House of Commons Hansard #108 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

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that very important clarification and question because Canadians are proud to welcome so many refugees. Quite frankly, our track record has been noted throughout the world. As I said in my remarks, the United Nations has singled us out for our generosity in refugee retention and acceptance.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism was recently in Winnipeg at an event to discuss the new bill. He spoke at length about how Canada opens its arms to new Canadian refugees. We are proud of the government's record and we will continue it with a more efficient and effective system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

April 23rd, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-31. The Liberal Party believes that it is very reasonable to review, consult on and update refugee and immigration laws from time to time in order to address ways in which they may no longer meet the public interest, address issues that have come up since the last revisions and make improvements. The Liberal Party supports that, but Bill C-31, unfortunately, has some very serious flaws.

The fact that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is the only person who will decide what countries of origin are safe will mean that there is no accountability and no recourse available, and the refugee system will become dangerously politicized.

We see that playing out from accounts in the media about the immigration minister himself and funds potentially being used to organize partisan fundraising from immigrant communities. It is a very dangerous precedent.

The goal is to give one person in this country the power to determine which people will be eligible to claim refugee status and which people will not.

That is dangerous.

This bill will allow the Minister of Public Safety to decide which groups of people are irregular arrivals, and thus gives him too much discretion but no accountability.

The elimination of an appeal process for people who come from a country on the safe country list or for people designated as part of an irregular arrival does not guarantee that the law will be applied uniformly.

Our party opposes long-term detention without warrant, and opposes an unfair review process where the first examination is not held for 12 months. The proposed policies amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

It is clear that, while supporting improvements to make the laws more timely, more fair and more effective, there are many ways in which these are dangerous changes that put unaccountable power in the hands of ministers who have, allegedly, been abusing that power.

The Liberals believe that creating two classes of refugees is not acceptable and that the bill undermines the compassion and support Canada has historically provided to those seeking refuge from situations of risk, danger and abuse in their home country. It punishes selected refugees both by branding them in negative ways as security risks when, in most cases, that is not the case, and by locking them up for long periods of time and treating them much more harshly. This punishing of refugees is an unacceptable way of reforming our system and very likely open to charter challenges.

I will talk about two parts of the context of this.

My daughter was in Sri Lanka seven years ago at the time of the tsunami, which was a humanitarian disaster of massive proportions in Sri Lanka. She was, fortunately, not harmed. She was part of a convoy of aid that citizens had pulled together to drive down in trucks to the areas most affected. What she told us when she came back was that it was extremely dangerous. There were huge security measures that the group needed to take. These convoys of aid were at risk of being hijacked by government forces and by Tamil forces at various times. It was a dangerous situation where there was a civil war and the Tamil citizens were victimized by forces in their own country.

A few years later, the civil war came to a head. There were reports in 2009 that 10,000 citizens were killed and that 280,000 Tamil citizens were displaced in their own country and living in refugee camps. That is the framing for the arrival in British Columbia.

As the member for Parliament for Vancouver Quadra and a British Columbian, I was aware of the humanitarian disaster leading to people leaving the country and coming as refugees to Canada at that time. One boat arrived in October 2009 and a further boat arrived shortly thereafter.

I have an interesting analysis of the arrival of the boat bringing Tamil community members whose lives had been at risk, whose family members had been probably killed by either the government or Tamil rebel forces and who literally were the kind of humanitarian asylum seekers who Canada has a responsibility to accept and to support and has done so successfully in the past.

I will read a couple of sentences from the abstract of the analysis in the Canadian Journal of Communication, No. 4, 2011, by Ashley Bradimore and Harald Bauder of Ryerson University. This analysis looks at 32 articles. It does a careful analysis to ensure that this is a representative sample of the articles in the Vancouver Sun, Toronto Star and National Post. It analyzes the framing, representation and identity in these articles, showing that there was an overall negative representation of the Tamil refugees. The press emphasized issues of criminality and terrorism and constructed the refugees as being a risk. The sentences read:

The discussion established security—rather than human rights—as a focal point and portrayed the immigration system as both “failing” and “abused” by “bogus claimants”.

This security-oriented framework provided a discursive background for the refugee reform Bill C-11, Bill C-11, which has been replaced by Bill C-31.

