House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was self-employed.


The House resumed from November 25, consideration of the motion.

Canadian Northwest PassagePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the amendment of the hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora to motion M-387, under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #140

Canadian Northwest PassagePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the amendment carried.

The next question is on the main motion, as amended.

Canadian Northwest PassagePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, you will find agreement to pass this motion we are considering now based on the vote on the amendment.

Canadian Northwest PassagePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this manner?

Canadian Northwest PassagePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


(The House divided on the motion, as amended, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #141

Canadian Northwest PassagePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from November 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-393, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division of the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-393 under private members' business.

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

Vote #142

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Patent ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 6:10 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 19 consideration of the motion that C-291, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171), be read the third time and passed.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, other than our indigenous peoples, our first nations, all the rest of us in Canada are recent arrivals. We either arrived ourselves or are the descendants, the sons and daughters of wave after wave of arrivals to Canada's shores over the last few centuries.

The assumption is that all of these arrivals to Canada were immigrants, when in fact, especially during the latter part of the 20th century, a large proportion of those who arrived on Canada's shores were refugees, those who were seeking sanctuary.

I am the son and grandson of refugees. In the years after World War II, my father and my grandparents on my father's side were in a displaced persons camp in Italy. On my mother's side, they were in a displaced persons camp in Germany. In the years after the war, Canadian government officials arrived in those camps, they took notes, reviewed documents and my parents and grandparents were among the lucky few who received travel documents to come to Canada.

They came across the Atlantic and arrived on freedom's shores, Canada, where they could live in freedom and democracy, work hard and build a new life.

Unfortunately not everyone was so lucky. Many of those who found themselves in those displaced persons camps, the refugee camps, were sent back to the Soviet Union, except they never arrived home. They ended up mostly in Siberia and most ended up dead.

Canada has a tremendous legacy of welcoming and accepting refugees, whether it was post-World War II in 1956 from Hungary or more recently Vietnamese refugees from the Philippines and Burmese refugees from camps in Thailand.

However, over the past half century it has become a little more difficult to figure out who in fact are bona fide refugees. It is no longer the case that we have officials who go to refugee camps and those are the sole source of refugees to Canada. Today, anyone, anywhere on the planet from any country can buy a plane ticket, arrive at a Canadian airport and claim refugee status or they can arrive in Canada, stay here for a while, check things out and then decide to make a refugee claim.

The system is not working, especially over the past couple of years where our backlog has increased by some 18 months and we have ended up with a backlog of approximately 8 years and over 60,000 refugee claimants.

There is a huge cost to this dysfunction in the system of approximately $30,000 for every refugee claimant. At the same time, statistics show that about half of those claims are bogus. That is a cost to the Canadian taxpayer of some $900 million, $100 million per year over the next eight years. That is a huge cost.

There is another cost to the current dysfunction. Real claimants, those who are seeking refuge from totalitarian regimes, dictatorships, those individuals and their families have to wait years in anguish not knowing whether they will be sent back to a country where they could be tortured or worse. The system has to be fixed. That is why I will be supporting Bill C-291.

The bill would provide greater efficiency in our refugee system. The refugee appeals division would be a specialized appeal division as opposed to the federal court. It would increase the efficiency of the system, while still ensuring the humane treatment of those in need of protection. It would enhance the reputation of our system. The implementation of an appeal division would improve public perception of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

As well, the federal court, where appeals go today, does not specialize in refugee matters. Advocates for the RAD system would have expertise in refugee determination. There would be greater consistency in decision-making. The creation of a specialized RAD would allow for consistency when reviewing the facts of decisions.

The judicial review of an IRB decision is more limited in scope than an appeal contemplated in the RAD. The court cannot replace a decision by the IRB with its own judgment.

We cannot continue with the system that we have in place today, up to eight years to finalize a claim. We are in a cycle. People note that it takes this tremendous length of time, so frivolous claims are made so they can extend their stays in Canada year after year.

The bill envisions reforms that would provide three new pillars to our refugee system. First, it would start with a good first decision. Second, it would allow for a reliable appeal. Third, it would allow for the prompt removal of failed claimants. As well, tribunal members would be appointed solely on merit.

