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House of Commons Hansard #97 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot speak for Australia because I do not live in Australia. I know there has been very careful consideration made to the legislation in Canada. There is a proper way to come to Canada. People do not have to get on a ship. They can flee their countries in other ways.

The immigrants who are here, refugees who have come the proper way, do not like it when they hear of others who come across in ships. It is a very dangerous way to do it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to the bill. I have been listening to the debate and I am trying to work out what it is we are trying to fix.

Obviously, after the refugee incident that happened off the B.C. coast, it is my understanding, and I have seen the legislation, that there was an all party agreement that addressed a lot of the issues.

When I look at this legislation, even though it is called protecting Canada's immigration system act, it really talks about punishing smugglers and it is against human smuggling. I keep wondering how the punishments for human smugglers are any different under this bill than they were in the previous bill, in which there was life imprisonment. This is the greatest sentencing that can be given by a Canadian court.

I am also hearing a lot about what a wonderful country Canada is, and I absolutely agree. I chose Canada to be my home. I am an immigrant who arrived from England because Canada went over there to look for teachers who could come to teach in this beautiful country, and my husband and I moved here. We came with a profession to a teaching job.

However, the immigrants we are talking about in the bill are refugees. They are not immigrants in the normal sense. These are people who are fleeing what are for most of us unimaginable challenges in their home communities and some of them are not even fleeing from their homelands. They have been sitting in refugee camps or they have escaped from one country to another.

With respect to the stress in the Middle East right now, I heard this morning that over a thousand refugees had crossed over into Turkey from Syria. Those people are not leaving for Turkey because they are just looking for a new place to live. They are leaving because they are living in an environment where bombings are going on and their lives are at risk.

In those circumstances, parents take their kids with them. That is normal. I remember doing this exercise when I was a teacher. If individuals were going on a boat, who would they take with them? If I had my kids with me, they would go on the boat first and I would ensure they were on the boat when I got on. Yet I heard a very respected colleague from across the aisle say that it was their choice whether they brought their young kids with them or not.

I want to get back to the refugees who are escaping these unexplainable and unimaginable situations, and let us say they are now in Turkey. From Turkey they are looking to go somewhere, because even in those camps it is not safe for them.

These people are desperate. They are not going on a cruise ship. They do not have the money to buy first-class tickets or even safe tickets. When a gun is pointed to the backs of individuals, when hunger surrounds them, when they are not sure whether they will wake up the next morning and know their children are with them, or whether they have been shot or whether they will even have enough food for them, they become desperate.

We have different types of refugees. We have those who come here for humanitarian reasons, because of hunger, and those who are fleeing very violent conditions in their country. As a counsellor, I have had the privilege of working with many youths from those refugee camps who have come to Canada and are now contributing members in our society.

When all of these families are looking for a way out, it is because they feel their lives are in danger. At that time, surely we are not saying to them that over in Canada we have a law, so really they should leave their children behind. That is just not how things work.

Absolutely punish those who are engaged in human smuggling. Absolutely punish those who are engaged in fraudulent cases, and we can prove it. However, in that process, let us not lose our humanity and punish the innocent because a few people are fraudulent or are using means unacceptable to us or anyone else.

Once these children arrive with their families on our shores, will we now tell them that their parents will go to prison because they have been designated? We can call them detention centres or whatever we would like, but basically that is what they are. Then we tell their parents that their children do not have to remain in the detention camps because we are humanitarian in Canada and care about children, that they have a choice. They can be farmed out to the provincial governments that can find orphanages, foster homes or some place to look after them. Imagine how those parents and children would feel.

As a mother, I cannot imagine that. As an immigrant who arrived in England willingly at the age of 10, I cannot imagine somebody saying to me, when I arrived in a brand new country and did not speak the language, that I could not stay with my parents because they would be put in a detention centre, that I would be put with a strange family and if did not want to go with that family, I could go back to the detention centre prison and be with my parents. Where is the humanity in that?

I want to make it absolutely clear. We want a fair and transparent process, but humane processes. I do not see why we would punish refugees who were brought in boats to our country. They came based on a promise that they would go to a safe place. If that is what they have to face when they get here, I would bow my head in shame for treating those who had come from very fragile and violent surroundings, whether that be the war fields or refugee camps where they had lived for ages. The impact is not pleasant on children who have lived in those refugee conditions overseas before they escaped.

