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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

1 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak very strongly in opposition to Bill C-31, which has been given another one of those new-speak titles, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

It is really a reincarnation of the previous Bill C-4, which I spoke against on second reading, so I will repeat some of those same arguments. Essentially this new bill has most of those same flaws as the previous bill.

I am opposed to the bill based, first, on my personal experience. In the 1980s, I became involved in refugee work, largely around the political crisis in Central America. I became the co-founder of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre and I opened my own home to refugees who fled for their lives, having had other members of their families killed or tortured as a result of violence in Central America. I also worked as an international human rights monitor in East Timor, Ambon in Indonesia and in Afghanistan. Therefore, I have seen the situations which create the international refugees who seek safety for themselves and their families in Canada.

I am also opposed based on my concerns about the bill being a violation of both Canada's Charter of Rights and our international obligations, in particular, the designation of certain claimants as irregular arrivals and creating a second class of refugee claimants who are subject to various severe measures, including potential detention for a year.

Members on the other side like to the point to the fact they have improved the bill because now children will not be kept with their parents in detention, but will be sent into some limbo outside detention.

The bar on applying for permanent residency status for five years means it would be very difficult to reunify families because individuals would also not be allowed to sponsor their families for five years and would have no access to the refugee appeals division.

It is also based on my general opposition to the new-speak we see again and again on the other side of the House in taking away the status of permanent resident, which would imply, once an individual is granted it, they would be allowed to stay in Canada permanently. Under the bill, a permanent resident would no longer mean permanent. It would be subject to a decision of the minister to decide whether individuals could stay in the country or whether they would have to go back. Individuals, having brought their family to safety, having established themselves in Canada, after an arbitrary decision by the minister, they could be forced to leave and return to that country and give up all the progress they have made in re-establishing their lives.

It is also based on my doubts about how we have come to have the bill in front of us. The previous bill, Bill C-11, passed in the previous Parliament, was a compromise between all parties working on the immigrant and refugee system, but it was never allowed to work.

What we have before us is another unfortunate example of what I call government by headlines and the politics of resentment. In particular, in Conservatives speeches we hear lots of reference to queue-jumping, to exploiting our generosity and playing on the emotions of Canadians about somehow, someone getting something to which he or she is not entitled.

The Conservatives like to pick the extreme examples. They like to pick the exceptions, which no one would support, and then attempt to make public policy on those exceptions.

I am also opposed to this because it is another case of a policy based on the concept of deterrence, which the government likes to use in criminal justice. It is a concept which has no basis in fact. Tough penalties would of course deter law abiding citizens. As one of the witnesses who appeared at the public safety committee said, “Yes, tough sentences deter you and me because we have something to lose. They deter all law-abiding citizens who understand the concept of community. They do not deter criminals”.

They certainly would not deter genuine refugees fleeing for their lives and they certainly would not deter the profiteers engaged in human smuggling. They already face maximum penalties of up to $1 million and life sentences. Therefore, if tough penalties were deterrents, we would see no human smuggling because there are no penalties bigger than that in the Canadian legal system.

However, make no mistake, I believe in deterrents based on what actually works. If we look at all the literature on criminal justice, it is the same things that also apply to refugee claimants. What works is the certainty of being caught and the swiftness of prosecution. Therefore, the certainty that a bogus claim would be identified and the speed with which that claim would be dealt with is what would deter those claims, not making restrictions on legitimate refugee claimants' rights and their ability to access the process.

The real solution is to apply more resources to the front end of our existing system so that those who make claims know that their claims will be dealt with in a matter of weeks or months, not a matter of years, and they know that bogus claims will not succeed in our system.

The government appears to set out some very nice targets in the bill that these new categories of refugees will have to meet, but in the absence of new resources the government will not meet those targets either. Therefore, we will pass a bill, which endangers the rights of many legitimate refugees, without achieving the swiftness the government claims will result from these measures because it will not have the resources in the system to actually accomplish this.

I will now turn to what I think is the most serious flaw in the bill, which is the process of designating certain countries as safe countries. This is a flawed concept and, once adopted, creates another second class of refugee claimants and provides severe restrictions on the rights of those who come from what is designated a safe country and on their ability to make effective refugee claims.

There was a compromise reached in the previous bill, Bill C-11, which said that safe countries could be designated, but it would be done by a panel of experts, not the minister, and the designation would allow for the exemption of certain geographic areas or certain classes of persons. We all know that there are certain countries where things are completely safe and other regions of the country where things might not be safe.

