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House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was smugglers.

Topics

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

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today after the passionate speeches of my dear colleagues on this side of the House, especially the members for Scarborough—Rouge River and La Pointe-de-l'Île. I am certain that my fellow Canadians thank them as well.

I am also a member for Scarborough, and I can say that half of my constituents were born somewhere other than Canada. If this kind of legislation had existed in the past, there would be a lot of people missing from my riding, as well as some members missing from the House, for example, the member for York South—Weston. The government is lacking a little common sense in introducing this bill.

I am saddened to see our Conservative colleagues from Scarborough also supporting this legislation that will negatively affect the families of their constituents. We would encourage them to join the rest of Scarborough in opposing this bad bill.

The bill is deeply unfair to refugees. It fails to honour the obligations under both Canadian and international law. It deprives individual cases of the independent review that justice requires. Furthermore, it will create massive costs in unnecessary detention. If it passes, this bill would prove to be unsuccessful in preventing human smuggling. We have seen time and again that more laws do little to prevent crimes like this from happening. We cannot solve a problem merely by addressing the effect and ignoring the cause. This bill ignores the underlying problem that we face a global refugee crisis.

I would like to draw attention to the fact that the title of this bill is gravely misleading, as it would do more to punish refugees than to punish smugglers. It is wildly unfair to label the refugee crisis as a threat to the safety of Canadians. Canadians are being asked to trade the liberties of people seeking refuge in exchange for the protection of Canadian safety from a perceived threat that has no basis.

We must act within our power to stop illegal human smuggling. Yes, profiting from human trafficking of vulnerable refugees is exceptionally immoral and we want to do everything we can to deter that from happening, but let us find ways of targeting those who are committing the crime rather than the victims. Refugees do not pose a threat to Canadian public safety. This is just another example of the Conservatives' scare tactics and fearmongering.

The Conservatives are trying to sell this bill as if accepting and aiding refugees is a threat to Canadians. It's that “with us or against us”, that “us or them” mentality. These tactics are hostile, irresponsible and dangerous. They have no place in the government of Canada, but we know it is how the Harper government works.

Bill C-4 requires mandatory detention of designated persons without independent review--

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

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

As a reminder, the member may know that the use of the surname or name of other hon. members in the House is to be avoided in the course of our speeches.

The hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.

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

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

My apologies, Mr. Speaker. I will say the Prime Minister's government.

Bill C-4 would require the mandatory detention of designated persons without independent review. This is arbitrary detention, which is contrary to the charter and international law. Mandatory minimum sentences and harsher penalties will not deter smugglers. As of this time, under the Immigration and Refugee Act, smuggling can already be punishable by life imprisonment. This is just another blow to our independent judiciary and its discretion.

Furthermore, refugees know little or nothing about this country other than its reputation for acceptance and generosity. They are fleeing for their lives and the lives and safety of their families. They know nothing of our laws and we want to punish them for that. Among those detained will be children. It is 2011 and we here in Canada are talking about detaining children. There is something absolutely reprehensible and wrong about that fact.

This bill would also provide for mandatory conditions to be imposed on release for persons indefinitely detained beyond 12 months without the possibility of release if the minister is of the opinion that their identities have not been established. Both of those additional measures would deprive persons of liberty without the opportunity for an independent tribunal to review whether they are necessary in the individual case or not, again contrary to the charter and international law.

We heard members speak earlier about Australia, which has had similar policies to lock up refugee claimants in the past at length and to deny them permanent status even when granted refugee status in an effort to stop refugees coming by boat. These policies resulted in refugees, including many children, being traumatized by their experiences in detention. The Australian Human Rights Commission, an organization created by parliament, conducted a national inquiry into children in immigration detention and found that children in Australian immigration detention centres had suffered numerous and repeated breaches of their human rights.

Far from deterring people, depriving refugees of the right to family reunification caused a situation where people arrived by boat and then later their families, spouses and children arrived by more boats. This, in fact, created a market for more human smuggling, and this is the path that the government is taking.

