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Evidence of meeting #33 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 refugees.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Martin Collacott  Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform
Peter Showler  Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv  Director, Equality Program, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Julie Taub  Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, As an Individual
Nathalie Des Rosiers  General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Toni Skarica  Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario
Debbie Douglas  Executive Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)
Francisco Rico-Martinez  Regional Director, Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

5:24 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

It's nice to see you again, David.

5:24 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

You're still young.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Yes.

Who wants to go first?

5:25 p.m.

Debbie Douglas Executive Director, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

I'll begin for OCASI.

Thank you for having us.

The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, better known as OCASI, is the provincial umbrella group for agencies that work with immigrant and refugee communities here in Ontario.

OCASI and our member agencies are very concerned about Bill C-31. Let me start off by saying that we're actually asking this committee to recommend that the bill be withdrawn and that we move forward with Bill C-11, which is scheduled for implementation at the end of June of this year.

Very quickly, we are concerned that the bill would create a multiple-tier system of refugee protection in Canada, which we believe could result in some claimants being denied the right to appeal. It makes refugee protection in Canada dangerously vulnerable to political whims, rather than ensuring a fair and independent decision about who is a refugee. It subjects some refugees to different and harsh treatment based on the country of origin, mode of arrival, and whether or not the person has citizenship in Canada, as it has to do with the revocation of permanent residency.

I just want to set the stage a bit in terms of how we have been addressing issues of refugees and asylum seekers before I pass it on to Francisco.

In 2010, Canada accepted about 24,000 refugees in all classes. This was about 11,000 fewer than the 35,000 who were accepted in 2005. In 2005, refugees in all classes accepted in Canada were about 13% of all permanent resident arrivals. In 2010, they were down to 8% of those arrivals, a drop of almost 5%.

In 2005, the number of refugee claimants present in the country constituted approximately 0.3% of the Canadian population. Five years later, in 2010, the percentage of refugees compared to the Canadian population was slightly lower at 0.28%. In 2010, we accepted 3,400 fewer claimants than five years earlier, in 2005. At the same time, the number of people forcibly displaced in countries around the world has been growing.

We believe, and we are deeply concerned, that Bill C-31 will reduce even further the number of individuals who seek to enter Canada in search of asylum.

The minister has said that Canada welcomes more resettled refugees per capita than any other country. Meanwhile, according to the UNHCR “Global Trends” report of 2010 that was released last year, 80% of the world’s refugees are in the global south, in the world’s poorest countries such as Pakistan and the Congo. The report found that roughly 43.7 million people are displaced worldwide. Of that number, 27.5 million people are displaced within their own country due to conflict.

In this global context, Canada’s involvement in resettling refugees, while admirable—and I don't think any of us around this table are arguing about that—doesn't quite measure up to the commitment of other countries in the world. According to the same UNHCR report, in 2010 Canada had 4.2 refugees per U.S. dollar of its per capita GDP compared to Pakistan at 709, Congo at 475, Kenya at 247, and Chad at 224. The comparison becomes more stark when one considers the fact that Canada’s GDP per capita is considerably higher than that in the countries named.

We're also deeply concerned about the growing anti-refugee sentiment in Canada and the extent to which this could be exacerbated by government messaging about the bill. I heard some of the language used earlier today while I was listening to some of the other witnesses makes their presentations and to the question and answer period. Messages that characterize asylum seekers in stereotypically hurtful ways, suggesting that they are bogus and are a drain on Canadian society, can have a harmful effect. We are also deeply troubled by the misperception that these measures are necessary because Canada is facing supposed floods of refugees. This messaging contributes to increased intolerance towards refugees and has a harmful impact on their resettlement opportunities in Canada.

While we believe that most of the measures are quite problematic, let me just concentrate on two pieces and then I promise I'll shut up.

First is shorter time limits. I know that the previous witnesses spent some time on this topic, but we are particularly concerned that the shorter time limits will pose additional difficulties for particular claimants. We are particularly concerned, as a council, with lesbians, gays, and trans folk, as well as women fleeing domestic violence, who often need to develop some sort of trust before they will disclose or “come out”, as we say here in North America, about their sexual orientation or their search around gender identity issues. We believe this will present increasing difficulties for them in having their claim together within the 15 days proposed in this bill.

