Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

An Act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Elinor Caplan  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's remarks and the fact that she did stay to listen to all of the critics speak about Bill C-11.

As we were dealing with Bill C-31, the predecessor to Bill C-11, we were often told that the issues we raised would be dealt with in the regulations and that we should not be concerned because we would probably get satisfaction on our issues. We never did get a chance to get to that stage with Bill C-31. In a sense we were being asked to buy a pig in a poke because we had no real assurance or any guarantee that the issue would be dealt with.

If what the minister says is accurate, and I have no reason to believe it is not, would she table the draft regulations now at this early stage of Bill C-11 so that we might have a more informed review of them rather than what happened to us with Bill C-31?

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I have been in the House listening very carefully to the critics from the opposition parties. I will start by saying that while I do not agree with everything that was said, I do appreciate the thoughtfulness of the presentations and I am looking forward to answering their questions and to being at committee for a full review.

The predecessor to Bill C-11, Bill C-31, was referred to committee last June but it did not have the kind of full public debate and hearing at committee, as members know, because of the election call. We had the opportunity, over the course of the summer and the fall, to give careful consideration to briefs received by the department and by my office.

I believe Bill C-11, which is before the House today, responds at great length to many of the issues and concerns that were raised regarding the original immigration and refugee protection legislation.

Having listened to my very thoughtful critics, I believe there are a number of areas, which they have addressed, that are actually addressed in the bill, or which could and would be addressed by the regulatory package that would accompany the bill.

For those people who are unaware of parliamentary procedure, it is important to know that the formal regulation making process does not begin until after the bill is enacted. However, I have made a commitment, as I did with the previous legislation, that we would have a discussion paper at the committee so that we could start to discuss what the regulations would look like and how they would inform the debate and the policies enshrined in this framework legislation which is so important.

I thank my critics for their thoughtful comments. I look forward to debate at committee. I wanted to take this opportunity during questions and comments to say how much I appreciate everything that they have had to say and look forward to further discussion at committee.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by complimenting the member for Winnipeg North Centre for an excellent first speech in her new critic area as the NDP caucus critic for citizenship and immigration.

She very accurately laid out some of the concerns we in the NDP have about Bill C-11, not just about content but, as she said, in tone and about the overall impression we are sending by a bill that is overwhelmingly preoccupied with enforcement.

In fact, we have been critical for years. The Liberal government seems to be yielding to the voices of those who are against immigration, period. It is yielding by putting a disproportionate allocation of energy and resources to keeping people out of the country or to catching people who may have been sneaking into the country rather than promoting Canada as a destination for more immigration.

It is the clear point of view of the NDP caucus that we welcome immigration. We recognize immigration as an engine for economic growth. In fact, in areas like the ridings of Winnipeg Centre and Winnipeg North Centre we feel we are not getting our fair share of new Canadians. By ratio and proportion, Manitoba should in fact be getting 8,000 to 10,000 new immigrants per year as our share of the overall number of people who come to Canada. We are actually getting less than one half of that.

Certainly in our ridings and in our world view we welcome more new Canadians. We would hope that the government would use the introduction of a new immigration bill to send that message to the world: that Canada has an open door policy and we welcome new immigrants and the contributions they can make.

We are critical as well of the tone of the bill, which seems to concentrate on welcoming people with specific skills to fill specific skills shortages. In other words, it is immigration driven by the labour market. This illustrates a fundamental shift in policy over the years. This never used to be the case. We would invite immigrants to come to our country and, regardless of their skills or literacy levels, they could begin to make a contribution the very day they got here by being active consumers and purchasing goods. Then they could make the contribution they were able to make as they grew with our economy.

Today it is amazing how many entrepreneurs, business people and people who have made enormous contributions started from those humble roots. I believe that by being too selective not only are we limiting the overall numbers of people we are welcoming, but we may be missing a lot of awfully good talent. I am fond of reminding the people from the Canadian Alliance that Einstein was a refugee. A lot of skilled and qualified people are. Our own Governor General was a refugee. Members of my staff were refugees. No one asked them what their post-secondary education was before they were welcomed here. They started making a contribution when they arrived on these shores.

We were hoping that Bill C-11 would be fundamentally different from the previous Bill C-31. We did hear a number of quality presentations at the committee stage where shortcomings of Bill C-31 were cited. The minister took note and we thought that we had pretty broad agreement, at least on some of the issues.

To be fair, one of the things that we would have moved as an amendment was incorporated into the new bill, that is, considering parents as part of the family class. Family unification is one of the three legs of immigration policy in this country. We certainly welcome that change within the bill and not just within the regulations.

There are other things that we do not see addressed. We pointed out repeatedly the aspects of the bill that would bar entry to any person who had been convicted of a serious crime. By definition, a serious crime is one that is punishable by 10 years in prison or if a person serves two years or more of a penalty of up to 10 years. A person who has been convicted of a crime like that in their country of origin would never be allowed entry into this country. We pointed out the anomaly, in that somebody like Nelson Mandela would have been barred from entering this country as a refugee.

We have to recognize that some people who have been branded criminals in their own country are political dissidents who are standing up for the rights and principles that we would be proud to have in our own country. We should be recognizing the fact that many of the migrants in today's world are decent people who were forced into activities that may be considered criminal in that country. There is no denying that Nelson Mandela was part of an armed insurrection to overthrow a despotic state. That is just one example.

The increased penalties and the absolute zero tolerance rule for anybody who is engaging in any kind of trafficking of human beings can also be unfair. Canada is proud of its history with the underground railroad. What was that if not the trafficking and smuggling of people from persecution into freedom? The people who hid Anne Frank in their attic would have been guilty of taking part in the illegal trafficking and movement of people.

We have to recognize that there are political situations in the world today where desperate people are taking desperate measures to seek asylum and freedom. We do not see the protection in the bill where we recognize the realities of many places in the world.

We believe that Bill C-11 should have taken steps to change the previous Bill C-31 and to modify other aspects. It was pointed out by a number of people who made presentations to the committee that risk assessments should be conducted by CIC officials rather than the Immigration and Refugee Board. We fail to see that recommendation incorporated into Bill C-11 even though we thought there was broad consensus that it would be an improvement.

We also point out that Bill C-11 should have responded to the numerous presentations that we heard which would spell out specifically that we do adhere to the United Nations convention against torture and that under no circumstances would we ever send anyone back to a situation where they would face torture. When challenged at the committee stage, where officials came and made representations, as to whether they could point out a single other country in the world, which is signatory to the UN convention against torture, that even contemplates the idea of sending people back to where they may face torture, they were unable to answer. They said that they could not think of a single example where that was the case. Again, we were hoping that Bill C-11 would have reflected that at least.

Another amendment we would have made dealt with the UN convention on the rights of the child. As was pointed out in the speech by the member from the Bloc Quebecois, we fall short of the language called for in the UN convention. It says that the rights of the child must be the primary consideration for any decisions made on the future of the child. We say that the UN convention on the rights of the child must be of principal consideration. Not being a lawyer I do not know how that would hold up when we compare the absolute primary consideration versus a principal consideration. I think it is far weaker. I do not know why we would hesitate to use the strongest of language in that laudable concept.

I want to share the concerns voiced by the member for Winnipeg North Centre. We do not want to pander to the xenophobia that we saw in this country, where it raised its ugly head just 18 months ago when the Chinese boat people landed on the shores of British Columbia. At that time we saw the Canadian Alliance members stand up and call for Canada to not follow through with the supreme court's decision on the rights of a refugee, which was that when they placed a foot in Canada, they should be given a hearing.

Members of the Canadian Alliance held a press conference saying that the refugees should be put on a boat and sent back to where they came from. They said that we should not waste money on jail time or feeding these people while they waited for their hearing. They wanted to put them on that leaky tub and did not care if it sank. That was the kind of hysteria we saw whipped up by irresponsible people in the Reform Party or Alliance Party, and that is what the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre was making reference to.

We do not want policy shaped by xenophobic hysteria whipped up by people who are simply against immigration period.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre who has served as the NDP critic for immigration and citizenship over the past year. He has played a very important role in providing insight into the forerunner of the bill. He will continue to play a role in ensuring that we get the best possible legislation out of this process.

