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House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Winnipeg North with his response.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very important that we recognize that international law guarantees that people who fear persecution have the right to seek asylum in another country. That is in international law. I do not think anything should change on that.

To talk about jumping the queue, again, is just to try to politicize the issue so the government can try to give the impression that people will be done wrong by if it allows boats to come to Canada, whether they have legitimate refugee claims or not. When the government says that they are jumping the queue and when we know full well that in the vast majority of the cases these are legitimate refugees who are seeking asylum is just wrong. Again, when we take a look at international law, there is no queue-jumping. When the lives of people are at risk, people will take the opportunity when the opportunity comes forward. We all need to, and should, appreciate that.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would assert that Vancouver Kingsway is one of the most multicultural ridings in the country. We have a very vibrant and growing Vietnamese community. I dare say that one would be hard pressed to find a Vietnamese family that did not have a family member or knew someone who escaped Vietnam when South Vietnam fell after a long and protracted civil war.

In talking to people in my community, I noted that many of those people left Vietnam by boat and in fact paid people to assist them to leave. Had this legislation been in force in any of the surrounding countries to Vietnam, they would have been treated as criminals as would the people who aided them. They would all have been considered to be in violation of legislation.

The proposed act, section 117, says:

No person shall organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of one or more persons knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, their coming into Canada is or would be in contravention of this Act.

It is this proposed section that has many church groups and refugee organizations nervous that if they organize or aid someone to come to Canada, they may be in violation of the act. It could simply be by not having valid travel documents to be put in violation of the act and they may be subject to being in violation.

Could my hon. colleague comment on the advisability of such a section in the legislation?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is why I make the reference to try to personalize this. If people understand and have an appreciation of why we have refugees coming to Canada on an annual basis or if they talk to people who came to Canada under that classification, whether it was 1 year or 30 years ago, they would get a better appreciation as to the actual situation.

I believe the vast majority, maybe even all the stakeholders, the people who are having to deal with the issue of refugees, would not support this legislation. If it were good legislation, one would think it would get support from stakeholders. I look to the Minister of Immigration to provide us with the list of stakeholders. I would be interested in knowing those stakeholders that say this is good legislation and bring it forward. In terms of numbers, we know a lot do not support it.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, this question is more for clarification.

I think I heard my hon. colleague say that 99% of those who came on the Sun Sea were legitimate refugees. I may be misinformed, but my understanding is that there have not been any hearings yet. How can he say that 99% of those have actually been proven to be legitimate refugees? If I misunderstood him, I would like him to clarify this with the House.

The other thing I find unfortunate in his comments is the implication that on this side of the House there is somehow a lack of compassion. I can say without any question that many of my colleagues in this room have personally cared for refugees in their homes and are part of churches who sponsor refugees regularly. I would ask him to be careful in his insinuation about the lack of compassion.

We are simply trying to ensure that we have a fair process that does not penalize those who really deserve to be treated as refugees.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will address the member's latter comments first.

I do not question that many members in the Conservative caucus have a caring heart and attitude toward refugees. That is why I said one should not make the assumption that when a minister introduces a bill that it is a good bill. Even backbenchers have a role to play in ensuring that legislation is good. However, I suggest this legislation is not good. On the stakeholders, Conservatives may talk about it in caucus and so forth to better debate that particular issue.

However, I was referring to the Ocean Lady. My understanding is that of the 76 refugees none of them have been detained. This was one of the questions I wanted to ask the minister about and that was what I made reference to. I was referring to the Ocean Lady. I am not too sure about the other one.

I have to be careful in terms of what I say, but it was implied to me that it was at least 99%. As there were 76 refugees, I am assuming they were all released from the Ocean Lady. I look forward to the Minister of Immigration actually providing the information in regard to that.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am profoundly sad that Canadians must once again stand to oppose this morally repugnant bill. Immediately I would like to remind the House that the people who stand to be criminalized by this bill, indeed the people who are already victimized as they languish in Canadian detention centres under inhumane conditions for excessive lengths of time, are children, women, victims of torture, abuse and rape, and victims of the kind of poverty that entirely eradicates an individual's inalienable right to self-determination and autonomy.

