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House of Commons Hansard #98 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

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the bill does not take into account the fact that the people we are discussing are human beings and that there are special cases. I would like my colleague to talk more about that.

I am thinking of some very specific cases. We have heard the government's outrage over the treatment of the former prime minister of Ukraine, who is in jail for fraud or something. Everyone agrees that the charges were bogus.

If she were to seek asylum tomorrow for health reasons or in order to escape certain death, because she will spend her life in prison and she has health problems, the government would say that she is a criminal who has been found guilty of fraud and she cannot enter Canada. If my colleague is unable to answer, I would like the minister to explain what he would do in that specific situation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

If we give the minister this discretionary power without establishing objective criteria and relying on a committee, people who have a criminal record because they took part in protests or were identified as political criminals could be denied refugee status. In my colleague's example, the claim by a person who flees persecution and imprisonment in their country would be denied even if, after checking, his or her criminal record proves to be bogus.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, introduced by my colleague, the hon. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

The measures in this bill include further reforms to the asylum system to make it faster and fairer, measures to address human smuggling, and the authority to make it mandatory to provide biometric data for a temporary resident visa application.

Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country. Canada welcomes 1 in 10 of the world's resettled refugees. That is more per capita than almost any other country. In fact, our Conservative government has increased the number of refugees that we will be resettling each year by 2,500.

Bill C-31 proposes changes that build on reforms to the asylum system based in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The proposed measures will provide faster protection to those who genuinely need refuge, and faster removal for those who do not. In particular, refugee claimants from generally non-refugee producing countries, such as those in eastern Europe, would be processed on average within 45 days compared to more than a thousand days under the current system.

It has become clear that there are gaps in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Canada receives more refugee claims from Europe than from Africa or Asia. Last year alone, 23% of all refugee claims made in Canada were made by nationals from the EU. That is up 14% from the previous year. This growing trend threatens the integrity of our immigration system.

In recent years virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. These unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. Too many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees. We need to send a 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.

Bill C-31 will save hardworking Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. That astounding savings really helps to put in perspective the magnitude of the abuse of our immigration system.

However, it is not just Canadian taxpayers who are severely affected by these bogus claims. Genuine refugees are waiting a long time to receive Canada's protection, which they desperately need, because bogus refugee claims are bogging down the system. This has to stop.

Bill C-31 also includes most of the provisions in the former Bill C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. There is one very important modification to note, though. Minors under the age of 16 would be exempt from the detention proposals designed to deal with mass arrivals from human smuggling operations.

Our government is sending a clear message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, including legitimate refugees. However, we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders. Human smuggling is a despicable crime, and Canadians think it is unacceptable for criminals to abuse Canada's immigration system for financial gain.

Mandatory detention for those 16 years of age and older remains in place for people who enter Canada as part of a designated smuggling event. However, once the identity of a claimant has been established and a refugee claim is approved, individuals would be released from detention.

The final component of the new legislation would give the minister the authority to make it mandatory for visa applicants to provide biometric data, meaning fingerprints and photographs, to visit Canada. Documents can be forged or stolen, whereas biometric data provides greater certainty, confirming the identity of the applicants when they apply.

Biometrics will be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics will improve our ability to keep out of Canada violent criminals and those who pose a threat to the country. In short, biometrics will strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system, while helping facilitate legitimate travel.

These measures would put us in line with our international partners, such as the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, and the United States. They will help prevent violent criminals, terrorists and human smugglers, among others, from using a fake identity to obtain a visa. The use of biometrics would also bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool for confirming identity.

When asked about Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, this is one of the things the NDP immigration critic had to say:

—I think what we need to do is build a system that has a fast and fair determination process. And that’s something that I’ll give the [Minister] credit for. I do think that’s what his intention has been all along. And we all want to work towards that. We don’t want endless dragging on of this stuff because refugees, when they come here, you know, they do qualify for basic sustenance...it is at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer.

So we do have an interest in making sure there’s a quick determination that’s correct and fair and get these people into our communities, working and being productive taxpaying members of our society if they’re bona fide refugees.