I am very proud to be here today as the new NDP critic for immigration and citizenship. I have much to learn as we begin this process. I am sure the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and other colleagues in the House will understand if I make any errors of fact, or if I have not clearly understood all of the issues at hand. I trust that there will be understanding and patience as we work on it together.

I want to indicate what drives me and what perspective I bring to this debate. It is a perspective that I share very much with the member for Winnipeg Centre partly, because of the kinds of constituencies we represent. It is fair to say, if we look at the ridings of Winnipeg Centre and Winnipeg North Centre, that together we represent two of the probably most diverse areas in the country with a very high number of ethnocultural groups represented in our communities.

Winnipeg North Centre has an incredible diversity of ethnocultural groups. It is an area with very strong multicultural roots that has always welcomed immigrants from every continent. Historically it experienced a large influx of people of Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish and German heritage. More recently immigrants have come in large numbers from the Philippines, India, Portugal and from many Asian, Latin American, African and Eastern European countries.

My constituency is home to many ethnocultural groups, many multicultural organizations, and many services involved in the preservation and the celebration of our rich and diverse heritage.

Together, those kinds of contributions, that kind of makeup, make for a very active, very vibrant community working to ensure an understanding of the differences among us and a respect for one another. There are many churches, synagogues, temples, gurdwaras, service groups and volunteer associations, all devoted to immigrant settlement, refugee sponsorship and anti-racism programs. I very much value the contributions of those organizations to my community and I value what they have taught me in terms of understanding the broad parameters of policies pertaining to citizenship and immigration.

In the course of this debate and the committee meetings to follow, I hope I will be able to reflect and represent the values of my constituents, which I believe are the values of Canadians everywhere. Having listened carefully to the critic for the Alliance, who was very careful in his choice of words around the policy issue, I would dare to say that if there is one thing that unites us in the House today it is that we all very much believe in the value of multiculturalism in the country today. We all want to continue the tradition that Canada has established for itself around the world in terms of being a country that is open to new citizens and that operates on the basis of humanitarian principles, offering refuge for people seeking asylum, for people in need and for people wanting to be reunited with family.

I also bring to this debate a personal conviction from my own background. Many of us in the Chamber today have a makeup of many ethnocultural backgrounds, each and every one of us. In my own case, I am proud to say that my mother is Dutch, married to a Ukrainian Canadian, and that I am married to an Amish Mennonite. I say that because for me it is part of who I am and part of what I bring to this debate and what I hope to transmit to other members in the Chamber. It is something I value and cherish.

I raise this also because I get concerned when I hear members of the media or even members of the House suggesting that we have to be watchful and mindful of all the different pockets of ethnocultural groups in the country today because that can lead to a patchwork of groups across the country and take away from the goal of national unity.

I look at it from another perspective. I think this is where my colleague, the critic from the Alliance, and I will have to disagree. I tend to believe that the richness of my background and of so many other Canadians in terms of ethnocultural diversity is a positive, an added benefit, something to be celebrated, not worried about. In fact I feel I am doubly endowed as a Canadian with the kind of background I have.

Rather than worrying about pockets of ethnocultural groups, I think we need to reflect on the value of diversity. We then need to work to ensure that our policies encourage the celebration of that diversity so that we, as a nation, gain strength from it and are able to meet challenges we would not otherwise be able to meet.

I say all of that because my biggest worry about Bill C-11 is the same worry that my colleague for Winnipeg Centre raised with respect to Bill C-31, that is, it seems to be more preoccupied with keeping people out of the country and protecting Canada from the world as opposed to reuniting families here in this country and ensuring that we respect our humanitarian traditions.

I know some changes have been made by the minister. I know she has made some improvements to the bill based on suggestions by members of the House and representations from various groups, but there is an overriding concern that we all share, at least those of us in the NDP caucus, about the tone and tenor of the bill and its focus on protecting Canada from the world as opposed to reuniting families in Canada today.

Sometimes that happens, in fact, when members in the House, as has happened quite regularly with the Alliance, tend to focus on the exceptions to the rule, on those few examples where a criminal element has entered our society or where people may have brought a disease into this country, as opposed to looking at the benefits from the thousands and thousands of immigrants and refugees who have helped to make this country what it is today.

Because of that focus and that kind of dominant thrust the minister is facing daily from the Alliance and other extreme elements in our society today, I worry that we will in fact lose sight of the important humanitarian role Canada has played on the world stage and of the extent to which those who have received sanctuary have contributed to our country's economic, social and cultural development.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe I have only two minutes left to give some opening remarks on the bill. I do want to say that there are a number of concerns which have to be addressed in the process surrounding the bill. I hope the committee process for receiving the bill will in fact be open to the many organizations and groups that have great knowledge and enormous interest and expertise in this area.

The NDP will be looking for some answers on issues not addressed by the bill. For example, there is the whole question of visitors' visas, an issue we deal with on a daily basis in our constituency offices. There is the issue of the ongoing head tax. Although the government has lifted it in regard to refugees, it still is an ongoing concern in terms of it being a barrier to people who want to come to Canada and settle here.

We will be raising concerns about the live-in caregiver program. We will be raising concerns about the adherence of this country to the Geneva convention around refugees in ensuring that our country provides the appropriate travel documentation for and acceptance of refugees here in Canada.

We will be raising concerns about the family class issue, acknowledging that the minister has moved parents into this group. This is a concern we have raised before and we appreciate the change. However, given the need in this country for a significant increase in immigrants, we still wonder why this government is not looking at a broader definition of family class and why we are not taking more steps to reduce the barriers to immigrants and refugees, to ensure that in fact this country is respectful of our past and is prepared to celebrate the diversity that makes it so strong.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 4:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the citizenship and immigration critic for the Bloc Quebecois, I am pleased to rise at second reading of Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

This bill, introduced for first reading on February 21, is almost identical to Bill C-31, which was introduced in March 2000, in the previous parliament.

I will come back later on to the differences between Bill C-31 and Bill C-11 now before the House.

The current immigration act came into effect in 1976 and has been amended about thirty times since then. It is therefore important to undertake an indepth review of the legislation in order to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees in the 21st century.

In early February, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tabled in the House of Commons her department's projections for the levels of immigration to Canada in 2001 and 2002.

A brief review of the figures for the last 20 years shows that 150,000 applications for immigration were approved in 1980. In the next five years, the number of landed immigrants dropped. In 1985, there were less than 100,000 immigrants. Starting in 1986, the number increased, until it reached an all time high in 1992, with well over 200,000 immigrants. In the following years, the number decreased to fewer than 175,000 people.

According to the department's estimates, Canada will receive 200,000 to 225,000 immigrants and refugees in 2001, nearly 18% of whom will settle in Quebec. For 2002, the estimates are increased by some 10,000.

Canada and Quebec are welcoming nations. The bill before us should be aimed at establishing a fair and equitable framework to meet the needs of newcomers as humanely as possible, whether they are immigrants or refugees, in accordance with international conventions and with the values that are important to both Canadians and Quebecers.

With free trade, with the break up of political structures, like in Eastern Europe for example, with serious conflicts raging in Asia, Africa and Europe and with the globalization of communications, more and more people will be tempted if not forced to embark on the adventure of trying to starting a new life in a new country.

This new legislation should open the door so they can contribute to the enrichment of the community of which they will become part. Their skills, their experience and their personal qualities are all essential to the development of both Canada and Quebec as nations.

The Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill. However, we will have to look at this bill more closely in committee because certain aspects of it need to be changed.

As was the case with its predecessor, Bill C-31, the main thrust of Bill C-11 is harshness towards illegal immigrants. Indeed, a large part of the bill puts the emphasis on closing the door to illegal immigrants, strengthening the measures designed to fight fraud, false statements and abuse, prohibiting criminals and those who present a security risk from entering Canada, and imposing harsher penalties.

At first glance, this bill, as drafted, seems to suggest that Canada has been invaded by all kinds of criminals and that the door is too wide open.

The Bloc Quebecois does not share that view, which can only serve to reinforce prejudice against refugees and immigrants.

