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House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

(The House divided on Motion No. 1, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #28

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

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5:55 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

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

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5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

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5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

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5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it you would find agreement to apply the vote on the previous motion to the motion currently before the House, with the Conservatives voting yes.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this way?

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5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party will be voting in favour.

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5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc are in favour of the motion.

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5:55 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the NDP members are very pleased to vote against this motion.

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

Vote #29

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

It being 5:56 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2009 / 5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

moved that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to begin this debate today on Bill C-291, which I tabled in this House a little earlier in this session and which proposes to establish the refugee appeal division. It would be useful to start with a short history to indicate the need for and the pertinence of this bill.

In 2002, this Parliament adopted the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Before this act was adopted, two board members examined refugee claims. Approval by one of the two members was sufficient to grant refugee status. When the IRPA was adopted, this Parliament decided to reduce the number of members examining refugee claims from two to one. However, in their wisdom, parliamentarians decided to provide for an appeal section. Although included in the legislation, it has never been implemented because the successive Liberal and Conservative governments have never issued the cabinet orders required to bring it into force.

The purpose of the bill before us today is simply to respect the will of Parliament and begin that process. It is important that this appeal section be established for three basic reasons: first, it will prevent arbitrary decisions in refugee status cases; second, it will ensure that decisions made by members are consistent; third, it will prevent decisions from being too costly and ensure that the cost of the system for handling these applications is not too high, as I will explain later in my presentation.

Let us start at the beginning, with the issue of arbitrary decisions. There are quite a few board members at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB), many of whom are undoubtedly competent. However, the problem is that many of these people are not well-suited to this work.

I will give a very topical example, one that I revealed in the House this week and for which the minister had a chance to defend himself—the case of Pharès Pierre. This board member, appointed by the current minister, has a very questionable past. He was the chief of staff to former Prime Minister of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That controversial regime committed atrocities and was complicit in major crimes.

Some people were only underlings within this regime. Police officers and civil servants have been refused the right to ask for asylum in Canada because they worked for the regime. Yet we learn that this board member was at the top of the pyramid. And, from now on, he will be the one to receive and study refugee requests coming from everywhere, including Haiti. We would all agree that there is an obvious ethical issue there. Some of the people claiming refugee status, who say they were persecuted by the Aristide regime, will find themselves being judged by a person who was at the top of this regime. That makes no sense.

This candidate managed to slip through all the cracks in security.

The IRB selected him. Then he underwent Privy Council security checks—the Privy Council being the Prime Minister's Office, which looked into the matter and declared that there was no security problem. These are, of course, the same people who investigated the Couillard affair. Then the minister appointed him. When I asked the minister in the House why he appointed that individual, he candidly admitted that the man was obviously not the right guy for the job. Yes, he has a B.A. in mathematics, and I have a lot of respect for people who have a B.A. in mathematics, but that does not mean they have the skills it takes to be commissioners any more than if they have a minor in administration or are on the board of the Lions Club of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

This appointment is glaringly partisan, because Pharès Pierre was the vice-president of the Conservative riding association in Saint-Jean and vice-president of the Quebec wing of the Conservative Party. This is clearly unacceptable. He managed to slip through the net and become a commissioner. Now he is the one who will be making extremely important decisions that could have life-or-death consequences for people. This is the person who will be making these decisions. It makes no sense.

And then there is Laurier Thibault, who handled Abdelkader Belaouni's case. Mr. Belaouni, who lives in my riding, is an Algerian refugee who, despite being blind, wants to get involved in the community. At the time Mr. Belaouni appeared before him, this judge, this commissioner, Laurier Thibault, was rejecting 98% of the cases he dealt with. Imagine appearing before a judge who finds 98% of the people he tries guilty. Would anyone think that justice was being done? Surely not.

There is an obvious problem here: some commissioners do not have what it takes to do the job. We need an appeals division to overturn these decisions. Even if they were all very competent, we would still have a natural justice issue on our hands. Even though we have very competent judges in our other courts, we still have an appeals division. Why do citizens and permanent residents have access to appeals in the regular system, but refugees do not?

