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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

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

In a speech he delivered in the House when Bill C-4 was introduced, the Minister of Immigration said that we needed this bill's harsh measures against asylum seekers in order to communicate to them in no uncertain terms that Canada's streets were not paved with gold and that Canada was not the place for them.

As a case in point, the minister said that asylum seekers believe they will be given $50,000 upon arrival in Canada. We know this, obviously, is not the case. There are no such pots of gold awaiting refugee claimants at Canadian border points. This false and, ultimately, disappointing picture for asylum seekers of the easy prosperity that supposedly lies at the end of a long, arduous and sometimes deadly boat trip across the seas has been attracting the world's poor, persecuted and downtrodden to North America for well over a century. As well as the very real promise of freedom, this has been a point of attraction for immigrants and refugees who desperately seek a better life free from violence or squalor.

I do not think the minister's speech nor the bill would change this fact. We also need to realize that there is a flaw in the argument that Bill C-4, which is now part of Bill C-31, somehow will discourage people from coming to Canada.

The minister assumes that we live in a world of perfect information as the neo-classical economists regularly assure us in their economic models, but the fact is that would-be asylum seekers are fundamentally unaware of what awaits them here beyond the images they have borne of a hope they often desperately cling to. Indeed, not even the minister can extinguish the hope that is, in some ways, the psychological and emotional sustenance on which many people around the world living in harsh conditions survive.

It is a given that asylum seekers have a distorted view of the benefits that await them here in this country. There is no $50,000 pot of gold that awaits them when they arrive here. The corollary of course is that they also have a distorted view of any negative consequences that might await them should they arrive as refugee claimants aided and abetted by human smugglers. They cannot be expected to have accurate knowledge of the measures in Bill C-31, the measures imported from Bill C-4, that have been created in an attempt to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Canada.

Not only are would-be asylum seekers misinformed about what awaits them in Canada but many Canadians who have access to the 24-hour news cycle and who are generally well informed are themselves unaware of the manner in which Canada treats refugees upon arrival. I am sure many members in the House have received a chain email which I have been receiving if for about eight years now. I have been getting this email from highly educated Canadians, friends of mine, good people, good Liberals who believe in individual rights and who want fair treatment of immigrants and refugees. However, because it comes in on the Internet there is a tendency to take it at face value. I will quote from the email I have been receiving and that many members have been receiving. Only in Canada. It says:

It is interesting to know that the federal Government of Canada allows a monthly pension of $1,890 to a simple refugee, plus $580 in social aid for a grand total of $2,470 monthly. That’s $28,920 in annual income.

By comparison the Old Age Pension of a senior citizen who has contributed to the development of Our Beautiful Big Country during 40 or 50 years cannot receive more than $1,012 in Old Age Pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement per month, for $12,144 in annual income.

That’s a difference of $16,776 per year.

Perhaps our senior citizens should ask for the Status of Refugees instead of applying for Old Age Pension.

That is what is circulating on the Internet here in Canada. It is so false, so prevalent and so ongoing as a form of a spam email that the Department of Immigration has actually put up a web page to try to clarify the situation.

There is a lot of misinformation both in Canada and overseas where people are getting their information from human smugglers about what awaits them here. That is true of the false benefits that await them. If we assume that, which is what the Minister of Immigration said, people think they are coming here to a pot of gold of $50,000 when they arrive, that somehow officers from the Canada Border Services Agency await asylum seekers with chequebook and pen in hand, we also have to assume that would-be asylum seekers do not know what is in Bill C-31. They do not know what was in Bill C-4. They will not be discouraged by the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Who will tell them about the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Will it be the human smugglers? Will the human smugglers tell them that they will take their money, that they will bring them over to Canada, then tell them about the new legislation that may put them in detention for a year and say that maybe they will not do that human smuggling deal after all? There is a flaw in that logic.

We all view legislation through the prisms of our respective political philosophies. For me and others in the House that prism is liberalism. Liberalism is fundamentally about the primacy of the rights and dignity of the individual. Of course, liberals recognize and understand that human beings are social animals, that we can only thrive in a group or community. Living in a group or community makes everything possible, including individual economic prosperity. A simple example is the real estate value of one's home is a function of the vibrancy of the community in which it lies: no community, no capital gain upon home resale.