With this bill, the minister is seeking among other things to respond to a strong current of public opinion in the United States which feels that Canada has become a kind of Club Med for terrorists.

Among the measures aimed at discouraging illegal border crossings, the bill includes the imposition of heavy penalties, namely fines of up to $1 million and a life sentence for human traffickers and smugglers.

Revision of the act, as well as cracking down on illegals, is also intended—and this is good news—to lighten the load on a system that does not allow Canada to achieve its annual objective of 300,000 newcomers.

At this time, there are more than 400,000 people within Canada and elsewhere who are awaiting word on whether they will be able to settle in Canada. Canada is a popular destination. So, there is a problem with delays and I am sure that many members of this House could provide examples in their own ridings.

Speeding up the refugee determination process is one of the most positive measures contained in this bill. Indeed, the minister has indicated that, from now on, it will take 72 hours instead of 3 months—this is nothing short of extraordinary—for a refugee claim to be filed with the Immigration and Refugee Board, which will have to bring down its decision within six to nine months.

The minister also pointed out that her bill would significantly streamline refugee claim processing in order to reduce the maximum time frame from five to two years.

New measures will also be put in place to modernize the procedure for selecting skilled immigrant workers and temporary workers. It must be said that these measures will never apply in Quebec, since under the Canada-Quebec agreement of 1991, Quebec selects its own economic immigrants.

Refugee selection and family reunification remain under federal jurisdiction. It is time, however, the law explicitly recognized Quebec's jurisdiction. In this regard, section 10 of the current law is very weak.

As a signatory to international human rights documents, Canada has obligations as well with respect to the rights of non citizens. The new bill must take the standards established in these texts into account. Unfortunately, and although it refers to them, the bill does not incorporate the relevant texts.

There are three international conventions. The first, the 1959 convention relating to the status of refugees, provides that the mandate of the high commissioner for refugees to protect refugees falls as well to the countries signing the convention, including Canada.

The basic instrument, indeed the cornerstone of the international refugee protection system, is respect for the principle of non return recognized by the countries and enshrined in article 33, which provides that “No Contracting State shall expel or return, refouler, a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

The bill currently before the House should also include sexual orientation, specifically, as grounds.

Subclause 97(1)( a ) of the bill refers to the convention against torture and provides for the protection of persons threatened with torture, as defined in article 1 of the convention. However, the bill does not fully respect article 3 of the convention, which prohibits the return of any individual to face torture. In fact, the present bill does not prohibit returning people deemed inadmissible for reasons of serious criminality and security.

Article 3 of the convention on the rights of the child requires governments to give the child's best interest primary consideration in all actions that concern him or her. Bill C-11 proposes that the best interest of the child be taken into account.

This bill provides for the automatic detention of any person entering Canada as part of an organized operation. The previous bill gave no special status to refugee status claimants who were minors. Under Bill C-11, a minor child shall be detained only as a measure of last resort.

I have many more quotes concerning the rights of children that I would love to read to the House, but since I have several pages left in my speech, I will not do it. However, I would be more than glad to provide them to any member interested.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently published a report on the Canadian refugee determination system. Bill C-11 before us today addresses two of the report's recommendations by linking the appeal on the merits for refugee status claimants to the pre-removal risk assessment part of the decision taken by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

However, there are many other recommendations which the bill completely fails to address and which aggravate the existing situation. For instance, the report recommends that the decision as to admissibility should be the responsibility of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. The bill widens the categories of people whose claims will be deemed inadmissible and who will therefore never have an opportunity to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

The Bloc Quebecois is particularly concerned by the fact that the bill provides for the automatic detention of any person who arrives in Canada in the context of an operation organized by traffickers.

The Bloc criticized Bill C-31 because it did not grant any special status to refugee claimants who are minors, in spite of the fact that the UNHCR recently pointed out to Immigration Canada that it was contrary to the international rules governing the detention of young refugees, except in certain cases and for very short periods of time.

The minister seems to have heard the message since Bill C-11 provides for the detention of young refugees only as a last resort. However, the notion of “last resort” has yet to be defined.

In addition to illegal immigration, the bill mentions three main reasons for detention, namely the risk that the person will flee the country, the fact that the person may be a threat to public security, or cases where it is not possible to establish the person's identity. These three reasons are already included in the current act. However, in several respects, the bill broadens the scope of the provisions on detention.

The bill gives new powers to immigration officers to detain individuals at points of entry for purposes of “administrative expediency”. The officers may also detain people when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that they are inadmissible on grounds of security or on grounds of human rights violations. One might wonder whether this addition of new grounds for detention based on expediency and suspicion is not a cause for concern. It seems to us that the grounds of danger to the public and the risk of failure to appear already cover all the situations in which detention is necessary.

The bill also broadens the provisions with respect to detention on grounds of identity. Any requirement to provide proof of identity poses a serious obstacle for many refugees. In fact, these people are often forced to flee without their papers because their identity is precisely what exposes them to persecution.

At the present time, detentions for lack of identification can only take place at entry points. With this bill, a person will now be able to be detained within the framework of any procedure covered by the law if he or she does not establish identity.

This means, for instance, that refugee claimants could be detained if they do not establish their identity at the hearing to determine refugee status.

In Bill C-11, what are presently two distinct decisions, refugee status determination and review of the risk of removal, will be a single decision made by the Immigration and Refugee Board. For every claim for refugee protection, and every application for examination of risk of removal, the board will decide whether the claimant is a convention refugee, whether the claimant is a person in need of protection, that is to say a person who would be subject to a danger of torture in their country of origin and, finally, whether the claimant is a member of a class of persons whose need for protection is recognized through regulations.

It should be noted that the exception clauses in the convention on refugees apply to refugees in the meaning of the convention, and to persons in need of protection. These exceptions are aimed at criminals, those who have committed serious common law crimes in another country and anyone convicted of actions contrary to the goals and principles of the United Nations.

The centralization of decision making within the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada will no doubt make for a more effective and rapid process.

Reference to the convention against torture is new and significant. We should note, however, that the definition of protected person contained in the bill is not absolutely consistent with the provisions of the convention against torture, which, unlike the convention on the status of refugees, contains no exclusion clause. Article 3 of the convention against torture prohibits the return of any person who may be subject to torture, regardless of what the person may have done in the past or may do in the future.

According to the bill and consistent with the situation currently, only claims for refugee status approved by citizenship and immigration may be heard. However, the bill provides that an examination of an applicant's criminal records potentially leading to an inadmissible claim will now be conducted on entry into the country and no longer at the end of the process, once the claimant has been given refugee status. The bill also expands the categories of persons whose claims are deemed unacceptable, which means they will not be referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada for a hearing.

At the moment, the claims are inadmissible only for reasons of criminality and if the minister issues a certificate of public danger. Now, claims will be considered inadmissible if the claimant has been found guilty in Canada of a crime punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least 10 years and for which a sentence of at least two years was imposed. A claimant will also be ruled ineligible if he has been convicted of an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute an offence under an act of parliament that may be punished by a maximum term of imprisonment of at least 10 years.

It is important to point out that automatically excluding persons convicted of offences outside Canada poses a threat to refugees. Too often, the criminal justice system is used as a means of persecution. It is not unusual for victims of persecution to be sentenced on the basis of false accusations manufactured in order to convict them of crimes they did not commit.

Under the bill, applications for protection will be heard by the refugee protection division. Applicants will have a hearing before a single board member, whereas at present a panel of two hears the case. Appeals against a decision by the refugee protection division may be submitted to the new refugee appeal division by the applicant or the minister. This division will not hold a hearing, but will base its decision on written submissions. We also deplore that this bill does not include any change to the appointment process of board members.

Over the past several years, the Bloc Quebecois has repeatedly criticized the Liberals for making political appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. We believe it is essential that any change in the asylum claim process should seek to guarantee the integrity of the refugee status determination system.

In order to achieve that, it is critical to establish a transparent process to appoint and replace IRB members, so as to ensure full impartiality and selection based on the candidates' qualifications and professional experience, and not, as is often the case now, on their political affiliation. Since the bill provides that the decisions will be made by a single member, it becomes even more important and in fact essential that all the decision makers have the highest qualifications.

