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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)

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I'm going to turn my time over to Mr. Opitz.

The one point I want to make, sir, is that if you're going to bring up an example of how I would treat and bring up my children versus what you would do, I would hope that my children would understand that those sitting in a refugee camp for up to 17 years deserve to be treated fairly. And the best way to do that is not to smuggle people to the country and have them enter more quickly than someone who's had to wait that long, as you've suggested.

It's just a personal observation, but I disagree with you on that.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Opitz.

April 30th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

How much time do I have?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You have four minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Okay.

There's also the problem of human smugglers, in that this is not a safe way of passage. These are guys who are often tied to organized crime, who often intend to traffic people or make money from smuggling. Oftentimes, smuggling and trafficking become one and the same thing, and that puts people in dire circumstances. There are incidents where these smugglers out at sea, if they get caught, oftentimes throw people overboard. It's a very dangerous pursuit if they do that. I think everybody's in agreement on that. It's oftentimes not the safest way for people to try to come to Canada.

Also, in response to my friend, not everybody trying to come to Canada is a terrorist, but there surely are a few. It only takes one determined guy to get here by using the refugee system to cause a tremendous amount of harm to this country. There have been examples of that. So we have to be very careful in that instance.

As well, some people do queue jump by using the refugee system, and they are bogus or fraudulent refugees, and that clogs up our system.

Mr. Collacott, you used a term I thought was very interesting. You used the term “asylum shoppers”. Could you expand on that term, sir?

4:15 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

The example I used was the 152 people who arrived off the coast of Newfoundland in 1986. I was involved in that, because I had just been the high commissioner in Sri Lanka and had just returned. They had asylum in Germany, but I think it's reasonable to assume that they had heard there were much better benefits in Canada.

Basically, they're people who travel through countries where they could have made claims. Their primary objective, presumably, is to reach safety. But in fact their real objective is to go to a place where they can get a lot of benefits. Safety is not their first concern. They will move on to find a country. Canada is probably the most generous country in terms of benefits, so they try to get to Canada, even if it's the hardest to reach geographically.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Yes, absolutely. I know that earlier witnesses said that many asylum seekers who had come here boldly said to CBSA that they had come here for the money. But our law was to process them through at that point in time.

Turning to detention, what is your view on detention, sir?

4:15 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

First of all, the term “detention” is sometimes equated to imprisonment, and in some cases, as Mr. Showler pointed out, people are kept in penal places. The recent influx of Roma people from Hungary, in fact, is probably mostly kept in hotels, and the space available for the Canadian-born who may need assistance is limited.

Detention is an interesting term for asylum seekers. It's sometimes considered that they are innocent until proven guilty, so why should they be held? It is not like a prison; they're free to leave any time they want. Any time the want to drop their claim and leave, they can. They're only being told that if they want to come and stay in this country, they have to put in a holding place until a decision is made if they deserve to be kept here.

I believe that widespread detention probably does make quite a bit of sense, particularly for the mass arrivals, because we're overwhelmed with numbers. We cannot screen them quickly. They pose a particular problem, not just in terms of large-scale criminal gang operations and possibly terrorists, but also in terms of sheer numbers. It draws resources off all sorts from other areas.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Monsieur Giguère.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Good afternoon.

My thanks to our witnesses for joining us today.

My first question is for Mr. Collacott.

How do you feel about a new act that gives the minister the permission to designate what constitutes an irregular arrival? The very same minister also designates what a safe country is, what an illegal immigrant is, and even what grounds for detention are. This bill has a host of ways in which a minister can intervene at any point during the enforcement of the act and overturn the decision of his officials.

Structurally, do you feel that this will help us unblock the system when any politician can systematically intervene at any time and put pressure on the minister?

4:15 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

That's a good question, Monsieur Giguère. The new act does give the minister more authority, but it brings us in line with what most other countries do. One of the objections is having public servants do the initial screening, instead of having an independent body.

There will be reviews by an independent body, but you will get much more continuity and consistency in the decisions. We'll be doing what other countries do.

I don't know of any part of the increased authority—and you're quite right there will be increased authority for the minister—I have difficulty with. I don't know if there's some specific aspect you want to ask about, but it will simply bring us into the 21st century. We've taken a long time getting there, and that's why our system is so dysfunctional.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Thank you very much.

Mr. Showler, the minister states that designated foreign nationals are jumping the queue of refugees. Could you explain to us what the queue of refugees really is?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

It's clear that I disagree with some of the people here at the committee, but in my view there is no queue. That's because, first of all, the UN refugee convention allows for someone to come to a host country under the convention to seek protection. Here, Mr. Collacott said that Canada supposedly didn't know what it was signing on to, but I think it understood very well what it was were signing on to.

That is the core part of international protection. That is what occurs. There is no queueing up. There is no principle anywhere in international law that suggests they go to a refugee camp. I've already explained that some can't even get to one; but in any event, there is no queue. That's not how it works. They come to a country.