Community is not only the context necessary for individual fulfillment and security. It is also a source of identity. Liberals believe in the inherent value of community, but neither Conservatives nor the NDP spread misinformation on this point. Liberals are communitarians. We believe in safe streets, believe it or not. We believe in social cohesion and maintaining the social fabric.

Where we differ from the Conservatives is that we put the individual first. In a court of law or in an administrative tribunal, the focus is on the individual, not the group to which he or she belongs. In matters of justice, when we have to judge, we believe that we must judge based on the individual's unique circumstances, not the circumstances of the larger and more amorphous group to which he or she may happen to belong.

As an aside, that is why we as Liberals have trouble with minimum sentencing. We believe the circumstances of the crime and the offender must be evaluated, namely by a judge with years of legal training and experience because, as Liberals, we believe in the power of reason to find as close an approximation of the truth as we can. We believe in the ability of judges to apply reason to the facts of the case and develop a sanction that is proper to the individual circumstances, including one that is just to the victims. We believe in victims' rights.

That is also why we object to judging a refugee claimant based primarily on his or her group affiliation or country of origin. We do not believe that a refugee's treatment at the hands of the Canadian government should be judged as a function of their country of origin, in other words, on the basis of their nationality essentially, anymore than on their race or ethnicity.

I will quote Audrey Maklin of the University of Toronto's Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, and lawyer, Lorne Waldman, both in regard to Bill C-31's predecessor, Bill C-4. They state:

The legislation also gives the minister the power to decree certain countries as “safe.” This formalizes in law the presumption that a refugee claimant from one of these countries is a fraud. Many countries are safe for most people most of the time. Refugees are usually people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so designating a country as safe tells us nothing about the risks faced by the people likely--

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. The member's time has elapsed. Perhaps he can add some comments in questions and comments.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I regret that the member's time ran out because I found he was offering very thoughtful remarks based on first principles and dealing with some of the real issues, and I commend him for that.

There are a couple of points. He says that creating disincentives will not be effective because it will not be known by false asylum claimants overseas. In point of fact, we plan to consecrate an amount of money to advertising these new developments abroad, particularly media that would be in countries that are major sources of false asylum claims and human smuggling. This is what Australia and other countries have done.

I can tell the member that we know, through the good work done by our police and other agencies, the smuggling syndicates are paying close attention to the disincentives that have been proposed and we are confident the disincentives included in Bill C-31 will reduce the pull factors that we have for human smugglers and false asylum claimants.

However, if he does not think this package will be effective, then what does he propose as an alternative to deter human smugglers from targeting Canada?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the minister's sincere, I think, compliment on the effort I put into the speech because it is an important issue. I am glad that the government is investing in informing people of what really awaits them if they come here aided and abetted by human smugglers.

The issue is enforcement. It is good that the RCMP go overseas and investigates human smuggling rings. Also, we need enforcement in Canada. When an asylum seeker who is turned down at the IRB disappears into the woodwork, that is a breakdown of enforcement.

I hope the government will not only invest in information campaigns, but will invest as well in enforcement, both in terms of tracking what is going on overseas before asylum seekers come here and in keeping track of rejected refugee claimants in Canada.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague spoke mainly on the refugee aspect of this bill. I point out that Liberals were in government for 13 years and did nothing about creating some sort of further refugee protection. The New Democrats have continuously been calling for more further refugee protection, especially the Refugee Appeal Division. In the previous iteration of the bill we had agreement on this. Yet the minister, instead of letting Bill C-11 go through to fruition and seeing its impacts on society, has decided to quash it and have this omnibus bill.

Would the member please comment on that?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I suppose the NDP is fortunate in that it never has to say “when we were government, things were not always perfect”.

Unfortunately I was not in cabinet so I do not know what discussions took place. However, I do know that we brought in the Refugee Appeal Division, but it was not implemented at the time. I also know that when the member opposite's party was the third party—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Fourth party.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Fourth party, indeed. How quickly we forget.

We took the lead in negotiating with the government to make Bill C-11 more palatable by requiring that before the minister designate a country as a safe country of origin, that he or she consult an advisory committee.

We have been working to protect the rights of refugees, and we will continue to do so.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party agrees with reforming the system so processing times for refugees are fair and reasonable. After all, refugees are people seeking refuge, a safe place to go because life is untenable for them wherever they happen to be.

