House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The question is over. Before I go to the answer, I would like to remind all hon. members that in a five-minute question and answer period we try to get two questions in and two answers. That is about a minute and fifteen seconds per person. I would encourage all hon. members, as they are addressing the Chair, to look for signals that their time is coming to a close. I reluctantly cut people off, but this afternoon the questions and the answers have been drifting longer and longer.

With that, I will give the member about five seconds to put the question.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, would the hon. member across the way explain, under the current proposed system, what would happen to children under 16?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Newton—North Delta is very engaged when it comes to immigration issues.

I will get back to the point I was trying to make about biometric identification because it is really part and parcel of the whole immigration bill. When the opposition members are looking to gut the whole bill, they will cut the biometrics, even though they say that they agree with that as a tool.

I will just remind the hon. member about the things we are trying to address here. We are trying to improve relations with safe countries so that we can facilitate travel into this country. I will take the example of Hungary. We received over 4,400 refugee claims last year from Hungary alone. Enacting Bill C-31 will allow us to streamline travel, not just with Hungary but with the entire European Union.

It is really important that the biometric pieces of the bill be passed, along with everything else in the bill, including the turning back of refugee claimants from safe countries.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I looked at the last year's figures for Hungary, for Roma, and there has been a lot of inflating of those who were either abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. These are separate categories. There were 165 accepted as legitimate refugees who needed our protection.

I would ask my hon. friend to bear in mind that some people will take desperate steps to escape unbearable circumstances, and they will bring their families.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the topic of Hungary, we do accept legitimate refugees. However, it is a fact that 95% of refugee claims from Hungary were just abandoned, suggesting that these people were not genuine refugees. They did not have the fear to actually pursue their refugee claim in Canada so they just abandoned it and disappeared into the system.

What we are trying to strengthen through Bill C-31 are those kinds of situations where it is clearly a fraudulent refugee claim used to exploit Canada's generous refugee and immigration system. By doing biometrics, by putting the other elements of Bill C-31 in place, we will address those issues.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the good residents of York South—Weston, my constituents, to try to make some sense out of what is happening but I am afraid I am not able to make sense of it.

A bill has already been passed by Parliament to do what the Conservatives have been saying these past many months, since Bill C-4 and now Bill C-31 have come before us. Bill C-11 will take effect. For whatever reason, its implementation was delayed until June of this year, but it will take effect and it will solve the problem of 95% of refugee claimants from some European countries actually abandoning their claims because the provisions in Bill C-11 do precisely what the government says Bill C-31 would do. Therefore, what is the purpose of Bill C-31? It is really to put more control in the hands of the minister by making the minister solely responsible for determining which countries are safe and which are not.

That leads one to speculate wildly about what possible reason it could have for putting such control in the hands of the minister. We could speculate that it might have to do with the Department of Foreign Affairs or with giving favoured nation status in return for trade agreements. I have no idea. The problem is that we are rushing ahead with a bill that does the same thing as another bill already does. When we examine the difference, it is that the minister would have the power. It does not make sense. The portion of the bill that is new is the part that supposedly deals with human smuggling.

I was listening today to the U.S. ambassador, Luis CdeBaca, who is the head of the U.S. task force on human trafficking. So as we do not get confused, human trafficking and human smuggling are two different things. Human trafficking is engaging in slavery practices in other countries in the world and in countries close to home. What he said made me realize that had the kinds of things the Conservatives are proposing here been in place years ago, they would have prevented the praise that the U.S. ambassador gave us this afternoon.

He said that he was proud of the fact that Canada was one of the very first countries to abolish slavery. In fact, Canada accepted refugees from none other than the United States. Those refugees came to my former hometown of Windsor through the underground railroad. If this law had been in place, who knows what would have happened to those individuals who are now the ancestors of many prosperous and well-deserving families of this country, some in my riding? Those individuals could possibly have been detained in jails for up to a year and prevented from supporting or sponsoring their families. It beggars belief to imagine a regimen similar to what is being proposed by the government to deal with a supposed irregular arrival problem by detaining refugees.