The Australian public was deeply divided, with many previously unengaged citizens joining grassroots networks to protest their country's inhumane treatment of refugees. Luckily, in the past three years Australia has been moving away from the policies of detention and temporary status for refugees. However, here in Canada we apparently like to repeat others' mistakes.

Arbitrary detention is also prohibited by international law, notably by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, this bill would deny designated persons the right to appeal a negative refugee decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board's Refugee Appeal Division. An appeal is a fundamental right and safeguard in refugee decision making, where a person's life and liberty may be at stake. By eliminating the opportunity to correct errors at this first level, the bill would put Canada at risk of violating its most fundamental obligation toward refugees, which is not to send them back to persecution.

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

4 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I was interested to hear the hon. member mention the term “fearmongering”. I have been listening intently all afternoon to the comments from the opposition side and I have heard nothing, frankly, but fearmongering, allegations of breaches of the Constitution, the charter of rights and international treaties. Every law, of course, is subject to interpretation. It is clear what the interpretation of the opposition is.

On this side of the House, our interpretation is that this law respects in every sense the charter of rights. It is within the democratic society that we know and the democratic society that we know is the very reason so many immigrants want to come to Canada, as our forefathers all did.

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

4 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I heard a question but it brings a question to my mind. We have a great country that has been very accepting of immigrants and refugees over many years. Why is the government seeking to change that?

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

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I found the prior question interesting. The member made reference to the whole idea of fearmongering. I would look to my colleague from the New Democrats to provide a comment.

When the Prime Minister of Canada stands on the back of a boat called Ocean Lady to try to raise the profile and then label refugees as being questionable in terms of arriving in Canada, potentially implying that there are terrorists and others on board that boat, would the member who has spoken to the bill acknowledge that as being a part of fearmongering?

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

4 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would say that makes part of the government's plan with respect to fearmongering.

With that ship and with others, it has affected several constituents in my riding as it is a riding with one of the largest Tamil populations in Canada.

Just des inquiétudes that has been created by the previous incarnation of this bill in that community has led to people being afraid as to whether their families will eventually be able to come here. It has led to a situation where some are now going to the ministry. Tamils from Sri Lanka are being told by the minister and by the minister's office that it is actually safe to go back to Sri Lanka even though we still have no international eyes on the ground. This is just part of a bigger plan to lower immigration to Canada.

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

4 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I think the people in Scarborough Southwest, the people in Ajax—Pickering and the people in many ridings across this country would be surprised and disappointed to know that human smugglers have an advocate in the member for Scarborough Southwest.

There is no question that immigrants to this country, including recent immigrants, want our immigration policy to be based on rules. They want us to legislate for a modern age. We take exception to the member's claim that these issues cannot be resolved, that the situation cannot be improved by legislation. It can.

I would like the member to simply acknowledge a single fact. Will he acknowledge that, under this Prime Minister's government, immigration levels to Canada and the arrival of refugees in Canada have achieved historic highs?

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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

What I definitely do not appreciate, Mr. Speaker, is being accused of being a booster for human smuggling.

What I would like to throw back at the government concerns why people in my riding are waiting two and three years right now to be reunified with loved ones when they did arrive legally. Why are they not receiving the immigration and settlement services that they deserve? Why are organizations like the South Asian Women's Rights Organization running immigration settlement services out of an apartment because it cannot get funding from the government?

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

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the bill today and to participate in this very important and serious debate.

I am new to this chamber, like many of my colleagues, but I am not new to the notion of justice and fairness. I do not see much of that in the bill. The bill is yet another clear indication that the government does not make public policy based on facts and evidence but instead on ideology, an ideology that is regressive in the case of the bill, public policy that is punitive and unnecessarily so.

I read the bill line by line, section by section. It comprises 37 sections, 23 of which are directed at persons seeking asylum and the limitation of their rights. How can it fairly be said that this is about human smugglers? The bill is not so much about seeking to punish human smugglers, but rather it is about denying rights to refugee claimants and treating them, not as criminals, but as worse than criminals, which I will expand upon later in my remarks.