We are concerned that the government has taken this bill to reform the system and it has muddied the waters on it, using it as a vehicle for trafficking. The government is trying to say that it wants to separate the refugee from the trafficked person. No one is arguing the intent of that. We all agree with it. The question is to how it is being done. The process that the bill lays out is very unjust and it contravenes many pieces of international law, a charter and the United Nations convention on the rights of refugees. First and foremost, it gives two ministers the sole power to decide.

It gives the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the power to decide what a safe country is, with absolutely no accountability. There is nothing built in for sudden changes in circumstances in a country that sounds as if it is safe and in the offset is seen to be safe. I want to remind members of this. We thought Germany was a safe country and because of that, the people on the St. Louis were turned back to absolute death and to concentration camps. We did not know what was going on within Germany.

When we say we know about so-called safe countries, we have to look at countries that we trade with, countries that are on the surface a so-called European Union and developed countries, so-called democratic countries, where human, minority, women's, ethnic and religious rights have been denied to many groups and minorities within that country.

I go back to the issue of the Sinti and the Roma. Everyone likes to ask if the Sinti and the Roma cannot go off to one of the 25 European nations. I will quote Catherine Dauvergne, UBC professor, Canada Research chair in Migration Law. She said, “Some individuals have utterly inadequate rights protections, which is why some Roma are found to be refugees, in Canada and elsewhere”.

I go to the Organization for Security and Co-operation. I am the special representative for gender. I work closely with the special representative for migration and minority rights and we see in pockets of many countries, the denial of any rights to the Sinti and Roma. In countries like Italy and Spain, we see this happening and yet they are so-called democratic countries. The idea that the minister will designate safe countries is a slippery slope.

Not only that, but people coming from a so-called safe country have no recourse, if they apply as a refugee, to due process or appeal. That is an unacceptable thing under the rule of law. The Minister of Public Safety has the power of mandatory detention for a people who make a refugee claim and if that refugee claim is made with another individual or individuals, they can go to jail for one year because this claim has been made by a group. We do not even have the definition of what a group is. The group is anybody over two people. That in itself is an infringement on rights of people. It infringes on the right of association.

I want to remind members of the Vietnamese boat people who came to our country seeking refuge. Canada opened its arms to them. They went into communities that embraced them. Today, those same Vietnamese boat people are model citizens in Canada and we have benefited very much by their being here.

Let us look at another so-called safe country. In 1989, when the Tiananmen massacre occurred in April, if the Chinese students who were being threatened had come to our country a month later, they would not have been accepted and would have been jailed because they came as a group seeking refuge because of changed circumstances regarding Tiananmen Square . We have to learn from our past experiences.

Today, we do not need to take this kind of abuse of rule of law. We have technology and we have diplomatic relations with many countries. It is easy for us to talk to these countries to get information about a person of interest or about a suspicious person or group. I do not understand why we have to detain people for a whole year. We could use technology on this, if we want to be compassionate and understanding, to avoid harming people who are real refugees by sending them back to almost certain detention, torture and death in some instances. It is improbable that we cannot get this kind of information within 60 days.

The ministers should consider rule of law. If a government ignores rule of law, then it makes Canada a non-democratic nation. We love to talk about the pillars of democracy, rule of law is one of them. The government is ignoring rule of law and basing fear-mongering on the fact that there are all kinds of people coming to Canada who are terrorists. There are ways around this, so I do not understand why the government would ignore rule of law. There are ways in which the government can dilute the threat. It can use technology. It can talk to diplomatic people within the country and find out if these people are people of interest.

What is the process or the provision for the release of mass arrivals in the event that it comes to light that there were significant changes in circumstances within the country from which those mass arrivals came? I go back to China and Tiananmen Square. I go back to the St. Louis. I go back to the Vietnamese people. Is there a provision in the legislation that would allow us to say that we were wrong, that we are sorry, that circumstances have changed and that we need to accept these people? No. They would have been placed on mandatory detention immediately for a minimum of a year.

I want to go back to the list of safe countries. Should we put in a clause that says it would be mandatory to review that list if we hear from another nation or other groups about something suspicious going on in another country that we deem to be a safe country? Is there a way of going back and looking at a sunset clause on that place?

These are the kinds of checks and balances that we need in good legislation. We all have concerns about the backlogs. We care about that. Let us not forget that it was the government that failed to fill a lot of vacancies on the refugee board, creating that backlog. The Conservatives dragged their feet on that.

