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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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. I would remind all hon. members that they ought not to refer to their colleagues by their given names. The hon. member for Vancouver South.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 2010, the Prime Minister appointed a special adviser on human smuggling and illegal migration to work with governments in source and transit countries as well as with international partners to promote co-operation to combat human smuggling. Canada has also worked hard to partner with local authorities in transit countries to combat human smuggling operations.

While these efforts abroad are important, despite our best efforts, human smuggling operations have continued to target Canada's generous immigration system. Canada must therefore send a clear and categorical message to those who plan to take advantage of us that human smuggling is a deplorable crime and will not be tolerated in Canada. Our Conservative government has been absolutely clear that any attempts to abuse Canada's generosity for financial gain will not be tolerated.

Bill C-31 sends the message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, including all legitimate refugees, but we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders.

Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to prevent the abuse of our generous immigration system. With Bill C-31, we are acting on that mandate.

Canada is a compassionate nation of immigrants with a proud history and tradition of welcoming refugees. At the same time, every sovereign country has a responsibility to protect its citizens and its borders.

With Bill C-31 our government is cracking down on human smugglers with a number of new measures. For example, Bill C-31 will make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and will introduce mandatory minimum sentences for convicted human smugglers. The bill will also target those ship owners and operators who will be liable for the use of their ships in human smuggling.

Experience has shown that cracking down on human smugglers alone is not an effective solution. Action must be taken to address the countless individuals who choose to be smuggled and who choose to pay organized crime large sums of money, sometimes up to $50,000 per person.

It falls on our government to protect Canadians. This is why Bill C-31 includes the mandatory detention of those who arrive as part of a human smuggling operation. Let us be clear that when they arrive we do not know who they are or what their purposes are. It takes some time to determine this.

That said, it is important to note that Bill C-31 includes one very important change from previous Bill C-4. The current legislation includes an exemption from automatic detention for minors under the age of 16. In addition, adults, people who are 16 years and older, will be released from detention as soon as they receive a positive opinion on their refugee claim from the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Most bona fide claimants will get protected status and will be released from detention within a matter of months.

As previously stated, this provision is necessary as it protects Canadians. It would be irresponsible to release those involved in a criminal human smuggling operation before their identity or their purpose is established and officials have had time to determine whether or not they pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians.

Only those asylum claimants whose identities cannot be established, who are a security risk to Canada or who are suspected architects of criminal activity can be held longer under the bill, and for good reason.

I am disappointed that the opposition NDP and Liberals believe that those who arrive on our shores should be released onto our streets and into our communities before we know who these people are and what their purposes are for being here, if they are criminals or terrorists, and whether or not they pose a threat. This is simply irresponsible.

It is also important to note that most other western democratic countries have had these detention provisions for some time and have had even more harsher detention provisions than what is before us today. In fact, other countries detain all asylum claimants. Compared to most other western democratic countries, Canada's detention provisions will continue to be used sparingly.

Bill C-31 will also prevent illegal migrants who are part of a smuggling operation from obtaining permanent resident status or bringing their family members to Canada for a period of five years. This legislation will ensure that taxpayer-funded medical benefits received by illegal migrants are not more generous than those received by the average Canadian. These measures are fair, necessary and will protect Canadians.

It is unfortunate that the NDP and the Liberals oppose our government's efforts to crack down on this despicable crime.

Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, had this to say about them:

Maritime migrant smuggling is the deadliest form of illegal international travel and its illicit proceeds fuel criminality. Canada is an attractive destination for migrant smugglers and these new measures send a strong message that our country is no longer open for business to these criminals.

It is shocking to hear apologists for migrant smugglers portraying these criminals as providing a 'service' for illegal migrants seeking to enter Canada. Migrant smugglers have been linked to organized crime, human trafficking and terrorist organizations. They care nothing for the well-being of those they transport in perilous and often deadly vessels.

Genuine refugees are better served through the use of safe, legal channels such as group processing of refugees through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in programs that Canada has participated in with success.

