Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, a bill that is designed to fulfill exactly that responsibility.
Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in three ways. First, it includes further reforms to Canada's asylum system to make it faster and fairer. Second, it includes measures to address the despicable crime of human smuggling. Third, it gives the government authority to make it mandatory to provide biometric data with a temporary resident visa application.
Canadians have understandably become concerned by the growing waves of claimants coming from countries that generally do not produce refugees, such as those in the European Union. I do not think there is a single person who does not find it cause for concern that one quarter of refugee claims last year came from the European Union, which is more than from Africa and from Asia.
Even more concerning is that virtually all of the claims from the EU were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. Unfortunately, it is hard-working Canadian taxpayers who bear the cost of these bogus claims and the costs are not cheap. The bogus claims from the EU last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. It is clear that too many people are abusing our generous immigration system and too many tax dollars are being spent on these bogus refugee claimants.
While the Balanced Refugee Reform Act was a positive step toward fixing many of the problems in our system, gaps remain that must be addressed. Bill C-31 includes many important measures to make the asylum system in Canada faster and fairer and to deter bogus claimants from abusing Canada's system. Under Bill C-31, claimants from countries which after extensive review have been deemed to be safe would have their claims processed in 45 days compared to the more than 1,000 days it takes under the current system. Also, bogus claimants would not have access to as many endless appeal routes that currently results in taking an average of almost 5 years to deport a failed claimant and in some cases more than 10.
However, let me be clear. Under Bill C-31, every eligible refugee claimant, regardless of what country they come from, would continue to receive a hearing before the independent Immigration Refugee Board. Just as is the case now, every refugee claimant would be able to seek juridical review by the federal court.
Bill C-31 adds a level of appeal for the majority of refugee claimants who would gain access to the new refugee appeals division. Bill C-31 would ensure that genuine refugees would receive Canada's protection faster, while those who would abuse our system would be removed from Canada more quickly. It would save Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years, savings in welfare and other costs associated with bogus claims.
As I mentioned at the top of my remarks, the second piece of the protecting Canada's immigration system act would incorporate measures that would address human smuggling. Several months ago in the House, the Minister of Public Safety introduced Bill C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. As my hon. colleagues are well aware, we debated the bill extensively throughout the fall sitting of Parliament.
Bill C-31 will replace Bill C-4, while keeping all of its long-needed measures. These measures would help maintain the integrity of our generous immigration system, while curtailing the abuse of that system by human smugglers whose actions undermine the security and safety of Canadians.
Cracking down on human smugglers is an important element of protecting the integrity of our immigration system. That is why it is entirely appropriate that the provisions of the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act have been included in this new legislation.
There is one notable change from Bill C-4, however, as Bill C-31 includes an exemption from detention for minors under the age of 16.
The final component of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would create a legislative framework for the long-planned implementation of biometric technology as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems. This component of the legislation and its corresponding regulations that will follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for visa applicants to Canada to have their photographs and their fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications.
Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening, enhance security and help reduce fraud. Biometrics form an effective tool to manage high volumes of applications and the growing sophistication in identity fraud. Using biometrics will help prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using a false identity to obtain a Canadian visa. Implementing biometrics will bring Canada in line with the growing list of countries that already use biometrics in their immigration and border control programs. These countries include the United Kingdom, other states in the European Union and the United States.
Bill C-31 has been praised from coast to coast to coast. This is what the Montreal Gazette had to say:
Canada has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation as a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution in their homelands.
At the same time, however, it has also gained repute as an easy mark for the unscrupulous who fraudulently use our generous refugeedetermination system as a way to get into Canada without submitting to standard immigration requirements and procedures....
The legislation also proposes harsher penalties for those who engage in human smuggling, as well as for asylum-seekers who pay smuggling syndicates to get them to Canadian shores. And it allows for the collection of biometric data -- fingerprints and digital photos -- of people entering Canada on a visitor visa, a work permit or a study visa.
Both of these measures are advisable. Human smuggling is an odious enterprise that should be severely punished. And while the smugglers' clients are perhaps desperate people in many cases, they are nevertheless participants in an illegal activity that should be strongly discouraged.
The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities....
Shielding the refugee system from false claimants is not only in the best interest of Canadians, on whom they are a financial burden, but also of legitimate applicants who stand to lose out if bogus claimants cast the system as a whole into disrepute.
Canada has a generous and fair immigration system that is the envy of the world. It has served Canada well and it has also served well those who come into our country legitimately, whether on a permanent basis or for a fixed period of time, seeking economic opportunities, protection from persecution or for family or personal reasons.
It is incumbent upon us to ensure that such an important system is always operating in our national interest as effectively and efficiently as possible. That means we have to preserve what works well in the immigration system and ameliorate the system in areas where there are shortcomings.
Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would do exactly what its name says. It would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugee claimants abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative, taxpayer-funded health and social benefits.
The measures in Bill C-31 are necessary to protect the integrity of our immigration system. For that reason, I encourage all my hon. colleagues to support the legislation and allow these much needed measures to be enacted in a timely manner.
It is a pleasure to stand in the House and speak to Bill C-31. This legislation has been needed for a long time in Canada. I congratulate the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism in finally bringing this forward. This is a step in the right direction for all Canadians.