We see a context in the discussions across national discussions that are not talking about the humanitarian issue or the situation with people arriving from Sri Lanka in these Tamil boats. The discussion centres on illegality and a lot of negatives. In fact, the analysis of the news articles at the time showed that some 66% of the articles sampled had negative terms in the headlines to describe the events, such as “terrorism”, “suspected”, “illegal”, “apprehended”. That is how between 50% and 67% of the headlines characterized the situation of the Tamil refugees coming to British Columbia.

Why was it characterized so negatively? Was that just the media portraying refugees from a known n country where there had been abuses and humanitarian tragedies? Was the media just being negative or was there a government hand in all of this?

It turns out that, in this analysis of articles, between 50% and 68% of the quotes and references in these articles were either from government sources or the police. The government sources were very widely quoted in these articles. What is the significance of that? It turns out that the immigration minister of the day came out very early on with some very negative comments. For example, the minister signalled, “there should be no rush to unconditionally embrace as refugees the 76 men, believed to be from Sri Lanka”. Another one reads, “We obviously don't want to encourage people to get into rickety boats, pay thousands of dollars, cross the oceans and come to Canada illegally”.

Another one reads:

Without prejudice to this particular group of people, [...]

We want to ensure that we don't end up with a two-tier immigration system, one tier for legal law-abiding immigrants who wait patiently to come to Canada the legal way, and another that [encourages] false refugee claimants to come through the back door.

These comments played a significant role in changing the discourse in the media from what was once centred on the humanitarian to talking about illegality, the bogus and queue jumping. That then becomes the basis for putting forward Bill C-31, which is an attack on refugees. First the Conservatives lull the public and then they attack the refugees, perhaps with impunity. However, the Liberals will be speaking out against it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech, which expressed great humanity, as always.

She referred to injustices. All we see in this omnibus bill that my colleague has talked about, and which Bill C-4 has been rolled into, is a double-standard system.

That is the bit that I react to most strongly, given that there are two classes of refugees: those who arrive by land and those who arrive by boat. We are also talking about other unfair aspects, given the powers that are put into the hands of the Minister of Immigration, and we are also talking about violating the rights of refugees by using arbitrary detention, where children can be detained for a year or be separated for a year from their parents who are detained so their identity can be verified.

Refugees are criticized for having no identity papers, when they are already in shock. They are fleeing precisely because they are in danger. They do not have time to think about bringing papers with them. These are all injustices. I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her comment.

The combination of the two elements she just mentioned is exactly what is so disturbing. On the one hand, there are injustices toward refugees, and on the other, more powers are being given to Canadian ministers.

It is a toxic combination when the government takes these unilateral powers that would affect the lives of people in Canada and their families abroad. It politicizes and creates tremendous risk for intimidation and abuse of the immigrant communities by the government through fear.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, can my esteemed colleague tell us how Bill C-31 blatantly violates the Canadian charter and several international treaties? I would like her to summarize the most obvious violations.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Certainly there are elements in the bill that would be violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but that is not the key issue here. However, a second key issue is the absolute lack of consultation, such as when Bill C-11 came forward.

Groups affected by this were not consulted.

There were some big mistakes in Bill C-11. Some consultation was then done and those things were changed. However, under Bill C-31, the amendments were rolled out again. Therefore, this is a very similar process as with many of the other bills that the government has put forward.

The Conservatives have shown that they are not interested in the public good or the best interests of the people because they did not consult groups in such a way as to ensure a good bill. They drafted it without consulting anyone because they want more power over immigrant and refugee groups.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to offer my contribution to this vital debate about the future of Canada's internationally renowned immigration system.

I am sure all hon. members in the House can agree that it is crucial to Canada's national interest that our immigration system functions fairly, effectively and with integrity.

If enacted, the measures in Bill C-31, otherwise known as protecting Canada's immigration system act, would help ensure that the immigration system would continue to function in a just way.

Let us not mince words. Our immigration system is one of Canada's greatest assets. It is one of the reasons we have the great country we do today.

I think of my own riding in Barrie, Ontario and of some of the people from Barrie who have come to Canada recently. They represent some of the best values to which we could ever aspire.

