I'm quite flexible. I'm more than happy to go first, Mr. Chair.
I did think that it was important, just before we get under way with the clause-by-clause, to highlight some of the presentations that were made and some of the concerns that we have expressed.
We understand that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism did have a press conference at which he made some fairly substantial changes. I thought it might have been appropriate for the minister to come before the committee--given that we're going to be going into clause-by-clause--to indicate, as a courtesy, what sorts of changes he would like to see and maybe provide the justification up front with us. If he could take the time to present them to the media, he could have provided the courtesy of doing likewise here for the standing committee.
Having said that, I think we have been fairly clear on concerns we've had with regard to the Liberal Party of Canada's position in regard to the presentations that were made. All in all, there were very excellent, high-calibre presentations. I want to pick up on a few of those points.
We still believe the idea of mandatory detention is just wrong. This is something that will be challenged in our Constitution and will be challenged successfully.
With regard to the safe country list, we believe the government was wrong to change what was in the previous legislation, which would have had a panel of experts bring forward a recommendation to the minister. We believe the minister would have been best advised to go back to that system, for which there was unanimous support from the House. So we believe the government was wrong to do that.
With regard to concerns with respect to families, when we talk about mandatory detention, we're going to be dividing up families, we're going to be preventing families from being able to be reunited. We heard presenter after presenter talk about how that is damaging to the family and is also going to be costly to our system. The idea of having a ten-year-old being in foster care while parents are locked up in a detention centre is just wrong. The idea of a refugee being determined to be an irregular refugee and then put into detention, and then, after being declared a refugee, having to wait five years before they will be able to sponsor their spouse or their child is again just wrong. We look to the minister to be able to address that particular issue.
We're concerned with regard to the whole issue of this two-tier system that's being set up for refugees. I think that if you take a look at the bigger picture here, Mr. Chair--and we've had a few presenters who made comment on it--worldwide there are over 10 million refugees, people who would like to be able to leave their countries for whatever reason--over 10 million. Canada has had a fairly decent record in terms of being able to play a leadership role in dealing with the whole issue of refugees on a worldwide basis. This particular bill, if it passes without amendments, will greatly diminish and tarnish our record. It takes away our ability to provide that leadership. So when we look at it, there are 10 million refugees worldwide, and we get 15,000, which is a fairly significant number, but there are only 60,000 worldwide that actually get accepted.
We are taking away some of our responsibility in terms of being able to address that refugee problem throughout the world by bringing in legislation that in essence establishes a two-tier system. We need to be very clear on that fact. A refugee who flies in through the Toronto airport and a family that might appear via another means, at a different type of port of entry, are going to be treated differently, and the government needs to acknowledge that. We believe that it is against UN resolutions, and that through time that is going to be well demonstrated. The direction we are moving in on that is just wrong.
We're concerned with respect to the timelines that are being talked about. This is something about which presenter after presenter talked at great length. How can you expect someone in 15 days to prepare themselves or get themselves into a position in which they can feel comfortable and know that they're going to have a chance to explain the situation?
Many of these individuals are not afforded the opportunity to come to Canada with the background information that is required, nor to even be able to substantiate who they might be, and yet we're expecting them to be able to get everything in proper order, including dealing with issues such as where they will be sleeping, how they are going to be fed, identifying how they're going to be able to get representation, and what kind. In many cases, because of this time restriction they won't even be able to get any form of representation. What impact is that going to have, Mr. Chair?
Those are the types of concerns that I believe at the end of the day are going to deny genuine refugees the opportunity to come to Canada.
When we talk about mandatory detention for two or more, as much as we would love to see mandatory detention disappear completely, the idea of increasing it to a more reasonable number.... I might suggest 5,000, but if I say 5,000 it would no doubt have no chance at passing. But at the very least, to say two I believe is just compounding the problem of mandatory detentions in the first place.
We have refugees who have been deemed refugees. They are going to be in a position in which they're not even going to be able to travel to a third country to meet with a family member, which raises a lot of concerns. This is something completely new, Mr. Chair, that the government is doing here, which is going to have a profound impact upon families.
My suggestion is that as we go through clause by clause, Mr. Chair, we take into consideration the real impact this is going to have on refugees, here in Canada and abroad, and how this whole issue of Bill C-31 is going to impact Canada's reputation as a world leader in dealing with refugees in a fair way.
I think that if you canvassed Canadians as a whole, you would find wide support for recognizing that we have a role to play in the whole refugee area of immigration, Mr. Chairperson. At the end of the day, what we want to see is a system that not only processes in a reasonable timeframe, but that allows us to be able to say that it is fair, that there is such a thing as judicial overview. This legislation does not allow for genuine judicial overview, in many different ways, Mr. Chairperson. That's why I think that it's critically important and of great value for the committee as a whole to be reviewing it.
Ms. Sims from the New Democratic Party made the suggestion that we recess this particular committee. If the will of the Liberal Party were able to prevail in this committee, I can tell you that we would allow the previous legislation to take effect and over the next number of months would review exactly what it is that Bill C-31 is doing and how we might be able to improve upon it so that we were being fairer to refugees and were building the relationship that Canada has among countries throughout the world and building the whole leadership role that we could be playing.