Already at any given point in time, Canada is holding around 450 non-status migrants in detention centres and maximum security prisons. Dozens of these people at any given time are children. Charges have never been laid against them and they have no idea when they will be released or if they will be deported.

Canada does not jail children unless they are seeking asylum. We do not jail people for years when they have never been charged with a crime, unless they are seeking asylum. We do not jail people without providing access to legal counsel, unless they are seeking asylum. We do not categorically bar prisoners from seeking bail, unless of course they are seeking asylum. We do no jail the traumatized victims of political conflict, abuse, and poverty, unless they are seeking asylum.

Canada is guilty of doing all of this already. The use and misuse of maximum security detention centres to imprison those seeking refugee status is a blight on this nation's integrity. The bill before us today will make this travesty infinitely worse. Among its many problems, Bill C-4 states that anyone arbitrarily labelled as a designated claimant, for reasons left to the discretion of the minister, will be mandatorily detained on arrival in a detention centre or prison and will not have their case reviewed for one full year. Once again, a remind the House that this does include children.

It is incumbent upon the House to consider the health and safety of individuals when we look at a bill that commits people to imprisonment. Health is rarely considered in immigration policy, but study after study from around the globe is proving that immigration detention strategies are creating significant health concerns. A study from the Centre for Population Mental Health Research that was published in the Public Library of Science journal finds that the rate of mental disorder among populations held in detention centres are substantially higher than those of people held in community settings. Not surprisingly, children in particular show evidence of severe mental health impairment. Rates of suicide and self-harm are at a level comparable to or higher than that among prison populations.

There is a strong correlation between the mental health of refugees and the length of time spent in detention. When finally released from detention they will almost always suffer from prolonged mental health impairment due to the trauma suffered while they were detained. These detention centres, like the centre for the prevention of immigration in Laval, where upwards of a hundred individuals, including children, are being held at any given time, or like the maximum security prison in Rivière-des-Prairies where refugee claimants make up one-third of the prison population while they have not been charged with any crime or convicted of any crime, are very often the site of human rights violations and abuse. The migrants held at these detention centres are routinely denied access to any health services, especially mental health services.

Are members here today prepared to assume responsibility for endangering the lives of these people by neglecting their health? When they are eventually assessed, so many of their claims are proved to be legitimate. The government is punishing innocent people. The Conservative members of the House wish to punish more innocent people with harsher mandatory imprisonment for longer periods of time.

According to his own discretion, this bill will allow the minister to retroactively wrench a whole family or part of a family out of their community where they are waiting to hear about their refugee status. In other cases, they may already have refugee status. They will be taken under this law and thrown into detention. Family members would be forceably separated. Children would be forceably removed from their parents despite the fact that their parents have not been accused of being unfit, if their case has never come to court or if they have been flagged by child protection agents. The lasting anguish inflicted by separating a parent from a child or a child from a parent would be, and already is, guilt on the head of the government.

The Canada Border Services Agency jailed 14,362 people from 2008 to 2009 for immigration reasons at the cost of $45 million of taxpayers' money. Under Bill C-4, with the minister's new power to arbitrarily define any migrant as a human smuggler, these numbers are sure to increase.

The government must make the definition of “designated claimant” clear and transparent. At this point, according to this bill, the minister would have the absolute power to label any group of refugees as designated claimants for largely arbitrary reasons that he will not disclose. Once labelled, a refugee would be subject to the litany of unfair regulations set out by this bill. The discriminatory nature of this arbitrary designation would create two classes of refugees in Canada. This is a clear violation of section 15 of the charter that states that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination, even refugees and migrants. It is crucial to the integrity of our charter that all persons are afforded the protection of basic human rights under our law, including those without status.

