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 refugee.

Topics

National Defence
Privilege
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The Chair looks forward to further submissions on this question.

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
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was very interesting to hear the government House leader say that a committee should be allowed to complete its work before decisions are made. That is the situation on Bill C-31 with respect to biometrics. A committee was engaged in a study to discuss the facts and meet with experts and witnesses in order to reach a decision on biometrics. However, the Conservatives just shot that out the cannon and are now proceeding with this bill before the committee's work is done.

Of course, it is always a pleasure to stand in this House, but I wish we were debating a bill that I would be able to support.

The title of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, is an improper and inaccurate title because rather than protect it, it would do damage to Canada's immigration system legally, socially, morally and internationally.

New Democrats strongly oppose Bill C-31 because it would punish refugees instead of ensuring a fast and fair refugee system.

This is not the first bill this Parliament has seen that targets the wrong group. I would point to Bill C-4, which I spoke up about several months ago, which has now been rolled into this bill.

I would like to sincerely thank my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, for his hard work and leadership on this file.

I want to talk about the omnibus nature of the bill which, from a structural point of view, is something that is a disturbing recurring feature of the Conservative government's legislation.

Bill C-31 is an omnibus refugee reform bill that combines the worst parts of former Bill C-11 from the last Parliament with Bill C-4 from this Parliament.

We saw this strategy before when the government put nine separate pieces of serious and complex crime legislation into one omnibus bill which it then put out for discussion and debate, therefore denying parliamentarians the opportunity to properly debate the merits of each individual bill.

Now the minister is combining two separate major pieces of legislation, as well as another serious issue, that of biometrics, into one unwieldy bill.

For Canadians who may be watching the debate, I want to explain what those bills are.

Bill C-11 was introduced in the last Parliament. It was debated, went through committee, was amended and passed in this very House. It went through all three readings in the other place, passed, received royal assent and was waiting to be implemented in June. Now, by introducing this bill, the minister has stopped that bill from being implemented. That bill was geared toward reforming Canada's refugee system.

When speaking to that bill on Tuesday, June 15, 2010, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism stated:

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.

These amendments, I am happy to say, create a reform package that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled.

The minister has now gone back to the original bill and thrown out all the wonderful hard work done by parliamentarians and the amendments that he lauded as faster and fairer than the original bill, the very bill he said was inferior to the amendments that were made by all parties in the House. It baffles me that the minister has yet to explain his reasoning behind this.

One of the first bills the Conservatives introduced, and one of the first pieces of legislation that I spoke to was Bill C-4. Now the minister has wrapped that bill into Bill C-31. There is no explanation as to why he would do that to a bill which had already been introduced and was moving through the system. This slows the bill down and puts it back at the start of the legislative process.

As I am opposed to the original bill, I do not necessarily mind that it will take longer before it becomes law, but it is certainly a waste of our time and taxpayers' money.

Bill C-4 has been plainly condemned by virtually every group and stakeholder involved in the immigration system in this country: lawyers, refugee groups, churches, immigrant settlement services across the board, and, I might add, a great number of my constituents.

The government has rolled everything into one bill and has added one more controversial issue that deserves its own debate. The government has added the issue of biometrics to the bill.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration held meetings and was in the middle of an important study on biometrics when the government introduced this legislation that steps on the very thing it is supposed to be studying. Sadly, it is no great surprise to me that the Conservatives moved on this before the facts were in and the work was completed. It is a little haphazard and half-baked like a lot of things they propose.

What does this say about the government's view of the work of standing committees and the experts and witnesses who appear before committees when the government reaches conclusions before the committee members have heard all the evidence? We would not accept it in a court room and we should not accept it here. That is one among many of the problems the government has.

One of my major concerns is the excessive power that the bill gives to the minister. The minister has the discretion to designate countries of origin or safe countries, to designate a group as an irregular arrival and determine what conditions would be placed on those designated refugee claimants. The designations have serious consequences and there should be oversight in making these determinations. Designated countries of origin would be countries that the minister believes do not produce legitimate refugees, usually because they are developed democracies.

