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

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, what we are being told makes no sense. One of the aspects of Bill C-31 would allow the minister to designate so-called safe countries.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade. Not only are we not being given the opportunity to debate at length the free trade agreements signed with minor countries that trade with Canada—such as Jordan, Panama and Honduras—but we also face great challenges. The government obviously is pushing hard to sign these agreements with countries that have serious problems and that cannot guarantee, among other things, the rights of workers, the elimination of problems related to money laundering or, as in the case of Honduras, a solution to the problem of gang violence.

I would like to ask my colleague opposite what there is to gain from allowing the minister to draw up a list of safe countries when government priorities already allow countries whose safety is questionable to make trade agreements with Canada? This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is one thing that is being thrown out, that essentially there is going to be political direction given in determining which countries are on the list. There are going to be thresholds established. There is a process established. There is always the democratic way to ensure that regulations are brought into place, are properly sounded and that the public has a chance to respond to regulations.

Under the protecting Canada's immigration system act, the minister would have the authority to designate countries of origin, but with no sub-national or regional areas designated. Therefore, he has to designate the entire country, not just parts of it.

However, there are triggers for review based on rejection rates, withdrawal and abandonment rates, or qualitative checklists for countries with few refugee claims. For the quantitative criteria, a high rejection rate, which includes withdrawn and abandoned claims, would trigger a review for designation. The actual thresholds would be settled by ministerial order. The government is proposing a threshold of a 75% rejection rate and 60% withdrawal and abandonment rate. Those quantitative triggers would be established through ministerial order, so that allows the regulatory process to go through the gazetted review.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, with the previous Conservative speaker, I raised the issue of a press release issued by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers in response to the bill. The association did not respond very favourably to the bill and the member seemed to give the impression that this was to be expected. It was implied that the people who would have authored this press release would have received more money under the current system. Therefore, one would expect them to oppose the bill.

Would the member acknowledge that the government's position is that the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers is in fact in conflict of interest and therefore anything it has to say on the bill is worth nothing?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quote from Richard Kurland, who is an immigration lawyer. He appeared on CTV's news channel on February 16. He said:

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. So I’m glad to see today that finally, after several years, someone has the political courage to take the political risk of saying, if you’re from a European country and you can land in London or Paris or Berlin, fill out paperwork, and legally live there, work there, pay taxes there, you shouldn’t be allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. Buttress that with this reality check. Over 90 percent, and in some years 95 percent, of the target group, the Roma claimants, didn’t even show up for their oral hearings. They rode on the taxpayer.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I begin my comments, I want to acknowledge the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. It was important enough for him to come to Canada's tenth-largest city, and for those who do not know that is London Ontario, to be able to make some statements directly about Bill C-31 and the positive impact that it would have for people who would be affected by this. I wanted to acknowledge to him personally how much I appreciate that. As I make more formal comments, I appreciate the efforts of his department and the parliamentary secretary for ensuring the work that they have done provides us with what is a strong, fair and good bill.

As I rise today to discuss the importance of Bill C-31, I want to talk about this legislation, which ultimately is intended to strengthen Canada's already renowned immigration and refugee systems. It is quite evident that Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, our government and fair-minded Canadians have no tolerance for those who would exploit our generosity and take unfair advantage of our country's immigration and refugee system. As a result, we are taking action to crack down on this abuse by strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system through Bill C-31.

This bill proposed by our government is targeted to make our refugee system faster and fairer and at the same time to put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and refugees who abuse our generous immigration system so they can receive lucrative taxpayer-funded health, welfare and other social benefits. In fact, the ratification of the bill would save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.65 billion over five years, while providing protection more quickly to those truly in need. Through these improvements to the asylum system, the bogus claimants who are from countries with democracies that have respect for basic rights and freedoms will be weeded out.

The fact is too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on people who are not fleeing genuine persecution, who instead seek to manipulate and take advantage of Canada's generous asylum system to receive lucrative taxpayer-funded health care, welfare and various social benefits.

In its initiatives to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse, some of the clear measures in Bill C-31 include the following.

The first is fast-tracking refugee claims and ensuring failed claimants are promptly deported. However, people deemed in need of protection will not be returned to their country of persecution regardless of what country they have fled.

The second is implementing biometric identification such as fingerprints and photos for people who apply for visitors' visas for the reason that this important change would guard against the use of false identities.