Michael Deakin-Macey, the past president of the board of directors of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, has also praised the human smuggling measures included in Bill C-31. He said:

Canada is a generous country, with an immigration system that treats both immigrants and refugees very well, however, there are those who are not willing to wait their turn in line and criminals who would profit from this. Instead, they want to jump the immigration queue and make their way to Canada through any means available to them, often bypassing several hospitable countries and travelling halfway around the world to land on our shores.

As a result of this human smuggling, honest and legal would-be immigrants who are waiting patiently and anxiously in the queue are penalized while these smuggled refugees' claims are processed.

To all reasonable observers, the criminal enterprise of this human smuggling is an abuse of both Canada's generosity and the honesty of all the other immigration applicants.

We are pleased that the Government has sent a clear message that it will not be tolerated, and we welcome the introduction of legislation preventing human smugglers from in effect creating an unfair two-tier immigration system, one for the impatient rich and the other for the honest applicant.

Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, would halt an illegal, second tier immigration system and make our immigration system faster and fairer. It would stop human smugglers, foreign criminals and bogus refugee claimants from abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer funded health and social benefits.

Bill C-31 would strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and protect our country, our citizens and our communities. This is an important bill and a desirable goal that all members of the House should support.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must say how shocked I am to hear the misinformation that is coming from the government side, first from the member and, prior to that, from the Minister of Immigration who has referred to people who come to our shores by boat as illegal. That is false. International law recognizes that refugees can land at another country's border without a visa if they are escaping persecution. That is an absolute normative and legal way for a refugee to arrive on shores.

They are talking about jumping queues. There is no queue jumping when a refugee lands on the shore of another country. When the Jews escaped Nazi Germany, stealing away to Switzerland in the middle of the night, they were not jumping any queue. They were not applying for any visa.

The member said that the only people who would be locked up would be those engaged in criminal activity. I wonder if the member has read the bill? The bill mandates the government to lock up every person who is designated an illegal or an irregular entrant, including children 16 years of age, or separating families.

I wonder if the hon. member could explain to the Vietnamese community in Vancouver, all of whom escaped Vietnam in boats and most of whom paid someone to do it, why her government would call those people criminals, human smugglers and queue jumpers. What does she say to the Vietnamese community in the Lower Mainland in Canada who used those exact methods and who are being so tarred by this legislation?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am shocked and appalled that the member opposite would say that Canada should be opening its doors and borders to anyone who happens to arrive on a boat. That is precisely what he just said.

We know in this day and age of national security risks and the different events that have happened worldwide, even in Canada, there are risks inherent in people arriving on our shores illegally without any documentation or sense of purpose. I think it is entirely reasonable that Bill C-31 would detain people until those things can be clarified.

I would urge the member opposite to support our communities and protect Canadians and our country by supporting the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have one simple question for the hon. member. She and others on the other side have said that refugee claimants are queue jumpers. I am not sure I understand. It is my understanding that someone who arrives and is accepted as a refugee does not make it more difficult for a regular stream immigration applicant. I thought the two systems were completely separate so that one does not cross over into the other.

Is the hon. member saying that every time the IRB accepts a refugee in Canada, a sponsored, regular stream immigration applicant is refused?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite, who has been a member for a lot longer than I, ought to know that Canada has a generous and welcoming immigration system and refugee accepting system on many different levels: one, as a United Nations designated refugee from camps abroad and elsewhere; and, two, as a group sponsored refugee where churches and various groups can get together to sponsor people they are aware of in specific cases.

The member is trying to mix apples and oranges by saying that people who arrive on our shores, often without documentation, without any sense of who they are, should be put under the government's categories where we know that people are genuine refugees.

In addition, the member opposite should recognize and acknowledge that it takes a while to get in front of the Immigration and Refugee Board, in some cases a number of months, and that, until such time, we do not know who these people are nor their purpose for being in Canada. The bill would ensure the safety of our communities and the safety of our citizens and it would ensure we have some time to determine who they are and their purpose for being in Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about the changes being considered in Bill C-31 to the humanitarian and compassionate provisions of our refugee laws. It also concerns me that changes will be made to the designated country of origin provisions.