I had cold shivers earlier when I heard an esteemed colleague on the other side being asked the question with respect to what would happen to the children, whether they could remain in detention with their families or be fostered. I wondered where that fitted into the Canadian way.

Some members might stand to say that we want to support smugglers or that I say this because I want these illegal activities to continue. That is not correct. All my life I have been an advocate for fair, open and transparent processes. I absolutely believe that those who engage in human smuggling or any other kind of illegal activities or use fraudulent means to get here should be punished. Surely, we should not punish everybody in order to punish those few people.

As a teacher, I often like to use an example. I will use the example of drinking and driving. We all know that drinking and driving is absolutely wrong and the consequences can be terrible on people. Because people drink and drive, we do not say that all cars are banned in Canada and that nobody can drive. Rather we get involved in education. I believe we need to provide education with respect to our refugee processes, as well as punish those who do wrong.

I urge my colleagues on the other side to ensure they amend this bill so only people who do wrong are punished and we do not put innocent people in prison with their children or take their children away from them.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of respect for that member. We all share her concern for the welfare of children, particularly vulnerable children. I really do believe that she is massively overstating her concern in respect to this bill.

In the large scale smuggling operations, in almost every case a family chooses to send one member to pay the fee, which is a commitment. The Southeast Asia smuggling syndicates, which used to be gun runners by the way, are charging about $50,000 with a 10% down payment and 95% payable upon establishment in Canada. They typically send one young man in his 20s from the family to Canada so that he can start paying off the debt and then bring subsequent family members in. There were 600 who came in the last two years. I am not aware of there being any children but there may have been a couple of adolescents.

It is not really a serious issue in terms of the reality. I would say that social democratic parties, the member's sister parties, like the labour party in Australia and in the United Kingdom, have far more robust detention provisions.

The member asked where our humanity is. We are the leading country in the world in terms of refugee resettlement. We resettle one out of every ten resettled refugees in the world. We are increasing that number by 20%. The member talked about the Syrians going to Turkey. Well, we have a special program where we are bringing in 20,000 UN convention refugees from Syria. We are increasing our targets from Turkey. We are doing more than any other country in the world to welcome refugees who are in need of our protection.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his question, I think.

I would just say that, absolutely, those who are engaged in fraudulent and illegal practices need to be punished.

However, when we look at this bill, it reaches into far more than that. If it is not a problem, as the minister said, and we have not had that many children, et cetera, then why are introducing this bill at this time? This bill would do nothing to address greater punishment, and I do not think we can give a greater punishment, for those who smuggle.

This bill would actually punish refugees. For families that are petrified, scared for their lives, trying to get away from a situation, may have sold everything they had, and may have begged, borrowed and stolen to get over here, are we then going send them to a detention centre while we determine whether they are refugees? The minister's office will determine that. To me, that just does not seem to be humane.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to comment on two things. First, in her riding, has she met any people who have talked to her about this bill? Has she had any feedback on it? Does anybody in her riding have something to say about this issue?

I would like her to give examples of this. I know that my hon. colleague works on a lot of issues for the NDP, and I would like to congratulate her on the good work that she does.

Second, I would like her to talk about the fact that the minister can determine whether a country is considered dangerous or not. Under this bill, the minister will be able to determine which countries’ inhabitants can truly be considered refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have had discussions in my community. I have had a town hall meeting or a forum where we have discussed different aspects of our immigration policies and their concerns with visas, super visas and family reunification, including refugees.

I have also had people in my office. I had one gentleman come to see me who was really surprised that his refugee status had not been accepted. He wanted to know if I could do something to assist him. I looked at the file and I had to tell him no, that he did not meet the criteria.

I am very honest, as the minister knows, with my constituents when they come in to see me. I do not raise their hopes. For me to get this passionate about this business, the minister has to know that there are some really serious concerns in the community.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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 Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Atlantic Canada; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Employment; the hon. member for Drummond, Search and Rescue.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canadians are enormously generous people. For decades, Canadians have welcomed millions of immigrants into our country with open arms. I know this because I was one of them. I know first-hand that whether we fly, sail or drive here, Canada had a place for those who work hard and play by the rules. In fact, over the past six years, Canadians have welcomed the highest sustained number of immigrants than ever before in Canadian history.