Let us not forget the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the government is a signatory. The minister has looked at that and said that minors under 16 years of age will be excluded from this, but we would be taking children away from their parents. Imagine children leaving their homes, going into some hole of a boat scared and frightened and then upon arrival, they are taken away from their parents who are put it detention without those children knowing where they will be sent. Imagine the psychological damage we would do to that child. That is totally abhorrent. It totally opposes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is cruel, it is inhumane and it also contravenes the 1951 refugee convention.

There is another piece in the bill that bothers us. People cannot apply on humanitarian and compassionate grounds for one year following a negative decision. What is this? Where do these people go? Are they stateless people? What happens to them? These are important questions we have to ask.

There is also a five year waiting period before an individual can apply for permanent residency. This would create a bunch of people with absolutely no rights.

Section 7 of the charter speaks to life, liberty and security of the person. The denial of access to families, denial of appeal violates that right to liberty of the person.

Section 9 of the charter speaks to the right not to be arbitrarily detained. This legislation would break that section.

Section 12 of the charter talks about cruel and unjust punishment. The bill would inflict cruel and inhumane punishment.

People who are afraid of torture, afraid for their lives or the lives of their families will do anything to come to safety. Australia found that it costs more to detain people than if there were a different set of circumstances. Australia is now looking at its bill.

This bill has a basis of political intentions. It appeals to the fear in people. It does not give information and education to Canadians to allow them to understand the reality of the circumstances of refugees and to understand the difference between refugees and traffickers. It therefore—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, we have gone from the most thoughtful and informed opposition speech on the bill to the most unthoughtful and uninformed speech that was filled with complete falsehoods and outrageous suggestions.

For example, there was the notion that we would seek to deny due process and would violate charter rights for would-be asylum claimants from designated countries. In fact, the bill would guarantee access to an independent quasi-judicial hearing on the merits of an individual claim for all asylum claimants regardless of the nature of the country they came from or the manner in which they arrived in Canada. That exceeds both our charter and UN convention obligations. What the safe country claimants would not have is access to the refugee appeal division, which the Liberals refused to give any failed asylum claimants.

The member referred to immigration detention as jail. However, she was part of a government for 13 years that maintained immigration detention.

She said that Canada would reject people like those on the St. Louis. Under this law, they would have access to our fair and independent quasi-judicial asylum process. They would not have been sent back the way a former Liberal government did.

She said that we are denying people access to humanitarian and compassionate consideration for one year after a failed asylum claim. She voted for that provision in Bill C-11 in the last Parliament.

She said that the Vietnamese would be placed under detention. No, they went to UNHCR camps overseas and waited their turn to be resettled in Canada.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I will give the hon. member for Vancouver Centre the opportunity to respond.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I have researched this under the rule of law. I have consulted with many people who are lawyers and constitutional experts and they have verified what the bill would do.

It is interesting when one raises questions, when one has done one's research and homework, the government's response is personal vilification.

I did not throw any grenades at the government. I talked about the rule of law, what the bill would do and how it would defy United Nations conventions and the Constitution.

All I have to say is that I did my homework. The minister can use as much rhetoric as he wants.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, as my hon. colleague mentioned, the bill deprives some refugees of the right to apply for permanent residency and to have access to their families, including their children, for five years. The government's response is that these people must be patient. I find that insulting and my constituents are outraged by this bill.

The case of Paola Ortiz made the headlines in Quebec. This Mexican woman had to leave her children behind in Quebec when she was denied refugee status and had to return to Mexico.

The bill talks about things like safe countries. What effect would this have on women like Paola Ortiz in Quebec?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, the member's question is a very important one. We have heard the minister accuse me of not doing my homework, et cetera. In answer to the member, I will quote the Canadian Council for Refugees. Therefore, the minister is not getting my opinion.

The Canadian Council for Refugees is concerned that this bill would create a two-tier system of refugee protection in Canada. It stated, “It makes refugee protection in Canada dangerously vulnerable to political whims, rather than ensuring a fair and independent decision about who is a refugee. It also includes costly measures”--as we saw in Australia--“to detain refugee claimants and to revoke the status of refugees who are now permanent residents”. This bill is in violation of Canada's rule of law.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to refer to the question about what happens to the children of refugees who arrive as irregular entrants as designated by the minister. Those who are under 16 are not to be detained. It seems very likely, as in the case of the Sun Sea, that children would opt to remain with their mother and therefore they would be detained.

How will this affect the rights of the child under our international convention obligations?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, it would in fact contravene the convention on the rights of the child, to which we are a signatory. The important thing is the psychological damage to the child.

