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.