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

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member went to great lengths to point out how the NDP and the Liberal Party are opposing the bill, and she has asserted that we are incorrect in that. However, I would like to ask the member what she thinks about organizations that are very expert in this field that have also come out publicly in very strong opposition to this bill. For example, the Canadian Council for Refugees has called for the bill to be scrapped entirely. Amnesty International Canada has said that an earlier version of the bill falls far short of Canada's international obligations under human rights and refugee protection. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Bar Association oppose the bill. An expert panel at the Centre for Refugee Studies has called the proposed bill draconian.

What does the member say in response to these organizations? They are not part of the official opposition. They are independent organizations that are experts in their field, and their opinion is that this is a terrible bill. What does she have to say to them?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

April 23rd, 2012 / 1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate the fact that our government is committed to strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system and will make our refugee system faster and fairer. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on this mandate.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could say whether or not she perceives this to be fair. Imagine legitimate refugees who come from a country where their lives have been in danger. They come to Canada and, according to this Minister of Immigration, are deemed irregular refugees. That means these refugees are going to be held in detention for a year. After getting out of detention these refugees are going to have to wait four years before they are able to sponsor someone, such as a son, a daughter, or a spouse. Once they have sponsored that individual, there is another three to five years before the dependant comes to Canada.

Would the member acknowledge that is not fair? To keep the family apart for that period of time is just wrong. Would she not agree with me on that point?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, on February 16, our government introduced Bill C-31, which would restore integrity to our asylum system by making Canada's refugee process faster and fairer, thus resulting in faster protection for legitimate refugees and faster removal for bogus claimants.

Canada's immigration system is known for being the most generous and fair in the world, but we are also vulnerable to abuse. Bill C-31 would work to keep it fairer for everyone.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share briefly with the House that I used to do some refugee law. I once helped a couple of ship-jumping claimants from Halifax in the days when there was a USSR and the countries that are now former Soviet bloc had people coming to Canada. The experience I had was really heart warming. The client I helped, Nickola Marcinko, recently called me out of the blue. He is living in Oakville now. He is doing great. He has kids. He has a business. However, when he first came to Canada he was able to work. He was integrated into our community as we waited for his political refugee status to be concluded. He actually was able to contribute to society.

I wonder if the government could give us an estimate of what it would cost if we ceased to have political refugee claimants able to work in communities and support themselves, and if they are deemed irregular entries to Canada, put into a detention facility for up to a full year?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I know that Bill C-31 would help our government put a stop to those who seek to abuse our generosity. It would help to get immigrants here faster. We would welcome them and be glad to have them work in our system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken on this bill before, but we are now debating a reasoned amendment at second reading. I want to thank my colleague for Vancouver Kingsway for putting forward the motion that we are now debating that would eliminate many of the very offensive provisions of this bill.

I listened to the government member who spoke before me. Obviously the government is feeling frustrated that yet again it cannot get one of its bills through. It brings in closure and tries to shut down debate. On this particular bill, as with many other bills that we have seen, the concern in the broader community is unbelievable.

I was in my riding over the last couple of weeks, as I know many members were. I heard from people time and again, particularly those working in the refugee settlement system assisting refugees, how worried they are about the bill and the fact that it is going through Parliament. I want to reflect how bad people think this bill is.

I am glad that we are having this debate and that the member for Vancouver Kingsway put forward his motion. It gives us another opportunity to try to expose the grievous flaws in this bill. The bill would hurt people and tarnish Canada's reputation as a place of refuge for refugees. In effect, it would create a two-tier refugee system and that is something we should be very concerned about.

I want to express concern about the discretion that the bill would give to the minister. I heard the minister earlier in his remarks saying that is not true and not something that would happen. However, when one reads it, this is clearly a strong element of the bill. Again, it is a trend that we have seen with the Conservative government. It tends to centralize more and more power in a minister's hands and take away power from experts, panels and the system itself. It raises enormous suspicion among Canadians about the political motivation of the government with this kind of legislation.

