This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #99 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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out a couple of things.

Number one, the minister does not have arbitrary powers to designate safe countries. That designation comes from the Immigration and Refugee Board. There is a system, both qualitative and quantitative, of factors that determine what should be considered a safe country.

I would also like to point out to the hon. member opposite that his former leader, Mr. Ignatieff, stated just that, that there has to be a system to designate safe countries, because otherwise, if we do not have that kind of system, abuse in the refugee system could take place.

His former leader recognized that the designation of safe countries in a reform of the immigration and refugee system that we have in Canada was desperately needed. We agreed with him then. We agree with him now.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak in favour of Bill C-31.

Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration system. Canadians have long opened their arms to those less fortunate and those who need our protection. Canada has welcomed over a million refugees since the Second World War and we will continue in that proud tradition.

In fact, just this past December at the United Nations in Geneva, our government committed to further concrete actions in order to provide protection to those in need. We pledge to maintain our promise to increase the number of refugees we resettle by 20%, even in the face of a global economic situation that has seen some countries reduce their resettlement. This means that by 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees, an increase of 2,500 refugees.

We also pledged a portion of our resettlement spaces for each of the next five years as part of an international pool for emergency situations. Canada will pledge 200 spaces each year, which represents 10% of the UNHCR's request for additional spaces for urgent crises.

In addition, our government will continue to resettle religious minorities and victims of persecution on the ground of sexual orientation, including those from Iran who have fled to Turkey. We will also continue our efforts to assist highly vulnerable persecuted populations, including traditional refugees, internally displaced persons, women and children.

Clearly, our Conservative government is committed to providing protection to the world's most vulnerable. Canadians are also committed to continuing this proud tradition of ours. The outpouring of support from Canadians under the private sponsorship refugee program underlines our generosity. Under this program, Canadian citizens and permanent residents come together to sponsor refugees and help them build a new life here in Canada.

Since the program began in 1978, private sponsors have collectively welcomed more than 200,000 refugees to Canada. As a result of the compassion and generosity of Canadians, our country is a world leader in resettling refugees, and our humanitarian efforts have been recognized by the United Nations.

For refugees who are resettled from outside Canada, Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees.

The first class consists of convention refugees, which refers to those people who fall under the definition provided under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The convention defines a refugee as a person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”, or unwilling to return there because there is a fear of persecution.

The second class of refugees resettled from outside Canada is the country of asylum class. This category is for people in refugee-like situations who do not qualify as convention refugees. To be considered a refugee, they must be outside their home country or the country where they normally live. They must have been and continue to be seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict, or have suffered massive violations of human rights, and they must not be able to find an adequate solution to their situation within a reasonable period of time.

Canada welcomes one in ten of the world's resettled refugees, more than any of the G20 countries. As I have already said, by 2013 Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees.

Finally, Canada also offers protection to people in Canada who fear persecution or whose removal from Canada would subject them to a danger of torture, a risk to their life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Last year alone we granted nearly 11,000 asylum seekers protection in Canada. We will continue to grant protection to those in need. Canada will continue to provide protection to those who are persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, their membership in a particular group, or political opinion.

Members will notice that the definitions of refugees that I provided do not include queue jumpers. Nowhere does it say that protection should be offered to those people who do not want to play by the rules, those who want to jump to the front of the line, those who want to benefit from lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits.

Canadians are generous and want to provide protection to those in need. However, they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity or take advantage of our country. The fact is that right now too many people are abusing our refugee system as a way to gain quick entry into Canada and jump the immigration queue.

Last year a quarter of all refugee claimants were from the European Union. Canada received more refugee claims from the European Union than from Africa and Asia. Virtually all, I repeat, virtually all of the claims from the EU were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. The opposition NDP and Liberals cannot dispute the facts and they cannot ignore the statistics. Bogus claimants clog our refugee system and make those who legitimately need protection wait far too long before they receive a decision on their claim.

We must also stop wasting taxpayer dollars on these unfounded claimants. There were more than 5,800 new refugee claims from EU nationals last year. The cost to Canadian taxpayers for the unfounded claims last year was nearly $170 million. These people are not in legitimate need of our protection. Instead, they wish to manipulate our refugee system for their own selfish gain and take advantage of our country's generosity. They do not want to play by the rules or wait in line. Unfortunately, the current process rewards them for abusing the system.