For me, this is also tied to the safe countries list. I won't go on and on about the safe countries list. You've heard many arguments about the ongoing concerns. But we absolutely know that in countries that Canada has deemed to be democratic, and countries with whom we may have trade agreements, and countries with whom we work closely outside the EU—and you've all heard how safe the EU is for particular groups of people—particular groups still face severe discrimination. This discrimination at times not only leads to severe physical abuse, but also at times to death. Even here in the Americas we have examples of this.

One of the stories that I want to share just briefly, which is about four years old, is about a young Mexican woman whose claim was refused. She was sent back and was killed. Unfortunately, there is a more recent case that came up, the case of Veronica Castro, also from Mexico. Her claim was denied. A year before she was deported she was saying to friends that the decision was a life and death one for her if she were to be sent back , and she was hoping for their prayers. She wrote to one of her friends that her deportation was a matter of life or death, and said: “I'm shaking and terrified every time I think about my deportation. I am really scared”. Thirty-three days later, after being deported back to Mexico, on January 12, 2012, she was murdered.

So those are the kinds of stories that we know and that we are concerned about if we were to move forward, as a country, to adopt this bill.

April 30th, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.

Francisco Rico-Martinez Regional Director, Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

We have more than 200 agency members of OCASI across Ontario. They work with refugees and immigrants. We are the people who deal with the refugees and immigrants who stay here for more than a thousand days. They go to different refugee hearings and find a lawyer and whatever. We are very concerned about the people who are already in the system.

Basically, Immigration Canada says it has around 40,000 applications made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds that are still in the system without any decision. The IRB has said that the backlog of undecided cases is 40,000 as well. In this case, we have many applications for PRRA that haven't been decided. We believe there are around 100,000 people who are affected by this particular backlog, and we are here to ask if you could consider a jubilee program for the people who are in the backlog, because they have been waiting and waiting for this change.

We were advised that the law was going to be changed in December 2011. It didn't happen. We were advised that the law was going to change in June 2009. It didn't happen. Why? Because now we have a new bill and that will move the implementation date, for many reasons, to maybe December or later. So in that case, we want to ask for a program to help the people who are already here working—

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Could you conclude, sir. Thank you.

5:30 p.m.

Regional Director, Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Francisco Rico-Martinez

—using the criteria of economic integration, social ties to Canada, etc.

That's one of the things that we want you to consider.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you very much.

Now we have Mr. Skarica. We have two documents. One has been translated. It's called “Crown's Provable Statement of Facts—Excerpts”, and you all should have that. There's another document that is just....

You've been busy, Toni. You've been very busy. The problem is they're all in English.

Do I have unanimous consent that these can be distributed?

Agreed?

Maybe while they're distributing them, you could speak, sir. You have up to 10 minutes.

5:35 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

I'm the lead prosecutor in the largest human trafficking prosecution in the history of this country. We've convicted eight people so far of human trafficking and of participating in a criminal organization; we've convicted seven other members of various other offences; and another person is going to plead guilty to human trafficking and participating in criminal work tomorrow. That doubles all the convictions since the implementation of the human trafficking legislation in 2005.

I have call it the “invasion of evil”. The reason I've done that—and I've done it publicly many times, and I know that maybe some people think it's politically incorrect—is that the brutal truth is that an entire criminal organization that was active in Hungary came over to Canada unmolested and then set up shop here, and they've been working with their people in Hungary and have been doing it since at least 2008.

The first thing I'd like you to see is that the invasion of evil came in two waves. You have a chart to look at, annotated in yellow for the first wave.

Do you have the chart there? You need the chart.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

They're just in the process of distributing it. I don't know where it is and I don't know how to stop the clock.

5:35 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

Well, I'm just going to keep going, because I only have 10 minutes.

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Sure, keep going.

5:35 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

The chart shows you that there are five people whose names are highlighted in yellow. It's the first wave. Back when they came here in 1998, there was no visa required for Hungarian refugees. These people claimed refugee status. They had been indicted, nine months before they came, for extortion and fraud. If you want to talk about human trafficking, what is it? It's extortion and fraud. They came over here and nine months later warrants for their arrests were issued.

