House of Commons Hansard #90 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 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order please. I see many people rising and I would like to give them an opportunity also.

The hon. member for Bourassa.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

March 6th, 2012 / 4 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Kingsway for his speech.

The problem is that we are caught between two ideologies. On the one hand, those subscribing to a right-wing ideology want to erase everything the Liberals did. We know that Canada is a nation that welcomes immigrants and that every case is unique. When we start generalizing and labelling everything, we end up with problems and people fall through the cracks.

On the other hand, the NDP thinks that everything is rosy and nice, but that is not reality. As a former immigration minister, I know that it is not easy, and I know that the minister has to deal with certain cases.

I would like the member for Vancouver Kingsway to comment on the problem with this bill, which is that a minister will decide whether a country is safe or not. We know that there can be problems in places like Mexico or even Hungary. Recently, an intellectual left Hungary because of anti-Semitism. If the minister decides that Hungary is a safe country, then no refugees from Hungary will be allowed in.

Without indulging in labelling and ideology, if the member were the immigration minister, what would he do?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is pretty difficult to determine the question in that statement.

One thing on which I will agree with the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is that the previous Liberal government sat back and made a complete mess of our system. When the government took power in 2006, it inherited a backlog of some 850,000 people. That does not sound like a model of success by the previous Liberal government.

Let us settle more refugees through the UNHCR process. Let us try to do a better job at bringing people to Canada and settling them here. Let us get a quick determination process of refugee status and give the refugees the support they need. Let us have a system that is fair. I think we can have both an efficient refugee determination system and one that respects Canadian domestic law and our international agreements.

The problem with the bill is that it does not achieve that balance, and the NDP will continue to fight for a refugee determination system that is fair, quick, legal and compassionate. That is what Canadians want, and that is not out of the mainstream.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, an exceptional thing happened, and I am sure the member who just spoke took part in it. It was in 2010, when we passed an amended version of Bill C-11. All the parties examined the issue and improved the government's bill. Even the minister was pleased, because he said that once the bill was amended, it was an essential tool for safeguarding the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee systems. The bill, as amended by the Bloc Québécois and the other parties, had a provision to accelerate the application process. It also provided the right to appeal for all refugees, without exception. With Bill C-31, the government is removing all that.

I wonder if the government is trying to send a message to refugees the world over, telling them not to come to Canada, that they are not welcome. That is the feeling we get from Bill C-31. What does my colleague think?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is true that the Bloc did play an instrumental role in building Bill C-11 in the previous Parliament. It is only fair to point that out.

It does seem like the government is trying to target refugees. One of the problems with Bill C-4 is that although it is directed punitively at human smugglers, it actually penalizes the refugees. That is what everyone is pointing out.

What happens if a refugee comes here? We will lock them up. We will prevent them from sponsoring their family for five years. We will prevent them from making an appeal application for five years. That is not targeting the smugglers but the refugees.

That is the problem with this bill. This bill also prevents someone from making a humanitarian and compassionate claim for up to one year, and it forces someone who arrives on our shores to make an election within 15 days between whether they make a refugee claim or a humanitarian and compassionate claim. These are people who often cannot speak English and have no access to legal advice. This is another serious structural flaw in the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be brief because I want to give my colleague a chance to comment further on one of the very important points he raised. He said that some countries might be considered safe when that is not necessarily the case, particularly certain countries in Europe where widespread discrimination is causing problems. If we took the time to examine ethnic conflicts, we would find several examples in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary, as the member mentioned. I would like to give him the opportunity to comment further on this problem and the prejudices against some countries.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, as I said in my speech, every country in this world is capable of producing a refugee. It depends on the particular political situation at the time. It depends on the government of the day. It depends on the cultural norms of that particular place. For example, how a country may treat gay people varies widely in this world.

Even in our own country, we are capable of producing refugees in a particular context at a particular time, and so these kinds of determinations should not be prejudged.

The bill stereotypes a group of people. If people come from a particular country, none of them have access to refugee appeal division. It does not matter how meritorious their case may be. It does not matter what the facts are.

That is not a typical characteristic of a modern, democratic legal system. One does do not make a determination on who has access to the court system or appeals in advance. One should let the merits of the case make that determination, and this bill does not do that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by making reference to what the minister started his speech with, that there has been great value from immigration. We in the Liberal Party have recognized over the years the importance of developing a balanced approach to dealing with immigration. We believe it is important to get not only good numbers but also the right mixture. We believe there is value in refugees. We believe there is value in families and family reunification. We see the value in terms of economic development. It is about getting the right mixture, and this is something on which we have been very successful in the past in what we have been able to achieve.

