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House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wto.

Topics

Canadian International Trade Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was not intending to speak to this bill until I realized a few moments ago that it was on the order paper. I join my colleagues from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca and Calgary West in expressing grave concerns about the bill before the House.

I say that as somebody who is often accused of being a knee-jerk free trader, somebody who believes implicitly in the idea of free trade between civilized nations. We have much to look at in the past 50 years in terms of the improvement of living standards throughout the world by the expansion of the circle of exchange and enterprise permitted by free and orderly trade between countries.

However, free and democratic countries such as Canada and the United States must realize that free markets in and of themselves are not a panacea to all political and economic problems, particularly when it comes to regimes such as the communist dictatorial regime of the People's Republic of China whose very premise is the denial and denigration of the dignity of the human person.

My colleagues from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca and Calgary West have itemized some of the atrocious abuses committed against human rights by the PRC authorities. It includes the 50 year campaign of cultural genocide in Tibet which has virtually destroyed a people, their culture and their faith and a contemporary campaign against a relatively small and innocuous group, Falun Gong.

However there are other groups which are persecuted in China who receive less notoriety in the west. They receive less press coverage perhaps because we have for some reason less sympathy. The Chinese government has a very deliberate campaign of religious persecution. It persecutes religious minorities, in particular Protestant churches and Catholics loyal to the Pope, namely fully communicating Catholics.

The Chinese constitution ostensibly permits freedom of religion but only for those who practise religion in institutions, that is, in churches formally recognized and ordained by the state which itself excludes most people of faith who refuse to allow their faith to be exercised under the ambit of the state.

Let us make no mistake about why this is. We are talking about a communist regime whose official creed is atheism. It has an official established religion, and that is the rejection and denial of God. When individuals choose to assert their relationship to God, the government intervenes, crushes them, arrests them, throws them into forced labour camps or throws them into prison.

I recently read an autobiography of a humble Chinese Catholic priest who spent 35 of the past 40 years in a series of Chinese labour camps and prisons. He was forced to do disgusting labour of the worst kind and living in the most deplorable circumstances. His experience is not uncommon in the People's Republic of China.

Last week the Vatican released the names of 33 bishops and priests who were detained or are being kept under strict surveillance and forbidden to worship. These are people who were arrested in the last couple of weeks. It is estimated that there are several thousand Protestant and Catholic clergy in similar situations. President Bush during his trip to China made this clear during his time in that country.

For example, Father Lu Genjun, a 39 year old underground Roman Catholic priest was arrested two months in Heibei province and has now apparently been sentenced to three years in a labour camp. His crimes were receiving theology training, being ordained a Roman Catholic priest, refusing to recognize the patriotic association which is the bogus shadow Catholic church contrived by the communist authorities and conducting evangelization.

This kind of thing happens on a daily basis in China for those who seek to publicly express their most deeply held conscientious faith convictions. My hon. colleague from Calgary West talked about the ugly side of the Chinese single child population policy which includes documented cases of forced abortions and sterilizations.

China is ordering one of its remote poverty stricken regions to commit at least 20,000 abortions by the end of the year. This is the state creating an abortion quota. This has been documented by Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute and formerly the Wall Street Journal . Chinese population authorities, who by the way are funded in part by the United Nations fund for population activities, which in turn is shamefully funded by our own CIDA, set up population control tents in remote provinces in smaller communities. They do a survey and if people there have been having more than their quota of a single child, the authorities will go from house to house and arrest and round up women who may be pregnant with a second or third child.

There are documented and in some cases filmed experiences where mothers have been taken to these so-called population control tents and forced to undergo abortions or sterilizations. This is the kind of regime that we are dealing with.

Steven Mosher, who has written books and articles about this for western journals has said:

If medals were given to nations for committing human rights abuses, China would win the gold every time.

Before we approve the bill I hope that we are fully conscious of the kind of regime which we are seeking to reward with greater economic trade benefits through accession to the WTO.

Canadian International Trade Tribunal ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

February 27th, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I wish to inform the House that there is an error in the text of Motion No. 422 in today's Order Paper. The motion suggests changes to paragraph 101(1)(e) of the Immigration Act and not 101(7)(e). I regret any inconvenience this may have caused hon. members.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make regulations under paragraph 101(1)(e) of the Immigration Act with the effect that people claiming to be refugees pursuant to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees will not be admitted for consideration of their claim from the following countries: the United States, New Zealand, Australia and all countries that are members of the European Economic Union.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to discuss my private member's Motion No. 422. I would first like to express my disappointment that the motion was deemed non-votable, especially when business can come from the other place without ever having to enter into the lottery and is instantly made votable.

I dare say that public safety and secure borders are more relevant to most Canadians than creating a national horse or setting aside a day in honour of a former prime minister. That is not to suggest that those issues do not have merit. They certainly do, but we must get our priorities straight in this place.

That being said, the motion states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make regulations under paragraph 101(1)(e) of the Immigration Act with the effect that people claiming to be refugees pursuant to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees will not be admitted for consideration of their claim from the following countries: the United States, New Zealand, Australia and all countries that are members of the European Economic Union.

The issue of refugees coming to Canada has been of significant public concern for decades. If average Canadians were asked what they thought about Canada's refugee system we would find they are very proud of the fact that we have assisted tens of thousands of people who are genuinely persecuted in foreign lands. I also think we would hear that people are tired of Canada's generosity being taken advantage of by fraudulent refugee claims.

