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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

Noon

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, my colleague's point that the minister has arbitrary, sole power to designate or determine the status of a refugee based on his or her country of origin being designated a safe country is completely false. I would like to reiterate that: it is completely false.

The most important factors determining whether countries are deemed safe or not are objective and quantitative. That information is based on previous refugee claimants or asylum seekers who have either actually walked away from their claims to begin with or were refused by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

To ensure that the member opposite knows the facts, I would reiterate that this is not at the sole discretion of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

The hon. member across the way has also mentioned the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would also state that her point is completely false: the legislation before the House today is not in violation of those rights and freedoms but is correct and legitimate.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, on so many fronts I would contest the member's answer to my colleague's question.

Having said that, she made reference to biometrics. She tried to give the impression that this is something that the NDP and the Liberals do not support whatsoever, and that if the government does not act to put in place biometric checks, terrorists and criminals will be free to run around Canada.

The Conservatives have been in government for six years now. This is the first time we have heard anything about it; the government itself has been lagging.

I ask the member, because she is a member of the citizenship and immigration committee, why, when we are in the midst of studying the issue and spending thousands of Canadian tax dollars on studying it, this particular minister brings in the whole issue of biometrics?

Why did the minister not at least wait and hear what we had to say? What was the great urgency, given that the minister has been sitting back and doing nothing for the last five years on this issue. Why are we wasting taxpayers' dollars on a biometric study in committee when the minister already knows what he will do? He is not waiting for any committee report.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague and I are both members of the citizenship and immigration committee, but I am surprised by some of the content of his question.

First and foremost, I would stress that one of the most important roles of any government is ensuring the safety and security of its Canadian citizens.

The government and this country need to move toward biometrics. That would be in line with many other countries and our allies around the world, who have been using biometrics for a very long time. To be specific, we could talk about the fact that if biometrics had been place years ago, people who are now in Canada might not be here and there would have been no need to deport them 10, 12, or 15 times.

My hon. colleague across the way in the Liberal Party talked about the cost of this particular system. That is interesting because the provisions in Bill C-31 would actually save taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. That is what we should be talking about, respect for taxpayers dollars and the safety and security of Canadian citizens.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about this important bill, which was introduced by the Conservatives. I would like to indicate right away that I intend to share my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

This is an important bill introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism but, as we have just heard from the Conservatives, it has a confrontational tone similar to what we saw with the bills designed to intrude and spy on our private lives through our computers, bills that were introduced by the Minister of Public Safety. In that case, if we did not agree with the government, then it meant that we were siding with pedophiles and child pornographers. Now, we get the impression that, if we dare to oppose the minister's bill, we will be accused of siding with terrorists and criminals. This is really childish politics, like something you would see in the schoolyard, and I deplore it.

I would like to begin my speech with the words of an Argentinian poet. This is something I rarely do, but I think it is important. It gives an idea of the tone and vision that I would like the debate on immigrants and refugees to have.

The Spanish title of this poem is Los hermanos or, in English, The Brothers.

I have so many brothers,
more than I can count,
from the valleys, the mountains,
the plains and the seas.
{Line}
People connected by work,
by dreams,
with hope ahead,
and memory behind.
[...]
That’s how we go on
tanned like leather by loneliness.
It’s how we lose each other in the world.
It’s how we find each other again.
[...]
I have so many brothers,
more than I can count
and a sister, very beautiful,
whose name is freedom.

That is what people do when they are trying to find a bit of hope, a bit of light in their life, when they are trying to get out of terrible situations, when, for their own sake and for the sake of their children, they want to go live a better life in a free society. They think they will be welcomed there with open arms on humanitarian grounds and received as our brothers and sisters.

Unfortunately, we have Conservative policies that are clamping down and taking us in a completely different direction. That is why, as a New Democrat, I am opposed to Bill C-31. I will elaborate as to why.

We have problems with clauses 24 and 25 of the bill. We had a Conservative colleague explain to us the benefits of democracy and human rights in the European Union. We will come back to that and talk about Hungary and the problem of the gypsies and the Roma.