They made refugee claims. In a refugee claim, you have to say, “I have no outstanding charges”. Well, for some reason, nobody ever found out about that. They made their refugee claims. CBSA is supposed to check for outstanding charges—you click on their outstanding charges, criminal records. None of those ever came up.

They became convention refugees; they became landed immigrants; one of them became a Canadian citizen. In fact, in this other document that you have, tab 10, 2005—I don't have time to go into it, but you can look at it later—you'll see that the Canadian and Hungarian authorities knew that Ferenc Domotor, the ringleader, had those outstanding charges and nothing was done about it. A year later, those charges were dropped in Hungary because of limitation problems.

So we had two serious criminals in our country who were landed immigrants, and one a Canadian citizen. Throughout this entire process, they were hiding in the open. Nobody ever seemed to find out that they were in fact wanted criminals from Hungary.

After they got their status, the next wave came over—and they're everybody else at the top part of the chart I am showing. Everybody else at the top part of this chart is one of their relatives, and every one of them, except one, when they came into the country or very shortly afterward, had outstanding charges. Some of them had criminal records, some of them had outstanding charges at the time, some of them had outstanding charges shortly thereafter. They clicked on the little form to say, we have no charges. All of them came here; nobody ever seemed to find out that they had these outstanding charges.

Once they were all here, they rented homes, and then they started recruiting victims from Hungary. They are all here, 19 of them—and there are lots more, but we know of 19 for sure—and they started making a lot of money. If you look at these photographs, in about 2009 they had $600,000 homes in Ancaster. Here is a photograph of the ring leader. They lived a most lavish lifestyle. Meanwhile, their slaves were living downstairs in the beds shown in the photograph. Here is a photograph of the number two guy, and a picture of his $600,000 house. Those are the two people who came originally.

How could all this happen? The lieutenant—a guy, to give you an example, called Ferenc Karadi—pleaded guilty for six years minus credits.

How much time do I have left? Five minutes?

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You have five and a half minutes.

5:40 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

Ferenc Karadi pleaded guilty, for six years minus credits.

He came over just like those other two. He said that he hadn't been charged with anything. He came into the country. CBSA did a check on him, and he came across as having no record.

After he was charged, I wanted to know what his background was in Hungary. If you go to this white document, the affidavit of Leap Jankovic, Exhibit “37”, there was an international arrest warrant for him, and for his wife as well. But when we checked for his criminal record—there's no time to go into it now, but just trust me on this—it said that Ferenc Karadi had no criminal record.

A month later, the Hamilton Spectator went to Hungary and said, “What do you mean this guy has no criminal record? Not only has he been charged, he's been convicted. He's supposed to serve five years”.

Hungary has this neat little procedure whereby they don't put you in jail right away. They tell you to come back a month later to go to jail. And guess what? They came here. And then when they came here, they said they had no criminal record. They checked it off. And somehow, when we check, there's no criminal record.

Three and a half years later, when he pleaded guilty—three and a half years—I still didn't know what his criminal status was. This document outlines his history. On November 6, 2008, he came to Pearson. He was a non-genuine visitor and was told to go away. He came back two weeks later, to Trudeau international airport, and got into the country. Then he said that he was a refugee. Ferenc Domotor, the leader, said that he would be responsible. The criminal history check, from March 18, 2009, said that here was no foreign criminal record. Ah, but on September 10, 2009, CBSA said that he was wanted in Hungary. What for? Well, they didn't know. On September 24, 2009, they said that he was wanted on a European arrest warrant. Then two years later, I'm told that he has no criminal record.

Well what is this criminal record? His criminal record is there. It is the document under tab G. In 1996, for receiving stolen goods, he was sentenced to one year imprisonment. In 2003, for bodily injury, he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment. For fraud, there was a fine. In 2009, it was blackmail and fraud. That's what human trafficking is. What did he get? He got almost five years. But he came here, and he was getting welfare. His wife's in the same boat.

How much time do I have?

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You have three minutes.

