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 refugees.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated my colleague's message with respect to biometrics. She noted a number of countries that have moved aggressively in this area. We are trying to work with them, whether it be the United States or countries in the EU. In particular, this is one of the key pieces of the work we are doing with the United States on the perimeter agreement.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on the importance of our relationship concerning identification and pursuit of the security of our border with the United States.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question because it gives me the opportunity to mention again the number of countries that Canada is lagging behind in getting this technology into place. The United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, countries of the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia are countries that have already implemented biometrics.

One of the things we can consider is many members of the House have already participated in biometrics when they have applied for or received their NEXUS card. It is a tool that the United States has used as a pilot project. It already collects biometrics to facilitate the border crossings between Canada and the United States.

It has expedited the opportunity for business transactions to take place between our two countries. We know that by implementing these kinds of biometrics for our immigration system, we are going to expedite the process and have the tools we need to bring legitimate people into our country, who will be great participants in Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I kind of wish I did not have to speak to Bill C-31 at report stage because it is a bill that we in the NDP very much oppose. We are very concerned about its passage through report stage and on to third reading.

Our colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, has worked so hard in committee. She tried valiantly to make amendments to the bill at committee to improve it.

I will begin my remarks by reflecting on the history of the bill. It has an interesting history. There was an original bill which was amended to become Bill C-11, as a result of the Conservative government being in a minority Parliament. It was interesting that at that time there was some co-operation and collaboration to actually remove some of the worst aspects of the bill and to move forward with a bill that was more acceptable to members of Parliament. Of course, now there is a majority Conservative government and it is very disturbing to see that what the Conservatives did was rather than continue with former Bill C-11, they came back with a bill that is quite horrifying in terms of what it will do.

What I find disturbing is that when we hear the speeches from the government members, on the one hand they say that the bill is all about fairness and balance and that we are going to be treating refugees in a proper way and respecting international conventions and Canada's history around refugees. Then on the other hand, everything that comes out of the Conservatives' mouths is basically about abuse of the system.

It is the same kind of mantra we hear so much on the government's legislation around law and order, the Criminal Code and criminal justice. It is always about focusing on what the Conservatives see as abuse and changing laws in massive widespread ways that have an impact on society as a whole. It is a very disturbing pattern that we have seen with the government. It is a tactic the Conservatives use to divide people.

There are fears about people coming to Canada. People have many fears, but when we see a government deliberately playing on those fears and exploiting people's concerns, whether it is about immigration, refugees, or whatever it might be, it feels really bad. It feels like this is absolutely what we should not be doing. Our laws should be based on overall merit, objectivity and the public interest, rather than singling out abuse. We have seen that many times in the political environment. An example would be the attacks on people who are poor, who live on welfare. We call it poor-bashing, where laws are designed to basically scapegoat people on welfare when the rate of abuse is no more than for people in the financial sector who are involved in abuse. It becomes very much a class issue, a term which we do not use very often in the House. It becomes a way of singling people out, of targeting particular segments of our community by saying there are good people and bad people, there are criminals and there are victims, making that very simplistic division.

I wanted to begin that way because we see it so often in much of the legislation that is coming forward. Unfortunately, Bill C-31 is no different. It is a bill, like many other bills from the Conservative government, that confers greater power and authority on the minister.

I am the health critic for the NDP. We have seen recent changes in the health field around the Food and Drugs Act that will do the same thing for the Minister of Health. It will confer much greater power in terms of decision-making away from expert advice, away from a broader notion of public interest. It becomes much more of a partisan, and I would say ideological, decision-making process. Bill C-31 which deals with our refugee system is no different and in fact is probably worse.

There are many reasons to oppose the bill. One is that it concentrates more power in the minister's hands. For example, he would designate what are safe countries without any advice from independent experts.

Another major concern is it will restrict access to the humanitarian and compassionate consideration grounds for a refugee. This will be very problematic. It means that people will have to claim, at the beginning of the process, whether they will file for refugee status or humanitarian and compassionate grounds consideration. This will be a huge issue because people may not know at that point which avenue they will need to pursue. As it is now, people can go through the process and they can also file on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and know it is a due process on which they can rely.

The big concern is the arbitrary designation of so-called irregular arrivals and all that means, This raises huge alarm bells. I remember reading over the years what had occurred in places like Australia where it had mandatory detention and the kind of xenophobia and violent public discourse that took place as a result of that kind of government practice and legislation. Many of us feel this is something Canada now seems to be embarking upon. It is absolutely the wrong way to go.

I feel very concerned because when we have the minister making decisions without expert advice, those decisions can become very political and partisan. Yes, we are in politics, we all make political decisions, but when we deal with something as fundamental as a refugee process that is governed under international, UN and Geneva conventions, how we approach that is critical. Therefore, having the minister saying what is a safe country or saying that, for example, the European Union is not a safe country misses the complexity of our global environment.

I recently saw a film called Never Come Back, which is about the Roma in Canada. The film begins by speaking about Roma people who have settled in, particularly in the communities of Hamilton and Toronto. At the beginning, we think these are great contributors to the local society. There were people working in schools and long-term care facilities as cleaners and in pizza places and they had a soccer team. We wonder whether these people have been persecuted or are they refugees. Then the film takes us back to their home communities and we see the unbelievable persecution that the Roma had experienced, which was horrifying. It is something that is going on as neo-Nazism, xenophobia and violence against targeted minorities grow.

It is very alarming that the simplistic approach of the bill and the fact that it would give the minister so much power would possibly mean that many people who would be refugees legitimately fleeing persecution, hard-working Canadians who will make an enormous contribution to our society when they come here, would be cast aside for political reasons. We have been told that the bill is about getting at abuse. There is this heavy-handed approach at basically eliminating the possibility of many legitimate people from also coming through.