It is the obligation of the House to not pass legislation that is in violation of our charter. Not only is this bill in violation of our charter, it is also in violation of the United Nations' protocol relating to the status of refugees and our own Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

We have to recognize that jailing people on Canadian soil in an effort to stop them from fleeing persecution and poverty from wherever they come is completely nonsensical. The bill intentionally and maliciously refuses to draw a distinction between those who are committing the crime of human smuggling and those who are victims of the crime of human smuggling themselves. It is true that people are trafficked to this country under false pretenses and are abused, raped and kidnapped as a result of the human trafficking industry. However, enforcing the same punitive measures against the victims and the criminals themselves is the very definition of the word “insanity”.

Earlier today, the member for St. Catharines excused this exact lapse of logic by saying that the human smugglers of the ships disguise themselves as those who are being smuggled. That is absurd. If a criminal wears a disguise while committing a crime, it does not give us reason to change our laws to erase the distinction between the criminals and the victims. Under any circumstance, that proposition is laughable. However, for some reason that line of thinking is tolerated when we speak of the plight of refugees in Canada.

The member for St. Catharines also pointed out that Canadians do not wish to share their health care services with those seeking asylum and who do not yet have status. I would like to state that I am one woman who would be perfectly happy to share the privilege of public health care with those who are most needy and vulnerable.

In December 2009, Jan Szamko died in an immigration centre in Canada after being denied medical aid. In December 1995, Mike Akhinen died from medical neglect at the detention centre in Mississauga known as Celebrity Inn. These are just two cases of neglect that resulted in death. Instances of non-status Canadians being denied medical attention is extremely common and this bill would make it 100% legal.

Refugees come to Canada with legitimate claims, fleeing the worst conditions imaginable. We have a moral obligation to help them. Would the Conservative members of the House be willing to look individuals in the face when they are desperate and ill and deny them a doctor? That is inhumane and I refuse to believe that Canadians are inhumane. I refuse to believe that we are as illogical as this bill. When my colleagues from the government speak endlessly on behalf of what Canadians want them to do, I would like to remind them that the majority of Canadians did not vote for them and they do not necessarily share the same values. I am proud to represent some of the many Canadians who did not vote for them and who do not support this bill.

This bill reduces smuggled human refugees to goods being illegally brought into this country. The government thinks that by raising the duty or the tariffs on the commodity will discourage this trade out of existence. Refugees are not cattle. They are not softwood lumber. They are human beings and human smuggling is not a commodity trade. Maybe we could compare it to a service. Even if we were to follow this line of logic through to its conclusion, we could assume that if this bill were to come into effect it would force human smugglers to raise the price of the service that they provide to refugees in response to the increased tariffs we are now imposing on them. Clearly, it does not make any sense.

Some of the members of the opposition have already spoken about history and historical precedent. I believe it is important to look to history before we act as a nation. Let us look to another time when human beings were treated like commodities to be levied. Imagine how history would regard us if we jailed the refugees coming through the Underground Railroad into Canada during the time of American slavery. I guarantee this bill would bring the same kind of shame on Canada. We would live to regret it.

Beyond the fact that the bill is morally repugnant for all of the reasons I have enumerated in this speech, it is not what it purports to be. How would the news that Canada has new tough-on-smuggling laws ever reach those who are actually fleeing to Canada by these means? How will the victims of poverty and persecution who come to Canada seeking asylum get the news that we just passed some tough new inhumane refugee laws?

The only way this legislation will ever be effective is if the government delivers leaflets around the world explaining our new laws. The bill clearly is not aimed at reducing human smuggling. It is targeting Canadian voters by making them feel like the threat of illegal immigration is greater than it actually is.

I join members of the opposition in opposing the bill. It not only creates an arbitrary process but indeed is discriminatory against the most vulnerable citizens of this world.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is with regard to the doors being open to legitimate refugees while safeguarding the integrity of our borders. Bill C-4 ensures that criminals looking to play our system and those looking to jump the queue are sent a strong message. Canadians will not tolerate this abuse of our generosity.

I call on the NDP to support the bill and stand with real victims of human smuggling and law-abiding Canadians.

