Mr. Speaker, it is great to get back to matters of substance.
It is an honour to have the opportunity to rise today in support of Bill C-49, an act to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.
Canada has a history and a tradition of welcoming immigrants who wish to start a new life here. On a per capita basis, we now welcome more newcomers than any other country, nearly a quarter of a million last year alone.
Through the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, introduced by our Conservative government, we have committed to resettle 2,500 more refugees living in refugee camps and urban slums. This is a source of pride for our country and a reflection of the generosity of our nation. It is part of our national character.
Unfortunately, Canada's immigration system and our generosity have become a target for human smuggling operations. The arrival of the MV Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady in a period of less than 12 months clearly demonstrated that human smuggling networks are extending their reach to our borders. Our intelligence indicates that these voyages, organized by criminal syndicates, will continue.
This form of illegal commercial migration is dangerous and exploitive by nature. The journey of these migrants is treacherous, and every year people around the world die in human smuggling operations.
The ringleaders of these smuggling operations are ruthless profiteers. They are vile, despicable criminals who consider their passengers to be little more than cargo. Those profiteers cause misery and suffering, and risk the lives of those they purport to be helping. Human smugglers and those on board their vessels also provide financial support to dangerous international criminal networks.
Many who use these types of smuggling networks are economic migrants. When they use this unlawful behaviour to arrive on our shores and then claim to be asylum seekers, they abuse our country's generosity.
These operations are unfair to those seeking to come to Canada by legal means. Millions of people around the world aspire to come to our great country, and it is gross unfairness to allow others to jump the queue through illegal means and co-opt those who use legal means to come to Canada.
Those who use illegal means take up space and resources in our immigration system, which should be focused on those who have applied to immigrate legally. They deprive true refugees of the opportunity to be granted protection in this great country of ours. When genuine refugees use these illicit networks to get to Canada, they put themselves and their families at risk.
If we do not take strong action now, more vessels will arrive in Canada and more lives will be put at risk. We cannot just stand by and allow these exploitive operations to continue. We must act now.
We must act to avoid a two-tiered immigration system: one tier for legal immigrants who wait patiently in the queue for the privilege of coming to Canada; and a second tier for illegal migrants and queue-jumpers who pay human smugglers to get them to the front of the line.
Canadians have reacted strongly to these unwelcome arrivals. More than 50% of Canadians polled agreed that this type of migration is unacceptable. These events have put at risk public support for immigration in general and refugees in particular.
We are a generous country. We welcome immigrants and refugees from around the world. I would hate to see our national support for that program decline because illegal migrants and smugglers are abusing the system.
We need to maintain public confidence in our immigration and refugee system, since immigration will soon become the source of all our labour-force growth and a critical part of our economic growth.
The legislation before us will help prevent abuse of Canada's immigration system and goodwill. It will help us prevent human smuggling operations. It will provide disincentives to would-be migrants, so that they do not place themselves at the mercy of human smugglers on these treacherous ocean journeys.
I would like to outline how this legislation will do just that. First, the law before us proposes to introduce mandatory detention for up to one year. This will allow for determination of identity, admissibility, and illegal activity. As I am sure most members of this House are aware, people who arrive on these vessels often do not have proper documentation, whether by design or not.
We do not know who they are or whether they might have been involved in criminal or terrorist activities. We as a government need to have time to confirm their identities. This becomes particularly difficult in the case of mass arrivals, as we have recently experienced, when hundreds of people arrive at the same time without the proper paperwork.
As we are now learning, some of the migrants onboard the Sun Sea have already claimed refugee status in other countries such as the United Kingdom, and have already been found not to be in need of protection.
Detention will allow us to verify and confirm the identities of these individuals. This way we can determine whether they are admissible to Canada, or whether they are, or have ever been, involved in illegal activity.
That is fair and reasonable, and Canadians agree with us. Our main priority is to protect the safety and security of Canadians. We need to know who these people are before they are released into our Canadian communities. This is the least that Canadians can expect of their government, and we are delivering on that expectation.
Second, this legislation aims to introduce several disincentives to stop those who are tempted to use this perilous form of migration. A key disincentive is that those who arrive as a result of a designated smuggling event will not be able to apply for permanent residency for a period of at least five years. This applies whether they are found to be in need of protection or not.
During that five-year period, persons found to be in need of protection would be restricted from travelling outside Canada and would be unable to apply for permanent residence to Canada through other means. As a result, they would not be eligible to sponsor family members into Canada or to become Canadian citizens during that time.