The minister has thrown out the panel of experts to advise him, and I ask why. If the minister is so confident that he can choose which countries are safe countries, why would he not want the benefit of advice from experts in human rights? He praised this very idea as a good one 18 months ago. He still has not explained himself.

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism may have great faith in his own judgment, but to have one person make such important determinations as to which country is safe or not, which country is or is not capable of producing refugees, and who is an irregular arrival is extremely troubling and sets a dangerous precedent. That is too much power for one person to have. It sounds to me that he is creating his own little PMO of control in immigration. We should build in checks and balances. That should be the case no matter who the minister of immigration is, even a New Democrat after we form government in 2015. I do not know who would make the argument that the system is not better served by having that kind of check and balance in place.

With regard to the DCOs, the bill removes the requirement that a determination be made by a panel including human rights experts. By concentrating the power to designate a country in the minister's hands, it opens the prospect that decisions could be made for political and/or foreign policy reasons and considerations. Thus, these designations by the minister create two classes of refugees.

Refugee claimants from DCOs would face a much faster determination process and faster deportation for failed claims. An initial form must be filled out and submitted within 15 days of the claim. DCO claims submitted in Canada would be decided within 30 days, DCO claims submitted at a port of entry would be decided within 45 days. All others would be decided within 60 days. Failed DCO claimants could be removed from Canada almost immediately, even if they have asked for judicial review. In other words, a person could be removed before the review is even heard and that is unacceptable to me and to the members on this side of the House.

Furthermore, DCO claimants have no access to the new refugee appeal division. Herein lies what is fundamentally backward about the bill. The accelerated timelines make it difficult for people to get proper legal representation. This could lead to mistakes and subsequently a negative decision. Legal experts have warned that these accelerated timeframes and restricted access to the refugee appeal division would create an unfair system. The effect of the accelerated deportation would mean that people would already be removed from the country before the legal process had run its course. We know that once people have been removed it is much more difficult to get them back here if they are legitimate claimants.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague made a very informative and polite speech. I want to ask him about one specific aspect of Bill C-31.

We have a Minister of Public Safety who tells Canadians that if they are not with a particular piece of legislation then they stand with child pornographers. We have a Minister of National Defence who cannot give straight answers on a massive procurement. We have a Minister of Industry who is getting his hands slapped for cozying up to big business. We have a President of the Treasury Board who shovels money out the back door. How can we really trust the Conservative government to put more power into the hands of a single minister without proper oversight?

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on that part of the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is the crux of it. At the end of the day, even without all of these ethical and potentially other breaches that we have seen from the government, as parliamentarians it would not be right to put that much power to decide the fate of tens of thousands of claimants into one person's hands.

Citizenship and immigration backlogs are now being cleared off by simply eliminating everybody who has applied, including individuals who applied six years ago to come here as skilled workers. A person who applied when single and is now married with a family is finding out that his file is going to be thrown out the door and shredded. This individual is going to have to apply again at the same time as somebody who decided yesterday to come here as a skilled worker.

These are the kinds of decisions being made by the minister, and they give us absolutely no faith whatsoever that he will be able to make the kinds of decisions that are going to be fair to the people coming to Canada seeking a better life.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill as it stands would create desperate situations for many people in my city of Toronto and in many cities across the country. Like my colleague, I am happy to serve the city of Toronto as a member of Parliament. Could he tell me how the restrictive elements of this legislation would impact some of his constituents?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, the restrictive elements are going to affect a number of people in my riding. Fully 50% of my riding of Scarborough Southwest is made up of immigrants and new Canadians. This change and all the other changes coming down the pipe, as well as those that have already happened, affect my constituents negatively on a daily basis.

It occurs with the moratorium on parental sponsorships. People who have come here and have started a family cannot get their parents over to help act as caregivers and therefore do not have enough money to go out and work or to attend school or language training classes. The cuts to settlement services that have happened time and time again in our city are affecting these individuals. These cuts negatively impact the economy as well as individuals.

