House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rights.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the Balanced Refugee Act. I think this act would strengthen and enhance that act. It would make sure that Canadians are kept safe.

I think all of us in Parliament, particularly this week, know that there are dangerous people in this world. There are dangerous people in Canada, and we have seen that this week.

It is our job as parliamentarians, as the Government of Canada, to put legislation in place that would keep our seniors, children and all Canadians safe. That is what this legislation would do.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in part, this legislation would establish a two-tier refugee system. This goes against the UN conventions in the 1950s that indicated very clearly that we have an obligation to treat refugees equally. However, the Conservative government has decided to designate some refugees as “irregulars” and then treat them significantly differently.

My question to the member is this: why would the government go against a UN convention resolution that states we should be treating refugees equally here in Canada?

Denying these refugees the opportunity to sponsor family members until they have been in Canada for five years seems to be unfair. It is not the best way to allow for families to be together.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is quite the contrary. We have a refugee system that Canada can be proud of.

We are one of only 20 countries in the world that allow refugees to settle in them. We actually take in 10% of the worldwide refugees and settle them here. This is a refugee system we can be proud of.

We are supporting the United Nations and its tenets on refugee access. However, we want to make sure that we put practices and legislation in place that will keep dangerous criminals out of our country. We also want to ensure that we do not have refugees trying to game the system or jump the queue in our immigration system.

The legislation would protect all Canadians. It would also protect legal and legitimate immigrants coming to Canada against the people trying to game our system and jump the queue.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleague is referring to the terrorists and criminals that might enter Canada.

The only problem is that he clearly has not read former Bill C-11, which already prevents such individuals from entering. How can he justify new legislation to send away terrorists who are not even in Canada because they were already screened out at the gate?

Why pass legislation that simply oppresses people and incarcerates children, but does nothing to deal with terrorists because terrorists do not enter Canada?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, Canadians across the country know that this government is not going to incarcerate children, and the fact that the member stood in the House and made the accusation that this government would put children into jail is absolutely asinine. He should be ashamed of himself.

This government always stands for Canadian families, for the families of immigrants and for the families of refugees. We will stand up and protect both those children and our own children. By passing this legislation, we are going to make sure that all Canadians are protected so that we do not have illegal refugees coming here and posing a threat to the everyday Canadians in this country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, they always say that the government does not want to incarcerate children. Unfortunately for my colleague who just spoke before me, UNICEF does not share that opinion. UNICEF has made recommendations urging the Canadian government not to incarcerate children and those recommendations have been ignored by the government. That is the problem. All the witnesses who appeared before the committee, including the government's witnesses, indicated that this was not a good bill, and that they have some reservations about it.

I will share some of the most striking testimony. The Barreau du Québec said:

Accordingly, the Barreau recommends withdrawing Bill C-31 and promoting and improving the application of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act with regard to the [problems raised].

The Barreau du Québec is calling on the government to withdraw this bill. It believes that the bill is ultra vires. Echoing the Barreau du Québec is the Canadian Bar Association, which recommends that Bill C-31 in its current form be withdrawn—not amended, but withdrawn. They say this is not a good bill. That is serious.

The Supreme Court of Canada issued two important rulings in Singh and Charkaoui. In those rulings, the court indicated that, no matter what the government wants, when it incarcerates someone, it must provide that individual with access to justice and ask a judge to rule on the legality of his or her incarceration. That is fundamental.

The Conservatives are not adhering to that; they are dismissing it. They are giving the minister discretionary powers—very significant powers, too much power.

This has been reiterated by UNICEF, an organization that cannot be accused of being made up of crypto-communists or pro-terrorist militants. UNICEF has stated:

...we are concerned that many of the provisions of Bill C-31, as currently framed, are overly broad; provide for sweeping ministerial discretion without judicial accountability or other checks and balances in the system; are unconstitutional under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and violate Canada's international obligations, as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Those comments were made by UNICEF, the organization responsible for defending children's rights around the globe. It issued a series of recommendations aimed at excluding children under the age of 18 from the application of this legislation. I would remind the House that, at present, despite what the government member who spoke before me said, under this bill, children can be incarcerated. Anyone between 16 and 18 can be sent to prison.