For those who received protected-person status, reporting requirements would be put in place. This will allow our government to be able to initiate proceedings before the Immigration and Refugee Board to remove their protected-person status if there is evidence that the individual no longer needs protection. This would apply, for example, if the individual returns to his country of origin or if conditions in that country change.
If someone is able to return safely from a holiday to his country of origin, the country that he claims to be fleeing, then he is clearly not in genuine need of Canada's protection. In such cases, the existing legislation would allow the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to make an application to the Refugee Protection Division for a cessation of the individual's protected-person status.
These legislative amendments would ensure that while an individual is subject to a cessation application, his application for permanent residence would be suspended and would not be processed until a decision is made on the minister's application. If the Refugee Protection Division upholds the minister's decision and the application for cessation, the individual would be removed from Canada.
An individual would be allowed to apply for permanent residence only after five years, if he is determined to be in further need of protection. This means that people in this category could apply for permanent residence only if no cessation proceedings had been initiated as a result of changed country conditions, or if they had not returned to their country of origin, or if the minister's application for cessation was not positively decided by the IRB.
If there is evidence that the protected-person status was obtained fraudulently, if, for example, an individual has directly or indirectly misrepresented or withheld material facts relevant to his situation, then the Minister of Public Safety would be able to apply to the Refugee Protection Division of the IRB to revoke the individual's refugee protection status. If the original decision is cancelled and no other grounds for protection remain, the individual would be removed from Canada.
Once in force, the bill would also eliminate access to the Refugee Appeal Division for people who want to review a negative decision on their claim. While they would still be able to ask the Federal Court to review a decision, they would not benefit from an automatic stay of removal from Canada while their application was being considered.
These measures that our government has proposed are firm but reasonable. They are exactly what Canadians have been calling for. They would maintain our Conservative government's goal of faster protection for those who truly need it and faster removal of those who do not. This will be achieved through the balanced refugee reform act, the bill before us today.
To further discourage individuals from coming to Canada as part of a smuggling operation, we are also taking measures to ensure that these individuals have access to fewer Canadian benefits. Canadians enjoy health services that are among the best and most generous in the world.
Currently, asylum seekers, resettled refugees, failed asylum seekers awaiting removal, detained individuals, and victims of trafficking are all provided with temporary health care coverage through the interim federal health program.
Under the changes we are proposing, the scope of services provided under the IFH program would be reduced for those who arrive in Canada illegally by way of human smuggling. They would receive only basic coverage, including medically necessary care and the immigration medical exams that refugee claimants must take upon their arrival in order to ensure that they do not pose a risk to public health or safety.
We need to ensure that illegal migrants are not receiving health coverage that is more generous than that offered to hard-working Canadians.
Canada is a fair, generous and welcoming country for those who want to work for a better life, but our generosity should not make us a target for criminal activities such as smuggling operations. In order to avoid becoming a target, we must remove the incentives for people seeking to come here by way of human smuggling.
These measures before us today are right. They are fair. And they are necessary. We know that Canadians agree with us. Poll after poll shows that Canadians want firm action taken on human smuggling, on cheating the system.
Cultural groups across the country have endorsed our measures. The Peel Tamil Community Centre stated that it was “pleased to see the government taking action to deter human smugglers who charge victims enormous sums of money”. The Taiwanese Canadian Association of Toronto said, “We need to know the identities of these individuals before they are released into Canadian society. That's why we also support the mandatory detention of illegal migrants who use human smugglers”.
Our government is committed to protecting the integrity of our immigration and refugee system. We are committed to upholding our laws. We are committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians.
Taken together, the changes we have proposed will help safeguard our fair and generous immigration system. Moreover, they will help ensure that Canada is not an easy target for criminal organizations involved in human smuggling.
As I mentioned before, this legislation has won the support of virtually all key stakeholders. The legislation has resonated with Canadians at large. In fact, recent polls show that 60% of Canadians want to send ships back without allowing them to land on our shores. Yet we know that as a compassionate country we have to leave room for legitimate refugees. It is the abuse of the system that we object to.
Canada is a compassionate country, but because we are compassionate and generous, there are people around the world who will abuse that generosity, and Canadians do not tolerate abuse. In fact, I am shocked to hear the opposition parties in this House actually criticizing and opposing this bill. It is very clear that they are still not listening to Canadians.
We have consulted broadly with Canadians on this bill and we know that Canadians support it. My invitation to the opposition parties is to join us in doing the right thing for Canada.