We want a fast, fair system where we can give a sanctuary to people who need it quickly and we can weed out the people who don’t have valid claims, get them through a fair process. And if they’re not valid at the end of the day, deport them out of Canada swiftly.

I agree. That is exactly what Bill C-31 aims to do.

All of these reforms are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.

Bill C-31 sends the clear message that if people are in genuine need of Canada's protection, they will receive it. However, if they are abusing our generous refugee system, they will be removed quickly.

It sends a clear message that Canada will not tolerate queue jumpers. Every years, thousands upon thousands of people play by the rules and patiently wait their turn in line. Canadian immigrants want our government to stop the practice of people breaking the rules by abusing our refugee system or paying huge sums of money to despicable criminal smugglers to jump in front of the line.

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.

I urge all members in this House to support this much-needed piece of legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech and I would like him to speak a little about cases involving countries that are deemed safe. For example, Hungary and the Czech Republic are considered safe countries by Canada, even though there is systematic discrimination against the Roma in those countries.

In this particular example, how does the minister justify putting a country on the list of safe countries?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member refers to Hungary. If I correctly understand the statistics, almost 100% of the claims made by those from Hungary claiming to be refugees were withdrawn by the claimants themselves. I appreciate the fact that the member brought up Hungary because that is an area of concern. The bill would address countries like that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the entire debate on Bill C-31 I have found a persistent confusion of the issues of immigration and refugees. Just to get the terms clear from the beginning, the world in 2009 had more refugees than at any time in history. There were 43 million people who had been displaced from their country of origin and fitted the United Nations' definition of refugees. Of that number, only 1% are ever resettled into a third country. In 2009, of that number, four-fifths were being kept in refugee camps, basically in the developing world. Therefore, we are talking about a very small number of refugees who make their way to Canada. They are not in a queue. Refugees, by definition, cannot apply in their country of origin; they have been displaced.

I would like to ask the hon. member if he would clarify for us his understanding of refugees. Refugees are, by definition, people who come here in desperation. They do not form a queue in their country of origin to come as normal immigrants would.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have to understand that this bill addresses those refugee claimants who come to our country. As I referred to in my speech, Canada has a very generous refugee program. As a nation, we accept more refugees than most other nations in the entire world.

I share the member's passion for those who are genuine refugees. We want to ensure that those people have the opportunity and are not backlogged and slowed down by those who abuse the system. We know that this has been the case for too long in our country.

It is the intent of this government, and it is what our constituents have asked, to fix this problem and ensure that we can address those who really do need the services that our governments provide.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, on the last question that was put, in fact there is a queue. There is the process of international protection all around the world.

She mentioned the 43 million people who have UN convention refugee status. I will tell her what the queue is. For example, when the Indochinese boat people fled the communist depression in Vietnam, they went to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees settlement centres, where their claims were processed and then referred for resettlement. Canada took 60,000 people. There are millions of people like that around the world.

She has a tendency to confuse asylum claimants with refugees. In fact, almost two-thirds of the asylum claimants who arrive in Canada are determined by our fair legal system not to be refugees and not to be in need of our protection. From some countries, nearly 100% actually withdraw and abandon their own claims. They do not even show up for the hearing. Regrettably, they do show up for their welfare cheques. That is the problem we are trying to get at here.

I would like to know if the member would agree that we should be focusing our efforts on encouraging real refugees around the world, if they need to flee their country, to go to the regional resettlement options and seek protection from the first country to which they go.

For Tamils living in India, why would they need to travel through Thailand and Malaysia and bypass 40 other countries in order to seek protection in Canada? In those cases, it is not about seeking protection; it is about coming to Canada. Does the member agree?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is I absolutely agree. This is another opportunity to thank the minister for the hard work he has done and for this excellent legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, although the minister and I do not always agree, perhaps particularly when it comes to the substance of this bill, I would still like to commend him for his efforts. I have noticed that he is always present during debate and it reminds me of my years as immigration minister. Although we strongly disagree, the fact that the minister is here shows that he takes his work seriously. We may disagree, but I would still like to recognize his efforts.