One of the greatest programs in the province of Manitoba has been the provincial nominee program.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

The member is welcome.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I will inform the member that it was actually a Liberal government that brought it in, but if the member for St. Catharines wants to try to take the credit for that, I will give him some credit.

What the government can take credit for is the huge backlog of refugees that has been generated. Remember that it was the Conservatives who did not fill the necessary positions at the refugee board to hear the numbers, and that is what started the backlog in the refugee system. Yes, improvement has been needed but members will find that through the years there has been movement, with a good mixture of immigrants and a progressive immigration policy that includes refugees.

We in the Liberal Party value the contributions that refugees make to our country. We have had refugees who have made it to Governor General of Canada, and to every economic, business, societal, non-profit and for-profit organization. Ninety-five percent plus of refugees who settle here in Canada go on to contribute immensely to our country and nation. We recognize that and are not scared to talk about it. The government and this minister in particular, on the other hand, have a totally different objective, an objective that demonizes the refugees in our great country.

The Liberal Party does not support Bill C-31, and for a good reason. Bill C-31 is in essence Bill C-4 and Bill C-11, with one major compromise in Bill C-11. The compromise took out the idea of an advisory group that would determine and advise the minister on which countries would be on the safe list. That was good enough when the Tories had a minority government but now that they have a majority government, they are going back to the Reform ways in how they are trying to deal with refugees in our country.

The minister wants to say what is a safe country. Think of the consequences of that. The minister wakes up one day and says that country X is no longer a safe country. As result, someone who comes from that country and claims to be a refugee will in all likelihood be gone before any sort of an appeal can be heard. That person will not even be in Canada but will have had to leave the country in order to make any sort of appeal.

The minister also wants to say who is an irregular arrival. That goes back to Bill C-4. There have been arguments about that. I know the minister will often write off the Liberal Party or the New Democrats as just being the opposition speaking. I would like to provide a specific quote about the government's behaviour on that particular line, and this comes from lawyers across our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Immigration lawyers who rally to the cause of immigration lawyers, you have to love that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Well, I am listening to some lawyers, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would do well if he also listened to some lawyers periodically. Maybe he should be listening—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Stand up for the immigration lawyers.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like the hon. member to direct his comments through the Chair and all members to wait until questions and comments before intervening.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North has the floor.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I do not blame the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for getting a little excited about that particular statement. Here is a response to the government on Bill C-31, a quote that makes reference to Bill C-4:

—[The] proposed mandatory, unreviewable, warrantless, year-long detention is patently unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada decided this issue in the clearest of terms.

This is not coming from the Liberal Party but a third party stakeholder that is trying to give advice to the Minister of Immigration . It is like talking to a brick wall. The minister has his own personal agenda and it is one that I do not think most Canadians would support.

I would like to read some comments made about Bill C-4 in some letters from Faith Academy school:

I urge you to take a tremendous stand against this bill.

Another reads:

You have to understand that the main reason refugees leave their countries is because they seek shelter from abuse, persecution and civil unrest. However, under this bill, refugees—including children—are only subjected to more persecution, fear of authority and denied rights.

If Canada's main concern truly is catching smugglers, why create a bill that only appears to punish refugees? Instead, let us join together in creatively seeking a way to deter smugglers without victimizing legitimate refugees.

That is a profound statement that the minister should really listen to.

I will read some more: “The bill forces refugees to be detained and they have come from their poor quality of life only to enter a similar one. Surely we have more integrity than that. There must be a more efficient way to keep track of them. Also the rule that the family can't come for five years after the refugee is allowed is absolutely absurd.” Another says, “I think let them come but make them wait for a certain time to gain residence, but the time should be reduced. Like what if you had to be put in that situation? Think it's still right?” A further one states, “The protection they wanted for Canada is great, but making other people and even innocent children feel like they are criminals or are committing something wrong is unfair.” Finally, “Bill C-4 is a punishment to refugees and is discriminatory since they will serve a mandatory sentence of one year and they will be denied the right to family reunification for five years.”

These are letters by young adults at Faith Academy school who have actually taken the time to read Bill C-4 and to voice their concerns regarding it.

I could go back to some of those statements by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. I mention the word “lawyers” and the minister laughs. I would suggest again that the minister would do well to listen. The association states:

Refugee claimants who are put on the designated safe country list are subjected to even shorter deadlines to submit a written claim, and will not have access to an appeal.

The Minister need not justify why he deems a country safe, nor does he have to take account of the differential risk faced by certain minorities in a country that is “safe” for others. Refugees will be vulnerable to the political whims of the Minister and the government.