That is only a bit of what I wanted to say. However, it is another sad day that this legislation will go through. The bill has been resoundingly criticized by every major organization that deals with this issue. Even new groups, like the Canadian Doctors for Refugees in Canada, are so concerned about regulatory changes involving refugees and their health coverage. Because of that, they formed a new group and 50 of them visited the offices of elected members. We have not seen this before. I think it is because this kind of legislation will impact so many levels of our society that people who have not spoken out before are now saying they have to speak out.

We hope that possibly some of our amendments on report stage will be approved. I am skeptical about this, but nevertheless we will continue to speak out against this kind of legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Calgary Southeast
Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney Minister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver East said that the bill would eliminate the possibility for some asylum claimants to get protection in Canada. Is she not aware that every asylum claimant from every country, regardless the mode of their arrival, would have access to the same kind of full fact-based oral hearing before an independent highly-trained IRB decision maker on the merits of their asylum case with no negative prejudice associated with it and that the bill would maintain Canada's absolute obligation of non-refoulement for bona fide refugees?

Furthermore, she mentioned particularly Roma refugee asylum claimants. Is she aware that over 95% of the asylum claimants coming from the European Union have abandoned or withdrawn their own claims of their own accord, admitting that they do not need Canada's protection? Is she aware of that fact and would she care to reflect on it?

Also, the member has proposed repeatedly that we grant old age security to immigrant seniors after their third year of residency in Canada. It now appears that she also believes we should provide free supplementary health benefits to even smuggled migrants and rejected asylum claimants in Canada. I think I heard her endorse the position of those criticizing our changes to the interim federal health program. I would like her to clarify this. Is she in favour of granting supplementary benefits to even failed asylum claimants and smuggled migrants, which benefits are not normally available to Canadian citizens?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a great fear that the changes in the bill that will give the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism more power will mean that the system will not work the way it used to. I guess it is a matter of trust. I simply do not trust that minister nor his government to engage in a fair process. I think they have another agenda. That is why we feel so very concerned about the bill.

Whatever the minister might put forward today, at the end of the day the bill is about the process, about the minister's powers and the potential of what could happen. We can say very clearly, along with every other group that has examined this bill—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Is that a yes or a no?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm going to guess yes.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Doesn't sound very good for Canadians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Is that a yes?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess they do not want to hear the answer, but I will continue.

Any group that has examined this bill has come to the same conclusion as the NDP, that the bill should be defeated.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question in regard to Canada's international reputation.

If we take a look at it, we have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 million plus refugees around the world. Canada was respected as one of the countries that played a leading role on the whole refugee policy. We do get a good percentage of refugees compared to other countries. We see that as a positive thing.

Numerous people came to committee while the bill was being debated. A consensus was developing that in fact Bill C-31 would in fact tarnish Canada's leadership role on the whole refugee file. We should all be concerned about that. Most Canadians are quite compassionate and feel very strongly in protecting those individuals, even if it means not necessarily being able to come to Canada, and our influence in the world to make a better home for people around the world.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was not at the committee so I did not hear the witnesses, but I certainly talked with my colleagues who were on the committee and I heard a very similar description of what took place at committee. There is a lot of concern about what it means in not only Canada's reputation, but what our obligations are under various conventions for refugees. The bill, if it goes through, there is the suggestion that it will violate the charter in terms of arbitrary detention, so it may well face a legal challenge and there may be other challenges on how it contravenes international conventions.

Again, one would think this would give the government some pause for thought to think about what our role is in the international community. However, it appears that it is not willing to be thoughtful, that it does have a very political mission on the bill, and that is to create this them and us situation to focus on abuse and in the process deny many legitimate refugees the opportunity to be in our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

June 1st, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Transport)

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

Canada enjoys a global reputation as a nation that champions democracy, equality and freedom of speech. I believe strongly in the benefits and opportunities that come from a diverse society.

The fact is that most Canadians have a chapter in their family history that includes immigration and resettlement. It is what helps define Canada. There are countless individuals and families around the world who want to add the same chapter to their family history by coming to Canada. This is a source of pride for our government and for all Canadians.

Unfortunately the reality is that there are individuals and criminal organizations that see our generosity as an easy target to make a high profit with low risk. These criminal elements use Canada's great reputation to spin false and malicious stories of how refugees can bypass the proper channels by paying a set fee.

Until recently most Canadians believed that large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something that they just read about, that it happened in countries like Australia.

All that changed in 2009 when Canadians witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady, carrying 76 migrants, and then less than a year later 500 migrants arrived on the second vessel the MV Sun Sea. Shortly after that a sea container was uncovered at the port of Montreal, concealing yet more individuals who wanted to enter Canada illegally.

Suddenly Canadians' eyes were wide open. Suddenly they realized this was a problem. Canadians reacted. They told us they wanted our government to act decisively to crack down on those who would endanger the lives of men, women and children by selling them false dreams and transporting them in unsafe vessels or shipping crates.

I realize my time is short, but members on this side of the House have done extraordinary work in this area. The member for Kildonan—St. Paul has her human trafficking private member's bill. The Minister of Immigration is probably the best immigration minister that Canada has ever had.

The Minister of Immigration has a very strong understanding of the bill. He has consulted extensively. He knows what is right for Canada and he knows what is right and fair for everyone involved in immigration or as a refugee.

Our bill would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative tax-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, the bill would protect those who would be truly in need more quickly.

Those who are truly in need is a very important aspect. Why should those who are in need be penalized by those who abuse the system, the criminals or the people who are not genuine refugees? There is a system, but the old system is broken. The new system, under the greatest Minister of Immigration ever, will be a better and fairer system and, most important, the best system for Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 1:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made Tuesday, May 29, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the report stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.