We have heard the government say over and over again that it is on the side of the victims. This is making victims pay. These individuals are the victims of a crime. That crime is perpetrated by the smugglers and yet the government's reaction is to punish the victims. They are the only people it can get its hands on, because the smugglers have long gone, so it punishes them.

I have heard the Minister of Justice suggest that once people know that Canada's laws are such that it is not welcoming and victims will be punished, it will dry up the supply. It is a supply side economics argument, which we have heard a lot from the government, that it will dry up the supply of potential victims of crime.

The problem with that is that there are not a lot of Canadians who read the Criminal Code before they commit a crime, and I doubt very much that there are a lot of people in Somalia, Sri Lanka, or wherever these people come from, who have an opportunity to read Canada's immigration legislation to determine that they will go to jail if they pay someone $10,000 to bring their family over to Canada. That is just not going to happen. We do not publish our legislation in all the languages that might be spoken in these countries either. It is just strange.

In addition to those victims being punished, the minister is suggesting that we will not have to worry because the government will deal with refugee claimants from countries that he has designated as safe countries—he or she, depending on who the minister might be. The minister will determine which countries are safe, and people from those countries will be booted out of this country really fast if they are not true refugees. How do we determine whether they are true refugees? We do that by giving them a chance to plead their case within 14 days. They then have no access to appeal and no access to the refugee appeal division.

There are in fact two classes of refugees. There is a class of refugees who come from countries that the minister has not designated, and we do not know which countries those are yet, and there is a class of refugees who are legitimate refugees in every sense of the word, but who come from countries that the minister designates as safe. They, therefore, would have only one kick to get their suggestion that they are refugees before a tribunal and they have no access to the refugee appeal division. The minister has stated on several occasions that they could file an application in Federal Court. The trouble is that they will be deported long before an application in the Federal Court goes anywhere.

The other thing that bothers me about the attitude of the government toward the whole refugee system is that the minister has suggested on several occasions that he is upset that refugees skip over other countries before they come to Canada, that they should go somewhere else, that they should not come to Canada. I am proud of the fact that they want to come to Canada. We all should be proud that we have such a welcoming and such a wonderful mélange of all the countries of the world that people feel comfortable in coming to Canada. We should not force refugees to go somewhere else simply because they happen to pass by another country on the way. That smacks of a being reluctant to take refugees in the first place, although I know that possibly is not what the minister meant.

The minister also talked about jumping the queue. He does not want refugee claimants to be in a position to jump the queue ahead of legitimate immigrant applicants. He has now created the biggest immigrant queue-jump in the history of this country by eliminating what might be 300,000, and I am not sure of the exact number, legitimate applications for immigration to this country with the stroke of a pen and putting everyone else ahead of those people. Every other applicant to this country would now jump the queue if they applied post-2008, or whatever the year was that it was changed. Those individuals have jumped the queue and the rest must start again. That is so wrong, yet the minister says that he does not like queue-jumpers. He is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

The other issue that covers this whole immigration thing is the issue of temporary foreign workers. It is another example of the doublespeak we get from the government about how it wants to welcome refugees and welcome new Canadians, but we will now have a situation where temporary foreign workers are being allowed into this country and will be paid 15% less than everybody else. That will drive down wages. The minister says that it is only for those jobs where we have a shortage. We know there are jobs out there. Airline pilots are being brought in as temporary foreign workers. There is no shortage of airline pilots in this country, but we have companies bringing airline pilots to this country as temporary foreign workers, and now they can pay them 15% less. That is just going to drive down wages in this country.

Those are the kinds of immigration policies that we do not agree with, including this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether the last four minutes of that speech had anything to do with Bill C-31. It had a lot to do with HRSDC, but it had nothing to do with citizenship and immigration or public safety. I appreciate the member speaking about policies that do not relate to the bill.

In any event, I would like to get his response to one thing that is paramount and that he did not speak to.

The NDP has tried to make hay of the fact that, as they say, there are no issues in there that would actually get at the smugglers themselves, in terms of being tough on them.

When we look at the bill itself, there is failure to file to pre-arrival information--our amendments would make it much more difficult for them, from a criminal perspective—as well as failure to comply with ministerial direction and providing false and misleading information. All of these would be tougher on those who have the nerve to smuggle people into this country.

