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Evidence of meeting #40 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 c-31.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Catherine Dauvergne  Canada Research Chair in Migration Law, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law, As an Individual
Sharryn Aiken  Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual
Kelsey Angeley  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
Karina Fortier  Student, B. Refuge, McGill University
Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International
Béatrice Vaugrante  Executive Director, Amnesty International Canada Francophone, Amnesty International
Christoph Ehrentraut  Counselor, European Harmonization Unit, Federal Government of Germany
Excellency Bernhard Brinkmann  Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Canada
Anja Klabundt  Counsellor, of European Harmonization Unit, Ministry of the Interior, Federal Government of Germany
Roland Brumberg  Counselor of Unit Immigration Law, Federal Government of Germany
Ioana Patrascu  Legal Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Asylum Unit, European Commission
Angela Martini  Policy Officer, Directorate General, Home Affairs, Border Management and Return Policy Unit, European Commission

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

The five-year window in which you cannot apply for anybody or get travel documents doesn't mean that families are going to be reunited after five years. That's when they can apply, and that creates a lot of humane concerns, as well as some practical ones.

My next question is around the new proposed timelines. Everyone of us wants to see refugees expedited, but what do you think about the timelines that are proposed in this bill? We've had quite a bit of feedback on how they actually take away rights rather than protecting rights.

10:40 a.m.

Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International

Alex Neve

I'm sure you will probably have already heard, and will probably continue to hear, from individuals who do refugee work on a daily basis—refugee lawyers, people working with front-line organizations—who I'm sure can tell you very powerfully that speed is so valuable, absolutely. Everyone wants speed, and the agony all of us hear from refugee claimants in our offices as they learn that their hearing isn't going to be scheduled for 8 months or 18 months or those sorts of delays is also agonizing.

However, these timelines are unrealistic, in the sense of putting many refugees in positions where it will simply be impossible to prepare and gather documentation and have adequate consultation with lawyers to make sure they are putting their case forward in the clearest, strongest way possible. That in itself will help expedite the process, because a poorly prepared case will only cause further delays.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Mr. Neve.

Mr. Dykstra has two blocks of time.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

This has become a recurring theme. I had hoped that when we started the process, in terms of witness presentation—and I don't hold any of you responsible for this—we would be hearing from different themes in terms of support or not support of the bill. I find I'm repeating myself on a regular basis.

Based on the opposition that you have to the bill, I understand your perspective, but we have heard it on a number of occasions already. In fact, I do want to clarify a couple of things.

Number one, the former United Nations High Commissioner Abraham Abraham said that the UNHCR does not oppose the introduction of a designated or safe country of origin list, as long as this is used as a procedural tool to prioritize or accelerate examination of applications in carefully circumscribed situations and not as an absolute bar. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and Finland all use and implement the designated safe country.

In terms of the criteria for claimants from countries—for example, there are two quantitative thresholds for countries that have a mass number of applications into our country, for those who are seeking asylum as refugees. They have to meet one of two quantitative thresholds, or limits, as set out in the order. The proposed triggers for a review are based on rejection rates, withdrawal, and abandonment rates. A rejection rate, which includes abandonment and withdrawal, of 75% or higher would trigger a review. Similarly, an abandonment and withdrawal rate of 60% or higher would also trigger a review, and I repeat “a review”. It doesn't automatically mean that the designation is going to take place. An internal review led by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, in partnership with a number of other ministries within the government, will make the determination or recommendation based on a review that the country that is in question has either hit the criteria from a quantitative perspective or is subject to a review based on the number of withdrawals or abandonments that we have seen. So there are defined criteria that will be here.

I was part of Bill C-11. I sat through every minute of the hearings, and also the negotiations in terms of moving it forward, and 80% to 85% of Bill C-11 is going to move forward. There are just additional aspects that we have brought to the table here.

Under Bill C-11, which was a problem with respect to the designated country, there was no provision for transparent criteria. The criteria would be determined by the group itself. The concern we had was (a) what would those criteria consist of, and (b) there were no assurances as to the time allocation of how long that determination process would take. So at least through here, (a) we have a transparent set of criteria, and (b) we actually know the timeframe within which this designated country application will actually take place.

