Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in support of Bill C-4, a bill which would prevent human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system.
Human smuggling is a nefarious industry, one that exists around the world. Unfortunately, thousands of people die each year because of illegal migration and the smugglers who facilitate this migration.
Parliament needs to take action to put an end to the activities of human smugglers who have chosen Canada as a destination for their business, which is the dreadful exploitation of human beings.
Every year thousands of people around the world die in illegal smuggling operations organized by human smugglers. These people are not humanitarians. They do not assist people to become bona fide refugees and protect them from persecution. They are profiteers.
In the particular context with which we are dealing, namely those smuggling syndicates that are targeting Canada and which managed to bring two large shiploads of illegal migrants to our west coast in the past two years, our intelligence agencies and security and police partners in Southeast Asia all told us that these syndicates of human smugglers are essentially the gunrunners, the smugglers who helped to fuel the civil war in Sri Lanka by illicitly bringing contraband arms, bombs and guns into a theatre of conflict leading to the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Since the end of the hostilities in Sri Lanka, these smuggling syndicates have been looking for a new business model, and instead of moving guns and bombs, they have switched to moving people for a very high price.
We know that those who have enlisted these smuggling syndicates to try to come illegally to Canada in violation of our immigration laws, in violation of our marine laws, in violation of international law, in violation of every principle of safe migration, have been willing to commit to pay up to $50,000 to the illegal smuggling syndicates. Typically, they pay about 10% of the fixed price as a down payment. A typical down payment to the smuggling syndicate is in the range of $5,000. The balance is typically payable over the course of time after arrival in Canada and very often through coerced participation in criminal activity.
As I mentioned, every year around the world thousands of people die in smuggling operations, whether they were migrants who suffocated in shipping containers crossing the English Channel or whether they were people who paid smugglers to go to Australia in dangerous shipping boats that crashed up against the shore.
We must act to send a very clear message that Canada is the most open developed country in the world to immigration, to newcomers, to refugees who need our protection and seek new opportunities. In order to maintain that remarkable openness, which by the way represents in Canada the highest level of immigration per capita in the developed world wherein we add .8% of our population per year through legal immigrants, and the highest level of refugee resettlement in the developed world through the 20% increase in our targets for refugee resettlement, by next year we will be accepting some 14,000 resettled refugees. Last year we welcomed 280,000 new permanent residents and we are increasing our program for refugee resettlement.
In order to maintain that generosity, that openness, and the public support which is necessary to maintain that attitude of openness, we must demonstrate to Canadians that our system is characterized by fairness and the rule of law.
One of the reasons that Canadians are so understandably upset when they see large scale smuggling operations is that it violates their sense of fairness and their belief that our immigration system is characterized by the application of fair rules.
Millions of people have come to Canada through our fair and generous immigration or refugee resettlement programs. In my experience they are those who most profoundly resent those who would pay illegal criminal networks to be smuggled to Canada illegally, avoiding the legal system.
My friend opposite and others have said that there is no so-called queue for refugees. First, I do not know how he knows that all or most of those who pay smuggling syndicates are refugees. We constantly hear from the critics that when we talk about our efforts to stop smugglers from targeting Canada we are talking about refugees. How do they know that? We know that many of the people in the two vessels who came to Canada most recently were coming from India transiting through Thailand, both democracies, both with the rule of law and protection for human rights. Perhaps colleagues opposite did not see the CBC report from Chennai in Tamil Nadu in India. Tamil Nadu is a region of southeastern India where tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Sri Lankan Tamils migrated during the conflict in Sri Lanka, where they sought temporary protection or new opportunities.
The CBC interviewed a group of several young Sri Lankan Tamil migrants in Tamil Nadu, India who said they had made down payments of up to $5,000 to these syndicates to be transported to Canada. They were not in a war zone. They were not subject to persecution. They said they wanted to come to Canada because they had heard about our “free monthly salaries”. We have to be very careful. We cannot and should not prejudge newly arrived migrants as to their prospective refugee claims. Some may be refugees; some may not. Many may just be seeking economic opportunity and heard that Canada is a soft target and therefore they are willing to pay smuggling syndicates.
