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Evidence of meeting #31 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 claimants.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Dawn Edlund  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Jennifer Irish  Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Les Linklater  Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Daniel Thérrien  Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice
Michael MacDonald  Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Public Safety Canada

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Kevin Lamoureux

Okay, I'd like to call the committee to order. We have before us the minister and his staff.

First and foremost, welcome back to the committee, Mr. Minister. If you wouldn't mind, please introduce your staff.

3:35 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Thank you, Chairman.

Actually, we have so many staff, I'll ask them to introduce themselves, starting with Dawn Edlund.

3:35 p.m.

Dawn Edlund Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Hi. I'm Dawn Edlund. I'm the associate ADM of operations at Citizenship and Immigration.

April 26th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.

Jennifer Irish Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Hello. I'm Jennifer Irish. I'm the director for asylum policy and programs at Citizenship and Immigration.

3:35 p.m.

Les Linklater Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic and Program Policy, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

I'm Les Linklater, the assistant deputy minister for policy at Citizenship and Immigration.

3:35 p.m.

Daniel Thérrien Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice

My name is Daniel Thérrien and I am the Assistant Deputy Attorney General in the Department of Justice.

3:35 p.m.

Michael MacDonald Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Public Safety Canada

Good afternoon. I'm Michael MacDonald, director general of national security operations at Public Safety Canada.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Kevin Lamoureux

Thank you very much.

Mr. Minister, I understand you have 20 minutes to give some opening remarks.

Don't feel that you have to use it all, but you have 20 minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I promise not to. Well, I'll try not to.

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you, colleagues for your study of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act.

Canadians should take great pride in the fact that we are recognized around the world as a compassionate and generous country. Polls consistently demonstrate that a majority of Canadians, both those born in Canada as well as immigrants, view immigration as a positive contribution to our country.

Canadians recognize the many benefits that immigration brings to our country, but they have no tolerance for those who seek to take advantage of that generosity. People who abuse our generous immigration and refugee programs undermine the integrity of the entire system and public confidence in it.

It's clear that some people have taken notice of our country's generosity, and they have learned that they can use the immigration system to their advantage. The fact that Canada now receives more refugee claims from the European Union than it does from Africa or Asia is, I think, evidence of that, particularly given that virtually none of those European asylum claimants are found to be in need of our protection.

The simple fact of the matter is that we spend far too many tax dollars on applicants who are not in need of our protection, but who come here to access our social benefits because we do nothing to stop them or even dissuade them from doing so.

In introducing Bill C-31, our rationale is simple. By focusing the resources of our system on providing protection to those who genuinely need it, we will improve our ability to help those people. But we can only focus our resources on genuine refugees by fixing the system to make it clear that abuse will not be tolerated.

With Parliament's passing of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in June 2010, we made some progress towards this goal, but gaps remain in the new system.

The arrival of the Ocean Lady and Sun Sea confirmed that Canada has also become a target for the lucrative criminal enterprise of human smuggling. Human smuggling is also suspected in the most recent tragedy, which involved the deaths of four passengers on board the SV Tabasco 2 off the coast of Nova Scotia.

The crime of human smuggling is conducted by individuals whose only concern is their profits; they have no regard for human life or the safety of their passengers. As the Prime Minister has said, human smugglers are some of the world's worst criminals—people who profit from exploiting the miseries and aspirations of some of the world's most vulnerable people.

Bill C-31 will enable us to punish human smugglers and make it easy to prosecute them. It will create disincentives that will reduce the attraction of coming to Canada via a human smuggling operation, which will save lives.

Finally, it will ensure the government can fulfill its responsibility to ensure that foreign nationals who are inadmissible, or who may pose a threat to Canadians, can be properly identified and assessed for risk so that we can take appropriate action.

Let's be clear that Bill C-31 would allow Canada to maintain the most generous refugee system in the world. Right now we are a world leader in the number of convention refugees we resettle. Canada welcomes one of the highest numbers of refugees per capita, and this legislation will not change that. In fact, concurrent with these reforms to our asylum system, we are increasing our targeted number of resettled refugees by 20% so that we will be the number one recipient of resettled refugees worldwide. Of course, we're also increasing their integration support through the refugee assistance program.