I am curious to know what the definition of "maximum security" is in the hon. member's mind because to me it means something like Millhaven or Kingston Penitentiary. Could the hon. member please give us her definition of what "maximum security" really is?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is not the point. It is that we would be jailing people who have come here looking for safety. The government is not making a distinction between those who are committing acts of human smuggling and those who desperately need to leave their countries in order to be safe. That will not be a deterrent to those looking for safety. Rather, it will cause mass amounts of physical and mental health issues. That makes no sense if we look at the situations of the people who are coming to this country looking for help.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on her speech. A lot of the conversation taking place is centred around the idea of queue jumping, whether or not it is a myth. The other issue pertains to the two-tiered system that would be created by Bill C-4 carried over from the last session. Could the member comment on that?

Also, has she had any experience regarding how refugees in the system are dealing with the fact that the bill does not go to the crux of the issue and does not really fix the problem in the sense that there is no great incentive out there not to be involved in this type of work?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question of queue jumping speaks to the idea that the members across the way do not understand what a refugee is. It is someone who is in a desperate situation, whose security is at risk, whose health is at risk due to the situation in his or her home country. Refugees do not get in line, they flee, otherwise they could be killed or raped.

Members opposite do not seem to understand that fleeing is fleeing and is not getting in line and waiting. Whether people are in camps or on a boat to come to Canada is just not the point.

As a member of the global community, Canada has a moral obligation to help these people.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

In the summary, at letter (f), it says the following:

(f) provide for detention rules and a review procedure...

That means that more prisons will have to be built for these people and these families. Who will build them? Will it be the government, the private sector or a public-private partnership? Will there be classrooms for the children? Will special staff be hired to manage the review procedure in these detention centres? Will children be separated from their parents? What are we really talking about here? Is this not just a way of criminalizing these people?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question and comments.

It makes absolutely no sense that the government is talking about being economically responsible and yet wants to build bigger prisons. It makes no sense.

What is going on is just illogical. I cannot understand what the bill is supposed to be doing. It does not make any sense. It will not do any of the things the Conservatives claim it will do. It does not follow any of the things that are their priorities such as the economy and fairness. It is blatantly opposed to all those things.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a little confused by the member's comments. Could she distinguish for me between jail and detention?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, when someone is put away for absolutely no reason and the person did not commit a crime other than to flee for his or her security, I do not care what term is used, the result is that a punishment is being inflicted on the person for something the person has not done. That is the problem.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech. I believe she has gone to the heart of human nature and sensibility. She has touched on a very important point: the separation of children from their parents. When we study 20th century history, we find examples of the separation of children from parents.

I would like her to tell us how she thinks the international community, in light of the horrible things that happened in the second half of the 20th century, will view the image that Canada is projecting.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saint-Jean for his very good question. We do not seem to have learned a great deal from history. Children have been traumatized by being separated from their parents.

It creates risks in our society among generations. It causes many other concerns in terms of social understanding. It absolutely does not make any sense. It is not economically viable. It does not make sense in terms of our collectivity in Canada to be doing this to families when five years from now we will say to them that they can come in now. The damage has been done. It creates traumatic experiences and it puts a burden on our society that we do not need.

We should be welcoming these people with open arms and trying to help them instead of making their situation worse.

That does not make sense. We have learned nothing from history.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to add my strongest opposition and objection to the bill at hand, Bill C-4, , the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act”. I put quotations around the title not because it is the short title of the bill, but because that is not really what the bill is about. It was presented by the Minister of Public Safety earlier as a bill that would protect Canadians and others from human smugglers. In reality, it is a bill that attacks refugees and the Canadian immigration system.

Let us be frank. This bill is not at all about human smuggling. Canada currently has the harshest punishment possible, according to Canadian law, if convicted of human smuggling. Under Canadian law smugglers are imprisoned for life. There is nothing stronger and no more severe form of punishment than life in prison in Canada.

Let us talk about what this bill is really about: playing politics with refugees and instilling a sense of fear in Canadians about refugees. We have seen this bill before. This bill was and is remarkably similar to Bill C-49 presented in the last Parliament. It was opposed by all members of the opposition parties and by so many Canadians across the country from coast to coast to coast.

Let me speak to the false claims and the areas of ambiguity this bill presents.