My motion would virtually eliminate the practice of silent shopping and the use of our refugee system as a back door immigration method. This would help offset public opinion that in one survey says 70% of Canadians agree that many people claming to be refugees are not real refugees.

It is vital for Canada to continue its tradition of helping those less fortunate and I truly believe that. I believe that if Canadians were able to see that only genuine refugees were being admitted those attitudes would greatly change. It is as equally vital that Canadians not feel used. By prescribing certain nations as safe third countries the government would restore a lot of confidence in Canada's refugee system.

Before addressing the motion I would like to congratulate the government for entering into an accord with the United States that would implement one aspect of my motion. It was only shortly after I gave notice of my motion that the former immigration minister announced that Canada and the United States would be entering into a safe third country agreement that would turn back refugee claimants coming from either country.

This is especially significant considering that the majority of asylum seekers come to Canada through the United States by using its visa system as a staging ground to enter Canada for an easy refugee claim. Unfortunately all we have at this point is some talk. We have no agreement yet.

I would now like to address why it is important to list all western democracies that adhere to and are signatories to the United Nations convention on refugees. One immigration policy expert, James Bissett, who spent several years in the civil service, says Canada could reduce bogus claims by 40% if it adopted a safe third country rule across the board. Thus Canada would stop accepting refugees who travel to Canada via the United States or other modern, liberal democracies where they clearly face no threat of persecution.

This is what my motion suggests. Canada is a destination of choice for refugee asylum shoppers because it accepts up to 60% of all claimants compared to 28% in the United States and only 10% in Europe. This rule would force claimants to make their case in the first country they land in rather than the most likely country to accept them.

The member for London North Centre, the Liberal chairman of the all party committee on border security, said the two countries must put a stop to economic migrants who claim refugee status after gaining legal entry into Canada. He said:

If you are coming from a safe third country, that is, the United States, you are not being persecuted and you are in that country, why do you want to make a refugee claim here? We should be able to deport them and send them back to the United States. What the United States wants to do with them is their own problem. It shouldn't become our problem.

What many Canadians do not recognize is how expensive it is to allow people coming from safe third countries to make a claim in Canada. It cost Canadian taxpayers more that $21 million last year just to provide free lawyers for refugee claimants, many of whom entered from the United States after their visitor, work or student visas expired.

The costs do not include welfare and health care spending to accommodate refugee claimants. With both our health and welfare systems strained to the breaking point, it is ridiculous to continue allowing people to come to Canada to make a refugee claim when they could have made that claim in the first country in which that they landed.

Critics of a motion such as mine will say that I am being cold and heartless. That could not be further from the truth. I am very proud of the role Canada plays in assisting people with nowhere else to turn, those who are genuine refugees. It is an unfortunate reality, however, that we have also become the destination of choice for asylum shoppers.

If my motion had been deemed votable and subsequently passed in the House of Commons, the government could have virtually put an end to the practice of asylum shopping and sharply curtailed queue jumping, leaving room for our overtaxed refugee determination system to focus on people truly in need of Canada's assistance.

This of course raises the question of who is in need of Canada's assistance.

Canada expects to receive 45,000 refugee claims by the end of this fiscal year, up from 38,000 last year, of which only 8,000 of the claimants are government sponsored. Are 45,000 claims that are expected to arrive not a truly disproportionate number to the 8,000 that have been pre-screened and known to be genuine refugees long before they came to Canada?

If we did not have so many people constantly showing up at our doorstep, imagine the relief we could provide to refugees in camps around the world where people have no hope of ever finding asylum because they are the poorest of the poor.

The majority of the 45,000 asylum seekers will come through countries where they could make claims but have chosen to come to Canada, most likely because it is widely known that if they make it to Canada they are all but assured of having their claim accepted and if it is rejected, it is also widely understood that one will never get deported.

It is very clear to anyone in the world that Canada does not have the wherewithal, nor perhaps the political will, to deport failed refugee claimants or even dangerous criminals. This point is made very clear by the fact that Canadian immigration officials have no idea where over 27,000 failed refugee claimants are, even though they have been ordered deported.

If the government were to list all the countries that are signatories to the UN convention on refugees, our immigration system could put far more focus on removing undesirables from this country instead of simply losing them and not knowing if they have or have not left the country.

Let me take this one step further. If we had implemented the safe third country strategy in time, we would likely not have had to deal with the likes of Tafari Rennock, a violent fugitive who was deported from the United States for sex offences and was later granted refugee status after slipping into Canada.

When Canadians read regular news stories like this one, they certainly do not feel safe, especially considering the recent terrorist attacks on America. If we are willing to provide a safe haven for violent sex offenders, who else are we willing to harbour?

What is worse is how this looks to our allies. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, despite all its bristle and the introduction of Bill C-36, the Anti-terrorism Act, the federal government has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that our overly generous refugee system poses a major threat to our country's security and to that of our American neighbour.

Last year, we know that more than 45,000 asylum seekers arrived in Canada. Most of them were smuggled into the country by international criminal organizations that, in turn, brought these people through safe third countries. I would point out that many of these smuggling problems would be solved if we listed all western nations as safe third countries. After the events of September 11, it is inexcusable not to list all UN signatories to the refugee convention as safe third countries.