The introduction of appeals on the merits addresses one of the fundamental weaknesses of the present refugee determination system. The absence of an appeal mechanism was very recently criticized by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights in its report on the Canadian refugee determination system. It should be noted, however, that the proposed appeal provides only limited protection to refugee claimants because it is based on written submissions only.

A large percentage of claims are ruled ineligible on grounds of credibility. It will therefore be extremely difficult to challenge such rulings of non-credibility in writing. Furthermore, written submissions also raise the problem of claimants without representation, which is often the case because of the inadequacy of legal aid.

The bill provides no guarantee of the independence of the refugee appeal division or of the greater expertise of its members with respect to refugee determination. If an appeal is to adequately correct the errors of the first level, the appeal division must obviously be a distinct and higher level.

In fact, it seems hard to guarantee the impartiality or appearance of impartiality of the process when the members of the appeal division are called upon to judge decisions made by their own colleagues in the section of first instance. Such a structure, in which members of the division are required to review themselves, does not imply a critical eye and cannot therefore in our opinion present the necessary guarantees of independence.

The Bloc Quebecois regrets the harsh tone used by the government in presenting this bill and in the related public announcements. The government's approach seems designed to reassure the Canadian right and strengthen prejudice against refugees and immigrants. It is thus encouraging division and fanning the flames of xenophobia and racism in society.

In recent years the Bloc Quebecois has said on several occasions that Canada's refugee determination system should have two essential features: it must be quick and fair to a person who is legitimately seeking asylum and it must deter those who overburden the system with unjustified claims.

This slowness in processing claims results in unacceptable human tragedies and puts people and families in extremely difficult situations.

For example, the average time to process a claim at the IRB's Montreal office is 10 months. Moreover, at the end of December 1999, there were over 7,000 asylum seekers in Montreal alone who were waiting for a hearing. That is one third of all cases in Canada.

We also believe that the new bill on immigration does not reflect explicitly enough the actual scope of all the powers gained by Quebec in this area. According to Quebec's former minister of public relations and immigration, Robert Perreault:

The act will have to include firm commitments in this regard. Provisions will have to be added to the current bill to ensure, among other things, the respect of Quebec's powers regarding the selection of immigrant workers or the maintaining of a distinct program for immigrant investors.

The bill will therefore have to contain a specific provision to this effect. In addition to the issue of Quebec's jurisdiction, it is important to mention that, although the bill proposes amendments with respect to refugee claims, nowhere does Ottawa undertake to assume the costs resulting from its handling of those claims.

In fact, if the federal government believes in the effectiveness of the measures proposed in its bill, it should be able to undertake to assume these costs, and to do so until those affected have been granted refugee status, have been granted permanent residence, or have left the country.

Last year, in February, it will be recalled, Quebec joined with Ontario and British Columbia in criticizing the federal government's handing of the movement of asylum seekers, calling for major changes, and demanding that the federal government, which is responsible for the entire refugee determination process, assume all the costs of providing services to these individuals, including social assistance, legal aid, education and so forth.

I would remind members that, right now, it is costing Quebec over $100 million annually to look after people waiting for a ruling from the federal government's Immigration and Refugee Board.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is greatly concerned by the fact that many crucial points are relegated to the regulations rather than being part of the bill itself. This means that the government is basically excluding these rules from the scrutiny of the House. This also opens the door to many changes, at the whim of the government, or because of public pressure or discontent with a court decision.

At second reading stage, the Bloc is supporting the principle of this bill. However, a lot remains to be done. We sincerely hope that, instead of just rubberstamping the legislation, the Liberal government will consider improvements to it, at committee stage, in order to meet the needs of those who have chosen to settle here to build a better life for themselves.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to take part in the second reading of Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger. The bill is really the reintroduction of Bill C-31 which died on the order paper with the call of the last election.

As this is my first lengthy speech in the 37th parliament, I thank the constituents of Dauphin—Swan River for returning me to the House. Congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, on your election to the chair and belated congratulations to all members of the House. I welcome my two deputy critics who will assist me in this portfolio, the new member for Blackstrap and the member for Surrey Central.

I will outline to our viewers how I intend to use up the next 40 minutes in debating Bill C-11. I will touch on the Canadian Alliance immigration policy, discuss why immigration is everybody's business, examine the current problems that are daily encountered, review the harsh words of the auditor general, and look at what needs to be done to improve the system.

Before I begin I want to tell the House how privileged I am to be able to stand in the House in 2001 to debate the subject of immigration. Not only am I proud to represent the Canadian Alliance Party. I am proud to say that I am an immigrant to this country.

My grandfather was a Chinese railway worker who arrived here in the late 1800s. My father came in 1922, a year before the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which incidentally happened right here in the House of Commons. The Chinese Exclusion Act refused the entry of Chinese immigrants for the next 24 years. The act was repealed in 1947.

I immigrated to Canada in 1955 as a seven year old. I do not believe for one minute that my grandfather would ever have envisioned that some day his grandson in the future would be standing in the House of Commons debating immigration legislation. I am doubly honoured to rise in the House today.

It is most unfortunate that a minister of the crown during the last federal election made some disparaging remarks about the Canadian Alliance. It was possible that these remarks were made in the heat of battle. We all do that from time to time. Unfortunately these remarks still irritate over three million Canadians who voted for the Canadian Alliance Party. I hope I am correct in saying that the minister did not mean what she said. I only wish the minister would do the right thing to resolve this issue.

The Canadian Alliance Party is pro-immigration. I will read our policy statements on immigration from the past election. Canadian Alliance promised to welcome new Canadians and at the same time keep out the criminals. Canada is a nation of immigrants. We have always been enriched by new arrivals to our shores. A Canadian Alliance government would maintain the current level of immigration. We would make it easier for immigrants who possess advanced skills and training to enter Canada, and we would make the family reunification process truly responsive.

Canadians are also angered by policies which have let dangerous criminals into our country and unscrupulous human smugglers who bring in illegal migrants, jumping the queue and hurting the integrity of the system. The Canadian Alliance immigration policy would accommodate legitimate immigrants and their families who seek to contribute to Canada, while locking it tight to those who would abuse the system.

Immigration is the story of Canada. Immigrants have been coming to Canada since Cartier and Champlain. Canada was built on the backs of the immigrants who came here from around the world. We are fortunate that after the 1900s, Canada adopted a somewhat open door policy to immigration.

Yes, as a country we have had our bleak moments, starting with the aboriginals, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Jews, the Ukrainians and the blacks. Despite all these bleak moments in history, we have fared quite well. Certainly over the last 50 years Canada has become an example to the world. Our diversity is a strength and not a weakness. We have shown the world that people from around the world can live and work together under one tent.

We should always see ourselves as Canadians first before our country of origin. Otherwise we will become a patchwork of ethnic communities, which will weaken our resolve as a nation. I agree with the author John Boyko who in his book entitled Last Steps to Freedom wrote:

Unity should be the goal of diversity rather than diversity existing as an end into itself.

In my opinion this is basically the weak link in Canada's multicultural initiative.

I applaud the member for Kitchener—Waterloo for his principal stand during the 36th parliament in his advocacy for those of us who are Canadians by choice in the citizenship act debate. There is no doubt the House will hear more from the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo when we debate Canadian citizenship in the future.

Canada needs to attract the cream of the crop around the world. In today's global economy, all countries are competing for skilled labour.

Canada's only option for population growth is through immigration. Smart immigration policies will create the opportunities for the country to create wealth. We need to keep better track of the different groups to determine how they are doing in the country, both in the short and long term.

The Canadian Alliance believes there needs to be a balance between access to Canada and security of our country from the world's criminals and terrorists.

We need to emphasize integration into Canadian society for both immigrants and refugees. The act mentions integration but does not specify how it is to be carried out. Canada has had many integration initiatives, both long term and administered by the government. They all have some level of success and failure.

However, with a larger number of both refugees and immigrants we need to look at a consistent approach to helping immigrants integrate into Canadian society. We know that most refugees have many needs including language. A clear plan of action should be in place to ensure that refugees receive basic needs, language training, education and skill training so they can become integrated into all aspects of Canadian life.