How did we arrive at the point where the government is putting through such an ill-considered law? In August 2010, as we have heard, a cargo ship landed on our shores with close to 500 Tamils. It was a shocking situation to many of us. Were they safe? Were they hungry? Did they suffer ill effects from the journey and the conditions in which they were travelling? These people were seeking a better life. I believe they thought Canada was a place of peace, a place of hope, a place where they could make a better life and a place where they could escape whatever injustice and persecution they had encountered earlier in their life. They had the hope that Canada would be a place of refuge.

I agree with those who say that we should be very vigilant about our security. None of us want a system where people who pose a threat are seeking an opportunity to do harm to Canada. I think we all agree on that. With respect to refugee claimants, we all know that there are some who come here who are not legitimate. However, the government seems incapable of acknowledging that there is a rigorous process, that those who do not meet the standards that are required under the law are sent back.

I would also suggest that, like any law, we need to periodically review and assess current legislation to see if it still works and to make improvements where necessary. That is our job as parliamentarians.

However, one would think, by listening to the Conservatives, that the country is being overrun by illegals. In the case of the Tamil refugees two summers ago, it seems that the Conservatives could hardly wait to gain some political advantage from the situation. It was a human tragedy made into political theatre, a race to the bottom.

I reject the idea that because we hold a different opinion on the bill it automatically means that we are soft on crime or we somehow do not care about public security. That is nonsense. As was so aptly stated in this chamber on an earlier occasion, when the only implement we have in our toolbox is a sledgehammer, everything starts to look like a rock.

There was no nuance, no compromise, no dialogue, no amendments, no costing and no acknowledgement that the issue was complex, nothing. Solutions are easy and simple. For the Conservatives it is all or nothing, the world is in black and white. That is not the reality. That is not the world in which we live.

The vast majority of refugee claims are legitimate. Men, women and children come here hoping for a life that is better than the one they had, so much so that they are prepared to risk all, and yes, even to pay smugglers for the opportunity for a better life. Why? For many people around the world, Canada is a place of hope and peace, but that will change under the Conservative government.

Smugglers should be confronted with the full force of the law, and we on this side are prepared to support legislation that does that. Again, the first nine and one-half pages of this bill only speak to denial of the rights of refugees. It only speaks to denial of the rights of victims. This bill is not so much about smugglers; at its core it is about punishing individuals who seek refugee status.

International law is clear: it is not a crime to seek asylum. It seems the Conservatives wish to send the message that even if an individual has a legitimate claim, he or she cannot expect to be treated with the human dignity that should be afforded to all people but instead are treated as a criminal first, in fact worse than a criminal.

In this country suspected criminals have a right to appeal. Suspected criminals have a right to be protected from arbitrary detention. Suspected criminals are assessed on the basis of reasonable and probable grounds based on belief. The lower threshold that is being applied to asylum seekers in this bill is reasonable and probable grounds based on suspicion. The refugees are treated as less than suspected criminals.

It also gives rise as to whether this bill is constitutional, which is what I will focus on. I do not believe, nor does anyone on this side believe, that this bill will withstand a charter challenge. Certainly the Canadian Bar Association does not believe it. Certainly the former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board does not believe it. I believe that the Supreme Court of Canada, as soon as it gets the chance, will strike this bill down.

This bill calls for mandatory detention for a year. In 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law that called for mandatory detention of 120 days under a security certificate. This is three times worse than a law that has already been found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada and yet the Conservatives plow on.

Canadians should know that the Conservative government has already decided that amendments will not be considered. Let us think about that. Let us consider the obvious problems this punitive measure has when judged against the charter. Does this proposal from the Conservatives in any way sound like the Canada we know? Is there not anyone over there on the Conservative benches who can see the clear violation of sections 9 and 10 of the charter?

Let me close by saying that I have no doubt the government will get its way and that this bill will be rammed through the House. That does not make it right. That is regrettable.

We who believe in the charter, we who believe that people should be treated fairly cannot support this legislation. It fails the test of the charter. It fails the test of fairness. It fails the test of justice. It fails Canadians. We will not support this bill.

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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member that the world is not black and white.

