moved that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate you on your election.
It is a great privilege for me to rise in the House today with respect to the sponsorship of Bill C-4, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act.
Over the last few months, all of us have heard a great deal about the importance of the legislation before us today, which our government first introduced October 2, 2010, as part of an overall strategy to help put an end of human smuggling.
We have heard from ordinary Canadians that they want our borders to stay open to newcomers who play by the rules when they come to our country, but firmly shut against those who would abuse our generosity, threaten the integrity of our immigration system and pose a risk to our safety and security.
They have told us they want Canada to remain the welcoming country it has always been for newcomers. However, they have also told us that human smuggling operations must be stopped.
The arrival of two migrant vessels from Southeast Asia over the past two years, the MV Ocean Lady and the MV Sun Sea, have proved the reach and determination of organized human smuggling networks in their efforts to target Canada.
We have heard from experts in the field that Canada is the destination of choice for human smugglers and that criminal networks are evolving and adapting to utilize more sophisticated ways of moving their cargo.
Canada, therefore, needs to be ever more vigilant and more aggressive in cracking down on the ringleaders of this worldwide criminal operation, not less, as some have suggested.
The truth is that human smugglers are not at all interested in helping individuals in need. They do not care about individuals. They do not care about families. They make victims of their passengers, who must pay dearly, and risk their lives to undertake perilous journeys. Human smugglers only care about money and are working every day to increase the profits from their illegal activities.
Most of all, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to continue building on our track record of making our streets and communities safer for everyone by cracking down on criminals and organized crime groups however they may operate and from wherever they may operate.
One way our government intends to do that is by passing legislation this fall to, among other things, tackle organized drug crimes and establish tougher sentences and mandatory jail terms for child molesters and those who use the Internet for this purpose.
We will end house arrest for serious and violent offenders. We will bring measures to ensure pardons can be refused in cases involving serious crimes against children. We will equip our police with new investigative powers designed for the computer age.
Our government was quite clear in our 2011 platform that such legislation would be passed within 100 sitting days of the return of the House, and ours is a government that delivers on its commitments.
We were equally clear in our platform that another way our government would continue to stand on guard for Canada and protect the safety and security of Canadians would be by cracking down on human smuggling. That is why we are here today. Bill C-4 is all about that. It is about delivering on our commitments to Canadians. It is about standing on guard for Canada and taking action to keep our streets, communities and borders safe.
Bill C-4 would, first and foremost, crack down on those criminals who would abuse our generous immigration system and endanger the safety and security of our Canadian communities.
We are providing a strong deterrent to those who are organizing human smuggling operations to jump the queue into Canada and we are ensuring the integrity and fairness of Canada's immigration system for years to come.
Under this act, our government would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of persons as an irregular arrival and make those involved subject to the act's measures. It would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers. It would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on convicted human smugglers. It would hold shipowners and operators to account for the use of their ships in human smuggling operations.
As part of the legislation, designated arrivals would face mandatory detention for up to one year to allow Canadian authorities to determine admissibility and illegal activity. In short, the detention period would provide more time to identify those who had arrived in our country and whether they posed a threat to our national security. Canadians deserve nothing less.
That provision is no different than the provision that occurs on a regular basis inside our criminal court system. Many of us who have been involved either as prosecutors or defence lawyers in the court system understand that if an accused person refuses to identify themselves, or if the court is not sure of the identity of the accused, the accused remains in custody until that determination can be made. The problem is it is so much more difficult when strangers arrive at our shores without any identification and we have no idea from where they are coming or who in fact they are.
Under the act, our government is also reducing the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling operations. This includes measures like preventing those who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, including those who subsequently obtain refugee status, from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years.
The act would ensure that the health benefits participants receive would not be more generous than those received by other members of the Canadian public. It would enhance the ability to terminate refugee applications of those who would return to their country of origin for a vacation or would demonstrate in other ways that they were not legitimately in need of Canada's protection. It would also prevent individuals who participate in human smuggling events from sponsoring family members for a period of five years.
Bill C-4 is virtually identical to the legislation our government introduced in the House of Commons last year. There are minor revisions, most notably one which puts the responsibility for designating an irregular arrival event in the exclusive purview of the minister rather than delegating it.
As hon. members know, the legislation which our government introduced in the fall proposed that the Minister of Public Safety would be allowed to designate those who land on our shores, in a way similar to those aboard the MV Sun Sea or the MV Ocean Lady, as an irregular arrival. The minister would make such a designation when he or she had reasonable grounds to believe that establishing the identity or admissibility of the individuals coming to Canada as part of such an arrival could not be carried out in a timely manner or if he or she had reasonable grounds to suspect that the arrival of the group involved organized human smuggling activity.
The legislation before us today retains those provisions and adds another stipulating that the designation must be made by the Minister of Public Safety personally and cannot be delegated.
The measures which our government is proposing are tough, but they are fair. They are fair to those who legitimately and legally wait, or have waited in line for a better life in Canada. It is fair for all Canadians who rightfully expect that our borders and shores are protected and secure and our generous social systems are protected from abuse.
For those who want to jump the queue or target Canada for criminal gain, these measures are a message, clear and direct: Canada will not tolerate human smuggling and if one wants to come here there are fair, legal and legitimate means to do so.
These measures will enhance our ability to crack down on those who engage in human smuggling and try to exploit Canada's generous immigration system. They will strengthen our ability to protect Canada from criminal or terrorist threats and they respect our international obligations to provide assistance for those legitimate refugees who need our protection and help to start a new and better life.
Every year Canada welcomes nearly 14,000 refugees to our country. As a share of our population, that number represents more than any country in the world. Nothing in Bill C-4 changes this. Nor are there any provisions in the bill that would result in Canada returning someone to face torture or risk to their life in their native country.
From coast to coast to coast, Canadians want to help those in need or those who genuinely need our protection, but that does not make us naive and it does not make us pushovers. Canada and Canadians want tough measures to stop those who would abuse our generosity from becoming part of Canadian society.
We know that threats exist and that we must remain vigilant. That is why our government is taking action. That is what our government is doing today, and this is what we will continue to do in the future.
I would therefore urge all hon. members to support the legislation before us today and work with our government to ensure its speedy passage.
I would like to propose a motion to the House dealing with the bill. We are approaching an adjournment, and as you know, Madam Speaker, during the adjournment, we could be faced with another crisis like we faced with the MV Sun Sea.
Therefore, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House for the following: That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of this House, Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.