The third is preventing the attraction of fleeing to Canada through means of illegal human smuggling operations by: increasing the penalties for human smugglers, ensuring the lucrative benefits refugees receive are not more generous than those received by the Canadian public; preventing human smuggling associated individuals from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years, given that they successfully apply for refugee status; and preventing those individuals from sponsoring their family members also for a period of five years.

Canada has a well-deserved international reputation for having the most generous and fair immigration system in the world and, since 2006, our government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigration in Canadian history. Canada provides protection to more than one in ten refugees resettled each year worldwide, more than almost any other developed country in the world. Conversely, given the stated inefficiencies and flaws that are currently infecting the integrity of our system, Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to improve Canada's immigration system through Bill C-31, which would help us put a stop to those who seek to abuse that generosity.

Effective response measures to these detrimental abuses are needed now more than ever in order to restore the integrity and public confidence of our system. Our current system calls for the need for a faster and fairer refugee determination process, resulting in effective and efficient protection for legitimate refugees and faster removal for illegitimate claimants.

My constituents in London West and all Canadians expect that our borders and shores are protected and secure and our generous systems are protected from abuse.

Canada's current refugee system is flawed as it is vulnerable to abuse. Due to this, too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on people who are not fleeing genuine persecution, but are seeking to exploit Canada's generous asylum system to reap those benefits. For example, in 2011 Canada received 5,800 more refugee claims from the democratic and human rights-respecting countries, otherwise known as safe countries of the European Union, than from Africa or Asia, which was a significant increase, 14% from 2010.

Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe and ultimately even advocated rejecting all claims from those countries, which Bill C-31 does not propose to do.

This is a popular misconception of the bill, which is that by creating a process that allows certain countries to be designated as safe, Bill C-31 creates a two-tier asylum system and therefore violates the UN Convention on Refugees and/or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, that is completely false. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the 1951 UN refugee convention require that all refugees be given the opportunity to have their claims heard. The process in Canada goes above and beyond its domestic and international obligations and that would not change under the proposed act.

Canada has and will continue to have one of the most generous refugee systems in the world. All refugee claimants will continue to have their cases heard by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Furthermore, every failed refugee claimant will continue to have access to at least one level of appeal.

On February 26, Paul Attia of Immigrants for Canada stated:

Immigrants for Canada (IFC) represents the views of countless immigrants across our nation who hold strongly to the view that Canadian immigration policy should always be in Canada's best interests. The immigrants IFC represents worked very hard, and sacrificed much to arrive on Canadian shores, and who chose to do so in an honest and legal way. Accordingly, these same immigrants welcome legislation that works to ensure that people who have no valid claim to our protection are not able to use the refugee determination system to obtain permanent residence in Canada.

Under the act, our government can put a stop to those who seek to abuse our generosity, save a substantial amount to Canadian taxpayers, give protection to genuine refugees in a much more timely manner and allow the quick removal of illegitimate claimants who cheat the system and abuse our generosity.

Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, is truly in the best interests of Canada and of genuine refugees themselves. That is what we are talking about here. Canadians have given our government a mandate to improve Canada's immigration system and our government is acting on that mandate.

I emphasize the importance of the bill and urge the support and ratification of it as it stresses tough but fair measures to stop those who would abuse our generosity from becoming part of Canadian society. I do sincerely hope that my hon. colleagues across the floor will agree and join me in supporting this crucial legislation.

When we talk about the integrity of our immigration system, it is critical that we look not just at what a political position might be, but that we look at what the integrity of doing the right thing is intended to do. If members opposite look at doing the right thing, they will look deeply at this. They will look at this legislation and say that this is right for people who are not cheating the process, that this is right for people who are trying to do their very best to come to Canada the proper way and make a honest contribution to Canada and make our country a better place.

That is why I am so sincerely appreciative of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Perhaps for the first time we have found a minister who has the guts and the forthright approach to make this the most fair and transparent system, the right system for Canada. I would like to applaud him and I thank him on behalf of all Canadians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am afraid I am going to disappoint the hon. member for London West by saying that we are not going to come on board on this.

Let us talk about some basic levels of fairness. Under this legislation, people coming here from a designated country would be given 15 days to complete the personal information forms and then 30 days to prepare for a refugee hearing. We are talking about people who are traumatized, people who have perhaps fled their country because of violent sexual assault, people who are extremely fragile. We are going to tell them that we want them to complete all of this complicated paperwork in 15 days and then come back with a fully formed argument and defence for their position.