I think of Beethoven Crasco who, when he first came here, was working two jobs to support his family and still found time to volunteer at our local hospital.

I think of Tahir Nawaz who within a few years of coming here organized a large fundraiser for the Red Cross as he wanted to give back and be engaged in the community.

I think of Aaron Sureshkumar who, after coming from Sri Lanka and working tirelessly, managed to not only find a job, but created and opened his own factory producing hot tub covers, which are now being sold all across North America. Coming here with very little, he now employs dozens in Barrie and is opening an expansion.

That type of work ethic embodies the Canadian spirit unequivocally.

I know most MPs go to citizenship ceremonies. We can never have better example of why we appreciate immigration than those ceremonies. I remember going to my first one when I was on city council 12 years ago and seeing a new Canadian cry at the thought of getting her citizenship. It really is inspiring. It reminds us of why we live in such an amazing country.

Immigration has brought countless newcomers and their descendants to our shores, immigrants who have brought immeasurable benefits to Canada's development, have contributed to the richness and diversity of our country and have helped make it the free and prosperous society it is today. Therefore, it is our duty as legislators to ensure that we enact laws that protect and ensure the strength of our immigration system.

The measures in Bill C-31, once enacted, will do exactly that, so I am happy to support this legislation.

I would like to speak today about one of the important pieces of the protecting Canada's immigration system act. The measures in this legislation will enable the introduction of biometric technology for the mandatory screening of temporary resident applicants.

As members know, Bill C-31 would also help carry out long needed reforms to the refugee system and would help crackdown on human smugglers who may try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system.

Regarding biometrics, the Montreal Gazette had this to say in a recent editorial on the bill we are debating today. It wrote:

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

I agree with this analysis. I would go even further and echo the words of our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who has described the implementation of biometric screening of visa applicants as a “historic” development in Canada's immigration system.

Under our current system, when individuals make immigration applications, in most cases they only need to initially provide written documents to support their applications. A modern immigration system can do a better job in ensuring security. How? Let me provide an explanation of how this new system would work.

Essentially, the legislation under consideration today, and the regulations that will follow, will allow the Government of Canada to make it mandatory for travellers, students and workers from prescribed visa-required countries and territories to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa study permit or work permit applications.

That is it in a nutshell. It will simply mean the photos and prints will be collected as part of a standard visa application process. For overseas applicants, they would be collected before the applicant arrives in Canada. This will help with processing visa applications and later with confirming the identity of visa holders when they arrive at our borders.

The introduction of biometrics as an identity-management tool and our immigration and border control system is a welcome development that has been a long time in coming and long overdue. It is also something that will bring Canada up to speed with what is quickly becoming the international standard in this domain. Many governments around the world have already introduced biometric collection in their immigration and border programs. Here are some examples: the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia to name a few.

Although it is a long time in coming for Canada, the fact that so many other countries have already adopted biometrics brings a side benefit. Many visa applicants to Canada will already be familiar with the process. This will make for a very smooth transition to the system. Also, because other countries have already gone through the transition to biometrics, we already know that there is normally only a small, short-term drop in application volumes following the implementation of biometrics.

It would be difficult to argue that what I am describing here is anything but efficient, effective and a straightforward process. In terms of the security of the immigration system, implementing biometrics will help stop known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using false identity to obtain a Canadian visa.

Biometrics will help improve the integrity of our immigration system and will bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool to help confirm identity. This will greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applicants and the growing sophistication in identity fraud. It will provide great benefits to the Canadian officials making visa applications and border entry decisions.

At the same time, it will be beneficial to applicants because in the long run the use of biometrics will facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants. For instance, in cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain, biometrics could expedite decision making at Canadian points of entry. Using biometrics could also protect visa applicants by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use an applicant's identity to gain access into Canada.

Finally, Canada has committed to the exchange of biometric information with the United States beginning in 2014. This will help both Canadian and U.S. authorities spot failed refugee claimants, deportees, previously refused applicants and applicants using fraudulent identities before they get to North America. This initiative is part of our two countries' action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness, which provides a practical road map for enhancing security, while speeding up legitimate trade and travel across the Canada-U.S. border.