Under this bill, the designation of a country is either safe or not safe. It is safe for everyone in every place or it is not safe. The previous bill would have allowed the designation of women, in areas where violations of rights against women are rampant, as an exempted class, so the country might be safe for men but not for women. It would have allowed the designation of gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, who are rarely safe in most countries around the world, as a class of people who could come from what was otherwise a safe country. The bill does not allow those designations of classes or geographic areas as exempt from the safe country designation.

Now I will turn to the particular situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees under the bill. I want to do so not just because I am a gay man and also an immigrant whose basic decision to move to Canada was, in large part, based on the criminalization of homosexuality in my country of origin at the time. It is a big part of why I stand here today. The safe country concept will have a disproportionate impact on these refugees from my community. Those coming from a designated safe country are required to make a claim within 15 days of arrival. In that 15 days they have to decide whether they would make a humanitarian and compassionate claim or a refugee claim. When I came, I would have had no idea what that meant, and in 15 days I would have had no ability to figure that out. I firmly believe that most refugees will be in that situation. As well, they have only 15 days to find legal representation. If they come from a society, and sometimes from a family, where declaring their sexuality meant great losses on a personal level and a great threat to their safety, they have only 15 days to change their mindset whether to go and talk to a stranger and confess everything that has happened in their personal life that caused them to become a refugee.

From personal experience, I can say that would have been very difficult for me to do. I know it is very difficult for the current lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees.

There is a particularly large problem with the 15-day limit because the claimant would then appear before an adjudicator, a single individual who would have no knowledge of the situation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities in the country of origin. Therefore, not only would individuals have to make their personal claim about their sexual orientation and how that made them unsafe, they would also have to demonstrate how their community was unsafe in their country as a whole. I doubt there are any refugees from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities who would be able to do so in that 15-day period.

Without identifying the individual, I want to talk for a moment about a refugee who came from the Caribbean when he was 17 years old. His life was threatened when it was found out that he was gay. Every day he went to high school in a taxi, paid for by his aunt from Toronto so that he could finish high school at home. Then he was spirited to Canada. When he went to make a refugee claim, he did not want to talk about the personal experiences that made it necessary for him to flee. He did not want to confess to being gay even to his lawyer. It took six months for his lawyer to get the full story from him and then document what had happened to him in his country of origin. Therefore, to try to do that in 15 days is virtually impossible.

What is the real solution here? The Canadian Council for Refugees said scrap the bill. I certainly stand with it here today. The Canadian Bar Association has expressed its concerns about charter rights violations. Amnesty International said that the bill fell far short of Canada's international obligations.

What would I suggest? I would suggest that we go back to letting Bill C-11, the compromise bill, work and that we ensure the government provides a proper resource system so Canada can continue to be a safe place for refugees, genuine refugees, from around the world to make their home.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, that speech was essentially incoherent. The member criticized the current system, which is also the system wherein claimants have access to a full fact-based quasi-judicial hearing in front of a decision maker at the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board. Every claimant will continue to have the same access to the same natural justice and due process and refugee protection. Nothing changes.

In terms of 15 days, there is no limit on when foreign nationals who arrive in Canada can file a claim. They could be here for two years or four years as a student, as a temporary worker, as somebody out of status, and make a claim. There is no 15-day limit.

The member says that this will endanger the life of legitimate refugees. How? This does nothing to curtail the current generous access to a full review on the merits of an individual claim.

In terms of having to demonstrate the generalized risks that people might face if they belong to a particular social group in their country of origin, that is the same requirement under the current law. That is the requirement under the UN convention that someone must demonstrate he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on various criteria.

He suggested that under this bill the minister would have the arbitrary power to revoke permanent residency from people with protected status. That is absolutely, categorically and completely false. There is no change in the law proposed here in the prospective revocation or cessation of protected status or revocation of permanent residency. Those powers are vested in the IRB and there is no additional power proposed in that respect.

I invite the member to actually go back and research this, rather than spreading fear and hysteria on this important matter.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, if what the minister says is true, then I am not sure why we have the bill in front of us if it does not change anything.

He says that the 15-day deadline for filing a claim will not have any application, that people can wait as long as they like before they file a claim, except for the fact that they would have no status in Canada during that period, they would have no protection and they could be deported back to their country of origin. The only thing that provides that protection is actually filing the claim.

The minister is being some disingenuous in saying that there are no changes in the bill whatsoever and that all the rights and status remain exactly the same. It does not appear to do so and if it did, then I do not know why we have the bill here in the first place.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 15th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala NDP Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. What he said moves me deeply. My little brother is also gay. He had to leave Chile at the end of the dictatorship because of the terrible homophobia there. He has been granted refugee status. He is a man with a job, who contributes a great deal to the Canadian economy.