Large numbers of bogus refugee claimants are a financial burden on the economy, but the attraction of Canada's social assistance programs and associated benefits is a draw for many. Under the current system, claimants can access our taxpayer-funded health care system and claim welfare for several years while their claims are still pending. Canadians want us to put a stop to this abuse. The reforms contained in Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, are aimed at deterring abuse of Canada's immigration system. With those proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's program would be protected and we would be able to provide protection more quickly to those who generally need it.

Bill C-31 would make our refugee system fairer and faster. It would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, this bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need. Canadians are generous and want to provide protection to those in need. These changes would maintain the quality of our asylum system and also continue our active resettlement program overseas. With these changes, Canada would remain a leader in providing refugee protection and we would be able to prevent abuse of our refugee system.

I urge my fellow members in the House to rise in support of this legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, something has become a lot clearer for me after listening to the government today. Among many of the reasons the government is trying to dismantle Canada's social safety net is apparently to make Canada less attractive to supposed queue jumpers. This is outrageous.

I want to get back to the whole idea of bogus refugee claimants. If 95% of them are withdrawing their applications in the first place, let us deal with the remaining 5%.

In my riding there is a Roma community. Human Rights Watch has stated there are documented cases of racist and xenophobic violence directed particularly against the Roma and inadequate police protection in a number of EU member states. These are not bogus refugee claimants. It is a vulnerable community. They come to Canada and if they are given the right opportunities, are in the right communities and are nurtured properly, they contribute to our society and tax base.

Does the member really think that members of the Roma community are bogus refugee claimants?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting listening to NDP members. I have to say that I understand that they want to oppose. That is their role here in this Parliament. However, it is one thing to oppose constructively, it is a whole other thing to oppose to spread fear and derision throughout the country.

The member who spoke two speakers ago, and I cannot remember his riding, spoke of Human Rights Watch. Let us look at the record of Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, by the admission of its founder, is anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-American and anti-Canadian. This is an organization that the NDP members line themselves up with and take advice from. It is a shame and a disgrace.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry, but the hon. member is smearing organizations that are known around the world for defending human rights. I think the hon. member should be careful about what he says and stop accusing the NDP of spreading fear and being anti-Canadian.

During the last Parliament, the government accepted our amendments, but we know full well that it did so only because it had a minority. It had no choice if it wanted the bill to pass.

Now that the Conservatives have a majority and have removed the NDP amendments knowing that the bill will pass, how can they accuse us of not wanting to negotiate with them?

Can the hon. member rise today and say that the Conservatives are going to reinstate the amendments and negotiate with us? If the government decides to accept our amendments, the NDP might pass the bill.

Are the Conservatives going to negotiate with us?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler Conservative York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not have to take any lessons from the NDP in terms of truth. The NDP, in this instance, has lined up with Human Rights Watch, an organization which has been declared by its founder to be anti-Semitic and have an anti-Israel bias. It has not said a word about the slaughter of Syrians by the Syrian regime. This is an organization that the NDP lines up with. The facts speak for themselves. It was the NDP that brought up Human Rights Watch, not me. The NDP members should stand by their wild accusations and be proud of them. That is fine. They can go before the Canadian people and tell them that.

I have to say that if the NDP members want amendments, and they were so happy with the bill they had before the previous Parliament of which I was not a member, then why did they defeat the government and force an election?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's, Fisheries and Oceans; the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Employment Insurance.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to add some of my concerns about this bill which up to this point I have only been able to put forward in questions and comments. I am grateful that the Liberal Party allowed me one of the slots in their speaking roster this evening.

I have been in most of the debates on Bill C-31 since it was tabled and also in the earlier debates on its predecessor, Bill C-4. What we have been hearing from the Conservatives is that this bill is necessary to end human smuggling. We hear a lot of cries about human smuggling. We hear that people are jumping the queue. We have heard a lot of allegations.

I have structured what I hope to say in the next 10 minutes by mentioning some of the things that are most frequently alleged here and providing some counterbalance. I think there are egregious parts of this legislation. I think it violates the charter and that future courts will find it to be illegal.

Let us just start with one that we hear all the time, the notion that there is queue jumping if refugee claimants come to Canada in some fashion that is different from the way normal immigration to Canada occurs. We must keep very clear in our minds the distinct and large difference between people who come to this country as immigrants, as my parents did, and people who come to this country as political refugees, people fearing for their very lives.

