Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to enter into the debate on Bill C-4, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.
Let me begin by saying that immigration and refugee issues are top of mind for the people and the community I represent in the inner city of Winnipeg. We are happy to welcome many newcomers. Some came here voluntarily to better themselves, while some were forced to come here to flee persecution in other countries.
My area is a low-income part of Winnipeg and has the most affordable housing, so most new arrivals to the province of Manitoba actually land in my jurisdiction of Winnipeg Centre. It is both a pleasure and a challenge in that, as is the case with many members here, our MP offices become de facto immigration offices. New arrivals do not seem to be able to find the settlement services they need to integrate seamlessly through the immigration system. More often than not, it seems, they wind up in our offices in some level of crisis. Many need our services, and we are happy to be able to provide them when we can.
By way of prefacing my remarks, I should also recognize and pay tribute to the International Centre in Winnipeg, which offers settlement services to new arrivals, both immigrants and refugees.
On my own staff, Vân Nguyen is a woman of Vietnamese descent who was herself a refugee who arrived in Canada as one of the waves of what we called “boat people” at the time. Vân Nguyen worked for Immigration Canada for many years. I am proud to say she is now on my staff and provides necessary services to a great many new arrivals.
Speaking of boat people, I think this debate has become too narrow. As I have watched the debate develop and evolve in the House over the last number of days, we seem to be focusing on boat people as if there is some fear that we are going to be overrun by people landing on our shores in rusty boats and setting foot on our soil and therefore, by the same decision, cluttering up our immigration and refugee system with massive numbers of arrivals coming in this fashion.
That is not really true. I think the minister would be able to verify that a lot more arrivals land at Toronto Pearson International Airport and claim refugee status than arrive by washing up on our shores in boats.
I remember when I was the immigration critic for the NDP in a previous Parliament. It was around the time Chinese boat people were arriving on the west coast of British Columbia after being smuggled by snakeheads. It was a problem, granted, as there were hundreds of people at a time, and it cluttered and clogged our system.
The minister at the time, Elinor Caplan, actually took an all-party delegation of us to China, to the very place that these particular groups of economic migrants came from. They were not refugees seeking a better life in Canada, which we cannot fault them for, but by no means did they really meet the definition of refugees.
However, we went on a fact-finding mission to the very ports where these people were coming from. We even met some people who planned on joining the next wave that was on its way to Canada. We did not meet them in a rice paddy or some kind of peasant's hut; we met them in the revolving discotheque on the top of a high-rise in the village of Fuzhou, which turned out to be a city of five million people.
There are many types of people who seek to arrive here by non-conventional means. It is very hard to adjudicate and triage these people to determine who are legitimate refugees and who are economic migrants who were smuggled here by paying $50,000 to some snakehead, so I am sympathetic to the problem.
What I am critical of is the politics of fear that I believe are being employed as a modus operandi and as a theme, not just to deal with this particular issue but as a motif. It is almost a pattern or a hallmark of this government.
Bill C-10 is probably a good example, or analogous at least, in that in spite of overwhelming evidence that crime is actually being reduced in almost every category and is at its lowest level since 1973, the government of the day would have us believe that we are in such danger of being murdered in the night by some junkie that we have to vote for the Conservatives to protect us from the straw man that they have built up and that they are the only ones who can knock this straw man down.
That seems to be the tone of the debate that is developing here as we deal with refugees: that we are under such danger of being overwhelmed by these hordes of people trying to break through our system and jump the queue and by phony refugees claiming to be legitimate refugees that there is some emergency here and that draconian, drastic action is necessary.
Elinor Caplan took us to China to find out the root of the problem there. I use this as an example of a mature way of investigating and dealing with a problem, and that is what it was: it was not an emergency then, it was a problem, and it is not an emergency now. It is a problem that might be straining our immigration system.
On the same trip, we stopped in Sydney, Australia, and met with the minister of immigration of Australia, who had a much different way of dealing with it. The Australians had no 1985 Singh decision to guide them or inform their policies. They would just simply lock people up.
Everybody who arrived on their shores without any documentation would be held in a pen, essentially, until such time as they could determine what to do with them. More often than not, they put them on the first boat back where they came from, without a whole lot of consideration, I might add, as to what might befall those people at the other end.
That was under Johnny Howard in Australia. Immigration was a tough-love policy, and refugees were not treated with anywhere near the sensitivity we have toward our obligations under UN conventions regarding refugees.
I know the Singh decision has posed challenges for Canada. This notion, and the Supreme Court ruling, is that once people set foot on Canadian soil, they are essentially entitled to the due process of the immigration system in its entirety. They are not detained unless there is some justification to do so and are free to move freely through Canadian society until such time as their status can be determined.
I put it to the minister that there is a much bigger problem with undocumented refugees arriving at Pearson airport. They obviously had papers when they got on a plane. How is it that they do not have any papers when they get off the plane? People are not allowed to get on an airplane without documents. Did they tear them up in the washroom and flush them down the toilet, over the ocean on their way here? Because when they land, they do not seem to have any papers. They are undocumented. Then they are in the system, and then we know this takes years.
That is a problem. That is a legitimate problem.
However, that is not an emergency or a crisis either. It would be disingenuous to try to convince the Canadian people that there is some immigration crisis going on here where, as I say, massive waves of refugees are trying to break through and cut their way through the line.
We only have about, and the minister can correct me, 11,000 or so refugees a year. Or was it 25,000? I cannot remember. I would be happy to have this clarified.
Not enough of them come from refugee camps is what I am getting at. A majority of the refugees who come to Canada do not come to us through conventional channels of waiting in a UN-sponsored refugee camp until their turn comes up and then coming here as per the process. Most refugees do arrive in some unconventional means; they find their own way here. They flee the situation they are in and they arrive in Canada, and we have to deal with them.
However, it is disingenuous and it is, again, that politics of fear that would have us believe we are in some crisis situation that calls for and justifies legislation that has been called draconian.