Let me give a few practical examples of why biometrics is fundamentally necessary in Canada. Let us take the example of Esron Laing and David Wilson, who were convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. They returned to Canada on three different occasions. In fact, they are known as the “Yo-Yo Bandits” because just like a yo-yo, they kept coming back.

I know that three times does not seem like a high number, but I am sad to say that many serious criminals are deported and manage to return to Canada many more times than that. For example, Anthony Hakim Saunders was convicted of assault and drug trafficking. He was deported on 10 different occasions. That is right, an astonishing 10 different times. Just like the “Yo-Yo Bandits”, he kept returning.

Edmund Ezemo was convicted of more than 30 charges, including identity theft and fraud. He was deported and returned to Canada eight times.

Dale Anthony Wyatt was convicted of trafficking drugs and possession of illegal weapons. He was deported and returned to Canada on at least four separate occasions.

Unfortunately this is only a tiny sample of the examples I could use to illustrate the number of people who are not eligible to come to Canada but do.

The many benefits of introducing biometric technology for screening visa applicants makes it a welcome and historic development for our immigration system. Furthermore, the use of biometrics is increasingly becoming the international norm. By passing Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, we will be ensuring that Canada keeps up with the many other countries in the world already using this system.

For this reason and many others, I will be supporting the bill wholeheartedly. I encourage all members of the House to do the same.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Barrie spoke a lot about biometrics, and there is good and bad to that. There was a parliamentary committee researching the issue of biometrics. It was hearing witnesses and receiving expert testimony.

Why does the member and his government think the Montreal Gazette's opinion is more important on this than actually letting the parliamentary committee finish its work before introducing legislation on the subject?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleague in the House has referenced the Montreal Gazette. The Montreal Gazette and dozens of other papers and professionals in the country shared the opinion our government had that it was long overdue. Obviously, the parliamentary committee had ample time to study all aspects of this legislation.

If we look at where Canada is, we see we have already waited too long. If we look at other countries that have already done this, we see that on most occasions Canada is a leader in security issues, a leader on the field. However, in terms of biometrics, as I mentioned in my speech, there are dozens of examples of other countries that have already implemented this as a no-brainer, as a necessary aspect of the immigration system. We are already behind the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia, which have already implemented it. It is necessary for Canada's security and for maintaining the integrity of our immigration system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Barrie for his excellent speech and his in-depth understanding of some of the content within Bill C-31. I also want to compliment him as chair of the Canada-India Parliamentary Association. He has done an outstanding job of reaching out wherever necessary, both in his riding as a representative and in the city of Toronto as a liaison for the South Asian community.

From his meetings and discussions with that community, I wonder if he could comment on what its support or comments on the bill have been and what direction the committee could take from them in terms of moving this bill forward.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I might add that I do not think anyone has been more hard working on improving Canada's immigration system than the member for St. Catharines and he does an incredible job in the House of Commons.

I attended the Canada India Foundation annual dinner on Saturday night, and one of the topics was that this was long overdue. It is a sense in many new Canadian communities across Canada that it is a needed reform. For people who have worked hard, waited a long time and invested in coming to Canada, the last thing they want to see is cracks in the immigration system or loopholes where people can cheat, abuse or sneak their way into Canada. It is essentially jumping the queue ahead of the people who have waited so long for the chance to live in the best country in the world. Those I spoke to at the Canada India Foundation unequivocally support this legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across the way likes to talk about international situations and how we are following the good lead of other countries, but he must know that on the issue of smuggling, Australia put temporary protection visas on their books for many years and it did not stop anyone. In fact, we know that mandatory minimums do not actually form a deterrence. There is already a maximum life sentence for smuggling. There is no convention for smugglers.

I want to know from the member opposite if he really believes that smugglers are suddenly going to listen to the Conservatives' new rules and stop their egregious behaviour.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course they will, because the profitability will be taken out of the system. I was with the Prime Minister in Thailand last month, where we had a one-day session on human smuggling. This is a real issue around the world, and we need to do everything possible to make sure those who profit from human smuggling do not have an avenue to do it in Canada. It takes advantage of the most vulnerable.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Research and Development; the hon. member for St. John's East, Justice; the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, Health.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, human smugglers are not profiting from human smuggling here in Canada. They are profiting from it in the countries in which they ply their trade. We need to be clear on that, and I do not think the government is.

