Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and join the debate on Bill C-31.
There has been a lot of discussion over the last few hours and, frankly, over the last few days and weeks on this particular bill. There has also been a variance of opinion, so I am glad to add my voice to those who are seeking support for Bill C-31.
As, I think, everyone in this place knows, there are three distinct elements contained in Bill C-31. The first deals with the asylum system and how we can make it more responsive to refugees who make application to come to Canada. The second deals with the human smuggling aspect. The third deals with bringing in future legislation to make it mandatory for biometric data to be used when temporary resident visas are being applied for.
In the few moments I have I want to address only one element of Bill C-31, the asylum system and why we need to make that system fairer and more responsive to all those seeking to come to Canada.
I do not think there is any question that everyone in this place, with the possible exception of those independent members formerly known as the Bloc Québécois, would agree that Canada is the greatest country in the world in which to live, and there are many reasons for that.
We have an incredibly high standard of living, which is a direct result of the economic situation in which we find ourselves. We are now the envy of the industrialized world when it comes to economic performance and economic potential. We also have a system of justice that empowers law and order that respects, preserves and promotes human rights. We have a system of government that has set up publicly funded and accessible health care for all Canadians. We have wonderful educational systems. We have systems that allow Canadians to speak without fear of persecution on any issues, whether they be political or legislative. We also have a fine system that provides social assistance to those people who genuinely need it. Besides health care, we have welfare systems and pension systems that are viable and completely sustainable. There is no question as to why citizens from across the world would want to come to Canada.
However, there are those who, rather than trying to go through the normal immigration route, are trying to cheat the system by attempting to get into Canada claiming that they are refugees or asylum seekers, that they are being persecuted by the governments in the countries from which they originated.
We have found over the last number of years that an inordinately high amount of those claims for asylum are bogus. Time after time, we have seen, particularly in cases where asylum claims have been made from people in the European Union, that those claims are without merit whatsoever.
However, they come at a cost. Under the current system, if one makes a claim for refugee status and wants to come to Canada under the asylum system that we currently have, it takes up to five and sometimes even ten years to go through the lengthy appeal process to revoke one's claim and actually remove those bogus claimants from our country. At what cost? It is estimated that bogus claims last year alone cost the Canadian taxpayer over $170 million. Furthermore, it is anticipated that the costs associated with providing services to those bogus claimants over a five year period would cost over $1.65 billion.
The way the system is now, if one comes to Canada claiming to be a refugee, that individual can start receiving some of those many benefits, which we offer to all of our citizens, within days. If the Immigration and Refugee Board feels that the claim for refugee status is false, the appeal system is so convoluted and so long that it may take up to 10 years to have that claimant's appeal process exhausted. Yet, all during the time that lengthy appeal process continues, those individuals are still able to receive services and benefits from the Canadian government at a cost to the Canadian taxpayer.
What Bill C-31 purports to do is speed up the process so that those who are making false claims get removed from Canada quicker and those who have legitimate claims to refugee status are dealt with quicker and in a more fair fashion.
The type of approach that we are taking in Bill C-31 has been applauded by members of the opposite parties, pundits and those who are involved in the immigration system because they say that it absolutely would do what it intends to do, which is to make our system of asylum and refugee claimants quicker, more responsive and fairer.
We have a system right now where people who claim to be a refugee are dealt with in a similar fashion. In other words, they need to go through an appeal process if they are initially rejected. What we are suggesting in Bill C-31 is that there would be a designation of safe countries. By that we mean that if history has proven that the majority of claimants coming from certain countries are in fact bogus then those appeal processes would be short-tracked to a 45-day period rather than the 5, 6 or 8 year period that we currently have.
That is a major change in the way we deal with refugee and asylum claimants in this country. It also would not only help save Canadian taxpayers' money but assist legitimate refugee claimants. While the appeals courts are now clogged with bogus claimants, there are legitimate refugees waiting to come to Canada who cannot be processed and accepted into our country because the system is jammed.
I think it stands to reason that all members in this place would come on side with Bill C-31. I have heard many contrary views during debate but, quite frankly, I think they are coming from a position of having misinformation, mistruths or are deliberate attempts to try to misconstrue what Bill C-31 purports to do.
Far be it from me to make accusations of any member opposite but I would suggest to all members that they carefully examine Bill C-31 because I believe it would reform the refugee system in a way that would actually benefits those who really need the protection of a government in Canada.
We know throughout the world there are many who are being persecuted right now in their home countries because of either their religious beliefs or political beliefs. Those are the types of individuals who should be allowed to make a claim to come to Canada under refugee status. Unfortunately, however, they are not the only ones who are attempting to get into our country.
Frankly, in the last number of years, over 95% of claimants who came from the European Union have either voluntarily withdrawn their claims or have returned to their country of origin. Why? They were not legitimate claims.
For example, if a country in the European Union is designated as a safe country and someone from the European Union makes an application to come to Canada as a refugee but is rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board, he or she can appeal but the appeal process will take place within 45 days rather than 5 years or 10 years.
That is the type of system Canadian taxpayers want to see enacted here in Canada. We are the first government to come to grips with a problem we currently see on the refugee and asylum system that we inherited from previous governments. We are taking the proper steps to ensure that legitimate refugees will still have opportunities to come to our great country and do so quicker than before but also to ensure that those who are making bogus claims of refugee status are dealt with expeditiously. That is what Canadians want.