In the past, the Liberals have often told us that appeals to superior courts and judicial reviews were possible. However, these are not appeals on the merits; they are simply appeals based on technicalities or for procedural reasons. However, if the IRB member followed all procedures, but simply does not believe the refugee claimant's version, the claimant has no opportunity to appeal.

The second reason I gave was the lack of consistency in the decisions. When there is no appeal division, each IRB member can decide one way or the other. As all immigration lawyers will agree, this makes it impossible to tell someone whether they are eligible or not by simply looking at their file. In the end, the decision will depend on which member of the IRB gets assigned to the file. We sometimes refer to this as “the board member lottery” and it is inconceivable that people's lives are being decided on so arbitrarily. With a real appeal division in place, board members will have case law that they can refer to when deciding a case, in order to ensure greater consistency.

Lastly, I think we could even save money in our justice system, since the appeal division, as it is defined in the legislation, is an administrative tribunal. But since this administrative tribunal does not yet exist, claimants who have been refused by the board tend to avail themselves of all kinds of procedures before superior courts to try to obtain justice. In the end, this is more expensive for the system, since those proceedings tend to be much more costly.

In my opinion, it is important to move forward on this. In committee this week, the minister told me he was afraid that, among other things, the possibility of appeal would snowball and the appeals would drag on forever.

I invite the Conservatives to support the principle of my bill and to send it to a committee that will determine if measures can be implemented to prevent this from happening. We cannot wait for the entire system to be reformed before taking action. Critical decisions are being made about people. I therefore invite all members to support this bill.

It is a matter of respect for the Parliament that voted for a law. Although seven years have passed, this measure should be implemented. It is a matter of natural justice. It is the way things are done in all western democracies. Every judicial system provides for appeals in order to eliminate arbitrary decisions, which do occur at present, and also to preserve the honour of Quebeckers and Canadians by respecting the dignity of those human beings who seek refuge in our country.

I would like to close on a more poetic note in this House by quoting Gilles Vigneault, a great Quebec singer. I am sorry, but I will not be singing. I would just like to read his lyrics for all my colleagues:

About my solitary country
I cry out before I am silenced
To everyone on earth
My house is your house
Inside my four walls of ice
I take my time and my space
To prepare the fire, the place
For the people of the horizon
And the people are of my race

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his speech and certainly the work that he is doing on the immigration and citizenship committee. Regardless of political stripe, we on occasion have been able to find some common ground and have been working quite well in the early days of this 40th Parliament.

I do want to thank the hon. member for not singing in the House of Commons. I certainly do not mind him speaking once in awhile, but the last thing I would really want is to hear him sing a tune here in the House of Commons.

Off the top, I want to state that our government's position on Bill C-291 has not changed from that in the 39th Parliament. In fact, we will be opposing the bill, because this bill seeks to establish the refugee appeal division.

There is no question that we strongly support an effective refugee status determination system, but as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said yesterday, he was delighted to hear the interest of the member who asked a question on this topic and was hopeful that we could all work together to create a more efficient and effective refugee determination system.

The government opposes this legislation because it is neither necessary in the current system nor is it efficient. It would add considerable delays and costs, both in the start-up and operating costs as well as the prolonged costs for services provided to failed refugees waiting for their fourth level of appeal, which would be this appeal division.

The cost of implementing the refugee appeal division would be in the range of $15 million to $25 million annually in new operating costs, about the same amount in social services costs paid by both the provincial and federal governments for refugees, not to mention start-up costs of approximately $10 million.

It would also add five months to the decision-making process. Provinces such as Ontario, British Columbia and even Quebec would be disproportionately affected by this.

Canadians have a right to be proud of our humanitarian tradition, no question, and as the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, a former Liberal minister of citizenship and immigration, said last June before the human rights committee in the other place:

--[T]he people that I consulted, those from the United Nations responsible for refugees, liked to think of Canada as the premier example of a system for refugee determination that underscored fairness and product.