I would like to come back to the issue of human trafficking. I think personally that we are focusing on the wrong target. I have heard it said that refugee claimants who arrive by boat are criminals. The children are sent to foster homes, and so on. We are looking at the wrong target. The real criminals we should be putting in prison are the smugglers, the ones who are taking advantage of these people in distress. Instead of putting people in jail and putting children in foster homes, we should increase the number of employees and the number of judges dealing with refugee claims. There is money for this, but there is a shortage of professionals. I agree with putting smugglers in jail, but not the people who are living in misery.

Does my colleague not believe that we are focusing on the wrong people when we criminalize the people who are seeking asylum instead of the traffickers?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I often know how women feel when their arguments are described as incoherent, irrational and hysterical, because that is what the minister has just said.

However, it really does not catch the absolute danger that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face around the world. It is a crisis. It is not hysterical to point out that in more than 70 countries around the world it is actually a crime to be a gay or a lesbian.

As to the specifics of the member's question, again, the government likes to spend money at the back end of the system by detaining and imprisoning people instead of spending money at the front end of the system, in terms of research, policing and prosecution, which would ultimately eliminate the costs at the back end of detention.

It is a question of choices as to where we want to spend resources. I would like to spend those at the front end of our system, ensuring we have a fair system which cannot be gained or schemed by the bogus refugees, which cannot be exploited by smugglers, but which will provide fair treatment and justice for refugees.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to this important bill, Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Every single day hundreds of thousands of people apply to immigrate to Canada. Who can blame them? After all, Canada is the best country in the world. These people fill out the paperwork and wait in line.

Unfortunately, every single year there are also thousands of people who choose not to fill out the paperwork. They choose not to wait in line with everyone else. Instead, they decide to jump the queue. They know that Canada's refugee system is broken and easily abused, so they choose to file bogus refugee claims in the hope that the lengthy processing times and endless appeals will result in their obtaining permanent residence in this country.

Immigrants to Canada, like myself, are very welcoming and fair, but we have no tolerance for people from safe countries who abuse our refugee system as a way to jump the queue and get into Canada without having to wait and follow the proper process like everyone else. We have no tolerance for those who take unfair advantage of our generosity.

Our government has listened to Canadians, including those in my riding of Mississauga East—Cooksville, who have told us very clearly they want us to put a stop to this abuse. This is exactly what we are doing with Bill C-31.

It is unfortunate but not surprising that the opposition NDP and Liberal members conveniently ignore the facts when they speak against Bill C-31. It is not surprising because the facts underscore the need for this important piece of legislation and undermine the opposition's criticism of it.

These are the facts. In 2011, Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union alone, a 14% increase from 2010. That means that a quarter of all refugee claims were from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union. That is more than Africa and Asia. Canada's top source for refugee claims was Hungary, an EU member state. In fact, in 2011, Canada received 4,400 refugee claims from Hungary alone. In comparison, Belgium received only 188, the U.S. only 47, France and Norway, only 33 each.

It is very telling that in 2010 Hungarian nationals made a total of 2,400 refugee claims around the world, 2,300 of which were made in Canada. That means only 100 refugee claims were made in all other countries around the world. Canada received 23 times more than all other countries combined.

What is more, in the past few years virtually all of these claims were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. The majority of these claimants chose to abandon or withdraw their claims themselves, a clear sign they are not in need of Canada's protection. These claimants are, by definition, bogus.

Instead of travelling to neighbouring safe countries which are easy to reach, these claimants are making the trip all the way to Canada. Instead of seeing their claims to completion, these bogus claimants are abandoning their claims and heading back home.

There is a reason these bogus refugee claimants are targeting Canada. In fact, I have been told of an instance in which a CBSA officer asked someone who landed at the airport and claimed refugee status the reason for the claim. The response was, “Free income”. Well, it is not free. It is paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadian taxpayers pay upward of $170 million per year for these bogus refugees from the European Union. Taxpayers fund their welfare, education and health care.

Hard-working Canadian taxpayers are sick and tired of footing the bill for bogus refugee claimants who abuse the system at everyone else's expense. Too many tax dollars are spent on these bogus refugees.

It is not just the tax dollars that are being wasted that is of concern; it is also the severe impact these bogus claims are having on genuine refugees. Those who are truly in need of protection are waiting a long time to receive Canada's help because the system is being bogged down by these bogus refugee claimants. Fortunately, Bill C-31 would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer.

Among other things, Bill C-31 would provide the authority for the minister to designate countries that are generally safe and democratic and respect human rights. Refugee claimants from these designated countries would have their claims expedited.

Under Canada's current asylum system, it takes on average more than 1,000 days to process a refugee claim. This is unacceptable. Under Bill C-31, refugee claims from generally non-refugee-producing countries, such as those in the European Union, would be processed in 45 days. Every single refugee claimant would continue to have his or her claim heard and decided on its merits by an independent immigration and refugee board.