However, Canadians want an immigration system that is fair, balanced and in the best interests of our country and our economy. They welcome those who can contribute to Canada, those who have family in Canada and those who are in genuine need of our protection.

However, Canadians also demand that our immigration system keep out those who mean our country harm, those who aim to take advantage of our generosity and those who pretend to need our humanitarian protection but are actually just queue jumpers who do not want to wait in line like everyone else.

I often like to describe my constituents in Calgary Northeast as the hardest working constituents in Canada. Our people are industrious, enterprising, skilled workers and many of them are new Canadians. They have immigrant stories similar to my own. I can tell this House that the message I get from my constituents is that they support a fair and balanced immigration system that does not punish those who play by the rules. They want us to stop those who abuse our immigration system. They want us to keep out those who break our laws. They demand that we close the doors to those who lie and cheat their way into Canada.

If citizens cannot trust in the integrity of their country's immigration system, that system will fail. Canada's immigration system is a success story because our citizens have trust in our immigration system and that is also why it is so important for everyone in this House to ensure the passage of the measures that are found in Bill C-31, measures that would strengthen the integrity and functioning of Canada's immigration system and would help ensure its success.

I will quote from an Edmonton Journal editorial published the day after the minister first introduced Bill C-31. It states, in part:

As ideals go, extending everyone the benefit of the doubt for an in-definite period has become unsustainable.

Take the case of refugee claimants. ... Canada now receives more applications for refugee status from Europe than it does from either Asia or Africa.

...there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective means of weeding out the bogus claimants from Europe and elsewhere. Simply put, we cannot continue to give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it costs that much money and taxes our social systems unduly to do so.

The facts speak for themselves. The total number of refugee claims from the European Union in 2011 was 5,800. That means the percentage of total refugee claims coming from the European Union in 2011 was 23%. That is more than Africa and Asia. It is also a 14% increase from 2010.

Canada has one of the most generous refugee systems in the world. We admit more refugees on a per capita basis than almost any other country. In fact, our Conservative government has increased the number of resettled refugees by 20% or 2,500 refugees per year.

However, we cannot sustain that generosity if our refugee system is being abused by bogus refugee claimants making false claims. We need to effectively fulfill our humanitarian obligation to give protection to those asylum seekers who genuinely need it.

Members need not take my word for it. They need only look at the actions of the bogus refugees themselves. Virtually none of the claimants from the European Union show up for their refugee hearings but virtually all of them show up for the initial screening interview that will allow them to receive taxpayer funded social services. Canadians have the right to question this practice and demand recourse.

Bill C-31 would accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce true refugees so those refugees would be dealt with more quickly. It would also reduce the options and delay tactics available to the failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada.

Today it takes a claimant from Europe over 1,000 days to receive an answer from our government. That is nearly four years of welfare, four years of work permits and four years of taxpayer funded health care. Under Bill C-31, the government hopes to reduce this timeline to 45 days for designated countries that have excellent human rights records and democratic governments. This means faster removal of bogus claimants who have abused the generosity of Canadians and shoved aside real refugees for their own selfish purposes.

We are currently dealing with big loopholes that make our generous immigration system open to abuse. We must take action to crack down on this abuse. Canadians have given our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system and that is exactly what we are doing.

This legislation would save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.6 billion over five years. It would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer funded health and social benefits. At the same time, the bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.

Bill C-31 would help crack down on human smugglers worldwide who are targeting Canada and charging large amounts of money to facilitate illegal migration. Not only that, these human smugglers often treat their clients in a manner that is exploitative and downright dangerous. The measures in this bill would strongly discourage anyone from becoming involved in this criminal activity, while making it easier to prosecute human smugglers. This dangerous queue jumping must be curtailed.

Other measures in the bill, such as mandatory detention, would give Canadian authorities enough time to conduct investigations and examinations into identity, admissibility and criminal activity. Canadians want their government to find out who is being let into our country. It is simply the logical and responsible thing to do.

This is what another Canadian newspaper, the Montreal Gazette, wrote in a recent editorial lauding the measures in the bill that address this criminal activity. It reads:

Human smuggling is an odious enterprise that should be severely punished. And while the smugglers' clients are perhaps desperate people in many cases, they are nevertheless participants in an illegal activity that should be strongly discouraged.

