Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. The bill would protect the integrity of the system. We cannot allow abuses of the system to undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.
As we have heard, Bill C-31 would do three things. First, it would make further much needed reform to the asylum system. Second, it would enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants in order to strengthen our immigration program. Third, and the area I will focus on, there are measures that would help crack down on the growing and dangerous business of human smuggling.
I do not think it comes as a surprise to any hon. member of the House that our government is pushing ahead with reforming our immigration and refugee laws to put an end to human smuggling.
Canada enjoys a global reputation as a nation that cherishes fundamental freedoms, that champions democracy and freedom of speech, and that believes strongly in the benefits and opportunities that come from a diverse, multicultural society. That is not disputed.
Most Canadians, and I include myself in that category, have a chapter in their family history that includes immigration and resettlement. For some it was added recently; for others that chapter was written three or four generations ago. There are countless individuals and families around the world who want to add that same chapter to their family history by coming to Canada. Canada is a destination highly desired by many.
The unfortunate reality is that there are individuals and criminal organizations that see our generous immigration system as an easy target to make a high profit with low risks. These criminal elements use Canada's reputation to conjure up their own outlandish stories of how refugees can bypass the proper channels by paying a set fee and arriving en masse. Human smugglers convince these individuals that they will be processed quicker and will be able to start a new chapter of their lives sooner than if they apply to come to Canada by other methods. We have seen strong evidence of this with recent events on Canada's shores.
Until recently, most Canadians believed that any large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something they would read about in the papers or hear about on the news from other countries.
That changed in 2009 when Canadians witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady which carried 76 migrants. Less than a year later close to 500 migrants arrived on a second vessel, the MV Sun Sea. Shortly after that, a sea container was uncovered at the port of Montreal revealing yet more individuals who had tried to enter Canada illegally.
Canadians are becoming very much aware of this problem. It is a reality that must be faced. They want the government to act, and the government has acted.
I have heard from my constituents, and like all Canadians they have told me that they want our government to act decisively to crack down on those who would endanger the lives of men, women and children by selling them false dreams and transporting them in unsafe vessels or shipping crates. This disregard for human life is an affront to all Canadians.
We must therefore act before another tragedy strikes, such as the one that occurred off the coast of Indonesia last December when close to 200 irregular migrants destined for Australia perished when their vessel capsized in rough waters.
We cannot rest on our laurels and wait for the next incident. That is why our government introduced legislation in October 2010 to crack down on human smuggling. That is why the 2011 Speech from the Throne underscored this government's commitment to combat human smuggling, which can place migrants in dangerous situations and undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.
Today we are proud to see these changes included in Bill C-31, which encompasses some important reforms that would strengthen our immigration and refugee system. These changes would help us to meet the challenges associated with human smuggling while continuing to provide protection to those who require it most.
With this legislation we are delivering on our commitment to Canadians to combat human smuggling, a crime that undermines trust in Canada's immigration system.
First and foremost, the proposed reforms would allow Canada to crack down on human smugglers who would abuse our generous immigration system and endanger the safety and security of Canadians. It also proposes measures that would act as a deterrent for those who are planning and organizing human smuggling operations. Those who plan human smuggling and think it is low risk would now have to reconsider given the measures that would be implemented in this bill.
First, these measures would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of persons as an irregular arrival, thereby making those involved subject to the act's measures. Canadians expect as much. Canadians demand that the government take action along those lines and perhaps even to a greater extent. I would add, though, that there are safeguards in place that would ensure the minister cannot delegate this authority given the significant consequences that flow from a designation.
Second, it would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers, including broadening the definition of the offence of human smuggling to better capture all the ways this crime occurs and make it easier to prove the offence was committed.
Third, it would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences on convicted human smugglers.
The sentence length would escalate based on factors such as if the offence was committed for profit or in association with a terrorist or criminal organization. I do not think anyone would disagree that is a significant consideration and should factor into the sentencing or the consequences. Another factor would be if the person who committed the offence endangered lives, caused bodily harm or death to any of the persons smuggled. The persons being smuggled undergo an extreme amount of suffering and are in danger. People are putting them in that position simply from the motive of profit. Those considerations need to be taken into account in the sentencing provisions.
Some may question the need for such mandatory penalties given the offence can already be punished by life imprisonment. Our government believes strongly that the most harmful manifestations of this crime must be clearly denounced. Our proposed mandatory minimums would do this. Not only would this denounce these types of actions but I believe it would also deter these types of actions. It is important to note, however, that these would only apply in situations where aggravating factors can be proven, factors which reflect the most harmful, serious and reprehensible aspects of this crime.
Fourth, the bill proposes measures that would hold shipowners and operators to account for the use of their ships in human smuggling operations. It is important that liability and accountability be placed on those who allow their assets to be used in this fashion.
In addition to these deterrent measures, the bill includes other measures required for the proper identification and investigation of those wishing to enter Canada as part of an irregular arrival. This includes establishing the mandatory detention of participants in designated human smuggling events to allow for the proper and full determination of identity and admissibility and any other investigations. It is in this last point that we will see wording changes in the legislation to expressly exclude designated foreign nationals under the age of 16 years.
Bill C-31 includes other reforms to help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling operations. For example, it includes measures to prevent those who come to Canada as part of an irregular arrival, including those who subsequently obtain refugee status, from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years. It also includes measures to enhance the opportunity to rescind the refugee status of those who return to their country of origin for a vacation or demonstrate in other ways that they are not truly in need of Canada's protection. Finally, it would prevent individuals who participate in designated human smuggling events from sponsoring family members for a period of five years.
Our government believes that these actions are tough but fair. More than ever before, Canada must take a strong stand with our international partners and allies to help end the illegal practice of human smuggling.
I would urge all members to support this bill and ensure its swift passage.