Bill C-31 would also do away with endless levels of appeal that currently exist. All refugee claimants would still have the ability to apply for judicial review of a negative decision, as they do now, but the refugee claimants who come from countries that are considered generally safe would not get access to the refugee appeal division. In addition, the bill would enable more timely removal from Canada of failed refugee claimants.

These improvements are just common sense. These measures would help prevent abuse of the system and would ensure that all of our refugee determination processes are as streamlined as possible. This would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees.

Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. It would result in genuine refugees receiving Canada's protection much sooner. Anyone who has the best interests of real refugees at heart should support this bill.

To maintain the support of Canadians for our generous immigration and refugee system, we must demonstrate that Canada has a fair, well-managed system that does not tolerate queue jumping. All of the reforms included in the bill are aimed to determine abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. With these measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of all Canadians would be protected.

Bill C-31 would put a stop to bogus refugees, foreign criminals and human smugglers abusing our immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health care and social benefits. The bill sends a clear message to those who would abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly.

Canadians gave our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system and we are acting on our mandate. I urge all members to support this important piece of legislation and ensure its timely passage.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member could respond to the concerns I have with a couple of provisions in the bill.

The first is the provision of the discretionary power to the minister to singularly designate the name of safe countries. Generally speaking, when dealing with a sensitive area like this, it is important to keep out “political factors”. That is in no way pointing fingers at any particular party that may have its preferences, but making sure that we have very clear criteria when making an important decision on the fate of somebody's life and liberty.

My second concern goes to the clause that would prohibit refugee claimants who had been incarcerated in their home country for more than 10 years. We are well aware of certain situations in some regimes where people are being incarcerated for rather inappropriate reasons and would not be incarcerated in our country through a proper open judicial review process. I wonder if the member thinks that is perhaps a little too hard-edged and that there should be some exceptions to the rule.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, we are dealing with very complicated issues here and in order to be fair both to refugees and to our own citizens, we have to act on the problems that exist. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and pretend there is no problem. There is a very serious problem of abuse of our generous refugee system which we are witnessing right now. We have to protect genuine refugees and our hard-working citizens who finance the system. There is no reason that we should offer our very generous system to anyone who claims to be a refugee without any basis for the claim.

As I indicated in my remarks, there are many people who come from safe countries. European Union countries generally are safe countries. Why would people come here and claim refugee status when there are safe countries in Europe?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, could my friend from Mississauga East—Cooksville explain how the bill would help us to reduce costs to taxpayers? I cannot find any reference anywhere to cost estimates for the internment of up to a year of any refugees who arrive here by means of what is described as an irregular entry. Surely there has to be a cost for clothing and feeding people, for educating children between the ages of 16 and 18, and the basic maintenance of the internment facilities. Do we know what the cost is?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the internment of refugees is not something that happens every day. By having strong laws, we discourage people from the practice of hiring criminals to transport them here and then having to pay for the transportation for the rest of their lives.

I hope the hon. member opposite agrees that once people on a boat land in Canada, this country has a duty to ensure that the identities of the people on the boat are well established and that our country is protected.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Minister of Immigration's Bill C-31 looks a lot more like a monopoly on the power to make decisions than a way to improve refugees' quality of life.

Once again, the Conservatives' thirst for power, their lack of rigour and their refusal to listen are taking a toll on justice, respect and equality. This bill is the latest in a long line of bills that most stakeholders consider irresponsible, even senseless. Opponents include the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, to name but a few.

All of these opponents have indicated that this bill will make the system vulnerable to political considerations rather than ensure fair, independent and balanced decisions about who can be considered a refugee.

Bill C-31 makes us fear the worst for refugees who have become permanent residents. It is also discriminatory and, as the Canadian Council for Refugees pointed out, it creates a two-tier refugee protection system. According to the council, strict, tight deadlines will put victims of sexual trauma and members of the LGBT community at a major disadvantage. These people often need time to open up and tell their story. Two weeks is not enough. But for the Conservative government, ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable is nothing new.

To think that barely 18 months ago, the Conservative minister congratulated his opposition colleagues on reaching an agreement on some amendments that would make the refugee system, and I quote, “faster and fairer”.

Now that the Conservatives have a majority, we can expect that measures that the Centre for Refugee Studies calls radical and draconian will be added to these fair amendments. While last year the minister agreed to a sensible compromise in a minority situation, he can now pass whatever legislation he pleases, no matter how undemocratic it is. This is serious and appalling.

