Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We do have a number of officials here, from both the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and Public Safety Canada.
Honourable colleagues, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration about Bill C-43. This piece of legislation is part of the major effort we are making to strengthen the integrity of our generous immigration system.
As you know, under the current government, Canada has the highest rate of immigration in our history and the highest per capita rate in the developed world. The vast majority of new Canadians, of course, arrive with every intention to abide by the laws of Canada and to fully integrate into society. They in particular have no sympathy for foreign nationals who arrive in Canada and who are convicted of serious crimes.
This is why our government made a campaign commitment to streamline the process of removing foreign criminals who have been convicted of serious criminality under our justice system.
The government has also recognized that some amendments have to be made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in terms of admissibility to Canada. This is a complex but significant aspect of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The goal of the amendments is to allow entry to Canada to honest people who are going to contribute to the prosperity of our country and to deny entry to those who perhaps represent a threat to our security or our public health.
I am pleased to present to you Bill C-43, Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, which responds to those objectives that we committed to in the last election, and indeed in the throne speech.
Through this important legislation we are delivering on a campaign commitment to streamline the process to deport convicted foreign criminals.
Currently, a permanent resident or foreign national may be ordered deported if they could receive a maximum sentence in Canada of at least 10 years for their crime or if they receive an actual sentence of more than six months. But there's a fundamental problem with the status quo. As long as the sentences for such convicted criminals are less than two years, permanent residents can appeal their deportation from Canada to the Immigration Appeal Division of the IRB, and if they lose that appeal, they can appeal that through an application for judicial review to the Federal Court. This adds, in many cases, up to three years of delays in deportation for serious convicted foreign criminals.
Chairman, I believe that even foreign criminals convicted of serious crime deserve their day in court, but they do not deserve endless years in court while they delay their deportation from Canada. I believe that even foreign criminals convicted of serious crime deserve due process, but they should not be able to endlessly abuse Canada's fair legal process.
That's why, under this act, any permanent resident who receives a sentence in Canada of six months or more would no longer be able to appeal their deportation to the IAD, the appeals division of the IRB. This legislation would also bar those who have committed serious crimes outside Canada that would be punishable in Canada from accessing the appeals division.
It is important to note that serious criminality is already defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as a conviction for which a sentence of more than six months has been imposed. There was some confusion about this during the debate on second reading in the House.
I emphasize that this bill does not change the definition of serious criminality in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It continues to be a conviction for which a sentence of more than six months has been imposed. The changes we propose are therefore consistent with other provisions currently in our immigration legislation.
To those who argue that any of this is somehow unfair, that we're punishing people for so-called minor crimes, whatever that means, or mistakes they've made in the past, we say that residency in Canada is a privilege, not a right. One of the few things we ask for you to maintain that privilege is that you not commit a serious crime in Canada. If, as a foreign citizen, you come to Canada with the privilege of residency and you commit a serious crime, let's be clear, you lose the privilege of staying in this country.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, I regularly meet with members of our diverse culture communities, and they feel this particularly strongly. I'll just say as an aside that it's no accident that I made the commitment to this legislation during the last election in Vancouver's Chinatown at a press conference that I think was attended entirely by members of the ethnocultural media. We have seen massive support for this idea from new Canadians because overwhelmingly they're the folks who play by the rules, who come here and treasure the residency that typically leads to citizenship, and frankly, they have no patience for those who come here and abuse Canada's generosity by victimizing Canadians, and very often victimizing new Canadians.
I'd like to suggest to the critics of this bill that I'd like to hear them, for once, talk about the victims of these crimes. I'd like for them to contemplate or even acknowledge the sad reality that many Canadians, including many new Canadians, have been victimized, even through violent crimes, by foreign nationals who were delaying their deportation thanks to the kinds of delay tactics that this bill seeks to close.
Some critics, including the opposition, ask us to consider the hardships that criminals and their families will face. But do those critics ever stop to think about the hardships faced by the victims of crime?
One immigration lawyer expressed concern about the “monumental effect” that the removal of foreign criminals would have on immigrant communities. Frankly, I think that idea is insulting to immigrants. As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of immigrants, like other born and bred Canadians, are law-abiding, hard-working, honest and proud. In fact, we accept more than a quarter of a million new permanent residents per year, of whom fewer than 1,000 are convicted of serious criminality and appeal to the IRB. That means that this bill will affect less than 1% of all permanent residents, 0.3% of them, to be precise.
Unfortunately, there are countless examples of foreign criminals who have been given sentences of under two years and have managed to parlay that delay into a long, drawn-out removal process that lasts for years, including some of the worst offenders imaginable.
Take the outrageous example of Cesar Guzman, a Peruvian national who was issued a deportation order after being convicted of sexually assaulting a senior citizen. This predator was only sentenced to 18 months in prison, so he was able to use his appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division. He should, however, have been sent packing back to Peru as soon as he had finished serving his 18-month sentence, but because of the avenue of appeal that was open for him, he delayed his deportation for nearly four years.
Mr. Chairman, when Canadians read about cases like this they are understandably upset that we permit such delays to occur. Worst of all, many convicted foreign criminals have used the time they've bought appealing their deportation to reoffend, and sometimes to commit even more heinous crimes.
