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

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to be clear that no one has been displaced because of refugees in terms of the process of being able to immigrate to Canada. I would ask the member to give us some specific examples of individuals or embassies anywhere in the world who are aware of individuals who have been displaced because of refugees wanting to come to Canada.

However, my question follows up on a previous question. There were issues regarding the safe country list, which will have a profound impact on thousands of people around the world because the minister now believes that he should have the sole authority to designate a country as a safe country. Prior to that, it was the unanimous opinion of the House, and he made reference to the word “unanimous”, that it should be done through an advisory committee advising the minister as to which countries are safe and which are not.

Would the member support a Liberal Party amendment to re-establish that principle that had been previously supported unanimously in the House?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, one of the things the member talked about was being displaced on the refugee list. We had the Sun Sea and another ship come to Vancouver carrying illegal immigrants who had paid $25,000 to come here. That actually is jumping the queue, which does displace other people.

What we are also trying to do is to put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and ensure that Canada's refugee system is strong, vibrant and available to those people who want to come to Canada and are willing to do so without jumping the queue and displacing other people. We welcome those immigrants to Canada because, at one point or another, our families or our grandparents came to Canada to help build this country. We want to help other individuals who have made proper applications to come here.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to voice my opposition to a draconian bill that would change the way in which refugees and asylum seekers are treated. I am deeply disappointed in this bill, which revokes most of the compromises that were reached in connection with the former Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, in addition to reintroducing Bill C-4, which targets refugees instead of human smugglers.

Bill C-11, which was passed by a minority government during the previous Parliament, gave rise to what could be considered historic compromises with a view to making truly balanced refugee reforms. But now, at a time when that bill has not yet even come into effect, the government is doing away with everything the members of this House accomplished together and is instead imposing an ideological approach without giving any thought to the lives of the people who will be affected by this change.

By acting in this way, the Conservative government is going back on what it agreed to and demonstrating once again that it does not believe in co-operation and that what it wants more than anything is to put its own ideology ahead of the well-being of the people affected by its decisions. Bill C-31 transforms a balanced measure into a radical, partisan, ideological measure.

I want to remind the House that the Laval immigration detention centre is in my riding, Alfred-Pellan. There are three such centres in Canada: one in Laval, one in Toronto and one in Vancouver. Refugees who cannot prove their identity are incarcerated in this facility, which looks like a prison and is on federal prison property. There, people are handcuffed to be moved and families are kept apart. The centre tells refugees that it will take only a few days to check their identity, but in reality some of them will spend weeks or even months in a place that is run like a medium-security prison.

The average stay at this centre is currently 28 days, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. Detention leaves its mark on asylum seekers' mental health. After being handcuffed when they are moved, having their personal effects confiscated and being separated from their families, detainees leave the centre with serious health problems and depression.

Research proves this. Janet Cleveland, a researcher and psychologist at the CSSS de la Montagne at McGill University, met with nearly 200 asylum seekers during a study on the impact of detention on the mental health of people seeking asylum in Canada. The study was conducted with four other researchers. Over 120 of the asylum seekers had been in detention for three weeks in either Montreal or Toronto when she met them. The others were not being detained.

All the asylum seekers taking part in the study had already endured traumatic experiences when they arrived in Canada, but those who were placed in detention were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic shock. When I asked the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in February why this government was not doing anything to correct this situation, which is intolerable for the officials and the newcomers, he replied that it is true that there is a waiting list for refugee claimants, and that a new system will ensure a processing period of a few weeks. He said new claims would be heard by the IRB within two to three months. Here is what Janet Cleveland said:

As far as the government is concerned, three weeks in a centre is not very long. Yet when we compare these individuals to others who are not being detained, the detained refugees were twice as likely to show serious post-traumatic stress symptoms. We did not expect this result after “only” three weeks of detention.

I would point out that 40% of the immigrants being detained in Laval are there simply while their criminal record are being checked. So, I would ask the minister once again: why are these newcomers being treated like criminals? I am also very worried about the rights of refugees, and of the people who work in these centres, and the way this will be implemented. What worries me even more is the fate of child refugees who are separated from their families and loved ones when they arrive here, and therefore lose their sense of security.

Unlike Bill C-4, Bill C-31 includes an exemption from detention for anyone under the age of 16. That is very good, but when I asked the Minister of Public Safety whether those children would be separated from their families and what would happen to the families, he did not even answer my question. That leads me to believe that, as a result of this bill, children will be separated from their families, which can cause serious psychological problems and trauma for children who are only 16 or younger.