Furthermore, we need to understand that these are people who arrive with families. Are parents who are incarcerated going to stand for their three- or four-year-old child being sent who knows where? These people have no guarantee that any children who do not go with them to a detention centre will be treated properly elsewhere. There will be language barriers, cultural differences, and so on.

This means that, at present, children can be and will continue to be incarcerated. UNICEF condemns this. It is calling on the government to guarantee that no one under the age of 18 will be sent to an immigration detention centre. It is pretty simple, yet this government does not seem to understand.

So they really must not have listened to the testimony that was given. Everyone said it: these detention centres do not respect this at all.

People who claim to support the safety of children—and I would like to believe that the members opposite do too—say that children can find themselves in these detention centres with their parents but also with criminals that Canada rightly deports.

So, for a certain period of time, children are being detained with common criminals. They are being detained with people who engage in anti-social behaviour and who have to be deported from Canada. These are not just illegal refugees, but serious criminals. They are being deported because of their anti-social behaviour and they are being given the opportunity to interact with children. That is unacceptable. Many people testified in this regard. Everyone agreed on this point. No one who testified disagreed with this position. Yet the government did not approve this resolution.

There is also the matter of the child's age. Sometimes, when children are between the ages of 16 and 18, it is difficult to determine their exact age. UNICEF proposed a procedure that is in place in every other country. Canada has not implemented it yet.

People asked that the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada's obligations with respect to the status of children, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms be respected. They made a series of recommendations, which were all presented. Not one of them was approved by the government. Not one. None of the recommendations to protect children and the rights of all Canadians—because they are also our rights—were approved.

Detaining someone without giving him the opportunity to explain his situation before a judge does not just violate the rights of refugees, it also violates the rights of all Canadians. When the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not applied to one Canadian, it is not applied to every Canadian.

It is striking that all of the witnesses said that this is not a good bill. Yet there is a law that could come into effect in June. It is a good law that was unanimously supported by the House and by witnesses. It respects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our international obligations, and it enhances our global reputation. But no. The Conservatives are replacing it with—and I am sorry to have to say it—a bill that is complete garbage.

This legislation gives a minister powers that should never be given to a single man. These include discretionary powers to determine what constitutes a safe country, an irregular arrival and the definition of a child.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for letting me know that I have just two minutes left.

The experts have spoken. They have said that this is at odds with the charter. It is not hard to understand. Two Supreme Court rulings have made it clear that the government does not have the right to do this, yet it is going ahead. It is truly a tragedy that we are wasting our time on legislation that, as soon as it is enacted, will be dragged into court on the basis of the charter and the case law. The Supreme Court justices have already ruled on these issues, and they have said no.

Constantly ignoring good advice suggests some level of ill will. According to the experts, we have a law that protects us.

There is already a law that prevents criminal and terrorist elements from entering Canada. All of those who are unacceptable or bad for Canadian society already get weeded out. They do not get into Canada. That bears repeating. The government likes to scare people into thinking that bad guys are coming to Canada to kill and rape. The Conservatives like using those words, but their assertions have no basis in reality.

The truth is that, when irregular arrivals by boat land in British Columbia, government officials sort through them to identify common criminals and war criminals. Those people do not get into Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, it is obvious that the hon. NDP member is very ill-informed about Bill C-31.

For example, he said that the bill will result in the incarceration of minors and children, which is not true. The bill includes a clear provision that exempts minors who are designated as irregular arrivals—smuggled human cargo—from detention.

I must point out that there is a huge difference between the incarceration that he spoke about and the detention of immigrants. Incarceration suggests imprisonment. However, no immigrant is imprisoned in immigration detention centres. All immigrants are free to leave Canada at any time. It is not imprisonment.

Living conditions at detention centres are like those at a two star hotel with a bit of security. What we have heard is nothing but rhetoric.

In addition, he said that the government had not accepted any amendments, which is not true. For example, the committee adopted a provision that will allow a review of the detention by the IRB after 14 days of detention, and after six months of detention in the case of immigrants who were smuggled into the country. Is he not aware of these amendments?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only am I aware of them, but I know the difference between a prison and a two star hotel.