First, the bill positions refugees as “queue jumpers”. This is a falsehood. Refugees and asylum seekers must still follow the same processes and procedures of all claimants. It also creates a two-tier immigration system. It creates two different levels of refugees, and a new classification of refugee, a “designated claimant”. These are refugees who have an “irregular arrival”. That means anybody who shows up by boat. Of course the terms in quotations I am borrowing from the bill.

This bill essentially says that someone who arrives in an irregular fashion, such as by boat, is not a refugee but rather is a criminal. This bill says that people who wish to flee war or conflict zones or persecution but do not have the means to purchase an airplane ticket are queue jumpers. Instead, because they cannot buy a plane ticket, they risk their lives. They throw themselves on a rickety cargo boat, spend two months crossing the ocean, any ocean, but no, they are not real refugees. That is what this bill is telling us.

The bill is telling us that they are not real asylum seekers; they are not really fleeing a horrible situation, leaving their families behind, leaving their livelihoods, leaving their homes, leaving a horrible situation. This bill tells us that these people are liars, that they are not real asylum seekers, that they are not risking their lives to come to Canada hoping for a better life. This bill tells us that these people are criminals. This is what the bill and the government are telling us, unfortunately.

When we look at the history of this great country, it is very clear that Canada was built on the backs of immigrants. Historically, boatloads of immigrants arrived at Canada's ports for centuries. Canada saw an immense number of Irish refugees arriving at Canada's sea ports during the famine in Ireland. At that time, Canadians were strongly in opposition to these refugees staying in Canada, yet they were permitted to stay. Today we see that they contribute so much, and that they contribute positively to Canadian society. Now, we see people of Irish heritage all over Canada, including in this House. Many members of Parliament are of Irish descent.

Refugees are people who contribute positively to the land they go to. So how do we as a nation deal with boats carrying refugees that enter Canadian waters? Do we turn them away, forcing them to return to their country of origin? Or rather, as we saw recently, do we have other countries do our dirty work and intercept these boats in international waters so they do not make it here and we do not need to do anything?

Time and again we have seen the consequences of this course of action. In 1914, the Komagata Maru, which was carrying 376 passengers from Punjab, India, was forced to return. In the 1930s, the refugees on board the SS St. Louis were fleeing Nazi Germany, but were forced to return and were killed by the Nazis. There are many others. Forcing people to return to their country of origin is not the answer.

While this bill specifically attacks refugees who arrive by boat, it will have detrimental effects on all claimants regardless of whether they enter Canada by boat, by air or on foot. This legislation would require the mandatory detention of all designate people arriving in Canada, whether they arrive on foot, by boat or by air. This includes women, children, babies, the sick, the elderly. Anyone who arrives in Canada by any method would be required to be detained for a minimum of 12 months, an entire year. After those 12 months were served, they might receive some consideration, but they could also be held for up to five years. They would also be denied permanent residence or family reunification for at least five years after that. This is a clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the past, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down mandatory detention without review. This is detention based on identity with no possibility of release until the minister arbitrarily decides that identity has been established. This breaches sections 9 and 10 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protect people against arbitrary detention and allow the right to prompt review of that same detention. Arbitrary detention is also a violation of a number of international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

Why are we detaining these people to begin with? People are usually detained because they are a danger to others or they are a flight risk and could disappear before their questioning or trial happens. Should this bill pass, the government would have the right to jail or detain all refugees without proving that they are a danger to society or that they are a flight risk, for a minimum of one year without an appeal process. How is that just?

Do members know the psychological effects detention and imprisonment have on children? Some British researchers have shown that even in a few months of detention the psychological effects on children are tragic. They wet their beds. Some become mute. Others stop learning. They become withdrawn. They are not able to go to school because they cannot focus. Some lose weight. Some do not eat. These psychological and physiological effects have been seen in children who have been jailed for just a few weeks or months. Think of the psychological scars that we would be inflicting on these children who come to our country and are placed in detention centres. Some may call them jails but we call them detention centres. That is where children would be put for at least a year. It is totally unjustifiable.