However, even more alarming is the knowledge that since the attacks against New York City and the Pentagon last September, more than 15,000 asylum seekers have entered Canada. Of these, close to 2,500 have come from terrorist producing countries, like Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, Albania and Afghanistan. An additional 870 have arrived from Sri Lanka, almost all of them undoubtedly Tamils.

That is certainly not to suggest that all of these claimants are bogus. However, some could quite easily be members or supporters of various well-known terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE is one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world and is banned in Britain and the United States. I would suggest that if Canada had already proscribed the countries mentioned in my motion, this number would be significantly smaller and there would be far fewer opportunities for terrorists and criminals to slip through undetected.

Even if we were to disregard the current events, the reality is that when an illegal entrant arrives on Canadian soil and claims to be a refugee, there is very little chance that the individual will be removed, as I have already mentioned; remember the 27,000 deportees missing.

Unfortunately, this is especially true of serious criminals and terrorists because their removal frequently means they would be required to face justice in their homeland. Any thought of removal in such cases runs up against formidable obstacles. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies not only to Canadian citizens but also to anyone on Canadian soil whether in Canada legally or not.

In addition to the charter protection, even the most outlandish allegation that the individual might be mistreated or tortured will guarantee months, if not years of litigation. After several years of reviews, appeals and rehearings, the individual's own country will often refuse to accept the person back. Canada has been stuck with a number of these cases.

It would be easy to go on about this issue but I am allowed only so much. More important, I am looking forward to what my colleagues have to say about my motion. As I said before, it is unfortunate that this motion is not votable especially because the government appears somewhat warm to the idea of implementing safe third countries in our immigration policy.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Mark Assad LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I would like to start by pointing out that the government cannot support the motion by the hon. member for Surrey North. It is not that we are fundamentally opposed to the underlying notion. We agree that asylum seekers should make their claims in the first country that they can.

We do not agree that Canada should take unilateral action. We do not believe that a responsible member of the international community should return refugee claimants to the last country they passed through with no thought to the implications for either the individual or the third country to which the person is being returned. Aside from the many legal and human rights questions that idea raises, it would not help our relations with those other countries.

Let us start from a basic point. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration just announced will be implemented on June 28 of this year, authorizes the Government of Canada to create a list of countries to which refugee claimants can be returned in safety and to pursue the claim. This is not a new provision. Variations on the idea of protection in safe third world countries have been in Canada's immigration legislation since 1989. The approach is inconsistent with our obligations under the Geneva convention on refugees.

Our new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allows Canada to enter into what are commonly called safe third agreements with other countries. To do so, we are obliged to consider some key factors.

First, is that other country a signatory to the two major conventions on refugee protection and torture? Second, are that country's refugee claim policies and practices in keeping with its obligations under the two conventions? Third, what is its human rights record? And, finally, does that country have an agreement with Canada on the sharing of responsibility for refugee protection?

In essence, all this is designed to make sure that refugee claimants get fair and impartial hearings at the first reasonable opportunity. None of this is designed so that countries can evade their responsibilities under domestic law and international agreements.

Without a doubt, the best way for Canada to guarantee that we will achieve our policy goals is by developing agreements on sharing responsibility for refugee claimants with other countries.

There is a precedent for that kind of agreement. Member states of the European Union have established a responsibility sharing agreement through their Dublin convention. So, what about the United States then?

In fact, the Government of Canada has pursued the idea of a responsibility sharing agreement with the United States. Back in 1995, officials from both governments built on three years of discussions to create a draft memorandum of agreement that would have established a safe third country process for Canada and the United States. However since the Americans were more focused on implementing changes to their own refugee system, they were unable to move forward. By 1998, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the attorney general of the United States decided that it was not practical to move forward at that time.

However that does not mean this idea has been shelved. To the contrary, just last December the United States and Canada signed a joint declaration for the creation of a smart border for the 21st century. Renewed work to develop a responsibility sharing agreement on refugee claimants is a major commitment to that. These measures contained in the 30 point action plan are regarded by both governments as matters of the highest priority. That brings me back to the substance of the motion.

The operative words in what the government is doing are co-operation and shared responsibility. Those are not operative words in the motion of the hon. member. The motion calls for Canada to make a list of countries and then start unilaterally sending people back to those countries with no certainty that they could pursue a refugee claim. It pictures a one-way street. As well, this is a key issue for the protection of refugee claimants. For Canada to unilaterally return claimants to a country they have transited en route to Canada could deprive the claimant of the right to make a claim, which we want to avoid.

Canada will get nowhere if we move forward unilaterally. Given the Americans' fully understandable concerns about security, does the hon. member really believe that they would cheerfully welcome Canada just sending back claimants who had passed through the U.S.?

And this is not just about their feelings. It is about their laws. American law is also open to the idea of safe third country protection, but only on the basis of an international responsibility sharing agreement. The U.S. government would not view unilateral Canadian action as consistent with efforts to jointly manage our common border.

The reality is that the movement of refugee claimants goes both ways. People come through the U.S. to get to Canada. Others arrive in Canada as a way station to the United States. So, both countries need to work together on this.

Both our countries appreciate that the status quo encourages people smuggling and other irregular movements of people across our shared border. The lack of a shared process weakens public confidence in the refugee determination system.

So the obvious direction is a responsibility sharing agreement for refugee claimants that would provide a clear and transparent basis to better manage movements between the United States and Canada. And we will not get there if Canada takes a knee jerk response that ignores the interests of the United States. It will not be helped if we avoid working out a fair and effective system that meets the needs of both countries.