Being incarcerated in dormitories and not having the right to go outside without one's feet and wrists in chains is not equivalent to living in a two star hotel. I feel sorry for him if that is the kind of two star hotel found in his riding.

How can I express how out of touch with reality he is? People should go and look at these prisons and speak to the people who provide services to those who are incarcerated. To be locked in a building surrounded by barbed wire, monitored by armed guards and not have the right to leave, that is tantamount to being in prison. That is a prison.

According to the minister, the people in the detention centres can leave whenever they want to. They are free to go if they want to leave Canada and be killed in their home countries. Is that the alternative? That is really very generous of the government.

I invite him to reread the Charkaoui case. That was the situation he found himself in. He was free to go when he wanted to, if he returned to Morocco. However, he did not want to return there and chose to live in safety in Canada. The Supreme Court justices sided with him.

Really, he should reread it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will give a hypothetical example that could reflect reality. If a single mother escapes from a country like South Africa, with a child of eight or nine years old and arrives in Canada, this minister would say that the parent is an irregular arrival. That would mean she would have to go into a detention centre. Once in a detention centre, the mother would have to make a decision whether to have her child put into some form of foster care and let the government take control of the child or to have the child stay with her in the detention centre.

What type of decision does the member believe a parent has in that sort of scenario?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is the main reason why children currently end up in a detention centre or prison.

Parents are worried. They do not know where the child will go. They do not know the quality of the services that will be provided. Right now, young children end up in a detention centre because these services are not provided, and this can last for a period of several months. That is the problem.

It is even more serious than that. The minister has the exclusive authority to decide whether this person was an irregular arrival, and whether they come from a safe country. Is Israel a safe country for a Palestinian? Is South Africa a safe country for a man with black or white skin? Is Brazil a safe country for someone who lives in an aboriginal community? That is up to the minister—and the minister alone—to decide. He is not accountable to anyone.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

June 1st, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice today to the debate on this important piece of legislation.

As we know, Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would help us carry out long-needed reforms to the refugee system and help crack down on human smugglers who may try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system. However, I would like to focus my remarks today on another important component of Bill C-31: the measures in this legislation that would allow the introduction of biometric technology for the screening of temporary resident applicants.

Currently, when individuals make immigration applications, in most cases, they only need to initially provide written documents to support their applications. Quite frankly, a modern immigration system can do a better job of ensuring safety and security. Indeed, biometrics, photographs and fingerprints to be more specific, provide greater certainty in identifying travellers than documents, which, as we all know, can easily be forged or stolen.

Our government is facilitating the travel of legitimate travellers to Canada. However, it is no secret that there are countless numbers of people each year who are not allowed to come to Canada who, nevertheless, find ways to enter. There are countless examples on an almost daily basis of violent criminals, terrorists, human smugglers and war criminals among others, who have entered Canada using false documents.

In fact, there are several examples of criminals entering Canada on multiple occasions after being deported. There are even examples of criminals re-entering Canada using false identities and documents up to 15, 19, 21 different times. This has to stop, and biometrics will help our government end this fraud and abuse. Biometrics will help our government protect the safety and the security of Canadians.

Biometrics is one of the most effective ways to correctly identify individuals. Biometrics would be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat out of Canada.

The legislation being debated today, and regulations that would follow, would allow the government to make it mandatory for travellers, students and workers from certain visa-required countries and territories to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa, study permit and work permit applications. This would mean that photos and fingerprints would be collected as part of a standard visa application process before the applicant arrives in Canada. This would help with processing visa applications and later, with confirming the identity of visa holders when they arrive at our borders.

The use of biometrics as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems is a welcome development that is a long time in the making.

It would also bring Canada in line with what is quickly becoming the international norm in this area.

As my hon. colleagues may know, many governments around the world have already introduced biometric collection in their immigration and border programs. They include the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, countries of the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Although the use of biometrics for visa applications would be a new development for Canada, the fact that so many other countries have already adopted biometrics has an added benefit. Many visa applicants to Canada would already be familiar with the process. This would make for a smoother transition to this system.

By providing a fast and reliable tool to help confirm identity, biometrics would strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and help protect the safety and security of Canadians while helping facilitate legitimate travel. This would greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applications and the growing sophistication in identity fraud.