For claimants from countries with a low number of claims, we're actually going to move to a qualitative checklist, which will be established right in the legislation itself. So the qualitative checklist will include (1) the existence of an independent judicial system in that country; (2) recognition of basic democratic rights and freedoms, including mechanisms for redress if those rights or freedoms are infringed; and (3) the existence of civil society organizations.

While I respect that you may not agree with the process in terms of how we come to the conclusion, it's unfair, and it's also untrue to state that there aren't qualitative and quantitative criteria built in to both the legislation and the mechanism that will be used to go through the process for review. It's really important that this gets put on the table. I think part of the reason that folks come to the table and state that they're unsure of, or leery of, the designated safe country is that this information isn't necessarily at your fingertips. I do understand that is a concern, but I also understand that as we move forward in terms of Bill C-31...and part of the reason why we're doing these hearings is to afford us all the opportunity to understand the bill as it sits in a much stronger form.

Kelsey, I wanted to ask you about one of the concerns I have. I respect the fact that the opposition to a particular piece of legislation is democratic, but so is the support of the legislation, and we've heard from a majority of Canadians across this country that in fact this bill doesn't go far enough and that it should be more aggressive in its nature. We don't necessarily agree with that. We want a bill that is going to do both: suit and meet the expectations of most Canadians, and also, obviously, respect the rule of law as closely as we possibly can.

You spoke a number of times about the issue of rights and fairness. Over the last decade, we're talking about approximately 100,000 to 120,000 refugees who have come to this country and have been accepted, of which there were only 600 in the last decade.... Two ships have come here with approximately 600 people, and you've spent a great deal of time focused on the rights of those 600 individuals, while not acknowledging and complimenting the fact that between 100,000 and 120,000 refugees in fact have had those rights, in the same aspect that you're talking about.

So what we're concerned about here is only one small part of the bill, which gets at the irregular arrivals. I think it's important to note that we are talking about...less than half a per cent of the impact of our system within this bill is focused on those who come as different arrivals—other than by land or off-land.

I come to this point because currently we have over 40,000 individuals who have claimed refugee status in Canada and who we can't find. We don't know where they are. We have over 2,000 individuals who were approved for permanent residency or refugee status and actually got it by basically cheating the system, by not being forthright and honest about their perspective—or at least their claim.

For me, when you say we have to protect the rights of an individual, we also have to protect the rights of Canadians, and my concern is that we cannot.... I know it's important that everyone is as equal as we can potentially come to, but there is a balance that gets struck when we have over 40,000 people—and that's why I believe the system is broken—who we currently cannot locate. We do not know where they are. Now, we don't know if they present a danger to society; we won't know until something actually happens. But then...and there, I think, is where the rights of Canadians as individuals are and that we as a collective have to ensure. The government's responsibility is to protect those rights as well.

10:45 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

Well, I think Canada should be commended on its outstanding reputation toward refugees. Canada is the only country to have received the Nansen medal for refugees.

As you said, irregular arrivals by boat are a very small percentage, but I believe that under the current bill people arriving in groups of more than three would be considered irregular...?

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

That's actually not the case. I appreciate the fact that it isn't as defined as one may like it, but a family coming in and declaring refugee status in Canada is not going to be declared an irregular arrival.

10:50 a.m.

Student, B. Refuge, McGill University

Kelsey Angeley

But I do think it's a dangerous precedent to set by doing something like mandatory detention—

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mandatory detention—

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

We've run out of time. I'm sorry. That was just starting to get interesting.

Thank you very much to our two groups, B. Refuge and Amnesty International, for your presentations. You've sparked some interest. Thank you for coming.

We will suspend for a few moments.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

I'd like to call the meeting back to order. This will be interesting because we have so many people present.

We have Ambassador Brinkmann, who is here leading a delegation of the European Union to Canada. With him in Ottawa is Jose-Antonio Torres Lacas, who is the first counsellor, and Terri-Ann Priel, who is the adviser on political and public affairs.

We also have eight people in Brussels by teleconference. I'm not going to introduce you, so before you speak, could you identify yourselves, because it's complicated here. It will make it easier when you answer a question if you just give your name before you speak.