5:40 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

As for his wife, she's wanted too. She did the same thing as he did. She took off, and when she got here, there were international arrest warrants and so on and so forth. You can go through the documents. The Canadian authorities finally were told by Hungary in May 2010 and August 2010 and October 2010 that there were international arrest warrants for her. What was done? Nothing.

Finally, in 2011, we're doing a bail review on her husband, and I saw her walking around the court as a spectator. I went to the officer and say, “What is that? I thought there was an international arrest warrant for that person”. He said that well, there was. I asked why we didn't arrest her? He said, “ We can't. We need an extradition request from Hungary”. We've never had one for any of these people.

I went to Deb Kerr, from CBSA. I asked, how could his wife be walking around in our country with international arrest warrants? She had been convicted of crimes—we think, but we don't know. So Deb Kerr did the check, and if you go to that same document, there it is. Yes, she had been convicted. She was supposed to serve two and a half years. It was the same procedure: Come back in a month to go to jail. Well, she came here.

What is the date of this document? It is November 21, 2011. She was in our country for three years, and we didn't know what her criminal record was.

This is not cheap. We also charged them with welfare fraud.

By the way, she was arrested shortly afterwards. I told Deb Kerr that we had to do something, and she finally found that the wife had, in fact, been convicted. She had made a little tick to say that she had never been convicted of anything, but then she was arrested on an immigration warrant. In addition, she and he were convicted of welfare fraud. He had to pay back $12,000. We'll never see that again. She had to pay back $36,000. We'll never see that again.

That's in fact cheap. More recently, we convicted these other two people. These people are criminals, and they've been on welfare since they got here, and they have been paid $100,000. I had heard all this anecdotal evidence that these people had all kinds of money. They had cash and so on and so forth. So when this guy was fleeing the country the other way, a guy, and his mum, we had paid $100,000 in welfare payments—I don't know how they do it, but these people are in Canada and they get genuine Hungarian passports—he had in his suitcase all these designer clothes. The labels were still on them. There's $100 here and $100 there. They cost us $100,000.

We called evidence. Basically, these Hungarian refugees have a 98% failure rate. When it's all said and done, at that same rate, it costs $500 million for just them. That's $500 million at a time when there's no money for doctors in the hospitals and nurses and what have you.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You're even more passionate now than you were years ago.

5:45 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

I can't believe this is happening to our country.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Your time is up, I'm afraid.

Ms. James.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, [Inaudible—Editor]...up in the sixth hour of debate on this bill, so I thank you for that.

I'm listening to you, but I'm not shocked because I sit on this committee, so I've heard the stories. But I have to tell you that the constituents in my riding of Scarborough Centre are shocked at the fraud that goes on in our immigration and refugee system. You mentioned it very briefly with respect to welfare fraud. I think you said $100,000, if I heard you correctly—

5:45 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

It was $50,000 for them, but we've had over $200,000 just for these people.

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

It's a huge problem provincially in Ontario because bogus refugee claimants come here by fraudulent means and are here long enough to make their applications to receive our lucrative benefits, but then they don't necessarily show up for the first hearing and then, of course, it's hard to track these people down. I'm listening to your story and I'm shaking my head, not in shock but in agreement. It's very upsetting, especially with respect to the cost to Canadian taxpayers.

I'm just wondering if you could tell this committee why generally you accept the provisions in Bill C-31 and why you think they will make a huge improvement—

5:45 p.m.

Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario

Toni Skarica

They'll make a huge difference because the evidence—I called it the Stojkas—was that it cost us an average of $50,000 for failed refugee claimants. For the Hungarians alone, that's $500 million. That's the road to bankruptcy, in my opinion.

My druthers is that the legislation should be even stricter than it is. I think you're being very generous. One thing the legislation doesn't address is what's happening in Hungary. They haven't made any arrests over there. They're lying to us about their criminals. I've said it in court. They're trying to dump their criminals on us. Why is something not being done with Hungary? Why are there no extradition requests? There are all these recruiters out there. Why is it that not one person has been arrested over there?

We had people who were threatened that we had to get out of Hungary to preserve our prosecution, and the authorities there haven't done anything. How can that be a friendly nation?

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

We're talking about countries in the European Union as being designated safe countries.