By creating a strong system, the pre-removal risk assessment and back end humanitarian compassionate applications we see so often today and their associated judicial reviews could be removed from the system. Under the proposal, refugee claims would be decided in approximately six months, reviewed most likely in the subsequent four months and removals, should they be necessary, within three months after a negative appeal decision.

We are dealing with an immigration system in Canada that currently is broken. Canadians want us to enact a fulsome package of reforms. Unfortunately, the government has not come forward with such a fulsome package.

However, in the lack of the aforementioned, we have an opportunity to address one aspect of this broken immigration system, the broken refugee system. We must have a system that is just, that respects and meets Canada's international obligations to protect refugees and that re-establishes the confidence of Canadians in our system.

Canadians are a people who above all believe in fairness. They would like to see a refugee system that is fair. We deserve to have a refugee system that works, a system that respects due process, ensures avenues of equal opportunity and provides safety for individuals who are in need of protection.

That is why, as a son and as a grandson of refugees, I will be supporting Bill C-291.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171).

I want to thank the member for Jeanne-Le Ber for bringing forward this piece of legislation. It is similar to legislation that was brought forward in the last Parliament by the member for Laval, with the support of the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges. It is something that I and the member for Trinity—Spadina, the NDP's citizenship and immigration critic, have strongly supported over many years.

The irony is that this is a bill that calls on Parliament and the government to implement legislation that is already in place. It is a bill to implement an act. Could anything be more ridiculous? Why should that be necessary in our system? It is absolutely ridiculous. It is absolutely unfortunate.

It is absolutely disrespectful of the current Conservative government and the previous Liberal government which refused to enact provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, legislation that was fully debated in this chamber and in the other place back in 2001. It was passed by this chamber and the other place back in 2001. It has been largely implemented by governments in the meantime, except for the provisions in the sections I mentioned earlier. Those sections are the ones that pertain to the refugee appeal division.

There is a history behind the bill we are debating today and the failure by governments to implement the refugee appeal division. I want to go back to that debate that happened before the adoption of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, IRPA, back in 2001.

There was an extensive debate. a long debate about that legislation, because it is very important legislation to Canadians, to our place in the world, to what happens on the issues of immigration and refugee policy in Canada. That new legislation was very thoroughly debated.

Over the course of that debate, the government put forward a recommendation to reduce the IRB panels that hear refugee determination claims from two people to one person, and there was a lot of concern about that proposal. There was concern that a one-person panel that sits in judgment of these very important refugee claims could make mistakes. There was no one else to counter the decision and the process of decision that the one-person board would go through, and there was no appeal in the process as it was standing.

Over the course of the development and the debate on that legislation, a compromise was reached. Opposition members and government members agreed to go forward with the proposal that there be a one-person board if there was an appeal process implemented, and that was the refugee appeal division.

This compromise meant that a one-person board could go ahead. Hopefully that would make the process more efficient, but there would be a backup appeal, an appeal on the merits of the case where any errors that were made by that one-person board could be corrected. That was made part of the legislation in the sections that we are talking about in the bill today.

It is perfectly reasonable work, good work by parliamentarians to discuss the process thoroughly, and the benefits and the problems of that process, to reach a compromise and to suggest a new process that would be workable and that would protect people in that system. It would protect refugees from an arbitrary decision by a one-person board and give them a significant opportunity for an appeal on the merits of their case. That passed the House of Commons and the other place and it became law.

However, the Liberal government of the day and the current Conservative government have always refused to implement the sections regarding the refugee appeal division, so in fact we do not have that appeal. We have the one-person board, but we do not have the effective appeal of that decision.

If we ask anyone who has an association with the refugee determination process in Canada, he or she will tell us that it is very important. If we ask international observers of Canada's refugee process, they will tell us that appeal is an absolute necessity. Yet we still have not implemented it. It is in the law, but it has not been implemented. That is an absolutely despicable situation. It means that we have a bill, like the one we have today, which is legislation to call on the government to implement legislation that is already in place. It is an absolutely ridiculous situation.