We have a specific concern that the bill would make it easier to terminate refugee protection. I was astounded to learn that even once individuals became permanent residents they could have that taken away from them after the fact if conditions changed in their country of origin. This would create incredible uncertainty for refugees who had gone through the process and become permanent residents. In fact, it may even contravene international norms on the treatment of refugees. This is very concerning.

We have already had some debate and discussion on the clause that would prohibit refugee claimants who have been incarcerated in their home country for over 10 years and would not allow for tribunal discretion in the case of political prisoners. I heard the member give an example. What about someone like Nelson Mandela who is now an honorary citizen of Canada? Under the proposed system, he would not have been allowed in Canada. This very broad brush being cast over the system would deny unique and important circumstances of people who have been under political persecution to get the kind of protection they need. This leads me to wonder about the motivation behind a number of these bills.

I hear Conservative members time and again focus on the word “abuse”. It seems to me, whether it is the drug bills, bills under the criminal justice system or Bill C-31, that they focus on a number of issues around abuse, make out that it is the norm and then penalize the whole system. They basically take a very hard-line approach on the whole system which penalizes legitimate claimants. I think this is very wrong. It is a pattern that has been emerging with the Conservative government in more and more legislation that has come before the House.

One of the areas of most concern in the bill is the changes to humanitarian and compassionate consideration. I know many of us, in our local constituencies, assist with casework for refugees. In my riding of Vancouver East, my staff and office work very hard. Over the years we have had hundreds of cases in which we have helped claimants with humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It is a very important element of the process.

The fact is the changes being contemplated in the bill mean that while claimants are waiting for an IRB decision, they cannot apply for H and C concurrently. That means claimants have to make a very difficult decision at the beginning as to whether they want to file for refugee status or humanitarian and compassionate consideration. We know that failed refugee claimants cannot apply for H and C for one year following a negative decision and possibly, by that time, they may have been deported.

Why is this important? I know from the casework we have done in our community that many people can have a refugee claim denied, but nonetheless may have a legitimate claim on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Our belief is that a failed refugee claim should not get in the way of an H and C consideration.

This change in the act will make it more and more difficult and onerous for refugee claimants to actually have options before them, which they now have. It is definitely a hardening of the system. It is a narrowing of the criteria. It is a focus on abuse that now applies system-wide and makes it much more difficult for people.

As a result of these changes, if they do go through, members of Parliament are going to find it very difficult to work with claimants in our local communities and we are going to see a lot of hardship. We are going to see people facing a system that has closed down on them. I am very worried and concerned about the impact the bill will have.

Another concern with the bill is the fact that the minister will have the power to designate a group of refugees as irregular arrivals. Exactly what that means and what the criteria will be is something we will need to find out. We need to find out how this will work. The very fact that it will create two classes of refugee claimants is something about which we should be very concerned.

As many of the experts have pointed out, and I referred to some of the organizations earlier that had voiced their concerns about the bill, this section of the bill is very possibly a violation of charter equality rights and also international conventions. The notion of detaining mandatory detention for up to a year when the minister has designated irregular arrivals is very offensive to us.

I remember reading over the years about the situation that took place in Australia where it had mandatory detention. First, it created a political environment of hatred against refugees and allowed that environment to get stronger. I think that is what we will see here. This is what the Conservative government is apparently motivated by, creating an environment where we can beat up on refugees and say that somehow everybody is abusing the system.

The idea of having two tiers of refugees and singling certain people out when they may be legitimate refugees is very problematic.

I am proud that the NDP has stood in opposition to the bill, because there are serious flaws and concerns about it. It should be scrapped. I hope the amendment of the member for Vancouver Kingsway is approved in the House so we can go back to the drawing board and do this properly.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, we just heard the kind of speech which indicates how, all too often, members of the New Democratic Party use extreme and irresponsible, in fact, demagogic language. The member just said that the government was seeking to create an environment where we could “beat up refugees”. I would like to give the member an opportunity to retract that outrageous remark. That is disgusting.