The last time I had the opportunity speak to the bill, I challenged the government in my question to the minister. It was a very telling picture for me when I saw in a newspaper the minister, along with the Prime Minister, standing on the back of a ship, the Ocean Lady, making a statement.

He did it again today. At the beginning of his speech, he made reference to the fact that illegal immigrants pay to be brought here on two large ships, with a high number of bogus claims. He likes to refer to those queues, which is, I argue, the demonizing of the refugee.

He went on a boat with the Prime Minister and he talked about profiteers and how the government would get tough on human smugglers. This bill would have more of an impact on refugees. In essence, individuals are leaving their countries and putting their lives in danger by getting on some of these crafts to come to Canada. They leave for a wide variety of reasons. Their lives might be in danger. Who knows? At the end of the day, they are putting their lives at risk in order to land on our shore. The minister said he does not mean just boats. It could be people arriving by plane or car. The minister said the first thing to be done is to put these people in detention.

The last time I spoke on this bill, there was a lot of discussion about how to justify putting a 14-year-old or an 8-year-old in detention. To the minister's credit, and I do not give him very much credit, but in this case I will give him some credit, he said people under 16 years of age will not be detained. I am not 100% clear. I think he attempted to address it in his remarks. How does that apply if it involves a family? I believe he said it is only youth who are 12 or 14 years old and might not have a parent who would not be held in detention.

I was a little more clear going into this debate than I am now, because of the minister's remarks. I would look to him to provide some clarification. In terms of the legislation, the government is still saying one year of detention. That is fairly strong in terms of charters, constitutional rights, et cetera. We believe the government is moving in the wrong direction and there has to be an alternative.

The minister is often quoted as referring to or implying the notion of bogus refugees. I have had the opportunity to speak with refugees. Many people come to Canada with genuine fears. Just because they might not necessarily meet the criteria of refugees does not mean that they come to Canada wanting to commit fraud. When we start to label people by saying bogus, it is to the detriment of the refugee community. The minister needs to seriously consider how he chooses his photo ops when he talks about human smuggling, for example, or when he makes general statements about bogus refugees. His definition might not necessarily be the same definition as the many individuals who come to Canada fleeing persecution.

There was another issue that the critic for the New Democrats raised that I want the minister to comment on. It is incorporated in this particular bill and it is the biometrics.

We have been looking into this issue at the citizenship and immigration committee. Individuals have come before the committee to make presentations. Now the minister has brought this in out of nowhere and put it into the legislation. Some might argue that he undermined the work of the citizenship and immigration committee. There is some very strong merit in that argument.

We had another review to deal with the backlog of immigration. On November 4, halfway through it, the minister announced a freeze so that people could not sponsor their mom and dad from India or the Philippines or any other country for at least two years. He said we were not to worry because the government has this super visa program, which would compensate for the freeze.

The government has abandoned the whole concept of family and the valuable role that plays in the mixture of immigrants to Canada. We oppose this. What amazed me was that the minister announced the 10 year super visa, and then on December 1 he provided the details of the program.

Initially I was quite supportive of the concept of the super visa. However, the details of it probably excluded the parents of over 80% of immigrants because of the financial and health requirements put into place by the government. I would argue it was ultimately a manipulation. Much like with biometrics, this was another attempt by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to undermine what the citizenship and immigration committee was doing.

I look to the government, and in particular this Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, to reassess what it is actually doing within the immigration department. There is a need for change. We recognize that. When asked, for example, about the role biometrics could play, we believe that biometrics can play a role. We were quite willing to discuss this, and to hear what other Canadians and other stakeholders had to say on the issue. That is why we ultimately supported the committee to deal with that issue.

There is strong merit for biometrics. The minister himself has made reference to them, in terms of individuals who were able to come to Canada, put in a claim, leave and re-enter. There is no doubt biometrics would deal with issues such as that. There is no doubt that countries around the world are trying to get a better sense of the role of biometrics in a nation's security and the integrity of our immigration system, not only for refugees but also for temporary visas for visitors, students or possibly workers. We are open to that.

We are surprised that the minister would have taken this time to bring in that legislation when in fact we have a committee that is supposed to be studying the issue. One could ultimately ask why we are looking at that issue if in fact the minister seems to be going in a certain direction.

That brings me right back to some of my opening comments.

We in the Liberal Party believe that there has to be due process. We need to ensure that there is an appeal mechanism that would enable people to be in Canada while that appeal is being heard. That would not happen under Bill C-31.

We would like to see the minister make the change that he previously agreed to. He acknowledged that there was value to it. We would like to see that change.