I would like to register my concern with the provision that suggests that the Canadian state will take the children of refugees from their families and take care of them.

We have heard a lot from the other side about the generosity of our refugee and immigration system but this was not always the case in Canada. I will talk a bit about that history in order to inform members of how that law developed and how that generosity developed.

I will now talk about the state taking children away from their families. Not long ago, in 2008, the government apologized to the first nations people because, in the past century, first nations children were separated from their parents and their culture in an attempt to force assimilation with the government complicit in the destruction of an entire generation. The repercussions of those decisions are still being felt. Its waves ripple out into society and are felt deeply. The misery of an entire generation carries a heavy burden upon the next and for many other generations to follow.

The government also apologized for the Chinese head tax, an amazing sum of money the Chinese people had to pay to come to our great country in a calculated bid to keep Chinese people from coming to our shores. When the act of 1885 did not work in the bid to keep Chinese people out, the government, in 1923, imposed the Chinese Immigration Act, known in the Chinese Canadian community as the Chinese exclusion act. The government only repealed that act 24 years later in 1947.

When we look at all the contributions that the Chinese Canadian community has made and how integral it is to our Canadian fabric, we need to scratch our heads in wonder about the discrimination and fear of our forefathers. It is clear that our predecessors, both the Liberals and the Conservatives, who sat in this chamber were wrong at that time. In his great wisdom, Mackenzie King ensured that the act was enforced on Dominion Day. The Chinese Canadian community at the time referred to that day as humiliation day. It is hardly something to be proud of.

When we think of that decision and the great length to which Canada actively discriminated against people of Chinese origin, we know now, with the distance of time, that we were wrong. In 2006, the Prime Minister apologized for that wrong.

Something else from the Mackenzie King-R.B. Bennett era that I would like to talk about today shows that we as legislators sometimes make bad judgments. It relates somewhat to the DCO provisions in Bill C-31.

During the second world war, only 5,000 people of the Jewish faith were admitted to Canada. Between 1930 and 1934, during the period of Bennett and King, nearly 17,000 immigrants were deported for having become a public charge, which was the term of the day. People were deported for union activities or membership in the Communist Party. By 1935, 20,000 people were deported. Some people were deported for something as minor as vagrancy. That is the dark history of previous legislators that we have in this chamber.

During the Great Depression, it was easier for a government to blame the other, to direct discrimination and hatred toward those who spoke too loud, said unpopular things, believed in the wrong God or in no God at all, and people with the wrong colour of skin or people who spoke different languages. It was the failure of Canada to take in the Jewish people after seeing the horror of the death camps that led to the foundations of our current refugee policy.

It was seeing the folly that we had made in the earlier part of the 20th century and our lack of compassion for the other that led us to liberalize, open up our refugee policy and be more accepting of refugees. We are so often wrong when it comes to judging the other and our history here is clear.

During the difficult period of the depression in the 1930s and during the period of World War II, anti-Semitism was rife all over the world. It was rife in Canada as well. During the 1930s, people did not believe that things in Germany were so bad. Germany's economy was being well managed by a capable leader who sometimes seemed intolerant and scary, but he essentially managed the country like a clock. However, we stood in horror when we saw that regime also killed people like clockwork in a systematized manner. It killed six million people. This accumulated discrimination, this rhetoric of discrimination that happened during hard economic times was turned into a killing machine with the state killing people.

Anti-Semitism was rife, but Canada only took 5,000 of those people who were being persecuted at that time. Anti-Semitism was rife then and it still lives today, as does Islamophobia. When I heard the Prime Minister say on national television that the greatest threat to our nation was Islamism, it gave me pause. As someone who firmly believes that history shows us where we have strayed so that we can do better in the present, forgive me for saying that I fear a government when it points the finger at the other and criminalizes the other, especially during economic hard times.