However, I would like to share the opinion of a few judges of the European Court of Human Rights: Judges Rosakis, Tulkens, Hajiyev, Spielmann and Hirvelä. They said that depriving someone of their freedom for a long period of time constitutes a serious injustice if they committed no crime and had no intention of doing so. They also said that no civilized country should knowingly tolerate this kind of injustice.

These are very wise words. The bill introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism does not contain the same wisdom. Indeed, Bill C-31 would automatically incarcerate refugee claimants designated by the minister, with no chance of release. That is exactly the situation the judges of the European Court of Human Rights criticized.

If this bill passes, any refugee claimants who arrive with the help of a smuggler will have to serve at least 12 months in detention. On March 6, the minister defended this measure by describing it as humane detention. That is absolute nonsense and reminds me of the newspeak that George Orwell wrote about.

Moreover, the bill will punish people who have been given refugee status by denying them permanent residence and family reunification for five years. We think five years is extreme. Overall, the bill targets refugees, not human smugglers. The language, the rhetoric, says it is targeting smugglers, but in fact the people who will really be affected are refugees. The minister is aiming at the wrong target. Certainly, the bill is well intentioned. The good intentions are there, but the cure it seeks to apply is worse than the disease.

The people who will suffer if this bill is passed are people fleeing persecution, people fleeing war or violence or discrimination in their country based on sexual orientation or other grounds. The people who will suffer are the adults who come here, but also their children.

I heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs mocking our concern for children. This is important to us. We care about our families and we think our children are important, but we also think the children of all families are important.

There is a difference between wanting to arrest terrorists, people who endanger the security of Canada and our fellow Canadians, and wanting to arrest everybody on the pretext that they came here with a smuggler because they were in a desperate situation, and putting them in a detention centre because the government does not dare call it a prison. It is talking about putting adults in those places with their children for a year. Theoretically, children under the age of 16 will not be detained, but in reality, families of claimants are faced with the wrenching choice of staying together in detention or separating from their children.

In January of this year, in an unequivocal study, research psychologists affiliated with McGill University warned the government about the negative impact of detention on the mental health of refugee claimants. According to those researchers, separating children from their parents in detention is not an acceptable alternative, in terms of mental health. The effects of the separation are generally harmful to the child’s development, with very serious long-term consequences.

The situation is just as alarming when it comes to adult claimants. In Australia and the United Kingdom, automatic detention is common practice, however numerous cases of suicidal behaviour, severe depression, suicide and self-mutilation have been reported among detainees. Yes, in our opinion, this bill flies in the face of the charter.

In attempting to justify their bill in this House, the Conservatives’ rhetoric seems to vacillate between humane treatment and repression. In our opinion, this approach is incompatible with the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with Canada's international commitments in the area of human rights. This point of view is shared not only by the Canadian Council for Refugees, but also by the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.

The automatic detention of designated refugee claimants is arbitrary, since it permits the imprisonment of innocent people. The vast majority of foreign national detainees are not criminals and have no intention of becoming so. In 95% of cases, these people are detained because officers have doubts about their identity or whether or not they will be present for immigration proceedings.

“Designated claimants” are criticized for the manner in which they entered Canada. Yet, by definition, a refugee is a person who travels and crosses a border in search of protection. Migration is, therefore, an inherent part of the refugee process. The means whereby this migration is carried out is circumstantial in nature. Basing the detention of refugee claimants on the manner in which they arrived in Canada is nonsensical. It equates to punishing a refugee for simply being a refugee.

The government is criminalizing the migration process. This violates article 31(1) of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits the application of penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence. This measure also violates sections 7 and 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In our opinion, this is a discriminatory measure. Making a distinction between refugee claimants based on their mode of arrival is discriminatory under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and articles 1 and 3 of the Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees. The creation of the category of “designated claimants” is based on absurd logic that implies different treatment with serious consequences. The system of automatic detention for “designated claimants” creates a system of “infra-rights”, otherwise known as a two-tier system, which prevents one category of refugees from effectively taking advantage of their fundamental rights as compared to other claimants.