If a child is under 16 and his or her parents are detained, will the child be sent to a foster home? Where would the child be sent? Do members realize that separating a child from his or her parents is cruel and inhuman?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Scarborough Centre.

I am pleased to be able to participate on the debate on Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, which will further improve Canada's asylum system.

Canada has a well-deserved international reputation because it has the most generous and fair immigration system in the world. Every year, Canada extends protection to more than 10% of the world's resettled refugees, more than any other industrialized country. However, Canada's asylum system is vulnerable to abuse.

Canadians have no tolerance for people who take advantage of our generosity and our country.

The government is concerned about the recent increase in asylum claims by citizens of countries usually considered to be safe.

In view of the fact that, last year, 62% of asylum claims were abandoned or withdrawn, or denied by the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, it is evident that too much money is spent on asylum seekers who receive taxpayer-funded social benefits.

The facts speak for themselves. For example, in 2011, Canada received more refugee claims from the democratic and human rights-respecting countries of the European Union than from Africa or Asia. Last year alone, a quarter of all refugee claims came from European Union countries.

Over the past few years, nearly all asylum claims from EU countries have been withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. In 2010-11 alone, that was the case for 95% of claims from EU countries. Last year's unfounded asylum claims by 5,800 EU nationals will cost Canadian taxpayers nearly $170 million. Obviously, something has to change.

We expect that the new refugee protection system will save the provinces approximately $1.65 billion over five years in welfare and education costs.

The Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act builds on and enhances reforms introduced in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The new measures will expedite asylum claims processing for nationals of designated countries, those that are not a usual source of refugees. In addition, the new measures will reduce the number of options available to unsuccessful asylum seekers, options that allow them to delay their departure from Canada.

Thanks to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and associated regulations, IRB processing times have gone down to 60 days for claimants from designated countries and 90 days for other asylum seekers. However, as we were preparing to implement the act, it became clear that these processing times were still too long for people who do not need our protection.

The government has always made it clear that reforms to the asylum system are ongoing and that further measures will be introduced as needed and when needed. Given recent surges in the number of bogus asylum claims from human rights-respecting EU countries, it is clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system are needed sooner rather than later.

Faster decisions regarding refugee claims are the key to an improved system. That is why, under the new provisions, wait times for hearings will be further improved.

The government is acting responsibly and in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers by presenting reforms meant to resolve problems related to the rise in false refugee claims. These claimants, many of whom withdraw or abandon their claims, are seeking to abuse Canada's generous immigration system and take advantage of our generous welfare benefits, such as social assistance and health care, and this costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Shorter processing times and faster removals will limit access to these social benefits and to work permits, which will also help prevent the abuse of our refugee system.

Under the proposed changes, refugee claimants coming from designated countries of origin will be given a hearing within 30 days, if their claim has been filed at an office in Canada, and within 45 days if it was filed at a point of entry, compared to over 1,000 days in the current system.

I would remind the House that the Balanced Refugee Reform Act creates a new refugee appeal division, or RAD, within the IRB. The appeal process will include an examination of the original decision, and in some cases, new evidence that was submitted later.

Under Bill C-31, claimants from designated countries of origin and those who have manifestly unfounded claims or claims with no credible basis, will not have access to the RAD. All asylum seekers whose claims are deemed admissible will have a fair hearing and can always appeal to the Federal Court in the event of a negative decision.

I want to read from an editorial that appeared in The Gazette of Montreal:

Canada has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation as a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution in their homelands.

At the same time, however, it has also gained repute as an easy mark for the unscrupulous who fraudulently use our generous refugee determination system as a way to get into Canada without submitting to standard immigration requirements and procedures...

Shielding the refugee system from false claimants is not only in the best interest of Canadians, on whom they are a financial burden, but also of legitimate applicants who stand to lose out if bogus claimants cast the system as a whole into disrepute.

Establishing a system that is both efficient and fairly balanced is a daunting challenge, but it is one that should be tackled realistically and at the same time in a spirit of generosity that should stand as a Canadian hallmark.

We want to ensure that the refugee protection system is solid enough to deal with unfounded asylum claims, and these changes will send the right message: if you do not need protection, you will be sent home quickly.

The significant changes introduced in the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act will accelerate the processing of asylum claims and discourage abuse of the redress process. The bill will also make it possible to offer protection more quickly to those who really need it.