However, I am honoured to be here in this place today, as I am every day that I am here, to represent the people of my riding of Davenport, in which we have a very diverse community. More than 50% of the people in my riding were not born in Canada, and in fact we have refugees living in our riding.

I want to tell the House a little story about some of the people in my riding. There is one gentleman, and I cannot name him, but he came into my office. He runs and owns a bakery; in fact he owns two. He owns a house, his kids go to the local school, he is involved in volunteer activity and he is involved at his local church. He came to my office because he is living in fear. He applied for refugee status, his claim was denied and he is awaiting a decision under humanitarian and compassionate grounds. However, under this bill he has lost all his protection. He is very worried that he is going to go back to the country of his birth and face the situation for which he left in the first place.

The government likes to talk about scammers of the system. We need to realize that people who essentially take their lives into their own hands and flee their home countries are doing it because they absolutely have to. This member of my community is a strong part of the fabric not only of the riding of Davenport, but this is an example we could talk about right across the country. This is one reason and this is an example, a human story.

I would challenge any members across the way, if that were one of their constituents, that they would not be going to bat for that constituent. In fact, if the members across the way had those stories coming into their office, how could they not respond? As we have heard from the government many times today, it has a proud tradition, an internationally lauded position on human rights and immigration. However, the government does not seem to like to remind Canadians that it is all in the past. Today it is a very different reality.

I know the government does not like to listen to experts. We know that, but I get this time and I am going to talk about expert opinion, and one of the beauties of this place is that government members cannot stop me.

The Justice for Refugees and Immigrants Coalition consists of Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Council for Refugees. It supports an immigration system that is fair, independent of political considerations and affordable. In its view, Bill C-31 is unconstitutional, undermines our humanitarian traditions and violates our international obligations and it should therefore be withdrawn.

One has to wonder if the government ever chose to consult expert opinion. I know that it gets out the white pages, phones some lawyers and gets some juicy quotes, but does it really speak to the organizations that have dedicated their lives? I have met many people who work in these organizations. They could be pulling in six figures on Bay Street, but they are there in the trenches working with refugees.

Refugees today are Canadian citizens of tomorrow. I started my speech off with the example of the constituent in my riding who has a business, has a family and has bought a house. His family in his home country is constantly under threat of violence and he is worried sick that he is actually going to have to pull up roots and go back.

It is one of the enduring ironies of the government. It loves to go on and on about the whole idea of family values, and yet it has crafted legislation here that is going to pull families apart. A family is a family is a family. It does not matter where it comes from or how it got here. It is incumbent upon us, here in this place, if we want to talk about family values, to try to keep kids with their parents, notwithstanding all the other issues that the government and others bring up around immigration.

I also want to remind the members opposite of something, because I think some of them occasionally forget this. I remember a minister of education in the government of Ontario years ago, and I am sure he is a good friend of many members across the way. In fact, he served closely with many of them in the cabinet of the government of Mike Harris. The education minister said we have to create a crisis and then we can blow the thing up. He did not quite say it like that. I am paraphrasing. It was a long time ago.

However, essentially, the government talks about the wait time. Many members, certainly on our side, who do the tough work in their constituencies know that we get many constituents coming in with issues around immigration and refugee hearings. However, the government seems to think, therefore, let us starve the system of resources and then completely change it, all in the name of something it calls efficiencies. We all know that is a code word for privatization and for staff reductions.

I also want to bring up the issue of designated countries. In my riding and in the downtown core of Toronto, we have many Roma who came to Canada as refugees, many in 2008. The situation for Roma in Europe has not got any better. We know we have tight relations with the European Union and we are currently negotiating a free trade agreement behind close doors with the European Union; but if we look at the first round of elections in France yesterday, we can note a distinctly hard right anti-immigration thread going through the politics of Europe. That has filtered down to the most vulnerable and historically vulnerable communities of Europe, one being the Roma. We have a large community of Roma and they are hard-working, peace-loving human beings who we have embraced. Are we just going to tell them the deal is up and we are going to send them home?

There are so many issues that the bill does not address. We have a lot of work to do on this. I urge the government to consider some expert opinion and to work with us on this side to create a humanitarian, fair, cost-effective system.