It also makes me think about the measures the minister intends to implement to guarantee that minors will not be detained based on their age when their own identity and age are in the process of being verified. If they do not have documents to prove that they are under the age of 16, what assurance do we have that they will not be detained? For example, will a 14 or 15 year old who looks 16 or older be treated fairly? It is truly quite disturbing.

Since men are detained separately from women and children, what will happen when a single father arrives with his children? Will they be separated immediately upon their arrival?

We must rethink how we treat our brothers and sisters who are seeking asylum. To do so, we must first acknowledge the human nature of their journey, which is fraught with injustice, tragedy and trauma. In my opinion, the amendments proposed by Bill C-31 will result in the criminalization of people who are often victims and have reached the end of their rope.

Is it right to treat them like criminals when they arrive? Is it one of our values to separate and break up families, when their family ties are all they have left?

I recognize the importance of properly identifying refugee claimants. However, I am convinced that it can be done in a more humane way, without compromising the psychological and social well-being of asylum seekers, without breaking up families, without passing this bill which would welcome refugees with detention when they arrive.

I would like to quote a letter from Human Rights Watch dated March 16, 2012, addressed to the members of this House.

HRW believes that the detention provisions of Bill C-31 unduly and inappropriately impose penalties on vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Instead of identifying and punishing human smugglers, these provisions of the bill would punish irregular migrants, including refugee men, women and children fleeing indiscriminate violence and/or persecution. These people should not be punished on the sole basis of their “irregular” entry.

This letter is signed by Bill Frelick, refugee program director, and Jasmine Herlt, director, Human Rights Watch Canada.

Bill C-31 is bad for refugees and does absolutely nothing to target smugglers. In my opinion, the previous Bill C-11, as amended in the last legislature, takes a more balanced approach, and deserves to be implemented and fairly evaluated. The government constantly talks about the importance of taking action. Here we have a bill, Bill C-11, which is ready to go and I invite the government to move on it.

Canadians and the international community are speaking out against Bill C-31. I am asking the government to reconsider its approach. We have to think of the families that have already lived through so much trauma and are just looking for a place where they can be protected. This bill does not target the right people at all. We absolutely have to rethink this approach. Canada has always welcomed refugees and must continue to do so.

I would also like my colleagues to consider the amendment proposed by the member for Vancouver Kingsway, and I would ask all members of the House to support it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech. She said that Canadians are against Bill C-31, but is she aware that after illegal migrants arrived 18 months ago, polls clearly showed that approximately two-thirds of Canadians believed that the government should prevent boats transporting illegal migrants and human smugglers from entering Canadian territory?

Is she aware that the majority of Canadians—about 55%—say that illegal migrants who arrive via illegal means but who are recognized as refugees under our laws should immediately be deported to their country of origin?

This means that Bill C-31 is much more generous than public opinion and more mindful of our tradition of welcoming true refugees.

Is she aware that Quebeckers expressed this opinion more strongly than other Canadians? In other words, her constituents want to turn away ships transporting illegal migrants. Is she aware of that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

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

I believe he is confusing immigrants and refugees. When people arrive here illegally because they are being persecuted in their country of origin, they are protected under international law. Such people are considered refugees and we are supposed to welcome them under the international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

Honestly, I would like to know what the hon. member opposite who just asked the question would have done with the boat people from Vietnam when they arrived. Should they have been considered illegal immigrants or refugees? Those people were welcomed here. Why would we not continue to do the same thing?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the point the minister raised. It is somewhat discouraging that he wants to portray refugees in a negative fashion. We saw a sample of that when he made reference to illegal immigrants. These are in fact refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

How do you know that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the minister asks how I know they are. I have more faith in the system obviously than he does. I wonder if he, as the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, would have that same attitude if they were boat people from Vietnam, or individuals from the Jewish community on the St. Louis.

With respect to the individuals to whom the minister is referring, I wonder if the member sees the value of recognizing them as refugees as opposed to immigrants.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

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

As I just mentioned, there is a demagogic problem here with the words being used in this debate right now, with the terms “illegal immigrants”, “real immigrants”, “criminals”, “refugees”. We are talking about protecting refugees. We were talking about dealing with human smugglers, but that is not at all what is happening. In fact, refugees are being attacked. This is real Conservative demagoguery.