The Conservative government talks about the economy incessantly. It says that it is the best with respect to the economy, that it is on the right path; it is absolutely on the wrong path. The government is damaging a generation of new Canadians and immigrants who have come here.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to comment on the Bill C-4 section in particular. The government has taken great pains and made great noise about how the long gun registry turned innocent long gun owners into criminals even though they had not done anything.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on the likeness that this bill brings forward in treating people who are trying to either remove themselves from dangerous situations or economically strenuous situations by coming to Canada, which we proclaim to be a free and open country, and being treated like criminals before something happens.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for joining me and the member for Beaches—East York as members of the new parliamentary friendship association between Canada and Bangladesh. We would sincerely like a member of the government to show up to one of these meetings.

There are many parallels. We just need to look at the gun registry. The government said the registry criminalizes people, yet its own folks admitted that over 4,000 stolen firearms were re-registered through the gun registry. The government had no answer as to what it would do about going after that.

Bill C-4 criminalizes refugees rather than the folks who are bringing them here through human smuggling. They already face huge fines; this legislation would put people and families and children in prison, and it is unconscionable.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. This legislation will provide a quicker and more secure beginning for victims of violence and persecution around the world.

As a Canadian, I am very proud of our compassionate tradition of providing a safe haven to refugees. Since World War II, Canada has provided protection to over one million refugees. It is clear that the government is committed to continuing this proud tradition, and that is why we will uphold Canada's commitment to resettle more refugees. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, an increase of 2,500 since 2010. Canada welcomes one of the highest numbers of UNHCR-designated refugees. Bill C-31 will not change that.

What Bill C-31 will do is make our generous immigration system faster and fairer. It is no secret that Canada's immigration system is open to abuse, but when people come to Canada to abuse our immigration and refugee systems, it undermines public confidence in our immigration programs. It is that true people have taken notice of our country's compassion; the fact that Canada now receives more refugee claims from Europe than from Africa or Asia shows there is something wrong with the refugee system.

The simple fact of the matter is that we spend far too many taxpayer dollars on applicants who are not in need of protection. Last year alone, bogus refugee claimants cost Canadian taxpayers over $170 million.

Bill C-31 continues to give all refugee claimants, including those who arrive by way of human smuggling, the right to file a claim for refugee protection with the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. We will, therefore, not refuse any eligible person access to our asylum system. As such, this legislation will allow Canada to maintain one of the most generous refugee systems in the world; however, it will speed up the processes for deciding on refugee claims. This will allow us to provide protection much more quickly to those who are truly in need of it.

Under the UN convention on refugees, our obligation is clear: we have an obligation not to turn away people who have a well-founded fear of persecution, regardless of race, nationality, religion, et cetera. The fact that we will continue to grant access to our asylum system to all eligible claimants and that they will get an oral hearing before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board means that we will continue to meet these obligations. In fact, under Bill C-31 we will continue to exceed both our international and domestic obligations.

While all refugee claimants would continue to be able to ask for refugee protection, claimants from designated countries—that is, those that generally do not produce refugees—would have limited access to the recourse mechanisms that currently enable them to delay their removal from Canada for many years. This means that claimants from designated countries who receive a negative decision from the IRB would not have access to the refugee appeal division. They would continue to be able to ask the Federal Court to review the negative decision.

The United Nations has long praised Canada for the generosity of our current refugee system. As I said, all eligible applicants, including those from designated countries of origin, would continue to have access to our current refugee system.

The problem is that the current system is far too slow. On average it can take up to 4.5 years from the time an initial claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. During this time, claimants can access our taxpayer-funded health care and claim social assistance for several years while their claim is still pending. Long wait times mean greater costs to Canada taxpayers.

Similarly, the system is also too slow for people who need our protection. People in genuine need of our protection now wait about 20 months for a decision on their claim. This is unfair. As a result, the current response to genuine claimants is “Sorry; we know you need our protection, but you have to wait two years before we can even let you know whether you will get it.” This is entirely the wrong message that we should be sending to genuine refugee claimants.

These people need our protection, and we owe it to them to let them know whether we can provide it within a reasonable amount of time.