I wonder if the member would say why he will not be supporting the piece of this legislation that would get tough on smugglers who try to bring people into this country and who take advantage of them by taking the money right out of their pockets.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to hear we are going to be able to vote on this bill in pieces, because I will support that piece of the legislation. We have praised that piece of the legislation, which would increase the penalties and the risk to the smugglers themselves. We have said, yes, it is a good thing to increase the penalties for the smugglers.

Our problem is the fact that we would be penalizing the victims. The people who are the victims of crime, the refugees who come into this country, are the ones who would be imprisoned by the government. That we disagree with.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there might be a bit of irony here. Today we are debating Bill C-31 which, in good part, is before us because of two boats that came to Vancouver, the member will recall, the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady.

Now, if we go back to 1914, the Komagata Maru is a boat that came from Asia and was never allowed to land, and we are going to debate that issue tomorrow. People within the Liberal Party and, I suspect, New Democrats and Conservatives would ultimately argue that was a mistake, yet if we listen to what the minister said today in his presentation, he said that is not the way to come. People do not come to Canada via boat; they have to come through legitimate means.

Does the member agree that there is some irony there? Tomorrow we are going to be apologizing to the Indo-Canadian community because of the way we treated some 376 individuals who, back in 1914, attempted to land here, yet we just had a minister, and others, say that this is not the way to come to Canada and that they want to prevent that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from Winnipeg North. It is somewhat ironic that there are occasions in this country when we apologize for the very things that we are going to do in the near future or have done in the recent past. We do not seem to learn by our mistakes.

However, I have to remind everyone that irony is often lost on the members opposite.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

May 17th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party seems to want to create two classes of refugees. My colleague spoke brilliantly about this. They may not believe in science, but perhaps the Conservatives believe in astrology. Perhaps they think we can predict the future of potential conflicts and all the rest.

The NDP has a different approach. Perhaps my colleague could talk more about it. Do we need to be flexible, for example, to create a good bill and develop a good process?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP believes that Bill C-11 actually did much of what we are trying to do here, and in terms of the human smuggling portion of the bill, punishing the victims is not the way to go.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great disappointment that I rise to speak to the amendments put forward by the opposition at report stage. I say “disappointed” because the opposition is playing exactly the sort of petty and blind partisanship that turned Canadians off politics. It is important to explain to Canadians the negative consequences that would result if these opposition amendments were adopted.

The opposition will not admit it, but Canadians know that Canada's immigration and refugee system faces challenges and is open to abuse. The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer. This bill would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and refugees with unfounded claims from abusing Canada's generous immigration system. At the same time, this bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need. Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country. The facts speak for themselves. Canada welcomes more resettled refugees than almost any country in the world. In fact, we are increasing that number by an additional 20%. Our tradition of compassion and protection will continue and will grow.

However, our immigration system is open to abuse. Every year, thousands of bogus refugee claimants come to Canada. They choose to file bogus refugee claims in the hope that their lengthy processing times and endless appeals will result in their obtaining permanent residence in this country. Immigrants to Canada, like me, are very welcoming and fair but we have no tolerance for people from safe countries who abuse our refugee system as a way to jump the queue and get into Canada without having to wait and follow the proper process like everyone else. We have no tolerance for those who take unfair advantage of our generosity.

It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the opposition parties, NDP and Liberals, conveniently ignore the facts when they speak against Bill C-31. The amendments they introduced at the report stage prove that. These amendments show that the opposition members continue to ignore the facts that underscore the need for this important piece of legislation and undermine the opposition's criticism of it.

These are the facts. In 2011, Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union alone, a 14% increase from 2010. That means that a quarter of all refugee claims were from the democratic European Union, where human rights are respected. That is more than Africa and Asia. Canada's top source country for refugee claims was Hungary, an EU member state. In fact, in 2011 Canada received 4,400 refugee claims from Hungary alone. In comparison, Belgium received only 188, the U.S. only 47, and France and Norway only 33 each. It is very telling that in 2010, Hungarian nationals made a total of 2,400 refugee claims around the world and 2,300 of those claims were made in Canada. That means that only 100 refugee claims were made in other countries around the world. Canada received 23 times more than all other countries combined.

