Mr. Speaker, I understand the frustration the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville has with an answer like that. I heard the member opposite say that there was no such thing as a good or bad refugee, that they are just refugees. There really are legitimate refugees but there are others who are trying to abuse the system. The opposition does not seem to be able to comprehend or understand that.
We are here today to talk about Bill C-31 in order to deal with some of those issues. The title of the bill is protecting Canada's immigration system act, and that is what it would do.
Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. We welcome more resettled refugees than almost any other country in the world. That number is growing by an additional 2,500 because our government is increasing it by 20%, to a total number of 14,500 resettled refugees to Canada.
However, in order for our asylum system to continue to be generous, Canadians need to know that it is not vulnerable to abuse. That is something that the opposition does not seem to understand. For far too long, our immigration system has been open to abuse by those who do not want to follow the rules or wait in line like everyone else and would rather use the asylum system as a back door to queue jump. This abuse undermines Canadians' faith in our immigration system. It cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year and, most unfortunately, it means that genuine refugees who need asylum, who the opposition claims to have some concern for, are waiting far too long for Canadian protection.
Canadians gave our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. They told us loud and clear across the country that they want to put a stop to this abuse. With Bill C-31, we are acting on that mandate. Bill C-31 would make important, much needed improvements to our asylum system. It includes provisions to crack down on the despicable crime of human smuggling and provides the government with the authority to require biometric data for anyone seeking temporary status in Canada. Together, these improvements would make Canada's immigration system faster and fairer.
Today I will focus my remarks on the refugee reform provisions of Bill C-31. The Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which passed in 2012, was a good start. It included many needed reforms to Canada's broken asylum system. However, our government has always been clear that refugee reform is not a static issue and that further steps will be taken when and if required. The recent waves of bogus refugee asylum claimants from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union have made it clear that further reforms to our asylum system are needed urgently.
The statistics speak volumes. Last year, Canada received 5,800 from the European Union, which represents a 14% increase from the year before. This means that claims from the European Union made up a quarter of all claims, which is more than the claims received from Africa or Asia.
The top source country for refugees last year was Hungary, a member of the European Union. It is very telling when we look at the global distribution of refugee claims made by Hungarian nationals. In 2010, 2,400 refugee claims were made by Hungarian nationals, 100 of them were made outside of Canada, while a whopping 2,300 were made in Canada. That means that Canada received 23 times the claims than any other country. Although these claimants have access to 26 European countries in which they can work, move and live, they are choosing Canada. We actually had even more than that in 2011 when it came close to 4,000 individuals. They are choosing Canada for a reason.
However, this is very expensive for Canadian taxpayers. Bogus claims from the EU last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. What is more, in the last few years virtually all refugee claims from the European Union were withdrawn, abandoned by the claimants themselves or rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board.
Our government is acting responsibly and in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers by introducing reforms to address the increasing number of bogus refugee claimants. Many of the bogus claimants who withdraw or abandon their own claims seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system and receive generous social benefits like welfare and health care, which costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
One of the central features of Bill C-31 is the ability of the government to designate countries that generally do not produce refugees and then to process those claims more quickly.
Under Bill C-31, the factors that would lead a country to be designated would be clearly outlined in both the law and in the regulations. The most important factors are objective and quantitative and refer to the actual acceptance rate claims from a given country. This means the designation of a country as safe would be based on the results of decisions taken by asylum claimants themselves, such as the decision to withdraw or abandon their claims, and the decisions rendered by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, not the minister.
In addition, unlike the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which had quantitative and qualitative criteria specified only in regulation, we believe that in this proposed legislation it is important that the qualitative factors be enshrined in legislation, while the quantitative factors would be set by ministerial order. In this way, the criteria used to trigger a country for review for designation would be more transparent and accountable than they were even under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.
Under Bill C-31, claimants from safe countries would have their cases heard on an expedited basis. More specifically, the independent IRB would hear their case in 45 days instead of the more than 1,000 days it takes now.
It is important to emphasize that under Bill C-31 every eligible refugee claimant, regardless of which country they come from, would continue to receive a hearing before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board.
Furthermore, as is the case now, all refugee claimants, including those from designated countries, would be able to make an application for review of a negative decision by the Federal Court. Bill C-31 actually adds appeal rights by creating the refugee appeal division to which the vast majority of failed claimants would have access. Multiple levels of appeals seems to be very fair.
I would also note that in Bill C-31 Canada would continue to exceed its international and domestic obligations. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as the 1951 UN refugee convention, require that all refugee claimants be given the opportunity to have their claim heard. The process in Canada goes above and beyond its domestic and international obligations, and that will not change under Bill C-31.
Canada has and will continue to have one of the most generous refugee systems in the world. All refugee claimants will continue to have their cases heard by the independent IRB. Furthermore, every failed refugee claimant will continue to have access to at least one level of appeal. People deemed in need of protection will not be returned to their country of persecution regardless of which country they have fled.
In fact, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized the validity of providing expedited processing for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has said, “there are indeed safe countries of origin. There are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries”. He also stated that as long as all refugee claimants have access to the system, it is completely legitimate to accelerate those claims.
Former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, has also recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe. My colleague who just spoke talked about that. He recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe and even advocated rejecting all claims from those countries, which Bill C-31 does not propose to do. He said, “I want a legitimate, lawful refugee system that, to get to the openness point, welcomes genuine refugees … and then says, look there are a number of countries in the world in which we cannot accept a bona fide refugee claim because you don't have cause, you don't have just cause coming from those countries. Otherwise you'll have refugee fraud, and nobody wants that. Furthermore, many democratic European countries already designate certain countries as safe and accelerate asylum procedures for claims from those countries”.
Canadians are very proud of their welcoming and compassionate nature but they have little tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and take unfair advantage of our country. Bill C-31 would prevent bogus refugees from abusing our system and receiving lucrative tax funded health and social benefits. At the same time, it would provide protection more quickly to genuine refugees who are truly in need.
I urge all members of this House to support this important bill and ensure its timely passage.