There is a desire by the populace to see that new Canadians are distributed throughout the country so that they do not all end up in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. All parts of Canada need population growth. The federal government must come up with a new integration program in consultation with the municipalities and provinces.

The parliamentary secretary, the member for Gatineau, and I along with other members had lunch with a Danish delegation to talk about immigration issues. It was interesting that the Danish government had put in place new legislation called the integration act.

The Danish integration policy is based upon the fact that immigrants and refugees on the whole, and especially the newly arrived, have a disadvantage in linguistic and vocational fields which prevent them from participating in society on an equal footing with the rest of the population.

The Danish policy was necessary, while respecting the principle of non-discrimination, to implement special integration measures which aimed to ensure that immigrants and refugees would be able to participate fully in education, the labour market and all other areas of society.

The integration act shifted responsibility for integration measures for the newly arrived from the federal level to the municipal level, which it felt had the best capacity for implementing a comprehensive and co-ordinated set of integration measures concerning housing, community information, education, vocational training and an introduction to the labour market.

That makes a lot of sense. In Canada it is unfortunate that after the first year of arrival most immigrants somehow end up in big cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. It will be interesting to see the results of the Danish initiative.

The Canadian Alliance Party believes Canada needs to do its part in taking in refugees. We understand that refugees are not immigrants. Immigrants choose to move to another country. Refugees are forced to flee, often leaving family and belongings behind.

Eighty per cent of the world's refugees are women and children. In refugee determination, Canada should enforce section F(b) of article one of the United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees, which states that refugee status should not apply to those who have committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his or her admission to that country. Canada cannot afford to take in another country's criminals regardless of whether they are an immigrant or a refugee.

The government calls the new Bill C-11 a framework document. I agree that all it has is the frame. It is short on content. This type of enabling legislation leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately the regulations are authorized by order in council and sometimes have little resemblance to the legislation. Enabling legislation like Bill C-11 leaves too much authority in the hands of the minister.

Let us take a reality check on immigration happenings in Canada. As the House knows, I was appointed the Canadian Alliance chief critic for citizenship and immigration last August. Since that time there has been no shortage of immigration stories.

Most Canadians would agree that our immigration system needs a serious overhaul. Will the new Bill C-11 do the job at this stage? I do not think so. These stories occur almost daily and show the shortcomings of our immigration system.

Let us look at some of the problems that have occurred over the last year. Last August the supreme court ruled on the human smuggling trial in British Columbia. The trial should have sent a wake-up call to the federal government that it must revamp the immigration system. The federal government continues to tout its tough federal legislation, but after the verdict there is no doubt that Canada will remain a number one target for human traffickers.

In Bill C-11 there is a $1 million penalty, but the problem is catching the culprits. Enforcement is the key problem. All the legislation in the world will not help if there are no resources to see things through. The staff must be commended for the job they do in spite of waning resources. It takes a long time to process those coming ashore, and quick action is needed to determine whether the immigrants are bona fide.

Foreign nationals without status should not be under the protection of the Canadian charter. The new immigration act will broaden the definition of who can become a refugee in Canada, which goes well beyond the United Nations' definition of a refugee. If they are criminals they should not be accepted by Canada as refugees. That is within the convention.

While most other western nations are working to tighten their laws, Canada will remain the easiest target in the developed world. We must not forget who is paying the bill: the poor taxpayer.

The government has learned very little since boatloads of illegal migrants from China made their way to Canada's shore last year. The auditor general's report of April 2000 noted serious deficiencies in the management and delivery of the Canadian immigration program. Such deficiencies led the auditor general to conclude that the program's integrity was at risk and to question whether the department could handle applications and ensure compliance under the act.

Last August 28, the media reported corruption allegations at Canada's high commission in Hong Kong amid reports that immigration officials accepted gifts while working in Hong Kong. There were also reports that the RCMP official who blew the whistle on the scandal may be fired. That should have been reason enough to call for a third party probe.

In September the department had to deal with health problems associated with testing. Following the report of a malaria outbreak in Quebec, the government should have beefed up standard health testing for refugees and overseas applicants.

The auditor general called 10 years ago for serious upgrades of health standards. Medical staff to conduct such crucial tests has been reduced and the results are outbreaks like the one we heard about in Quebec.

In the April 2000 report from the auditor general, several deficiencies within Canada's immigration program were brought forward. Questions were raised about the standard health tests used by the immigration department and the number of physicians involved in checking for infectious disease. Some 240 refugees who came to Canada from central Africa in August were exposed to the malaria virus. Several of them started turning up in hospitals after joining host families when they arrived.

Again in September the minister stated that she would act on Health Canada's recommendation to test immigrants for HIV and reject applicants who tested positive.

The threat of AIDS is nothing new. The government has failed to protect the health of all Canadians by not acting sooner. In 1994 the hon. member for Calgary Northeast raised a motion in the House calling for AIDS testing and the government voted it down.

Is that the kind of leadership Canadians can trust in the 21st century?

Five years ago there were 44 physicians to check for infectious disease. Today there are something like 22 and they are expected to process over 200,000 claims. The government has failed to address the work overload thrust upon immigration department physicians.

By November Canada had become the home of Mr. Lai Changxing, arrested for allegedly having smuggled billions into China. It was discovered that he had been residing fraudulently in Canada for the past 15 months.

Mr. Lai is a prime example of what is wrong with our immigration system. A wanted criminal from China simply walked into Canada without the benefit of a background check and in doing so compromised the safety of the people of this country. If he is a proven criminal beyond a reasonable doubt, then he should be deported to his home country which is eager to welcome him home.

The supreme court decision on deportation has really thrown a monkey wrench into the case. A wanted criminal of Mr. Lai's stature should never have been allowed into Canada. The court's decision served only to send a message that if people break the law they can hide here. That is why Canada is the most attractive destination for the criminals of the world. Under the current system people can claim to be refugees and immigration Canada will allow them to remain in the country regardless of their criminal record.

Are we about to create a new category called a criminal refugee?

My colleague, the hon. member for Provencher, the former attorney general of Manitoba and our Canadian Alliance justice critic, expressed strong disapproval at the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Minister of Justice v Burns and Rafay.

The member for Provencher said it would create a haven for any violent criminal, Canadian or otherwise, who would come to Canada to escape the death penalty in the United States or any other country. He also stated that after this precedent setting decision Canada would become a sanctuary for murderers and other violent criminals, putting the safety of law-abiding citizens at risk.

I agree with the member for Provencher. I believe the decision rendered by the supreme court, if it was to have been made, should have been made in the House. There is no doubt the decision has tied the hands of both the immigration minister and the immigration legislation.

In December the people of Hamilton received a scare when it was reported that some 1,200 people had been exposed to a deadly strain of drug resistant TB carried by a new immigrant. That is another example of the quality of screening that takes place before entry into Canada. Again, the first priority of the government should be to protect the lives of its citizens.

Even after the Hamilton scare I wonder if immigration has fixed the problems relating to health testing standards. The auditor general in his April 2000 report made recommendations to improve co-operation between the immigration and health departments, to make adequate resources available to enforce the testing process, and to have a clear definition of what tests should be administered before entry into Canada is allowed.

The auditor general has been telling the immigration department there were serious risks and flaws in the system as far back as 1990. I believe very few improvements have been made since then. It is time the auditor general's advice was taken seriously. We need a defined list of diseases to be tested for, both here and abroad, and resources need to be made available to employ adequate numbers of physicians.

At the very least there must be a very clear and definitive minimum standard of health requirements for entry into Canada, a set of diagnostic procedures for each test administered and an accountable process to monitor immigrants admitted into Canada while undergoing treatment.

Other questions that need to be addressed regarding the health screen process followed by Immigration Canada in granting entrance to immigrants and refugees are: How is it kept up to date? Are there minimum standards? How are they enforced? Is there a process for follow up?

The auditor general made further recommendations for improvement, and here they are. The first one was to ensure in establishing a regular review system that the current list of prohibited diseases keeps pace with world health issues.

The second was to establish, review and ensure a minimum standard of health requirements for entrance into Canada that is strictly enforced.