This measure is also complete overkill—it uses a bazooka to try and kill a fly by imposing 12 full months of detention without the option of a court review. It is abusive not only because the period of detention is excessive, but also because it denies designated refugee claimants essential procedural guarantees against arbitrary detention. Preventing designated claimants from challenging the grounds for their continued detention over the 12-month period is another clear violation of the charter.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that the lack of review of the detention of foreign nationals infringes the guarantee against arbitrary detention in section 9 of the charter, which encompasses the right to prompt review of detention under section 10(c) of the charter.

Most importantly, this measure is completely ineffective and counterproductive because it is based on the myth that repression is a deterrent. However, in countries where similar measures have been introduced, the number of asylum claims has not gone down. Most migrants do not know the laws of the country in which they are seeking asylum. Their only motivation is to get out and seek protection.

Migratory patterns follow their own rules and conditions. Neither legal barriers nor bricks-and-mortar ones will stop migrants from coming here. Automatic incarceration will not reduce the number of asylum seekers; it will just increase their suffering. Whatever the government says, this treatment is not humane.

As legislators, we are the guardians of the Constitution. It is our duty to ensure that everything we do is inspired by the values in the charter, Canada's humanitarian tradition and our country's obligations vis-à-vis international law and human rights.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, the NDP member is once again giving the impression that he is not familiar with Canada's laws and obligations. He is not familiar with the obligations resulting from international treaties or conventions on refugees. He said that it is inappropriate to designate certain countries since that violates fundamental rights. And yet, even the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has clearly stated that it is completely normal and appropriate to do so.

I will now move to English because it is getting technical.

It is totally appropriate for countries to designate certain countries, which are not normally known to produce refugees, for accelerated treatment. Virtually every asylum system in the democratic world, all through Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, all have consideration of faster treatment for claimants coming from countries that are not normally known to produce refugees.

In any event, he says that we would be denying fundamental rights to those individuals. In what respect? Every claimant under the system that we are proposing would have a full, fact-based oral hearing in front of a quasi-judicial body on the merits of his or her individual claim, which goes above the requirements of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Therefore, what right is he talking about denying with respect to safety country claimants?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his comment even though my interpretation of his bill is fundamentally different than his. He spoke about Australia. The NDP is convinced that it is extremely likely that the courts will rule against the provisions that are likely to infringe upon the right to equality, the right to liberty and the right to a fair and equitable trial and interfere with the best interests of children, because they are clearly inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I would like to come back to the warning that a number of refugee advocacy groups in Australia sent to the Prime Minister in a letter dated December 22, 2011. In that letter, people who have experienced the system that the Conservatives are trying to impose here ask the Prime Minister not to follow the failed example of Australia by creating new laws that will generate innumerable financial and human costs and damage Canada's international reputation and proud history of fairness and multiculturalism. They urge us to abandon this bill because it will not be dissuasive and it will not work, as was the case with the laws in Australia.

That is what really happened.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his eloquence and for reciting a poem. As he knows, my parents are from Vietnam. They had the opportunity to come here to study. Canada also accepted many boat people, as they were called, who came here as refugees. I am concerned about how children fleeing their country, who have problems such as not having any papers, will be treated in Canada. What does the bill say about these children? I would like my colleague to talk about that.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31 today, because nearly a quarter of the residents of my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine were not born in Canada. Every week, we meet foreign nationals who ask us to guide them through the sometimes long and often difficult process of claiming refugee status.

Bill C-31, which we are discussing today, generates strong reactions among immigrant families in my riding. People are afraid that under these new rules, the thousands of people who come to Canada every year seeking protection will no longer have an opportunity to prove their claims. They are questioning the transparency and fairness of the process.