I have been there. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is living legislation. Over the years, difficulties and situations arise and we must determine whether we can improve things. However, we have to be careful not to put too much focus on ideology because we are talking about individuals. When I was appointed immigration minister right after the events of September 11, we had to come to terms with that reality. I often call the minister of immigration the minister of Canada. He is the one who ensures that Canadian values are protected since Canada is a country of immigrants. It was built on immigration. That is why this is a very delicate situation and anyone occupying the position of minister has to be very careful about the attitude he adopts and the policies he proposes.

I am among those who think that each case is different. When we start generalizing and labelling, it can result in errors and abuse. Canada is a generous country. We were among the first to work to protect refugees. The Conservatives will tell us that the government has increased the number of refugees selected, that it is sending people into refugee camps, that it is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and that it is choosing the people to bring into the country.

The reality is that Bill C-31 affects people who arrive in Canada. This is where we have to be careful. I was the minister who negotiated the safe third country agreement with the United States, which was then ratified by subsequent ministers. The first agreement in principle indicated that, since the United States had ratified the Geneva convention, if someone came through the United States, they could be sent back there to go through that country's process.

However, because each case is different, I put forward a series of exceptions. We have our own foreign policy, and our own way of doing things. Each case is different and we never know what might happen. We are against abuse and we want to protect citizenship and permanent residency. They are not rights. In a way, they are privileges. However, we must respect conventions, ensure that we do not make generalizations and protect individuals.

I have problems with this bill for several reasons. The first is the matter of safe countries. The hon. member for Saint-Jean asked some questions about this earlier, and with good reason. The Conservatives can answer and say that 100% of the people abandoned their claims. They can provide the clumsy answer that people are here to collect welfare cheques. Those answers are not really appropriate and are incorrect in any case. The reality is that, in Hungary, for example, there is a right-wing extremist movement and an anti-Semitic movement—we have seen news reports on this subject—that could lead to specific attacks on certain individuals. It could have to do with sexual orientation. That is true in all countries, and it could be true in Europe.

If, as minister, I decide that a country is safe, I have just created a problem. Basically, that is what I have a problem with. We have to protect the minister. A minister should not be at the mercy of a system, but neither should the system be at the mercy of the minister. There can be exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances, and that is why the minister must not be at the mercy of the system.

On other hand, we also have to protect the institution of minister. This is why I thought it was relevant in the other bill. There was a provision for a panel of experts. It cannot be said that just because 80% of things do not happen, the country is safe. There have to be some parameters and guidelines that will allow us not only to protect the minister and the system, but also our immigration procedures. In this case, we are talking about refugees.

They say that justice must be done and that it must be seen to be done. When it appears that there is a possibility of abuse, there is already a problem. Nonetheless, I understand that a minister, because he can use ministerial permits, has the power to make decisions about very specific situations.

Detention also poses another problem, even if children under a certain age are not detained. We have seen some really awful cases where the families arrive all alone. If the adult is in detention and the child lives somewhere else, that creates other social problems.

With regard to biometrics, I was the minister who once proposed that Canada should establish a biometric national identity card. I still think that we should do this and that we should think about how we manage entries and exits at the U.S. border, for instance, and about people coming in to Canada. Biometrics is not bad, but we have to understand that there are offline and online biometrics.

When we have biometrics online, it means we have access to a database. If we do not have a legal framework to protect that information, this is where we have a problem. However, if we have off-line biometrics, and I would propose an I.D. card where individuals could have their fingerprint or some other information, the only thing we would need is to have the technology that recognizes the information on the card with a green light, red light process.

That has been done in China. We have the technology. In Shenzhen, 140,000 people pass through during the weekend. It takes 10 seconds, but there are red lights and then they can be dealt with.

Instead of putting up a label saying that everybody might be a terrorist or might be bad, authorities know where to focus, but they have to be vigilant.

The next issue is that I have a feeling that Bill C-31 is unconstitutional. Legal experts will remember the Singh decision, which stated that people who claim refugee status are also protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From this point of view, whether we are looking at detention, or the right of protection from arbitrary detention or the right to life, liberty and security of the person, we have to be very careful. In fact, when we are drafting a bill, we may have good intentions and try to score points, but if it does not make it through the courts, it creates other kinds of problems.