I therefore encourage all hon. members to support Bill C-31, which will help to maintain the integrity of our immigration and refugee protection system.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech, which was all in French. I would like to commend him on it. It was enjoyable to listen to. He speaks French very well.

This bill is extremely important. I understand that it is important to crack down on human smuggling, which is a serious problem. However, the bill does not necessarily attack smugglers but mostly attacks refugees. In my riding, we have an immigration holding centre, where people who cannot prove their identity are held. It operates exactly the same way as a prison. It is located on federal property just next door to the penitentiaries in my riding.

Approximately 2,000 people pass through there each year. The average detention time is 28 days, the time it takes them to prove their identity. However, this bill proposes a mandatory maximum detention of one year. I am concerned about the rights of refugees and of the people who work in these detention centres, and I am concerned about how this is going to be implemented.

Will these individuals really be detained for a maximum of one year or could it be for longer? Some deadlines are already not being met. These people are experiencing severe mental anguish. Will the maximum detention period really be one year?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I very much appreciate my colleague's support. Francophiles in British Columbia really enjoy speaking the language of Molière, and of Quebec. I also thank her for the question. This bill extends a great deal of protection to refugees. For example, it maintains the right of appeal to the Federal Court.

In order to protect all refugees, it is important to maintain a generous system. If we do not improve the current system, we will not be able to continue accepting as many real refugees from other parts of the world. If the minister had the right to designate the countries whose citizens are not true refugees we could greatly speed up the current process.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, when the member for Vancouver Centre spoke, the minister took exception to some of her comments. I take exception to the minister's comment. It is not just opposition members who are concerned about the lack of respect toward our Constitution and charter.

I would like to refer to a fairly telling statement by one of the lawyers for the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. It refers to Bill C-4, which of course is now Bill C-31, and states that the “proposed mandatory, unreviewable, warrantless, year-long detention is patently unconstitutional”.

I wonder if the member would acknowledge that there are many lawyers across this country who have experience in dealing with these matters, have grave concerns about the constitutionality of this legislation and believe that, in fact, there may be a need for amendments so that it would pass—

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Madam Speaker, my colleague works hard on the immigration committee. I certainly appreciate sharing that experience with him.

It is interesting that even the former leader of my colleague's party, Michael Ignatieff, supports the notion that there are countries from which we should not be treating refugee claimants in the same way as other countries. For instance, it does not make sense for us to be taking people who claim refugee status from European Union countries. We know they have strong democracies, human rights records and independent judiciaries, all mentioned in the bill as criteria. This would, in a very objective way, give the minister criteria to distinguish countries which would be subject to the accelerated program. There are no constitutional issues that I can see.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and have the opportunity to speak on Bill C-31 protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, our immigration system is open to abuse. Canadians are generous people, but we have no tolerance for those who abuse that generosity and who take unfair advantage of our great country.

Canadians have told us, loud and clear, that they want us to put a stop to this type of abuse. Our government has listened and we are taking action. That is why our Conservative government introduced Bill C-31. It would make our immigration system faster and fairer. It is the latest step by our government to ensure that our immigration system is no longer abused by foreign criminals, bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.

This bill includes three major components. First, it includes much needed reforms to our refugee system. Second, this bill includes the provisions in C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. There is one important difference to note. It has been brought up in the House today, but it is important to stress once again, that there is now an exemption from detention for anyone under the age of 16.

Third, and the focus of my remarks today, is that this bill would provide the government with the authority to collect biometric data, specifically fingerprints and a photograph from foreign nationals who seek to enter Canada.

Canada welcomes thousands upon thousands of visitors each and every year, tourists, family members and business people, among others. In 2010, under our Conservative government, over 920,000 temporary visa permits were issued. That is a 13% increase compared to the previous Liberal government.

We have also increased the maximum length of multiple entry visas from 5 to 10 years to make it easier for eligible applicants to visit Canada and come back. Our government introduced the parent and grandparent super visa so that loved ones can visit their children and grandchildren for a period of up to two years at a time. Since 2006, our government has also lifted visa requirements from eight countries: Taiwan, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary and Lithuania.

Our government is facilitating the travel of legitimate travellers to Canada. I want to stress the word “legitimate”. It is no secret that there are countless numbers of people, each and every year, who are not allowed to come to Canada and who nevertheless find their way in.

