House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

December 14th, 1999 / 4:25 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I mention this simply because Reform Party members in interventions in the House on October 17, 1994 and May 13, 1996, as reported in Hansard , repeated my constitutional positions as their own but without adding the political limitation that I had applied.

Let me state what is clear on reading the bill. It is a very modest law. It is facultative in legal terms, not coercive. It reflects the obvious political fact of life that any breakaway from an existing multinational or constitutionally plural state, unless it is to be determined by force majeure, by force of arms as in many cases it has been, must be consensual. This is a position reflected in the United Nations General Assembly declaration on friendly relations and co-operation among states of 1970. It is even reflected in terms in the famous UN General Assembly resolution of 1960 on independence for colonial peoples.

Therefore the emphasis is on consensus. This is what this law says. In the words of the popular tango, it takes two to tango. If you are going to break away you cannot do it unilaterally. You have to get consensus. The federal government says if you wish to have a referendum on secession and you wish it to be taken positively in its result by the federal government, if you want the federal government to negotiate in good faith in response to it, then you must be able to demonstrate that it is a proposal that has been arrived at in its result by what we may call constitutional due process, fair and open means which genuinely reflect Quebec public opinion. I think this law states that, no more and no less.

I find it difficult to see how any good constitutionalist could object to this prescription because it goes to the foundations of the open society upon which Canada is based.

I would cite what is I think the most remarkable feature of this law. It is not like the Stalin constitution of 1936, which said that any state may secede from the Soviet Union. Everybody knew that the cynical Mr. Vyshinsky had written it and he did not mean a word of it, and neither did Stalin. It stated for the first time in a democratic society that one part had the right to break away, provided it achieved an expression of opinion which conformed to the due process of law, with proper consultation on a representative basis.

The federal government in this bill does not stipulate a particular content, of whatever nature, for any future Quebec referendum question. It does not even try to impose a particular majority. These are questions which, following Kelsen and the pure theory of law, a good jurist would say are metalegal in character. In more popular terms, one might say it was like King Canute trying to legislate the impossible.

The European Union, in a cognate situation trying to establish ground rules for recognition of new states, wisely limits itself to what it calls the normal standards of international practice and the political realities of each case.

The rest of the present bill goes on to list elements that would be relevant in any post-referendum federal-provincial negotiations on a possible secession. These correspond to classical international law prescriptions for state sucession and would be determined at any such ensuing negotiations.

What we have here is a continuance of that opening to participatory democracy which began when Prime Minister Trudeau opted not to use his constitutional choices to bar a referendum but to enter into the political debate in the political arenas. This is the situation. If these conditions, conformably to what the supreme court has laid down and established in the federal law, are met then it would be possible to obtain that genuine nationwide consensus that is a necessary precondition to effectuation of any political secession.

The positive thing is that the Government of Canada has taken the forward step of saying “Yes, we would regret anybody going, but if they go let us be sure that there was a clear question, honestly expressed and honestly presented and accepted by a fair majority of the population concerned”. That is an opening to democracy. It is not coercion. It is facultative in its nature.

There are several conditions. If a result were to be obtained in which those conditions were met, I think I could persuade my colleagues in my part of the country to accept it in good faith.

It is an invitation to members of the opposition to meet the spirit of the law. It is not a coercive law; it is a facultative law. It opens the way to constitutional due process, to a measured approach in good faith to effectuation of popular will when that is determined.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Progressive Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I was listening very attentively to the words of my hon. friend from the Liberal Party, for whom I have the greatest respect. If the hon. member believes in this bill so much, would he be willing when his boss, the Prime Minister, decides that the House of Commons will vote on it to say that on the Liberal side a free vote should be allowed?

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, as a freely elected member of parliament, I can speak only for myself. I have studied the bill. I am satisfied that it conforms to the basic principles of a free and democratic society and I will support it.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, when we talk about a clear question, we presume that those who will have to answer it will understand not only the question, but also the stakes involved.

It so happens that the stakes will be refined during the debate. I will give a relatively simple example. Let us say that someone who is renting an apartment in a building is considering moving and buying a house. The question that person will ask is “Do I want to buy a new house?” This is a clear question.

But in order to decide whether to do it or not, that person will have to weigh the pros and the cons of each alternative. “What are the pros and the cons if I remain a tenant, and what are they if I become the owner of my home?”

In the process that concerns us, there is a fundamental aspect that is mentioned nowhere in this bill: the arguments of the manager of the building. You see, the last time, the question was clear. But how many persons voted against it because the manager of the building promised to give them a new paint job and to make the place comfortable so that they could enjoy a good quality of life and feel at home? The manager did not deliver.

The bill before us does not mention this aspect. Consequently, if the question is clear, it should also involve clear commitments, commitments which will be met and not broken, commitments which will not trick the people. Obviously, this bill cannot be honest if it does not address these issues.

Does the hon. member agree with me that this bill is incomplete because it does not deal with the basis of the democratic debate which is supposed to follow, the democratic debate where the real issues are explained by both sides so that the promises can be met?

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I will return to a time when I was a trusted constitutional adviser to several successive Quebec premiers of different parties. I am very familiar with the actors in previous referenda debates.

I remember in 1980 that the actual question was preceded by a poll conducted by the minister in charge, Claude Morin, who was a very brilliant man. I think there were no less than seven questions put as likely to get the best majority. It is that sort of action that I would have great difficulty in selling to my electors in British Columbia.

On an issue like this we have to have a nationwide consensus to allow negotiations to take place. If the secession vote allowed it to be accepted, I could not sell what I would call clever action by a governmental minister in charge. What is the problem with Quebec presenting a clear question?

