Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you to the committee for the opportunity to be here today. When I last appeared at this committee, the CBSA's mandate as a border enforcement agency was outlined in addition to its role in administering Canada's immigration laws. Building from that appearance, I would like to focus my remarks today on how Bill C-31 would impact the CBSA, should Parliament pass it into law.
First, I would like to speak to the impacts on refugee reform.
The implementation of Bill C-31 would not change the CBSA's operational responsibilities in processing refugee claims upon arrival at our ports of entry. What would change for the CBSA, however, is that the agency would be expected to remove individuals within one year, where possible, following the last negative decision on their claim for asylum in Canada.
To enable us to address potential increased removal demands, the CBSA has put in place a removals strategy that includes expanding the assisted voluntary returns and reintegration pilot program. This program encourages voluntary returns as a cost-effective and timely option that complements traditional enforced removals by providing increased counselling, education, and incentives to leave.
This program has proven to be successful in other countries. As better integration assistance is provided for participants, it ensures that they would be less likely to attempt to return to Canada.
I would now like to focus on the human smuggling component of this legislation.
When people arrive in Canada as part of a suspected human smuggling operation, it is the responsibility of the CBSA to determine whether or not these individuals are a threat to Canada. Under the current system, the existing detention review periods of within 48 hours, seven days, and 30 days are not designed to deal with cases involving large volumes and complex human smuggling operations.
The task of distinguishing genuine refugees from those who may pose a public safety threat are complex and time-consuming. By allowing Canadian authorities the additional time necessary to investigate, individuals can be assessed more effectively and their cases dealt with more efficiently.
As such, the mandatory detention provisions are necessary in order for Canadian authorities to investigate persons whose identities have not been determined or who may be inadmissible for reasons of criminality or security. After one year, those found not to be refugees would have the grounds for their detention reviewed by the Immigration Refugee Board after a period of 12 months has passed since their initial detention, and then again at the end of six months. In addition, individuals could be released on application to the Minister of Public Safety if, in the minister's option, exceptional circumstances warrant an early release.
Specifically regarding the detention of minors, I would like to add that in all cases this is considered a measure of last resort. The CBSA's position has been and will continue to be, under Bill C-31, to always consider the best interests of the child.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to you today. The CBSA is committed to ensuring Canada's immigration laws are respected, and we will continue to take appropriate enforcement action to ensure the safety and security of the Canadian public.