How can anyone in the House believe that is fair treatment for refugees?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of thoughts that come to mind. First, I will share his disappointment that they are not coming on board. If there was an opportunity for them to do that in a thoughtful way, we would certainly appreciate that kind of support. As we go forward, who knows what can happen? However, it may not happen in this case.

Let me say what is not humane. What is not humane is when people, through the system that we have, base their hope on something that is not real. There may well be people who come in through the back door as bogus refugees and I think we would find consensus on both sides of the House that if inappropriate refugees come into Canada and redirect the focus away from people who have done it genuinely, we would want to get rid of those bogus refugees. I think we could find support in that.

What is really the challenge and really inhumane is when people are in the system for years and years and do not have their cases heard because of the significant backlog. That is what is wrong. What we are going to see through Bill C-31 is a significant streamlining that is humane and fair and treats refugees with greater respect.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member would be well advised to recognize that a couple of years ago all parties in the House of Commons acknowledged the need to speed up the process. That is why legislation was passed back then that would have done just that.

Having said that, I would ask the member to imagine a completely legitimate case. Let us imagine that a man comes from a country where his life has been in danger, lands in Canada and becomes a refugee. That is wonderful. Then, after being stamped, he now has to wait to sponsor his wife, which could take another three or four years under the current system. It is being mandated under this particular bill that a qualified refugee is going to have to wait that period of time.

Does the member feel it is in the best interests of a legitimate refugee, who fled a country because of being afraid of losing his or her life or being tortured, to have to wait another three, four, or five years before being able to sponsor a spouse?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, from my perspective, what is in the best interests of refugees who come to this country is to ensure that their cases are heard quickly, in contrast to the current circumstance. By virtue of the backlog and the folks who come in through the back door and do not come in genuinely, the biggest challenge in the system is the massive backlog.

If the member opposite would support streamlining this process, I think we could find accord with the third party as well. That would be very appropriate, and I would encourage him to support it for the very reason he is saying: to streamline this process. That is the humane, fair and right thing to do for refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. The title of this bill is misleading because the only thing the bill protects is the Conservatives' paranoid ideology.

Once again, the Conservatives have a repressive agenda. They want to muster support by making people feel that they are under threat. This is the same kind of tactic we see our neighbours to the south using against illegal immigrants, an easy target for those seeking to drum up support for certain intolerant politicians. As we are seeing with Conservative policies, Canada is quickly becoming Americanized.

To perpetuate the illusion that their Canada is still a different country, the Conservatives are placing disproportionate emphasis on the monarchy and past wars, but those symbols are not relevant to Canadians' day-to-day lives. The Canada we love is an open nation that respects everyone and protects its people from arbitrary rule. We are proud of our past, but we live in 2012, so, back to this bill, which has a lot in common with American policy from the 1960s.

Bill C-31 targets a group of people who are fleeing persecution and suffering. These people are easy targets for the Conservatives because they have no legal status in Canada and no right to vote. The Conservatives can demonize them without suffering any consequences come the next election.

Instead, the Conservatives should tackle human smugglers, those who make money by exploiting human misery and breaking our laws. Illegal immigrants already take huge risks to escape misery. The threat of penalties will not dissuade them from entering Canada illegally. In other words, this bill will just cause more problems for refugees and will do little or nothing to punish smugglers. Do I have to remind the House that these smugglers typically treat illegal immigrants as slaves once they get here? The government should target those who stand to gain from the crime, not victims and desperate people.

I am extremely concerned about several aspects of this bill. First of all, I would like to note the changes to the deadlines that refugees must meet in completing their forms, the basis for their claim. Refugee claimants will have only 15 days to complete and file their applications. That is not long enough. Claimants need to obtain legal advice and must have time to prepare their cases and, above all, to become familiar with how things work in Canada. It is therefore unreasonable to give them only 15 days to complete their applications.

Another aspect of the bill that concerns me is giving the minister the power to create a list of designated countries of origin. Without having to consult any experts, the minister can make decisions that will have serious consequences. This seems arbitrary to me and, considering how the Conservatives have behaved in this House and during the election, many Canadians are worried about this measure.

As I already asked, why is this bill being so hard on illegal immigrants? Under this bill, anyone who arrives in a group will be detained for one year, even 16-year-olds. This typically Conservative “solution” is completely ridiculous. It will not stop illegal immigrants from entering Canada. They are often desperate and are being manipulated by human smugglers. They will not even be aware of the risk of imprisonment that they face when entering Canada illegally. It is unlikely that refugees will have read the Canadian legislation before coming here.