The law makes very clear that Quebec can vote on any question it likes, but if it is to be taken seriously in the rest of the country, and that is the necessary action to trigger a favourable response to be legally enacted, it has to be one that people are satisfied is a fair question.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today. I originally decided to seek a seat in this House to come face to face, in this democratic forum, with opponents of sovereignty, opponents I respect and will continue to respect because, in my view, the real opponents of sovereignty are to be found in this House. They are those who have a different plan for Quebecers, who claim too often they have fulfilled their promises regarding renewed federalism, and who have trouble convincing Quebecers they fulfilled their promises in this respect.

I did not think when I came to this House that I would have to fight against enemies of democracy; enemies of Quebec's democracy, a democracy which was built and is still based on a parliament, a national assembly we are very proud of.

A senator told me some time ago that it was the Westminster-style parliamentary institution in Canada that had evolved the best, modernized its practices, and resolutely entered into the modern age while other houses, this one included, revel in traditions that ought to be inspired by the new traditions created by Quebec's national assembly.

It is a government that has transformed Quebec, bringing it out of a great darkness, built an effective and competent public service, provided Quebec with progressive laws, laws we are very proud of; courts which apply the rule of law, making Quebec a constitutional state we are also very proud of; courts that in part are outside the jurisdiction of Quebec, its assembly and its government because, in some cases, and in most cases in Quebec's superior courts, judges are still appointed by the federal government, which is contrary to the federal principle.

It is a democracy based on a charter of rights and freedoms under which everybody has an equal vote in elections as well as in referendums and on a referendum act that was adopted in 1979 to give Quebecers a say on important issues, including issues relating to their political status. Three referendums were held to date under the Quebec Referendum Act.

The strong criticism I address today to those who choose to support the government with regard to Bill C-20 has nothing to do with a lack of respect on my part for those who want to change the federation, but I can tell the proponents of this bill—with all due respect for the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, a professor at the University of Montreal—that it has to do with the fact that I think that, far from recognizing the right of Quebec to become a country, far from recognizing, as was said many times today, the right to secede, to use the same expression used by the supreme court, this legislation will prevent Quebec from choosing to become a country.

This week a commentator wrote: “If we are now bold enough to rule out secession in practice, why must we pretend to allow it in principle?”

That is what it is all about. This bill suggests that it would respect the will of Quebecers to build a country, but in fact it wants to deny them the right to choose that option.

I think this legislation, which, according to its proponents, is based on the opinion issued by the supreme court on August 20, 1998, does not respect the main requirements of that opinion. We believe that opinion has been misinterpreted in many ways.

Absolutely nowhere in the supreme court's opinion could we find the basis for the authority given to the House of Commons to determine how clear the question is and how clear the majority is. One wonders why the government wanted to give the House of Commons authority in this area, whereas the supreme court recognized no such authority.

Over the last few weeks we have set out the views of several famous jurists, such as Professor Henri Brun from Laval University and Professor Andrée Lajoie from the University of Montreal. Only a few minutes ago I cited the opinion by Alain Pellet, professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre and a member of the International Law Commission. They are all of the opinion that the government is on the wrong track when it claims it has found in the supreme court's opinion some comfort and some justification for the provisions in this bill.

I invite hon. members to look particularly at Mr. Pellet's opinion, which is probably one of the first comments on the draft bill, and Bill C-20 as it is now, since he feels that Bill C-20 gives the federal government a triple veto with regard to the future of Quebec.

Thus, I want to comment on the three clauses of this bill which give this veto to the Canadian government and to those who will be consulted by the Canadian government.

The first clause of this bill concerns the question that the national assembly could or would ask Quebecers about their political future.

It is peculiar, even indecent, to propose a formula that would allow the House of Commons to rule on the clarity of a question during a referendum campaign because the 30 days following the tabling of a question at the legislature of a province would, in Quebec, cause the debate on the clarity of the question to occur during the referendum campaign.

Besides this intrusion, this involvement of the House of Commons in the referendum campaign itself, we cannot help but recognise that clause 1(4) of the bill limits the jurisdiction of the national assembly when it comes to determining the question to be asked Quebecers, since it excludes any mandate to negotiate or any reference to an economic or political agreement or partnership of any kind.

If that is not limiting the jurisdiction of the assembly or dictating the phrasing of the referendum question, I do not know what is, or what this clause means. To say that with this act the Canadian parliament would be respecting the autonomy of the national assembly in this respect is totally inaccurate.

The second clause, concerning the majority, is probably the one which poses the greatest threat to democracy in Quebec. It is a weapon handed to the Parliament of Canada and especially the House of Commons to veto the referendum results.

In fact, I feel that in many ways this bill brings back the veto. What is the power to veto a question because in the opinion of the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada it is not clear and what is the power to veto the results because it is felt that a clear majority was not reached if not a new veto granted to the federal parliament?

I will comment further on these provisions in the weeks and months to come. Last, I want to point out briefly that clause 3, which refers to the matters that could be negotiated, implies that some issues like borders will be subject to negotiation.

I was glad when the minister told us today—and it was duly noted—that he thinks this provision does not deal with the partition of Quebec, but that it could include changes to borders, like what was done in Lithuania and Czechoslovakia, according to the example the minister gave us yesterday.

I conclude by reminding hon. members that the debate we are beginning today is an important one in the political history of Canada and of Quebec. It deals with the way we view democracy in a democratic country and the way we review it.

However, the revision the government is proposing with Bill C-20 ends up telling Canadians and Quebecers that there is a higher authority in this country, a supreme authority, which is the House of Commons. The House of Commons can veto a question approved by what we call a national assembly, and what the Calgary declaration only called a legislative assembly, by what is considered an inferior assembly, since the question can be vetoed by this House.

The question could be rejected by this House where there are 75 members from Quebec who have a legitimate voice here, as recognized by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. However, among those 75 members from Quebec, there are 44 members of the Bloc Quebecois, one independent member who will certainly vote against this bill and four Conservative members who will also vote against this bill, as they said they would.