I hope we can make amendments, and it is not just to take up more time. I am completely aware of the situation that the current minister finds himself in. It is not easy when you have to make decisions.

I was the last minister who had powers not only in terms of immigration and refugees, but also over deportations. After the events of September 11, protecting the safety of our citizens and of Canada is important and it is a huge responsibility. This is why, when we draft a bill and when we set up a system, we have to be sure that the system will pass the smell test.

Frankly, I believe that in certain areas, we can have all the statistics we want, but it is about what kind of process we want to have. How do we manage the access of the people who come here?

Some may say—and I expect that someone will ask me this question—that I was the minister who did not implement the refugee appeal process. When I was in office, we did not do it because we were considering how to simplify and speed up the process.

It is important to find a way to speed up the process while taking all circumstances into account, but it has to be done correctly. That is why I am asking the minister to make the necessary changes so that we can work on giving protection to those who need it, as I did when I was minister.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his constructive comments, for what he did as the former minister of immigration, and for his knowledge of this problem.

He raised the issue of Hungary and the designation of certain countries in order to accelerate the processing of claims. However, once Bill C-31 is passed, no refugee claimant from Hungary or the European Union, which are designated countries, will have access to a hearing before a decision-maker at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. That means that all claimants from all countries, regardless of the manner in which they entered Canada, including migrants who are smuggled into the country, will have access to the same system that currently exists, that is, a hearing before a decision-maker based on the merit of their cases.

The only difference is that the processing will be slightly quicker, which was agreed to by the opposition in the last Parliament in the form of Bill C-11. Moreover, claimants will not have access to the Refugee Appeal Division that his government and he, as minister, did not create.

Why is he concerned about the fact that we are not diminishing the rights of claimants from designated safe countries?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I get the impression that each time the minister asks a question, he makes a speech. He thinks that if he repeats himself often enough, the message will sink in. That is not how things work. You do not create legislation overnight for a particular case. You make legislation for cases that might at some point arise. When you give yourself the ability to designate a safe country and to establish specific guidelines for a given country arbitrarily because you are the only person who can do so, it can lead to abuse and problems down the road.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Why not bring back an expert panel that could make recommendations along with the minister? Not only would that protect the system, it would protect the minister. That is where the minister has missed the mark.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 16th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech. I have a short question.

What concerns me about this bill is that it restricts recourse to humanitarian and compassionate considerations. I do not know whether my colleague shares this concern. A refugee claimant cannot invoke humanitarian and compassionate considerations while his claim is being processed or for one year following the refusal of his claim. Does that worry my colleague?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, that type of thing can be cause for concern. When a person arrives in Canada and files a claim for refugee protection, he must not be considered a terrorist. When the Canadian Alliance was in opposition, every time I was asked a question, they would use the words refugee and terrorist as if they were interchangeable. We need to stop labelling people. People come to Canada for various reasons. Yes, an individual might come to Canada because he has heard about the country, but sometimes, he takes certain steps.

It is not just a question of the human smugglers. We despise them. We have to beat human smuggling. However, we are looking for the individual. Sometimes when we are looking for an individual, we have some specifics and we have to make sure that we protect that person.

That is why I said it is the type of thing that needs to be examined.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. friend from Bourassa if he is aware of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' funding profile. We have heard from the hon. minister that there is a queue for refugees. I continue to respectfully dispute this notion, but if there is one and we are depending on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide such assistance, why is it that Canada is not adequately funding this voluntarily funded branch of the United Nations?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can assure my colleague that when we were there, we had an amazing relationship with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I have no doubt other members experienced the same thing. There is some relationship. I do not have the numbers, but if there is some capacity to work closely together, it should be done. I really believe that no matter what, specifically on that issue, we cannot do anything other than comply with the treaty and the organization itself.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act. I have enjoyed the debate and I will concur with my colleague opposite with respect to the minister and the fact that he has been present during this debate. It is an outstanding example for all parliamentarians.

We as Canadians are rightfully proud about our long-standing humanitarian tradition and about the fact that we are one of the top countries in the world to offer protection to those who are in need of asylum. There is no country in the G20 that welcomes more refugees per capita than Canada. We resettle one in ten refugees.