In other words, this will have no deterrent effect. Furthermore, who will have to pay for these detentions? Canadian taxpayers, once again. Before the Conservatives make Canadian taxpayers pay the cost of putting more people in prison, do the Conservatives have even one study that says that this will be beneficial in any way?

This government is looking more and more ridiculous because of its lack of professionalism and rigour. What is unfortunate about all of this is that taxpayers and refugees will be the ones to pay the price.

And what will happen to the young people under 16? They will try to reach Canada with their parents, who will be in prison. Who will take care of the young people? The state, of course, and it will fall to the provinces once again. In other words, the Canadian taxpayers will be on the hook again.

Why impose a 12-month minimum prison sentence? Why send the bill to the provinces yet again? This measure seems both unnecessary and expensive. Of course, increasing the age of imprisonment to 16 is better than throwing a seven year old in jail, but again we have to consider the effects on the children of having their parents in prison for such a long time. What is more, those who will be imprisoned will not even be able to appeal the decision.

The Conservatives are making the provinces pay again. For example, as a result of the Conservatives' policies, Quebeckers will have to foot the bill for creating a new firearms registry, building prisons, taking care of the children of imprisoned illegal immigrants, for the losses resulting from the expropriation of certain copyrights and for using the new Champlain bridge.

The Conservatives also want to balance the budget on the backs of the provinces. By constantly dumping their problems onto Quebec, the Conservatives are only providing ammunition to those who believe federalism is doomed to fail. Even separatists describe the Conservative Prime Minister as a great sovereignist.

Furthermore, those who are deported because their application has been rejected will be barred from applying for permanent residency status for five years. If we add this to the minimum one-year detention for immigrants who arrive from a designated country of origin, it will take more than six years for a person to immigrate. I do not believe that this measure is necessary. Are there studies that suggest this is the approach to be taken?

This bill raises another question. Is it constitutional? The withdrawal of permanent resident status from a person who loses their refugee status without committing a crime seems excessive. It is very likely that there will be Supreme Court challenges because those with refugee status are also protected by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Legitimate applicants may be detained longer than necessary, which contravenes their right to freedom and legal rights. In addition, detaining someone for a minimum of 12 months without reviewing their file contravenes the Charter because it limits that person's right to legal recourse. Minimum detention of 12 month is also cruel for both children and parents and does not allow judges to decide whether or not the risk of reoffending justifies such imprisonment.

To conclude, I would remind the House of how much the Conservatives hate expert opinions, and that this is bad for Canada. In this case, the government is questioning the intelligence of judges and immigration experts. With this bill, the minister and the Conservative Party are claiming to be better qualified to decide the fate of immigrants smuggled into Canada than the experts are. Once again, this is a right-wing policy designed solely to create fear and exacerbate xenophobia. Yes, unfounded refugee claims must be rejected, but our government must not send the message that the doors to Canada are closed—quite the opposite. Imposing a minimum sentence, allowing the minister to decide what countries are acceptable and what countries are not, and separating children from their parents for as long as a year are not acceptable policies.

Regardless, we know that the Conservative government will not admit it is on the wrong track and will not amend its bill.

We must make efforts to prevent human smuggling and to punish smugglers, not the people who are fleeing human misery. It is unfortunate that we are again debating a bill that will not achieve its goal, simply because it is aiming at the wrong target.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the member who has just spoken. That is why I am certain that he did not write the speech he just delivered. I imagine that his speech was written by a member of his staff, a young, misinformed and ideological member. It certainly does not reflect the values of his constituents.

I was recently in Montreal, meeting with some of his constituents from the Canadian-Italian community in Montreal. This issue came up. They wanted to know why it was that the number one source region for asylum claims in Canada now is Europe, more than from Africa or Asia. They could not understand, as people of European origin, why folks who can move around with full mobility in a space of 27 democratic countries would be coming to Canada, and Canada alone, to make asylum claims and why virtually none of the claimants actually show up for their hearings, almost all of them abandoning and withdrawing their own claims.