Most refugees are innocent, but not all. Would the member agree that we need to know who is who before we let them out on the streets? We all want to give relief to those who endure the atrocious situations that smuggled humans endure, but is it not more compassionate to create legislation that would prevent them from getting into those atrocious situations in the first place?

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

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my friend that that is a laudable objective, but the legislation misses the mark.

The legislation, instead of offering a hand of compassion to refugees, says to them, “Welcome to Canada. Now we are going lock you up. We may or may not be back in 12 months.”

That is what this legislation does. It is unconstitutional. It shows a level of compassion that Canadians are not comfortable with. There is no way the legislation can be supported. It targets the victims.

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

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing is being overlooked in some respects, although it has been raised in the dialogue, and it is an important issue. More Canadians are going to ask who will pay for this. Where are the economic resources going to come from to lock people up and warehouse them potentially for a year? We saw the situation with the Tamil refugees and it was hundreds of people. That cost is borne by the taxpayer.

Instead of putting our heads in the sand what we should be doing is processing people expeditiously to find out whether or not they can be immigrants to this country. The sooner we do that the sooner they will be contributing to the Canadian economy, paying into the pension system, the tax system, and being successful members of society.

I ask the member to think about those economic consequences.

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

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it struck me in the course of preparing my remarks that when people come through the door of my constituency office in Charlottetown, they want to talk about jobs. They want to talk about the fact that the economic situation on Prince Edward Island and in Canada is such that they cannot find work. They want to talk about the fact that the EI claims processing centre in Prince Edward Island is closing and we will be the only one without one. They want to talk about economic issues, and yet we have a government that is focused on expending our scarce resources on minimum mandatory sentencing and on locking up people who seek asylum. It is misguided.

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

4:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the member has read the bill very carefully. We have been assuming in much of this that the bill is only directed to people arriving by ship. That seems to be an assumption. However, it has also been the case that we have heard the minister of immigration suggest that, if he so chooses, he will be able to designate other refugees arriving by other means as an irregular arrival of a group. We do not know what a group is. We do not know if it is a family, a couple, or 10 people. It is very uncertain. However, it does appear to be the case that other modes of arrival can be treated as irregular, at the discretion of the minister.

I wonder if the hon. member has any comments on that aspect of the uncertainty created by the bill.

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

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's reading of the bill is the same as mine. There are provisions within the bill which allow for the arrest of a ship, but irregular entrants to Canada are not defined solely on their mode of arrival. They are defined on the basis of the number. Two people or more could be found to be irregular entrants by any means.

That is another problem with the bill. As I have said, if all one has in one's toolbox is a sledgehammer, everything looks like a rock. It is over-reaching.

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

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is very proud of the gains it made in the May election. It says that it received a clear mandate from Canadians to fight crimes like trafficking in refugees. In fact, I feel that they sent Canadians a message of deceit. In Quebec, they decided to mount a campaign of fear in order to convince voters that refugees are a threat to our country's security. I was very sad when I saw a number of advertisements that tried to make Canadians afraid of refugees.

Today, I am trying to make it clear who these refugees are. This government is too wrapped up in its success to understand the refugees' real story. They are women, children, the elderly, victims of civil war, rape and natural disasters. These refugees are not criminals and it is a disgrace that this government is making them out to be criminals.

The real criminals did not appear in the Conservatives' advertisements and they are not among those who will be detained under this bill. This government is deceiving Canadians in order to get an unfair bill passed. Bill C-4 will create problems, it will not put a stop to the problem of smuggling. The greatest problem with this bill is that it was introduced to solve the problem of smuggling, but it will really do little to solve it.

Instead, this bill attacks the victims. It will allow the authorities to detain refugees for up to a year. That means that all refugees who arrive in Canada by irregular means, be they children, women, victims of rape or civil war, will automatically be detained. It should also be added that the definition of the term “irregular arrival“ is too vague.

I repeat: this government wants to detain children who have probably already undergone horrific experiences to an extent I cannot even imagine. Does this government understand the effect that a year in a detention centre could have on a child? Is the government ready to take responsibility for that? It appears so.