Canada is continuing its tradition as a leader in international refugee protection. Our government has increased the number of refugees we will be resettling by 2,500 per year.

Canadians are proud of our welcoming and fair nature. Nonetheless, few Canadians would disagree that our refugee system is in need of reform, as we see time and time again refugee claimants simply waiting too long for a decision on their claim. We also realize the need to stop those who are abusive of our generous immigration system, and we are therefore taking action to that end.

Canada's current asylum system is bogged down by bogus refugee claimants from countries that are democratic and safe. These claimants do not wait in line like everyone else. In fact, they make an attempt to jump the queue. This leaves in limbo those who genuinely are in need of Canada's protection but also allows those who really do not need our protection to unfortunately abuse our system.

Many genuine refugees have fled their homes because of unimaginable hardship and in many cases have been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they essentially start all over again. These genuine refugee claimants unfortunately are waiting years for determination on their claim. They are waiting because of an increasing number of refugee claims from safe and democratic countries. We should just look at the numbers for examples.

The total number of refugee claims from the European Union in 2011 was 5,800, a 14% increase from 2010. That is more than Africa and Asia.

Virtually all claims from the EU are abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. These are bogus refugees that are not in need of Canada's protection. They withdraw their own claims after they receive money unfortunately from our taxpayer funded welfare system and after they get taxpayer funded medical care. These claimants from the European Union cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million per year. That is simply not fair to Canadian taxpayers and it is not fair to genuine refugees who are waiting in line for Canada's protection.

Last year processing times for a decision on a claim before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada could take more than 20 months. It can take an average of four and a half years from the time a claim is made until a failed refugee claimant has exhausted all legal avenues and is removed from Canada. In some instances, cases have dragged on for more than a decade. Long delays encourage individuals who are not in need of our protection to use the refugee system as a way to remain in Canada. During that time, taxpaying Canadians pay for their health care and other generous social benefits.

Our government is closing the loopholes in our asylum system. We are listening to Canadians and acting in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers. No longer will these bogus refugee claimants be able to abuse our generous asylum system.

Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was previously passed, provided for faster processing timelines to quickly decide claims. It introduced a designated country of origin policy to further expedite the processing of claims from those countries.

As we proceeded with the implementation of that bill, it became clear that further reforms were needed. The rising number of refugee claims coming from countries that are not normally considered as refugee producing has warranted additional measures. This is why we have introduced a bill in addition to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

We need to send a clear and unmistakable message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly. At the same time, we need measures to ensure that those who truly need our help get it in a timely manner.

When the recent wave of bogus refugee asylum claims came flooding in from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union, it was made clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system were urgently needed. We are a responsible government that is not afraid to admit that our previous legislation was not strong enough in this area.

We have a mandate from the people of Canada to protect our immigration system. We listened and we are acting on that mandate.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make our refugee system faster and fairer. In this time of economic uncertainty, increased numbers of unfounded refugee claims create a financial burden on Canadian taxpayers.

Under the proposed system, claimants from designated countries of origin would get a hearing quickly, within 30 to 45 days, depending on whether they initially made their claim at an inland office or a port of entry. All other claimants would receive their hearings within 60 days. Let me be very clear about this. Under these new measures, all eligible refugee claimants would continue to be entitled to a fair hearing before an independent decision maker.

At this point I would like to quote what two very distinguished Canadian columnists have to say about our proposals and improvements.

John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail stated:

I think we need a system first of all that doesn’t cost too much....if you spend four years processing a bogus refugee claim, that’s the taxpayer who pays for it and that person may also be on welfare and other forms of social assistance during that time. So I agree. And I think there is broad public support for the idea that we need to process refugee claimants fairly and swiftly.

Another distinguished columnist, John Ivison of the National Post, stated:

I was talking to somebody today who was saying within four days of a claimant landing in Toronto, they can be claiming welfare. Now that's an obvious magnet for refugees all over the world. We have the most generous refugee system in the world. We have an acceptance rate of something like 50 per cent. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.

Well, how many people do you need to consult to figure out that Hungary should not be our leading sources of refugees? What had happened was that the ten, the top ten countries that we receive refugees from did not figure in the UN’s top ten list of refugees.