Unfortunately, we have no arguments to persuade them otherwise. It must be clearly understood that people who come to Canada and claim refugee status are in an extremely vulnerable position. Some have been tortured, threatened or persecuted; others have a genuine fear that this will happen to them if they are sent back to their country of origin. And even though the reasons they give sometimes do not correspond to the very specific definition of “refugee”, they may still have left their country of origin for entirely legitimate reasons. In most cases, they have left everything behind, hoping they will be given some protection here. These extremely sensitive situations call for the greatest vigilance.

We have to make sure that each of these nationals is entitled to a real opportunity to make their claim in a process that is just and equitable. If this bill is enacted, refugee status claimants will now have only 15 days to complete their claim and 15 days to appeal the decision if their claim is refused. Those deadlines are unrealistic and the consequence will be that some of them will not be able to make their claims.

To understand clearly how inadequate this measure is, we have to look at the context. People have left their country of origin, where, for one reason or another, they were threatened or persecuted. They arrive in Canada, perhaps traumatized by their experience, and they have only 15 days to complete their claim. These people must write down their life stories, then get legal advice, and most importantly, obtain the supporting documents for their claim. Demanding that people do all this, and in such a short time, when they have just escaped from a situation where they feared for their lives and sometimes speak neither French nor English, will often amount to asking the impossible.

We are deeply concerned that there will be a designated safe country list unilaterally determined by the minister. The purpose of this measure appears to be to expedite the processing of claims, however it could in fact have serious consequences. Not only do we fear that this approach will taint the entire claim review process by bringing into play political considerations that have no place in the process, we also believe that this way of categorizing countries as safe and unsafe is totally out of touch with reality.

This approach to immigration does not take into account the individual characteristics of each foreign national. A country that is safe for a majority of people may not be safe for certain individuals or minority groups. One need only reflect for a moment to realize that such situations exist the world over, for example, for the Kurds in Turkey, the Roma in Hungary, and journalists and political opponents in Russia. Such situations exist when it comes to the rights of homosexuals in certain countries or the treatment of women. Our immigration system must provide each and every claimant with a fair process based on the claimant's specific situation and the facts as they relate to the claim, regardless of country of origin.

Not taking into account these specific considerations, ignoring the very existence of repression and discrimination, means choosing to bury one's head in the sand and leaving the most vulnerable people to their fate; it also violates Canada's humanitarian tradition. Even though their particular circumstances require closer review, foreign nationals from safe countries will have to comply with even shorter deadlines, and they will be unable to appeal decisions. It seems obvious to us that by shortening deadlines and considerably reducing the possibilities of appeal, the government is endangering the lives of refugees, because it will no longer be possible to correct mistakes that may have been made early on in the process. I wish to remind the government that it has a responsibility to protect foreign nationals.

The immigrant population in my riding, just like elsewhere in Canada, plays a key role in the growth of the country. Immigrants contribute on a daily basis to the economic, social and cultural development of our country.

The immigrant population will play an even more important role in the society of tomorrow. Our immigration system must continue to evolve in order to meet changing needs and world circumstances. In my opinion, Bill C-31 does the opposite. I remind the government that we are entirely opposed to all the criteria contained in this bill.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the member has done a fairly good job of overviewing a number of things in the bill and I appreciate that she is questioning some of the bill's content.

One of the points she made was in reference to the applications we receive in this country from countries like Hungary. She insisted that we should be accepting all of those applications regardless of whether they are true asylum cases or actually bogus refugee claims. She mentioned a number of times in her speech the importance of Canada's acceptance of refugees and the impact they would have on our immigration system. I do not question that, but she has indicated two parallels that are running against and into each other, which is that there are bogus applicants coming from countries that have been proven to be bogus, such as Hungary, and yet she indicates that we should be assisting refugees. This bill would do that. I wonder why she would think that allowing bogus claims would somehow be good for Canada's immigration and refugee system.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

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

However, I must correct what the hon. member said. I have never said that we had to accept every claim. What I said is that all claims must be considered in a process that does not take country of origin into consideration. That is what I said. I said that this principle, having safe countries and unsafe countries, was going to bias the way a claim would be analyzed.