He used some very strong and, I would argue, demagogic and irresponsible language, saying that this approach encourages xenophobia. Does the member not appreciate the fact that we need to address highly organized waves of false claims? Does he not agree with his constituents on that? Is he not willing at least to admit that the government is actually accepting more resettled refugees per capita than any other country in the world and that we are increasing the number of such resettled refugees by 20%, as well as the support we give them? Does he believe that reflects xenophobia?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his question. I have just a couple of clarifications.

He may have been in my riding, but I do not think he met with any of my constituents. Not all Italian-speaking Montrealers live in my constituency. Most of those he met do not live in my riding.

I think it is a general concern, not just in Montreal but everywhere, that we do have to try to minimize some of the refugee claims coming in. In my speech, I did not speak about the refugees who are coming in and making false claims. What I have a problem with is the refugees who are coming in par des passeurs, meaning the people who are organizing these refugees to come in. When a refugee comes in, even if he pays somebody to go around the system, he does not know the Canadian laws. He does not sit there in front of his computer, reading Canadian laws and saying “Once I get to Canada, I am going to be able to get around the refugee act”.

What I have a problem with is that a refugee comes here, has 15 days to prepare for his hearing and, if he does not prepare it appropriately, is going to be detained for a year. That is without speaking about the kids who are going to be sent with another family.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

April 23rd, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask this question in terms of those who are designated irregular arrivals. I am pretty sure that if I am in a war-torn country where my life is threatened, I am going to pay whoever, however, to get out of that country to save the lives of myself and my family.

What I would like to ask the hon. member to comment on is this. Should those people be penalized who are legitimately fleeing for their lives, who do not have the time to sit there, leaf through a book and say “Okay, I have to do things this way”, who want to get out and who will pay somebody to get them out? Somebody will take advantage of that situation and take advantage of them.

Should those people be penalized in the way the government is looking to penalize them, by having their children stripped from them and being jailed for up to a year?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that most of the people who are desperate will do desperate things, will pay whatever it is and do whatever it is. They are not going to sit in front of their computers or write a letter to the Minister of Justice, asking him what the refugee laws are before they come to Canada, asking if they meet the criteria and whether they should go or not go.

It is totally unacceptable that these people who are actually coming here from a war-torn country, the example the member gave, be penalized and separated from their kids on top of everything else, after some of the tragic circumstances they may come from.

The premise of this bill is that it is starting on a bad footing. I have no problem sending a bill to committee, but when it starts on a negative footing like this, where there are tons of people who are already against it and do not see how it is ever going to be fixed, how can one support a bill of such a fashion?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all members who have participated in this debate over the course of some 23 hours of debate over 5 parliamentary days, 64 members having spoken to the bill, in addition to which this bill was preceded, in part, by Bill C-4. Bill C-31 is subsuming Bill C-4. If we combine the amount of debate on the two bills, we have had 41 hours of debate over 14 days, with 137 speeches, a very fulsome debate, and I do hope that this important bill, an act to protect the integrity of Canada's immigration system, will be referred for close, detailed study to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Allow me, at this point, to respond to some of the concerns and criticisms levelled by opposition members against this balanced effort to protect the integrity of our fair and generous immigration and refugee determination systems.

First, throughout the course of this debate, particularly today, we have heard a level of demagogic rhetoric that I personally regard as being irresponsible.

Thankfully, in this country, we have a broad public consensus in favour of immigration and refugee protection. Thankfully, we have avoided the kind of heated and divisive politics of immigration we see, for example, in certain western European countries. I believe it is incumbent upon all of us as elected representatives to maintain the breadth of that consensus through a responsible and balanced discourse on these issues, not to say that we will always agree on particular features of our asylum or immigration systems but that we should engage in the debate in a responsible way.

I hear opposition members saying, as the deputy leader of the NDP did, that this government is “beating up on refugees”.

When I hear members like the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel say that we are promoting xenophobia, when I hear that the bill is against immigrants and that the government is creating fear, I am in fact hearing irresponsible voices in a debate that calls for us to be very careful and very cautious at all times.

This is really outrageous. Xenophobia, beating up on refugees and anti-immigrant are the kinds of terms we could fairly ascribe au Front national de la France, to the British National Party or to the xenophobic parties of western Europe that are against immigration and refugee protection.

However, here are the facts. This government, objectively speaking, based on the facts, based on the evidence, is the most pro-immigration government in the history of this dominion. Since 2006 we have admitted, on average, 254,000 permanent residents. That represents an increase of 14% over the levels of the previous Liberal government, which admitted 222,000 permanent residents, on average. This represents, under this government, the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history, adding nearly 0.8% to our population per year, the highest per capita levels of immigration in the developed world.