So, at a very simple operational and international level, this motion will not work. However, it would demonstrate other flaws almost immediately on implementation.

The motion is based on an appealing idea; that people should make a refugee claim at the first reasonable opportunity. It reflects the view the government holds that people should not shop around from country to country for protection However it is fundamentally flawed. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration says this without drawing any negative assessment of the claims processes in the countries mentioned in the motion under debate. It is a motion that is basically problematic.

The way forward is through bilateral agreements. The way forward is through collaborative efforts that meet international standards of protection for refugee claimants as well as domestic expectations. That is the path the government has chosen and that is the path we intend to follow.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to motion Motion No. 422 because the choices we make are first and foremost societal.

Is it from this perspective that we will deal with this motion aimed at barring from Canada any refugee claimant who might have made the mistake of setting foot in the United States, Australia, New Zealand or any European Union country before showing up at our border.

Refugees are trying to escape bloody regimes or situations where their life and the lives of their family are at risk. It is our duty as a modern and democratic society to show our openness and generosity in the way we treat those who consider Canada a haven of peace and security. These values are just as fundamental for Quebecers as for Canadians. It is incumbent on us to welcome those who are desperately seeking a peaceful and safe place to live.

The rights of refugees must be respected, in spite of demands for increased security, which seems to be the rationale for this motion. The Alliance member wants to amend the current Immigration Act to deny consideration of claims by refugees coming from countries listed in the amendment, which are considered safe.

Therefore the member wants Canada to suspend the Geneva convention on the protection of refugees. The Bloc Quebecois rejects this demand both with regard to claimants born in the countries listed and those who, coming from elsewhere, transited through any of those countries.

The notion of safe third country which underlies motion Motion No. 422 can be summed up as follows: the refugee claimant must necessarily ask for asylum in the safe country he transited through in order to get to the country where he wants to make his claim. Otherwise, he would be turned down flat.

For instance, if someone coming from Iraq or Zimbabwe were to go through the United States to enter Canada, his refugee claim would be automatically rejected; it would not even be considered in Canada because this individual should have claimed refugee status in the United States, which is considered a safe third country. This individual would not have the right to appeal in Canada.

The notion of safe third country raises some concerns. Some countries do not have the same criteria for the selection of refugees, even though they generally abide by the provisions of the convention. However, the high commissioner for refugees is very clear: for such a mechanism to be acceptable, one must first ensure that, in those countries, refugee claimants have indeed access to procedures allowing them to exercise their rights.

The motion says “all countries that are members of the European Economic Union”. How can such a broad list be proposed, particularly since some European countries just recently signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and are not very familiar with all the obligations it imposes upon them. The adoption of a list of safe third countries as proposed in Motion No. 422 is unacceptable, because we refuse to have refugees sent to a country that does not have the same criteria as we do or does not comply with the convention.

The notion of safe third countries presupposes that an agreement has been ratified between Canada and these countries, but no such agreement exists at this time. The unilateral list proposed by my colleague from Surrey North was established without these countries being invited to take part in negotiations on that issue, and such an agreement cannot be entered into without careful consideration. Motion No. 422 establishes a list without any formal process, which brings me to say that the Canadian Alliance's proposal is rather simplistic.

To explain the serious reservations we have concerning the notion of safe third countries, it would be appropriate to briefly remind members of certain major differences between the policies of Canada and the United States with regard to the refugee status determination process, differences which surely reflect the values of our neighbours to the south.

The biggest difference between the two countries is that, in the United States, the immigration tribunal hears refugee claims under an accusatorial process. An attorney is there to oppose the claim on behalf of the U.S. government. In Canada, the process is considered non-accusatorial. A refugee hearing officer is there to question witnesses and help the tribunal reach a decision.

Another major difference is that claimants without documentation are systematically detained in the United States. In Canada, detention is considered exceptional. As the U.S. has hardened its refugee policy for security reasons, we can say that being granted refugee status in the United States clearly becomes quite an achievement.

Moreover, adoption of a safe third country policy would deprive us of the power to direct our own refugee policy, harmonizing it with U.S. policy, for instance. Canada's policy on refugee claimants would be based on the U.S. policy and would be subordinate to it. It is a source of pride to us that Canada's policy differs greatly from that of our neighbours to the south when it comes to certain countries. Cuba is a good example of this.

Promoting the notion of a safe third country means making Canada's refugee policy subservient to that of the Americans. It is surprising that an Alliance MP would be promoting such a loss of Canadian sovereignty, in this case relating to refugee protection.

Many refugee claimants pass through the U.S. to come to Canada, an estimated 40%. Thus in 2000-2001, more than 11,000 people seeking asylum passed through the United States to get here. Our neighbouring country is often an unavoidable stop on the way for someone wanting to make a refugee claim in Canada.

Why choose Canada? There are many reasons. Certain individuals may prefer to claim refugee status here for personal reasons, for example because they have family here or because they are francophones. Moreover, Canadian values such as generosity and compassion are attractive. Contrary to the United States, Canada permits access to legal aid and social welfare or allows an individual to study or to work during the refugee status determination process. In a lot of cases, the transit country is only instrumental.