If I receive a claim from anywhere in the world, from someone who says they have a problem with the justice system in their country or who says they are experiencing a particular situation, and they would like their claim to be considered to determine whether they can be granted refugee status, I think that where the person comes from should never be considered, because that clouds the analysis that is done. That is what I said.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to highlight what I think is an issue with this bill, and that is the fact that the minister believes that he alone can best determine which countries should be listed on the safe list. There was a bill that passed not that long ago in which there was a consensus that that decision would best be determined by an advisory group of individuals who have some background in human rights.

I wonder if she might want to provide comments as to why that would be an important amendment to this legislation in order to make it even better overall.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In fact, that is an issue I did not have time to address in my speech.

The minister wants to give himself excessive powers. We think these questions should be examined by a committee, because putting all the power in the hands of a single person does in fact leave room for safe and unsafe country designations based on political considerations or considerations that take foreign policy questions into account.

We are talking about a bill that is going to determine the lives of hundreds of people who come to Canada to ask us for help because things are bad for them in their countries. But this bill would allow the minister to designate safe or unsafe countries based on what he thinks and based on his concerns. He would be giving himself the right to do that, even though it would have an impact on people’s lives.

In my riding, people come to see us every week to claim refugee status. It is extremely difficult for these people, who have had problems with the justice system. Many journalists who have written negative things about the regimes in power in their countries have said they fear for their lives. And now we are going to have to tell them that the minister has decided, on his own, that their country is on a blacklist.

I think this in fact detracts from the bill and I think an amendment in this regard is needed.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Langley.

I am grateful for the chance to speak in the House today on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, for tabling this important legislation, and I encourage all members in the House to join me in supporting Bill C-31 to ensure that it passes into law.

Canada has always been a welcoming country and continues to be so. Since 2006, our government has welcomed the highest sustained, average number of immigrants in Canadian history. Our generous immigration system is not only the envy of the world but also enjoys broad support among Canadians.

Why is this? In my opinion, there are two big reasons. First is an economic reason. Canadians know that without a strong immigration system, our economy would suffer. We now live in a globally competitive world, where countries that can attract the best and the brightest from around the world will best be able to compete internationally.

Second is historic experience. Canadians know that for generations newcomers have come to Canada and have helped to build it into the strong and pluralistic country it is today. There is every reason to believe they will continue to do so in the future. However, for that to happen, we must be vigilant in ensuring that our immigration system remains robust, efficient and working in the best interests of our country.

I believe that the measures in Bill C-31 will help ensure exactly that. What are these measures? As the minister has clearly articulated, they fall into three complementary categories, all of which will help protect the immigration system. First, Bill C-31 will build on the reforms to the refugee system that were passed into law on June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Second, this legislation will help crack down on the disreputable business of human smuggling. Finally, Bill C-31 will pave the way for the introduction next year of biometrics for screening applicants for temporary resident visas, or study or work permits.

Once these measures are implemented, I am confident they will live up to the name of the bill, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

For the benefit of my hon. colleagues, I would like to briefly discuss the importance of each of these measures in turn. On the day that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism introduced the bill, he spoke about the significant increase in refugee claims originating in countries that we would not normally expect to produce refugees, democratic countries that respect human rights.

The most striking example of this is the fact that last year alone almost a quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada were by EU nationals. In other words, a quarter of all claims are coming from our democratic European allies, not from war-torn countries ruled by tyrants and plagued by persecution. That fact alone makes the case for additional reform of the system, but consider the cost to Canadian taxpayers in recent years from almost all EU claims being withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. Indeed, the unfounded claims among the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million.

In order to remove a failed refugee claimant from Canada, it still takes an average of four and a half years from the time of the claim to the person's removal, and removals have dragged out for more than a decade. Failed claimants are eligible to receive taxpayer-funded social benefits, which contributes to their overall economic burden on taxpayers. For many years, Canada has spent far too much time, effort and money on failed refugee claimants who do not need this country's protection. This hurts those who are very much in need of our protection.