I would invite the minister across the way to come visit the immigration detention centre in Laval and come see the people who are being detained there. What is he going to do for those people? Where is he going to place the young people who are already there? Is he going to separate them from their families? Will he send them elsewhere?

These centres are quite far from the hubs where the young people would be placed. What is the government going to do with the families? Will the families continue to be separated in this way? Will the detention centres be expanded? What is going to happen with this bill?

Unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

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

Canada has an international reputation for having the most generous immigration system in the world. We welcome 1 in 10 of the world's resettled refugees, and the number is increasing as our government is welcoming an additional 2,500, or 20%, of the number of resettled refugees to Canada.

Canadians are rightfully proud of our tradition as a compassionate nation. It is a responsibility we take very seriously. Throughout this country I have met and worked with many Canadians. We are a generous people and a generous nation. However, for too many years we have had to tolerate those who find loopholes or who are deliberately abusing our generosity and taking unfair advantage of our country.

That is why Canadians have become concerned with the growing number of bogus claims and queue jumpers. These bogus claimants bog down the system and, as a result, genuine claimants who are in need of Canada's protection are left far behind and must endure long wait lists.

Fortunately, our Conservative government is taking action to crack down on this abuse and to strengthen the integrity and credibility of our immigration system. Bill C-31 will ensure that those who are in need of Canada's protection will receive it more quickly, while those who are abusing our system will be removed from Canada sooner.

Today I am going to focus my remarks on the provisions in this legislation that deal specifically with human smuggling.

Canada is working hard both at home and abroad to deter and prevent human smuggling. In 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed a special adviser on human smuggling and illegal migration, who—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. I would remind all hon. members that they ought not to refer to their colleagues by their given names. The hon. member for Vancouver South.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 26th, 2012 / 12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 2010, the Prime Minister appointed a special adviser on human smuggling and illegal migration to work with governments in source and transit countries as well as with international partners to promote co-operation to combat human smuggling. Canada has also worked hard to partner with local authorities in transit countries to combat human smuggling operations.

While these efforts abroad are important, despite our best efforts, human smuggling operations have continued to target Canada's generous immigration system. Canada must therefore send a clear and categorical message to those who plan to take advantage of us that human smuggling is a deplorable crime and will not be tolerated in Canada. Our Conservative government has been absolutely clear that any attempts to abuse Canada's generosity for financial gain will not be tolerated.

Bill C-31 sends the message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, including all legitimate refugees, but we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders.

Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to prevent the abuse of our generous immigration system. With Bill C-31, we are acting on that mandate.

Canada is a compassionate nation of immigrants with a proud history and tradition of welcoming refugees. At the same time, every sovereign country has a responsibility to protect its citizens and its borders.

With Bill C-31 our government is cracking down on human smugglers with a number of new measures. For example, Bill C-31 will make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and will introduce mandatory minimum sentences for convicted human smugglers. The bill will also target those ship owners and operators who will be liable for the use of their ships in human smuggling.

Experience has shown that cracking down on human smugglers alone is not an effective solution. Action must be taken to address the countless individuals who choose to be smuggled and who choose to pay organized crime large sums of money, sometimes up to $50,000 per person.

It falls on our government to protect Canadians. This is why Bill C-31 includes the mandatory detention of those who arrive as part of a human smuggling operation. Let us be clear that when they arrive we do not know who they are or what their purposes are. It takes some time to determine this.

That said, it is important to note that Bill C-31 includes one very important change from previous Bill C-4. The current legislation includes an exemption from automatic detention for minors under the age of 16. In addition, adults, people who are 16 years and older, will be released from detention as soon as they receive a positive opinion on their refugee claim from the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Most bona fide claimants will get protected status and will be released from detention within a matter of months.

As previously stated, this provision is necessary as it protects Canadians. It would be irresponsible to release those involved in a criminal human smuggling operation before their identity or their purpose is established and officials have had time to determine whether or not they pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians.

Only those asylum claimants whose identities cannot be established, who are a security risk to Canada or who are suspected architects of criminal activity can be held longer under the bill, and for good reason.

I am disappointed that the opposition NDP and Liberals believe that those who arrive on our shores should be released onto our streets and into our communities before we know who these people are and what their purposes are for being here, if they are criminals or terrorists, and whether or not they pose a threat. This is simply irresponsible.