Lest one thinks that the refugee appeal division is some cumbersome mechanism that will further delay the immigration process, which is what we often hear, it is not. It is a paper appeal. It is not one that would involve a lengthy court proceeding. It is a paper appeal of the merits of the case, an essential paper appeal, but a paper appeal.

Other people have said that it is too expensive and that the immigration and refugee system already takes up too much money. That is not the case either. I remember when I was on the standing committee in the 37th Parliament. The government at the time estimated that it would cost $8 million to set it up and $2 million a year to run the system. That is not a significant amount of money by any stretch of the imagination when one considers the importance of having a just and fair immigration and refugee system in Canada.

This was a very concise and precise appeal. It was not a costly appeal and yet governments have refused to move on it. As I say, it is a very simple and necessary step that could be taken tomorrow if there was the political will to ensure fairness in our system.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many organizations in Canada. The Canadian Council for Refugees, which is the coalition of almost every refugee and immigrant serving group in Canada, has strongly supported the implementation of the refugee appeal division, the RAD, and they have been strong supporters of Bill C-291. They know and appreciate the value of this kind of appeal to people who have made refugee claims in Canada. They know it is a measure of fairness to the system, where there is only one person sitting in judgment of the life and death situation of a refugee claimant in Canada. They also point out that international organizations have criticized Canada for not having this kind of appeal in our refugee system.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said:

Given that even the best decision-makers may err in passing judgment, and given the potential risk to life which may result from such an error, an appeal on the merits of a negative determination constitutes a necessary element of international protection.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees wrote to the Canadian government to express its concern about non-implementation of the refugee appeal division. It considers an appeal procedure to be a fundamental, necessary part of any refugee status determination process.

The UN Committee Against Torture, hearing a complaint from a rejected refugee claimant, found that the Canadian refugee determination system had been unable to correct a wrong decision in his case. What an outrageous condemnation of our system, that a refugee claimant could not correct an error in his case that went against him and the United Nations Committee Against Torture had to point that out to the Canadian government.

In fact, despite our incredible record on refugee matters and despite the fact that we won the Nansen medal from the United Nations in the 1980s for our refugee policies, there is this huge gap in our refugee process. It is a gap that our law anticipates but that our governments refuse to correct. That is an absolutely outrageous situation. In fact, Canada is one of the few countries in the world that fails to give refugee claimants an appeal on the merits of their case. We need to change that immediately.

This is not rocket science. This is not a huge process. This is the result of good work and political compromise here in the House of Commons. All the parties who were looking at the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came together and decided on a direction we could take that accomplishes the goals of everybody in this place.

What has happened? The previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government have turned their backs on that process. They have shown disrespect to Parliament and to the many committees that debated this legislation at other times by not moving to implement these provisions which already exist in the immigration and refugee protection law.

It is about time we got on with this. Needless to say, New Democrats will strongly be supporting this legislation. We believe it is high time that this measure of fairness was implemented in Canada. Refugees who make a claim here in Canada deserve an appeal on a negative decision on the merits of their case.

The refugee appeal division provides that appeal. It should be implemented tomorrow. We should not have to wait for this bill to proceed all the way through the House and the other place to have that measure of fairness in our immigration and refugee determination law.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak today to Bill C-291, which was introduced by my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber, whom I thank. Essentially, this bill would ensure that a real refugee appeal procedure is put in place.

Those of us who represent urban ridings are aware of the injustice created by the refugee system. When we meet with people in our ridings, we realize that more and more people are seeking asylum. The Canadian system creates real human dramas, and that is why my colleague introduced this bill, in order to restore some justice to the processing of claims to the Immigration and Refugee Board.

It is a bit paradoxical that we are having to debate my colleague's bill today, because the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which came into effect in 2002, included a number of sections that provided for the implementation of the refugee appeal division. Sections 110, 111 and 171 of the 2002 act provided that, if a person was not recognized by the Immigration and Refugee Board as a refugee under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, he or she should have an opportunity to appeal.

Today, the paradox is that these sections of the 2002 act have not yet come into force. It is time to honour the spirit of the legislation this Parliament passed in 2002 and implement these sections.