Based on the speeches I heard yesterday, the government is claiming it wants to protect refugees from things like leaky boats and immigration fees that are too high. If it really wanted to protect refugees, it would never pass a bill that would put children in prison and discourage refugees from escaping to a safe country like ours.

So I find it ironic that the government is ready to invest resources and money to help people in war-torn countries, yet it is not ready to accept and help refugees from those very same countries. I have already pointed out some of the problems with the bill, but there are also others.

This bill is going to divide refugees into two categories: “normal” refugees and refugees with an “irregular arrival”. This division contravenes section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, since the two refugee categories are not going to be equal before and under the law. We have a government that introduces unconstitutional bills, without due consideration. What a disgrace.

Another measure that not only attacks smuggling victims, but also all refugees, provides that all refugees have to wait five years before they can apply for permanent residence. Instead of penalizing the smugglers, this government is going to take away the rights of refugees to bring their families here or even to have their families visit. Picture a two-year-old who will not be seeing his or her parents for five years. It seems that that is what the government would like to see with this bill.

The Minister of Immigration explained yesterday that the government is trying to address the smuggling issue with this bill. He said that it is wrong that victims of conflict in unsafe countries have to pay thousands of dollars to escape.

If this government truly wanted to correct the situation, it would consider other options such as improving the bill previously passed in the House or focusing its efforts on attacking those who are creating the problem, namely the smugglers themselves and not the victims. But this bill could potentially increase the number of illegal refugees, since refugees will no longer have the right to bring their family here in a legal manner. It should be noted that this is what happened in Australia.

I have underscored the many negative aspects of this bill, as my colleagues have over the past couple of days. It is time for the government to stop playing political games with this bill and start considering alternatives that will provide real solutions to the problem of smugglers without penalizing the victims.

We are lucky to live in a democratic country where we do not live in fear. What sort of example will we be setting for the international community if our country welcomes refugees by taking away their fundamental rights and freedoms? Our welcome should not cost them a year in a detention centre.

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

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my colleague finished with an interesting point with regard to the detainment for a year. I would like to get her perspective on something I have been thinking about during this process. In the detainments we have seen with Sri Lanka, we will have the families that are detained.

Those detained families are going to have experiences that are not going to be very positive. If they are going to be pushed back into Canadian society or later become immigrants, or if they are sent back abroad, what are the government's responsibilities going to be? Then there are the costs of meeting those responsibilities, as people are potentially going to be locked up for a year. We are not talking about a couple of nights here and there.

We are talking about legislation that identifies that the government would have the right to keep large numbers of people in place for a full year. There is going to be a processing time for that, but obviously the government has decided it is more important to have large numbers of people locked up than it is to try to process refugees more quickly so that they could either move on to their Canadian citizenship application or, alternatively, be sent back home.

I would ask for my colleague's comments on that aspect.

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

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

It is true that staying in a detention centre for a year can have a very negative impact. Detainment can cause psychological problems. I hope the government will be prepared to take responsibility for that. When these people get permanent resident status, they will come back into our society. We want them to be happy with our society, to prosper and to contribute to the economy. Staying in a detention centre for a year is going to hurt the refugees' ability to integrate into our society when they obtain permanent resident status.

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

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, victims of conflicts or natural disasters are helped by international relief organizations such as the United Nations. Canada is fulfilling its obligations as a member of the international community and accepts a high number of refugees every year.

Does the hon. member suggest that our country should have no limits on the number of refugees coming here every year?

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

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. That being said, that is not the point. It is not a question of numbers. We live in a democratic country. If people are prepared to flee by ship—and perhaps not the safest one in the world—to come to Canada, then they should be given a chance. They should not be held in a detention centre. That is the crux of the debate here.

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

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to our colleague's speech. On this side of the House, we can see that the Conservatives keep playing the division game. With this bill, we see that the minister has all of the authority, all of the control to determine who is telling the truth and who is not.

Is the member worried about the minister's expanded powers, given that this government has played so many political games in this area?

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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would once again like to thank my colleague for his question.

I find this arbitrary government power troubling, especially because we have issues in Canada, although they are not across the board. Where is the oversight process? A mechanism has not really been implemented to watch the government and oversee what it is doing. That is very troubling, and I appreciate the question.

