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Evidence of meeting #29 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was system.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Amipal Manchanda  Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Les Linklater  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Well, we have something called the five-country conference, which already is a platform for information sharing, particularly on asylum claimants: that's Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. We have very complementary laws and systems.

We already have an information-sharing agreement that has helped to identify, for example, bogus asylum claimants. In one case, there was a Somali national who made failed refugee claims in Australia and the U.S. and then showed up in the U.K. trying to make a third claim. He was identified. That's the kind of usefulness of this information sharing.

The main initiative now is expanding information sharing with the United States in the context of “Beyond the Border”, the continental security perimeter action plan, but we would not preclude more robust information-sharing agreements with other liberal democracies that are respectful of privacy rights and serious about national security.

Would you like to...?

5:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Claudette Deschênes

Also, our biometrics are fingerprints, and they will be checked against the RCMP system. The RCMP has major information sharing through Interpol and other things. There's a whole variety of other countries. I think the RCMP did come to the committee before. We're going to be building on that. Therefore, again, in regard to the other countries that have shared fingerprints and so on, that will be one of the key ways for us to expand our knowledge.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Yes, we did indeed hear from the RCMP, CSIS, and CBSA—acronyms again—and certainly we saw a willingness, even for cross-department communication, to ensure that we secure the borders as much as possible.

Minister, if I may, I'd like to ask a question about one of the issues that Bill C-31 actually addresses; that is, dealing with people who are claiming refugee status and who come from countries around the world that have democracies much like ours. Can you tell us really how effective you think that would be?

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

One of the reasons we proposed additional reforms to our asylum system through Bill C-31 is that since the adoption of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in June of 2010, we have seen a growing wave of unfounded asylum claims coming in, particularly from member states of the European Union—last year, 5,800 EU claims—which has created the bizarre situation that we're getting more asylum claims from the European Union than we do from Africa or Asia.

I mentioned this in my speech to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 60th anniversary meeting in Geneva, and there were visible gasps in the audience. The high commissioner himself said that was the single most remarkable thing he had heard during the conference.

It just strikes us as being, at best, peculiar. Virtually none of those EU asylum claimants actually show up for their hearings. Since we've had the visa exemption for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and other European countries in 2008, about 95% of claimants have abandoned or withdrawn their own claims. That is to say, through their own admission, they're saying that they made claims but they didn't need Canada's protection.

So clearly we need flexible tools to address highly organized waves of unfounded claims coming from democratic countries, where life may not be perfect, but if you are a citizen of an EU member state, you can move. If you need protection, you can cross into any one of another 27 states. Why is it, I ask myself, that there were I think zero asylum claims from the EU in Australia last year, and I think about 30 in the United States, but 6,000 in Canada?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Madame Turmel, welcome to the immigration committee. I hope it's not too much of a shock to the system to come from the offices of the leader of the official opposition to the immigration committee, but we're pleased to have you.

You have up to five minutes.

March 27th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It is a pleasure to be with you.

I want to ask a question of the minister. Under Bill C-11 you had an independent committee with a role to establish safe countries. At the time, you said this was a great idea. I want to quote what you said at that time:

Regulations would also require that a designation can only be made if an advisory panel including at least two independent human rights experts recommends it.

These amendments go a long way in providing greater clarity and transparency around the process of designation.

Now this is part of Bill C-31, as you know very well, so here's what I want to know. Were you wrong at the time on the clarity and transparency when you said it, or are you wrong not to remove it...? So one way or the other....

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I was wrong then. Mea maxima culpa.

I think, apropos to the last answer I gave, we have since then seen just this huge and growing wave of unfounded claims coming from democratic European countries. We have realized, since the adoption of Bill C-11 in 2010, that the process for designation was too cumbersome, too slow-moving, and that if we were to grant a visa exemption to a European country and saw a huge spike in claims, it would take us too long to be able to use the tool of designation to address such a spike.

So this is really about responding to an unfolding reality of highly organized waves of false claims from liberal democratic countries.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

I have another question, and it's about clause 19. It seems there's a consensus in the legal community that clause 19 will make it possible for the minister, through the RPD, to cease the permanent residency of a refugee for the reason that conditions have changed in the country of origin. You said that this is not the case.