In closing, let me reiterate that the proposed protecting Canada's immigration system act builds on reforms passed in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. These new measures further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries which are those that generally do not produce refugees.

In addition, the proposals reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada. As a result, genuine refugees would receive Canada's protection much more quickly. Even after these changes, Canada's refugee determination system would still proudly remain one of the most generous in the world.

I urge all hon. members of the House to join me in supporting the bill in order to improve program integrity and deter abuse of our refugee system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, what worries me most about this bill is the principle of safe and unsafe countries of origin. I have listened to the Conservative government's argument since we started debating this bill, but in my view, it does not hold water.

About a quarter of the residents of my riding were not born in Canada. A lot of people come to my office looking for refugee status.

When this legislation is passed and a journalist from Russia tells the member opposite that he has written critically about the government in office there, and that he is afraid for his well-being, but that our government believes that Russia is a safe country, what will he do?

I would like the hon. member to tell us what he is going to say to this person who is asking for help. Is the member going to say that he cannot help him because the minister has decided that his country is safe?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

I certainly listened to the debate and I know this has been an issue of discussion.

The factors are objective and quantitative. The acceptance and designation of a country as safe is based upon decisions taken by asylum claimants themselves. The decision with respect to this is rendered by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, not by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

In the case which the member mentioned, they would be able to make a claim. That process would still be in place and they in fact would be able to make a claim.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I may have misheard the member so I would just ask him to clarify. My understanding is that although Canada's approach to refugees has been a mixed record, which we have acknowledged, with periods of shame such as turning away the St. Louis, in general our refugee programs have been very progressive historically.

I think I understood the member to say that we were the country in the world that did the most for refugee resettlement. My understanding is that the United States remains the country where refugee resettlement amounts to more than the combined total of all other industrialized countries accepting refugees combined.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that on a per capita basis Canada's resettlement of refugees is on a larger scale.

I want to address the member's earlier question to the member opposite. It was a valid question with respect to the amount Canada is paying toward the UN. My understanding is that it is in the neighbourhood of $70 million, which is the highest it has ever been in Canada's history and this continues.

She referenced a couple of other examples of which obviously Canada, in our nation's history, should not be proud. However, we should be very proud of our tradition. The minister is very much in keeping with this tradition. In my statement earlier today, I referenced the example of Grosse Île. Hundreds and thousands of French Canadians welcomed Irish to that island, treated them with dignity and respect, and cared for them. Unfortunately many of them gave their lives in doing so. This is an excellent example of what this country has done. It is a tradition that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who is of Irish heritage, is continuing today.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, Conservatives like to talk about their support for families. In this bill, the section allowing designated people as irregular arrivals would have some very severe impacts on families. The first is the question of detention. If the parents were detained, what would happen to the children? The second impact is cascading results from those who would be barred from applying for permanent residency for five years and then for an additional five years they could not sponsor their families. This would create a 10 year gap in family reunification. Is the member concerned about the impact on families of these provisions for those who are designated as irregular arrivals?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, this legislation would use the age of 16 in terms of not detaining children. However, the principle behind detention and behind the five year example that he gave is there have to be consequences for those who seek to jump the queue and those who seek to unfairly use our refugee system for their own benefit who are not genuine refugees. That is the issue.

We want to speed up the process for genuine claimants so they can have Canada's protection faster and can be resettled more quickly in Canada. The way to do that is to deal with the bogus claims that are currently clogging up the system. The point of this bill and of the last bill is to ensure that we can settle genuine refugees at a much quicker pace in the very generous fashion that we have, continuing to lead the world in this way. To do that, we need to unclog the current system and deal with the bogus refugee claimants.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Sudbury, I will let him know that we will need to interrupt him at 1:37 p.m.. He has almost enough time for the full 10 minutes but we will need to pace it on that basis.

The hon. member for Sudbury.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I truly am very disappointed that I will not have my full 10 minutes, but I appreciate the fact that you have given me six to seven minutes to talk about how I oppose the bill.

While I say that I oppose the bill, like my colleague from Edmonton—Leduc, I would like to tip my hat to the minister for being here throughout the entire debate. When we are looking at the importance of discussing ideas and trying to come up with the best legislation for the country, it is great that we can have this type of debate.