It is a House of Commons that, when it rises to pass this bill, although we hope that, in the course of this debate, the government will realize it is making a mistake and should withdraw the bill, will once again seek to base its authority on members who should not have a veto over Quebec's political future before a referendum is held.

In the weeks and months to come we will see Quebecers tell those who want to have this bill passed that it is out of order, that it is a rejection of our institutions and our democratic practices in Quebec, that parliament, that the House of Commons of Canada does not have precedence over the National Assembly of Quebec on issues relating to Quebec's political and constitutional future.

When members of the national assembly, members of this House from Quebec, civil society and the other political actors in Quebec decide that this initiative is out of order, our friends opposite will certainly realize that they were wrong, that they made a bad choice, that they did the same thing in the past when they forced a constitution down our throat in 1982, just as they are trying now to put us in shackles with regard to the future of Quebec.

In closing, I will quote another commentator who reminds our friends opposite of what could happen. He said:

“Mr. Chrétien has bludgeoned dissent within his party and cabinet”, bien que ça ne paraît plus. “He won't get away with it in Quebec. People there may be tired of constitutional wrangling, and who could blame them? But they are proud and democratic. In their own way and time, they will let Mr. Chrétien know”.

This being the end of my speech, I would like to propose a motion to adjourn the House.

I move:

That the House do now adjourn.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour will please say yea.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

An Act To Give Effect To The Requirement For Clarity As Set Out In The Opinion Of The Supreme Court Of Canada In The Quebec Secession ReferenceGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 661Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

Division No. 661Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Order, please. It being 5.47 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should impose minimum sentences for those involved in people smuggling, with the highest minimum sentences for those who profit the most, including organized crime bosses, “snakeheads” and those who carry out the actual smuggling operations.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased today to have a chance to present my private member's Motion No. 20.

In my presentation today, I will first read my motion so that people listening and watching will know what this is about. Second, I will explain why the motion is very necessary when we consider what is happening in the country in terms of people smuggling. Third, I will explain what I am calling for in the motion and what I see resulting from the motion. Last, I will explain the current situation with regard to what happens right now in Canada with people smugglers.

As people watch this story unfold tonight, they will recognize that the state of our current law and what the government has allowed to happen in the area of people smuggling is truly disgusting. It is unacceptable, not good for Canadians and not good for the people being smuggled. It is only good for the people smugglers themselves who are most often involved in organized crime. As I will explain later, the organized crime activity of people smuggling is encroaching on drug smuggling because it is very profitable and the penalties for getting caught, especially in countries like Canada, really are minimal.

Motion No. 20 reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should impose minimum sentences for those involved in people smuggling, with the highest minimum sentences for those who profit the most, including organized crime bosses, “snakeheads” and those who carry out the actual smuggling operations.

What is this motion about? From reading the motion, we can tell that it is about imposing minimum sentences in the area of people smuggling and to apply them to those involved in people smuggling. I am talking about those key organized crime figures who organize and spearhead these operations, those people who actually organize the people smuggling operations and those people who physically carry it out. For example, the crew on a ship or on an airplane might be involved or those who drive a vehicle across a border.

I am saying all this partly because of the current law but more importantly because of the way our judges have been interpreting and applying the law to people involved in smuggling other humans into our country. The sentences that have been given out have been weak. It is necessary to put minimum sentences in place along with the maximum sentences.

As I go through the information on the current situation, we will see very clearly why this is the case. Statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics show that there have only been 14 charges made under the Immigration Act between 1995 and 1998 that apply to people smuggling in any way. All charges were made under subsection 94.1 of the Immigration Act, which states:

Every person who knowingly organizes, induces, aids or abets or attempts to organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of a person who is not in possession of a valid and subsisting visa, passport or travel document where one is required by this Act or the regulations is guilty of an offence and liable

(a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or to both; or

(b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both.

That is the current law that is in place. Let us take a closer look at it. In the last five years not one day has been served in jail by those convicted under subsection 94.1 of the Immigration Act for smuggling people. This is unbelievable for a crime that has extremely serious consequences for the people being smuggled, for Canadian society and for the taxpayers of this country and other countries that may be involved in this crime.

Of the 14 charges that have been laid, there were only 12 convictions, 11 of which were in the fiscal year 1996-97. There have been no convictions under subsection 94.2 which deals with organizing the entry of groups of 10 or more, nor under subsection 94.4, disembarking people at sea in order to help them evade the requirements of the law.

According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the toughest sentence handed down under subsection 94.1 of the Immigration Act for those convicted of a crime of this severity was a fine of $4,000 and one year's probation; no time in jail.

Subsequently, foreign nationals who were convicted of this serious offence were allowed to remain in Canada to serve their sentence with the minimal supervision of our federal probation system. This means that they were given a little slap-on-the-hand fine, which is peanuts in the scheme of things. Let us consider the example of the almost 500 people who came illegally by boat this summer. They paid about $50,000 American per person to the smugglers who helped them come to our country. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Those who came by boat are roughly 2% of all those who came illegally to our country in this past year. The rest came through our airports, by airplane, or across our border from the United States. That is how the other 95% came here.

We can talk a bit more about that layer, but as we can see clearly, our judicial system and the government are not taking this situation seriously.

When we look at this situation, where people have only received fines and probation when they have been convicted of people smuggling, does it sound like those signs are appropriate? I have clearly stated that I do not think so. What I have heard from Canadians across the country over the summer and through the fall is that they do not think so. To be fair, I have heard from the minister and from others that they do not think these sentences are in line. I guess my question is: Why has the government not done anything about it?

I am here today with my private member's motion because the government will not do anything about people smuggling. However, we are getting used to that, especially on justice issues and on defending the sovereignty of our country. I and the Reform Party feel that we have to fill in and take the responsibility for the government. It is okay by us because we are fully planning on taking over government after the next election. We are the ones who will act responsibly on issues like this. I believe that is what will happen.