We also have, by video conference from the Federal Government of Germany, Anja Klabundt, counsellor of the European harmonization unit, Ministry of the Interior; and Roland Brumberg, counsellor of immigration law, Ministry of the Interior. Good morning to you.

I see a third person there. Is he just observing?

11 a.m.

Christoph Ehrentraut Counselor, European Harmonization Unit, Federal Government of Germany

My name is Christoph Ehrentraut, and I am also responsible for European asylum laws.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you to you all.

Your Excellency, you will have up to 10 minutes to make a presentation.

Ms. Klabundt, you will have up to 10 minutes to make a presentation.

We will ask Ambassador Brinkmann to speak first. Good morning, sir.

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

I have a question of clarification before we start.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

On a point of order, yes.

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Our norm is to have two witnesses. Because we have three, the 20 minutes will be kind of.... Will their speaking time be adjusted?

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

No. The delegation from Brussels is part of Ambassador Brinkmann's group.

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you so much for the clarification.

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you.

May 7th, 2012 / 11 a.m.

His Excellency Bernhard Brinkmann Ambassador, Delegation of the European Union to Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, honourable members of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning. It's a great pleasure to be here. I'd like to thank you for inviting us to this important hearing.

This bill is of interest to the European Union, mostly on two aspects. First I would like to say that we are ready to answer any questions you might have on how we deal with these issues in Europe, but we're not here to comment on your legislative process. It's not for us to comment on draft bills you deal with. We are more than happy to answer any questions you have on our own policies.

Why is this of particular interest to us? There are two aspects. The first is immigration policy. For us, Canada is a model as concerns the immigration policy and the resulting multicultural society you have, the pluralism. You probably know that in Europe we have some difficulties with these issues, with integration. Some have stated it's the end of multiculturalism, and so on. Therefore, we watch all this with great interest, and we have made reports on that to Europe.

The situation is also different in Europe, of course. We have nation states with very homogeneous populations, where immigrants stand out, whereas in Canada, as you know, almost everybody is an immigrant or is descended from immigrants. Immigration into Europe is mostly of a different quality than in Canada. In Canada you choose most of your immigrants. You want qualified people, whereas in Europe most immigrants come from the south, and the majority are almost illiterate, and so on. So it's a different situation.

The second aspect of why it's interesting for us is the visa issue. Citizens from three of our member states—Romania, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic—still require visas to come to Canada, whereas Canadian citizens have visa-free travel within the entire European Union. For the countries concerned, but also for the European Union as a whole, it's a serious issue because of matters of principle. Our visa policy is based on the principle of reciprocity. If you grant visa-free access to one country, then that country should also grant you visa-free access to its territory. It's also because of solidarity among member states. This is a problem, especially the reintroduction of the visa for the Czech Republic. We are working to solve this issue as soon as possible.

That is linked to asylum policy, I would say; therefore I would like to briefly explain to you immigration and asylum policy in the European Union—just the big headlines—and leave it to the experts to go into the details.

The issue of immigration and asylum is traditionally a responsibility of the member states and national competence. They deal with that in accordance with the applicable international instruments, like the Geneva Convention, and their national laws. However, since 1999, at the European level we have tried to work on a common asylum policy. Like so many things in the European Union, it is a work in progress—a process in progress—and we're still working on it. We do that through legislation at the European level, mostly with directives that then have to be implemented by member states through practical cooperation and the harmonization of national practices.

We work under the principle of minimum standards. That means that member states, individually, can go further in the protection of refugees and grant more rights or more favoured treatment. There are minimum standards for protection: material conditions, such as housing, food, etc.; access to the labour market, which would be granted after 12 months in the territory; and assistance for vulnerable applicants, such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, and victims of torture and violence and so on.

After a maximum of six months after they have applied for asylum, they should have their “first instance” procedure.