The third was to establish minimum qualifications and requirements for physicians completing or interpreting test results that would certify an applicant's admissibility.

The fourth was to establish a minimum of diagnostic procedures that must be completed before entry is granted, i.e. TB skin tests, chest x-rays and blood tests.

The last was to establish standards and guidelines for follow up of those who are allowed entrance while undergoing treatment.

In April 2000 the auditor general also said:

We are also very concerned about the lack of rigour and consistency in the overall management of medical assessment activities, including the procedures for supervising the designated local physicians who perform medical examinations of prospective immigrants abroad.

I ask members of the House what is more important in immigration than health standards. Perhaps it is time to incorporate these core principles into the act.

Last week federal statistics were released which show the number of deported individuals is up and that there are about 15,000 missing individuals with warrants. Of the 8,640 deportees in the last year 2,000 were violent criminals who required a personal escort by Canadian officials as they posed a threat to the public. The missing 15,000 are believed to have gone underground and into hiding.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the news. Rarely a day goes by without an article on immigration. Canadians should know that we do not keep exit data. We do not know how many foreign nationals are here at any given time. Even if they came into the country on a visa, we do not know if they left the country when their visa ran out. Why would Canadians therefore be surprised at the high number of individuals with warrants?

Canada is the number one destination for criminals to hide out from the law. We should not be surprised that with the recent supreme court ruling on deportation the numbers being deported will dwindle.

It looks like Canada will become the destination of choice for the world's criminals. Even Toronto police chief Julian Fantino agrees. He said “You commit your crime in one place, you run from consequences and accountability and where do you go? You go to a place like Canada”.

In Bill C-11, the government borrowed from private member's bill, Bill C-333, an act to amend the Immigration Act and criminal code, refugee or immigration applicants convicted of an offence on indictment. This was tabled in the 35th parliament by the member for Vancouver North.

I liked the tough talk from the minister last week in the media about deporting criminals. Unfortunately, it is tougher walking the talk, especially now that we are living in a post-supreme court period.

As recent as last Friday the Montreal Gazette reported that a suspected Italian Mafia hit man moved freely across the Canadian and U.S. border while courts in Europe were charging him with murder. Immigration Canada alleged that the man knew about the charges but failed to mention them while renewing his visa, a violation of Canada's Immigration Act.

According to the papers it appears that Canadian security and Interpol did not compare notes on this dangerous criminal. What will happen at this deportation hearing if this man claims harm and fears for his life if deported? The examples are endless. They all show the same thing. Our immigration system needs a major overhaul beyond the creation of a new act.

Even the lawyers in the country are not happy with the current immigration system. I will quote from the August-September 2000 issue of the National , a publication of the Canadian Bar Association. In fact, the minister of immigration is in that very publication. This was what some of the members had to say when asked what was wrong with Canada's immigration system.

The first quote is from Allen Ruben of Fredericton, New Brunswick. He said “The 1994 budget cuts at the immigration department sliced away one-third of its human and financial resources, leading to processing delays of up to three years in the entry of urgently needed foreign workers”.

The second quote is from Isabelle Dongier of Montreal. She said “The immigration rules are so complicated and hard to understand that they are very irregularly applied and interpreted. If you present a case at the border you can sit there with five different officers and have five different interpretations of the same situation”.

The last quote is from Michael Greene of Calgary. He said “There is hardly any regulation for unscrupulous immigration consultants, some of them disbarred lawyers who prey on ill-informed and vulnerable immigrants. It is astounding that a government department would take so little care of the people it deals with, especially when they know they are dealing with people who are particularly ignorant of our laws and customs”.

Even the lawyers are frustrated with our immigration system. The most reliable scrutineer of the government of the day, as we all know, is the office of the Auditor General of Canada. Much of what was said 10 years ago by the auditor general on the immigration file was repeated in his April 2000 report.

For the record, I will read the auditor general's news release dated in Ottawa on April 11, 2000. It was titled, “Immigration services abroad are in trouble and need urgent attention”, chapter 3. It said:

In his Report tabled today in Parliament, the Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, notes serious deficiencies in the management and delivery of the economic component of the Canadian Immigration Program, whose aim is to recruit skilled workers and business immigrants. Immigration offices abroad are overtasked, controls to protect health and safety of Canadians are deficient, and the Department is vulnerable to fraud and abuse. In addition, the Department is open to criticism of the quality and consistency of its decisions.

“Immigrants provide a steady flow of talent and new skills to our labour force. The deficiencies we noted in our audit seriously limit Canada's ability to get the economic and social benefits that immigration affords and seriously weakens the level of protection for Canadians intended in the Immigration Act”, said Denis Desautels. He added that it is highly questionable whether the Department has the capacity it needs to meet the annual immigration levels set by the government.

We know that immigration levels have been set for the past two years at between 200,000 and 225,000. In 1999 approximately 190,000 immigrants were admitted to Canada; 56% were economic immigrants, skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors and self-employed workers.

Among the findings of the report were the following. First, selected criteria and process were not conducive to a rigorous selection of immigrants who were highly qualified and able to contribute to our economy. Second, applicants could wait up to three years for a decision. That is intolerable. Third, there were significant weaknesses in medical assessment of prospective immigrants. The same routine tests have been required for the last 40 years, despite the emergence of new diseases. Canadians should be concerned about their health. Fourth, some immigrants were admitted to Canada without reasonable assurance that they had not committed crimes abroad. Fifth, there were inadequate controls over revenue, visa forms and computer systems in offices abroad.

The auditor general urged the department and the government to take immediate action to address both policy and administrative issues. The statement of Mr. Desautels from April 2000 went on to say:

“It is disappointing to note that several of the problems we raise today are similar to those reported in 1990”, said Denis Desautels. “Employees responsible for processing applications in offices abroad are deeply concerned about the present state of affairs and I share their concerns”.

As hon. members can see, our immigration system is in dire need of a major overhaul. The question is how will the new act fix the old problems that go as far back as 1990? How accountable will the minister be in getting these problems rectified. The buck does stop at the minister's desk.

The old saying goes that it is always easier to criticize. In other words, what would the Canadian Alliance do to fix the problems? Let me, on behalf of the Canadian Alliance, present some solutions. Let me begin by saying that we will make the system work. The current system of immigration is workable. It is just very badly mismanaged and underfunded.

The department works with at least three other federal departments; health, foreign affairs and human resources. Better co-operation and communication among all these other parties would be a good first step in correcting what is wrong with the department.

Staff at all levels need to be better educated as to their role. The roles need to be standardized across the board. Those with the most experience in security, for example, should probably handle security matters. If the RCMP and CSIS are on board to help at all immigration offices around the world, then their expertise in determining security risks should be utilized. If the RCMP and CSIS are not using their expertise in determining security risks, then it is high time they were.

It is long overdue for an overhaul of the Immigration and Refugee Board system, beginning by making this system more transparent, less partisan and more credible. Members of the IRB should be hired on merit, not politics.

The department needs to undergo a full financial audit to determine areas of overlap and waste. There is currently not enough staff to handle the workload. The latest budget cuts have reduced the medical staff both in Canada and overseas assignments. It is interesting that the auditor general made these same complaints 10 years ago. There must be put in place an evaluation process to determine whether the system is working as a unit. There is no doubt that better co-ordination needs to take place between overseas offices as well as those in Canada.

The definition of what a bona fide refugee is must be clear. We need to follow the UN convention to which we are a signatory. As is currently happening, almost anyone entering Canada can claim refugee status. By the time they are processed and heard, many years have passed. Most Canadians agree that refugees should not be detained for long periods of time and that the determination process must be compressed.

Canadians want an immigration system that protects their borders from the criminals and terrorists of the world. Our security system needs to be addressed. Proper training in criminal background checks and risk assessments should be mandatory for all these officers.

As I have illustrated throughout this debate, there are numerous problems with the issue of security. The question which is always raised is how did these undesirables get here in the first place? Our research shows that there is very little communication or information sharing, sometimes none between the RCMP, CSIS and other international security agencies such as Interpol. A recent Montreal case is a good example.