That is the situation now in terms of sentencing. We can see that there is a great lack of seriousness attached to this issue. We may have government members standing, as they take part in the debate, saying “But the solicitor general came up with a document last January to deal with organized crime. We believe in protecting Canadians and we are going to get tough on organized crime”, generally on organized crime, not just people smuggling.

The previous solicitor general last January came up with a 10-page document generally laying out the problem with organized crime. He even mentioned people smuggling and how serious it was. What action have we seen over this past year? We know the answer to that. We have seen no action on that whatsoever. It is discouraging, disgusting and it has to change.

Today I am focusing on one aspect of organized crime, people smuggling, which is an area of crime that is growing. People smuggling now, according to some estimates, involves $10 billion a year. It is so serious that it is adding to the current organized crime activity in the drug trade. They are moving their efforts to organized crime because very little happens to them if they get caught.

In other countries the sentences involved are a lot more serious. For example, the United States has a minimum sentence and, depending on the level of involvement, those who are found guilty of people smuggling can be sentenced to three to five years. The maximum sentences in Australia, New Zealand and the United States are much higher than in Canada. This points out the relative seriousness that those governments place on the issue of people smuggling.

In Australia the maximum penalty for people smuggling is 25 years. In Canada it is 10 years. But what is the use of having a 10 year sentence? It sounds like a pretty serious sentence, and it would be if it were applied, but in Canada there is no jail time. We do not want to get tough with anybody who is caught smuggling people, even if they are involved in organized crime. We just give them a little slap on the wrist.

That has made the government, in effect, a partner in organized crime. We send that kind of signal to people involved in smuggling human beings, causing the pain and the sorrow that goes along with people smuggling. The people who are being smuggled find themselves working in sweat shops, often in prostitution and drug trafficking. If that is as serious as the government takes these types of activities and this type of enslavement, then it should be ashamed of itself.

I look for quick action on this issue. Today, again, I am offering this private member's motion. It should go to committee. It should be fleshed out and it should provide a minimum sentence for those involved in people smuggling.

My motion does not provide a means by which to seize the proceeds of crime achieved by those involved in people smuggling. That is certainly something which must be dealt with.

The motion does not deal with any other area of organized crime. It does not deal with some other very serious issues involved in people smuggling.

People smuggling does not only cause pain to those being smuggled, it encourages and accommodates those who would like to come to our country illegally. When we have large numbers of people coming to our country, often undetected, then I would suggest that is a threat to the very sovereignty of our nation. That speaks to the importance of this issue, which the government must deal with, and I would encourage it to do that now.

I have not even touched on the cost to taxpayers. I will talk about that later, as well as the many other serious issues which are involved.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Kitchener—Waterloo Ontario


Andrew Telegdi LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion.

Before I start, let me tell the hon. member, in all fairness, that the minister has been very active in this area. It is important for members opposite to know that we have a policy. When boats come to our shores, we detect them, we apprehend and detain the people and then they are put through the process of adjudication to determine if they should be charged with criminal activity.

Canadians are concerned about a growing international trade in human smuggling and trafficking. This motion helps to focus our attention on that, but it also focuses attention on our strategy of penalizing those who profit from human suffering.

It has become evident that a global movement of people has been accelerating. In spite of international efforts to eradicate poverty, the gap between have and have not countries is fostering a new wave of people who are desperately seeking the means to establish themselves in North America. The United Nations estimates that 125 million people are currently outside their home countries in search of an improved economic situation or a more stable political environment.

In conjunction with this international reality there is a growing effort by organized crime to exploit these people.

Canada is not the only country that is facing this problem. The United Nations estimates that annually four million people are smuggled across borders by a global business valued at $9 billion a year. Australia alone has seen 2,500 hopeful migrants arrive on 70 boats this year. Over 1,000 of these people were on 12 boats that arrived on Australia's coast in November.

The boats that arrived on our west coast during the summer are the most recent and visible manifestations in Canada of a larger international problem. Moreover, there is every reason to believe that people smuggling and trafficking will increase unless Canada, in concert with other nations, adopts effective measures to discourage it. The question is: Which measures?

It is important that we not react in alarm or haste. We must avoid simplistic responses which may compromise Canada's humanitarian traditions and its obligations under the Geneva convention. Such was the case with a senator's private bill introduced last month in the House. The bill proposed the use of legislation to direct away from Canadian waters a ship carrying suspected migrants. A measure to turn boats back, which recalls some of the darker moments in Canada's past, would run the risk of denying protection to people who could be determined, through our hearings, to be genuine refugees.

Some 60 years ago Canada, among other countries, turned back a ship full of Jewish refugees seeking to escape Nazi Germany. That these people were forced to return on the St. Louis to Germany and the horrors that awaited them remains a shameful episode in our past. In 1914, 376 East Indian immigrants were forcefully confined for two months aboard the liner Komagata Maru as it lay off Vancouver harbour. The B.C. supreme court eventually upheld a federal exclusion order and the boat, escorted by a Canadian warship, was forced to sail back to Calcutta. On arrival 29 people were shot and 20 eventually died. We must learn from these and similar mistakes.

Such measures would not deal with the root of the problem, which is the international trade in people smuggling. However, in my view, the motion currently before the House is closer to the mark because it focuses more directly on the real culprits, those who profit from this hateful crime.

In so doing, the motion anticipates but one aspect of a broader range of measures that the government is currently considering. What is needed to deal with this international problem is a multifaceted approach adopted by Canada and other nations in the context of an international solution.

For example, Canada is taking an active role in the development of two UN protocols concerning the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in women and children. A G-8 senior expert group on transnational organized crime is also addressing these issues. In this regard the Department of Citizenship and Immigration chairs a G-8 subgroup on alien smuggling and trafficking in human beings.

In addition, efforts are being made by Canada to deal with people smuggling and trafficking at the source by co-operating with other countries, including China, to combat crimes relating to the violation of border controls and illegal immigration.

