Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today in support of Bill C-49, an act to prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.
Human smuggling is a transitional criminal enterprise that spans the globe and Interpol says that it is a growing global phenomena. This form of illegal commercial migration is very dangerous and it exploits those individuals who are captured within it. Human smugglers consider their passengers to be little more than cargo and the boats on which they carry their passengers are like nightmarish prisons.
Migrants are typically stranded at sea, on an overcrowded boat, with unsanitary and unsafe conditions. These conditions often lead to severe illness or cause fatal accidents. As a result of these inhumane conditions, people die in human smuggling operations every year. Nevertheless, many illegal migrants decide to risk their lives and undertake this perilous journey for their destination country.
By charging people large sums of money for their transportation, human smugglers have made a lucrative business out of facilitating illegal migration, often by counselling smuggled persons to claim asylum in the country to which they are smuggled. Once they arrive in their destination country, these migrants are often at the mercy of their human smugglers and forced to work for years in the illegal labour market just to pay off their debts to their smuggler.
The arrival of the MV Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady in a period of less than 12 months is a clear indication that Canada is becoming a favoured destination for these human smuggling networks. Interpol says that human smuggling syndicates benefit from weak legislation and low risk of detection, prosecutions and arrests compared to other transnational organized crimes. If we do not take strong action now, more vessels will arrive and more lives will be put at risk. We cannot just stand by and allow these exploitative operations to continue.
This legislation would enable us to crack down on the despicable human smugglers who prey on these vulnerable migrants, but it also aims to stop those tempted to use this perilous form of migration by introducing several disincentives.
A key disincentive is that those arriving as a result of a designated smuggling event would not be able to apply for permanent residency for a period of up to five years. This would apply whether they are found to be in need of protection or not. During this five year period, persons found to be in need of protection would be restricted from travelling outside of Canada and would be unable to apply for permanent residency to Canada through other means. As a result, they would not be eligible to sponsor family members into Canada or become Canadian citizens during that time period.
The legislation also proposes mandatory detention for up to one year, which would also help ensure the safety and the security of Canadians.
When these migrants arrive on our shores, we have no idea who they are or where they are from. Often, they arrive without proper documentation and we do not whether they are criminals or terrorists who pose a threat to our safety and our security. Mandatory detentions would allow us to properly verify and confirm the identities of individuals to determine whether they are in fact admissible to Canada or whether they are involved in some form of illegal activity. This proposal is entirely within reason and it is fair.
The government's priority is, first and foremost, to protect the safety and the security of Canadians. This is the least that Canadians can expect from their government.
We are also taking measures to ensure that these individuals have access to fewer Canadian benefits. As we all know, Canadians enjoy health services that are among the best and most generous in the world. We need to ensure that illegal migrants are not receiving health coverage that is more generous than what is offered to other Canadians. It certainly will not happen under this government.
Currently, asylum seekers, resettled refugees, failed asylum seekers awaiting removal, detained individuals and victims of trafficking are provided with temporary health coverage through the interim federal health program.
Under these proposed changes, the scope of the services provided under the IFH program would be limited for those who arrive in Canada illegally via human smuggling operations. They would receive only basic coverage, including medically necessary care and immigration medical exams that refugee claimants must take upon their arrival in order to ensure they do not pose a risk to public health or safety.
Canada's generosity should not make us a target for criminal activity such as smuggling operations. We must remove the incentives for people seeking to come here by way of human smuggling. In doing so, we will uphold the integrity of our immigration and refugee process and our programs and ensure that the safety and security of Canadians is put into place.
This has certainly taken the attention of the public over the past 12 months. We have seen two ships arrive in our country for the purposes of smuggling, which is why the scope of the bill needs to be implemented. I have heard opposition members claim that this bill is some sort of a knee-jerk reaction to what has happened. I find that compelling in a way because, if this were a reaction to what had happened, then they would have to argue that we are actually about 11 months late introducing this legislation.
This legislation was put together over the past series of months to ensure that we have legislation that is strong, that is certainly consistent with the charter and with our Constitution, and, most important, that is consistent with the feelings and the positions that Canadians have held on this issue across our country.
There is no doubt that the issue in itself is a difficult one. We all know and, as members of Parliament, we have listened to the positions, arguments and stories in our ridings of refugees who have claimed asylum. We have heard them say that they needed to come to Canada in order to escape the perils they faced in their country. There is no question that the reason these ships are here is that our system is so generous and open and we want to ensure that those who need protection and those who are truly refugees have a place to come to in safety where they can become Canadians, find employment, find a new way of life and raise their families in a country as democratic and open as Canada.
However, the fact remains that the only answer to solving this problem of ensuring those who are clearly refugees, clearly want to be here and clearly need to be here go through the process that we have in place.
The previous speaker mentioned Bill C-11, which is exactly what this country needed in terms of reforming our refugee legislation. We took great pains to get through that process. I know, as the parliamentary secretary, we worked hours upon hours and days upon days to get that legislation back to the House of Commons so it would be supported at third reading. When it did come back here, it in fact received support from all parties. We now have a new system in terms of refugee reform legislation that will be implemented over the next 18 months.