As the minister has stated, these measures would help provinces save about $1.65 billion over five years in social assistance and education costs. The reforms proposed in the bill would speed up the process of both deciding on refugee claims and on removing failed claimants from Canada.

Even with these reforms, Canada will still have one of the most generous asylum systems on earth. In fact, because these reforms would enable those who need our protection to get it even faster, I would say that it makes the system even better.

Bill C-31 would help to bring our immigration and border control systems more fully into the 21st century by creating a legislative framework for the long planned implementation of biometric technology as an identity management tool in those systems. In plain language, collecting biometric data would mean photographing and fingerprinting people applying to Canada for a temporary resident visa, or for study or work permits. Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening, enhance security and help reduce fraud. This is an effective way to manage a high volume of applications and some forms of sophisticated identity fraud. It would help prevent serious criminals, previous deportees and terrorists, among others, from using a false identity to obtain a Canadian visa. Alternatively, the use of biometrics would also help facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool for confirming the identity of travellers, students and temporary workers.

I said at the beginning of my remarks, Canadians must always be vigilant about keeping our immigration system robust, efficient and working in the best interests of Canada. When we examine the measures in Bill C-31, it is clear that they will do all of these things.

The bill would make Canada's immigration system faster and fairer. It would help us 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, Bill C-31 would provide protection more quickly to those truly in need.

For these reasons, I am very hopeful that all of my colleagues in this House will join me in supporting the bill's passage into law.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, certain subjects really attract my attention. When my esteemed colleague began his speech, he was talking about the economy. I think that when we talk about refugees, we are speaking primarily about human rights, in fact.

I would also like to draw a parallel with what I heard the minister say: the parents are criminals, so they are taken into custody, and the children are taken into care. I have also heard people say that refugees are just freeloaders. They are people who are taking advantage of the system and therefore they are costing the system money.

Suppose we do an economic analysis. How much does it cost to build a detention centre? How much does it cost to keep someone in detention for year? These people cannot work and therefore they cannot support themselves. This is going to cost taxpayers even more.

Because of the costs of detention centres and all that is involved in keeping each claimant in custody for a year, taxpayers will have to pay even more. Does my esteemed colleague not agree with this opinion?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, we have one of the most generous immigration systems in the world and it is important that we protect it.

The fact of the matter is that we have far too many bogus refugee claimants coming into the country, whose appeals sometimes drag on for years. We know that it takes on average four and half years to get an obvious bogus refugee out of this country, and that is what is costing Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars. While these bogus refugees are here, they are obviously costing taxpayers in social assistance, health care and education.

I would like to applaud the efforts of the hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for addressing this issue. It is a concern that truly needs to be addressed urgently.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-11 attempted to deal with the backlog and had the support of all three political parties. It too attempted to deal with the backlog by speeding up the process. The member would find all party agreement on wanting to speed up the process.

If a 25 year-old comes here as a legitimate refugee and has done nothing wrong and is trying to save his own life by entering Canada, and is then told that he has to wait at least five years before he can sponsor his daughter or his son or his wife, he will be into his thirties before he can see the spouse he left behind because someone was trying to kill or torture him.

Is that fair?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, our immigration system is far too generous to bogus refugee claimants, who would like to take advantage of our system and all of the services that federal and provincial governments provide in terms of social assistance, education, health care and so on.

If a legitimate refugee comes to this country, Bill C-31 would actually help that person. The bill would help speed up the process and get a person who is in real need integrated into the country faster and sooner. The bill targets bogus individuals who are trying to take advantage of our country and our system and Canadian taxpayers.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to represent the incredible people of beautiful Langley, British Columbia.

I thank the member for Brampton—Springdale for his commitment to improving the Canadian immigration system. He is an inspiration to all of us in this House. I wish more people had the passion that he has to ensure we have an immigration system that is well protected.