Those who flee their country seldom have the opportunity to choose their itinerary. They have to use the means available to them when the situation is urgent. Closing Canada's door to those refugee claimants who have been unfortunate enough to come here via the wrong country is abandoning the attitude of openness that is characteristic of this country and its people. This motion really sounds like “no, not in my backyard”.

The motion before us is disturbing in many respects. Members certainly know that countries have allies for better and for worse. Such is the case with the United States. Throughout history, because of their interests in certain countries, the United States have often supported, openly or not, discredited dictatorships. Chile is a case in point.

In the early 1970s, General Augusto Pinochet, with the blessing and support of the United States of America, removed the democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, with a military coup d'état. Following the assassination of the Chilean leader, a great many people fled the country for fear of physical reprisals.

More than 7,000 Chileans and other Latin American refugees were admitted to Canada since 1973. Had we passed a motion similar to Motion No. 422 prior to the overthrow of the democratic Chilean government, it would have been impossible for these people to have found refuge in Canada. How many of them could have trusted American intelligence services, filed an application and have it accepted in the United States, when this country had supported the repressive machine in Chile?

This parliament must respect the necessary balance between the need for security and Canada's obligations toward immigrants and refugees. Canada, as a part of its duties and responsibilities as a democratic society, must be open to immigrants and refugees.

Painting all refugees as a den of potential terrorists is an attack against democracy, because it is often their struggle for democracy that forces them to seek exile and to flee dictatorships and escape from regimes of terror.

In closing, by opposing Motion M-422 , we are standing with those who are the most oppressed, we are being true to our values, and we are choosing to defend freedom.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I also am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate on the motion presented by the member for Surrey North. Although, as he will likely assume, I will be opposing the motion, let me first commend the member for bringing forward a positive suggestion to deal with a difficult situation.

I recognize that all of us in the House are struggling with the responsibility we have to find the right balance between ensuring that Canada's security is preserved and enhanced and respecting human rights and liberties. I also believe the motion is presented in the context of striking the right balance between our international obligations as a country under the universal declaration of human rights and the 1951 refugee convention and our obligations and our need to respond to the problems of irregular migration and human trafficking. There is no question that we are dealing with a phenomenon that must be tackled by parliament, by legislators everywhere, and I respect the contribution of the member.

However, speaking on behalf of other members in my caucus, let me say that we oppose this recommendation for a number of reasons. I will start by indicating to the member that I believe some of these recommendations we have been receiving since September 11 have been an overreaction to the horrific developments of that day. We are all searching for ways to come to grips with that tragedy without overreacting and putting aside our valued programs and our treasured principles.

I believe that in the course of events since September 11 we have perhaps unwittingly, sometimes deliberately, targeted and singled out refugees as the crux of the problem. In fact, through the media and commentaries on issues pertaining to September 11, we have allowed for such statements as “Canada is a haven for refugees” and, by implication, refugees are terrorists.

The most important thing we can do today is to say unequivocally that under no circumstances, by no means, are this government and this country going to promote or perpetuate any such mythology that is harmful to genuine refugees who are seeking protection and asylum here. It is contrary to the facts of the situation as we know them in terms of refugees and it is certainly not an answer to the threat of terrorism in our society today.

The situation has been presented to us most succinctly by Judith Kumin, who is the representative in Canada of the UN's high commissioner for refugees. She reminds us of our commitment and obligations under the Geneva convention and has clearly stated that the bottom line for all of us as we review our policies, prepare regulations and develop programs is that no one should be returned to a country or territory where his or her life or liberty would be at risk. She also said that it is very important for us as Canadians to ensure that refugees are given a fair hearing.

The motion before us would deny refugees the opportunity to come to this country, make their claims, have their cases heard and the merits of the cases judged in terms of the facts. To eliminate 16 countries because they are deemed to be safe countries is just contrary to our policies and practices.

Let me say to the member who has presented this motion that Canada's policies have been considered by many to be tough and relevant to the task at hand but they do need some major resources and attention in terms of their application.

Our country has to honour the convention by ensuring that every person coming into the country is able to make a claim. Obviously, given the facts and given the situation, there are always some bad apples in the mix. There are always some who use a system to gain entry, but by and large we are talking about genuine refugees who desperately need to seek asylum in Canada. Their claims have to be honoured.

There are three factors the member must take into account in dealing with this motion. One is that there are differences in foreign policy between Canada and the United States. My colleague, the member from the Bloc, has already hinted at some of those differences.

For example, some claimants come to Canada because they know they will not be considered seriously in the United States. Between 1986 and 1990, 26% of claimants coming from Nicaragua, leaving a left-wing government, were accepted in the United States. In the same period about 2% of claimants coming from El Salvador escaping a right-wing government were denied access to the American system.

There are differences in foreign policy that must be looked at. There are reasons that immigrants choose to come to our country, having come through the United States or any other safe third country. We must respect each case on an individual basis.

We as parliamentarians cannot ignore the cultural links and family connections as people pursue asylum and why they choose Canada. We are talking about refugees who are trying to get their lives in order, trying to find safety and security. They end up choosing Canada because of cultural and linguistic connections and family and neighbour support. Those reasons cannot be discounted.

Canada is very much seen as an end of the line country. That cannot be discounted and disregarded in this debate. The idea of a safe third country probably is used by the government--and I will not say it is used by the member in terms of this motion--as a way to reduce the number of refugees that are lined up at the gates and who have presented claims.

