Evidence of meeting #45 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 chair.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jennifer Irish  Director, Asylum Policy and Programs, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Matthew Oommen  Senior Counsel, Legal Services , Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Monique Frison  Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Allan Kagedan  Director, National Security Operations, Public Safety Canada

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Lamoureux.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Chair, I want to enter into a potential discussion on this issue. Biometrics was first raised a number of years ago, under the Liberal Party. When we were in government, we saw this as an issue that needed attention. The Liberal Party actually initiated a pilot project, and all of a sudden, fortunately or unfortunately—unfortunately, from my perspective—there was change in government and the issue of biometrics seemed to be put on the back burner.

Then we had the Minister of Immigration say, through Mr. Dykstra, that we're going to debate biometrics here in the committee, do a study on it, and, as my colleagues from the New Democrats have talked about, to try to get a better understanding of biometrics. This particular amendment is trying to put in some safeguards.

I do believe that at the very least the government's approach with biometrics is somewhat premature. It's premature in the sense that our committee has not even had an opportunity to provide a final report on it. We are waiting for valuable information to come forward.

Biometrics does have a potential role to play with different forms of visas, not just for refugees, but for working visas, student visas, and other forms of temporary visas, and I know the government is looking at that.

I think there could have been a more fulsome discussion that would have ultimately led to better legislation on biometrics. I look at this amendment as at least providing a little more definition, but I do believe we've really missed our mark in terms of dealing with the whole issue of biometrics.

Other countries in the world have been engaged in this for the last number of years, and it is only most recently that the government seems to have recognized this is a technology worth pursuing. But there are no safeguards. They have not put safeguards into place that go beyond the legislation we have before us, such as how the information that is gathered is going to be used, how it is going to be disposed of, how long we are going to keep it in records, and so forth.

With those comments, we are prepared to support this particular amendment. But we do believe the government would have been better off to incorporate biometrics in a separate piece of legislation at some point in the future, when we would have been able to have a more thorough discussion on it.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Ms. Sims, and then Mr. Dykstra.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Chair, my colleague just made some excellent points about biometrics. I raised my concern at the beginning that we didn't have the privacy impact assessment in front of us.

In many ways, this little piece being buried in this legislation reminds me a lot of another piece of legislation, called the budget. So many of the immigration issues are buried in there, including a backlog of skilled workers whose rights are being denied. There are other components as well.

I am really hoping we won't see too much of this in the future.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I could comment on the last presentation, but I will indulge your advice on that, Mr. Chair.

I will note that when we've discussed biometrics in any of the previous amendments that have been suggested by either Mr. Lamoureux or Ms. Sims, the concern we have had, and continue to have when we see the amendments come forward, is that if we were to pass them, it would actually prevent the government from being able to collect biometrics to (a) check for a criminal background and (b) check for previous immigration history, which is critical to the success of implementing biometrics, at the same time as passing the bill. If someone is going to seek entry into Canada and they are not a Canadian citizen, and they do so through the means as suggested in the bill, then I think the adoption, as is, of the biometrics strategy within the bill is important, and it will be supported by the government.

I do note, though, that Ms. Sims is correct. I do recall when she did ask for that information and it was to be forthcoming. I just don't recall that we'd actually set a date so that we could have it before clause-by-clause, which we probably should have done. It's my mistake as much as anything else because I don't think the biometrics folks were thinking we needed it before clause-by-clause. I think they determined it was something the committee wanted to look at under its biometrics study, but not necessarily for the clause-by-clause.

I could be wrong, but if any of the staff here want to comment on that specifically, they are free to do so. I'm not asking for that, but if they want to make a clarification, it's probably a good time to do it.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

I'm presuming we will be getting that soon.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

We'll make sure, yes.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Monsieur Giguère.

May 10th, 2012 / 5:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

You probably know the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That is exactly the problem now.

We want to prevent criminals, people we do not want, from coming to our country. That in itself is good, but we cannot thereby harm refugee claimants and their families. Hence the problem of information-sharing.

Let me give you a very simple example. We want to know if an individual arriving at our border has committed any crimes in other countries. Canada files a request with Interpol, which has a database that is completely open to its members. Interpol checks its database and tells us that the individual is flagged, not as a criminal, but as an illegal immigrant in another country. They send us that information, but, in so doing, Interpol's open network is telling all its members that Canada has filed a request about that individual and has received a reply saying such and such. If the refugee claimant comes from an unfriendly country, the government of that unfriendly country will be informed that one of its citizens has applied for refugee status in Canada. If the refugee claimant goes back to his country, he will be in danger, and so will the members of his family who stayed there.

There's the rub. We do not want to prevent people from coming, but we want to screen those who do, in order to prevent criminals from entering. It's very commendable, but the problem is that we cannot endanger everyone arriving on our doorstep, honest people who still have families in their countries of origin. That is our problem. No one is giving us any guarantees about the sharing of information. In that respect, the amendment errs on the side of caution and that is clearly what we must do.