This is a great opportunity to speak to this bill before us today. We do need to protect Canada's immigration system and I believe that Bill C-31 would allow us to do just that. This legislation would help us maintain the faith that Canadians have in our immigration and refugee system. Our great nation has been built on the hopes and ambitions of people from other countries who choose Canada as a home and we continue to depend on contributions of newcomers to help preserve our prosperity and the wonderful quality of life that we experience in Canada.

For that reason, Canada opens its doors to more than a quarter of a million immigrants and refugees every year. In fact, since 2006, our Conservative government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigrants in Canadian history. Is that not incredible? We have a well-earned reputation around the world for the generosity of our immigration and refugee system.

Unfortunately, though, this generous reputation has made us a target for criminals who want to abuse our system for their own gain. I am talking about the crime of human smuggling. I am sure all members have heard of and recall the irregular arrival of the Sun Sea in our waters off British Columbia in August 2010 with its 492 passengers. That incident and others have shaken the faith of Canadians in our immigration and refugee system. They fear some immigrants may have links with organized crime or even terrorist organizations. Canadians wonder if authorities can assess and expedite the entry of so many people into Canada at once without making a mistake. They might well ask that because, frankly, our current system is not designed to process quickly such an influx of people or complex cases arising from transnational, sophisticated human smuggling ventures.

That is why a key provision of Bill C-31 would allow us to bring in new rules to deal with irregular arrivals. Currently, for example, an immigration officer can detain a foreign national entering into Canada. This would include where the officer is not satisfied or not certain about the person's true identity. The Immigration and Refugee Board reviews these kinds of detentions within two days. If the person is still in custody, the board will look at that case again within seven days. Subsequently, it can look at it every 30 days after that.

Our current system is not meant to deal with mass arrivals in one location, which is what can often happen with human smuggling. As a result, authorities do not have adequate time for complete and proper identity, admissibility and security checks. We have a problem then. Depending on the complexity of the case, a security check can take days, weeks or even months. If a person arrives with no documentation, as is often the case with people who arrive en mass, the process can literally take years to complete. The reality is that the people carrying out human smuggling know this is how our system works.

I hope that all members, particularly those in the opposition, will change their minds and support this legislation.

Under this proposed legislation, the Minister of Public Safety would declare the arrival of groups as irregular in two situations: one, if the minister believes the identity or admissibility of the arrivals cannot be determined in a timely manner; two, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect criminal elements or terrorist groups are engaged in human smuggling for profit or for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization or terrorist group.

If the minister does designate the group as an ”irregular arrival”, then authorities would detain all the individuals who have arrived under these circumstances. These individuals would remain in detention until the Immigration and Refugee Board determined they were refugees. Under the proposed changes to our asylum system, this would take only a few months in many cases. If, after a year, an individual still has not been identified and is still in custody, the board would review his or her case and decide whether there should be continued detention or release.

I want to stress that the legislation would give the minister power to order early release in exceptional cases. I also want to point out that those under 16 years of age would be exempt from detention. I want to ensure the members of the opposition hear that. This is an important change from the previous human smuggling bill, Bill C-4. The opposition members do not like to hear the truth, unfortunately, but they have heard the truth and I hope the truth will set them free.

The proposed changes would give authorities the time they need to do proper background checks into identity and admissibility. This is absolutely crucial. When individuals with ties to organized crime or terrorists slip into our country they put the safety and security of all Canadians at risk.

On one hand, these incidents reinforce Canada's reputation as an easy target for human smugglers. On the other hand, they undermine the faith of Canadians in their immigration refugee system.

Our country needs newcomers to keep us strong. We can ill-afford for Canadians to lose trust and confidence in how we welcome immigrants and refugees. Our government is determined to address these challenges head on.

Centuries ago, when the first newcomers came to our shore, they harboured no thoughts about organized crime or terrorism, as some do now. They simply wanted a better life for themselves and their families. This same wish has drawn many people to Canada ever since. In 1906, my grandpa, my gido and baba came from Ukraine to Canada for a better life. As newcomers continue to take advantage of all our opportunities, they also contribute to our collective wealth in all sense of the word.