Bill C-49 is so well augmented with Bill C-11 that we will have completely reformed and changed the direction that this country needs to take when it comes to refugees and those who need to seek asylum here. They will need to seek asylum in a way that follows the system that we have in place, not to jump the queue and not to be forced by smugglers, who take advantage of every person on that boat, to pay for their freedom rather than earn that freedom through a process that we have in place, which is one of the most generous in the world. We cannot have it.
The Canadian people have spoken loud and clear on this issue. The one thing that we need to continue to come back to is fairness, because this is what the Canadian people understand so much better than the rest of the world. No Canadian wants to see individuals living in peril in their country. If it is important enough for us to understand that freedom of security, of governance and of democracy needs to happen here in this country and they deserve that, then our arms are wide open to them, but we have a process and a system.
There are people who are taking advantage of these individuals, charging them more money then they could ever afford in their lifetime, to get on to a boat and somehow find a way to come here. They make promises and claims. They literally push those individuals onto the vessel to get them here to Canada. They tell the individuals that Canada will accept them, that Canadian laws are so generous and in need of so much repair that when they land here they will be given the status they so want.
Those refugees who have a rightful claim and a rightful place for freedom will get that here in this country. However, those who do not are standing in the way of those who actually do.
This process of human smuggling, of bringing people into this country by crowding them onto a ship and having them land on Canadian soil, is not the way Canadians want this to happen. Canadians want to know who is on that ship and who is going to claim refugee status here.
Simply turning these hundreds of individuals loose on Canadian soil has the potential to put Canadian lives and health in peril. We do not know where these individuals have come from. We do not know if they are true refugees. We do not know if they are terrorists. We do not know if they are criminals in their own country. That is not the type of environment we want here in this country.
This bill changes all of that. It sets in place a process that will show respect for those who truly deserve refugee status. It will send a loud and clear message to countries and smugglers who live off the proceeds of these individuals that we will not be in a position as a country to accept this any more.
The Minister of Public Safety, the President of the Treasury Board, and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Multiculturalism made this announcement in front of one of the ships that arrived here. They made the announcement on the west coast, but that message travelled to the east coast of our country almost immediately. There is page after page of endorsement. Group after group, editorial after editorial, Canadian after Canadian have said that this legislation is right, it is timely, it is good, it is fair. It is something that everyone in this House should be supporting.
One headline reads, “Ottawa tightens rules on human smuggling”. The Headline News article states:
The bill, titled “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act,” shows that Ottawa will not tolerate abuse of the system by getting ahead of the immigration line, but stresses that the federal government of Canada will continue to welcome legitimate immigrants who could contribute to the country.
An editorial in the Calgary Herald stated:
Tough anti-smuggling legislation aimed at stopping boats of illegal migrants from showing up on Canadian shores, places the punishment where it belongs, on the smugglers.
...It's a welcome crackdown on a crime most Canadians would agree is heinous.
The list goes on. Another editorial on human smuggling stated:
The government must act to safeguard the integrity of Canada's immigration system, which welcomes 250,000 newcomers a year. Polls show that the public's high level of support for immigration dipped by 20 per cent after the arrival of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady -- even though asylum seekers and skilled immigrants are two very different streams.
That is a very important point to realize. We are a country that accepts, at the present time, per capita more immigrants than anywhere else in the world. We are open to skilled immigrants. We are open to low-skilled immigrants. We are open to seasonal workers. We are open to immigrants who want to come to this country to build a new life for themselves and their families.
What we are not open to is those who want to come here to take advantage of our system, those who in fact want to move to the front of the line. Smugglers know this. They know that in their hearts Canadians want to help these people so they take advantage of it.
By passing this legislation, we would at least be putting ourselves in a position where we no longer would be that country where terrorists and smugglers simply say, “We will dump them all in Canada. We will make millions and millions of dollars, and we will dump them all in Canada because Canada does not have the laws in place to prevent this from happening”.
Canadians have spoken loudly on this issue. They want to welcome new immigrants to this country. Many of us in this House have parents or grandparents who came to this country as immigrants. There are members in the House who came to this country to become Canadians. All of them have done it in a way that respects the rule of law in this country and that respects the system of fairness that all Canadians have come to accept.
The opposition is trying to say that this is something it is not, that this is a position we hold because we want to hurt people. It is the exact opposite. That type of rhetoric has no place in this House of Commons.
There are individuals and families who need our help, but those families and individuals are not just those who seek refugee status in our country. They are the very families and individuals who are Canadians and are here right now.
We need a system of fairness. We need a system of equality. We need a system of acceptance. We need a system that protects Canadians, but says to those who claim refugee status that we are a country that is open, we are a country that is free, we are a county that is accepting, but let us make sure that we do it with fairness and that we do it through a system that protects the individuals who are truly refugees and that protects Canadians here.
This is legislation we need. This is legislation that Canadians want. This is legislation that will actually put our country in a position not only to promote why this is a great country to come to, but why this is a great country in which to live.
There are smugglers and others who take advantage of the most down and out in an attempt to profit, and there may be those in the opposition who would allow that to continue and will vote against this legislation. However, there is no one on this side of the House who will do that. We are going to make sure that we fight as long and hard as we need to in order to put this legislation in place and bring our system up to where it needs to be.