It is also important to note that most other western democratic countries have had these detention provisions for some time and have had even more harsher detention provisions than what is before us today. In fact, other countries detain all asylum claimants. Compared to most other western democratic countries, Canada's detention provisions will continue to be used sparingly.

Bill C-31 will also prevent illegal migrants who are part of a smuggling operation from obtaining permanent resident status or bringing their family members to Canada for a period of five years. This legislation will ensure that taxpayer-funded medical benefits received by illegal migrants are not more generous than those received by the average Canadian. These measures are fair, necessary and will protect Canadians.

It is unfortunate that the NDP and the Liberals oppose our government's efforts to crack down on this despicable crime.

Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, had this to say about them:

Maritime migrant smuggling is the deadliest form of illegal international travel and its illicit proceeds fuel criminality. Canada is an attractive destination for migrant smugglers and these new measures send a strong message that our country is no longer open for business to these criminals.

It is shocking to hear apologists for migrant smugglers portraying these criminals as providing a 'service' for illegal migrants seeking to enter Canada. Migrant smugglers have been linked to organized crime, human trafficking and terrorist organizations. They care nothing for the well-being of those they transport in perilous and often deadly vessels.

Genuine refugees are better served through the use of safe, legal channels such as group processing of refugees through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in programs that Canada has participated in with success.

Michael Deakin-Macey, the past president of the board of directors of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, has also praised the human smuggling measures included in Bill C-31. He said:

Canada is a generous country, with an immigration system that treats both immigrants and refugees very well, however, there are those who are not willing to wait their turn in line and criminals who would profit from this. Instead, they want to jump the immigration queue and make their way to Canada through any means available to them, often bypassing several hospitable countries and travelling halfway around the world to land on our shores.

As a result of this human smuggling, honest and legal would-be immigrants who are waiting patiently and anxiously in the queue are penalized while these smuggled refugees' claims are processed.

To all reasonable observers, the criminal enterprise of this human smuggling is an abuse of both Canada's generosity and the honesty of all the other immigration applicants.

We are pleased that the Government has sent a clear message that it will not be tolerated, and we welcome the introduction of legislation preventing human smugglers from in effect creating an unfair two-tier immigration system, one for the impatient rich and the other for the honest applicant.

Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, would halt an illegal, second tier immigration system and make our immigration system faster and fairer. It would stop human smugglers, foreign criminals and bogus refugee claimants from abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer funded health and social benefits.

Bill C-31 would strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and protect our country, our citizens and our communities. This is an important bill and a desirable goal that all members of the House should support.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must say how shocked I am to hear the misinformation that is coming from the government side, first from the member and, prior to that, from the Minister of Immigration who has referred to people who come to our shores by boat as illegal. That is false. International law recognizes that refugees can land at another country's border without a visa if they are escaping persecution. That is an absolute normative and legal way for a refugee to arrive on shores.

They are talking about jumping queues. There is no queue jumping when a refugee lands on the shore of another country. When the Jews escaped Nazi Germany, stealing away to Switzerland in the middle of the night, they were not jumping any queue. They were not applying for any visa.

The member said that the only people who would be locked up would be those engaged in criminal activity. I wonder if the member has read the bill? The bill mandates the government to lock up every person who is designated an illegal or an irregular entrant, including children 16 years of age, or separating families.

I wonder if the hon. member could explain to the Vietnamese community in Vancouver, all of whom escaped Vietnam in boats and most of whom paid someone to do it, why her government would call those people criminals, human smugglers and queue jumpers. What does she say to the Vietnamese community in the Lower Mainland in Canada who used those exact methods and who are being so tarred by this legislation?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am shocked and appalled that the member opposite would say that Canada should be opening its doors and borders to anyone who happens to arrive on a boat. That is precisely what he just said.

We know in this day and age of national security risks and the different events that have happened worldwide, even in Canada, there are risks inherent in people arriving on our shores illegally without any documentation or sense of purpose. I think it is entirely reasonable that Bill C-31 would detain people until those things can be clarified.

I would urge the member opposite to support our communities and protect Canadians and our country by supporting the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have one simple question for the hon. member. She and others on the other side have said that refugee claimants are queue jumpers. I am not sure I understand. It is my understanding that someone who arrives and is accepted as a refugee does not make it more difficult for a regular stream immigration applicant. I thought the two systems were completely separate so that one does not cross over into the other.

Is the hon. member saying that every time the IRB accepts a refugee in Canada, a sponsored, regular stream immigration applicant is refused?