No longer will it be left up to a panel of experts—as it should—to come up with a list of “safe countries”, from which the federal government does not think refugees usually come. In addition, no longer will it be possible for residents of those designated countries of origin to appeal their cases if their claims are rejected. This is a human rights violation. Unsuccessful claimants will have to wait one year before applying again on humanitarian grounds, during which time they can be sent back to their country, a country they tried to flee.

It is especially unfortunate that the government continues using terms like “bogus claimants”, terms that are extremely harmful.

While not every individual who files a refugee claim necessarily needs extreme protection, that does not make these refugee claimants “potential abusers”. These people may have very good reasons for leaving their country.

Refugees are some of the most vulnerable members of society and are, therefore, easy targets for attack as non-citizens in a foreign country. Denigrating labels, especially those given by the government, have a serious negative impact on the public's perception of refugees and non-citizens in general.

Canada is a model for the rest of the world. It is known for welcoming people who are fleeing persecution. This important asset is going to be lost because of a new proposal by this government that emphasizes speed and categorization, at the expense of fairness, justice and protecting individuals.

In our opinion, the government is pushing its mandate far too far. In many ways, Bill C-31 represents the unprecedented dismantling of Canada's refugee system. If we just take the example of Australia, which had to go back to a system similar to our current system, it is clear that the approach outlined in Bill C-31 does not work. The Conservatives would save Canadians a lot of time and money if they stopped navel gazing and starting using facts, expert studies, statistics and concrete examples to support their bills.

On average, 25,000 refugees have obtained permanent resident status every year of the past five years. Last year, the number was 24,700. After a waiting period of three years, it takes an average of 18 to 22 months before the person can apply for citizenship, which takes an average of 19 months.

It takes at least five to six years for a person to become a citizen, if the process goes quickly. This bill threatens the thousands of refugees admitted every year, not to mention those who have not yet applied.

The minister wants to pass this vague bill in September, when the former Bill C-11 has not even come into force. Why be in such a rush to pass, at all costs, a bungled bill that has such serious consequences for people's lives? What is more, clause 19 literally undermines Canada's commitment to refugees, makes a mockery of our commitment to the United Nations to grant permanent residence to refugees, and puts tens of thousands of refugees who have already been granted permanent resident status in Canada at risk of deportation.

Out of respect for Canada's commitment to the United Nations, refugees who have settled here permanently have and should always have the right to rebuild their lives, to work and to raise their families knowing that Canada is and will remain their permanent home.

This is one of the most positive characteristics of our country. Canada's promotion of rapid and permanent resettlement is an enormous advantage, just as much for all Canadians as for all refugees. Instead of living in uncertainty, refugees become active and productive members of our society. The feeling of security that accompanies permanent residence cannot be overestimated and should be a formality.

Canada's commitments to the UN are nevertheless clear: refugees who receive permanent resident status are entitled to rebuild their lives in the host country, to work and to have a family. They will not succeed in integrating into Canadian society if they are constantly under the threat of being sent back to the country they fled.

Canada is a land of refuge and I am grateful, for if it had not been, I would not be here today. My parents came here in the wave of boat people after the Vietnam War, which enabled a number of new Canadians to take refuge here. In certain cases, this change might expose them to potentially violent reprisals if they go back to their country of origin.

Determining refugee status is complex and difficult. It is not easy to decide whether a person needs protection or not. On the other hand, for refugees, the need for protection at all times is simple, but critical. For Canadians, the question is simple: are we going to make sure that refugees are not going back to persecution? It seems to me that the answer should be simple.

In summary, what the Conservative government wants is the discretionary and automatic power to remove at any time a person who was granted refugee status in Canada and who then received permanent resident status. This is what I vehemently oppose, on behalf of all refugees, like my parents and my brothers, who flee their country, risking their lives, without identification and who hope, no matter what happens to them, to find a safe haven and live with dignity in a country to which they will contribute on a social, cultural or economic level. These people want to go on living with their heads held high, and they have human rights that must be respected.

Bill C-31 does not target criminals or human traffickers or those who would take advantage of refugees. We worked on the old bill C-11; there are many points that need another look. I am therefore asking the Conservative government to go back to the drawing board with this bill.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I see once again that the NDP does not understand Bill C-31.

The changes that the bill will make to the asylum system will not alter the fact that all asylum seekers from all countries, by means of all types of immigration, including smuggling, will have an oral hearing before the independent decision-makers of the Immigration and Refugee Board. That exceeds our obligations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN convention on refugees. Our legal and moral obligation is clear: we have an obligation of non-refoulement of people who have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their ethnicity, nationality, political views, and so forth.

We are not changing or weakening our obligation of non-refoulement of bona fide refugees. However, by the same token, we are trying to prevent waves of well-organized, bogus or fraudulent refugee claims, often by people from democratic and liberal countries.