There is this notion of a safe third country. Mr. Collacott referred to it before. However, Mr. Collacott unfortunately referred to it as though it were arbitrary. Safe third countries are where there's an agreement, as we have between the United States and Canada. Canada, candidly, would love to make agreements and has considered agreements with countries in Europe, but countries there are not prepared to make those agreements because they would have to be two-way agreements.

But essentially there is no queue, in law or fact.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Great.

I am going to ask the same question. With this bill, the minister can have the authority to decide whether people involved in an irregular arrival are irregular refugees.

As the receiving country, the minister makes the final decision as to whether a country is declared safe or not. In other cases, it is the minister once more who decides what may constitute humanitarian grounds. Will the act not become difficult to enforce with this kind of political and partisan muddying of the waters that opens the door to lobbyists?

4:20 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

I don't refer to it much in my brief, but there are other briefs presented. Certainly from a legal view there is a combination in both the designation of countries of origin and of foreign nationals as group arrivals. In both situations the concern is that the criteria for the designation are extremely broad.

Second, the limits on those powers or the discretion are virtually non-existent. There are some within the designated country of origin, but not much.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Showler.

4:20 p.m.

Director, Refugee Forum, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa

Peter Showler

The concern is that it's too broad and too vague.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Menegakis, go ahead.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you very much for your presentations here today.

The intent of Bill C-31 is to help facilitate the process to make it faster. The intent was not to penalize people who legitimately seek our assistance. With the new measures in the bill, the time to finalize a refugee claim, a legitimate refugee claim, would drop from a current average of 1,038 days to 45 days for claimants from designated countries of origin, or 216 days for all other claimants.

So we can imagine what a huge benefit this will be to somebody who's really seeking and needing asylum from persecution in their own nation. In my opinion, that's a big positive of this bill.

Mr. Collacott, let me preface my question by saying that human smuggling seeks to circumvent the proper channels. In your opinion, are human smuggling rings becoming more elaborate?

4:25 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

I think they get more sophisticated. The more barriers you set up against them, the more complex they can sometimes be. I think the sheer numbers coming in by boat pose a major problem, but smugglers have been using forged documents and fraudulent documents for years.

Mr. Showler mentioned that we agreed originally with the UN convention. In fact, we didn't know what we were in for because these problems hadn't developed. Human smuggling was estimated by the International Organization for Migration as an $18 billion-a-year operation, and that was 10 years ago. It's probably much more now. There's a lot of money involved. People say that a lot of drug dealers are now switching to human smuggling because the penalties are less. So it's a huge problem and it doesn't only apply to irregular arrivals. There have been estimates of 70% to 90% of the people being smuggled come in by air on flights. The problem is that it's very difficult to pursue each one of those cases.

But human smugglers are very heavily involved in the movement of asylum seekers as distinct from people we take from camps. By the way, Mr. Showler mentioned there were four million people in camps. The UN doesn't consider most of those as needing resettlement. They need to be given temporary protection until they can go back to their homelands. The number they consider needing to be resettled is still significant, but it's much smaller. It's in the hundreds of thousands, at most.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Certainly they become money-making operations and, in many instances, sophisticated money-making operations.

From your time as high commissioner to Sri Lanka, ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, and ambassador to Cambodia, could you tell us about the human smuggling operations in those countries?

4:25 p.m.

Spokeperson, Centre for Immigration Policy Reform

Martin Collacott

I can’t recall cases of major human smuggling there. In Sri Lanka, the boats hadn't started yet, and it's the irregular arrivals that much of this bill is aimed at.

In Canada's case, they first began to increase in number in 1986. In Australia, as Mr. Showler mentioned, one of the main reasons why there was a dip in claims in Australia was that the John Howard government instituted the Pacific solution, where they simply didn't let people land. They processed them overseas. They considered their claims and accepted some and turned down others. Kevin Rudd, when he became prime minister in 2007, said that was too harsh and moved to let them all in. Well, hundreds arrived, and that was one reason why he lost the leadership of the Labour Party and the prime ministership. It was not the only reason, but that was one of the major ones.

Most of the human smuggling has been by air; larger numbers have come by air, one or two at a time. But these big operations really do test a system and create special problems, and I think you do need legislation to deal with them. I hope that we can eventually have something to deter all human smuggling, but when they come in one or two at a time, they're not easy to identify.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Am I done?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You are, sir, and I think that we are going to be short of time because of the vote tonight.

Mr. Showler, Mr. Collacott, thank you to both of you for coming and making your presentations to us.

We will suspend for a few minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

I call the meeting to order.

We have two witnesses, and we will end this second round at 5:20 because of the vote tonight. The last session will begin around 5:20 as well.

We have Julie Taub, an immigration and refugee lawyer.

Good afternoon.

We also have two people from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Noa Mendelsohn is the director of the equality program.

I didn't say your last name. It's Aviv.