Restoring justice is fundamental. We must remember that as a result of certain decisions, the number of members on the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has gone from two to one. The implementation of the refugee appeal division was to restore justice and to compensate, to a certain extent, for the reduction of the number of board members. Today, there is only one member who sits on the Immigration and Refugee Board and the appeal division has yet to be established. It is the worst possible situation for a refugee claimant.

In the past, this government as well as the previous Liberal government indicated that there were a number of safety nets. In 2006, the government claimed that people could apply for refugee status when they crossed the Canadian border. Of course they could not be returned to their country of origin provided that a proper application had been made to the commission. We agree that they should have been protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The minister told us that there were safety nets, including pre-removal risk assessment, known as PRRA. People can also apply for permanent residency under certain conditions and on compassionate grounds, known at the time as the 114.(2). The government said that everything needed was in place in order for claimants to appeal. The government considered these two mechanisms to be appeals. In reality, that is not the case.

I will take a few minutes to remind the House of what the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said in 2006.

People already have endless possibilities when it comes to a judicial review before the Federal Court or applying for permanent residency on compassionate grounds. We must look at the (immigration) system as a whole before deciding whether or not to establish an appeal division.

Let us go further and examine this immigration system to see whether, indeed, these two provisions, these two chances people have to appeal, according to the minister, actually work. What is the reality? The reality is that as far as the pre-removal risk assessment reviews are concerned, claimants can ask the Federal Court to review their file. What is the reality? Just because a claimant asks the Federal Court to review their file does not necessarily mean that their file will be reviewed. The Federal Court has agreed to review a file in only 4% of cases. Let us be clear: the Federal Court does not examine the merits of the case. Some new evidence may be added, but the court will never examine the merits of the case.

What does that mean? It means that the vast majority of claims are denied. In very few cases have decisions been changed. Rarely has a decision of the Immigration and Refugee Board been overturned. In about 30% of cases, claims have changed, but in the vast majority of cases, the decision has been maintained.

The minister should have realized back in 2006 that his appeal system, which he claims offers unlimited opportunities to request a review, does not work in this case.

Let us look at the second option for refugees, permanent residency for humanitarian reasons. Once again, when it comes to what the minister called his second safety net, the numbers tell us that 28% of cases are approved. Consequently, 28% of those whose claims have been denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board have then submitted applications for permanent residency within Canada for humanitarian reasons, and in about 28% of cases, these people have been admitted for humanitarian reasons under section 114.2.

Clearly, the system is not working. That is why, in 2004, the House Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration passed a motion calling on the Liberal government of the day to change the system and ensure that these three sections on the appeal division would be implemented. Parliament took the initial step of passing a motion in committee, but the Liberals did not listen and refused to follow through on the motion.

The second important element is a bill that was introduced by the Bloc and passed in October 2007. It went through the whole parliamentary process, but unfortunately, did not receive royal assent because of the 2008 election.

What I am trying to say is that, basically, the purpose of my colleague's bill is to restore justice and ensure that a bill passed in 2002 is implemented in full. International organizations, such as Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, have all told us that we have to implement the appeal division

That is why I urge all parliamentarians to vote for the bill introduced by my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-291.

Hon. members of this House are well aware that this government is a strong advocate and supporter of the humanitarian dimension of our immigration program. I think every member of this Parliament meets with constituents or advocates for refugees who are working to assist people with a legitimate need for asylum on our shores, and we hear some very sad stories. I regularly give thanks that I was born in Canada.

Every year we welcome almost a quarter of a million permanent new residents, who embrace our values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This government has welcomed the highest number of people to Canada ever in our history, including refugees and students. Among them are thousands of refugees attracted by our values and a chance to start a new life. Most of these refugees will become citizens and enjoy, for the first time, freedom of speech, the freedom to vote and run for public office, the right to criticize governments, the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining, the freedom to move anywhere they want in Canada, the right to equal treatment before the law in a fair trial, and a freedom that we often forget about, the right to have a family with more than one child if they so choose, a right not available everywhere in the world today.