The member concluded that the current system is fair, that there is no need for another appeal process, as four steps already exist in this decision-making process.

As the member for Eglinton—Lawrence put in his own words:

--I said I would not implement it. Of course, we got into an election so I could not change my mind. When Bill C-280 came forward, I did not see any compelling arguments to make me change my mind.

If a former Liberal citizenship and immigration minister is willing to publicly speak against the bill, which has not been substantively changed since its previous incarnation as Bill C-280, then I have to ask all of my Liberal colleagues across the floor why they would not listen to one of their colleagues and also oppose this bill.

There is a full range of recourses offered by the refugee determination system as a whole. Our refugee determination system is based on a strong, independent, first level decision-making process at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Rejected applicants can then seek leave for a judicial review at the Federal Court, another form of appeal, if you will. If both the IRB and the Federal Court turn down the applicant's claim, he or she is still entitled to a pre-removal risk assessment before leaving and can also apply for permanent residence on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

The addition of the refugee appeal division would only add a further level of review to an already comprehensive refugee determination system. Successful refugee applications can take an average of two and a half years to reach permanent residence status. Negative applications can take over five years, and in some cases much longer than that, before an individual has exhausted all avenues of appeal.

We changed the selection process to make it more open and more accountable. This is a great improvement over the years of Liberal patronage to their political friends, appointments such as Mr. Mouammar, who had an acceptance rate double that of the IRB average at that time, which rose to virtually 100% in some cases if one was from the Middle East.

Last year there were 40 Governor in Council appointments and 24 reappointments. With the minister's announcement on March 10, 2009, of two appointments and five reappointments, and his previous announcement of 25 appointments and 3 reappointments in 2009, the board now stands at close to 90% of its full complement. With fewer vacancies on the IRB, genuine refugee claims will be processed and finalized faster, while frivolous asylum applications will be dismissed much more quickly.

Canadians expect their refugee system to help and protect legitimate refugees. As the minister said yesterday in the House, “last year we received 38,000 inland refugee claimants, about 60% of whose applications were rejected by the IRB”.

There are individuals taking advantage of our compassionate nature and seeking refugee status on dishonest grounds. They know the significant length of time that this process affords them. We must fix this.

It is not an uncommon tactic to make a false refugee claim to allow the individual to attempt to make enough connections within the community so that they are able to bolster their humanitarian and compassionate grounds case. This is a fundamental problem that this bill simply does not address. In fact, it would legitimately add to the incentive to make fraudulent applications, as the time before deportation would be extended by at least five months.

In 2008, 34,800 refugee claims were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board, as compared to 27,912 claims in 2007. This represents an almost 25% increase in refugee claims.

Last year, the former minister of citizenship and immigration, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, shared her concerns at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights. She noted the number of refugee claims in Canada was increasing at a rate higher than in almost every other country. She reported that a majority of claimants were found not to be in need of protection. Only 43% of claims finalized by the Immigration and Refugee Board were accepted in 2007 and the acceptance rate dropped to 42% last year.

There are those who would like to take advantage of our generosity in this country and take a place away from those who are genuinely in need of our protection and their own. There are those who come to Canada from countries, such as Mexico, that are not typically seen to produce refugees. Mexico is the largest source country of refugees, with approximately 8,000 individual claims in 2008. Only 10% are successful in their application for status. Very valuable resources are being increasingly diverted from those who need our help to those who are found not to be genuine refugees.

If this bill is implemented, failed refugee claimants will be the ones filing for secondary appeals. It is impossible to predict the number of appeals that could be made every year because each refugee claim is assessed individually. On average, it takes three days to determine an eligibility claim but it takes about 17 months from the date a claim is referred to the IRB to an initial decision rendered by the IRB.