This country, under this government's leadership, resettles one out of every ten refugees worldwide. We are increasing the number of convention refugees who we protect in Canada by 20%, the highest per capita number in the world. We are increasing the refugee assistance program to assist them with their integration by 20%. We are creating, for the first time, the refugee appeal division to provide for an additional safeguard for failed asylum claimants to allow them a full fact-based review at an oral hearing on a full appeal. Under the bill, we are going to be giving status to bona fide refugees in two to three months rather than two years.

Reasonable people can disagree reasonably about aspects of this bill, but to suggest that this government, which is according to the United Nations High Commissioner the world leader on refugee protection, is beating up on refugees is an outrageous slur that is beneath that member and her party. I ask her to retract.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder why every organization that has expertise on this issue has voiced its strong opposition and concern about the bill. The fact is that when we read the bill and see how power would be vested in the minister's office, how it would create a two-tired system, how it would focus on abuse, how it would be punitive across the board, we have every reason to believe it is fundamentally flawed and would be harmful to refugees overall. That is why every major organization in the country that is an expert on this issue has come out publicly and said just that.

I would like the minister to respond to those criticisms rather than to stand, with self-righteousness, and pretend that somehow the bill would move us forward when it would do just the opposite.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member. I want to follow up with regard to the safe country list.

I understand and appreciate that the minister has made a decision that would ultimately give him and his ministry more power to determine which country would be deemed as a safe country. However, the legislation passed a couple of years ago allowed for the safe country designation to be determined by an advisory committee made up of experts, for example, individuals who dealt with human rights issues and so forth.

Does the NDP still support, and would it support, an amendment that would allow us to have an advisory committee make recommendations to the minister with regard to what would be a safe country designate?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments and question from the hon. member. It is correct. Under the former bill, Bill C-11, there was a panel of experts, including human rights experts, that could make decisions about a safe country. This would now be put into the hands of the minister. It is just further evidence of the concerns we have about the bill, which focuses more decision making and power, in a political sense, in the minister's office other than through an independent expert advisory situation.

What we had before was far superior to what is now contemplated in the bill.

Why would we have a minister making those determinations about what would be a safe country when we could have reliable, independent experts doing that and giving reasonable advice? Again, it is further evidence that the bill is fundamentally flawed and we should not approve it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Since Bill C-31 was tabled earlier this year, we have had the opportunity to debate its provisions on a number of different occasions in the House. I have listened to all sides of the debate and my hon. colleagues have made their points with conviction and often with passion.

I remain convinced that Bill C-31 is legislation that will improve our country's immigration system in a number of important ways, including, of course, cracking down on the lucrative business of human smuggling.

Human smugglers are criminals who operate around the world, charging large amounts of money to facilitate illegal migration. This is an important national issue because the actions of human smugglers undermine the security and safety of Canadians.

In some parts of the country, such as British Columbia, there is also an important global issue. It was on Vancouver Island in B.C. where the drama of human smuggling played out most prominently in recent years, in the cases of both the Ocean Lady in 2009 and the Sun Sea in 2010. It was these two incidents, more than any other, that demonstrated that this was not a theoretical problem in the country. It is a real problem.

Last summer, another human smuggling ship, the MV Alicia, carrying almost 90 Sri Lankan Tamils bound for Canada, was intercepted in Indonesia. In January another 200 Tamils seeking to come to Canada were duped by smugglers and left stranded in the small west African country of Togo.

Just a few weeks ago, the SV Tabasco 2, sank off the coast of Nova Scotia. The captain was killed, three crew members are missing and five survivors are requesting refugee status in Canada. The Minister of Public Safety has suggested that this could be another case of human smuggling.

All of these incidents underline the need to take action.

Bill C-31 would help to do so in a number of ways. It would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of individuals into Canada as an “irregular arrival”. It would establish a mandatory detention for those individuals for up to a year in order to determine their identity and admissibility, including whether they had been involved in any legal activity. Mandatory detention would exclude those designated foreign nationals who were under the age of 16. Also, once an individual's refugee claim had been approved, that individual would be released from detention.