However, all those who arrive in Canada as part of a designated irregular arrival will still have access to a refugee determination and anyone who is determined to be a refugee would be released from mandatory detention. Under Bill C-31, minors under the age of 16 would not be subjected to mandatory detention. These children would be given appropriate accommodation and assistance.

In the short time I have had to speak, I have tried to demonstrate how important Canada's immigration system is to our country and how Bill C-31 would strengthen that system for Canada and for the refugees we seek to help. Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and who take unfair advantage of our country, which is why we are taking action to address these concerns.

I hope my hon. colleagues from all sides will agree and join me in supporting this fair and balanced legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must say the bill makes me feel somewhat uneasy, particularly the provisions on detention.

Canadian governments in the past have had no problem turning refugees away from our shores to their death. Governments in the past have had no problem with detaining Canadians, Japanese Canadians, Ukrainian Canadians, Italian Canadians, and the list goes on. Whenever we talk about detention, I get a little concerned.

I would like to ask my friend across the way what he really thinks about the detention provisions that are in the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me tell my colleague what I think and what my constituents think.

I am an immigrant. The constituency I represent has a lot of new Canadians. They are all outraged by the abuse of our system.

Talking about detention, as a matter of fact the bill would give potential immigrants an opportunity, I would say a fair chance, of dealing with the issue in a very timely manner. If we talk to Canadians, in the existing system, it takes years and years to find out the fate of a genuine refugee.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I did not intend to get up, but the member never answered the question he was asked. It was a very serious question.

I know the member. I have been in his riding. There are a lot of new Canadians in that riding, and they came in under our current system.

What we are worried about is abuse of the system, unnecessary detention. If the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is to be the sole decision-maker on what is a “safe country of origin”, I do not believe, given the record of the Conservative government, there would be proper accountability. It dangerously politicizes the refugee system. We know of so many other areas where the government has really been unaccountable.

How can the member stand in his place and say that he has confidence in this new system when he knows that his own government would politicize the system for the government's own reasons?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member were to research the record-setting results of this immigration minister, he would find that the minister is a very logical, very intelligent and very unbiased minister in the recent history of our Parliament.

To answer his question, in my opinion, this bill actually sets up the criteria. It tells how the system would work, what the maximum time would be to have a hearing and what the maximum time would be to make a decision as to whether a person is a genuine refugee or not. If the person is a genuine refugee from a designated country, which is what he is talking about, that genuine refugee would get the results within 45 days, hopefully. In those 45 days, the person would get his or her papers and move on with his or her life.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, on the latter point raised by the member for Malpeque, there is no politicization proposed. There is nothing dangerous proposed. No access to our asylum system would be restricted by the bill at all. Every asylum claimant from every country, regardless of the means of their arrival, whether it is a smuggling operation or not, would have the same access to a full fact-based appeal on the merits of their case before the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board. We would not refoule anyone who has been deemed by our legal system to face danger.There is nothing arbitrary about the designation process of certain countries. I refer the member to section 58 of Bill C-31, which is a page and a half of criteria by which the designation process would be conducted.

Does the member not agree with me?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the minister mentioned, there will be a set criteria. I mentioned the same thing. The minister talked about the set criteria for the designation of countries. There will be a set criteria on how the applications will be processed in a timely manner and how the cases will be determined.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. The bill would protect the integrity of the system. We cannot allow abuses of the system to undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.

As we have heard, Bill C-31 would do three things. First, it would make further much needed reform to the asylum system. Second, it would enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants in order to strengthen our immigration program. Third, and the area I will focus on, there are measures that would help crack down on the growing and dangerous business of human smuggling.

I do not think it comes as a surprise to any hon. member of the House that our government is pushing ahead with reforming our immigration and refugee laws to put an end to human smuggling.

Canada enjoys a global reputation as a nation that cherishes fundamental freedoms, that champions democracy and freedom of speech, and that believes strongly in the benefits and opportunities that come from a diverse, multicultural society. That is not disputed.