Is the NDP not at all concerned about the abuse of Canada's generosity by bogus refugee claimants from democratic and safe countries?

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, maybe he takes us for fools, but his claim that Bill C-31 does not make any major changes to the measures in Bill C-11 is completely false.

For a moment or two, he should put himself in the position of a refugee, a person who is trying to escape his country, perhaps because he faces persecution, and who arrives here by boat, on foot or in a group.

This bill places several discretionary powers in the hands of the minister. It gives the minister three main discretionary powers. The first is the power to designate safe countries of origin. In many situations, even in developed countries, people can be persecuted and subjected to sexual violence. The previous speaker talked about sexual persecution of gay people.

The minister can also designate as an irregular arrival the arrival of a group of persons, which is completely arbitrary, and can impose conditions on a designated asylum claim. In addition, the minister can incarcerate individuals whose eligibility is unknown because they do not have any documentation. People who flee serious situations because they fear for their lives might not think to bring the proper documentation.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have already cited the specific example of a refugee becoming a victim once again.

Imagine someone leaving his or her country to come here maybe because of the possibility otherwise of being tortured or put to death. Because the minister wants the power to say that the refugee is an irregular, it will mean their detention for up to 12 months. After the person is released, it will be another five years before he or she can sponsor their spouse or a child. Therefore, if a 25-year old makes it to Canada, he or she will be 30 years old before being able to sponsor someone. It will then take even more time to go through the sponsorship process. That refugee's five-year old child could be end up being 14 or 15 years old before they see their parent again.

I wonder if the member could comment on that.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Liberal member for his question.

The immigration process that people have to go through upon arrival in Canada is already very long and difficult. People will now risk being imprisoned for one year, which can cause many mental health problems. Moreover, it will be even more difficult for people to wait to be reunited with their families after going through the whole process.

I do not know whether members on the other side of the House could just think about all this, but this bill will have a lot of negative impact on people's lives, and that has to change.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification

Mr. Speaker, I rise to lend my support to Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System act. I am going to focus my remarks on how the proposed legislation would change our existing laws in respect of the crime of human smuggling. Before talking about the proposed reforms, it is important to contextualize this issue.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that human smuggling puts the lives of those smuggled at risk. Clearly it does, as evidenced by the tragic deaths of countless smuggled migrants around the world every year. It is important to remember that such occurrences are not restricted to smuggling by sea. Every year, people die as a result of smuggling operations by transport containers, as well as on the high seas. It says this crime is on the rise. In fact, just a few weeks ago, international media reported that a massive human smuggling ring had been organizing a trip for several hundred migrants from Togo to Canada. Fortunately, this ring was discovered and dismantled. However, this is clear evidence that human smugglers are making plans for Canada as we speak. Canada remains a prime target.

Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, says that maritime migrant smuggling is the deadliest form of illegal international travel and its illicit proceeds fuel criminality. Canada is an attractive destination for migrant smugglers and these new measures send a strong message that our country is no longer open for business to these criminals. He says that it is shocking to hear apologists from migrant smugglers portraying these criminals as providing a service for illegal migrants seeking to enter Canada. He also says that migrant smugglers have been linked to organized crime, human trafficking and terrorist organizations. They care nothing for the wellbeing of those they transport in perilous and often deadly vessels.

While it is difficult to precisely estimate the extent of smuggling, there is some information. According to the United Nations Development Programme, in 2009 there were an estimated 50 million irregular migrants in the world. A significant number are believed to have turned to smugglers to assist them across international borders. It is also believed that the number of persons who are turning to smugglers to help them enter other countries continues to increase.

The United Nations Development Programme says that smugglers continually change their tactics to keep one step ahead of authorities. As countries around the world work together to respond to the practices of smugglers, these criminals adapt. Corruption among state actors has become an important tool in the smugglers' arsenal and provides additional impetus for ensuring that all countries, including Canada, step up their efforts to respond.

It is important to remember that migrant smuggling is big business, generating million upon millions of dollars for transnational organized crime every year. Interpol has said that compared to other types of transnational organized crime, human smugglers benefit from weak legislation and low risk of detection, arrest and prosecution. Logically then, Canada needs strong legislation that gives authorities the tools to detect, arrest and prosecute human smugglers.

While it is true that we already have a robust criminal law framework in place to respond to human smuggling, we must continue to build on that. That is why Bill C-31 is proposing important amendments in this area.