With that said, now that the hugs are over, I will move forward with my opinions on Bill C-31. New Democrats see this as an omnibus refugee reform bill that combines, in our opinion, the worst parts of the former Bill C-11 in the 40th Parliament and the current Bill C-4.

We see the main purpose is to repeal most of the compromises from the former Bill C-11, Balanced Refugee Reform Act, that received all-party support and royal assent in June 2010. It reintroduces Bill C-4, the human smuggling bill and introduces the collection of biometrics for temporary residents.

The naming of safe countries and the restriction of refugee rights, concentrating the power to determine safe countries in the hands of the minister, under the former Bill C-11, was to be done by a panel of experts including human rights experts. While we all can agree with the minister, we want to ensure that there would be a panel and human rights experts involved in this process, because no one is perfect. We want to ensure that immigrants could see that we do not leave it in the power of one person.

Refugee claimants from safe countries would face extremely short timelines before hearings, 15 days I believe. They would have no access to the new appeal division and no automatic stay of removal when filing for a judicial review. They would not be allowed to apply for a work permit for 180 days. The bill would also limit access and shorten timelines to file and submit a pre-removal risk assessment application and evidence.

In terms of restricting access to humanitarian and compassionate considerations, I do not think anyone would agree with that. Unfortunately, we are seeing this being pushed through by the government. A refugee claimant could not apply for H and C while the claim was pending for one year after a failed claim, in which time he or she would likely be deported. The bill would make it easier to terminate refugee protection if circumstances changed. This could apply to any legitimate refugee who had not yet become a citizen, potentially affecting tens of thousands of permanent residents. This would contravene international norms on the treatment of refugees and add uncertainty to individuals for years after their arrival. We have talked about how we have always been a progressive country in terms of immigration. I do not think that the bill, even though it may have been well-intended on the government side, does that.

Arbitrary designation of irregular arrivals and their mandatory incarceration is something that we on this side of the House definitely do not agree with. Bill C-31 reintroduces most of the provisions of Bill C-4, which are widely condemned by refugee advocates and likely unconstitutional. It would allow the minister to designate any refugee arrival of a group of two or more as irregular. We can use the examples of the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady. These irregular arrivals would face mandatory detention for up to one year if they were age 16 and over, or until a positive refugee decision was made, whichever came first.

Irregular arrivals could not apply for permanent residency for five years or sponsor their family for five years. They would have no access to the new refugee appeal division. This designation would create an unfair two-tier refugee system, one for regular refugees and one for irregular arrivals.

Looking at the background of this, the former Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, was supported by all parties in the last Parliament. Several compromises were made to the original bill, largely through the work of the member for Trinity—Spadina and the NDP. It made it acceptable to us and other opposition parties.

These compromises included establishing a panel of experts to determine safe countries, allowing access to appeal for designated nationals and those from designated safe countries, and greater timeliness for the start of the appeal process. Bill C-31, unfortunately, repeals almost all of these compromises.

What would we like to see from an immigration bill, something like C-31 specifically? We do not think the Conservatives have been effective at gaining support for this legislation by promoting fear and talking about the threat of refugees. I do not think anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric, such as “bogus claimants”, “queue jumpers” and “criminal elements”, does anything to help any of the immigrants coming to Canada. However, I think civil society is solidly against these changes to refugee reform. Experience in other countries, such as Australia for example, show that measures such as these do not have a deterrent effect.

These measures target and punish legitimate refugees. Refugees should not be subject to political manoeuvring, but should be given fair and compassionate treatment. All of those who seek protection should be given equal rights, with equal rights to appeal. No country is free from persecution. This is especially true of women and gays and lesbians fleeing violence and persecution.

To summarize, refugees have the right to a fair hearing. The right to appeal is critical for vulnerable claimants at the mercy of an inconsistent and often arbitrary Immigration and Refugee Board. We do not believe that the bill will accomplish that.

I am sure I will have a few minutes on another day to continue, but with that I do wish everyone a very Happy St. Patrick's Day tomorrow and a great constituency week.