In this category there is no such thing as a queue jumper. There is no such thing as going to line up at an immigration office for Canada in some country, when people know that their lives are at risk and they flee with the clothes on their back. We need to keep these things very separate in our minds. Much of this bill deals with that latter category, people who are seeking refugee status in Canada.

Some people can fear for their lives when they come to Canada and their refugee claims may be rejected. That does not mean that the adjective “bogus” applies to their claims. Some people are rejected even though they have a legitimate fear of persecution. They do not make it through our process.

We like to think that our process has been, and still is, fair and generous. However, sometimes it has rejected people who really did need our protection. Let us be clear about that.

The vast majority of refugees in this world, and they number in the millions, never make it to an industrialized country. Most of the migration that occurs among those people who are refugees is from one developing country to another. That is the vast majority of claimants.

We have heard that this bill, because of its punitive nature towards people who arrive by ship or some other means of arrival deemed an “irregular entry”, one of the new terms that comes up in Bill C-31, will discourage so-called human smuggling. I have yet to hear any empirical evidence that that is the case.

I have taken some time since the bill was first tabled to try to find evidence, and what I have found is the absence of evidence. An expert analyst of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Alice Edwards, said:

Pragmatically, there is no empirical evidence that the prospect of being detained deters irregular migration, or discourages persons from seeking asylum. In fact, as the detention of migrants and asylum-seekers has increased in a number of countries, the number of individuals seeking to enter such territories has also risen, or has remained constant. Globally, migration has been increasing regardless of governmental policies on detention. Except in specific individual cases, detention is generally an extremely blunt instrument of government policy-making on immigration.

Let me go to a letter that was sent to the Prime Minister of this country by a group of people in Australia who have had a lot of experience. Certainly it is true, as the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has said, that other countries are going in a similar direction. It has failed there, it will fail here. This is a letter advising the Prime Minister of Canada not to go in the direction of Australia from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Australia.

They refer to the fact that Australia is already learning some hard lessons about trying to discourage refugees by putting people in prison. Australia has abandoned its temporary protection visas because they found they were not working.

I will quote from their letter to our Prime Minister:

Contrary to popular belief, 'tough' immigration policies in the past have not succeeded as an effective deterrent:

In 1999, less than 1000 'unauthorised arrivals' applied for asylum, the year TPVs [temporary protection visas] were introduced.

In 2001, when the policy was in full force, the arrivals rose to more than 4000.

Under this policy, denying the right to refugees on TPVs to apply for family reunion pushed the wives and children of asylum seekers onto boats in an attempt to be reunited.

In 2001 353 people drowned in the tragic SIEVX disaster while travelling by boat to Australia.

Most of the 288 women and children aboard the SIEVX were family members of TPV holders already in Australia.

We have also been told that bringing in this bill would save money because people would be discouraged from coming here and our social safety net programs would not be available to refugees. I have asked several times in the House and I have yet to have one Conservative member of Parliament offer up a cost of this legislation. As far as I can find, it has not been costed.

Anyone, men, women, and children over 16 years of age, coming here by irregular entry would be put in detention. Minor children would likely be placed in detention as well because they would opt to stay with the mother rather than be placed far from their families in a foreign land.

Let us see what it has cost Australia. Australia maintains 19 immigration detention facilities. In the last year for which I could find costs, 2011, it was spending over $668 million on refugee detention. The Australian secretary in the department of immigration and citizenship remarked, and I do not know when we will hear this from the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, that “The cost of long-term detention and the case against the current system are compelling.... The cost to the taxpayer of detention is massive and the debt recovery virtually non-existent”.

We have heard that children would no longer be jailed, unlike the previous version of this legislation Bill C-4. We have been told that the change would allow children to go somewhere else, but we have not been told where. Under the international Convention on the Rights of the Child these children are defined as legally children. Sixteen to eighteen year olds would be jailed, their parents would be jailed, everyone would go to jail for up to a year if they arrived by irregular entry.

I just want to share what Australia has started doing. The Australian Human Rights Commission found that detention actually violated the Australian human rights provisions. It also was not working. In October 2010 the Australian government changed its tactics. It decided that it would begin to move a significant number of families with children into community detention. In other words, the Australian government is keeping track of anyone who arrives by irregular entry. These people are not essentially integrated into the community in the same way that they would be if they were allowed to work or move around freely. This community detention process has reduced costs. Placement in communities bridges visas and is essentially community detention but requires that the people involved report to someone, similar to parole, but they actually live in communities.