Since this government came to office in 2006, we have accepted more than 51,000 refugees from around the world. In fact, Canada is one of the top three countries in the western world in terms of the number of refugees it accepts for resettlement. The welcome we extend has given us an international reputation as a champion of human dignity. As a member of Parliament, I am proud of that and we all should be, but we are growing increasingly concerned about the abuse of our asylum system.

As my hon. colleagues have heard, between 2006 and 2008, there was a 60% increase in the number of refugee claims filed in Canada. The growing backlog in claims reached 61,000 at the end of June. It is only responsible to manage that backlog to ensure that those who are in true need of asylum go to the front of the line.

The government inherited about one-third of that backlog when it took office. Roughly another third is a result of the transition to a merit-based appointment system, which resulted in delays of appointments of members to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, but which now stands at 98% capacity in terms of the number of board members. Another one-third of the backlog is the result of the growth in claims. Even at full capacity, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada can only handle 25,000 asylum claims a year. Last year we had 37,000 asylum claims. Clearly at this rate the backlog will just continue to grow, and so will wait times.

Almost one in four asylum claims Canada received last year were from Mexico, yet the Immigration and Refugee Board, with its high standards of fairness, accepted only 11% of those claims. It is not fair to make legitimate refugees wait due to systematic problems that we should be fixing. In fact, in some cases it is downright dangerous for those asylum-seekers to make them wait, while others are trying to immigrate with dubious claims.

A large number of the current asylum claimants are not in need of Canada's protection. Yet as it currently stands, an individual who is determined to play the system can stay in Canada for years while he or she works through the multiple recourses available to a failed refugee claimant and while our acceptance rate is one of the highest in the world. Some do so while working in Canada, while others rely on social assistance. This delay fundamentally undermines the fairness of our immigration system by allowing failed refugee claimants to remain in Canada for many years, in some cases for over six years, and often at taxpayers' expense.

I am pleased to report that since we began requiring visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic to first obtain a visa, the number of refugee claims from those two countries has slowed to a trickle. In the almost three months since the visa requirement took effect, there have been only 16 refugee claims at ports of entry from Czech nationals, compared with 831 claims in the same period leading up to the visa imposition. Similarly, in that period, claims at ports of entry from Mexican nationals have fallen significantly from 1,287 in the nearly three months before the announcement down to 35.

Prior to the imposition of visas, Mexican and Czech refugee claims accounted for almost 50% of the total number of claims made at Canadian ports of entry. What does that tell parliamentarians? It tells us that the vast majority of these people from the Czech Republic and Mexico were probably so-called economic refugees, people who should be applying to immigrate to Canada in the normal way.

We have managed to stem the tide of refugee claims with visas on Mexico and the Czech Republic. However, I think we can all agree that visas are a blunt instrument and not the ideal solution.

We need to reform the asylum system. Too much of our time is spent on processing applications from people who are not in need of protection and whose claims are ultimately refused.

I think most MPs have constituents in their riding offices, as I do, some in tears, who simply want family members to visit for a wedding or an anniversary, but who are experiencing delays in getting visas. They suffer because others have abused the system.

We have repeatedly articulated why we do not support private member's Bill C-291, which would establish a refugee appeals division, as outlined in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Asylum claimants already benefit from multiple avenues of recourse, including seeking leave from the Federal Court, and pre-removal risk assessments and applications for permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

I wish to remind my hon. colleagues that since 2002, no government, Liberal or Conservative, has agreed to implement the refugee appeal division, and for very good reasons. Refugee claimants in Canada are already treated with the utmost procedural fairness. Our current asylum system is already too slow and complex. Adding yet another level of appeal would not only make the process even longer, but it would also result in tens of millions of dollars in ongoing annual costs to the federal and provincial governments.

An appeals division would cause further delays, with no different outcome in most cases, I strongly suspect, as immigration consultants and lawyers would stay busy grasping at an additional paper review for the chance, however slim, of a different outcome. It is unfair to their clients, unfair to those waiting to be heard, and unfair to Canadians.