The fact that these foreign criminals can walk freely on our streets when they should have been sent home at the earliest opportunity disturbs the vast majority of Canadians. I can think of no better and more tragic case that typifies this problem than that of the murder of Toronto Police Constable Todd Baylis, who was killed by a foreign national who was delaying his deportation. There were operational mistakes on that file, but the fact that he was able to make an IAD appeal and delay his deportation contributed to the fact that Jamaican citizen Clinton Gayle was in Canada to kill police Constable Todd Baylis. We can never let that sort of thing happen again.
Under Bill C-43, if you commit a serious crime, you will get your day in court, but you won't get endless years in our courts.
There are other measures of the bill that seek to facilitate legitimate travel to Canada by people who do not pose any kind of a risk, which I think was skipped over in the debate on second reading. For example, previously, if low-risk travellers were accompanied by a family member who was inadmissible for grounds other than security or criminality, such as health, the entire family would be found inadmissible and would have to return to their home country. This bill proposes to improve the system so that only the inadmissible individual would be denied entry into Canada. All other accompanying family members would be allowed to enter. It doesn't penalize family members for one member's inadmissibility.
Yet another key change would give the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration new authority to deny entry—and I'll just focus on this—in exceptional cases to foreign nationals who mean harm to Canadians, such as individuals who encourage or incite hatred that could lead to violence. There has been some controversy on this provision. In the bill, we propose that the minister would have the ability to deny entry to foreign nationals based on public policy grounds. We drew that legislative proposal from our study of analogous provisions in peer democracies like Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and many western European countries that have various forms of what we would call negative discretion.
Colleagues, let me explain the rationale. Quite frequently, members of Parliament and members of the public come to us and ask why we would admit to Canada a foreign national who has a long record of promoting hatred, and even inciting violence. To give you one example, last year the Council of Quebec Gays and Lesbians protested the effort of Mr. Hazma Tzortzis and Mr. Abdur Raheem Green, British nationals who were seeking to come to Canada to speak at a conference. These two individuals have a long record of vicious hatred, including calling for the death of gays and lesbians, Jews, violence against women, etc. Indeed, the Quebec National Assembly passed a unanimous motion calling upon me as the minister to deny entry into Canada of these individuals. This is one of many examples.
In fact, when I was a member of the opposition, I had proposed that we deny entry to Canada of Fred Phelps, a man who goes around promoting violent hatred against gays and lesbians. I also did so with respect to Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, a Saudi national who called for the destruction of all of the Jewish people.
Now, here's the problem we have, Mr. Chairman. If you believe the admission of such people to Canada is a problem—and that's a debatable question, for sure—and if you believe that such foreigners should not be permitted to spread potentially violent hatred in Canada, you have to recognize that the current law doesn't give us the tools to deny them entry, unless they are inadmissible on national security grounds. Let me be clear: promoting hatred against Jews is not a crime in Saudi Arabia. There are many countries in which crimes that exist in Canada do not exist in other countries, such as the promotion of violence or hatred against vulnerable groups.
This raises a very serious question as to whether or not Canadians and Parliament believe there should be some reasonable, discrete, limited, flexible tool that we can use in extraordinary cases where, for reasons like this, we want to keep out a foreign national who might otherwise be admissible. On what grounds you apply that power and in which cases and so forth are all legitimate questions for debate, which is why I'm tabling before the committee, Mr. Chairman, proposed guidelines for the exercise of this power of negative discretion.
I share now with committee members that this would focus on those who are involved in promoting terrorism, violence, or criminal activity, such as promoting or glorifying terrorist violence; promoting or glorifying a listed entity under a listed terrorist entity; counselling, encouraging, or inciting others to commit terrorist activity or terrorist violence; inciting hatred that is likely to lead to violence against a specific group; or promoting, counselling, encouraging, or inciting serious criminal activity. Additionally, this would give us the authority to deny admission to a foreign national of a country against which Canada has imposed sanctions under the United Nations Act or the Special Economic Measures Act, where that foreign national is a former or current senior official of the government of that country or of any entity owned or controlled by or acting on behalf of the government, or an associate or a relative of an official or person set out in paragraph 36(1)(a), or of a foreign national who is a politically exposed foreign person listed in regulations to the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act.
The latter section responds to calls from the opposition, from the Liberal and New Democratic parties, following the arrival of certain members of the family of Mr. Ben Ali, the former Tunisian dictator. Members of his family managed to get admission to Canada, and members of the public and opposition asked, “Why are you allowing the dictator's family to seek refuge in Canada?” The answer was that they're not otherwise technically inadmissible under sections 34, 35, and 36 of IRPA. These are the inadmissibility provisions, and we can't deny them admission if they don't have a criminal conviction or they're not members of a terrorist organization.
There may be cases where we want to bar, for example, senior regime members. We had sanctions on the Burmese regime. This would have given us the authority, for example, to deny members of the junta from Burma, at the time, from entering Canada.
We have sanctions now on the Iranian regime. We may want a broader power to deny admission to Canada of senior members of that regime. This would give us those tools.
As I conclude, Mr. Chairman, I would invite the committee to give these issues very serious, sober-minded consideration. I would say to my friends in the opposition, who aspire to form government some day, that they may have to grapple with these problems, too.
I think all of us, as parliamentarians, need to very soberly reflect on what are the appropriate criteria, if any, to deny admission to foreign nationals in such exceptional circumstances. And how do we have a flexible tool that can respond to these situations?
Finally, Mr. Chairman, thank you for your attention. There are many other provisions of the bill that I didn't get into—some of which are technical, but all of which are important—and I and my officials stand ready to respond to your questions.