Another problem we learned is what information is shared is sometimes undisclosed in a court during an appeal on an application. Therefore, visa officers are reluctant to decline applications on the basis of inadmissibility for security reasons. It is very difficult to prove the standards of inadmissibility. Further, there is no deterrent against applicants repeatedly submitting false applications, therefore increasing their chances of getting through the system. There needs to be sharing of information between RCMP, CSIS and visa officers.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in its report entitled, “Refugee Protection and Border Security: Striking a Balance”, recommended that the Government of Canada increase resources for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and the RCMP so that they would be able to meet the challenges posed by traffickers in people and ensure the safety and security of Canada and its people. Perhaps it is time Canada stationed members of both the RCMP and CSIS permanently at our overseas locations.

We believe that once an applicant has been found to have willingly turned in a false application, which is a breach of the act, that person should not be allowed to reapply for entry into Canada. If we take our security seriously, the penalty for lying needs to be equally harsh. The minister should have the authority to deport an individual or decline the entry of an individual based on criminal, violent or terrorist acts without question or appeal.

The whole system of processing refugees must be addressed. We need to process refugees expediently. It is inhumane to detain or lock up refugees for long lengths of time, as was the case on the west coast where foreign nationals who claimed refugee status were locked up for over a year.

We would make the process work smoother if we adhered to the definition as written by the United Nations, that a refugee arrives, not by choice for economic gain but is here due to persecution based on race, religion, ethnic origin or political opinion. I must say that 95% of the refugee claims are credible. It is the 5% that we are concerned about and many of them are criminals who we do not need.

One way of dealing with these criminals who claim refugee status is that we should not be giving them full charter status until they have been declared bona fide refugees. Canadians wonder how foreign nationals can have full charter protection when they are foreign nationals before being declared bona fide refugees.

Penalties for those abusing the refugee claimant system should be steep and serve as a deterrent for all future would be fraudulent claims.

There is another point I would like to raise. Perhaps it is time that Canada should keep exit data so that we know who is in the country. Otherwise Canada is a pretty easy place to hide once inside its borders. Maybe it is time to photograph all those entering across our borders.

The minister must be more accountable for the operation of her department. Canadians are tired of hearing immigration problems almost daily on the news. They are asking the question, who is minding the store. There is a consensus that the immigration system in the country needs a major overhaul. Bill C-11 is only one step to help rectify the problems. It is long overdue that the government of the day to introduce new legislation since this current act is of 1976 vintage. The bill needs changes like all bills at second reading.

I close by saying that immigration is everybody's business. I would say that most Canadians can relate personally to immigration, if not in their immediate family, then certainly in the heritage of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. We all know that immigration will play a major role in the future of the country.

The Canadian Alliance will take a constructive approach to Bill C-11 at committee. We will continue to hold the government accountable for its lack of action. We will put forth amendments to strengthen the bill. We will listen to Canadians as they come forth with their ideas for improvement. Immigration is everybody's business. All Canadians need to be aware that a new immigration bill is in the making. Persons wanting a copy of the bill should contact their member of parliament.

I invite our viewers and all Canadians to communicate with their members of parliament, or with me as chief opposition critic, concerns and changes that they would like to see in this draft piece of legislation called Bill C-11.

The standing committee will be travelling across the country, probably in the spring, to listen to Canadians. Perhaps anyone who cannot attend these hearings would like to send in a written presentation to the clerk of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and anyone who would like to appear before the standing committee could please contact their member of parliament, myself or the clerk of the standing committee.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActGovernment Orders

February 26th, 2001 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

moved that Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present Bill C-11, the immigration and refugee protection act to the House for second reading. When the business of the House came to a close because of the election call, the progress of Bill C-31, the previous immigration and refugee protection act that I introduced in the House last spring, was of course brought to a halt.

This time however has given me the opportunity to review in detail the many discussions that ensued and the many submissions which were received subsequent to the introduction of the previous bill.

In particular, the time has given me the opportunity to consider carefully what Canadians were saying about the bill, both in its broad orientation as well as in specific detail. I can say I was pleased to note that Canadians were generally quite supportive of the previous bill known as Bill C-31.

They also expressed a few concerns. I am happy to say that I have addressed many of those concerns and the issues that were expressed. In Bill C-11 we have addressed what I believe were the most serious of those concerns. I have incorporated a number of recent proposals and I will describe those momentarily. I want to be clear that Bill C-11 maintains the core principles and the provisions of the previous bill.

This is important legislation, legislation which will be of great benefit to the country. The reason why is quite simple. By saying “no” more quickly to those who would abuse our rules, we will be able to say “yes” more often to those immigrants and refugees who Canada will need to grow and prosper in the years ahead.

This new legislation flows from four years of consultation. We had consultation with our constitutional partners in immigration matters, the provinces and the territories and with others interested in immigration matters. Those consultations have been both substantive as well as extensive.

The provinces have been quick to point out that we will only be able to increase our overall immigration levels, as the government is committed to, if we are prepared to improve our ability to absorb and to integrate those increased numbers. I understand and I accept this completely.

We have also consulted wisely, widely and substantially with many non-governmental groups and others involved in the business of settlement services for immigrants and refugees. I have met with Canadians, with permanent residents, with those who have been here for generations and with those who are newcomers. We have consulted as well with business leaders about the need for skilled workers. We have worked out innovative new ways to see that highly skilled workers on the move around the world will identify Canada as their destination of choice, our communities, our culture and our society.

Our economy has benefited enormously from immigration in the past. The evidence is seen all around us. We must continue to welcome new arrivals so that Canada will continue to grow and prosper and continue to be recognized in the years ahead as the best place in the world in which to live.

Of course we know that Canada is increasingly being challenged by other countries that are competing for the world's best and brightest who are seeking opportunities abroad. This competition will only grow more intense in the years ahead as more countries desire the benefits of immigration and experience the demographic changes that I believe and I know most western countries are facing.

The new century will belong to those who are best able to develop and expand their collective human capital. The knowledge based economy has become a reality. If Canada is to compete and succeed, we must continue to attract skilled workers from across the globe, to share their knowledge and their skills and to build bridges with the rest of the world. This means attracting not just skilled and hardworking individuals, it means reuniting them with their families as quickly as possible and welcoming them into the Canadian family. It means honouring our proud humanitarian tradition which begins with our commitment to provide safe haven to those in genuine need of our protection.

In the recent Speech from the Throne the government committed to modernizing and streamlining Canada's immigration and refugee protection systems. With Bill C-11, we are doing it. The bill simplifies the current Immigration Act. It enhances the safety and security of Canadians and of Canada's borders. It strengthens our ability to attract the immigrants we need and reaffirms our traditional openness to newcomers.

In short, it provides us with all that we need to fulfill our dual mandate, which is to close the back door to those who would abuse our generosity and not obey our rules, so that we can open the front door wider to the immigrants and refugees like those who came before them, who came here to build this wonderful country.

The bill will enable us to meet the challenges and take advantage of the enormous opportunities that the new century holds for this country.

Bill C-11 remains a tough bill. However, I want to emphasize that it is tough on criminal abuse of our immigration and refugee protection systems. The bill creates severe new penalties for people smugglers and for those caught trafficking in humans. These are deplorable activities. There will be fines of up to $1 million and sentences of up to life in prison for persons convicted of smuggling and trafficking in humans. It will also allow our courts to order the forfeiture of money and other property seized from traffickers.

The bill clarifies our existing grounds for detention and our criteria for inadmissibility to Canada. It provides immigration enforcement officers with the tools they need to see that serious criminals, threats to national security, violators of human rights, participants in organized crime and members of terrorist organizations are barred entry to Canada.

Bill C-11 will introduce front end security screening of all refugee claimants, fewer appeals for serious criminals and suspension of refugee claims for those charged with crimes until the courts have rendered a decision. This is what Canadians want and this is what we have delivered.

Bill C-11 will also streamline the refugee determination process. Referrals to the immigration and refugee board will take place within three working days of a claim. By consolidating several current steps and protection criteria into a single decision at the IRB and, moreover, by combining increased use of single member panels at the board with an internal paper appeal on merit, we will see faster but fairer decisions on refugee claims.

