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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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

4:30 p.m.

Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Public Safety Canada

Michael MacDonald

Smuggling brings threats to our country, and that is something that border officials need to determine in order to ensure that Canada's borders are secure and our sovereignty is maintained.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair (Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims) NDP Jinny Sims

Thank you very much.

We're now going to go over to Mr. Weston.

You have five minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

While some of the things we do on Parliament Hill are esoteric, Minister, your being here is very real. The filled room says it. The fact that you've been directly in contact with people in British Columbia who I deal with on very concrete issues, like the ones we're talking about today, says it. The Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism Whistler, and the B.C. task force on tourism have all benefited from giving input to you, which you're now reflecting.

I'd like to ask you a little more about biometrics, if I may. You've said that the department will be releasing the list later this year of countries for the temporary resident biometrics program. My question is, why will this program apply only to temporary residents and not to everyone coming to our country?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

That's a fair question.

When we began the policy work on the biometric visa requirement, our initial idea was to do this incrementally, because it's a huge project, quite costly, and operationally complex. So I think we didn't want to bite off more than we could chew at any one time, which is why we'll be proceeding with an incremental application of the temporary resident visa biometric requirement on a growing number of countries, rather than universal application at once. This is following the incremental model of Australia and the U.K., for example. We'll start the system and then build on it, so there's an economy of scale there.

However, I think you raise an interesting question. I just think that this biometric requirement is going to improve our immigration security screening by light years, by orders of magnitude, particularly in the context of the enhanced information sharing agreements that we anticipate with the United States through the beyond the borders agreement. We will be able to much better identify individuals who might represent a threat to Canada's safety and will finally will be able to screen out those foreign criminals who have come to Canada and have been deported in the past, who have too frequently re-entered on fake documents.

It's hugely important, and I think this should be applied in principle to permanent residence applicants as well. I mean, for goodness' sakes, if someone's going to come to live in Canada for their entire life, we should use reasonable measures to identify who they really are and whether they constitute a security risk. So I would be in favour, in principle, of expanding the authority in Bill C-31 to include PR applicants as well.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

Building on that, Minister, the chair and I come from a province where tourism is a large and growing foundation of our economy. That's probably true for all provinces, but we're especially sensitive to that, and the riding I represent certainly cares a lot about tourism.

Do you feel that this is going to speed up legitimate travel? In other words, we think about biometrics and keeping out the bad people, the kind of people that Mr. MacDonald was just referring to, but does it also enhance the travel of legitimate travellers to our shores?

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Oh, absolutely. That's one of the more exciting aspects of the biometrics program. It's one of the reasons that the tourism industry so far has expressed support for it. I've met with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and other stakeholders that support it because they understand that we will be able to better facilitate the entry into Canada of legitimate travellers by being more confident that they are who they claim to be and that they do not pose a security risk.

Right now, visa officers have to go on their gut a lot of the time, based on the evidence in front of them, but this will ensure that the visa officer knows that the application they're dealing with is that actual person and that person doesn't have a serious criminal record, is not on any kind of a watch list, and hasn't been deported before. That probably means over time, I'm guessing, a higher acceptance rate for TRVs, and we believe that it will also facilitate faster processing.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

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

It's a big win for our tourism industry.

You referred several times to the sharing of data through the agreement with the U.S. Can you comment a little more on how that information will be shared. I'm head of the Canada-Mexico Parliamentary Friendship Group, and we're meeting this evening. It would be interesting to know whether Mexico might be included sooner or later in that sharing scheme as well.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

We regretted the necessity of imposing a visa on Mexico in the summer of 2009. We had, really, no serious option if we wanted to maintain our immigration laws because we were getting over a thousand asylum claims from that country every month, some 90% of which were deemed to be unfounded. We do hope to get back to an exemption at some point in the future, and these reforms will help us to consider that.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair (Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims) NDP Jinny Sims

Thank you.

I don't mean to be rude and interrupt. It's just that everybody's waiting to get their time in and I want to make sure that everybody gets the right amount of time.

Now I would like to go to Ms. Sitsabaiesan for five minutes.

April 26th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair, and I do have only five minutes.

There are serious concerns that the move to create irregular arrivals will create two classes of refugee claimants in Canada.

Mr. Minister, why should the way a refugee arrives in Canada determine their legal treatment?

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said, it's entirely appropriate for an asylum system to accelerate the treatment of claims from countries not known to normally produce refugees. This is a standard feature of many other asylum systems in western liberal democratic countries. It's because in the asylum system you're trying to provide protection to people who need it. This system would do that. It would grant everyone access to a fair asylum decision. But when you sometimes face these huge waves of unfounded claims from particular countries, you need to be able to address them quickly and to start, frankly, sending the fake claimants back quickly to send a message that Canada won't be gamed, and that's why.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

As you're aware, in article 31 of the United Nations refugee convention, it prohibits states from imposing penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence. What kind of review has your department undertaken to analyze how the designation of irregular arrivals interacts with this section?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

We don't see the enhanced detention provisions in this bill as constituting a penalty. To the contrary, the purpose is limited to being able to better identify individuals who have arrived in large-scale smuggling operations, because operationally it's very difficult when you have 500 or several hundred showing up at once, who have typically destroyed their documents, to identify them if at the same time you're constantly going back to the IRB for 30-day detention reviews. That really consumes the majority of our resources to keep arguing for ongoing detention, rather than on focusing on the people who actually are.