Lastly, we have been told that the bill would deal with people coming from the European Union. We have also been told that there is no reason for anyone to worry about the European Union. Since the bill was tabled, a Federal Court decision was tabled on February 22, 2012, in the case of Hercegi v. Canada. Mr. Justice Hughes of the Federal Court said clearly, “The evidence is overwhelming that Hungary is unable presently to provide adequate protection to its Roma citizens”.

I have one last court decision to refer to and that is Charkaoui v. Canada, 2007 in the Supreme Court of Canada. Madam Justice McLaughlin ruled that charter rights extend to foreign nationals. Charter violations are endemic to this act.

We must change this legislation in order to not violate Canadian values, Canadian law and the charter.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I am deeply concerned about the pattern I see from the Conservatives. They are talking about people who come here as refugees as illegal immigrants, as though they are all criminal, they are all guilty, they are all up to something and so they need to be locked up, handled and separated.

We see the movement in Europe where families with children are put into detention centres, basically, prison camps for children. My hon. colleagues talked about the situation in Australia, where families fleeing from dangerous situations are treated as criminals and are put into detention centres, without any sort of due course regarding a fair review of what their situation is, whether they have proper refugee status or whether they do not deserve to be there.

Is my hon. colleague concerned about this ideological attack that seems to be so much in keeping with so many of the other countries that we see going down this same road?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this does seem to be legislation that has been designed with an eye to public relations. I am a British Columbian. I know the effect of the Sun Sea coming to our shores. There was a lot of concern that people would be arriving. The first thing we heard from the Conservative members was that there could be terrorists on board this ship. In the end, having screened the many people who had gone through the miserable experience of a voyage on an unsafe and rusty vessel across the waves to Canada who were then detained and who were screened carefully without use of this law, the vessel was not found to contain criminals and terrorists.

We have not had a lot of boats arriving since. Therefore, the legislation seems to me to be intended to be largely public relations.

There is a refugee issue and an immigration issue. We need to replace the dwindling numbers of people on the Immigration Refugee Board so claims can be handled more swiftly and families can be reunited in this country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I, too, listened with interest to my colleague's comments. The unfortunate part of many of the comments that have been made today is the rhetoric that is involved. She used the term “jail”. My colleague across the way used the terms, “prison camps” and “treated as criminals”. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are simply trying to identify the identity of the persons who are coming here.

Does she not agree that it is important we know whether those who come here to seek the protection of Canada are in fact terrorists or have been involved in criminal activity in their country of origin? Is that too much to ask for the safety of Canadians?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Kitchener—Conestoga to be a person of faith and compassion. I ask him to consider that these may in fact be jails. We do not yet have detention centres. Some of the people from the Sun Sea were placed in jails. That is a fact. Therefore, how are we going to deal with numbers of people?

I agree with the point entirely. We need to know who is coming to our shore. We need to identify them. Those things can be done without a blanket presumption.

For instance, the way this legislation would work is if people come by ship, they are automatically detained. If they arrive in an airport, they are not. I do not understand why it is that we assume that only the dangerous people come by ships. If they come to a crossing by car and say that they are political refugees, their treatment is different.

The government, in its legislation, has not provided consistency in the way in which these streams of political refugees are to be treated.

I can only see it as a public relations ploy to start by saying that if people come by ship, they will be deemed an irregular entry. If we do not call it prison, if we do not call it jail, if we do not call it internment, the detention facilities in this legislation could well end up being the county jail.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

I am proud to be part of a government that is effectively balancing ensuring that we offer protection for legitimate asylum seekers with maintaining the integrity of our immigration system and our security, all while ensuring that we build an immigration system that allows those who seek to come to Canada to contribute to the economic needs of our country and allowing them to be welcomed here more expeditiously. That is all thanks to the vision and dedication of the hon. Minister of Immigration, who I am proud to stand alongside today.

Canada already has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. Canada welcomes more resettled refugees than almost any other country in the world.

However, in order for our asylum system to continue to be generous and to work effectively, Canadians need to know that it is not vulnerable to abuse. Unfortunately, for far too long, our immigration system has been open to abuse by those who do not want to follow the rules, or do not want to wait in line like everyone else, but would rather use the asylum system as a back door to jump the queue. This abuse undermines Canadians' faith in our immigration system. It costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year and, most unfortunate, it means that genuine refugees who need asylum are waiting far too long for Canada's protection.