Allow me to highlight those provisions within the bill that relate to cracking down on human smuggling. Currently, when faced with an incident of human smuggling, authorities must prove the accused knew that the smuggled person did not have the documents needed to enter Canada. While this is certainly one manifestation of this crime, it is not the only way it can be committed. For example, sometimes smuggled persons may be brought into Canada in a way that evades contact with immigration authorities. In other words, the smuggler agrees to help the person smuggled enter the country clandestinely. The proposed amendments would more clearly capture this behaviour. It would do this by broadening the offence to enable prosecution where there is evidence that the accused knew that the persons smuggled were in contravention of any requirement under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This would provide additional ways to establish that the smuggling offence had occurred.

The second way the existing smuggling offence would be broadened is by making clear that the prosecutor could show that the accused was reckless as to whether the smuggled person would be entering Canada in contravention of the requirements under IRPA.

Recklessness is a well-known and accepted form of subjective fault in criminal law. It means, in this context, that the accused was aware that there was a significant risk that the smuggled persons would be entering Canada in contravention of the IRPA, and in the face of this fact proceeded nevertheless.

This additional element would provide further assistance to police and prosecutors who must respond to such conduct. Migrant smuggling is a reprehensible crime. It undermines the integrity of our immigration system. It puts the lives of those smuggled at risk. It lines the pockets of organized crime, which in turn better enables such groups to engage in other criminal activity, the effects of which can be far-reaching. It also has an effect on the public's perception of immigrants and immigration.

For all of these reasons, we must state in unequivocal terms that such criminal actions must be strongly denounced and deterred. That is why Bill C-31 proposes mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of human smuggling. It is clear that the penalties proposed target only the most harmful manifestations of this crime.

They would not apply in all cases. The most serious mandatory penalties would be reserved for the most serious instances. Some might suggest that these mandatory penalties are inappropriate and would not do anything to deter this crime. I strongly disagree and would reiterate that these penalties are about more than just deterrence. They are a reflection of our belief that such conduct is utterly unacceptable and must be condemned and punished in the clearest of terms, particularly when the conduct in question is linked to organized crime or terrorism, or where the lives of those smuggled are in danger.

I believe that Canadians would agree that in such cases, such penalties properly reflect the gravity of the crime. It is important to note that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is not the only piece of legislation that this bill would strengthen.

The bill also proposes higher penalties for violations of the Marine Transportation Security Act. For example, if individuals refused to obey a ministerial directive to leave Canadian waters or if they misled or lied to officials, they could be slapped with fines of up to $200,000 and or a prison sentence. If they were caught again, they would be looking at fines of up to $500,000. This would send the right message and ensure a more complete response to this crime.

Bill C-31 would be an important next step in our fight against smuggling. It is important to note, however, that it is not the only step we are taking. I am aware of the significant efforts being pursued by the government around the world to respond to this crime, including through the work of the Prime Minister's special advisor on migrant smuggling.

Taken together, we are moving forward in the right direction to ensure that smugglers think twice before they try to ply their trade here in Canada. I urge all my hon. colleagues to join with me in supporting Bill C-31.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member opposite a question.

Everyone agrees that we must do more to crack down on human smugglers.

The problem with Bill C-31 is that it does not crack down on the smugglers; rather, it causes problems for the victims, the refugees. It is refugees who will be imprisoned and who may then have to pay the price. These people risk their lives, and all they want is to leave their country and to make sure that they and their families are safe.

Even if stricter laws were to put these people in imprisoned, if they had to do it all over again, they would. You can ask any refugee who has left his country because of fear of reprisal or persecution. Refugees will still want to leave their country, whether it be by boat, plane or any other means. They will do anything to leave. Yet, they are the ones who are going to be imprisoned.

Bill C-31 does not target the right people and does not solve the problems.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada has long been a refuge for legitimate refugees, for people who are being persecuted in other countries.

The purpose of this bill is to make sure that those legitimate refugees get protected as quickly as possible. Under the current system, refugees wait many years before they can finally have their claim heard. This bill would speed up that process by making sure that those who do not have legitimate claims could not clog up the system for years to come. We are here to protect those legitimate refugees who seek protection here in Canada.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not believe there is anyone here who would support human smugglers and the types of horrific things they do for money in order to smuggle people into Canada or into any nation. I can assure the member that is the case.

As I have made reference to before, we take great exception to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism standing up on the back of a ship, the Ocean Lady, with the Prime Minister to try to portray a message about refugees across Canada and to try to label them. That was the case with the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea. That is the reason we have this legislation before us today. Of all those refugees who came to Canada on those two ships, can the member indicate if one of them has been deemed a criminal or terrorist in any fashion whatsoever? That is the premise. It would be nice to hear from the member what the status is of those refugees.

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, this particular bill is designed to deter the human smugglers, to go after those criminals who are putting other people's lives at risk by trying to bring them here in ships where they could get sick, where they could die. That has happened in many cases. This bill is designed to go after those who are putting other people's lives at risk and who are taking advantage of our system.