Essentially this bill will make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer. It will speed up the process for deciding refugee claims. This will allow us to provide better protection more quickly to those who are truly in need of it.

Under the UN convention on refugees, our legal and moral obligation is clear. We have an obligation not to return people to a country where they have a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, national religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Under Bill C-31 we will continue to meet and exceed these obligations.

Let me quickly run through the major components of the legislation.

First, claimants from designated countries—those that reality and experience show do not normally produce genuine refugees—would have limited access to the recourse mechanisms that currently enable them to delay their removal from Canada for years. They would all continue to have access to full, fact-based hearings before independent decision-makers at the Immigration and Refugee Board on the unique merits of their claims, with no negative prejudice associated with their claims because they may come from designated countries.

This means that a claimant from a designated country who receives a negative decision from the IRB will not have access to the new refugee appeal division we are creating as a result of Bill C-11 in the last Parliament. They would continue to be able to ask the Federal Court to review a negative decision, but they would not benefit from an automatic stay of their removal during that time.

The United Nations has long praised Canada for the generosity of our current refugee system. The UNHCR has also recognized the validity of expedited processing for claimants from safe countries of origin. In fact, the former UNHCR representative to Canada, Abraham Abraham, said:

UNHCR does not oppose the introduction of a “designated” or “safe country or origin” list as...a procedural tool to prioritize or accelerate examination of applications

I would note that my department's data suggest that over that past three years the majority of failed EU claimants have not asked the Federal Court to review the IRB's negative decisions on their claims, because the vast majority have abandoned or withdrawn their own claims, indicating of their own volition that they do not need our protection.

This suggests that failed claimants would not even attempt to access the additional level of appeal provided under the RAD, even if they had access. And don't forget, should any EU country become a designated country, failed claimants could still seek relief from the federal court to appeal a negative decision.

On the topic of irregular arrivals and human smuggling, Bill C-31 maintains all of the measures contained in the former Bill C-4. Importantly, however, we have proposed a new measure that would exempt minors under the age of 16 from the mandatory detention provision.

I should also note that foreign nationals who arrive as part of an irregular arrival with the documents required for entry to Canada will not be subject to the mandatory detention provision, as long as they are not found to be otherwise inadmissible under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

While detention could last as long as one year, designated foreign nationals would be released sooner should they receive a positive determination on their refugee claim by the IRB or if they apply for and receive release from the Minister of Public Safety based on exceptional circumstances. For individuals who are held up for up to 12 months, the IRB will review their detention at that point and regularly afterwards at six-month intervals.

Mr. Chairman, the protection of our borders and of Canadians is our highest obligation, and we are making these changes because they are necessary. The current detention review periods under IRPA were not designed to deal with mass arrivals or the sorts of cases involving complex human smuggling operations of the scale that have recently targeted Canada.

Sophisticated transnational human smuggling ventures are frequently launched from areas of the world where terrorist and criminal organizations are known to be active. Passengers on board these ventures often arrive without proper documentation. In these circumstances, the task of distinguishing legitimate refugees from those who may pose a public safety threat creates a serious challenge. The processing of irregular mass arrivals, therefore, takes a lot of time. Put into very simple terms, human smuggling operations are difficult to investigate.

I wish to underline that detention will allow for a full and proper investigation of a migrant's identity and a determination of whether an individual is indeed admissible to Canada, as well as any risks they may pose to Canadians. After all, it is the government's duty to assess whether those who seek entry to Canada are inadmissible for reasons of serious criminality, security, health, or other grounds.

The alternative is to release everyone into Canadian communities before we have identified them, conducted security assessments, or determined whether they are genuine refugees, and then hope that the bad guys, who are not admissible to Canada, show up for their hearings and don't simply disappear underground. That would be irresponsible.