Would Oskar Schindler have been considered a human smuggler? How would the passport forgers of Europe have been considered during the Great War if this legislation had been in place? For the people who illegally made passports for Jewish people to get out of their country, how would they be considered? Would they be considered criminals? We have to ask these questions.

When I hear members opposite talk about people not going through proper channels and jumping the queue, it disturbs me. These are divisive politics so dangerous to the Canadian fabric. It foments fear of the other. They are the reactionary actions of a reactionary government. Let us think upon the dark history that I mentioned, and I have only touched on a couple of points.

I am very proud of my country and I do not want to be misinterpreted. I am a proud Canadian and proud of our great history, but I am also cognizant that we do have darker elements to our history. We have to think about the decisions, the rhetoric and terms that we use for other people coming to our shores. A person fleeing persecution being called a queue jumper disturbs me. We have to think of the dark history and of the decisions being made in this chamber. Let us think about that and ask this question. Who will apologize for the actions of the current government? Of the future legislators who sit in this chamber, who will have to stand to apologize to the victims of this present policy?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, that speech was absolutely ridiculous. The bill before us now, which amends the Immigration Act, would exceed Canada's obligations under the UN convention on refugees and the charter of rights. All asylum claimants, regardless from which country they came or the manner of their arrival, would have a full and fair hearing on the merits of their claims at the Immigration and Refugee Board. To in any way compare this to the refusal of Canada to allow, for example, the St. Louis to enter territorial waters or the “None is too many” policy of the Mackenzie King government, is outrageous and demagogic.

I understand the demagogic tradition of the hon. member. On May 26 of last year he attended a rally in Montreal, organized by No One Is Illegal and Solidarité sans frontières. This is an organization that opposes any restrictions on immigration. It believes there should be no limits of any kind on immigration to Canada, including for foreign criminals. It is opposed to the deportation of anyone, not only manifestly unfounded and rejected asylum claimants, but even dangerous foreign criminals and terrorists.

By the way, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway attended a rally for this organization, No One Is Illegal, last week in Vancouver. The head of that organization, who organized the rally attended by those two members, has explicitly endorsed the violent, anarchist tactics of the Black Bloc.

Is that really the policy of the NDP, an anarchist policy that opposes the removal of even dangerous foreign criminals?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, now I am being smeared as an anarchist, even though I sit in this chamber.

My belief is that even if we make the mistake on one person, that person goes back and gets tortured and persecuted. If the person loses his or her life due to the intolerance and the decisions of the government, if any child gets separated from his or her family, is taken care of by the Canadian state and gets psychologically damaged in any way, then the government is responsible.

This is what I am saying. If we make a mistake with even one person due to the intolerance of the government and this legislation, then we will have failed and will have to apologize in the future for those actions.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to the issue of the safe countries list. It is an issue that has been dealt with in previous sessions of the House of Commons.

When there was a minority situation, the government unanimously, through the House, passed legislation that in essence deemed that a country would be added to the safe countries list on the basis of a recommendation coming from an advisory committee made up of professionals who could develop what safe country would be added to the list. This current legislation now gets rid of that recommendation, a recommendation that was unanimously supported by the House of Commons just a couple of years back.

Could the hon. member provide comment as to why he believes it is an important amendment to this current legislation to ensure the advisory board is reinstated?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across mentioned demagogy.

The NDP believes it is better to have experts and evidence backing up policy. To have a panel of experts who would develop the designated countries list is much better than having the demagogy of one immigration minister and his cronies saying which countries are safe and which are not.

I would trust experts and evidence much more than the political whims of a certain minister during a certain day.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, who reminded us of some of the darkest moments of human history and the plight of Jewish deportees.