Combining grounds for protection at our IRB, Bill C-11 will maintain due process and a fair hearing for refugee claimants, while offering fewer opportunities for protracted judicial review at the federal court. Once again, this is a good example of streamlining.

I should note that Bill C-11 does not expand on the existing grounds for protection. It simply consolidates several current protection criteria and corresponding protection decisions into a single step. Grounds for protection will remain the same as they are at present in keeping with Canada's international human rights obligations.

Bill C-11 also takes steps to address the frustrating revolving door syndrome that has become associated with repeat claims. Failed claimants removed from Canada after receiving a fair hearing and due process, should they return to Canada to make a repeat claim, will no longer return to the immigration and refugee board. Instead, if they return to Canada seeking protection after six months, they will be given a pre-removal risk assessment to determine whether circumstances relevant to their previous claim have changed. Before six months, they are entitled to seek refugee protection only at our missions outside of Canada.

Bill C-11 will also strengthen the integrity of our immigration system. It will tighten up sponsorship provisions to see that those who sponsor new immigrants are both able and willing to meet their financial obligations. They will be required to keep their promises.

Bill C-11 will improve our ability to recover the costs of social assistance in the cases of sponsorship default. In regulations to accompany Bill C-11, we will deny sponsorship to those in default of spousal or child support payments, those on social assistance and those convicted of spousal or child abuse.

Bill C-11 will also establish a new class of inadmissibility for those who commit fraud or misrepresentation on immigration applications. It will create a new offence for those caught helping anyone to gain status in Canada through fraud or misrepresentation.

New arrivals would be required to demonstrate reasonable attachment to our country in order to maintain permanent residence status. Bill C-11 would require physical presence in Canada for at least two of every five years for new immigrants to maintain their permanent residence status.

These changes are very important for one very simple reason. It is about respect. In my many discussions with individuals and organizations across Canada, I can assure members that this point has been made abundantly clear. Canadians want a system that is based on respect, both respect for our laws and our traditional openness to newcomers. Bill C-11 would do just that.

I spoke of the steps to close the back door, but equally Bill C-11 would allow us to open the front door wider. We would improve our ability to attract skilled workers and speed up family reunification. In regulations authorized by Bill C-11, we would modernize our selection system for skilled workers. Independent immigrants would be selected for their adaptability, level of education and training, language skills, experience and general level of employability.

In today's rapidly evolving labour markets we need people who are best able to adapt to new occupations as the needs of the labour market shift over time. These are people who would thrive and contribute to our prosperity in the economy of this new century.

Bill C-11 would also provide easier access for highly skilled temporary foreign workers so that Canadian businesses can stay competitive and seize every opportunity for expansion. Many skilled workers who come to Canada on a temporary basis are subsequently offered permanent positions.

The regulations to Bill C-11 would allow these workers to apply for landing from within Canada under certain conditions, just as it would allow foreign students who have graduated and worked in Canada also to apply for landing from within Canada.

Bill C-11 also recognizes that family reunification has always been a cornerstone of Canada's immigration policy. Canadians know that new arrivals establish themselves more quickly and much better when they have the support of their extended families. Bill C-11 and its supporting regulations would allow spouses, partners and dependent children to apply for landing from within Canada provided that they are already here legally and that they made appropriate admissibility provisions.

I started my remarks by making references to the improvements I made in the bill to address some of the concerns that had been raised in relation to Bill C-31. I will say a few words about the changes.

One key concern that I heard was that the previous bill had to do with the idea of framework legislation. I understand the concern but I consider it all the same. Framework legislation remains essential to the efficient administration of the immigration program, particularly in the context of changing global environment in which it operates and would continue to operate. Framework legislation allows us the flexibility to make changes through regulation when sudden, unforeseen circumstances require. However I made a commitment to see that all key principles and policies are set out explicitly in the act rather than in regulations.

Bill C-11 enshrines in the act the principles of equality, freedom from discrimination and the equality of English and French as official languages of Canada. It also makes explicit the provision that parents are members of the family class. There is, moreover, an explicit provision now in the act that sponsors spouses, partners, dependent children and refugees resettled from abroad, along with their dependents, would not be denied admission on grounds that they would create an excessive demand on our medical system.

Bill C-11 also affirms in legislation the principle that children should only be detained as a last resort. It provides a clear definition of permanent resident to distinguish the rights of permanent residents from those of other foreign nationals.

Oral hearings have been reinstated for those facing loss of permanent resident status, and provisions have been clarified for allowing new evidence to be presented at those appeals.

Bill C-11 would also facilitate the return of permanent residents with expired permanent resident cards if they have been outside Canada for less than one year.

We have built in a higher threshold for examination within Canada related to inadmissibility and immigration officers would now require a warrant to arrest a permanent resident on any immigration matter.

Before denying access to the refugee determination system to persons convicted of serious criminal offences outside of Canada, the bill requires a ministerial danger opinion. This provision is a safeguard to protect those who may have been convicted of politically trumped up charges.

The bill makes explicit our policy that people refused refugee resettlement overseas by a Canadian visa officer would nonetheless be able to apply for refugee status from within Canada.

Finally, I am happy to say that the United Nations high commissioner for refugees will be allowed to observe IRB hearings and participate as an intervener in cases before the refugee appeal division. I believe these improvements both strengthen the bill's integrity and protects the rights of individuals before the immigration and refugee protection systems.

Bill C-11 gives us a balanced approach to immigration and refugee protection policy.

Since the initial passage of the current Immigration Act in 1976, I know we all agree that the world has changed dramatically. More than ever before, people are on the move for trade, tourism, investment and education in order to develop their skills, to share their knowledge, to pursue their dreams, to find safety and to reunite with family.

Canada has been the enormous beneficiary of this global movement of people.

The swift passage of Bill C-11 into law would allow us to modernize our immigration and refugee protection systems. It would allow us to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

Let me assure the House that regulations in support of Bill C-11 will be developed in as an open and consultative manner as this bill has been developed. It will give members of the House, key immigration stakeholders and individual Canadians ample opportunity to share their views.

Issues of immigration and refugee protection are very important to the country. They take us to many of our core values that we as Canadians share. An open and transparent regulatory process would ensure that Canadians support the rules that are put in place.

Let me also assure the House that Bill C-11 recognizes that immigration is an area of jurisdiction that the federal government shares with the provinces and territories. Bill C-11 would commit the Government of Canada to continue consulting and working with our partners, the provinces and territories, in these matters.

The government is fully committed to the social union framework agreement and recognizes that immigration does impact on areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as health care, education and social services.

However, immigration also brings enormous social, cultural and economic benefits to Canada, its provinces and cities, benefits that must be weighed against the short term costs. Indeed, it is one of the reasons that so many of our provinces are currently looking to attract more immigrants. They know as we all do that immigrants and refugees built this country.

Under the new provisions of Bill C-11, immigrants and refugees would continue to help build the country in the future. I am proud to move adoption and second reading of Bill C-11.

Business Of The HouseOral Question Period

February 22nd, 2001 / 3 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I certainly hope the opposition will co-operate to ensure that we pass all the meaningful legislation that we have. I will take the comments of the opposition House leader as representation to his own colleagues to do just that.

This afternoon we will debate second reading of Bill C-9, the administrative amendments to the Canada Elections Act brought by a decision of the courts.

On Friday it is my intention, following Bill C-9, to debate Bill S-2 respecting marine liability.

On Monday we would like to commence consideration of the very important and excellent piece of legislation Bill C-11, the immigration bill. This would be followed by Bill C-12, the Judges Act amendments and Bill C-5, the species at risk legislation which is equally important.

Thursday, March 1, shall be an allotted day.

I am presently discussing with counterparts in other parties a proposal to reaffirm the powers of the Speaker to select for debate amendments at report stage in a manner that is fair to members and in the manner that it was intended when that procedure was adopted. Subject to consultation, I hope to be able to ask the House to consider this proposition some time next week, possibly early next week.

Immigration And Refugee Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

February 21st, 2001 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan LiberalMinister of Citizenship and Immigration

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-11, an act respecting immigration to Canada and the granting of refugee protection to persons who are displaced, persecuted or in danger.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)