Now, we know that some people coming from different countries—Chile, El Salvador, the former Yugoslavia—are really concerned about it. Is it your intention to make it possible to remove the PR status from refugees because conditions have improved in their home country? And if not, are you open to amending the bill to make this explicit?

Thank you.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you, Madame Turmel, for giving me the opportunity to clarify a great deal of misunderstanding on this point.

In point of fact, section 108 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already allows the minister to apply to the Immigration and Refugee Board for the cessation of protected persons status, or the revocation of permanent residency on various enumerated grounds, including a change in country conditions.

So there is no new power accorded to the minister under Bill C-31. Cessation of protected status or revocation of permanent residency can only be decisions made by an independent member of the IRB, not by the minister.

The only change that's made under Bill C-31 is that cessation of protected status and revocation of permanent residency could be made in a one-step process at the IRB rather than a two-step process. After all, if you're going to cease the protected status of someone who obtained it fraudulently with the intention of subsequently removing their permanent residency, the view is that it's much more sensible to do that in one stage rather than two.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

At the same time, as I said, it seems not clear for people. Is there a way to amend it, or to put it in a way that is clear?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I would be open to constructive suggestions of committee in that respect. If there is misunderstanding, it does concern me. I want to be absolutely clear to refugees, whether resettled or successful asylum claimants who have permanent residency in Canada, that it is not our intention to arbitrarily or in any way revoke people's permanent residency. There is no new power to do so in the bill.

If there are suggestions about how to clarify that when the bill comes to committee, I would certainly be open to such suggestions.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Okay.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm told that there have been only 200 cases of revocation of permanent residency for landed refugees in the past decade. So the tool that already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is used in only extraordinary cases.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Trost, a new player to the government side, welcome.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair. There was a time when I actually was a permanent member of this committee, even if it was only for a few short months. It's good to be back here, since Saskatchewan is now one of the major players in immigration in the country.

Mr. Minister, there was a bit of an article in the news not long ago about a foreign criminal in Canada who had sexually assaulted a disabled woman. While all sexual crimes are disturbing, this one was apparently more disturbing than most. What was also very disturbing about this was that he has been allowed to stay in Canada due to two unrelated sexual assault cases that were pending. How is someone like this, a sex offender, going to stay in Canada, and for how long? And the notes I have say that this is not a unique case.

Now, biometrics are going to be used to keep criminals outside the country. What about criminals inside the country? What about those who are already here? What about those who engage in criminal activity after they are here in Canada?

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

That's a very good point. My opening statement didn't mention that it is our intention, further to a Conservative Party platform commitment, to come forward with a legislative package to streamline the removal, the deportation process, of convicted foreign criminals in Canada. We are working on that package. The Minister of Public Safety and I will be coming forward with amendments perhaps later this year to streamline the process.

The case you mentioned is a perfect reference point for this. The reason this fellow in Calgary, who is a Lebanese national, was able to victimize, I think, a third sexual assault victim in the past couple of weeks is that first of all in his initial conviction he received a sentence of 18 months, and IRPA says that a foreign national who receives a sentence of less than two years may appeal his inadmissibility to the immigration appeal division of the IRB. He goes to the IRB and that takes six to eight months. If he loses there at the IAD, he then seeks leave for judicial review of the negative IAD decision by the Federal Court, which takes another six to eight months.

So a convicted, even dangerous, foreign criminal can extend their stay in Canada for a couple of years by using what I would call a loophole, this redundant appeal. My view is that everyone, including foreign criminals, deserves their day in court. They don't deserve years in court in Canada. Too often the system is abused in order to prolong the stay in Canada of even convicted dangerous foreign criminals, which is why one of the things we're looking at doing is saying that if you're a foreign national convicted of a crime in Canada you don't get an IAD appeal on a negative admissibility finding. That's to streamline the process.

