conservative tradition. Ever since I have been in the House, the Conservatives have gone about things the same way. With every bill, we get the same performance. The government proposes measures and refuses to listen to anyone who does not like them or who suggests changes, as though it were sacrilegious to consider any bill to be less than perfect as of the first reading.

That kind of attitude is deplorable. It is bad for our country and for Canadians because, instead of coming up with the best possible solution for them, we have to settle for things like this.

There are ideological differences between the NDP and the government. That much is clear. The government needs to talk about something other than its “strong mandate”. The fact is that most Canadians did not choose the Conservatives. Not even a majority of voters chose them.

This government has to open its eyes and start working with the opposition parties to improve bills in ways that will benefit Canadians.

Many groups oppose this particular bill. Among those expressing their opposition are groups that the members opposite would call friends of criminals: the Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. However, these groups speak with considerable authority, and I trust their opinions.

All of these groups raised the following points. First, the minister's discretionary power to designate so-called safe countries is too great. This is not about whether I trust the current minister or not. I would rather leave him in the dark about that. This is about knowing who decides which countries are on the list and about considering how the minister—the current one or his successors—will be subject to economic and diplomatic pressure to that end.

Second, a two-tier refugee system is also a problem. Some will have rights, and others will be assumed to be abusing the system. There will be no consideration for personal history.

What also bothers me about this bill are the potential violations of the international convention. I am sure my colleagues across the floor also received the letter from Human Rights Watch. I urge those who have not yet read it to do so.

The letter raises four points that the organization is really concerned about. First of all, the year-long mandatory detention of asylum seekers violates the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, specifically article 31, which prohibits imposing penalties on refugees simply because they had to enter a country without authorization.

Second, the five-year ban on applying for permanent resident status violates article 34 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Under that article, states must, as far as possible, facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the right of separated refugee families to reunite, since obtaining permanent resident status usually takes at least six or seven years.

Third, detaining 16 and 17-year old children violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Lastly, Human Rights Watch is concerned about the power vested in the minister to designate which countries are considered safe. In short, once again, all of this will tarnish Canada's reputation on the international stage.

Canada has a reputation as a welcoming country. I have seen this first-hand as an immigrant myself. My experience as a landed immigrant was quite different from what a refugee might experience, but I simply cannot accept that people would systematically be detained because they had to flee an untenable humanitarian situation in their own country. I refuse to let Canada become a country where refugee claimants are treated so poorly that legitimate refugees could be deported before they even have a chance to learn about their rights and the system.

I do not want my country to become a place where refugee claimants will not be considered simply because the government does not want to offend some countries with which it wants to do business. And I certainly do not want to see two classes of refugees.

I strongly oppose this bill because it is harmful to refugees—people who are already vulnerable—instead of offering them a fair, balanced system that does not attack legitimate refugees.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her very eloquent speech. In my riding, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, 14% of the population is made up of immigrants and children of immigrants. Some of these people came to Canada as refugees, others as landed immigrants. The bill, as written, seems to create a two-tier system, meaning that some refugee claims will be processed more quickly than others.

What will happen to 16- to 18-year-olds, young people who have not yet reached the age of majority? The government says that mothers and their children under 16 will be kept together in these famous centres, but what will we do with the fathers? Will they be separated from their families? How much will these famous refugee detention centres cost? There is talk of $170 million for health insurance and other services.

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4 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. Clearly, this bill will cost taxpayers quite a lot of money. Yet we have a very valid system, and there are many regulations to prevent bogus refugees from entering the country, as the members across the way claim.

Certainly, this bill will impose one year of arbitrary detention without habeas corpus. Parents will be separated from their children. Spouses will be separated for years, and some people will see their permanent resident status revoked when it is deemed that they can safely return to their country of origin.

I have no answer for my colleague. She should instead ask the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism why he is again turning his back on Canadians.

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4 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague about this bill, which will mean that everyone seeking asylum in Canada will be placed in detention for nearly a year.

My concern is that we are now saying that people who arrive by irregular entry would be placed in some form of detention. We are also saying that if they do not come from a country that we recognize as potentially legitimate in terms of their seeking refuge, they would not be allowed in at all.

In the case of Hungary, the Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that “the evidence is overwhelming that Hungary is presently unable to provide adequate protection to its Roma citizens”.

Does my colleague believe that creating a blanket rule that certain countries are safe and certain countries are not would create a threshold that actually would keep people who need our help from being allowed to come to Canada.