Most Canadians, and I include myself in that category, have a chapter in their family history that includes immigration and resettlement. For some it was added recently; for others that chapter was written three or four generations ago. There are countless individuals and families around the world who want to add that same chapter to their family history by coming to Canada. Canada is a destination highly desired by many.

The unfortunate reality is that there are individuals and criminal organizations that see our generous immigration system as an easy target to make a high profit with low risks. These criminal elements use Canada's reputation to conjure up their own outlandish stories of how refugees can bypass the proper channels by paying a set fee and arriving en masse. Human smugglers convince these individuals that they will be processed quicker and will be able to start a new chapter of their lives sooner than if they apply to come to Canada by other methods. We have seen strong evidence of this with recent events on Canada's shores.

Until recently, most Canadians believed that any large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something they would read about in the papers or hear about on the news from other countries.

That changed in 2009 when Canadians witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady which carried 76 migrants. Less than a year later close to 500 migrants arrived on a second vessel, the MV Sun Sea. Shortly after that, a sea container was uncovered at the port of Montreal revealing yet more individuals who had tried to enter Canada illegally.

Canadians are becoming very much aware of this problem. It is a reality that must be faced. They want the government to act, and the government has acted.

I have heard from my constituents, and like all Canadians they have told me that they want our government to act decisively to crack down on those who would endanger the lives of men, women and children by selling them false dreams and transporting them in unsafe vessels or shipping crates. This disregard for human life is an affront to all Canadians.

We must therefore act before another tragedy strikes, such as the one that occurred off the coast of Indonesia last December when close to 200 irregular migrants destined for Australia perished when their vessel capsized in rough waters.

We cannot rest on our laurels and wait for the next incident. That is why our government introduced legislation in October 2010 to crack down on human smuggling. That is why the 2011 Speech from the Throne underscored this government's commitment to combat human smuggling, which can place migrants in dangerous situations and undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.

Today we are proud to see these changes included in Bill C-31, which encompasses some important reforms that would strengthen our immigration and refugee system. These changes would help us to meet the challenges associated with human smuggling while continuing to provide protection to those who require it most.

With this legislation we are delivering on our commitment to Canadians to combat human smuggling, a crime that undermines trust in Canada's immigration system.

First and foremost, the proposed reforms would allow Canada to crack down on human smugglers who would abuse our generous immigration system and endanger the safety and security of Canadians. It also proposes measures that would act as a deterrent for those who are planning and organizing human smuggling operations. Those who plan human smuggling and think it is low risk would now have to reconsider given the measures that would be implemented in this bill.

First, these measures would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of persons as an irregular arrival, thereby making those involved subject to the act's measures. Canadians expect as much. Canadians demand that the government take action along those lines and perhaps even to a greater extent. I would add, though, that there are safeguards in place that would ensure the minister cannot delegate this authority given the significant consequences that flow from a designation.

Second, it would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers, including broadening the definition of the offence of human smuggling to better capture all the ways this crime occurs and make it easier to prove the offence was committed.

Third, it would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on convicted human smugglers.

The sentence length would escalate based on factors such as if the offence was committed for profit or in association with a terrorist or criminal organization. I do not think anyone would disagree that is a significant consideration and should factor into the sentencing or the consequences. Another factor would be if the person who committed the offence endangered lives, caused bodily harm or death to any of the persons smuggled. The persons being smuggled undergo an extreme amount of suffering and are in danger. People are putting them in that position simply from the motive of profit. Those considerations need to be taken into account in the sentencing provisions.

Some may question the need for such mandatory penalties given the offence can already be punished by life imprisonment. Our government believes strongly that the most harmful manifestations of this crime must be clearly denounced. Our proposed mandatory minimums would do this. Not only would this denounce these types of actions but I believe it would also deter these types of actions. It is important to note, however, that these would only apply in situations where aggravating factors can be proven, factors which reflect the most harmful, serious and reprehensible aspects of this crime.

Fourth, the bill proposes measures that would hold shipowners and operators to account for the use of their ships in human smuggling operations. It is important that liability and accountability be placed on those who allow their assets to be used in this fashion.

In addition to these deterrent measures, the bill includes other measures required for the proper identification and investigation of those wishing to enter Canada as part of an irregular arrival. This includes establishing the mandatory detention of participants in designated human smuggling events to allow for the proper and full determination of identity and admissibility and any other investigations. It is in this last point that we will see wording changes in the legislation to expressly exclude designated foreign nationals under the age of 16 years.