We're looking at other changes as well. I would refer you to a speech I gave at the law faculty of the University of Western Ontario about a year ago on the broader proposals for streamlining deportation of convicted foreign criminals from Canada.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

My colleague Mr. Weston would like to squeeze in one question.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Trost.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Weston, I'm going to hold you to within the five minutes.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Minister, Mr. Davies and MP Hedy Fry and I were together on a panel in Vancouver just last week. It was at an organization called MOSAIC. There were probably 70 people in the room, many of them refugees, lawyers, people who specialize in assisting people. Many of them had been refugees themselves. I think Mr. Davies and I would agree that there was certainly a lot of compassion for humankind in the room. There were also many comments about how dedicated you are and how you have been committed to your task.

If there was a criticism in the room it was that the changes that you envision involve a lack of compassion, that somehow Canadians were going to suffer a step back in our reputation as being compassionate people. My sense was that in fact your changes are designed to protect our system so that we can continue accepting refugees. I wonder if you could just reflect on that debate. I'm proud to stand behind these provisions, because I think they are both efficient and compassionate, but I wonder if you could comment.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you.

If you're referring primarily to our reforms to our dysfunctional asylum system, our refugee system, I would underscore that Prime Minister Harper's government is deepening and broadening Canada's humanitarian tradition of protection for refugees. We are increasing by 20% the number of resettled refugees who we accept as part of our immigration plan.

We already receive one out of every ten resettled refugees worldwide. We have 0.05% of the world's population, but we receive 10% of the world's resettled refugees, and we're actually increasing that number. When our increase is fully implemented, we will be receiving more resettled UN convention refugees per capita than any other country in the world.

We are contributing more than we ever have to the good work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which helps people in a protracted situation of displacement from their country. I think we're now, if I'm not mistaken, the fourth-largest donor to the work of UNHCR.

We are increasing by 20% our support for the integration of government-assisted refugees through the refugee assistance program, and let me say here that I think MPs know that one of the least popular government programs is income support for resettled refugees. You know those angry e-mails we get from a lot of our senior citizens in our audience, which are based often on a myth? We're actually increasing that program by 20% because it's been frozen for a decade and we want to help those often high-needs resettled convention refugees when they get here.

With respect to the asylum system, as a result of our reforms, clearly bona fide refugees in need of our protection will no longer have to wait for up to two years to get a hearing and certainty on their status in Canada. They will get that in a couple of months.

So the proverbial refugee from Iran who steps off the plane with the scars of torture fresh on his back will no longer be told to check back with us in two years, but will have protection and certainty and a permanent future in Canada in a matter of weeks. Also, for that refugee who goes to the IRB and for whatever reason has his initial claim rejected at the first instance, he or she will now, for the first time, have a full fact-based appeal at the new refugee appeal division, creating a new process for additional procedural fairness, if you will, for the vast majority of failed asylum claimants.

So I can stand up on the world stage and say, with absolute honesty, that our government is deepening Canada's tradition of protection for refugees, both asylum claimants and convention refugees around the world.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Minister, I'm very proud to be a Canadian on hearing those remarks.

One of the hallmarks of your work is that you engage the Canadian public in what you do. One of the programs is the most wanted list. Two criminals have been deported recently through the help of Canadians who were responding to the appeal of the most wanted list. One of them was somebody from the Congo: Abraham Bahaty Bayavuge, who had been deported in 2006 and came back again.

As someone who has worked in the Congo with Canadian Food for the Hungry, I find it an outrage that we would be hurting our bilateral relations by suggesting that people can get back in once we deport them. I'm wondering what your response is.

I understand that some people, having been deported, have got back in five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty times. Will biometrics be helpful in excluding people, in identifying people who have been deported so that they can't come back in again?

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Yes, it will. I have a long list—not with me—of cases of foreign criminals who have been convicted in Canada and deported abroad, and who have come back in under fake documents, were deported again, came back in, presumably under fake documents, and were deported again, in some cases multiple times, with some of these individuals coming back in to commit serious crimes yet again in Canada.

Quite frankly, you know, we get a lot of criticism for different issues in the way we operate this, the world's largest immigration program per capita, but I don't think we get enough criticism, quite frankly—

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Maybe at that point we should move on.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Let me just finish my sentence.