I wonder if he could comment on any similarities that may exist with the plight of the Roma from the Czech Republic and Romania, for instance, two countries that this government considers safe.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I lived in Turkey for five years, where the Roma people live in much worse conditions than the general population. From what I understand, the conditions are even worse in eastern European countries. We need to remember that the Roma live in difficult circumstances even if they live in a democracy with a relatively strong economy and a responsible government. In many such countries, there are populations, like the Roma, who are persecuted in a more clandestine manner.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Our Conservative government recognizes the importance of immigration to our great country. That is evident in our actions and policies. Since 2006, the Government of Canada has welcomed the highest sustained level of immigration in Canadian history. Our government has also continued to strengthen and support our generous refugee system, which is an important expression of the compassionate and humanitarian convictions of Canadians and of our international commitments.

Canada remains one of the top countries in the world to welcome refugees. In fact, we welcome more refugees per capita than any other G20 country, because this government understands the importance of the immigration system to Canada's future. It also understands the importance of remaining vigilant about keeping that system functioning in our national interest. To do so, we must always be prepared to make improvements to the system according to changing circumstances and identified shortcomings.

Bill C-31 would do exactly that. When there is a system in place as generous as Canada, it is particularly important to guard against the abuse of that system and that generosity. Indeed, for too many years our refugee system has been abused by too many people making bogus claims. Our system has become overwhelmed by a significant backlog of cases. More recently, we have grown more and more concerned about a notable upsurge of refugee claims originating in countries that we would not normally expect to produce refugees. This is adding to our backlog.

Allow me to specify exactly what I mean by that.

It comes a surprise to many Canadians to learn that Canada receives more asylum claims from countries in Europe than others in Africa or Asia. Last year alone, almost one quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada were made by EU nationals. Let us think about that. EU countries have strong human rights and democratic systems similar to our own, yet they produced almost 25% of all the refugee claims to this country in 2011. That is up from 14% in the previous year.

These bogus claimants come with a large price tag for Canadian taxpayers. In recent years, virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. The unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. Under the current system, it takes an average of 4.5 years from an initial claim to remove a failed refugee claimant from the country. Some cases have even taken more than 10 years. The result is an overburdened system and a waste of taxpayer money. For too long, we have spent precious time and taxpayer money on people who are not in need of protection at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act would help speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways, such as changing the designated country of origin policy to enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally did not produce refugees, such as most of those in the European Union. Claimants from those countries would be processed in about 45 days, compared to more than 1,000 days under the current system. Claimants from designated countries of origin would also have their claims heard sooner and would not have access to the new refugee appeal division.

Moreover, it would also further streamline the process by limiting access to appeals for other countries, such as by claimants with manifestly unfounded claims or claims with no credible basis at all. It would enable more timely removals from Canada of failed refugee claimants.

Taken together, these measures send a clear message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous refugee system. It tells them that if they do not need our protection, they will be sent home quickly. They would not be able to remain in Canada by using endless appeals to delay their removal. At the same time, if they need refugee status, these measures would help them get protection even faster. Every eligible asylum claimant would continue to get a fair hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Once these needed changes are implemented, Canada's refugee determination system would remain one of the most generous in the world.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act would also deal with the despicable crime of human smuggling. Human smugglers are criminals who operate around the world, charging large amounts of money to facilitate illegal migration. Each year, countless people die while taking these dangerous journeys. Bill C-31 would help crack down on these smugglers in a number of ways. It would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of individuals into Canada as an irregular arrival. It would establish mandatory detention of those individuals to determine their identity, admissibility and whether they have been involved in illegal activities. It is important to mention here that once a person's refugee claim has been approved, that person would be released from detention.

It would also make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would impost mandatory minimum prison sentences on those convicted of human smuggling. It would hold shipowners and operators to account when their ships are used for human smuggling.

It would enhance our ability to revoke the refugee status of people who are no longer in need of Canada's protection and of those who have gained that status through misrepresentation. It would reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling, by limiting the ability of those who do to take advantage of our generous immigration system and social services.

One notable improvement in Bill C-31 from Bill C-4 is that mandatory detention would exclude designated foreign nationals who are under the age of 16.