Canada is committed to strengthening its worldwide intelligence and tracking systems to see that smugglers and traffickers are intercepted. These actions are proving effective. Chinese authorities intercepted six migrant ships this year, four of which are believed to have been destined for Canada, and over 6,000 people lacking proper documentation were prevented from getting into Canada last year alone.

However, the government is fully conscious that additional measures are necessary. In January of this year the government proposed several legislative directions to improve the integrity and effectiveness of our refugee determination system. These proposals are being reviewed to determine what additional measures should be taken.

We already have among the severest penalties in the world for people trafficking, up to 10 years of imprisonment and fines of up to $500,000. We are using these tools to prosecute the crew of the second boat to arrive in British Columbia last summer.

As the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has already signalled, we are reviewing a number of options to deal with migrant smuggling and trafficking in consultation with other governments and other departments and agencies of our own.

The minister has outlined a series of proposals which could include penalties for human trafficking at least as tough as our penalties for drug trafficking. We are also looking at taking more aggressive steps to seize property used in the course of such operations. The minister has also offered safety to anyone who will testify against smugglers as a way to keep smugglers from abusing our system.

Another proposal being considered is the imposition of a screening mechanism for criminality and security considerations at the very beginning of the refugee determination process to identify criminals earlier and prevent them from using the system for reasons other than protection.

We are also looking at clarifying our three existing grounds for detention to better deal with people smuggling and trafficking in Canada.

The Immigration Act currently permits three grounds for detention: inability to establish identity, reasonable concern for public safety, and warranted fear of flight.

The minister has proposed consolidating the refugee determination process to make it faster but fair.

Citizenship and immigration officials are currently consulting with their colleagues in the Department of Justice to determine, along with other anti-smuggling initiatives, if minimum sentences will be an effective deterrent against traffickers and whether such sentences will be in accord with the charter of rights and freedoms.

In the meantime, we have a commitment from the Immigration and Refugee Board to accelerate refugee hearings for those who arrived on our west coast this summer, providing a fair but accelerated process to determine who are genuine refugees and who are not. Legitimate refugees among them will be allowed to stay in Canada. The rest will be removed as quickly as possible.

Canadians can now be proud of our international record of tolerance and compassion toward genuine refugees from all parts of the world.

Over the decades since the 1950s we have honoured our commitment to the Geneva convention by welcoming and protecting Eastern Europeans, Asians from Uganda, Indochinese refugees and South Americans fleeing persecution, among many thousands of others.

This attitude of compassion continues, as shown by Canadians opening their hearts and their homes to the Kosovar refugee families earlier this year.

People who arrive in Canada seeking protection are now entitled to fair hearings to determine refugee status under our laws. Our sense of compassion and fairness is enshrined in our constitution, our charter of rights and freedoms, our immigration and refugee laws and our own judiciary.

Canadians will not be taken advantage of by those who would traffic in human misery.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the motion put forward by my Reform colleague with whom I am fortunate to sit on the standing committee.

My speech will be divided into four parts. First I will elaborate on the text of my colleague's motion. Then I will state a number of facts, including those concerning the arrival of illegal immigrants. If the Reform Party is introducing this motion today it is due mainly to the fact that we recently saw a number of immigrants arriving in Vancouver by boat. I will state a number of facts. Second, I will elaborate on immigration in Canada, with regard not only to immigration per se, but also to refugees.

I will draw attention to one analysis. A couple of months ago I asked the standing committee, on the occasion of the renewal of the Immigration Act, to conduct a real comparative analysis of what is done in other countries so that I could properly criticize or improve the bill that is supposed to be introduced very shortly.

I will talk about the whole aspect of organized crime and people smuggling, as compared to what is done in Belgium and Germany.

Third, I will state our position on minimum sentences, as we have criticisms in this respect.

My Reform colleague's motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should impose minimum sentences for those involved in people smuggling, with the highest minimum sentences for those who profit the most, including organized crime bosses, “snakeheads” and those who carry out the actual smuggling operations.

I believe it is important to remember that the motion before us today is mainly the result of events that occurred last summer, namely the arrival in Vancouver of boats carrying illegal immigrants from China.

I remind the House that 123 immigrants arrived at the port of Vancouver on June 19, followed by 131 more on August 12 and 190 on August 31, for a total of 444 illegal immigrants who landed in Canada.

In 1998 the minister of immigration had a goal for Canada to welcome between 176,000 and 193,000 immigrants. That was the goal officially announced by the minister. The minister was unable to reach her goal, and only 151,300 immigrants chose to settle in Canada. That is the example I have for 1998.

As far as refugees are concerned, the estimated number of refugees for 1998 was between 24,000 and 32,300. Unfortunately, according to the most recent data we have for 1998, only 22,644 refugees came to Canada.

In these two areas the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration was unable to reach the goal she set for herself, and that is truly unfortunate.

First of all, what we need to remember about those three dilapidated ships that showed up at the port of Vancouver crowded with illegal immigrants is that these 444 refugees who landed in Canada only account for 1% of the annual estimated number of refugees who come to Canada. It was a spectacular event, but that does not reflect the day-to-day reality.

Let us consider what is being done elsewhere. First of all, I want to point out to the House what is going on in Germany. Germany has taken a series of initiatives to fight illegal immigration. The crime fighting act passed in October 1994 brought changes to the foreigners act. These changes made it possible to punish not only those who enter the country illegally, but also those who help them do it. Illegal entry carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

The new offence, facilitating the illegal entry of foreigners, carries a penalty of five years in jail if the smuggling operation is carried out in exchange for financial benefits, or if it is done repeatedly, or if it involves more than five people.

Even attempting to facilitate the illegal entry of foreigners is punishable. The harsher penalty is when the illegal entry is orchestrated by a criminal organization or by someone who does it on a regular basis and for compensation. In these cases the maximum penalty is 10 years.