Furthermore, these people are being detained until they can prove their identity through some form of documentation. Most refugees who come to Canada do not have documentation, regardless of which process they use to enter the country. When people flee their nation, they leave behind everything. When they leave their country due to a natural disaster, this documentation may not exist. How can we realistically expect people who have lived through an earthquake or tsunami and are fleeing their country to have appropriate documentation proving their identity? How can we expect people who have left a war-torn country to carry valid identification? A lot of refugees arrive at our shores without identification. These are people who could be classified as designated.

Some of the refugee claimants who arrived in Canada by the MV Sun Sea now live in my constituency. I have spoken with many of them. They have told me the stories of their trip to Canada and their arrival in B.C. and how so many of them were borderline holding on to their lives. We all know that one man perished on the journey across the Pacific. Many of them had United Nations identity cards. They had UNHCR refugee cards. Upon their arrival, the people who greeted them gathered all of their identity cards and then, when there were not the same number of identity cards, as individuals they were told that they did not have adequate identification onboard. Regardless of whether or not they had a refugee card, they were all detained. Thankfully, many of these people have been released because our great service men and women at the Canada Border Services Agency took the time to sort out the identity cards. Unfortunately, many of them are still being detained today.

Under Bill C-4, decisions on claims by designated persons cannot be appealed to the refugee appeal division. Eliminating the right to appeal can have tremendous consequences for these so-called designated persons.

I am sure that most of us have heard stories from our constituents about failed refugee applications, about a person who has left his or her country only to face a heavily bureaucratic process. The person does not have the right kind of supporting documentation to present at a hearing and his or her application is unfortunately rejected. Sadly, some of us have heard about the horrific consequences of these failed refugees and what awaits them when they are deported to their country of origin. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen, which is why we have the appeals process. That is why refugees deserve to be able to appeal to the refugee appeal division.

My personal story is like that of many immigrants to Canada. My father came to Canada as a refugee claimant from Sri Lanka. He was fleeing the civil war during the early parts of the war. Once he was granted permanent residency, he sponsored my mother and my sisters to join us. We were reunited in Canada. I am proud to say that the child of a refugee claimant in Canada is now a member of Parliament.

It is difficult for me to imagine in the middle of this violent conflict my father having the time to ensure that he had all of his documentation aligned, ready to go, everybody's identification ready to go, supporting documents ready to go, when he was running away from being shot or his country being bombed. How can we expect people fleeing persecution, fleeing a war, to have all their identification in order? Fortunately, his application was approved and my family was able to join him here in Canada.

It is absolutely unreasonable to expect people to collect all the necessary documents and to have them available upon arrival. My father was lucky that he left at the early stages of the war, but the people who left later, the people fleeing from other countries because they were being bombed, this is absolutely unfair.

That is why there are checks and balances in our refugee process and why they are so integral. This absolutely goes against the compassionate nature that Canadians are known for, Canada's values. Canada's values lie in being compassionate, being concerned for human rights and being concerned for human beings.

When I first saw the bill, I asked myself why the government would propose such legislation and why it would put forward a bill that attacked refugees.

I am taken aback by the idea of queue-jumpers. The government is trying to paint refugees as jumping the immigration queue. When people are fleeing persecution, fleeing a war or an area that is attacked by a natural disaster, they cannot be called queue-jumpers.

With a large immigrant population in Scarborough—Rouge River, I can easily say that the number one form of casework in my constituency is immigration-related. In my immigration casework, there is an unbelievable amount of family reunification cases. People in my area are frustrated that they are waiting 5 to 10 to 15 years in the process. They are stuck in the process waiting to have their families, their loved ones, join them here in Canada. When they begin the process of bringing their parent or sibling over to Canada, they are told that it will take 5 to 10 years. They apply and they wait and wait and continue to wait. The backlog for parents who are waiting to come to Canada is in the hundreds of thousands. Why? It is because the number of visas for parents and grandparents issued this year has been reduced by close to 44% of what it was. The wait times are getting longer and longer. This year, there are only 11,000 parents who can come to Canada. In 2005 and in 2006, the target was 20,000. Now it is only 11,000. This is a reduction of 9,000 people in this current year. This is not the only backlog that exists, unfortunately.