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

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate on the question, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, National Defence; the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, Citizenship and Immigration; and the hon. member for Halifax, the Oil and Gas Industry.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Davenport.

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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, our party, as many of my colleagues have eloquently said, does not believe that Bill C-4, as it stands right now, would come close to dealing with the issue of human trafficking.

We have many refugees living in my riding of Davenport. We have advocates on their behalf. I have met with these people, with these refugees' advocates, and they tell me we are dealing with very vulnerable people who are themselves victims of crime.

I have also sat down with members of the business community. These are self-employed small business people, such as roofers and people in the building trades. They follow the letter of the law, and yet they are competing with unscrupulous criminals who are running other kinds of construction and roofing companies and employing groups of individuals who may or may not be themselves victims of human trafficking, although we cannot determine that, and their ability to compete on a level playing field is thus severely compromised.

They come to my office and speak both of frustration about their own business and about a severe and intense concern for these groups of people they see working in very unregulated work environments with no oversight, with no rights, with no recourse, but with fear for themselves and fear for their families. There is nothing in this bill that would address these very serious issues in communities right across the country.

In fact, the incidence of prosecution for human trafficking is very low. In Ontario, up to 2010 there have only been a handful of prosecutions. In fact, in Toronto itself there have been no prosecutions. There are reasons for that, but those reasons are not addressed in this bill.

Many of our good people in law enforcement and in prosecution see evidence of human trafficking, but it blurs with other kinds of crimes that they are unfortunately much more used to seeing and much more able to prosecute, such as living off the avails of prostitution.

We are saying that the bill does not address the issues of the actual criminals in this situation, but would in fact punish the victims. This seems bizarre to us.

The bill came up in the last Parliament and was roundly rejected by the majority of parliamentarians and the majority of Canadians. The majority of Canadians did not vote for the current government, and the majority of Canadians still reject the bill as it stands today.

I want to remind the House that there was a time many years ago, in an economic downturn, when we accepted a staggering number of refugees. In fact, the largest single group of refugees in our history was accepted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979 to 1980 we welcomed, as we should, 50,000 to 60,000 Vietnamese refugees, whom we then called “boat people”.

My eldest son's best friend in grade school was the son of a Vietnamese boat person who, when he finally got off that boat, arrived in Canada with absolutely nothing. Today he has a successful small business, owns a home, has a full-time job and has children who no doubt are going to contribute in staggeringly positive ways to our country.

This is the great Canadian legacy of which we should be proud. This is what Canadians expect from their federal government and the kind of leadership that Canadians expect Canada to display to the world. Instead, we see a draconian measure that does not give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to adequately prosecute human traffickers, the criminals in this case.

My riding has refugees and children of refugees. I have no doubt that those families, if given the right kind of attention and support, will become exemplary members of the Canadian family. There is nothing at all in the bill that addresses this issue.

On the issue of the Vietnamese boat people, studies were done which tracked our friends in the Vietnamese community who came in 1979. They found that within 10 years the unemployment rate among the Vietnamese boat people was 2.3% lower than the average unemployment rate at the time for Canada. One in five had started businesses and 99% of them had successfully applied to become Canadian citizens and, by and large, a much lower than average number had to avail themselves of Canada's social safety net. This is the kind of success that compassion brings. This is the kind of success on which Canada has been built. This is the kind of success that we on this side of the aisle believe we should proudly trumpet to the world.

As I said, Canada has a very low rate of conviction for human smuggling. This low conviction rate is due to many factors. The police and RCMP need the tools to deal with this issue effectively. We do not see this in the bill. The bill does not deal with the issue. These are immigration issues, but the government seems to think they are public safety issues. The Conservatives are playing politics with refugees.

We can talk about refugees in sort of a general way, but my riding has refugees who want to contribute to Canadian society. They are here because where they were was a place that they could no longer be, a place they had to flee. Canada has always been a country that welcomed and provided support to those in our world who were terrorized, brutalized and abandoned. That is the kind of Canada the party on this side of the aisle believes in and that is why we in the NDP are very opposed to the bill.