Bill C-31 includes other reforms to help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling operations. For example, it includes measures to prevent those who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, including those who subsequently obtain refugee status, from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years. It also includes measures to enhance the opportunity to rescind the refugee status of those who return to their country of origin for a vacation or demonstrate in other ways that they are not truly in need of Canada's protection. Finally, it would prevent individuals who participate in designated human smuggling events from sponsoring family members for a period of five years.

Our government believes that these actions are tough but fair. More than ever before, Canada must take a strong stand with our international partners and allies to help end the illegal practice of human smuggling.

I would urge all members to support this bill and ensure its swift passage.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill: Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee and of the amendment.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 reminds me of what governments have done over the years to people on welfare: scapegoat the target, demonize people, design the system to basically take away people's rights, and focus on a minority of cases to whip up public frenzy. That is exactly what this bill is doing around refugees.

One section of the bill that I am very concerned about is the humanitarian and compassionate consideration. I do a lot of casework in my riding, as I know others do as well. The bill would require that a person choose at the beginning whether to file for refugee status or an H and C consideration. That would be devastating for someone who is making a claim. An individual may not know at the time about an H and C application.

How on earth can the member defend limiting the H and C consideration? All of us know that for many people, at the end of the day, that is all they have left. To take that away seems to me to be quite disgusting, very unfair and very harmful.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that those who are legitimate refugees would have the opportunity to establish their cases and, to the extent that they are able, they would receive the appropriate status. As the system was, people could apply by any means. They could jump the queue and go through a number of processes to stay in the country. They could apply for humanitarian and compassionate leave under a number of circumstances, after having settled. In fact, some cases take four and a half years or longer to settle. By that time they could have married, had children and built a case for humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The provision in Bill C-31, as I understand it, would allow for an application for humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but not under a number of conditions and after a number of years. A claimant could apply once and either be successful or not. If they made an application before the board, the board would make the appropriate determination.

What I like about the bill is it would start to focus the time in a narrow window so that cases would be disposed of fairly quickly, instead of taking a number of years.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am smiling because the member said that the bill allows for taking into consideration of human hardship and compassionate grounds. Compassion from that party? I do not think so.

The member also mentioned that there are safeguards in place surrounding the ultimate power of the minister. Would he care to list those safeguards? I do not find the safeguards in the bill to be very strong. Could he outline to me what they are?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, certainly, it is a compassionate position to allow people who apply for their status to have it determined in a reasonable period of time and to allow then for that provision.

What is wrong is a situation where there is a buildup of legitimate cases because the previous government was not prepared to deal with claims that were bogus, or allowed others to jump the queue and clutter the system so they could not have determination. In fact, many claimants from European Union countries would apply and then abandon those applications over time, after they had an opportunity to be in the country for a great length of time.

There are specific provisions in the legislation that if the claimants themselves from the country of origin abandon their claims, or do not pursue them, and a great percentage, let us say 60% or so, do that, or if the refugee board refuses up to 75% of the applicants from a particular country, those are the kinds of objective bases that we might use. If a country has a democratic system, if it has a judiciary and if it protects human rights, those countries might not be the ones that we would want to allow applications from.

This particular legislation does have compassion for those who want to have their claims heard in an appropriate and expedited fashion.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act. As we can tell by the title, it covers quite a broad range.

We, as a party, have quite a number of concerns with the bill. First and foremost is what seems to be the amount of power granted to the minister. As previous speakers talked about, the bill does bring some accountability. However, we have seen the government in other venues talk about bringing in more progressive legislation, for instance its accountability act. Yet, ever since the Conservatives formed the government we have seen anything but accountability. In fact, the debate on this bill is a prime example, as there are time limitations again.

What we have seen from the government is less debate, more closure, less transparency and less openness. We certainly cannot go by what the Conservatives have promised in previous elections. If the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism were the sole decision-maker of safe countries of origin, there would be no accountability from our perspective and no recourse. It would dangerously politicize the refugee system. This would be all about giving one person in the country the power to choose who can claim refugee status and who cannot.

