Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House in support of Bill C-49, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act.
From the day our Conservative government was first elected, we have made strengthening the criminal justice system a consistent priority. We have told Canadians that we would take action to crack down on the activities of organized crime groups and others whose activities undermine public safety and destabilize our communities. We told them that we would help build safer neighbourhoods for everyone and ensure that our streets and homes would be places where families could feel secure.
Ours is a government of action. We have consistently delivered on these promises time and time again. We have passed legislation to stiffen penalties for crime, and violent gun crimes in particular. We have provided law enforcement agencies with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. We have taken steps to ensure that violent offenders are kept behind bars, not in their living rooms.
We are here today to take decisive action again.
In August, Canadians were reminded that this country is not immune to the global activities of organized crime groups intent on making a profit from the smuggling of hundreds of foreign nationals. The arrival of 492 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the MV Sun Sea came less than one year after the arrival of 76 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard the Ocean Lady. The fact that two such vessels have reached Canadian shores in less than 12 months clearly demonstrates that large and growing human smuggling ventures are extending their reach and expanding their logistical capabilities and that these human smuggling networks are increasingly targeting Canada.
Human smuggling is a despicable crime, and abusing Canada's generosity for financial gain is utterly unacceptable.
Canada has an obligation to crack down on dangerous criminal enterprises that benefit only those who organize such large-scale ventures and do so little with regard to the human cargo which they transport.
We also know that human smuggling routes can be used to traffic narcotics and firearms. This poses a threat to public safety and erodes our communities.
The profits from human smuggling may also be used to fund other illicit criminal activities.
Our government is committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians. We are committed to maintaining the integrity of our borders and our immigration and refugee programs. We are committed to ensuring that Canada's immigration system remains fair. That is what the legislation before us today is about.
Bill C-49 is focused on giving officials additional tools to better respond to human smuggling.
First, we are proposing targeted amendments to the smuggling offence to ensure that it captures the various ways in which smuggling can occur.
Under the current regime, prosecutions for human smuggling require proof that the accused knew the individuals being smuggled did not have the documents required by law to enter Canada. Today's amendments would expand this to include any violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, including for example bringing people into Canada in a way that avoids their presenting themselves for examination as required by the act.
Currently, only situations where the smuggler knew that the smuggled persons did not posses the documents necessary to enter Canada are captured as an offence under the act.
What does this mean in the context of smuggling? It means that a prosecutor could prove this offence by showing that the accused was aware of the substantial risks if the smuggled person was or would be entering Canada in contravention to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act but simply did not care.
We believe these changes would improve our ability to investigate and prosecute those who contribute to human smuggling ventures.
Second, we are proposing an escalating mandatory minimum penalty scheme for persons convicted of smuggling, reflecting our government's intention to more effectively deter and denounce this criminal activity.
Under the proposed legislation, the number of people smuggled and the presence of aggravating facts would determine which mandatory minimum penalty would be imposed upon conviction. The two aggravating facts are: the offence was committed for profit or for the benefit of, at the discretion of, or in association with a criminal organization or terrorist group; and the person, in committing the offence, endangered the life or safety or caused bodily harm or death to any of the persons smuggled.
The mandatory penalties would be, where less than 50 persons are smuggled, three years' imprisonment if one of the above aggravating facts was present, or five years' imprisonment if two of the above aggravating facts were present. The mandatory minimum penalties would be, where 50 or more persons are smuggled, five years' imprisonment if one of the above aggravating facts was present, and ten years' imprisonment if two of the above aggravating facts were present.
These amendments send a clear message. We will not tolerate smuggling operations in Canada and such conduct will be met with strong sanctions.
We are also proposing amendments to the Marine Transportation Security Act. For example, this bill would increase the penalties for anyone who fails to comply with the ministerial direction to not enter or leave or to proceed to another area in Canadian waters. Increased penalties will also apply to anyone who fails to submit required vessel pre-arrival information or who provides Canadian officials with false or misleading information.
The irregular arrival of a large number of irregular migrants all making refugee claims can pose significant challenges for border officials who are tasked with identifying each applicant in determining whether the individual is inadmissible to Canada and whether the individual poses a risk, due to the individual's association with organized criminal or terrorist organizations.