That's why I think we're maybe being a little too quick in wanting to pass things through. I realize that there was a decision by the committee a few days back saying that by midnight tomorrow things have to pass their way through. But as you say yourself, Mr. Chair, with the unanimous support of the committee.... And I can tell you that the Liberal Party's position would be to allow for proper and adequate time to ensure that we get this thing right.
We owe it to not only today's refugees but to future refugees that we get this system right. We do feel that on many fronts, most of which I've already highlighted.... I highlighted the primary concerns in regard to this bill, Mr. Chairperson, and ultimately I believe we should be seeing where the government feels.... That's why I thought it would be great to have some opening remarks on the issue.
I don't know, because I was in a caucus meeting prior. All I've been told is the Minister of Immigration had a press conference. Yesterday, because of a courtesy, we had asked that people submit amendments in advance so we had a sense of some of the amendments the government had provided. I don't know if everything the minister had commented on is all pertaining to those amendments. Are there other things he made reference to? We don't know that. That's why I thought it would be most appropriate to have some opening remarks.
I'm very much interested in hearing about what the core feelings are from the New Democrats in regard to this particular bill. I think the New Democrats and Liberals in some ways support looking at some of the amendments. You can see we're both thinking alike when it comes to the issue of mandatory detention, at least in good part, it would appear.
We're both thinking alike in terms of why the government said 16 years old as opposed to 18 years old, the age of majority in terms of detention. So if you're 17 years old the government feels they should be put into a detention centre. Both opposition parties have recognized that's wrong. It should be bumped up to 18.
I don't know if the minister has changed his mind on that particular point, but I think there is value for the government to change its mind. I think there are common grounds in looking through some of these amendments.
There might be one or two others we might want to throw in that I didn't get to see in the booklet that was circulated, Mr. Chairperson. But I think for the first time what we saw was a sense of cooperation from all three political parties here by submitting the amendments in advance. The next best thing would have been to have some dialogue on those amendments prior to our even going into the clause-by-clause, because maybe there is some merit in terms of Mr. Dykstra saying we could be sympathetic to this, given the NDP and the Liberals are okay with the 16 to 18 bit. To have that sort of dialogue I think would have been healthy for the committee.
When I sit back and review the process, generally speaking, we had concerns right out of the get-go, the get-go being when the bill was introduced in second reading when the government made the determination they had to bring it in through time allocation. We did have some concerns in regard to the number of witnesses, but that was agreed upon that we would limit the witnesses. I do appreciate the fact that I was able to get the number of witnesses we were able to get. We could always get more. We could always use more witnesses, Mr. Chairperson, but the witnesses themselves were of very high calibre. It was, I thought, very beneficial.
There are a number of comments they made that really come to mind. I realize I might be getting a little long-winded here, Mr. Chair, but there were some more interesting ones.
For example, when I had posed the question in terms of the two-tier refugee to what was happening in Germany, they made it very clear there is no two-tier. All refugees are treated the same.
When we had issues related to Australia, we find out through the committee meetings that these massive detention centres are very costly and it's not healthy for the families.
The government would ask question after question in regard to the cost of refugees. I believe every Conservative member of this committee made reference to the cost factor. Do you recognize the cost? We have to do this for the cost. What came out of the committee was the fact of the additional costs that are going to be incurred because of the separation. By putting someone into detention, there's going to be the potential for long-term health care ramifications and the cost to health care. Not only should Ottawa be concerned about this, but all provincial governments should be concerned about it. Health care is the greatest single expenditure.
I know that in the province of Manitoba mental health is one of the growing areas of cost. Here we are, saying that we are going to put these people into detention centres. I'm thinking of the whole Australia situation, Mr. Chairperson, in which they talk about those costs. It wasn't just the building of prisons—or detention centres, because I know the government is sensitive to “prison” versus “detention centre” and trying to pick up the differences between the two—but there is a significant cost.
If you put an eight-year-old child into a foster care home and then have mom and dad in a detention centre and you keep them apart for a year, and then after they've been apart for a year they're reunited, you can't tell me that there is not going to be a cost. I don't know whether the government has even recognized that cost factor, Mr. Chairperson.
I wasn't at the minister's press conference, so I don't know whether he has dealt with that particular issue, Mr. Chairperson. I hope he has, because there is a significant cost difference when you have that sort of separation.
I get back to the process issue, Mr. Chair. The reason I bring it up is that I thought the time allocation in second reading was not appropriate. I honestly thought there should have been more time for all members of Parliament to contribute to the debate before it came to committee.
Then once we got to committee, the quality of the presentations was excellent. I suspect that's why we have so many amendments coming forward to the bill. But now, because of the opposition's maybe being a little too generous, we put in a time allocation ourselves rather inadvertently, saying that it has to pass by Thursday night. With hindsight, I think that may have been a mistake, Mr. Chair. I think maybe what we should have done is allow ourselves to continue—