Maybe we could ask Mr. Thérrien from the Department of Justice to comment further on this.

4:40 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice

Daniel Thérrien

I frankly have nothing to add. I think the minister's answer was complete.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

All right, thank you very much.

Subclause 81(1) of Bill C-31 allows you, Mr. Minister, to designate groups as “irregular arrivals” retroactively for anyone who has arrived since March 31, 2009. This would include claimants who arrived on the migrant vessels Ocean Lady and Sun Sea. Retroactive punishment is actually prohibited in our charter with respect to the Criminal Code. Why do you think it is appropriate here? Do you think that this will actually invite court challenges that will tie up the legislation for years to come?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Firstly, I need to clarify, it's not the Minister of Immigration who would have the authority to designate irregular arrivals, but the Minister of Public Safety. Secondly, I reject again the characterization of immigration detention as a form of punishment. It is not. It is a necessary tool to assist us in identifying people and ensuring that they're complying with the immigration laws in respect to their actually being admissible to Canada. Thirdly, yes, I do anticipate that any changes we make to immigration laws may result in legal challenges, but we're confident that these changes are lawful.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

A major concern is that designated claimants can be mandatorily detained on arrival, or on designation, with no review of their detention for a year. Why have you created a new detention regime that applies only to some refugee claimants?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, smuggling operations are typically undertaken by criminal organizations. In the particular case of the two vessels on the west coast, they were used by criminal organizations who used to be involved in running arms in a civil war. These are dangerous organizations. We know that either criminal or very dangerous groups facilitate this.

Secondly, people are knowingly entering the country illegally. They're paying a criminal network to come here. I think that shows a certain amount of bad faith on their part, to say the least. They're not seeking to come through the normal means of acquiring a visa.

Finally, they typically destroy their documents. We need to be able to identify who they are, without constantly spending all of our resources on repetitive detention reviews.

I should underscore that smuggled migrants will still have access to the asylum system. If they are deemed to need Canada's protection they will be released from detention. Under the faster timelines in our new system that will typically happen two to three months after the referral of their case.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair (Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims) NDP Jinny Sims

Thank you. That timing was perfect.

I'd now like to turn to Mr. Leung for five minutes.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

My question is also directed to the minister. Thank you, Minister, for being here.

I think there is a lot of misconception in the public, and certainly also in the opposition's line of questioning, about the detention centres. They seem to portray detention as being a jail, behind bars, in the worst of conditions. Perhaps you can elaborate for us what the facilities are like. Based on the ones I have visited, that is definitely not the case.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

First of all, immigration detention is not a new concept. It's not a new power. It has always been a feature of our managed immigration system and that of every other country I know of. We use it far less often than peer countries as a tool for immigration integrity. This bill would really not change that fact.

The notion that it's a prison is ridiculous. People who arrive in Canada and are put in immigration detention are free to leave the country any time they choose to.

Finally, on the notion that they are prisons, I would invite people to actually visit our detention facilities managed by the CBSA. For example, the major facility we have in Toronto used to be a hotel. People have hotel rooms and fresh-cooked meals there every day. There are special facilities for families. It's what you would call a minimal security facility, with a fence around it to ensure that people stay on site.

The notion that this is Alcatraz or something is a ridiculous demagogic trick by people who really don't seem to care a whole lot about reinforcing the integrity of our system.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you.

As parliamentarians, one of our primary exercises is to safeguard the assets of Canadians and therefore spend their tax dollars wisely. On the assisted volunteer return and reintegration program, perhaps you can elaborate on how this program helps us save money and facilitates the return of those detainees to their countries of origin.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

This is an idea that we picked up from other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom. Initially it will be a pilot project. If we find it to be effective we'll roll it out and apply it on a permanent and broader basis.

The idea is that when an asylum claimant has their claim rejected and they run out of their last recourse, the CBSA will sit down with them immediately and say: You have two options. You can cooperate with us in a removal, and if you qualify for assisted voluntary removal we will pay your travel expenses back home. We will provide you, through the assistance of an agency such as the International Organization for Migration, with some kind of modest re-establishment stipend to help you re-establish an apartment or pay for initial expenses when they get back home. The consequences for you legally will be much less serious if you cooperate in this way. On the other hand, if you choose to go underground and seek to avoid removal, that will be used with prejudice against you if you ever hope to come back to Canada in the future under status. Things will be a lot more difficult.

We have found in other jurisdictions that this approach is very effective. It has a high take-up rate. It makes removals quicker and much more humane, because people are cooperating with their own removal.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you.

My final question has to do with how all of these changes affect our safe third country agreement, because Canada has this international obligation to handle refugees in the same manner as many other countries. How does the safe third country agreement impact that?