Canadians gave our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. They have told us loud and clear that they want us to put a stop to this abuse. With Bill C-31, we are acting on that mandate.

Bill C-31 would make important and further much needed improvements to our asylum system. It includes provisions to crack down on the despicable crime of human smuggling and it 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 am going to focus my remarks on the refugee reform provisions of Bill C-31. The Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was passed recently, was a good start and included much needed reform to Canada's broken asylum system. However, our government has always been clear that refugee reform is not a static issue and further steps would be taken if and when required. Recent waves of bogus refugee asylum claims from the democratic and human rights respecting European Union have made it clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system are needed and needed urgently.

The statistics speak volumes. Last year, Canada received 5,800 refugee claimants 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. This is more than the number of claims received from Africa or Asia.

Last year, the top source country for refugees 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. One hundred of them were made to other countries outside of Canada, while a whopping 2,300 were made in Canada. That means Canada received 23 times more claims from Hungary than all the other countries in the world combined. Although these claimants have access to 26 countries in which they can move, work and live, they are choosing Canada and they are choosing Canada for a reason.

Appallingly, bogus claims from the European Union 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 interest of Canadian taxpayers by introducing reforms to address the increasing number of bogus refugee claimants. These bogus claimants, many of whom withdraw or abandon their own claims, seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system and receive generous social benefits, like welfare and health care, costing 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 process their claims more quickly. Under Bill C-31, the factors that would lead a country to be designated would be clearly outlined in both law and in regulation. The most important factors are objective and quantitative and refer to the actual acceptance rate of claims from a given country. This means that 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 by the decisions rendered by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and not by the minister.

In addition, unlike the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which had quantitative and qualitative criteria specified only in regulation, this proposed legislation has qualitative factors enshrined in legislation, while the quantitative factors would be set out in ministerial order. In this way, the criteria used to trigger a country for review for designation would be even more transparent and accountable than 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 that it takes now.

It is important to emphasize that under Bill C-31, every eligible refugee claimant, regardless from which country they came, would continue to receive a hearing from the independent IRB. 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 also have access.

I also note that with 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 would 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 case 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 what country they have fled. In fact, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized the validity of providing expedited processing for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin. António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 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 had access to the system, it was completely legitimate to accelerate some claims.

Former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, also 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. Furthermore, many democratic European countries already designate certain countries as safe and accelerate asylum procedures for those claims from those countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland among others.

Canadians are proud of their welcoming and compassionate nature, but Canadians also have no 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 taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, it would provide protection more quickly to genuine refugees who are truly in need.

We need to send a clear message to those who seek to abuse our system that if they are not genuinely in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly. At the same time we can ensure that those who truly need our help will get it even faster.

I urge all members of the House to support this important bill and ensure its timely passage.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to point out that the NDP strongly opposes Bill C-31, because it punishes refugees instead of providing them with a fast, equitable system. In addition, the bill concentrates more power in the hands of the minister by allowing him to designate safe countries and restrict the number of refugees from those countries. The problem with this bill is that, under the current Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the minister can make exceptions to safe country designations to exclude LGBT individuals, who suffer a great deal of persecution in their countries, which are considered unsafe.

My question for the Conservative member is this: will the Conservative members do the right thing and amend Bill C-31 to ensure that LGBT groups can live safely and immigrate easily to Canada as refugees?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I note that in some of the hon. member's comments there were some very misleading statements.

I would argue that it is certainly much fairer to those who seek to come here as refugees to know that they will have their claims processed much more quickly. By ensuring that we are able to eliminate the bogus claims from our system more quickly, we will also be able to be fairer to those who come here and genuinely need our assistance.

I would also point out regarding the decision to hear the cases of those who are coming here from the listed countries, they will make their cases in 45 days rather than a thousand days. I would argue that is much fairer than what currently exists.

I would also note regarding the second point made by the member that the changes we are looking to make actually enshrine in legislation some of the objective and quantitative measures to ensure that those decisions are based on actual decisions of the claimants themselves or decisions rendered by the IRB rather than some arbitrary decision of the minister.

I think the member's claims are completely false.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first member of the Conservative Party who has said that the former leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, supports the safe country list and who then tries to give the impression that somehow our former leader might have supported Bill C-31.

First and foremost, let us make it very clear that the former leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, would not support Bill C-31. The Liberal Party does not support Bill C-31.

