Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his speech and certainly the work that he is doing on the immigration and citizenship committee. Regardless of political stripe, we on occasion have been able to find some common ground and have been working quite well in the early days of this 40th Parliament.
I do want to thank the hon. member for not singing in the House of Commons. I certainly do not mind him speaking once in awhile, but the last thing I would really want is to hear him sing a tune here in the House of Commons.
Off the top, I want to state that our government's position on Bill C-291 has not changed from that in the 39th Parliament. In fact, we will be opposing the bill, because this bill seeks to establish the refugee appeal division.
There is no question that we strongly support an effective refugee status determination system, but as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said yesterday, he was delighted to hear the interest of the member who asked a question on this topic and was hopeful that we could all work together to create a more efficient and effective refugee determination system.
The government opposes this legislation because it is neither necessary in the current system nor is it efficient. It would add considerable delays and costs, both in the start-up and operating costs as well as the prolonged costs for services provided to failed refugees waiting for their fourth level of appeal, which would be this appeal division.
The cost of implementing the refugee appeal division would be in the range of $15 million to $25 million annually in new operating costs, about the same amount in social services costs paid by both the provincial and federal governments for refugees, not to mention start-up costs of approximately $10 million.
It would also add five months to the decision-making process. Provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia and even Quebec would be disproportionately affected by this.
Canadians have a right to be proud of our humanitarian tradition, no question, and as the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, a former Liberal minister of citizenship and immigration, said last June before the human rights committee in the other place:
--[T]he people that I consulted, those from the United Nations responsible for refugees, liked to think of Canada as the premier example of a system for refugee determination that underscored fairness and product.
The member concluded that the current system is fair, that there is no need for another appeal process, as four steps already exist in this decision-making process.
As the member for Eglinton—Lawrence put in his own words:
--I said I would not implement it. Of course, we got into an election so I could not change my mind. When Bill C-280 came forward, I did not see any compelling arguments to make me change my mind.
If a former Liberal citizenship and immigration minister is willing to publicly speak against the bill, which has not been substantively changed since its previous incarnation as Bill C-280, then I have to ask all of my Liberal colleagues across the floor why they would not listen to one of their colleagues and also oppose this bill.
There is a full range of recourses offered by the refugee determination system as a whole. Our refugee determination system is based on a strong, independent, first level decision-making process at the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Rejected applicants can then seek leave for a judicial review at the Federal Court, another form of appeal, if you will. If both the IRB and the Federal Court turn down the applicant's claim, he or she is still entitled to a pre-removal risk assessment before leaving and can also apply for permanent residence on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.
The addition of the refugee appeal division would only add a further level of review to an already comprehensive refugee determination system. Successful refugee applications can take an average of two and a half years to reach permanent residence status. Negative applications can take over five years, and in some cases much longer than that, before an individual has exhausted all avenues of appeal.
We changed the selection process to make it more open and more accountable. This is a great improvement over the years of Liberal patronage to their political friends, appointments such as Mr. Mouammar, who had an acceptance rate double that of the IRB average at that time, which rose to virtually 100% in some cases if one was from the Middle East.
Last year there were 40 Governor in Council appointments and 24 reappointments. With the minister's announcement on March 10, 2009, of two appointments and five reappointments, and his previous announcement of 25 appointments and 3 reappointments in 2009, the board now stands at close to 90% of its full complement. With fewer vacancies on the IRB, genuine refugee claims will be processed and finalized faster, while frivolous asylum applications will be dismissed much more quickly.
Canadians expect their refugee system to help and protect legitimate refugees. As the minister said yesterday in the House, “last year we received 38,000 inland refugee claimants, about 60% of whose applications were rejected by the IRB”.
There are individuals taking advantage of our compassionate nature and seeking refugee status on dishonest grounds. They know the significant length of time that this process affords them. We must fix this.
It is not an uncommon tactic to make a false refugee claim to allow the individual to attempt to make enough connections within the community so that they are able to bolster their humanitarian and compassionate grounds case. This is a fundamental problem that this bill simply does not address. In fact, it would legitimately add to the incentive to make fraudulent applications, as the time before deportation would be extended by at least five months.
In 2008, 34,800 refugee claims were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board, as compared to 27,912 claims in 2007. This represents an almost 25% increase in refugee claims.
Last year, the former minister of citizenship and immigration, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, shared her concerns at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. She noted the number of refugee claims in Canada was increasing at a rate higher than in almost every other country. She reported that a majority of claimants were found not to be in need of protection. Only 43% of claims finalized by the Immigration and Refugee Board were accepted in 2007 and the acceptance rate dropped to 42% last year.
There are those who would like to take advantage of our generosity in this country and take a place away from those who are genuinely in need of our protection and their own. There are those who come to Canada from countries, such as Mexico, that are not typically seen to produce refugees. Mexico is the largest source country of refugees, with approximately 8,000 individual claims in 2008. Only 10% are successful in their application for status. Very valuable resources are being increasingly diverted from those who need our help to those who are found not to be genuine refugees.
If this bill is implemented, failed refugee claimants will be the ones filing for secondary appeals. It is impossible to predict the number of appeals that could be made every year because each refugee claim is assessed individually. On average, it takes three days to determine an eligibility claim but it takes about 17 months from the date a claim is referred to the IRB to an initial decision rendered by the IRB.
Leave applications for judicial review of the IRB decision can take about four months. If that leave is granted, it can take approximately a year or more to decide the appeal. A pre-removal risk assessment takes about nine months. An application made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds can take an additional 21 months.
A claimant has a right to seek judicial review of negative pre-removal risk assessment and decisions made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It adds up. It can take up to five years for almost all of these cases to be handled through the process and up to ten years in some cases. The hon. member's bill would extend that by at least another five months.
We need to consider that almost 35,000 refugee claims were made to the IRB last year. Adding another layer to the current refugee status determination process would not only further paralyze our system, it would erode its very integrity. The Refugee Appeal Division would conduct only a paper review of the evidence presented at the original hearing, it would not allow for the introduction of new evidence or an in-person hearing.
We have monitored the impact of delaying implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division. We have consistently found that even without this fourth layer of review, the current system already provides protection to those who need it.
The implementation of an appeal would be possibly only if the current system could be streamlined to avoid access to multiple and overlapping recourses. Therefore, I urge all hon. members to not support Bill C-291.