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5 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

That is wrong.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The minister claims that is wrong. He will have the opportunity to stand and explain that. Certainly our interpretation of the bill is that is the case. Giving this particular minister all this power is indeed worrisome.

Allowing the minister to determine which groups were irregular arrivals would give the minister too much discretionary power with very little accountability.

I asked the previous member from the Conservative Party who would outline the safeguards. I really did not hear any safeguards that would amount to a whole lot.

The removal of an appeal process for those originating from a country on the safe list or from those identified as being part of an irregular arrival would not afford due process. We all know that due process is extremely important. We do not see due process in this section of the bill.

Our party is opposed to the lengthy, warrantless detentions coupled with an unfair review process where the first review would only occur after 12 months. The policies proposed really constitute cruel and unusual punishment. There should be balance in this kind of legislation. There does not seem to be balance or fairness in the act in terms of how the bill would affect people's lives. They come here, maybe abused by others in other countries and other systems. We need to protect those individuals. They come here with dreams and could find them so much dashed.

We do believe in reforming the system so that processing times are fair and reasonable for refugees. We do not think the bill does that to the extent that it should. As I outlined at the beginning, the amount of authority given to the minister is beyond.

The legislative proposal of the bill has quite a number of impacts. It would allow the minister to create a safe list of countries identified as being designated countries of origin. Claimants from those designated countries of origin would be subject to specific guidelines, including expedited application processing and denial of access to the refugee appeal division.

It would allow the minister to determine who was part of an irregular arrival, and therefore a designated foreign national. Designated foreign nationals would not have access to the refugee appeals division.

The bill would include all the proposed changes that, if members will recall, were in Bill C-4. However in Bill C-31, minors, those under the age of 16, would be excluded from the mandatory detention. On that we would have to say congratulations for that slight change.

Biometric data would be required from temporary resident visa applications or those applying for a study or work permit.

Refugees would be at risk of losing protection status. Changes would be made through the bill to prohibit individuals from applying for humanitarian and compassionate consideration while awaiting an IRB decision. Failed refugee claimants would not be able to apply for a year following negative refugee decisions. Those are the kinds of impacts that we see in the bill.

As a party, we cannot support the bill. In addition to the humanitarian and constitutional issues raised by the bill, key points which we oppose include the following: the ability of the Minister of Public Safety to unilaterally determine which groups would be irregular arrivals and, as I said, that would give undue power to the minister; and the ability of the minister to unilaterally determine which countries would belong on the safe list and would be designated countries of origin.

Again, what would be the absolute criteria in terms of making those decisions? Maybe the minister, if he does get up, could explain that further. There have to be more criteria than what we see in the bill currently, so that there would not be just political considerations on the part of the minister to make these decisions.

Another point is the lengthy mandatory detentions related to those deemed designated foreign nationals and the lack of a timely review process.

On this, Canadians are concerned, and rightly so. I would say that the government is correct in saying that there are concerns out there. When there are people who enter the country improperly, it does take too long to get decisions made for many in the refugee process. If people have to be removed from the country, it is a long and burdensome process.

Canadians are dissatisfied with that. It needs to be addressed through legislation. It has to be done in a way that is fair and balanced, and includes due process. We are concerned that at the moment it does not.

The last point I would make is that we are concerned about the removal of the appeal process of designated foreign nationals and individuals from designated countries of origin.

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5:10 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, the member portrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislation when he said that the bill concentrates, in the hands of the minister, the power to decide who may or may not make asylum claims in Canada.

That is patently and completely incorrect. The bill would do no such thing. All claimants from all countries, whether designated by the minister or not, whether they have arrived in a designated smuggling operation or not, would have the same access to an oral hearing at the IRB on the merits of their claim. No one would be denied access at the discretion of the minister or on the basis of their country of origin.

Safe country claimants and claimants determined to be manifestly unfounded would have an accelerated process, which the Liberals and the NDP already agreed to in the last Parliament in Bill C-11. What Bill C-31 changes is that it removes access to the refugee appeal division for safe country claimants. However, under the Liberals, for 13 years they refused to give any failed asylum claimants access to a refugee appeal division.

Why is the member opposed to a bill that gives the vast majority of failed claimants access to a fact-based appeal when his government, in which he was a minister, refused to give any failed refugee claimants access to a fact-based appeal?