What this bill seeks to do is maintain Canada's commitment to our domestic and international legal obligations with respect to refugee protection and to respect our humanitarian obligation to protect bona fide refugees fleeing persecution while at the same time changing the business model of the criminal smuggling syndicates. That is the objective of this bill.
We seek, first, to increase in the bill penalties for smugglers so that there will be a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years for those who are found to participate in a human smuggling event which involves at least 50 individuals or in which there are exacerbating circumstances such as loss of life. We also massively increase the monetary fines for the owners of ships involved in these voyages. It is typically ships, but I should point out that the bill could address non-marine human smuggling events which have occurred in Canada.
That is an important message, but let us be realistic. I have studied this issue very closely. In fact, just last month I was in New Zealand and Bangkok, Thailand meeting with international partners and our own security agencies, as well as international police forces. I was trying to get a better understanding of the nature of these smuggling enterprises. It is very clear that we cannot impose Canadian law in terms of these sanctions on smugglers who operate overseas. The kingpins of these syndicates very rarely come to Canada. They are most typically jumping around between transit countries in Southeast Asia beyond our legal reach.
Having said that, there is an important dimension of our fight against human smuggling which is not formally in the legislation. It is an operational dimension whereby our government, through the good leadership of my colleague, the hon. Minister of Public Safety and the security and police agencies under his ministry, have dispatched additional resources for investigation and co-operation with the governments, police and intelligence agencies in the transit countries. Thanks to the additional resources that we have put into the region, we have managed successfully to prevent any of the planned voyages that were to target Canada. We know, without getting into operational or confidential details, that several voyages were planned for Canada that have been successfully interrupted, thanks in part to the co-operation of Canadian security forces in the region.
Having said that, let us be clear. In any black market there will always be someone willing to provide the contraband good or service if there is sufficient demand at a sufficiently high price point, because we are talking about profiteers. If they are able to get commitments of up to $50,000 to come to Canada, they will continue to try to find the vessels and put together the complex logistics to bring people from Southeast Asia to Canada. Therefore, in this legislation we must reduce the price point that people are willing to pay to be illegally smuggled to Canada through these criminal syndicates. That is the objective of the bill.
I think some opposition members have not studied the issue in all of its subtlety, or perhaps they do not understand how we are trying to disincentivize people from being willing to pay up to $50,000 to the smuggling syndicates. That is what the bill seeks to do.
For example, by reducing some of the privileges that normally exist for asylum claimants in Canada, should someone who has arrived in a designated smuggling event under this bill be found by our legal system to be a bona fide refugee in need of our protection, we will not send them back to their country of origin. We will therefore respect and conform with our international and domestic legal obligations. However, there is no obligation on Canada to grant such persons immediate permanent residency, which is normally the case for successful asylum claimants.
What the bill would do would be to say that we would grant people who are deemed to be bona fide refugees who have arrived in a designated smuggling event a temporary residency status in Canada for up to five years, after which we would then reassess the conditions in their country of origin to determine whether the country conditions have improved and whether the risk that was determined at their refugee hearing still continues.
If at that point there is a determination that conditions have improved significantly in that country, that they would no longer face risk if removed, they could then face removal back to their country of origin. However, should conditions in that country not have improved after five years, they would then have access to permanent residency in Canada as a further reflection of our humanitarian instinct.
During those initial five years, here is the key disincentive. Such individuals would not be entitled to the privilege of sponsoring family members to Canada because here is the key aspect of the bill. We know that people are prepared to commit to up to $50,000 based on a calculation that they subsequently will be able to sponsor family members, so the $50,000 price point is really not associated with just the migration of one individual, the smuggled individual, but indeed all subsequent family members who may follow that successful claimant. There is a commercial calculation being made here that the $40,000 to $50,000 price point may lead to permanent residency for the primary migrant and then subsequently permanent residency for members of the family who in turn could help to pay off the debt to the smuggling syndicate.