Leave applications for judicial review of the IRB decision can take about four months. If that leave is granted, it can take approximately a year or more to decide the appeal. A pre-removal risk assessment takes about nine months. An application made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds can take an additional 21 months.

A claimant has a right to seek judicial review of negative pre-removal risk assessment and decisions made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. It adds up. It can take up to five years for almost all of these cases to be handled through the process and up to ten years in some cases. The hon. member's bill would extend that by at least another five months.

We need to consider that almost 35,000 refugee claims were made to the IRB last year. Adding another layer to the current refugee status determination process would not only further paralyze our system, it would erode its very integrity. The Refugee Appeal Division would conduct only a paper review of the evidence presented at the original hearing, it would not allow for the introduction of new evidence or an in-person hearing.

We have monitored the impact of delaying implementation of the Refugee Appeal Division. We have consistently found that even without this fourth layer of review, the current system already provides protection to those who need it.

The implementation of an appeal would be possibly only if the current system could be streamlined to avoid access to multiple and overlapping recourses. Therefore, I urge all hon. members to not support Bill C-291.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill today in the House.

As most of our attention has been focused on the budget implementation plan, as it should be, we must not lose sight of the one area in the legislation that will ensure the long term economic goals we all have for this country, and that is the area of immigration.

Our economic survival will be nothing without the one resource that can transform Canada into a knowledge-based economy, and that resource is its people, the brightest, the best and, in the case of refugees, perhaps some of the most courteous and resourceful new Canadians we could ever have.

Most truly modern economies around the world understand that countries can no longer be gatekeepers at their borders, presuming that those who come in are somehow at the whim or the mercy of a government that deals with applications at a painfully slow pace, such a our present government.

We know that we must aggressively market our county and compete for a booming supply of skilled labour and knowledge workers around the world. We know that those who come here as refugees are the main actors and the authors of some of the greatest success stories in this country.

From gatekeepers to competitors in an international market, this is the reality but it is a reality that the government has yet to understand. The facts are there for all to see. Immigration from China is down 36% since the Conservatives came to power. Immigration from India is down 22% since the Conservatives came to power. Those countries are the two biggest markets for highly skilled, highly educated knowledge workers. The government has botched the file and let us lag behind the world in building the economy for the 21st century.

While I view the bill as having some glaring problems, I also know that we cannot keep up this painfully slow pace of immigration reform. More to the point, we need to move faster on the Refugee Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

I welcome the fact that at least we have something to work with at last but we need to take a very close look at all the fine print, we need a substantial review and we will, no doubt, need to make significant changes in the committee.

For all the talk that has come from the government in the last three years about caring about progressive reform, the reality is a very different thing. The reality is that the backlog of refugee claims has more than doubled since the Conservatives took office. It has more than doubled in three short years. It makes one think that they have the same management experts working in immigration as the ones who have so disastrously managed our economy.

The reality also is that the number of finalized claims has decreased by 50% under the Conservatives. Therefore, they essentially worked half as hard while they let the workload doubled. If we were running a business so inefficiently, we would wonder how we let this happen.

I can remember not too long ago when the government tried to claim that it knew how a business worked and that it knew what it was doing with the economy. Last year, when the real GDP growth was negative for two quarters, the only area that showed promise was the government, because it shovelled more than $300 million into increased spending for services.

The Prime Minister was essentially trying to create a better economic picture by throwing money at government programs. However, that is not the worst of it. That money only maintained levels of resources and services at best from department to department. For all its talk of tax breaks for Canadians, as we know, the government played fast and loose with numbers and blew our reserve fund completely, with nothing to show for it but the mess we are in now.

In the case of the processing of refugee claims, the government has actually increased the processing times to an average of 14 months and the average cost per claim has increased to almost $2,000. That is good money being thrown after bad service, but this is all part of the fundamental disconnect the government has between talk and action.

The government can talk a good game. It can claim that it is letting more newcomers into this country than ever before but when we see the real numbers, they show that the government slashed the number of permanent residents coming to our country by more than 50,000 in just a short two years.