As the Prime Minister has noted, this was one of the only developed countries in the world to maintain robust levels during the global economic downturn, as opposed, for example, to the government of one Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who cut immigration levels almost in half during the early 1990s, or the government of Jean Chrétien, who cut immigration levels from 260,000 under this minister and his colleagues in 1993 to 175,000 in 1995. Those are the facts. The opposition asked us to have evidence-based policy. Here is evidence.

Here is more evidence. We already accept one out of every ten resettled refugees from around the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, we receive more resettled refugees per capita than any country in the world, already, under this so-called xenophobic, anti-refugee government.

However, guess what. Because we so profoundly understand this country's unique vocation as a land of protection for victims of persecution, of ethnic cleansing, of violence, because we understand that from the united empire loyalists to the black slaves who came north through the underground railroad to the victims who fled communist totalitarian states throughout the 20th century, because it was a Conservative government that opened the doors to the Vietnamese-Indochinese refugees in 1979, because we understand that this is in our DNA as a country, this government is increasing the number of convention refugees we accept from around the world by 20%, and we are increasing at a time of fiscal restraint. We are increasing the integration support we give to them by 20%, so we will be far and away the number one recipient of resettled refugees in the world. Therefore, I say to my friends in the opposition how ridiculous and shameful it is to characterize that record as one of xenophobia and promoting “beating up” on refugees.

What the bill before this place seeks to do is to take a balanced approach to refugee protection that exceeds both our charter and UN convention obligations. Our obligation under the charter, as defined by the Supreme Court in the 1985 Singh decision, is very simple. It is to provide to asylum claimants an oral hearing before a competent decision-maker where credibility is an issue. We exceed that requirement by giving all claimants access to a full hearing, regardless of which country they come from or whether such country has been designated by the minister or not, regardless of the means through which they came and whether they came in a smuggling operation or not.

Notwithstanding most of the speeches from the opposition, every single asylum claimant will have access to the same full, fair, independent hearing at the quasi-judicial IRB, in full compliance with natural justice, due process and the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which system, according to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, is the model system in the world for refugee protection. We are maintaining and in fact enhancing that system through the creation, for the first time, of a new full, fact-based appeal and oral hearing afforded failed claimants at the newly created refugee appeal division.

When I hear the hypocrisy about this from my colleagues in the Liberal Party who were in government for 13 years and refused to create a full appeal process for failed refugee claimants and who criticize this government, which is increasing the number of refugees we accept and creating for the first time a refugee appeal division, I say to my friends in the Liberal Party that they should be ashamed.

Our record speaks for itself. We are adding additional procedural protection for failed asylum claimants, but in this context we must deal with the reality that there are far too many who seek to abuse our generosity and that of our asylum system. Nearly two-thirds of asylum claimants are determined or deemed not to be well-founded claimants. Many of them, if not most, are manifestly fraudulent claimants who come here. They ought to come through the regular immigration procedures but very often are advised by consultants and maybe lawyers. We have had lawyers actually charged recently for coaching people to make fake asylum claims. People who are coached sometimes unwittingly go along with this to make false claims when they do not actually have a well-founded fear of persecution, which is the test in the convention for refugee protection. This has become an acute problem coming from certain democratic countries.

No country in the world is perfect. Certainly, none of the countries in the European Union are. However, it is a space that allows full mobility within 27 democratic member states, so why is it that Canada would be getting 90% of the asylum claims from around the world from the European Union? Why is it that almost 100% of those claimants do not show up for their own claim but rather abandon and withdraw the claims of their own volition? This is rather clear evidence that there is a highly organized wave of unfounded claims. That is not to say that their lives are perfect in Europe, but clearly by their own admission they do not need our protection. That is why we propose an accelerated process with limited appeals for people coming from designated countries. That is not to say that the minister would interfere in the decision-making process. That is nonsense. This is a full, independent, quasi-judicial decision that every claimant would benefit from.

I would further point out that this bill would allow us to give protection and certainty to bona fide asylum claimants in two to three months rather than two years. It would also allow us to remove from Canada false asylum claimants who have had the benefit of due process in a few months rather than several years, allowing them to restart their lives back in their countries of origin instead of abusing the generosity of Canadian taxpayers.

This is a balanced approach that respects our moral and legal obligations toward refugees. I am proud to support it.