At the same time, the use of biometrics would be beneficial to applicants themselves because, in the long run, as I noted, the use of biometrics would actually facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants.

For instance, in cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain or in doubt, biometrics could expedite decision-making at Canadian ports of entry. Using biometrics could also protect visa applicants by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use the applicants' identity to gain access into Canada.

The legislation and regulations would also allow for biometric data collected from foreign nationals to be used and disclosed by the RCMP for domestic law enforcement. For instance, in a criminal investigation, if there is a match to a temporary resident's fingerprints, the RCMP would be authorized to disclose that information to another law enforcement agency. This may help, for example, in cases where unidentified fingerprints are found at a crime scene, or where assistance is needed in identifying victims.

This is yet another tool to help enforce Canadian laws and to ensure that Canada's doors are not open to those who would break the law or endanger the safety of our citizens. Let me stress, however, that the use of biometric information for law enforcement purposes would be conducted in accordance with Canada's privacy legislation.

Allow me to quote from a recent editorial on Bill C-31 which appeared in the Montreal Gazette. It noted:

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

It would be hard to disagree with this take on biometrics. After all, the many benefits of introducing biometric technology for screening visa applicants make it a welcome and, as the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has described it, a “historic” development for our immigration system.

Furthermore, the use of biometrics is increasingly becoming the standard by which other countries operate. By passing Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, we would be ensuring that Canada keeps up with the many countries already using biometrics in their immigration and border programs.

The implementation of biometrics makes so much common sense, I cannot for the life of me understand how the opposition NDP and Liberals could vote against these provisions.

Canadians, including my constituents in Newmarket—Aurora, do not want criminals to be able to enter Canada, live in their neighbourhoods and roam their streets. I am quite certain neither do the constituents of any of the NDP and Liberal MPs in this House.

The NDP and Liberals are trying to gut biometric provisions. They are voting against one of the most important measures to prevent criminals and terrorists from entering our country. They are voting against a tool that will help protect the safety and security of all Canadians, including their constituents.

It is only our Conservative government that is supporting measures that will help prevent any more innocent Canadians from being victimized by foreign criminals who should not be in Canada in the first place.

Biometrics would protect the integrity of Canada's immigration system. It is an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out.

For these reasons and many others, I wholeheartedly and without reservation urge all members to vote against the irresponsible NDP and Liberal amendments that would stop the government from implementing biometrics, and instead support Bill C-31 and ensure its speedy passage.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in regard to biometrics, I do not know if the member is aware of it, but it was actually the Liberal government that initiated the pilot project on biometrics. It has taken the government five or six years now to act on that initiative.

In regard to detentions, the current system works. The government is claiming to fix something that is just not broken. The current system has been working.

With respect to terrorists and the return of criminals, the government has been negligent on the biometrics aspect, but when it comes to the detention aspect of it, the government created the issue. The issue was not there.

Besides those two points, could the member tell me what other measures in this legislation are going to prevent terrorism or punish criminals who are not landed immigrants or in fact refugees? What other initiatives is the member referring to in this bill?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know the detention system is not working for Canadians.

I would like to talk about biometrics and the opportunity this presents for people who are coming into Canada legitimately. When people provide this kind of information it gives the Canadian immigration system new tools to help legitimate people get into Canada far more quickly. We are just following in the steps, and late in so doing may I say, of many other countries in the world that are already implementing this kind of technology. It is time Canada got on board.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, we hear a lot about all these people who are trying to get into Canada illegally, but the Geneva convention does recognize asylum seekers. When we look at people from Hungary, even though there were many applicants, Canada did recognize at least 160 of them last year as asylum seekers under the Geneva convention.

Why is this bill going out of its way to discriminate and punish victims instead of going after the smugglers?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to relay to the House a little story about my own daughter. When she was in Spain her passport was stolen from her backpack. She reported the passport stolen. Two years later we received a phone call from the RCMP, which was trying to identify the status of my daughter's passport because it was being used for the fraudulent purpose of trying to bring someone into the country.

These are the kinds of things we absolutely have to stop. By using biometrics we are going to cut down on the number of people who are fraudulently attempting to get into Canada. We will make our system work far more expeditiously.