The government says that it will address backlogs but ,as I said, the backlog has doubled. The backlog remains at troubling levels for all applicants. Actually, nothing has been done in three years. Nothing except that the Prime Minister tried to use backlogs as an excuse to reject whole categories of immigration applications. This is like saying, “I know we have done nothing but if you give me power”, power that should never be centralized and used for political gain, “I can fix it”.

Would we let the guy who crashed our car look under the hood to fix it? I will not. Does the government actually expect Canadians to reward incompetence? I do not think so.

I am only compelled to move this dialogue forward because the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act must have a comprehensive review in order to modernize it for the new realities,economic, social and geopolitical, that Canada now faces. However, we must ensure that every word is held to account in committee and that the necessary changes must be a part of any legislation going forward. There is no other way. There is no blank cheque, no sweeping powers and no new authority that can be proposed under the radar, as the government so frequently attempts to do.

A responsible government would provide more resources for application processing. It would provide more resources for immigration settlement. It would address the backlog of refugee claims rather than let them increase 100%.

However, until Canadians can truly get a government they deserve and rightfully expect, we must take what we have by way of proposed legislation and demand accountability or reject it otherwise.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stand to support this private member's bill. It is long overdue that Canada have a refugee appeal division. Parliament has debated this issue several times, as has the Senate. Parliament has approved and said several times that we must implement a refugee appeal division, yet no action has been taken.

Let me tell members why we should not have refugees' lives determined by one single person. A refugee board member could send someone back to face persecution, torture or even death. We used to have board members, and the panel would make decisions. In the 1980s, it was three members. Then it was narrowed down to two members. In 2002, it became one member.

When the decision was made in 2002 that it would be one member, there was a promise that there would be an appeal process, but the former Liberal government never actually made that a reality.

The problem with having one person decide the fate of refugees is that some people have biases. Even just recently the minister appointed people, it seems to me, based on their Conservative membership, whether they were active in the party or not. We had failed candidates known to have homophobic points of view appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board. We had an appointee with a shady past in terms of that person's ties to a government that has been known to have human rights violations. Yet these are the group of people from whom one person would make the decision on the life and death of refugees.

The Canadian Council for Refugees has documented different examples of how decisions are made in a very inconsistent manner. In one case, there were two Palestinian brothers who had the same basis for their refugee claim, yet one was accepted and the other one was refused. The refused brother was deported. They were identical cases.

In another example, a person came from Iran. She had been arrested and detained for two months in Iran. Canada's refugee board concluded that this person, called Ms. Q, was not credible because of inconsistencies and gaps in her evidence.

Ms. Q told the board that she had scars on her body from the torture. Her testimony was rejected because she had not provided a medical report.

The psychologist who saw her said she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, which is why her submission was not as consistent as it could be. The doctor discovered that she had a depression in her skull consistent with a blow from a blunt instrument, and the psychologist found that she had been tortured and that if she were deported to Iran she would be in serious trouble. Even though there is expert evidence that she was severely tortured, this woman is facing imminent risk of removal from Canada.

There are two other examples. One is a gay man from Nicaragua who was deemed not to be gay enough and was turned down. Another woman, a lesbian from Ghana, even though she was tied to a pole, humiliated and spat upon, was also denied.

A refugee from Mexico came here. His mother and sister had been raped. Soldiers then tortured his father. He himself had his hands tied behind his back and was hit in the stomach. A hood was put over his head. He was questioned about where his uncle was hiding. They stripped him and cut him near his genitals with a knife. They then tied his testicles and yanked them while they continued to torture and question him. Lastly, they dipped his head in a tub filled with excrement in an attempt to obtain information they wanted.

These are the kinds of people we deny, because some members turn down 80% of the refugee claimants in front of them. Another member would approve 80%. As has been reported recently in the news, 80% of refugee claims that came before one board member were approved. So where is the consistency in terms of this board?