While I appreciate the member's motivation behind this bill, the latter is unworkable. What we have been advocating instead is reform of the asylum system. With a streamlined system, we could include a full appeal that would allow for the introduction of new evidence, not simply a paper review of a decision made at the refugee protection division, as suggested in the private member's bill.

The refugee appeals division, as envisioned in this private member's bill, would not improve the refugee determination system. In fact, it would make the system worse. If adopted, the proposed legislation would weaken, if not cripple, our current system. The implementation of an appeal would only be possible in a streamlined and simplified system.

My colleagues opposite are well aware of the government's position on Bill C-291 and know that our position has not changed. I strongly urge the opposition to consider the comments already made by the government during this debate. We support strong and effective protection for refugees, but this is not it.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-291 today. I think that if the viewing public had been with us for the last hour, they must be shaking their heads by now, having listened to the speeches that have enumerated and outlined the history of this particular piece of legislation.

This is an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act with regard to the coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171. Those three sections deal with the refugee appeal division. Clearly, Parliaments past have debated this legislation, have passed this legislation, have sent it off to the Senate, and it is only the multiple elections that we have had that have thrown us back to where we have to deal with it again.

Contrary to what the Conservative member just said, the fact of the matter is that there was good thought put into these provisions. They went through various committees. They were deemed to be proper, intelligent measures. So the issue then is why, since 2001, 2002, do we still not have this appeal division? Why is it not there?

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act approved by Parliament in 2001 created the refugee appeal division. In 2002 the government implemented the act but not the sections that give the refugee claimants the right to appeal.

As a result, refugee claimants in Canada have been denied the appeal that Parliament granted them in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Instead, their fate is determined by a single decision maker. I will deal with that issue in a couple of minutes.

To correct this injustice, the last Parliament voted to force the implementation of the refugee appeal division; however, the bill did not become law because the House was not able to approve the Senate's amendments before the 2008 election was called. It has been through the entire process.

When we talk about the fate of refugees being decided by a single decision maker, that is a big part of the problem. One of the previous speakers talked about how 15 years ago there were actually three people involved, and then it was changed in 2001 to two people, and subsequently down to one.

If we look at the speeches of some of the other members who have spoken on this bill, we will see why and how having one person making the decision is not a good idea, particularly because the people appointed to the refugee board are political appointments.

The Conservatives are now sitting comfortably over on the government benches, but when the Liberals were in power and making political appointments to refugee boards, they were regaling themselves, exposing some of the activities of some of the Liberal appointees. The Liberals were appointing totally unqualified people, defeated candidates, friends of friends, and putting them on the refugee appeal board. It became a big joke, showing favouritism. The Conservatives, who were then in opposition, were raising a storm over this, and well they should have.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot and they are now the government, well, rather than change that system, what have they done? They have simply fallen into the same old trap, as did the same old Liberal government for the 13 years before that, and more or less the major part of 100 years before that. They appointment hacks and flaks to the board, and then they wonder why they get very bad results. We are saying that having one person making the decision is not a very good idea.

As a matter of fact, the mover of the motion, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber from the Bloc, points out a couple of very interesting examples where there was a board member appointed by the minister who had a very questionable past. This gentleman was chief of staff to the former prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. We all remember him as the former president of Haiti and that regime committed many atrocities, and was complicit in major crimes. Here this man was in charge of deciding on refugee appeals for the government. In some cases he was judging people from Haiti.

Certainly, if there were a two-person board, or more than one at least, and then the right of an appeal, it would be added protection so that Conservatives would not get the stories that they were raising a fuss about when the Liberals were in power doing the same thing. It is not fair to Conservatives to put themselves in that situation, making political appointments who then make decisions that in many cases do not make any sense at all.

The sponsor of the bill talks about another case of two people on the refugee appeal board. In one case, Laurier Thibault, in terms of his cases, 98% of them were rejections. If we were to study the people on the refugee appeal board and one member has a 98% rejection rate and then another member has a rejection rate of 98% the other way, it would make us wonder whether that system is operating properly.

I want to refer to the comments made by the member for Trinity—Spadina. I would go over some of the comments made by government members, but they are all just negative. They have made up their minds on the bill and just say they are not interested in making any changes.