Together, to the envy of the world, we have woven a fabric that is a model of tolerance, compassion and prosperity. We cannot take this achievement for granted though. Indeed, as I speak, human smuggling is pulling at the fabric and threatening to unravel.

Irregular arrivals, like those on the Sun Sea, are making many Canadians question the merits of our immigration and refugee system. It will be a sad day indeed if our country loses faith in the merits of what new arrivals can bring us, so we must guard the vision of Canada closely. We must refuse to let criminal elements exploit our goodwill for their own ends. We must reassure all Canadians that we are ready to strengthen our immigration and refugee system. We must act now.

The provisions I have highlighted would give authorities more tools to manage large influxes of irregular arrivals. Officials would be able to do the necessary checks into immigration security and identity in order to protect Canadians. Other provisions would hold shipowners and operators accountable for their actions, including increasing the penalty for offences under the Marine Transportation and Security Act.

There are also proposed changes to our smuggling offence, including the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for persons convicted of smuggling. We know the opposition does not support getting tough, including mandatory minimums, but the courts need that guidance. These changes would go a long way to keep smugglers from doing their evil deeds in Canada.

We all need to get together and support this legislation. I thank the world's best environment minister for the incredible job he has done.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank our environment minister as well.

In his speech, the member mentioned the 400-plus people who came off the migrant vessel Sun Sea and called them a threat to our security and public safety. Those people risked their lives on a rickety cargo ship for two months to come to Canada's shores, holding their life in dear hand. Most of the people who came on that ship had UNHCR refugee cards. As the parliamentary secretary or the minster mentioned earlier, the Vietnamese boat people went back to get UNHCR refugee cards. Those people who came to our shores already had them. They had their identification taken away from them and then were told that they did not come with sufficient identification.

For the member to sing the tune that the minister sang before and say that people who arrive at Canada's borders by boat are considered irregular arrivals just because they are real asylum seekers who cannot afford an airplane ticket, is the member and the government calling people who do not have the ability to afford an airplane ticket bogus refugees?

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her encouragement for people who cut into line, which is not what Canadians want.

Earlier I called the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the Minister of the Environment. Maybe it is the beautiful green tie he has on. However, we is the world famous, best in the whole world Minister Immigration and I want to thank him for his hard work.

I want to read a quote from Logan Logendralingam, who said, “We believe that the government should have the tools it needs to defend our borders and protect the fairness of our immigration. That is why we fully support new legislation that will target human smugglers who prey upon and exploit vulnerable people. Mandatory minimum sentences for convicted human smugglers will deter those who profit from putting human lives at risk. We understand that it is unfair for those who wait years to reunite their family members just to have others, who arrive through illegal means, jump ahead of them”.

That is what the NDP wants but that is not what Canadians want.

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that there are literally tens of thousands of Canadians who would dispute his comments in terms of the Minister of Immigration.

All one needs to do is look at some of the actions of the government, such as the freezing out of parents and grandparents, to the building up of hope with the super visa, which turned out to be a super disappointment in the eyes of thousands of individuals who tried to get their parents to come here through the super visa.

There is some concern in regard to why the government tends to want to demonize the whole refugee community. It is best said in terms of when the member makes comments about the boats, the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea. I know the minister will remember. He was on the back of the ship with the Prime Minister proclaiming that refugees were all these bad people.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

No, that is not at all what he said.

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Well, he did not say “bad people”, but there was a powerful message when the minister stood with the Prime Minister on the back of that boat. That is reason we have the legislation that we have here today.

Would the member tell the House how many of those refugees who were on that boat were terrorists or criminals? Could the member give us any indication as to how many of those who were on those—

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1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Langley.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member questioned as to who was trying to demonize the immigration system. It was the 13 long years of Liberal government that demonized the immigration system. It created a backlog where people had already died and yet were still in the system.

It took this minister and this government to make a commitment to clean up that Liberal mess. The Liberals made a mess of the immigration system, the environment system and the justice system. There was nothing they touched that they did not mess up.

This government is taking action and I thank that minister again for his hard work.