The government's duty to protect the safety and security of Canadians has been recognized by the Federal Court, by the Supreme Court. In fact, in one of the cases following the arrival of the Ocean Lady, the Federal Court said:While the importance of not unduly detaining such persons cannot be forgotten, the protection of Canadians and Canada’s pressing interest in securing its borders are also worthy considerations.... In cases of mass arrivals from some parts of the world it may well take several months for the Minister to complete an investigation, particularly where the identity of the individuals is in issue.

The proposed amendments respond to a harmful practice that has numerous negative consequences. Large-scale organized smuggling ventures like the ones that have targeted Canada in recent years threaten the integrity of our system. Smuggling ventures also jeopardize the health and lives of those smuggled into Canada.

First, smugglers make unfair and untruthful promises to those who are smuggled. In many cases, passengers hand over all of their life savings to their smuggler on the false promise that when they arrive in Canada their affairs will be in order. The smuggling journey itself can result in the death of some passengers. Every year thousands of people die in smuggling operations around the world.

I should be clear that in the case of the two large marine arrivals that have been the focus of public attention, we believe that in most cases people paid around $5,000 Canadian as a down payment, with an obligation to pay up to $40,000 upon arrival, over time—essentially in an indentured context—to the smuggling syndicate's representatives in Canada. To me that is where smuggling can actually turn into a form of trafficking.

Essentially, there are three principal challenges contained in this bill to address human smuggling. First, we would broaden the offence of human smuggling in two specific ways. We would further expand the offence to capture the various ways it can be committed. We also add the element of recklessness to the offence.

Under section 117 of IRPA, the offence currently states:No person shall knowingly organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of one or more persons who are not in possession of a visa, passport or other document required by this Act.

I underline this because sometimes in debate we've heard people say that coming as a prospective asylum claimant through a smuggling operation is just a normal form of migration and not a problem.

No. It violates multiple laws, including IRPA in several respects, such as in section 117.

With our proposed changes, the offence would read that no person shall commit this offence either “knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, their coming into Canada is or would be in contravention of this Act”. Broadening the offence of human smuggling will give police and prosecutors the flexibility they require to respond to all forms of human smuggling.

Secondly, this legislation would create mandatory minimum penalties that target the most egregious forms of human smuggling and that reflect the objectives I have already discussed. These mandatory minimum penalties send an unequivocal message that such conduct will not be tolerated.

Finally, we're taking steps to hold shipowners accountable by increasing the penalties for offences under the Marine Transportation Security Act.

These criminal law improvements are a critical component of our overall response to human smuggling, but they should not be considered in isolation. In order to be effective and adequately address the crime of smuggling, each of these amendments is designed to work together with the others.

With this bill, we also seek to discourage passengers from using the services of a human smuggler by introducing several disincentives. First, we would also impose a five-year ban on applications for permanent resident status for persons who are part of a designated irregular arrival. Without the ability to become a permanent resident for five years, these individuals would also be unable to sponsor their family members to come to Canada during that period.

I think this is probably the single most important element of the bill in deterring smuggling. It will change the economic calculation for prospective clients of smuggling syndicates if they realize they will not be able to have family members in Canada assisting them and paying off their debts to the syndicate.

We believe these changes are fair and are necessary to deter passengers from using this dangerous form of travel to Canada. I also wish to remind you once again that all eligible claimants would continue to be entitled to a fair and independent hearing before the IRB, without a negative prejudice associated with their claim.

At the same time I recognize that there have been some criticisms of this legislation and some of the provisions I've just described. As I indicated, as we move forward with this legislation I am open to considering all reasonable suggestions from the committee as to how we can improve the integrity of our system and focus it on legitimate refugees.

On that I want to say that in the last Parliament we demonstrated openness to reasonable amendments, but in my view those amendments have to achieve the objective of discouraging smuggling and false asylum claims.

Finally, as you know, the bill includes provisions for legal authorization for the government to collect biometric data from applicants for temporary residency status. I can address that at greater length during the question period, but we believe it will facilitate an improvement by orders of magnitude in our immigration security screening. It constitutes an essential element of the beyond the borders agreement signed between President Obama and our government.