There are countless examples on almost a daily basis of violent criminals, terrorists, human smugglers and war criminals, among others, who have entered Canada using false or fraudulent documents. There are several examples of criminals entering Canada on multiple occasions even after they have been deported. There are even examples of criminals re-entering Canada using false identities and documents up to 15, 19, 21 different times.

We must take action. We cannot allow this to continue. This has to stop. Biometrics would help our government end this fraud and the obvious abuse. Biometrics would help our government protect the safety and security of all Canadians. That is one of the number one priorities of any government. Biometrics is one of the most effective ways to correctly identify individuals. Biometrics would be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out of Canada.

Let me explain how biometrics would work. When foreign nationals apply for a visa to enter Canada, they would go to a visa office or one of the many visa application centres located around the world. They would provide their fingerprints and have a high quality, digital photo taken.

This data would then be checked against other databases. If no flags were raised and they met all other criteria, they would be provided with a visa to visit Canada. However, if a flag were raised and a person found to be inadmissible, that person would be denied a visa to enter Canada.

When the visa holders enter Canada, they would again be asked to provide their biometric data. This would ensure the person who is entering Canada is the same person who provided the data when he or she applied overseas and who was approved to travel on that visa.

In other words, we must ensure that “who applies is who arrives”. Needless to say, biometrics would be an effective security tool.

Understandably, there are concerns about privacy when it comes to the collection of biometric data. I would like to be perfectly clear. Biometric data would not be required of Canadian citizens or permanent residents. The personal information of visa applicants would be used, retained, shared and disposed of in accordance with Canada's privacy laws. Citizenship and Immigration is working closely with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on the implementation of biometrics. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner's office has stated that it is “satisfied that CIC is taking its privacy responsibilities as part of the protocol seriously, and with the fact that it has been receptive to much of our advice”.

It is also important to note that if someone acquired Canadian citizenship before their biometric data was due to be disposed of, it would be disposed of immediately upon the individual receiving citizenship.

The collection of biometric data makes such common sense that the only question it begs is why it was not done decades ago. In fact, it was done decades ago in many other countries around the world. Bill C-31 would finally put us in line with other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, countries of the European Union, New Zealand, the United States and Japan.

Biometrics would not just help our government keep those who pose a threat out, it would also facilitate the travel of legitimate visitors, and again I stress “legitimate“. It could lead to faster processing times.

There has been widespread support for biometrics. In fact, a Globe and Mail editorial on Bill C-31 stated:

The bill will also implement biometric identification, such as fingerprints and photos, for people who apply for visitor’s visas. This welcome change will guard against the use of false identities.

A Montreal Gazette editorial gave the following praise. It stated:

And it allows for the collection of biometric data--fingerprints and digital photos--of people entering Canada on a visitor visa, a work permit or a study visa. Both of these measures are advisable.... The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities.

I know that all Canadians want our government to strengthen our security screening process to ensure that serious criminals, terrorists, bogus refugee claimants and war criminals, among others, are not permitted to enter Canada. My constituents in Scarborough Centre do not want these criminals to be able to enter Canada or live in our neighbourhoods. I am certain the NDP and Liberal MPs' constituents do not either. That is why I was so shocked to learn that the opposition parties, both the NDP and the Liberals, are voting against this bill and against the use of biometrics. Not only do they oppose the provisions to give the government the authority to collect biometrics, they also voted against the funding necessary to start the collection of biometric data. In other words, the NDP and Liberals have voted against and continue to vote against one of the most important measures to prevent criminals and terrorists from entering our great country. They are voting against a tool that would help protect the safety and security of all Canadians, including their own constituents. For that they will be held accountable.

Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration systems act, would make our immigration system faster and fairer. Most importantly, it would help protect the safety and security of all Canadians. I implore all members of the House to support this important and much needed piece of legislation.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech and opinion, which, sadly, I do not fully share. I will explain why a little later.

Many things in this bill should be revisited. Many of the act's provisions will be amended, which will directly affect refugees. In exchange, the minister will have the discretionary power to decide, case by case, whether or not these people fall into the right categories. It is as though he were deciding who is naughty and who is nice. That should not be the case, especially not in our current democracy, unfortunately one that is losing its lustre these days.

Does my colleague not feel that it is a little unfair that the minister is being given so much power? Is it not up to the people on the ground who deal with refugees to determine whether or not the refugees need help? What does she think about the fact that human rights and refugee conventions are currently being violated?