The government claims that it is clearing the backlog for skilled workers when, in actuality, the backlog for skilled workers grew. In 2005, there was a backlog of 487,000. Now, it is 508,000. In the past six years, this backlog has grown by 173,000 applications.

This so-called clearing the backlog is, unfortunately, not working. It is not working for skilled workers and it is not working for families trying to reunify. Immigrants are getting resentful because they are waiting longer and longer to bring their loved ones to Canada. They are being told by the government that there are people who are jumping the queue. There are hundreds of thousands of people waiting patiently, some not so patiently, to come to Canada. This is not due to nothing other than failed immigration policy. People are really upset that they have to wait so long.

However, rather than amending immigration policy to actually deal with the backlogs and the time constraints, the Conservative government is trying to find a scapegoat: the new refugees who are coming. This is not the government's fault or the fault of the failed immigration policies, but the refugees' fault. They are jumping the queue and taking the spots of all those other people who have been patiently waiting.

What the government has failed to mention is that for some refugees there is no queue to jump. There is no lineup for people who are in serious danger, for people who are living through a civil war, for people who are being persecuted because of their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, et cetera. When their lives or the lives of their family is called into question, there is no line. Once they are safely in Canada, they must then join the exact same queue as everyone else and wait their turn to get their status in our country.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

London North Centre Ontario

Conservative

Susan Truppe ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is so eager to paint Canada in tarnished light for doing what ordinary Canadians see as the right thing, which is protecting the safety of our borders, the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our streets and communities. This response is measured, it is firm and it meets all of Canada's international obligations.

Would the member comment on why her party is so determined to allow human smugglers to keep on taking advantage of Canada's immigration?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill does not really mention human smugglers very much, except in the title. When we actually look at the bill piece by piece, it mentions refugees a lot more than it mentions people who are smuggling people into this country.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives, the government and the bill do not actually talk about or attack human smugglers in the bill.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague spoke about the effect that a long waiting list can have on someone applying for permanent residency. She also stated that there is a very large backlog in the system.

Can my colleague comment on the effect that waiting an additional five years, as proposed by this bill, will have on the constituents in her riding?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, people are waiting for their parents or grandparents to join them here.

I will talk about my grandparents. My grandmother is 93 years old right now and I am lucky to have her here with me. If I were waiting another 5, 10 or 15 years for my grandmother to join us, I would not be able to meet my grandmother. The last time I would have seen her was when I was five years old.

Unfortunately, that is the reality of so many people living in Scarborough—Rouge River, but I know it is the same reality for many Canadians living across the country from coast to coast to coast. They are not able to reunite with their family members. We are forcing families to be apart and children to live without their parents.

Just recently I got a letter from a constituent. The mother and child are here but the father is stuck back home. The child came here when she was two. She is now nine and does not know her own father.

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I sympathize with the hon. member and her personal experiences. My mom was in a forced labour camp in Nazi Germany and my father survived the Soviet gulag, so I understand what it means to find a safe haven in a country with freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

However, I am perplexed why the hon. member thinks that smugglers are actually benevolent in some way because they are exploiting asylum seekers trying to come to Canada.

Although there may be examples aboard those ships of legitimate individuals, I would like to know why the hon. member thinks that there is absolutely no risk to Canadian security and safety. Would the hon. member be prepared to put her own personal guarantee against anybody stepping off one of those ships?

Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not an expert in identifying individuals. That is why we have those people in the RCMP and at the Canada Border Services Agency who are trained to do these things.

I will not provide a personal guarantee to anybody about anything to do with people coming off a boat. However, I have a problem when the member opposite and the bill only talks about individuals who are risking their lives by throwing themselves on a cargo boat and coming across an ocean. These are the people who are being targeted by the bill.

Unfortunately, there are agents who are smugglers and who send people by airplane, but those people are not being targeted by the bill, unfortunately, and only the people who are the poorest of the poor and who are risking their lives are being attacked by the bill.