What is more, in the past few years virtually all of these claims were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. The majority of these claimants chose to abandon or withdraw their claims, a clear sign they were not in need of Canada's protection. These claimants are, by definition, bogus. They are paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadian taxpayers pay upwards of $170 million per year for these bogus claimants from the European Union. Taxpayers fund their welfare, their education and their health care. Hard-working taxpayers are sick and tired of footing the bill for bogus refugee claimants who abuse the system at everyone else's expense. Too many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees.

Bill C-31 would put a stop to this abuse. Allow me to illustrate. The bill would help speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways. It would challenge the designated country of origin policy and enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally do not produce refugees. Claimants from designated countries of origin would be processed in about 45 days compared to more than 1,000 days under the current system. The less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and use it to jump the queue in the regular immigration process. Bill C-31 would also stop the ability of bogus claimants to use endless avenues of appeal to remain in Canada, receiving generous taxpayer-funded health care and social assistance benefits.

Bill C-31 would prevent refugee claimants from submitting a refugee claim at the same time as they apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. It would also bar claimants from submitting humanitarian and compassionate applications for one year following a final negative decision from the IRB. In addition, under the balanced refugee reform act, individuals with a final negative decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board would be barred from applying for a pre-removal risk assessment for 12 months.

Taken together, these measures send a clear message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous refugee system. Those who do not need our protection would be sent home quickly. They would not be allowed to remain in Canada by using endless appeals to delay their removal. At the same time, for those who need refuge, these measures would help to get protection even faster. Every eligible asylum claimant would continue to get a fair hearing by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Again, even with these needed changes, Canada's refugee determination system would remain one of the most generous in the world.

Human smugglers are criminals who operate in the underworld and charge large amounts of money to facilitate illegal immigration. The protecting Canada's immigration system act would help crack down on these smugglers 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 mandatory detention of those individuals in order to determine their identity, admissibility and whether or not they have been involved in illegal activities.

As my hon. colleagues know, the detention provisions in Bill C-31 were recently amended and now reflect that the first detention review would occur within 14 days and subsequent reviews every six months.

I note that NDP members supported these amendments at the committee but now they are trying to gut the very amendments they supported. This is more proof that their main goal is to play games rather than work in good faith in the best interest of Canadians.

As before, a person would be released before this time upon being found to be a genuine refugee. As an additional safeguard, the Minister of Public Safety, on his own initiative, at any time, can also order the release of a detained individual when grounds for detention no longer exist. Mandatory detention would also exclude those designated foreign nationals who are under the age of 16.

The government is sending a clear message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, but we will crack down on those who threaten the integrity of our borders. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.

Unfortunately, by introducing these irresponsible amendments, the opposition has shown that it does not support strengthening the immigration system. It has shown that it does not support genuine refugees getting protection more quickly or protecting hard-working Canadian taxpayers from having to foot the bill for bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.

I urge the opposition to stop playing games, listen to the will of their constituents and vote against these amendments.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague raised the concept of designated safe countries, where the minister can select a country and designate it as safe. The result of that is refugee claimants from that country would have certain rights denied them, like the right to appeal to the refugee appeal division.

In Bill C-11, which preceded this bill, the minister agreed to the concept of having an independent commission made up of a couple of human rights experts who would also have to agree on the minister's decision. The minister himself said that this made the process more transparent and accountable, yet in Bill C-31 the minister has taken that out.

Could the member explain why the Minister of Immigration does not want to have an independent panel as a protection to ensure that a designated safe country is proper instead of leaving that decision solely to a minister of the crown with no independent oversight? Why is that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is not true, because a number of ministries will be involved in that decision.

There are countries that are safe. It is not true that refugee claimants arriving from those countries would be refused some rights that others would enjoy. The process would be faster and they would have the right to appeal.

There were many examples given of European countries. One of the members previously said that refugees should come to Canada rather than go somewhere else. There are many countries in the European Union where they would not have to fly 5,000 miles, as they would to get to Canada. They can get to other safe countries if they really are unsafe in the country in which they live.