Our government continues to be absolutely clear that human smuggling is a despicable crime and any attempts to abuse Canada's generosity for financial gain will not be tolerated. With this bill, we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act also includes a framework for the collection of biometric information, photographs and fingerprints, in the temporary visa program and will establish parameters for how this information can be used and disclosed by the RCMP in order to enforce Canadian law. The use of biometrics would bring Canada in line with other countries that already use biometrics in their immigration programs, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, the United States and Japan, among others.

To maintain the support of Canadians for our generous immigration and refugee system, we must demonstrate that Canada has a fair, well-managed system that does not tolerate queue jumping. Bill C-31 will ensure that genuine refugees in need of protection will receive it sooner, while those who are abusing Canada's generosity will be removed more quickly.

I am proud to support this important piece of legislation and hope that all of my colleagues will work together to ensure the timely passage of this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister said that the government has learned the lessons of history, such as Canada's shameful refusal to offer refuge to Jews on the St. Louis.

This is what the minister's bill would say about the German Jews aboard the SS St. Louis if it were to happen today: “The SS St. Louis is piloted by human smugglers intent on abusing Canada's immigration system. The passengers are part of a human smuggling event and will automatically be detained for one year. If their refugee claims are rejected, they will be deported back to Germany with no chance to appeal the negative decision to the RAD. If their refugee claims are accepted, they may or may not be released before the year has passed. Even if their claims are accepted, these German Jews will not be able to sponsor their family members for five years, nor will they be able to apply for permanent residency”.

Five years later would be 1943 and too late for those people to sponsor their family members, because it was 1938 when they came. That is what would have been said if the St. Louis had come to our shores and this bill had been in place.

I would like the government to justify to the Jewish community of this country why it would bring in a bill that would fail to learn the lessons of history and fail to protect refugees in this country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell the hon. member that Bill C-31 is an important step to better protect our immigration system. It is important that we close the immigration back door so that the system becomes fairer for everyone involved. That is what this proposed legislation attempts to do.

The member mentioned that Jews do not support this bill, but I think that Jews all over Canada support the legislation wholeheartedly.

What I would like to make clear is that our government appreciates the fact that our country was built by immigrants. That is why we have introduced a number of other measures to help newcomers who come to Canada and to better protect Canada's immigration system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the member's comments she made reference to a change. There was a change from Bill C-4 to Bill C-31, wherein the government responded to opposition concerns in agreeing that it would be inappropriate to lock up or detain eight-year olds. It is now saying that it would not detain someone under the age of 16. We see that as a positive change.

There are a lot of positive changes that we still need to see in order ultimately to accept a bill of this nature in any fashion.

Having said that, my question to the member is what would happen in the case of a parent with a child. For example, if there were an eight-year old boy with his mother, would the mother be allowed to remain with her child or would she be held in detention?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, again I would tell the member that Bill C-31 proposes very important reforms for asylum seekers to make the process faster and fairer. It includes measures to address human smuggling and provides authority to make it mandatory to provide biometric data with a temporary resident visa application.

Let us be clear: we all want a compassionate immigration system. We all want to help others who generally need Canada's assistance, but we should not and cannot tolerate those who abuse our generosity.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the matter of Bill C-31 and its prospective immigration reform. Regrettably, rather than being the transformational reform the minister envisages, though some of his reforms have been commendable, this bill, not unlike its earlier incarnation that experts characterized as being “littered with charter violations”, is seriously flawed from a constitutional perspective in its constitutionally suspect provisions; from an international perspective in its breaching of our international obligations; from a humanitarian perspective its turning its back on our humanitarian ethos; and from a policy perspective in its granting to ministers of broad, arbitrary, and sometimes non-reviewable powers, while removing avenues of appeal and review for applicants. In particular, this legislation reflects a serious lack of appreciation of what it means to be a refugee escaping persecution, and it can amount to gratuitous punishment of those seeking our protection.

Let me identify some of the defects in this legislation.