We have a great, fair system in this country. It is designed to protect those who need protection most. It is not designed to be clogged for years by false claims from people who do not need the protection they are claiming. We have people coming from the European Union, from Hungary which is determined to be a fairly safe country. They are coming here in record numbers to claim refugee status. Ninety-six per cent of those who claimed refugee status abandoned those claims. There is definitely something wrong with a system that allows 96% of those claimants to make those claims under false pretenses. That is what we are here to stop.

Stop Tuberculosis DayStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to highlight Stop Tuberculosis Day. March 24, 2012 is the anniversary of Robert Koch's discovery of the cause of tuberculosis, the bacterium M. tuberculosis. In his time, which was 1882, it was responsible for a third of the deaths of young adults. It is still a killer if found late or untreated.

Last year, tuberculosis resulted in 1.4 million deaths around the world and it is the biggest single killer of people with HIV. This bacteria is not limited to countries in Asia and Africa; it is right here in Canada. Last year there were approximately 300 cases of TB just in Toronto alone and 8 per cent of them lost their lives.

Fortunately, this government has funded $30 million through CIDA to the global fund in support of reducing TB. This will save many lives around the world. I commend the government for its continuing support of stop TB initiatives, such as Taima TB in the north, despite the current economic conditions.

AgricultureStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the UPA gala in La Pocatière, recognizing excellence in the agricultural community on the South Shore.

The event highlighted the fact that Alfred Boulet, of Saint-François-de-la-Rivière-du-Sud, was inducted into the Quebec Agricultural Hall of Fame. Mr. Boulet has contributed significantly to the development of the Holstein breed.

The title of female farmer of the year went to Hélène Couillard, owner of Fruits et Légumes R.G. in L'Islet.

Roland Morneau, a pork producer from Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, was recognized as farmer of the year.

The Bard family, from La Pocatière, who have been farming the same land for four generations, received the title of farming family of the year.

Claire Lajoie won the people's choice award. She heads the Syndicat des agricultrices de la Côte-du-Sud and more recently became the vice-president of the UPA de la Côte-du-Sud.

I wish to pay tribute to all the winners, including those whom I did not have time to name here today. Your hard work and courage will be a great source of inspiration for me and my colleagues when, unfortunately, we have to defend here in this House concepts as important as supply management and food self-sufficiency.

Ruth and Naomi's MissionStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, last month I was pleased to join over 400 people at the grand opening of the new Ruth and Naomi's Mission building in Chilliwack. Ruth and Naomi's Mission got started eight years ago when Ann and Ted Stoker felt called to reach out and help the homeless and others struggling to make ends meet. They wanted to address their physical and spiritual needs by providing them with a warm meal, a safe place to sleep and to show them that they had value as individuals.

After outgrowing their temporary facilities, Ann and Ted and many others took action. They did not start writing grant applications, they did not look for a handout from government. They brought people together from dozens of local churches and the business community; they raised money, found volunteers and overcame the various obstacles they encountered along the way. The result is a beautiful new facility that will serve the less fortunate in our community for years to come.

I congratulate everyone who played a part in making this dream a reality. May God richly bless them and those they serve.

World Water DayStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to draw the attention of the House to World Water Day, which is one week from today on March 22.

Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, World Water Day has provided the opportunity for the world's citizens and their governments to reflect on the universal and vital importance of water. This year there is positive news to celebrate and ongoing challenges to address.

The United Nations recently announced that one of the millennium development goals, namely, the goal of cutting in half the number of people worldwide without access to safe drinking water, has been met five years early. Yet, sadly, there remain many first nations communities right here in Canada that still lack basic access to safe drinking water.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments must ensure responsible management of fresh water, which is essential to our identity, our environment and our economy, as well as to the health of Canadians.

As World Water Day approaches, I call on all members of the House to commit to working together to make the protection of Canada's most vital resource a national priority.

Donald GordonStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the community of Wallaceburg is mourning the recent passing of a great Canadian, Donald Gordon, most affectionately known as “Chip” or “Mr. Wallaceburg”.

A former member of the Chatham-Kent Council, Chip was the driving force behind the Wallaceburg Antique Motor and Boat outing for over 20 years. His efforts as a community and sports booster were legendary. Chip was a man of unbridled enthusiasm and tireless energy. He never started or ended a conversation without a joke, a quip or a pun, but as a man of humble means, he possessed untold wealth in friendships and goodwill. His lone fault was an inability to say no to anyone needing a helping hand.

Chip will be missed, but his legacy of community service will live on in the thousands of people he helped along life's journey. I ask the House to join me in extending our sympathy to his wife Darlene, daughter Heather and son Donald Jr.