An amendment to the foreigners act and to the asylum procedures act, adopted in 1997, made it possible to punish those who attempt to enter the country illegally. Moreover, facilitating the illegal entry of more than one person now carries a penalty of five years in jail, whereas the previous legislation provided for such a penalty only in cases involving more than five people. This encouraged the development of organized networks. They made sure to smuggle no more than five people at a time, using private cars.

I must point out, however, that maximum penalties are provided for in the legislation but that German authorities are rather lenient. For example, minors under 16 years of age and nationals from certain countries were exempted under article 2.2 of the 1990 order. For example, young people from various states of the former Yugoslavia, from Morocco, from Tunisia and from Turkey were not required to have a visa to enter Germany when one of their parents stayed in Germany regularly.

This provision resulted in a significant increase in the number of entries of unaccompanied minors from those countries. I will provide some figures: in 1994, 198 minors; in 1995, 881 minors; in 1996, 2,068 minors, 1,800 of whom were from Turkey.

Fearing that this exemption would encourage illegal child labour and prostitution, the government amended the order at the beginning of 1997. From now on all minors, wherever they come from, need a visa. For children living in Germany, the visa would, exceptionally and until June 13, 1998, be granted automatically.

Since 1998 there has been a fine for illegal child labour. Businesses are forbidden to bid on public tenders for two years if they illegally employ foreign workers.

I would like to point out one thing about the concept and the rationale stated by my colleague from the Reform Party. Minimum sentences should be used carefully. The process of imposing minimum sentences bypasses the courts' discretion in assessing the circumstances surrounding each offence. These circumstances are particularly important in matters of people smuggling.

As it is written, the motion is designed for those involved in people smuggling. However, no one is more involved in this than the people themselves. They are the victims of an intolerable situation that should never escape examination by the courts. More generally, minimum sentences are reserved for the most serious offences.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on an issue which I feel very strongly about. I want to thank the hon. member for Lakeland for putting forward Motion No. 20. He has hit the nail on the head. It is something which many Canadians are very interested in and concerned with.

My only regret is that the motion was not deemed votable. I wish we had the opportunity to debate this for three hours, not one hour, and ultimately to vote on the motion because I feel it is that strong an issue.

I feel strongly as well, though, that one of the reasons this motion was not deemed to be votable was that it is so incredibly flawed and poorly crafted. Without being rude, it honestly seems as if the hon. member wrote it on the back of a napkin in a doughnut shop because it is clearly one of the shoddiest pieces of work I have seen introduced in the House of Commons.

It is no surprise to me that the committee would not allow this motion to be votable because it is so fundamentally flawed at almost every level. It is simply so casual that no wonder the committee would not deal with it that way.

One thing we all can agree on is that there is nothing more reprehensible in the world than the trade or traffic in human beings, the buying, selling, trading, transporting or smuggling of them as a marketable commodity. We all agree that it is fundamentally wrong. Although many governments are, this government and all governments around the world should be cracking down on the trafficking of human beings and driving a stake through the heart of that horrible occupation.

Most Canadians shudder when they think of how awful the conditions must have been in the most recent example of the four desperate ships which drifted up on the west coast of British Columbia. I venture to say that we would not be having this debate had those four sorry looking vessels not drifted up on the west coast of British Columbia. It raised this whole issue in the minds of people.

Some chose to overstate the issue and made far more of it than it really was. Let us bring it down to perspective right now. There were 599 people in four boats over the course of six or seven weeks. Canada allows 23,000 to 25,000 refugees into the country every year. Almost 100 refugees a day come to Canada. The fact that 500 or 600 drifted up on the west coast over the course of five or six weeks is not a matter of national security or an emergency.

Our borders are not a sieve. The Reform Party and all the fearmongers on the west coast can calm down. We are not being invaded. The yellow peril is not upon us. They should chill out a bit. This is not an emergency. I hope that the rest of this debate can take on a tone that is a little more realistic about what is happening.

We were so concerned about the overstating of this case that we started to do a little more research into what motivated this group of migrants and what motivates migrants all over the world. Let me back up a little by saying that over 100 million people the world over are moving usually for economic reasons to places of better opportunity. That has happened throughout history. People have followed capital and opportunity to build better lives for themselves.

At this point in time we are seeing an escalation of that movement. Transportation is more readily available than it might have been hundreds of years ago. Also, the third world, the underdeveloped nations, know how we live. How do they know? They watch TV. They watch Dallas reruns and stuff like that on television. They know how the west works, lives, operates and the wonderful opportunities we have here, and guess what? They want a piece of it because they love their children too. They are willing to do anything to provide a better opportunity for their families and drag them out of the despair they live in to the wonderful opportunities that we enjoy.

It is no mystery to me, but it is a fact of life. I predict that we will be facing a day of reckoning very soon as many more hundreds of millions of people make that realization, decide to pull up roots and do anything to get to the first world where they and their families might have an opportunity. Frankly, that is why the world is seized of this issue. That is why the member for Lakeland should be complimented for raising it.

I just came back from Washington, D.C. On Saturday we were at an international conference on this very issue, the mass movement of people around the world and what to do about it as developed nations. Norway, Germany, the United States, everyone was represented. Canada was very proudly represented by our minister who spoke very eloquently to the group. These are some of the things that come to mind.

Again, the research we did was to try to understand the current boatloads of people who drifted up on the coast of B.C. We started to scratch the surface of where these people came from. They were from the Fujian province in China.

The Fujian province is the first place in China that had free economic trade zones, something that anybody who deals with international trade is very familiar with. They are fenced compounds where western corporations can go and act free of any of the labour laws in that country. Manufacturers can find cheap labour and manufacture the products for the west in these free economic trade zones.