The bill would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on those convicted of human smuggling. It would hold shipowners and operators to account when their ships were used for human smuggling. It would reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling by limiting the ability of those who would do so to take advantage of our generous immigration system and social services.

Cracking down on human smugglers is an important element of protecting the integrity of our immigration system. That is why these provisions have been included in Bill C-31.

Aside from human smuggling, the bill aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in two other very specific ways. The bill would further build on the long needed reforms to the asylum system that were passed in Parliament in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. These new measures would further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries that generally would not produce refugees. They would also reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada.

It may surprise some of my hon. colleagues to know that Canada receives more asylum claims from countries in Europe than from either Africa or Asia. Last year alone, almost one-quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada were made by European Union nationals. That should give us pause for thought.

EU countries have strong human rights and democratic systems similar to our own and yet they produced almost 25% of all the refugee claims in this country in 2011. That is up 14% from the previous year. At a time of economic uncertainty for most people, this state of affairs comes with a large price tag for Canadian taxpayers.

In recent years, virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. In 2010-11 alone, this was the case for 93% of European Union claims. If this trend continues, that means that the unfounded claims from the 5,800 European Union nationals who sought asylum last year will cost Canadian taxpayers nearly $170 million.

The refugee reform measures in Bill C-31 would help prevent abuse of the system and would ensure that all of our refugee determination processes are as streamlined as possible. This would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees.

Finally, the bill would enable the introduction of mandatory biometric collection for screening temporary resident, visa and study and work permit applicants, which would strengthen our immigration program in a number of ways.

This component of the legislation and its corresponding regulations that would follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for temporary resident visa applicants to Canada to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications.

Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening, enhance security and help reduce fraud.

It is no surprise to me that this important bill has received widespread support. This is what immigration lawyer, Julie Taub, had to say:

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

I also like the fact that he is going to fast-track these claims, so they do not clog up the refugee system for genuine claimants. I have clients who’ve been waiting since 2009, early 2010 to have their hearing, and I represent many claimants from, let’s say Africa, the Mid East countries, who base their claim on gender violence or Christian persecution in certain Middle East countries, and they have to wait, because the system is so clogged up with what I consider to be unfounded claims from citizens of safe country of origin.

As Canadian parliamentarians, we should all be committed to maintaining Canada's generous and fair immigration system, which is the envy of the world. We need to ensure that such an important system is always operating in our national interest and as effectively and efficiently as possible. That means that we need to preserve what works well in the immigration system and improve the system in areas where there are shortcomings.

The measures in Bill C-31 are necessary to protect the integrity of our immigration system. I support Bill C-31 and I encourage all of my colleagues in the House to join me in doing so.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to comment on the process by which Bill C-31 was drafted. For previous bills, the opposition parties and the government specifically agreed to, among other things, the creation of an advisory committee to define a “safe third country”. The government went back on those agreements and came up with Bill C-31.

What does my colleague think of the fact that bipartisan or multi-party agreements in the House can result in reasonable compromises that everyone is happy with, and of the fact that this process led to Bill C-31, which is totally unacceptable and violates all of the previous agreements? Can the member justify the government's decision and its dismissal of reasonable arguments put forward by the NDP and the other opposition parties?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, a lot of work did go into the former Balanced Refugee Reform Act but the reality is that much has changed and the changes are a drain on our system. That act was never intended to be a static act, nor should the law be static. When things change we should be prepared to look at why change is necessary.

Twenty-three per cent of the total refugee claims in 2011 came from the European Union and 18% of total refugee claims came from Hungary. These are safe countries. They are countries like Canada. There is no reason for refugees coming here from those countries. The reality is that by implementing this bill we would save our taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member says that it is because things have changed. I would ask the member what specifically changed that caused the government to change its opinion and say that the minister will now be responsible for the decision on safe country designations as opposed to an advisory committee.

At the time when all four political parties in the House supported the idea of having the safe country designation list, that list was supposed to be assigned by an advisory group, not the Minister of Immigration . What specifically changed to cause the government to make that decision and give the minister that authority?