However, the member for Trinity--Spadina talked about the Canadian Council for Refugees having documented different examples of how decisions were made in a very inconsistent manner. In one case there were two Palestinian brothers who had the same basis for their refugee claim. One was accepted and the other was refused. The refused brother was deported and these were identical cases.

In another example a person was arrested and detained for two months in Iran. Canada's refugee board concluded that this person was not credible because of inconsistencies and gaps in her evidence. When she told the board she had scars on her body from torture, her testimony was rejected because she had not provided a medical report and it went on to come up with a different conclusion.

The point is that we should not rely on a single person making a judgment when that person is not qualified. I am not going to disqualify individuals because they were defeated Conservative candidates. I am sure there are enough of them out there that a good choice could have been made, but that is not what happens.

In the great Liberal days, the Liberals managed to somehow always find the worst one they could from all their defeated candidates. I am sure there were some Liberal candidates who would have made fine board members and why the Liberals could not pick one of the good ones is beyond me. But they always managed to pick the one that got them into the most trouble. That is certainly a sad history of this particular board. I would hope that we would eventually make the right decision in the House and make this correction that is long overdue.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, as sponsor of this bill, I am pleased to wrap up the debate in this House. In the five minutes I have left, I would like to remind members why I am urging my colleagues to support this important bill.

First, it is a matter of democracy and of having self-respect as parliamentarians. It has been more than eight years since this House passed the reform of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and it has been eight years since the refugee appeal division was provided for in the act. But the Conservative government still refuses to implement it.

It is absurd that we need to pass legislation to validate and enforce an act that we already passed. I think that we all need to muster up some dignity and uphold the supremacy of this House. We must decide that when we pass an act, we are passing an act, and will enforce it to the full.

Second, I believe that there is a clear issue of natural justice in this bill. Throughout our legal system, there are chances to appeal at every level in cases that are often much less dramatic than determining whether or not someone is a refugee. There are multiple levels of appeal in ordinary disputes over fences, but when it comes time to remove someone to a country where he or she could potentially be tortured or killed, we do not even bother to have an appeal division. To my way of thinking, this goes against the principle of natural justice, because even in systems with good judges appointed in a non-partisan way, the possibility that they may make a mistake is acknowledged and appeal mechanisms are put in place.

Imagine what can happen at the Immigration and Refugee Board, where many members are still partisan appointees and results such as 98% rejection rates are disturbing to say the least. When not everyone is a good judge, one can imagine how many more errors there may be than in our courts, where we hope this sort of bias and these sorts of partisan appointments have no place.

I am talking about a principle of natural justice, but, again, there is no chance to appeal. I like having a debate with people who do not share my opinion, but, frankly, I am disappointed in the government's attitude and its attempt to have us believe throughout this entire debate that there are other appeal possibilities. There are not. I have had a chance to review a number of cases and to look at the situation, starting at the time a board member makes a ruling, to applications for leave for judicial review in Federal Court, to pre-removal risk assessment applications. Throughout the process, all the upper levels simply say that the board member has already made a ruling, that they do not believe the story and that they do not have the authority to overturn the ruling. The very courts the government is referring to clearly say that they do not have the authority to overturn these rulings. And yet the government tells us there are opportunities to appeal. This is unacceptable.

Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of this bill in preserving the integrity of the system. Currently we have some board members who refuse practically every application they receive. On the other end of the spectrum, some are very generous and accept almost everyone. Unfortunately, this causes some illegitimate claimants to apply for refugee status by saying they will play the board member lottery and see if the odds are in their favour. By passing this bill, we will create case law with a possibility of appeal and will therefore decrease the chance that someone will abuse the system because they will know that, in the end, the minister could appeal a decision in their favour if the person is not a true refugee.

In closing, I want to thank everyone who worked on this. I want to thank the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges for her perseverance, and the hon. member for Laval, who introduced a similar bill in the last Parliament. There are also all the social stakeholders, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Quebec Table de concertation pour les réfugiés and all the agencies that support this bill. I would like to thank them for all their work.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members


Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Some hon. members