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Evidence of meeting #37 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

Carole Dahan  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
Andrew Brouwer  Barrister and Solicitor, As an Individual
Imre Helyes  First Counsellor, Head of Consular Section, Embassy of the Republic of Hungary
James Milner  Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Carleton University, As an Individual
Chantal Desloges  Senior Lawyer, Chantal Desloges Professional Corporation
Mary Crock  Professor of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, As an Individual

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We have to move on, Professor Crock.

5:50 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

—an asylum seeker or not.

Thank you.

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

Mr. Leung, you have the floor.

May 2nd, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mrs. Crock, I am taking the approach that we're looking at this as parliamentarians. As parliamentarians, we're here to look at the interests of Canadians first. Canada, like Australia, has a fairly generous immigration policy. It is also our task to make sure we spend the taxes of Canadians in the most expeditious way.

Now, within that immigration framework, if we detect people coming in and abusing our system, we need to have laws to deter this. If it's an economic migrant, then yes, they can certainly apply through our regular system, but if they're irregular arrivals and they're abusing the system, we need to take adequate measures to prevent this from causing disruptions in our society.

From that, we need to medically pre-screen some of these people. We need to establish their identity. We need to do all of this. That is, I think, one of the primary reasons why we need a certain amount of detention period—in order to ascertain that.

I've worked with refugee camps in Thailand, in Taiwan, and also in Hong Kong. In every place I've seen, they do use detention. I believe in Australia they do, too, so perhaps you can elaborate for me on what your suggestion would be if you don't use this method. Or how would you document these people before you let them into your country?

5:50 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

First of all, we're talking here about irregular arrivals. As I understand it, this legislation targets asylum seekers or people arriving in larger numbers.

There are a lot of issues that you've brought up in your question or comments to me. First and foremost is the right of Canada to regulate migration. I don't think anybody would disagree with you on that front. The complexity arises because the laws you are proposing go far beyond measures that would just protect Canada's interests, in terms of working out who is coming into the country. There is detaining people for the purpose of identification, seeing whether they represent a health threat to the country, and there are laws that mandate detention for one year.

One can operate in the national interest, but clearly the other one moves from the national interest to punishing people in the effort to deter irregular arrivals. There is no law that prevents a country from looking after its own national interest in terms of protecting itself against people who might present a threat to security or to health. It's quite different, however, when you start introducing laws that are not based on any reason but are just blanket, mandatory laws that have no reason for them that relate to national interest.

The problem for me is that there is an assumption being made that if you copy the laws Australia has been using for a number of years, it will somehow have the effect of deterring irregular arrivals. What I'd like to put to you is that Australia's experience does not bear that out at all. Mandatory detention has never deterred anybody, and it's not about to here. What it will do, if you're interested in knowing what the cost to the taxpayer in Canada is going to be, is put your bill through the roof. The cost of building detention centres.... We've spent half a billion dollars building a detention centre on Christmas Island. The cost of construction alone is phenomenal, when you start looking at this. I advise you to look at that.

The social costs, however, that I've been trying to explain are also quite enormous.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

You mentioned that the U.K. as one of the best examples. Perhaps you can share with us your research in this area and tell us whether they detain irregular arrivals or not.

5:55 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

They don't. Look, Canada I think was the best until you proposed these laws. The short answer is that it doesn't make any sense to lock people up for no reason. If you're doing it because you think it's going to deter people, it's not going to deter a single asylum seeker. I put it to you that the real reason you're doing this has nothing to do with deterring irregular arrivals; it has everything to do with telling the Canadian public that you're doing something about irregular arrivals. It seems that electoral gains might be outweighing the financial costs.

What I'm trying to put to you is that it's a false assumption. I know that countries are looking at each other's laws and that political parties are sharing their experiences. My complaint is that claims made by the politicians and even by the administrators about the effect of legislation...and there is really no evidential base for the claims that are accepted quite blandly by politicians around the world.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Let me suggest that Canada is very generous in its acceptance of refugees around the world. We take in 14,000 to 15,000 a year. However, there is the rule of law. Fairness is important, and people who come in who are economic migrants or who are some—

5:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Leung, if you could just finish up....

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

There are some others who want to shortcut the system—

5:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Okay, thank you.

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

—or jump the queue, those need to be dealt with.

5:55 p.m.

NDP

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

Thank you.

We're now going to move to Mr. Lamoureux.

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

It's great to see our special guests take the time to be on TV here in a teleconference. I very much appreciate your comments. I think we're not that far off in terms of the way we're thinking here. Earlier this evening I made reference to the fact that we have to be concerned about Canada's image and the role we could be playing with regard to the whole refugee issue, which is far broader than that of any given country.

I must say that this particular government seems to reflect a lot on Australia and figures this is the direction we need to go in. A number of us are starting to say this is the wrong direction.

When we talk about detention, I think it's important to note that we do have a detention process today. In that detention process there is judicial overview, which ensures a sense of fairness. The move to mandatory detention, which the minister is proposing to do, is very new here in Canada. We hope to demonstrate to the minister that not only is that the wrong thing to do, but it's against our Constitution to be able to proceed with mandatory detention.