Remember, this board is made up of political appointees, and people have personal biases. When there is no appeal process, what one sees is real inconsistency in decision-making, yet we are talking about people's life and death.

Canada is one of the very few countries in the world that fails to give refugee claimants an appeal on their merits. UNHCR, which is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Canadian Bar Association have all said that Canada must have a refugee appeal division. Yet, over and over again, that has not taken place.

Ministers have repeatedly said that one could apply to a court to get leave. However, going to Federal Court is extremely expensive. It is expensive for the applicants and for the Canadian taxpayers. One must first receive leave or permission from the court. Nine out of 10 applications for leave are refused by the court and there is really no reason given. If we had an appeal division, most of these cases would not land in the Federal Court, which means that taxpayers would in fact save money. The Federal Court is really not set up to specialize in refugees cases anyway.

Refugee claimants may apply for a pre-removal risk assessment, but this is not a mechanism for correcting errors in the initial refugee determination. Pre-removal risk assessment applicants can only raise new evidence, not argue that the initial decision by the Immigration and Refugee Board was wrong. As a result, only 3% of those applications have been approved. Those who apply for humanitarian and compassionate grounds get deported anyway while their applications are being considered, so that is really not a route to go.

For all those reasons, it is quite unfortunate that Canada, even though condemned by many international organizations, continues to ignore the rights of refugees and continues to waste taxpayers' money with a lot of cases stuck in Federal Court. We continue to have a huge backlog and continue to make mistakes and occasionally send refugees back to their home countries where they face torture, persecution, much suffering, and sometimes even death. There is certainly documentation of that.

I urge this House to quickly approve this private member's bill, have it fast-tracked—

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate.

The hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise today to speak about this bill. I am new to this House, as you know, and new to the immigration committee. I have found many interjections in committee by the hon. member presenting this bill to be thoughtful.

In particular, on this motion that we are debating today, there is so much more that goes into an immigration system. Having had the opportunity to work for many years at the provincial level dealing with a whole range of issues and representing a riding, working for a member who represented a riding where a number of the hostels that housed refugee claimants were located, I can say there are a number of problems in the current system, not the least of which is the length of time it takes for us to actually deal with refugee claimants in the system.

I can give many examples, from the former riding of Scarborough East where I worked, of people who had claimed refugee status and who had been in front of the board and in the system for years, and of the difficulties that placed on the community I was from at the time, the difficulties placed on the schools, the difficulties placed on the social services.

We've all heard of instances. I received emails not long ago with respect to a case of an individual who had been in the country, whose refugee claim was refused by the IRB, and some 15 years later was still resident in Canada. We had not been able to deal with him.

There are number of things that we can do and that we must do as a government to ensure that our immigration system truly represents what it is meant to represent.

I am a child of immigrants. My parents came to this country, immigrating here from Italy in the 1960s. They were very hard-working people, as were many of the Italian immigrants at the time, as are many of the people who do come to this country.

What they want, what all immigrants want, what most Canadians want is an immigration system that is fair, that treats everybody equally, that does not reward people who seek to jump the queue, that does not reward people who take advantage of Canada's generosity, its kindness, and the types of services that we have here.

I would also like to point out that as a government we are coming through a time when the immigration system under the previous Liberal government was hurt badly by inaction. We had a waiting list that approached one million people.

We have taken action on that front to address that. We are moving people through the system faster. We are making sure that the right kind of people are coming to Canada. We are working with the provinces and with our municipal partners to make sure that the people who come to this country have access to the types of jobs for which we need workers, so that they can benefit from Canadian society the moment they come to Canada. These are the types of things that the people in my riding are asking of their government.

I am also blessed that Oak Ridges—Markham is an extraordinarily diverse riding made up of people from all over the world.

In the last number of years we have had a significant immigration from Sri Lanka. These are people who have come here with very little but in a very short period of time have contributed to our community in so many ways. They are successful business people, teachers, doctors and lawyers.