Sometimes we think we have such a great problem in the backlog that we have to resort to extreme actions in order to deal with it. There are all kinds of ways to deal with the problems we may have with backlogs. There are other ways to deal with the possibility of some people using the refugee system to gain entry.

We can enforce the laws as they now exist. We can ensure there are proper resources for the timely processing of immigrants and refugees. We can increase the number of overseas officers. We can enforce measures against human trafficking. We can train immigration control officers in culturally specific behaviours. We can introduce refugee protection measures into our international agreements to avoid refoulement of refugees who may be rejected.

We can do it in a number of ways without violating our historic role of offering asylum to people in need of protection. We can do it without violating the spirit of the UN convention on refugees. We can ensure that we are vigilant and determined to protect people in the face of danger and in the case of dislocation from their homes.

I thank the member for bringing forward this motion. I have to say quite honestly that we cannot support it. We have to work together to find solutions that will strike the right balance in standing up for our historical role in terms of refugee protection, offering civil liberties to all people in Canada and at the same time dealing with changes in global human migration and the threat of terrorism.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the PC/DR coalition, I am pleased to take part in this debate. Let me first congratulate the member for Surrey North for the motion, which I will read so that we will remember it:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make regulations under paragraph 101(7)(e) of the Immigration Act with the effect that people claiming to be refugees pursuant to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees will not be admitted for consideration of their claim from the following countries: the United States, New Zealand, Australia and all countries that are members of the European Economic Union.

The member's motion, in calling for Canada not to consider refugee applications from developed countries, goes against Canadian values which promote open access to all people of the world. The PC/DR coalition cannot support the motion.

The motion is a simple solution to a very complex problem. It calls for Canada to implement the safe third country solution for refugees. In other words, if the applicant came from a safe third country, then he or she is already deemed to be safe. Unfortunately, Canada must negotiate an agreement with each and every safe country in order to return refugees to that country.

Canada at present does not have an agreement with the United States where over 40% of our refugee claimants originate. One solution to deal with this would be to do what the Americans do, which is to accept applications from refugees for refugee status but the applicants themselves must stay in the country of application while the application is being processed.

For example, if a Canadian was applying for refugee status in the United States, he or she could enter the country, submit an application form but then would have to return to Canada and later be recalled to the U.S. to deal with the application. This would probably resolve a lot of outstanding issues we have in our country.

When refugee claimants set foot on Canadian soil, they receive near citizenship status before any clearances are made. The majority of our refugee claimants fly to Canada. The second most popular point of departure is England. Another solution would be to not allow paperless, non-identifiable claimants, in other words asylum seekers, off the airplane.

The PC/DR supports a safe third country solution. Where we differ is that we accept refugee applications while the applicants remain in a safe country. That is our different point of view.

On the issue of refugees, let us have a reality check in terms of the world. There are over 14 million refugees in the world. All Canadians agree that Canada, being a country of compassion, must do its part.

The UNHCR is the principal intergovernmental organization tasked with addressing the protection and assistance needs of the world's refugees. Canada's support for the UNHCR is not only financial but it is also expressed through the protection and promotion of UNHCR's mandate. The protection programs which include resettlement from abroad and granting protection to inland asylum seekers are an important contribution to international burden sharing and refugee protection.

The government's 2002 plan for refugee intake has a projected total of approximately 23,000 to 30,400. The breakdown is: government assisted refugees 7,500; private sponsored refugees 2,900 to 4,200; refugees landing in Canada, and this is predominantly the area we are talking about, 10,500 to 15,600; and dependants from abroad 2,100 to 3,100.

When one sees the number of refugees in the world and relates that to the actual number that enter Canada even as asylum seekers, the numbers are fairly small.

I believe that Canada wants a system that is open and accessible to bona fide genuine refugees. Canada wants a system that screens out the human traffickers and international criminals. Another solution to Canada's dilemma would be for Canada to accept more refugees from UNHCR refugee camps around the world thus reducing walk-ins.

This past Tuesday at the immigration committee hearings, a witness representing the shipowners stated that our refugee system encourages ship crews and stowaways to jump ship. I agree. There is no doubt that Canada is perceived as easy pickings for the asylum seekers of the world. Canada at times is too generous. Our screening system is too lax. At times we put international perception above national security.

In closing, the solution to our refugee problem is not to penalize legitimate, genuine refugees and close the door totally. We need to do our job. We need to do the proper screening both overseas and at home. Our system is overworked and short on manpower and technology. We need an effective internal security program in CIC which will prevent fraud and which will also prevent the theft of passport documents and IMM 1000 forms, as was reported in the paper recently.

Canada was built by immigrants. Let us not forget that. Refugees are immigrants. We need to welcome them to Canada.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam--Burnaby will have the floor for five minutes before we go to the concluding remarks by the hon. member for Surrey North.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the House on my hon. colleague's motion with respect to third safe countries.

Those who flee their countries seeking a better life do so because they are in search of refuge from the way they have to live. We have heard that there are some 100 million people on the move because of economics and war. These refugees are looking for somewhere to be safe and to start a better life without the worries and strains that plague them in their countries of origin. People are seeking democracies and the benefits that come from democracies.

Canada received 22,834 refugees in 1998, 24,392 in 1999 and 30,044 in the year 2000. However, more frequently now we see refugees landing in our country and it may not be their country of choice. We are seeing a system of country shopping. They proceed to locate in Canada claiming to be refugees and are basically shopping for a country. The refugee system is being used to supplant the orderly immigration laws and systems.