The sheer number of applicants combined with the increased complexity of examinations and investigations can and does overwhelm existing resources. This is why we need a new approach to the processing of irregular migrants, or one that will ensure Canada remains fair but also vigilant.
Bill C-49 accomplishes this by allowing the Minister of Public Safety to designate those who land on our shores in a way similar to those aboard the MV Sun Sea or the Ocean Lady as an irregular arrival. The minister will be able to make such a designation when he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that establishing the identity or admissibility of individuals who come to Canada as part of the arrival or other investigations cannot be carried out in a timely manner, or if he or she has reasonable grounds to suspect that the arrival of the group involved organized human smuggling activity.
Under the current rules, any foreign national or permanent resident may be detained on entry into Canada. People can be detained if an immigration officer considers such an examination necessary in order to continue an examination. They can also be detained if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they are inadmissible to Canada, are a danger to the public or are unlikely to appear for an immigration proceeding.
The reasons for such detention however, must be reviewed by the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours, and subsequently reviewed within seven days, and then each 30-day period that follows. In many cases this provides a reasonable system of checks and balances to help prevent unreasonably long detentions.
In the case of irregular arrivals however, the current system of detention review does not provide officers from Canada Border Services Agency with sufficient time to properly interview and identify each individual, or to determine whether the individual may be inadmissible to Canada or pose a risk to Canadians.
Too many resources are expended in meeting the demands of the detention review schedule rather than focusing on the required investigations and verifications needed to ensure the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee program as well as the safety and security of Canadians.
Bill C-49 addresses this by providing for the mandatory detention of persons who arrive in Canada as part of a designated arrival until such time as they are found to be refugees by the Immigration and Refugee Board, or until 12 months have passed since they were first detained. Those persons still detained after 12 months will have a detention review hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board to determine whether there is a basis for their continued detention. If the Immigration and Refugee Board continues detention, there will be subsequent reviews every six months. The minister will be able to order early release where exceptional circumstances exist.
Under our proposed amendments, individuals who come to Canada as part of a designated arrival will, for a period of five years, be prevented from applying for permanent resident status and sponsoring family members. Restrictions on travelling outside Canada will also apply during this period. They will also be prevented from accessing a more generous health care plan than the average Canadian currently receives, something they can do at the present time through the interim federal health plan.
These are practical and sensible provisions. They address the need to properly identify individuals who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival. They will help to keep Canadians safe by helping to ensure that dangerous criminals and terrorists are not released into Canadian society. They will also help deter human smuggling operations from targeting Canada.
We also need to deter other kinds of abuse of Canada's immigration and refugee protection program. Refugee status can be revoked when it is proven before the refugee protection division of the Immigration and Refugee Board that an individual had lied to support his or her claim for protection and that the remaining credible evidence is not sufficient to support the individual's need for refugee protection. This is referred to in the act as the vacation of refugee status.
Bill C-49 amends the Balanced Refugee Reform Act to prevent such persons from appealing decisions of the refugee protection division with regard to the vacation of refugee protection to the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. The bill also eliminates appeals to the refugee appeal division with respect to the decisions the division has made that a person's need for refugee protection has ceased.
All these measures substantially enhance our ability to crack down on those who engage in human smuggling. They strengthen our ability to protect the safety and security of Canadians from criminal or terrorist threats, and they respect our international obligations and commitments to provide assistance and sanctuary for genuine refugees.
Before I end my speech, I want to address the comments made by the NDP's public safety critic last week. He compared the selfless act of those who helped slaves escape persecution to the criminal human smugglers who prey on vulnerable individuals and who only care about profit. That member should be ashamed and he should apologize to this House.
Human smugglers are clearly targeting Canada and are treating our country like a doormat. The problem is growing and must be stopped.
Canadians expect appropriate measures to respond to the challenges associated with such large-scale arrivals, such as those we have recently witnessed. They want to help those in need and those who need our protection, but Canadians are not naive. They know that threats exist and that we must remain vigilant.
That is why our government is committed to taking action on many fronts, both domestically and internationally. That is what we have done, and that is what we are going to continue to do in the future.
We are proud of this bill. I encourage the member for Vancouver Kingsway and all members to recognize that the serious problem posed by human smuggling is growing and must be stopped.