You have probably come across examples in your ridings. In my riding, I have dealt with immigration situations involving people who still have families in undemocratic countries and who are afraid to talk to us for fear that their home government will be informed about the situation. I am sure that it also happens in your ridings. My case is not exceptional. People who are afraid of their governments don't stop being afraid of them once they are in Canada, certainly not when they are knocking on our door at the border. That is the kind of situation that we have to avoid.

I am sure that, like me, you have absolutely no interest in helping an undemocratic government oppress even a fraction of its people. If you think you can improve on what this amendment is suggesting, go right ahead. We just want to do no harm. Around this table, I feel that we are unanimous in the fundamental desire never to let our country become the unintentional ally of an oppressive government.

I do not know what else I can say to convince you to support this amendment, but these are situations that you come across every day. The people on your riding staff deal with them, as do mine.

We have not received the information we asked for from the RCMP and the Canadian Forces. How will this database be managed? Who will have access to it? Will people flagged by the database be able to obtain the information that has been gathered on them? These are very important questions and we have no answers. As we wait for the answers, let us err on the side of caution.

We could take a 15- or 20-minute break. We could discuss it in more detail. You can introduce a technical amendment yourselves, to make sure that we will never do any harm, that we will never be the unintentional allies of oppression.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Mr. Dykstra.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Based on the comments, I think it's important to get some feedback from officials on what was just stated, please.

5:25 p.m.

Monique Frison Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

The intention of the clause is to give the Government of Canada the ability to enter into agreements or arrangements with foreign governments to collect information on behalf of the foreign governments.

For example, the United Kingdom and Australia partner on some of these application centres overseas. This clause would give the Government of Canada the ability to have an agreement or arrangement with the United Kingdom to collect biometrics for the United Kingdom on applicants to the United Kingdom, not applicants to Canada. Then we would use Canadian equipment with Canadian security standards, collect the information, and send it to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom would then pay us for that service. That's the scheme we will be able to have if these clauses are accepted into IRPA.

I can address some of the other questions around third-party sharing and access, if you wish.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Specifically on Interpol, Mr. Giguère brought this up today and when we had witnesses who could comment further on the biometric strategy. I think it's important. The sharing of information through an organization like Interpol is a concern for him. He's afraid of how fast and easily confidential information could be shared by Interpol with other organizations that have not entered into any agreements with Canada.

5:30 p.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Monique Frison

The fingerprints we collect on applicants for temporary resident visas and student and work permits will be sent to the RCMP for checks against the prints the RCMP holds on people who have been convicted of criminal crimes in Canada; former applicants for temporary resident visas, student permits, and work permits; refugee claimants; and deportees.

The prints we collect on applicants for temporary resident visas, student permits, and work permits will not be checked against Interpol records or sent to Interpol. Even if they are—or for any of the other information-sharing agreements the government already has in place—it's fairly standard to include restrictions on sharing with third parties. Within those restrictions there are further restrictions to ensure that sharing does not endanger refugees and that it abides by our obligations under various refugee conventions.

As for access, the department already has a process for applicants to access the records on all the information CIC collects from applicants. We'll be using the same process to allow applicants who have to provide their biometrics to access their records, including their biometrics and any results from the biometric checks.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Tilson

Ms. Sims.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

If I heard correctly, the biometric information will not be given to Interpol.

5:30 p.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Monique Frison

From what I understand of the text, it will not.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

It will go to the RCMP. Once the RCMP has done what it has to do, what will happen to the biometric information?

5:30 p.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Monique Frison

We're collecting two types of biometric information: fingerprints and live digital photos. The fingerprints, along with some basic tombstone biographical data, will be stored by the RCMP. They will keep that information for whatever retention period we set.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Dykstra, do you know what kind of period we're looking at to retain this data before it is destroyed? We don't keep data forever.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

No. I think my recollection is that there would be a period of time it would be retained for. It wouldn't be destroyed immediately, but it wasn't as long as I think Mr. Giguère was concerned about.

Monique could probably do a better job of answering that question.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

What would be the norm?

5:30 p.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Monique Frison

We're considering a retention period of about 15 years. Then it would be a longer retention period for people who are found inadmissible under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for some of the serious inadmissibility provisions like terrorism, national security, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious criminality.

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Could I ask this as a follow-up?

I can actually see, if you've got those kinds of serious situations, why you would need to keep that data. But for people who don't have any of those bad things in their records—in other words, they come up clean, or as clean as any of us would in this room—I'm finding it very difficult that the data would be kept for 15 years, because that's a very long time.

I've worked in organizations where we keep data for so many years; 15 years of keeping private data is a very long time.

5:35 p.m.

Director, Identity Management and Information Sharing, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

Monique Frison

Canada issues multi-entry visas, temporary resident visas that can last for 10 years, so we would have to keep the information for at least as long as the visa or the document for which it is issued. Then we would keep it for some period of time after that to be able to, at least in some instances, help facilitate the approval of the next travel document or the next visa or the next permit applicant.

Part of the benefit we will be getting from biometrics is that it will facilitate the travel of legitimate applicants. If we keep the biometrics for a period of time after that, it gives legitimate applicants the opportunity to apply again and then to establish that they are the same person who applied the last time.