You may know that in the European Union we have free movement of persons. But also within the 23 member states we have the Schengen, in which there has been an abolition of border controls. You can drive from one member country to the other inside the Schengen area without even slowing down. It's like going from Ontario to Quebec. There are no border controls at all. That means completely free movement, which also applies, of course, to asylum seekers. That has resulted in a problem we call “asylum shopping”. People apply for asylum in one member country, and when they're refused there, they go to another one and reapply there.

To resolve that problem, there is the Dublin II Regulation, which serves to determine which member state is responsible for dealing with an asylum claimant. It's based on certain criteria, such as country of first entry and so on.

Also, fingerprinting of asylum seekers has been introduced. These fingerprints are stored in a database called Eurodac. When an asylum claimant presents himself or herself, fingerprints can be checked to see if an application has been made and treated somewhere else in the European Union. If that's the case, the asylum claim is not admissible.

I should make clear that this only applies to third-country nationals—people who have come from outside the European Union who are asking for asylum inside the European Union. Between member states, we don't accept asylum seekers from one member state who is going to another member state. The treaty itself says that because we have democracies based on the rule law, and we have oversight of this rule of law and the principles of asylum and so on by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice and so on, an asylum seeker from a member state is inadmissible in another member state he or she goes to.

Finally, I have a comment on numbers. We have, on average, around 250,000 asylum seekers in the European Union. The number increased last year with the Arab Spring, as you know.

There are big variations from country to country. Some of the southern member states, which get boatloads of people coming over the Mediterranean Sea, have had a maximum influx. But to give you an idea—

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

You have less than one minute, Your Excellency.

11:05 a.m.

Bernhard Brinkmann

Okay. I won't go further with the numbers.

Finally, I will just say that at the European level, we try to help those member countries that receive the most asylum seekers through several funds. The European Refugee Fund is €630 million over five years. Related funds are the European Integration Fund, at €825 million, the European Return Fund, at €676 million, and the External Borders Fund, at €820 million.

I will stop here, and I will be happy to answer questions.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Thank you, Ambassador. I appreciate your coming and bringing your assistants with you to brief us on what's happening in the European Union.

I will say, wearing another hat, that I'm the president of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, so I bump into Ambassador Brinkmann regularly. He keeps me well informed as to what's going on in Europe. It's a pleasure to see you.

We now have, from the Federal Government of Germany, Ms. Klabundt.

Are you going to address the committee?

11:10 a.m.

Anja Klabundt Counsellor, of European Harmonization Unit, Ministry of the Interior, Federal Government of Germany

No. I'm going to turn it over to Mr. Brumberg, who is doing the introduction.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Brumberg, you may proceed, please. Thank you.

11:10 a.m.

Roland Brumberg Counselor of Unit Immigration Law, Federal Government of Germany

Hello, everybody.

By now we have already heard a lot of things about the European system of asylum and immigration, so I will make it very short.

The German legislation is influenced by the European legislation—it has to be influenced by it a lot—and therefore I don't want to mention all these subjects again that we have heard about.

I will just start with numbers. In 2011 Germany had 45,000 asylum seekers. This was an increase of 10% compared to the previous year.

As far as national legislation is concerned, I might give you a very rough idea about the structure of our legislation in order to help you shape questions regarding our legal structure.

We make a systematic distinction between regular, legal, and illegal immigration on the one hand and the regulations on asylum seekers on the other hand. That means that only in cases of asylum claims are there special rules that are different from those in the regular regime.

If a person claims asylum, the person falls under a special procedure for the examination of the claim. If there is an appeal regarding the administrative decision on the asylum claim, then there are special modified procedures. Appeals against decisions on asylum cases follow the regular rules of administrative courts in Germany.

In the case of a positive decision on an asylum claim, a person would fall back into the regular immigration regime and would be granted some advantages towards gaining a permanent residence permit, as long as the asylum status is not withdrawn.

In the case of a negative decision, the person falls back into the regular immigration regime as far as deportation is concerned, so there are no special rules as far as asylum seekers are concerned. The same regulations apply as they do to anyone else not staying in the country legally. A person who has applied for asylum might be barred from getting a residence permit in other circumstances, such as under family reunification or as a student in the country. These are negative effects of having claimed asylum unsuccessfully.

This gives you a very rough idea of the German system. We look forward to your detailed questions.