Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Canada's refugee system is among the most generous in the world. In fact, Canada currently welcomes one out of every ten resettled refugees worldwide. Our humanitarian efforts have been recognized by the United Nations.
Since World War II, Canada has provided a safe haven for over one million refugees. As a Canadian, I am proud of this compassionate tradition of ours. There should be no doubt that Canada's government is committed to continuing this proud tradition. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, an increase of 2,500 refugees compared to 2010.
In introducing Bill C-31, our rationale is simple. By focusing the resources of our system and providing protection to those who genuinely need it, we will improve our ability to help those in need. The Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was passed in June 2010, made some important reforms, but the fact is that gaps remain in the new system.
For one, the asylum system is already overwhelmed by a significant backlog of cases. The growing number of bogus claims from European Union democracies is only exacerbating the problem.
The facts speak for themselves and are strong proof of the need for Bill C-31. It is very telling that the opposition in its criticism does not refute any of these facts, but instead chooses to conveniently ignore them.
Last year Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union. This amounted to a quarter of all refugee claims made last year. That is more than from Africa and Asia. Canada's top source country for refugee claims was Hungary, an EU member state. In fact, Canada received 4,400 claims from Hungary alone last year, double the amount received the year before.
Virtually all claims from the European Union in the past two years were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. It has become quite apparent that too many of our tax dollars are being spent on people who do not need our protection. These bogus refugee claims from the EU are costing Canadian taxpayers $170 million per year.
Building on the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the passage of Bill C-31 would save taxpayers a whopping $1.65 billion over the next five years. I think Canadians would agree that this money could be better spent elsewhere rather than on failed refugee claimants who abuse our refugee system and use it as a backdoor into our country. This is precisely what is being done right now under the current system. We are using taxpayer dollars to support people who should not be here in the first place.
Indeed, the average failed refugee claim currently costs taxpayers approximately $55,000. That is because the current system is far too slow. On average, it can take up to 4.5 years from the time an initial claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. During this time, claimants can access taxpayer funded health care and receive taxpayer funded social assistance for several years while their claim is still pending. Endless appeals and long wait times mean greater costs to Canadian taxpayers.
These bogus refugee claims are bogging down the system. This is negatively impacting genuine refugees who are in need of Canada's protection. People in genuine need of our protection now wait up to 20 months for a decision on their claim. This is unfair to genuine claimants. As a result, our message to genuine claimants who are waiting patiently in line is that we are sorry it is taking so long.
This just is not fair. It is an abuse of our country's generosity. It robs genuine claimants of their ability to get protection quickly. It deprives them of the peace of mind they and their families deserve.
The NDP and the Liberals, by not supporting Bill C-31, are telling immigrants who patiently waited in line that the opposition supports queue-jumping and those who break the rules to get to the front of the line. The opposition is on the wrong side of Canadians, especially Canadian immigrants who followed all the rules.
Given these problems with the current refugee system, it should be obvious to any Canadian that further improvements are needed.
Bill C-31 would not only improve upon the current refugee system and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, it would also make it faster for genuine refugees to get our protection.
The success of the new system hinges on our ability to speed up the current processing times for refugee claims. This is essential because the less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and to queue-jump the regular immigration process. Also, speeding up the current processing time for refugee claims means genuine refugees will get our protection more quickly.
Hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board for claimants from safe countries would occur within 30 to 45 days. In comparison, under the current system it takes an astounding average of 1,000 days to process a refugee claim.
I want to make one important point very clear. Every eligible claim will continue to be heard by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. In addition, every failed claimant will have access to at least one recourse mechanism, such as the refugee appeal division or the Federal Court.
These new processing timelines not only mean people who are in genuine need of Canada's protection will receive it more quickly, they also mean we can more quickly remove those who do not.
This is what was written in the Globe and Mail about Bill C-31:
The immigration minister's...refugee reforms, aimed at making the process more efficient and decisive, are generally good. If implemented, they will improve the unwieldy asylum program....The legislation rightly focuses on weeding out claimants who are not genuine, and stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries such as Mexico and Hungary that are democracies with respect for basic rights and freedoms....Fast-tracking refugee claims from these countries, and ensuring failed claimants are promptly deported, is an excellent way to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse.
The spike in unfounded claims from democracies where human and democratic rights exist and which are not typically refugee producing is proof that we must act decisively to deter abuse of our refugee system.
Quick removals would deter abuse and contribute to reducing the overall costs associated with these bogus refugee claims.
We need to send the right message to both types of refugee claimants: the genuine and the unfounded. Those who truly need our help will get it even faster, but if someone is not in need of protection, that individual will be sent home quickly.
These proposed measures will continue to meet our domestic and international obligations. They will also maintain the balance and fairness that are the foundations of our refugee system. I am confident that they will honour the spirit and support for refugees that Canadians value.
I urge all members of the House to support this important legislation and help to provide a quicker and more secure beginning here in Canada for victims of violence and persecution around the world.