The truth of the matter is that Michael Ignatieff supported the concept of the safe country list, but so did the leader of the Conservative Party, our current Prime Minister, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism first brought that in with a consensus that there be an advisory group that would decide which countries would go onto the safe country list.

Why are the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the member not supporting Michael Ignatieff and the Prime Minister when the latter agreed to an all-party supported proposal that would have seen an advisory committee decide on countries to be included in the safe country list as opposed to just this particular Minister of Immigration having that authority?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, it is very unfortunate the Liberal Party is choosing not to support legislation like this, legislation that is very balanced and fair and seeks to ensure that we provide protection for those who are genuinely in need of our protection in a quicker and more expeditious fashion, while also saving the taxpayers of Canada hundreds of millions of dollars by ensuring that we do not have to deal with bogus claims from countries we should not be dealing with.

It is really unfortunate that they will not support legislation that is balanced and fair and in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers. I would like to read the actual quote from former Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff:

I want a legitimate, lawful refugee system that, to get to the openness point, welcomes 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, he said, we will have refugee fraud and no one wants that.

Finally, I will just point out that designation of these countries as safe countries will be based on the results of decisions by asylum claimants themselves to withdraw their claims or by decisions rendered by IRB, not by the minister.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin talking about such an important matter as the status of refugees, I would like to say that it is good to be able to rise in the House and speak to one of this government's bills. Given the number of times that the Conservatives have invoked closure since the beginning of this parliament, Bloc Québécois members, and those of the other opposition parties, have been muzzled on too many issues affecting the interests and values of Quebec and Canadians. I am disappointed, but not surprised, because standing up for democracy is not the Conservatives' strong suit. Come to think of it, I find it difficult to come up with one area where they excel.

The bill we are debating touches on two aspects of my introduction that might seem to be off topic: Quebec values and the Conservatives' lack of regard for democracy. I said Quebec values, but I will correct myself. They are actually universal values.

Bill C-31, which we are debating today, takes a dim view of refugees, treating them like a burden and a potential threat. Nowhere in this document do we see the real will to help these people who have experienced real tragedy. According to the minister, they take advantage of our welcome and cost Canadians too much money.

While defending his bill, the minister said the following in February:

There is a whole narrative in the community about how they can come to Canada and benefit from social welfare and all kinds of other social programs, health insurance...

For too long, we have spent precious time and taxpayers' money on people who are not in need of our protection, at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers...

This smacks of avarice and prejudice.

This is how the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism explained and defended his Bill C-31 in the House on March 6:

Canadians are worried when they see large human smuggling operations, for example, the two large ships that arrived on Canada's west coast in the past two years with hundreds of passengers, illegal migrants who paid criminal networks to be brought to Canada in an illegal and very dangerous manner.

Canadians are also worried when they see a large number of false refugee claimants who do not need Canada's protection, but who file refugee claims because they see an opportunity in Canada's current refugee system to stay in Canada permanently and have access to social benefits...our country's protection.

Canadians are really worried about this, for crying out loud. If you want my opinion, this Conservative government is giving Canadians every reason to worry. They like it when people are worried because then they can justify military spending, trampling on people's rights and forcing the provinces to build jails. But this is about refugees, people who come here with nothing but their distress and desperation, not the economic immigrants who show up with half a million dollars. We are talking about people who are willing to risk their lives for a fresh start in Canada or Quebec.

In an attempt to justify his bill, the minister would have us believe that bogus refugees are flooding into Canada, that foreigners have figured out how to work the system: they pass themselves off as refugees so that they can take advantage of Canada's health insurance and social assistance systems. You would have to be awfully mean-spirited and ideological to say such crazy things. They are using exceptional cases to give themselves arbitrary powers that will have a direct impact on the lives of desperate people.

A document published in 2001 by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states the following:

Unlike migrants, refugees do not choose to leave their countries; they are forced to do so. Economic migrants are persons who leave their countries of origin purely for economic reasons, to seek material improvements in their lives. The key difference between economic migrants and refugees is that economic migrants enjoy the protection of their home countries; refugees do not.

Bill C-31 fails to recognize the spirit of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees:

Considering that the United Nations has, on various occasions, manifested its profound concern for refugees and endeavoured to assure refugees the widest possible exercise of these fundamental rights and freedoms...

Where is that concern now? Where in Bill C-31 is the desire to assure those fundamental rights? They evaporated the moment the Conservatives got their majority. Gone, just like that.