The third safe country provisions are common in Europe, where the Dublin convention provides for any European Community member state to retain the right as part of its national law to send an applicant for asylum to a third state in compliance with the provisions of the Geneva convention. Australia also passed similar laws with the border protection legislation amendment act in 1999, which introduced provisions against foreign shopping and third safe country provisions similar to those in place in many European countries.

The majority of asylum seekers enter Canada through the United States, perhaps 40% or so, and we have heard figures like that, so if Canada were to enter into an agreement with the United States it would reduce significantly the burden on our refugee determination system. Similarly, if we were to enter into agreements with the European Union countries we would see a further reduction in the number of spontaneous refugee claimants or what I call surprise arrivals.

These country shoppers would be forced either to seek refuge in the country they arrived in or to apply for legitimate immigrant status through the proper channels. If it is conceivable for other countries to enact these laws, why can we not do this in Canada? The rationalizations we have heard and the hand wringing we have seen from the government speaker, the Bloc and the NDP must sound absolutely incredible, if not pathetic, to concerned Canadians.

It is a well known fact that Canada is one of the top choices in the world for individuals seeking refugee status, because capacity creates its own demand. We are a soft touch and we are vulnerable. In the larger sense we currently have so many difficulties with the immigration system in its present state that to have safe third country legislation certainly makes eminent sense. It would provide great relief to an overburdened bureaucracy trying to fulfil its duty under the law. The idea of having third safe country legislation makes good managerial sense. The fact that the Liberal government has not already introduced such an effective tool only helps to reinforce the fact that the Liberals really cannot sufficiently manage the business of the country.

At the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration we discussed this. The committee heard that many refugee claimants come to Canada through the United States. For the past few years approximately one-third of claimants entering the Canadian process have had the opportunity to claim asylum in the U.S. but instead chose to come to our country. In the fiscal year 1999-2000, 10,967 asylum seekers embarked from the U.S., representing 34% of all refugee claims. In 2000-01 over 11,000 claimants entered from the U.S., which is 37% of that year's total claims.

The committee also heard about great difficulties around that problem. The IRB chairman, Peter Showler, gave evidence at the committee and somewhat addressed the differences between the Canadian and American refugee determination systems. Among other things he told us that for nationals from some countries it may seem easier to obtain permission to enter the United States first, but the ultimate destination is Canada.

As a result of the committee looking at this issue, the committee came up with a recommendation which stated:

The Committee recommends that:

While maintaining Canada’s commitment to the Refugee Convention and our high standards in respect of international protection, the Government of Canada should pursue the negotiation of safe third country agreements with key countries, especially the United States.

That is what the committee said, but all we hear are rationalizations. The government cannot seem to get it done. We hear excuses. The hand wringers give us all kinds of alternatives about why this motion cannot be supported, but I am saying that Canadians are watching the ability of the government to deliver on the rhetoric. We will watch this new minister to see if he has the courage or the capability, with his cabinet colleagues, to get this done.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will wrap up by illustrating a few points on how our system is abused.

I will cite five cases. One is the case of a Nigerian who was deported from the United States after spending more than a year in a U.S. jail for importing heroin. Another is the case of a former refugee from El Salvador who was convicted of numerous criminal offences, including breaking and entering and assault. Then there is a man from the former Yugoslavia who was sentenced to four and a half years in a Canadian prison for trafficking and possession of drugs. There is also a refugee claimant from Honduras who walked into British Columbia after being deported three times from the United States following three jail terms for trafficking cocaine under assumed names. There is the case of an HIV positive Guatemalan refugee who was twice convicted of trafficking drugs in British Columbia, once after being caught with 42 rocks of cocaine.

Apart from being convicted criminals, these men have several other things in common. First and foremost, they would not have gained access to the country if there had been effective safe third country practices in place.

Second, they were all determined by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to be a danger to the public and were thus subject to deportation. In each case, the federal court overturned the ruling of the immigration department for exactly the same reason: the men were not provided with written explanations, called reasons, for the so-called danger opinions issued against them. Most of these men will remain in Canada while their cases work through the courts in an appeals process that may keep them living at taxpayers' expense for years to come.

Other countries learned long ago that it is essential to prevent illegal entrants from accessing the refugee determination system if they are not coming directly from the country where they claim persecution. They must be stopped at the point of entry and quickly removed. Dozens of countries are already doing this, making Canada a very attractive destination, for obvious reasons.

The rationale behind the idea of a safe third country is that genuine refugees fearing persecution will apply for refuge in the first safe country of arrival. Unless they have a good reason why they could not have applied in that first country, they are refused access and returned to the country from which they came. Might I say that a good reason is not that of coming to Canada to take advantage of our lenient and, I might add, litigious refugee determination system.

Article 31 of the UN convention makes a distinction between imposing a penalty on refugees entering illegally who come directly from a territory where they are threatened and those who enter illegally but are not arriving directly from the country of alleged persecution. Thus the convention itself recognizes that difference and we would not in any way be working against it.

I will close by reiterating the fact that I am truly disappointed that the motion will get only one hour of debate and will not have the opportunity to be voted on by all members of the House, which brings me back to my opening remarks about private members' business. Last week we voted on two private members' bills which were automatically made votable because they originated in the other place. As elected representatives of the people of Canada, I believe most if not all of us bring forward legislation that is important and relevant to our constituents. We must speak up about the way in which our private members' business is handled.

RefugeesPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

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

RefugeesAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, on November 6 I asked a question of the Minister of Foreign Affairs about concerns that came to our attention on the foreign affairs committee regarding 600 unfilled openings in the foreign service.

Foreign service officers are very important people at this time of our country's history as far as security, exports and immigration are concerned. They are our front line people.

A report has indicated that there are a large number of unfilled positions. At committee, the deputy minister of foreign affairs confirmed that there were insufficient funds to fill those positions. He also confirmed that there were insufficient funds for a reasonable increase in pay for the currently employed foreign service officers. He acknowledged that valuable employees who play such an important role were being lost.

In this time of questionable security, they are the front line people. These people know what is going in countries which may or may not have threats or people who are threats to Canada. These people decide who can immigrate to Canada. These are the people who do the screening. These are the people who help our exports which are so important to us. There are all these vacancies.

The minister stood in the House and in answer to my question he did not dispute my statements.

For a long time Canada has had the highest quality of foreign personnel. They are the people who maintain our excellent reputation around the world. If there are so many unfilled positions, we will not be able to maintain that reputation. We will not be able to be involved in human rights issues, trade issues and all the other issues that those people deal with.

The only reason given is that there is not enough money. In the middle of all this the Prime Minister appointed Mr. Gagliano to the ambassador's position in Denmark and is paying him $170,000 a year. He has no experience, no training, nothing. There is enough money to pay him $170,000 but not enough money to pay foreign officials.

Will the minister secure the funds to fill all the openings in the foreign service? Will the minister increase the earnings of our foreign service staff to a reasonable and competitive level so that we can retain our high quality staff?

RefugeesAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I know that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is also concerned with the situation the member has described.

The demands on members of Canada's foreign service have increased since the events of September 11. This is true for employees at headquarters but perhaps even more so for employees at Canada's different missions abroad, especially in those countries where the risk to personal security has increased.

The government in its latest budget has allotted $22 million for the fiscal year 2002-03 and $20 million for subsequent years to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. These funds will enable the department to enhance its ability to monitor and assess developments in key regions as a result of new security demands emerging out of the campaign against terrorism.

I am pleased to inform the House and the member that 64 new positions will be created to increase Canada's presence in the Middle East, the United States and central Asia. These new positions are directed at addressing security and counterterrorism objectives and concerns in areas of potential instability.They will also allow us to add to our ability to provide consular services abroad and to increase our focus on U.S.A. congressional relations and enhanced media advocacy responsibilities in the United States.

As for the 600 unfilled openings in the Canadian foreign service abroad, it is a bit farfetched. In fact, only 41 out of 999 foreign service positions are vacant. In absolute terms, there are only 95 unfilled permanent positions out of 999 full-time jobs, or 9.8% of the total. This shortage has built up over several years.

Our annual recruitment campaign to fill vacant positions is underway, but the recruitment process for foreign service is complex and takes a whole year. It is hard to quicken our recruitment efforts.

Nevertheless, we expect to hire some 100 new foreign service officers this year through our post-secondary competition. The 300 positions mentioned by the deputy minister of foreign affairs before the committee referred to the whole department and all job categories, including department jobs here in Ottawa that are not part of the foreign service. I thought it was important to make that point.

This situation is not unheard of for a large organization like the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Also, regular staffing action has been taken, or soon will be, to fill these jobs.

Regarding wages, while negotiations between the treasury board and the PAFSO officially broke down last September, I am aware that informal discussions have taken place in recent months with a view to try to reach an agreement without going to a conciliation board.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and his colleague, the Minister for International Trade, just wrote to the President of Treasury Board Secretariat to emphasize the importance they attach to efforts to reach an agreement with the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, PAFSO, which would acknowledge the important work of the foreign service officers. It is hoped that the proposed restructuring of the foreign service group from two to four levels will enable the department to offer a better career path with salaries that would compare favourably to those of other groups in the public service.

RefugeesAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not know how to respond to the parliamentary secretary because she disputes the numbers I used. However, when I first posed my question to the minister, he said “I find it difficult to take issue with the points the hon. member has made”. Therefore, I have to stand by my numbers based on his concurrence.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary another question. She referred to the hardworking, quality staff and the fact that they were working toward a better career path. I would like her to address the following situation.

If she were a foreign service officer with the goal of becoming an ambassador and she had worked hard toward that for a small rate of pay relative to other comparable jobs, how would she feel if all of a sudden the Prime Minister appointed Mr. Gagliano as ambassador at $170,000 a year?

RefugeesAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, my personal views will be heard quite well when the foreign affairs committee examines the credentials of the new ambassador to Denmark, which I believe is on March 19. The date is to be confirmed.

The work of our foreign service officers is very important . The Minister of Foreign Affairs did in fact agree that the situation of the low salaries and the working conditions is very preoccupying. I did not have a chance to complete my statement on that, so I will to do so now.

There is a proposal that the foreign service group be restructured from two to four levels which would enable the department to offer a better career path, with salaries that would compare favourably to those of other groups in the public service. Similarly, there is a study on the conditions of service for foreign service officers in comparison to those offered by other countries, international organizations and the private sector which we will receive in March. This should bring new ideas on how to acknowledge the experience and competencies acquired by our foreign service officers.

RefugeesAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.38 p.m.)