The Fujian province was the first. Now there are 200 of those free economic trade zones making The Gap jeans, Wal-Mart products, Liz Claiborne and J. Crew clothes. Maybe the clothes I am wearing right now were made in a free economic trade zone sweatshop in the Fujian province.

The research that we did indicated that the International Labour Organization said it cost 85 cents an hour. A living wage in that part of China would be 85 cents an hour. These free economic trade zones pay their people 18 cents an hour to build the western products that we enjoy here.

These people have made the natural connection. They are earning 18 cents an hour, or one-fifth of what it costs to be a Chinese peasant, making Gap blue jeans that will sell for $50 or $75 to the western world, and they want a piece of that. People are not stupid. Those are some of the things that came to light as we researched this subject.

I recommend that we should not dwell on the crime and punishment side of trying to build higher and higher walls around our country to keep these people out. That is the same thing we were accused of with free trade. If we have the globalization of trade and the globalization of capital we should also have the globalization of human rights, the globalization of improving wages, labour standards and standards of living. All those things should be part and parcel of globalization.

We do not want to build walls around the country like the hon. member for Lakeland is suggesting. He says that we should build higher walls to keep these people out because it is our stuff and they are not going to get any of it. His recommendation is bigger and better penalties.

I suggest the inverse is true. We should be working to elevate the standards of wages and working conditions of the Chinese peasant who lives in a free economic trade zone in the Fujian province and makes 18 cents an hour. That is what the real shame is and that is where we should be putting our energies. In other words, we should stop criminalizing the victims.

The Reform Party was screaming, when these people drifted on to the coast of B.C., to lock them up. There were photographs in the paper of children in shackles, 12 year old children who just came off a harrowing six week journey on the open seas, because members of the Reform Party demanded it. They did not feel safe if these people were in their midst.

We should not criminalize the victims; we should go after the criminals. We should go after the snakeheads, the smugglers and the people who exploit the human condition and the human misery that the free economic trade zone, our western world, has created in the Fujian province in China. It is about time we started taking some responsibility for what our standard of living costs.

If we are to take the route of elevating their standard of living to something that is a little more decent, let us look at the practicality of that. David Suzuki says that for all of us on the planet to enjoy the same standard of living Canadians enjoy we would need six more planets. There are not enough resources to go around so we cannot simply hope that every person in China has two cars and all our western consumer products. That will not happen either. There is an environmental factor as well.

I would hope that some reason, sensitivity, research and intelligence would prevail in the whole debate about the mass migration of people. Maybe even some quality bills and quality motions could be put before the House so we could have a proper debate and a proper vote instead of something that was clearly written on a paper napkin in a doughnut shop.

The solution is not to build higher walls. The solution is not to criminalize the victims. The solution is to bust the criminals and get them out of our country like we have been doing. We have been busting the smugglers and sending them back where they came from. Let us look at the larger global picture of why there is mass migration. It has to do with our western standard of living and we have to get sensitive to it or it will be at our peril.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Before recognizing the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, I must warn him that he will only have seven minutes so that the member for Lakeland will have five minutes in which to reply.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to take part in the debate. It is certainly an issue that is becoming one of great national concern, more and more so with each passing day, to the alarm of many Canadians.

Smuggling has been going on in Canada for over a century. In my home province of Nova Scotia, which was very famous for rum running during the days of prohibition, there is a strange aspect of human nature. There has been a bit of romanticism about that aspect of smuggling.

It has been a problem of law enforcement. Stepped up efforts have managed to bring this problem under control in some parts of the country. Nowadays smuggling is becoming more and more a high tech and dangerous issue of drugs, guns and pornography. Some days we hear time and time again on the news that Canadian coastlines are being besieged with these kinds of contraband material.

Romanticism is certainly lost in this debate, particularly when we hear stories of human smuggling and the slavery of Chinese migrants trying to gain access to Canada. Thousands are brought in, as people are being constantly reminded through the daily media.

One specific problem gaining media attention involves Asian criminal gangs known as snakeheads, which are referenced in this motion. It seems more reminiscent of a James Bond film when we hear the facts of this case. There have been claims of an RCMP cover-up after files were deleted from the immigration computer at the Canadian commission, now the consulate general in Hong Kong. There are intriguing words like triads, Chinese Mafia, snakeheads, people smugglers and project Sidewinder. There are local staff with high level security clearance using their posts to accept bribes in return for distributing approximately 2,000 blank visa forms. The allegations are being made against the RCMP by one of its own, which has made this case all the more chilling and disturbing.

RCMP Corporal Robert Read has made the allegations that the RCMP is covering up aspects of a visa scam at the Canadian diplomatic mission in Hong Kong. Read has been suspended for talking to the media in the Vancouver province about this Hong Kong investigation and is now subject to investigation. It has all the makings of an espionage thriller that would make a John Le Carré novel seem unbelievable.

Sadly it is not the case that we are able to look at a movie and hopefully come to some sort of happy ending. In the real world the RCMP corporal is being discredited while his legitimate hard earned evidence is being ignored.

Poor Chinese migrants are being treated as human cargo as they spend their life savings trying to get to Canada, only to find themselves in slave labour in return for this passage to Canada. Snakeheads and triads are making a fortune smuggling bodies and providing slave labour to their triad connected businesses in North America.

It is unthinkable to most Canadians that this could be happening, and meanwhile the federal government has failed to take decisive action. This past summer snakehead boats with their human cargo continued to besiege the B.C. coast, and the government had no plan of action other than waiting for the weather to change.

With no budget for the coast guard, deep cuts to the RCMP and sparse navy patrol on the water to intercept these vessels, Canadian coastlines are vulnerable. Refugee status to migrants being granted while still onboard is one way to approach the problem but with sparse resources we are unable to do it. No moneys from the government can be spent in this area. Yet it appears that the government will continue with funding for gun registration and funding for other programs that pale by comparison when viewed in terms of the seriousness of the issue.