There was Bill C-11, which was passed unanimously by this House. In a speech he gave on June 29, 2010, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism spoke glowingly about Bill C-11, and I quote:

Let me just close by once more thanking my colleagues in the opposition, my critics in particular who worked together with me in a remarkable act of cross-partisan collaboration to get things done for Canadians. As a result of their work we are seeing today what I think is a minor miracle. I came to this place three months ago to launch our Balanced Refugee Reform Act. We said at the time that we would listen to constructive ideas about how to improve the bill.

We did listen. We did consult. We had a remarkable cross-party consensus in the House of Commons and today in the Senate that will lead to a much better refugee system for Canada, a faster and fairer system, a system that provides enhanced procedural fairness for refugee claimants....

Now, out of partisanship and mean-spiritedness, the minister is throwing out Bill C-11, that minor miracle. Bill C-31 not only spoils the balance Bill C-11 achieved in terms of the procedure that should apply to refugee claimants, but it takes the Conservatives' twisted logic even further: it attacks the victims of human smugglers instead of the smugglers themselves by creating a subclass of refugees.

It is clear to the Bloc Québécois that the Conservatives are using Bill C-31 to send a message to people around the world who are persecuted that Canada no longer wants them. Frankly, this is disappointing.

I said at the beginning of my speech that standing up for democracy was not a Conservative value. This government is quite willing to stand up for the free market and rich oil companies, but standing up for people who are suffering, people who risk torture or death, people who do not think what the government would have them think, is the least of its concerns.

Bill C-31 reflects the government's desire to exercise power without sharing, even if it means destroying the consensus that was Bill C-11, because the opposition parties had a hand in it.

Bill C-31 exemplifies this government's lack of compassion. With Bill C-31, this government will definitely further tarnish the image that Canada and Quebec have built as a welcoming country and a safe haven for those who need it most. It is simply shameful.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, twice now, the government in power has expressed a certain viewpoint that really worries me. The Conservatives seem to be suggesting that legitimate claimants should be refused in order to see if they appeal the decision, to see if their claim was actually sincere. That is as absurd as saying that an organization should be refused a subsidy, because if it really needs it, then it will apply again next year. Before hearing that logic, I had no idea just how far the members across the floor were willing to go.

Does my colleague share any of my concerns about what seems to be a new form of immigration management?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

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

Indeed, there is a certain logic in this bill—a Conservative logic. It is a logic of distrust, a logic of fear, a logic that serves only Conservative interests. The more fear and doubt the Conservatives spread, the more vulnerable people will feel. The Conservatives want people to be afraid of anyone who is different, to believe that they are dangerous. We believe that treating people this way goes against the spirit of what we should be offering refugees who seek asylum in very particular circumstances and who deserve all our attention, rather than our distrust and rejection.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier I asked the Conservative member for Wild Rose a question on the status of LGBT refugees and the fact that Bill C-31 would close Canada's doors to those refugees depending on the security status of their country. Yet, the Conservative member did not even mention the LGBT acronym, nor the terms “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” or “transgender”.

I would like to ask my colleague from the Bloc whether he is also concerned about the Conservative policy that will make it difficult for people who are persecuted, who are receiving death threats and who are at risk of being killed in their country, to access Canada as refugees. Under this bill, those people are going to come up against closed doors in Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for his question.

Indeed, gay, lesbian and transgendered refugees have good reason to be concerned given the fact that this bill is a form of profiling.

The Conservatives' profiling could end up making one category of refugees eligible and sidelining another that might not correspond to Conservative values. There is good reason to believe that people will be treated differently depending on where they come from, but also depending on their sexual orientation and positions they may have held in the past.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the speeches from the other side, I truly believe there is a great misunderstanding of what a refugee is and how a refugee should be treated. I would stress the fact that Canada does more than its share in the international community to help those who need help.

We are talking about people here who arrive in this country, make false claims, clog up the system and delay the claims of those who need our help.

Why would the member opposite not support a bill that would benefit those refugees who are stranded in refugee camps around the world and who are under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member opposite for his question.

It is simple: the Conservatives have their own definition of what makes a good refugee. They add a criterion.

There is no such thing as a good refugee or a bad refugee. There are refugees. Refugee status was clearly defined by the UN in 1951.

I think that the Conservatives have a way of coming up with what is good and what is not. The purpose of their bill is not to help refugees, but to define what they think makes a good refugee or a bad refugee.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

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.