Mr. Chair, I'm happy to take your questions.

In closing, I believe this bill strikes the appropriate balance between reinforcing the integrity of our system, dissuading those who seek to abuse it, but also ensuring protection for those who are bona fide victims of persecution, in the best traditions of Canada's humanitarian instincts.

Thank you very much.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Kevin Lamoureux

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

We're going to start off with Mr. Menegakis. He'll have seven minutes for questions and answers.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Let me begin by welcoming Mrs. Sims and Monsieur Giguère to the committee.

Minister, thank you once again for joining us today. I want to thank the senior officials for being here with us.

Minister, most Canadians and I are very proud of our welcoming and generous nature. As you know, we have welcomed over one million refugees to Canada since World War II. I believe generally Canadians are very proud to be a safe haven for people in need, who actually face persecution, death, torture, and a number of other things in their country of origin.

However, the countless stories we hear of bogus refugees, criminals, human smugglers, and war criminals entering and re-entering Canada, sometimes rather easily, results in Canadians losing confidence in our system. This is a serious concern and one of the reasons I believe our government has introduced Bill C-31.

Can you please elaborate for us on the importance of Canadians not losing confidence in the integrity of our system and why Bill C-31 will go a long way to restoring that integrity in our immigration system?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you.

As I said, one of the things I really value about this country is that we see quite a broad and deep public consensus across the political spectrum in favour of immigration and refugee protection. We need to only compare the debate in Canada or our levels of immigration and refugee resettlement to those in other developed democracies.

We have the highest per capita level of immigration in the developed world. We resettle one out of every ten resettled refugees worldwide, and we will, with the increase in refugee resettlement, have the highest per capita number of resettled refugees in the world. That's phenomenal when we look at other countries.

We don't, thankfully, have meaningful or significant voices of xenophobia or anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiment in our politics, and I want to keep it that way. I think it's hugely important. It's incumbent on all of us, regardless of our political persuasion, to maintain public support for immigration and refugee protection.

I believe that public support is largely conditioned on two factors: one, that Canadians see that immigration is serving the interests of Canada, and two, that Canadians see our system as one characterized by the consistent application of fair rules.

The sense I've gotten over the three and a half years I've been in this job, when reviewing all of the public opinion and meeting thousands and thousands of new Canadians especially, is that the perception of widespread abuse of our generosity, of queue jumping, fake asylum claims, human smuggling, etc., undermines public confidence for the broader system.

We saw that very pointedly following the arrival of the MV Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady. I recall polling within months after the arrival of the Sun Sea indicating, for example, that over 60% of the Canadians surveyed said that we should not allow smugglers' vessels like that to enter our territorial waters, and over half of Canadians said that if such illegal smuggled migrants were deemed to be bona fide refugees, they should be immediately deported. New Canadians were disproportionately more likely to take that position than native-born Canadians.

I do not think we can underestimate how strongly Canadians feel about a fair rules-based system that dissuades smuggling operations. That's why I think there's it's imperative for all of us to take this very seriously.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Minister.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I should also say that the same poll showed a decline in general public support for immigration following the arrival of those vessels, because I think people associated laxity in our immigration system with large-scale smuggling operations.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Minister, Monday in the House, you mentioned the number of hours that have been given for debate on Bill C-31. You also mentioned the number of hours that we debated Bill C-10 and Bill C-4.

As an aside, let me say how much it we appreciate you and your senior officials making your time available here so many times to come to the committee.

Mr. Linklater, I'm beginning to think that you're a committee member you've been here so often. It just shows respect for the parliamentary system and the availability of the minister has just been absolutely outstanding for us.

Minister, can you provide the committee with some of those figures on the time we've spent debating Bill C-31, Bill C-10, and Bill C-4?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Sure.

Bill C-4 included many elements that are now before us in Bill C-31, and it has had six days of debate in this Parliament, spread over 18 hours and some 73 speeches. In addition to that, we've since had six days of debate over 23 hours with 83 speeches. So these provisions have had enormous parliamentary debate already.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

That's great.