In the bill we are seeking to create a doubt, a question mark in the minds of those who constitute the market for the smuggling gangs. Will they be able to get permanent residency in Canada? That would no longer be a certainty. Will they be able to sponsor family members and help pay off the debt? It would no longer be a certainty. We are very strongly persuaded that this is a balanced approach.
Thirteen months ago, when the last large vessel arrived off the west coast with some 500 illegal migrants, Canadians were understandably disturbed with this large scale violation of the integrity of our immigration law and with this mass human smuggling voyage. At that time public opinion polls consistently said that about two-thirds of Canadians thought the government should prevent such vessels from even entering Canadian territorial waters. About 55% of Canadians, and an even higher percentage of new Canadians, immigrants to this country, said that if people who arrive in such a vessel get access to our refugee system and are deemed to be bona fide refugees, they should be immediately returned. That is what the majority of Canadians said.
As a government, we do not believe that approach would respect our legal or humanitarian obligations. Let me be clear. Contrary to some of the demagoguery we hear from critics of the bill, we would continue, notwithstanding that public opinion environment, to allow illegally smuggled migrants who file the refugee claim access to our asylum system, which is the fairest asylum system in the world, bar none. They would continue to have access to that system. We would not send back a single person who is deemed by our legal system likely to face danger of persecution or risk to their lives in their country of origin.
This bill exceeds our international and domestic legal obligations with respect to non-refoulement of refugees. The opposition says that this is like refusing to allow Jewish refugees to come here during the second world war. Nonsense. This approach would allow any refugee, or even a false refugee claimant, access to our asylum system. It would simply reduce some of the privileges that normally are provided to asylum claimants in order to reduce their willingness to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a smuggling syndicate.
One of the contentious aspects of the bill is the enhanced detention provisions. I would invite members of the opposition, perhaps at committee, to ask members of our Canada Border Services Agency and lawyers from my ministry about the difficulty of processing hundreds of smuggled asylum claimants who are seeking release from detention, because we have to do detention reviews under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act every two, seven and then subsequent 30 days. This means that with several hundred people we have a non-stop revolving door of detention reviews which is massively inefficient.
I would also point out there has been a red herring created by the opposition about mandatory detention for up to a year of all smuggled migrants. The minister, under the bill, would have the authority to release people in exceptional circumstances, such as children. Under the new asylum system adopted by Parliament last year in Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, bona fide asylum claimants will receive a positive protection decision and therefore permanent residency within about three months of making their claim. Such smuggled migrants in the asylum system who are bona fide refugees would be automatically released from immigration detention when they receive a positive asylum decision, and permanent residency in about 90 days.
Let me point out by way of comparison, because there is a lack of perspective in context here, that most of our peer democracies, most other liberal democracies, including those governed by social democratic parties such as the Labour government in Australia, have mandatory detention for all or almost all asylum claimants, not just illegally smuggled asylum claimants, but all or almost all asylum claimants.
That was the law adopted by the United Kingdom under the previous social democratic Labour government. That is the law in Australia under the social democratic Labour government.
I remember Prime Minister Gillard of Australia congratulating the NDP on its 50th anniversary. She actually defends a policy that puts under permanent detention all asylum claimants until their status is resolved. This is, by comparison, a radically more modest approach which only addresses illegally smuggled migrants for a limited period of time until they receive status, which under the new system would be three months.
In closing, the bill constitutes a balanced and humane approach to combatting the scourge of human smuggling. It would allow access to our refugee protection system for bona fide victims of persecution. It would reduce the massive pressure on our system when we face hundreds of people arriving at the same time. It would provide disincentives for people to pay tens of thousands of dollars to criminal networks to be smuggled illegally to Canada, and it would encourage them rather to seek regional resettlement opportunities or protection, if they are indeed refugees.
This is a bill that Canadians expect and demand. We must stand up for our tradition of protection of refugees and our legal and generous immigration system by combatting those who would abuse our country's generosity.