This is a human tragedy, and yet the government has not taken meaningful action on this specific problem. It was a Bloc motion that forced the government into accepting the idea of putting the matter before the justice committee as a start. Sadly we know it will take the committee a long time to address the matter, given the agenda it is currently faced with.

As we have seen with other RCMP officers like Corporal Read, when they find themselves in conflict with their political masters or the high ranking brass in the RCMP, they are castigated, singled out and then abandoned.

An initial investigation into this possible cover-up of project Sidewinder was surprisingly stopped shortly after it began in 1992 due to lack of evidence. As we have seen in other investigations like Bre-X or Air India, when they are cut short the public is left to wonder what is the true outcome and what is really at work. Yet we know in other investigations that are politically motivated, like the creation of the Airbus scandal, that the money seems to be there and the investigation seems to go on endlessly.

When RCMP officers like Corporal Read are assigned to a file they are not given the support they need. Read made some very significant discoveries and found gaping holes in the original investigation. He was completing a report into why 788 files containing sensitive background information on businessmen and criminals had been deleted from the computer assisted immigration processing system, CAIPS, but was yanked off the case at the last minute just as he was beginning to get close to the truth. He protested and continued to repeat his allegations in an attempt to have the RCMP reopen and continue the case, yet they fell upon deaf ears.

Read was suspended for speaking to the media. Out of frustration he turned to the media. The RCMP is not actively investigating the triads. Instead it has begun to investigate him. It is the irony of ironies.

Even as late as the end of November the solicitor general was oblivious to the issue. As he stated in the House, it is up to the RCMP to decide what measures to take. He suggested that Corporal Read should take this issue to the Public Complaints Commission. Little did he know that Corporal Read had already done this and was told by the commission that his case was beyond its purview.

Again this is a clear indication that the solicitor general is sadly lacking in some of the fundamentals of his own department. If this is a case of RCMP misconduct then the solicitor general should look into Corporal Read's request to have his complaints addressed by an independent commission.

Read said that he had already brought his complaint of the alleged RCMP cover-up to the Public Complaints Commission, the auditor general and CSIS, and yet there is still no investigation. It is a shocking revelation.

For that reason I commend the hon. member for Lakehead for bringing this issue before the House of Commons. It is hoped that in listening to this debate perhaps the Liberal government will realize that its inaction has aided the proliferation of snakehead-triad organized crime in this country.

These are all important messages that are being transmitted. We have yet to see the government react. Will it receive this message? Time will tell.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have the last five minutes to wrap up. I thank all members who spoke to my motion. I could have been blown over with a kiss when the member for Kitchener—Waterloo, from the governing party, admitted that there was a problem and acknowledged that something must be done.

He did say that I had anticipated something the government was already doing. I look forward to that. I have been waiting six years for legislation to deal with it. I have been calling for action on this matter not just since this summer but for six years. I encourage him to carry on beyond what he said into taking some action and bringing it about very quickly.

The Bloc MP for Rosemont generally supported the concept. He expressed some concern about minimum sentences, but a motion is just meant to indicate what issue is being dealt with so that a committee can work on the details. I would be glad to work with members from all parties at committee.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, the NDP representative in this debate, quite shocked me. I will be sending out a press release to his constituents tomorrow. I just cannot believe what he said. He said that only 500 people came in over the summer and that was no problem. We are not only talking about those 500. They amount to only 2%.

Clearly the debate is not focused on the people coming in as much as on the people smugglers. We have all focused on that. We all support accepting refugees into our country. That is not the issue. Why is the hon. member trying to make that the issue? He is the kind of member who makes me ashamed because he attaches labels to political parties and to individual politicians for strictly partisan reasons instead of dealing with the issue. It is very disappointing.

He basically said that we should open up our borders for anyone who wants to come. There are 1.2 billion Chinese alone and I am sure a couple of hundred million would love to come to our country. I wonder if Canadians support his stand in that regard. I doubt it very much. He ought to listen to the NDP government in British Columbia and what his own colleagues say about it. They say something entirely different.

The Progressive Conservative member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough talked about the human tragedy, the seriousness of the problem, and said that he supports the motion. I appreciate that.

I acknowledge up front that imposing minimum sentences is only a small part of the solution to the problem. A large part of the problem is that those who are smuggled into our country by human smugglers end up going through our refugee determination system, and that is a disaster. I will just throw out a few statistics to demonstrate that, because I think Canadians ought to know them.

Canada has become a favourite destination of people smugglers because in fact our acceptance rate for refugees is in effect 80%. I will explain that in a minute. In the United States it is 17%, Germany 7%.

Of course Canada is going to be a prime destination if they are planning to have people go through our refugee system, which is what they do. Many may be smuggled in unknown to us. That is a distinct possibility. We found out this summer and in the past that it happens on a regular basis. Certainly immigration officials told me that they may catch 3% of those who come in illegally through our airports, most with the help of people smugglers. They are smaller numbers at a time but far more overall. It is the same across the borders.

In our refugee determination system the acceptance rate is high. That is not the formal acceptance rate. If we ask the government, it will say 44%. Last year there were 23,838 people who claimed for refugee status inside Canada and 6,200 withdrew. Only 5,000 are known to have left the country and 13,000 were actually accepted as refugees. That is the 44% the government talks about. That means that 5,000 out of the 24,000 have actually left the country as far as anyone in the immigration system knows. That means we have an effective acceptance rate for refugees of about 79%.

If we want to look at solving the problem of people smuggling, we have to put in place the minimum sentences I am proposing in the motion. We should go far beyond that and fix the refugee determination system which has failed Canadians so dramatically. It has failed refugees because we are not getting people who are clearly refugees from camps overseas in the numbers that we should. Our system is failing us because of those who apply inside the country.

Let us start by fixing that. Then let us put these minimum sentences in place as soon as we can. Let us work at both of these things together. If we do that, we have made progress.

Minimum SentencesPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped from the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.