From what I understand in your presentation, mandatory detention had no impact on preventing boats from travelling to Australia. The only real impact has been on the annual budget for detention, which I think people need to be concerned about here.

Our border services presented the other day and indicated that the current system was working quite well.

Professor Crock, I look to you as someone who's fairly knowledgeable. No doubt you've studied other jurisdictions, and you said Canada was the best. What's your opinion if this bill does not get the amendments to deal with some of the concerns you have in terms of Canada playing that leadership role?

How is that perceived among your peers?

6 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

I think the sadness for me is that the conservative countries seem to have come to the view that countries are foolish if they are humanitarian. It seems to me that Canada wants to divest itself of the mantle of leader in the humanitarian sense. Perhaps the idea is that Canada is becoming a magnet because of its humanitarianism, and therefore it needs to fall into line with more punitive countries.

I think that is a great pity. We've seen it happen with our political parties. When I said before that the introduction of laws like this represents the top of the slippery slope, the problem is that if you have one party that says we are foolish to be fair, to be humanitarian, it becomes very difficult for opposition parties to then say, no, we're not. We should be leading the world in this area.

The popular view is always going to be to punish the outsider, punish the person who is different. That's why I think what you have achieved in Canada is a really precious and fragile thing that is very easily dismantled, and I think you will find a lot of people around the world looking at what you're doing now, not only in this area but also in your proposed laws in areas like cluster munitions. It's very sad to see Canada going down that road.

Could I make the point of the social impact of detention? You ought to be looking—there has been so much written about detention in Australia and the impact it has. The personal impact that detention has on detainees, where detention gets protracted.... Believe me, although your laws say one year, you will end up having people in detention for very much longer. Once you start that, it's very hard to undo it.

We are still suffering a pandemic of mental health issues, of self-harm, of death in detention, even under—

6 p.m.

NDP

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

Could you finish your sentence, please?

6 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

—what might be a more progressive government.

Thank you.

6 p.m.

NDP

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

Now we will go to Mr. Dykstra.

6 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Ms. Crock, you've continued to comment about the purpose of detention as being some sort of a deterrent, that you feel that's the reason we're doing this. Where did you come up with that idea?

Who told you that the reason the government is moving with respect to C-31...that the purpose of detention has something to do with deterrence? The bill doesn't say that. The government hasn't said that. Who has told you that?

6 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

A lot of the language of the discussion we've been having has been the language of deterrence.

6 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Well, you're the only one who's been speaking it. You started by saying you thought if we were doing this for the reason of deterrence, the Australian model suggests that doesn't work.

6:05 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

That's correct.

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I'm still trying to come up with.... Certainly no one from the government side has said anything about this acting as a deterrent.

If you've heard from other parties or other folks in the country that may not like this piece of legislation, that's one thing, but to suggest in any way, shape, or form that this is a method of deterrence is incorrect.

6:05 p.m.

Prof. Mary Crock

Well, perhaps you could explain the central purpose of this. If protecting the immigration system is not about deterring people from abusing it, then what is it about?

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Actually, the purpose of detention is to ensure that before individuals go into Canadian society we have an understanding of who they are and whether they are qualified refugees or in fact they are not refugees. As we found with the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, people aboard those ships were actually war criminals or terrorists.

Part of it, from our perspective, is the importance of identifying individuals who are claiming refugee status and understanding who those individuals are and what their past is all about. It's an issue of safety.

Let me be clear. In the last decade this has made up less than 0.5% of what our refugee system is all about. When we talk about a refugee system overall—you pointed it out, and I'm proud to hear that even as far away as Australia, Canada is considered to have one of the best refugee and immigration systems in the world—it doesn't mean that we are fixed or we shouldn't be improving it.

Part of the problem is that less than 40% of those who apply for refugee status actually achieve that refugee status in the country. The system itself is so broken that it takes upwards of two and a half years on average to get an initial response to a refugee claim.

We have individuals who lose their refugee cases after three or four sets of appeals. They've spent seven or eight years in this country. They get married here, have children, purchase homes, have jobs, and they're forced to go back to their country because they've failed to qualify as a refugee. Our system is such that we need to fix it.

We just had a witness from the embassy who acknowledged that Hungarians in the thousands were coming to Canada because it was an easy system to take advantage of. The list of what is required to be humanitarian doesn't include that we're easy to take advantage of, that the rest of the world sees us as easy pickings.

Under C-11, which you'll hear some of the opposition members indicate is being replaced by C-31...but clearly 70% to 85% of C-31 is actually what C-11 manufactured. Within C-11 is an additional 2,500 refugees who are coming to this country, of which 2,000 are privately sponsored and 500 are government sponsored. That puts us in the top two or three per capita in the world.

Our system needs to be fixed. It needs to be set in order; it hasn't been in many years, almost decades. But at the same time we still want to maintain—and I hope you understand this government's intention as far away as Australia—the integrity of that system and in fact ensure that it remains one of the best systems in the world.