The reality is that instead of waiting patiently to come to Canada through an immigration process, too many people are trying to use our asylum system as a back door to gain entry into Canada. All the while, these claimants clog our refugee system and make those who legitimately need it wait far too long. While there is no question that Canada is a generous nation that seeks to provide protection to those in need, we must place limits on our generosity when others blatantly seek to abuse it.

This is what immigration lawyer and expert Richard Kurland had to say about Bill C-31, in part:

Finally someone recognized that the open wallet approach of the past, offering free education, free medicare, and a welfare cheque to anyone who touched Canadian soil making a refugee claim was not the right thing to do.

He continued:

We were just taken for a ride by a lot of people for a long time. Today that loophole is dead, and I really hope the word gets out to the smuggler community and back to source countries to not try it.

What is more, both the former NDP immigration critic and the current Liberal critic have stated publicly that they support the principles behind Bill C-31. The former NDP immigration critic said:

Well, I think what we need to do is build a system that has a fast and fair determination process. And that’s something that I’ll give [the minister] credit for. I do think that’s what his intention has been all along. And we all want to work towards that. We don’t want endless dragging on of this stuff because refugees, when they come here, you know, they do qualify for basic sustenance...it is at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer. So we do have an interest in making sure there’s a quick determination that’s correct and fair and get these people into our communities....

He continued:

We want a fast, fair system where we can give a sanctuary to people who need it quickly and we can weed out the people who don’t have valid claims, get them through a fair process. And if they’re not valid at the end of the day, deport them out of Canada swiftly.

Yet both the NDP and the Liberals have decided to vote against this important piece of legislation. They have decided to vote against providing Canada's protection to genuine refugees in need and they have decided to vote against hard-working Canadian taxpayers.

We need to send a message to those who seek to abuse our generosity that if they are not in need of our protection, they will be sent home quickly. Alternatively, the message we should be sending those who genuinely need our protection is that if they need our protection, they will now get it more quickly.

It is only by fixing our refugee system that we can effectively increase the generosity of our system. With the passage of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in June 2010, we made some progress toward that goal, but the fact is that gaps remain in the new system. In introducing Bill C-31, our rationale is simple: by focusing the resources of our system on providing protection to those who genuinely need it, we improve our ability to help those people in need.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the comments of the hon. member were a reasoned argument based around the theme of generosity. I am having trouble following some of the logic, and I wonder if she can help.

Once a person is designated a foreign national and then is found to be a genuine refugee, a person in need of protection, the rest of the bill then goes on to treat them in a way completely different from regular refugees. They have to wait five years for permanent residence, they cannot sponsor their families as a result of that, and they do not get travel documents for five years. This is a radically different approach from that provided to normal refugees, yet the system has found them to be refugees. What conceivable basis is there for treating refugees in this different way?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear in this legislation, and I encourage my colleague opposite to read the details.

What we have right now is a system that is slow, rigid and very reactive. The system we need and that we are working toward giving Canadians is one that is rapid and flexible and proactive. The changes that the member speaks of will be very effective in helping the Canadian government to provide more effective and efficient service to all claimants.

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

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, In her speech, the member opposite recognized that the Liberals also have the view that the refugee system can be improved so that it is faster, fairer and better. However, she then took issue with the fact that the Liberals disagree with some of the details of how the government proposes to do this, such as going back on amendments already adopted on Bill C-11, and criticized the Liberals as working against the interests of the taxpayers of Canada.

I would like to know whether the member sees room in the process of parliamentary debate for members to bring forward their ideas as to how the actual details of the bill do not meet the test of the principles that we are supporting.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I need to provide some information for my colleague opposite that she may not be aware of. First, it is an absolute given that I welcome parliamentary debate. That is why we are all here.

However, the point that may have eluded my colleague is that the current system is crushingly expensive for the Canadian taxpayer to bear. It is the Canadian taxpayer who is currently funding the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the system. The proposal in Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, is to make it more just, more fair and much more responsive to the needs of all Canadians, whether they are new or currently reside here.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

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

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, when all is said and done, Canada accounts for 0.5% of the world's population and 10% of the refugees taken in to any country. The only country that takes in more than us in numbers is the United States. Given those numbers, I wonder if my colleague could comment on the position that Canada plays in the world in the refugee situation overall.