How am I doing for time?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Kevin Lamoureux

You have another minute and a half.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Clearly, there's a problem with our current system.

Perhaps, Minister, you can tell our committee in what ways the current system is indeed broken, and why we left our immigration system open to abuse for this long.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

It's broken in many respects, one of which is the length of time it takes because of backlogs. For example, it takes us 21 months to get an asylum claimant added to a hearing at the IRB, but it takes us several years for a fake asylum claimant to have run out of all recourse in our system and to be eligible for removal from Canada, which has created a pull factor.

The word goes out amongst networks that encourage or organize false asylum claims that Canada's generosity can be gamed. You can come here, make a claim, enrol for welfare, access public housing, and the interim federal health program—which has until now provided even more generous benefits than are typically available to Canadians—and you can get an open work permit. You can enrol in federal income support programs. This is a pretty good package, particularly if you're coming from an underdeveloped country or poor social circumstance.

Some say to us that we've almost invited this. I remember seeing new asylum claimants arriving at Pearson Airport and asking them why they came to Canada. They told me it was because they'd heard about the free monthly salary.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Kevin Lamoureux

We'll stop at that. You had two seconds to go.

We'll go to Ms. Sims.

Ms. Sims, you have seven minutes.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you, and welcome to the committee, Mr. Minister. We're here at the same time.

Minister, in 2010, you singled out one of my colleagues, Olivia Chow, who was our critic at the time, for her “remarkable diligence” in working with you and the government to amend Bill C-11 and limit the number of fraudulent applications and reduce the backlog in Canada's immigration system.

Ms. Chow said at the time that “Canada will finally get a refugee reform package that is both fast and fair”. It seemed everyone was happy. We all put a little water in our wine and, to quote you, “found a very reasonable compromise”. In fact, it was described as nothing short of a miracle. The compromises made the government's legislation acceptable. These included establishing a panel of experts to determine safe countries, allowing access to appeal for designated nationals and those from designated safe countries, and having greater timelines to start the appeal process.

Bill C-31 repeals almost all of those compromises and it would seem that you have gone back on your word, Minister. So the question is what changed, Minister? Why is your government using its majority to undo this reasonable compromise that everyone agreed was working?

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, I'd like to congratulate Ms. Sims on her appointment as the critic for immigration and citizenship for the official opposition. I look forward to working with her and all of her colleagues.

I am proud of the compromise that we achieved in Bill C-11 in the last Parliament. I think it was a huge improvement over the status quo. However, we have now seen, since the adoption of that legislation, a continued and growing wave of unfounded asylum claims coming from democratic countries, which represents a fundamental threat to the integrity of our system. Since that time we've seen a growing escalation in the number of unfounded asylum claims coming from Europe. When I say “unfounded”, it's the claimants themselves who indicate that by not showing up for their hearings, in large measure.

So we came to the conclusion that we needed fast and flexible tools to be able to address large waves of unfounded claims from such jurisdictions. That's why we revisited some of the provisions in Bill C-11. This bill, Bill C-31, maintains the basic architecture of Bill C-11. It does maintain the refugee appeal division, which adds an additional procedural safeguard for the vast majority of failed asylum claimants. It does maintain a faster system. The system in Bill C-31 is faster and fairer. The main difference is a streamlined appeals process for people coming from countries that do not normally produce refugees. This reflects normal practice in other liberal democratic countries with respect to their asylum systems.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you, Minister.

I would just like to comment that just because a country is democratic doesn't mean it is without human rights violations, and we have examples of that around the world.

But let me get back to this. It was only two years ago, in 2009—maybe three years now—that the Auditor General slammed your government for bringing in huge legislative change to the immigration system without understanding the consequences. We're seeing a similar pattern here. We had just adopted a balanced bill last parliament, not that long ago, and now we're debating changes to the rules yet again. Every time these changes fail to get results.

Where's the plan, and does your department even understand the consequences of these changes?

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Which changes are you referring to?