We have an enormous Chinese community, where 10 or 15 years ago that was not the case in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham.

We are doing what we need to do as a government to make the immigration system responsible so that Canadians can again have the confidence that the government and the systems that support government, in particular the immigration system, are reflecting their values.

On this bill in particular I would like to reiterate the government's opposition to Bill C-291, which seeks to establish the refugee appeal division. We support strong and effective protection for genuine refugees, but this bill simply does not do that. I believe this bill, if passed, will increase the motivation for those who seek to defraud the system.

Again, I reiterate that we all know of instances of individuals who do not deserve to be in this country and who are still here five, six, seven, ten and even fifteen years later. We all know these people do not deserve to be here, but are taking advantage of Canada's generosity, thereby hurting all those who would seek to come to Canada legally and who do the right things. It hurts all of those who genuinely need Canada's protection.

Individuals whose claims now are rejected have access to judicial review in Federal Court. They may also have access to other means of regularizing their status in Canada, including pre-removal risk assessment and application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate needs.

Canadians expect their refugee system to help protect legitimate refugees. Unfortunately, as experience has shown and as was mentioned earlier, many refugee claimants are found to not be legitimate refugees. Fewer than half of the refugee claimants, just 42%, are found by the IRB to be in need of Canada's protection.

As I mentioned, it can take a very long time to remove failed refugee claimants from Canada. I cannot stress this enough. These are individuals who are taking advantage of Canada's generosity and are thereby making it even more difficult for legitimate refugees to find their way into Canadian society more quickly.

As the Auditor General has noted, the longer failed refugee claimants remain in Canada, the more likely it will be that they will stay here permanently, often illegally. Our current system already has multiple recourses, including an application for leave to the Federal Court for judicial review of a decision. This proposal would add yet another unnecessary level of review to an existing system without providing significant additional safeguards for applicants.

I say “unnecessary” because of the weakness of a paper-based appeal that only considers existing evidence. In fact, under the proposed legislation, the refugee appeal division would provide only a paper review of decisions made by the refugee protection division of the IRB. A paper review would not provide the opportunity for a new in-person hearing. That means there would be no oral appeal.

Let us be clear. What would happen is the appeal division would simply take the information that was presented to it already, information that a decision was already made on. It would review that paperwork and make yet another decision, thereby delaying a decision for another four, five, six or seven months.

The review would also, as I said, be based on exactly the same information. No new evidence would be presented in assessing the individual refugee's case. In addition, the division would not provide failed claimants the chance to introduce new evidence on circumstances that have changed since the initial decision was made on the case. The current pre-removal risk assessment process does this. It provides claimants with a final opportunity before removal to present evidence and have it assessed.

Bill C-291 would not address the pressure related to raising asylum claims. It would also not address the ability of failed claimants, through a series of dilatory appeals, to rely on Canadian taxpayers for health care and social assistance.

Once established, it would result in tens of millions of dollars in additional annual cost to the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments. It would cost the federal government and our provincial and territorial partners additional resources, as asylum-seekers would continue to access a range of services, including interim health benefits and social assistance.

Canadians would be right to question whether yet another layer of process and another layer of cost would make the system better. The implementation of an appeal would only be possible in a streamlined and simplified system.

In conclusion, my colleagues opposite are very well aware of the government's opposition to Bill C-291, and our position has not changed.

Immigration and Refugee Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for your generosity and for waiting until I got over my coughing spell.

It is obvious that I am pleased to rise in this House to again debate Bill C-291. But I feel a bit like I am acting in the film Groundhog Day. This is about the 300th time I have spoken about the same things in this House in connection with the same bill, even though its number was different last year.

This bill, which my colleague has totally reworked with the recommendations of the previous Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, responds to all the minister's requirements. I cannot understand why the government does not want to pass it, after it has been passed by the Senate. That is absolutely incomprehensible.

I am absolutely dumbfounded, so I do not see what more I could say to convince the hon. members.