First, Bill C-31 would impose unrealistic and unfair deadlines on refugee claimants that would force them to make representations, perhaps at the moment they are most vulnerable, for example having just experienced violence, torture or sexual assault, and then finding themselves in a new country in an unfamiliar situation, not to mention a situation where a language barrier may likely exist, and where a failure to meet deadlines may pre-emptively disqualify their claim without affording them a fair and reasonable opportunity to establish such a refugee claim. For example, the 15-day window for refugee claimants to deliver a written version of the basis of their refugee claim is simply not enough time for refugees to seek legal advice and to do all that is necessary for the preparation of such claims. This includes responding to complicated legal requirements, gathering the evidence to prove their claim and making the legal case. Moreover, the 15-day window to complete an appeal application is equally unfair and limits the possibility of their pursuing such an appeal, such that mistakes that may be made by the Immigration and Refugee Board may go uncorrected. This legislation would serve in some respects, however inadvertent it may be, to have as its effect the double victimization of those who have been initially victimized by the smugglers exploiting them, and who then end up being victimized when they seek protection on our shores.

This brings me to the second point. The revised process for designating certain countries as safe eliminates an expert independent advisory body that could guard against countries being designated on the basis of erroneous political, economic or other considerations. Individuals from those countries under this legislation would face discriminatory treatment respecting matters as fundamental as access to justice, given that the processing of their claims would occur more slowly than for those from non-designated countries. Not only may this violate UN convention rights, but it also goes against the very premise that all are entitled to equal and impartial hearings regardless of the country of origin. Moreover, the way countries are designated, by a calculation of the number of rejected applicants, we may end up with a situation where a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. Therefore, while there may be numerous false claims from a country, why should we penalize all from that country where there may indeed be bona fide applicants in dire need of protection? Moreover, claimants from these countries would also face immediate removal without a right of appeal, thereby increasing the possibility that those facing a legitimate fear of prosecution would be deported. This flies in the face of our constitutional obligations, as confirmed by the Supreme Court, that we simply cannot deport people to situations of torture or terror.

Third, the bill calls for the mandatory non-reviewable and year-long detention of designated foreign nationals 16 years of age or over, which itself is an arguable breach of both our charter rights and related Supreme Court jurisprudence, which hold that such detentions without review are patently illegal. In the government's rush to incarcerate, a phenomenon that we also saw with Bill C-10, it ignores that there are suffering humans involved who may be in legitimate need of serious protection.

At the end of the day, what this would do is simply immunize error in our refugee system while prejudicing the rights of prospective asylum seekers.

Moreover, the minister himself has acknowledged that there are flaws in this proposal, noting in this place:

We will be moving an amendment to Bill C-31 to allow minors under the age 16 who are not accompanied by their parents to be released from detention if they have been smuggled into the country.

While I appreciate the minister's response in that regard, and I appreciate his presence here and engagement in this debate, it is yet again this rush to legislate without considering all the variables that results in flaws that end up having to be addressed and redressed.

Further, those who are granted refugee status would nonetheless be denied the right to apply for permanent residency for a period of five years. During this period, refugees would be prohibited from applying to reunite in Canada with spouses and their children. In effect, this means that actual reunification could be delayed for approximately six to eight years after being granted refugee status. They would be required to report regularly to immigration authorities for questioning and to produce documents. They would be prohibited from travelling outside Canada for any reason during the period. Arguably again this is in breach of our international human rights and humanitarian obligations in this regard.

As a final note on this point, let us not forget that there are extensive costs associated with the detention of refugees, not simply in terms of their physical detention which is costly on its own, but costs to the system later on in terms of mental health issues resulting from prolonged detention which history suggests could also be a significant burden. This is an issue that was not properly addressed in Bill C-10 and which we are going to be revisiting here in this legislation.

Fourth, this bill targets the permanent residence status of refugees by providing that their status may be revoked if the minister determines that they are no longer in need of protection. This provision could be applied against refugees who make claims in Canada or those who have been resettled to Canada from refugee camps abroad. It could even apply retroactively. As such, refugees who have been living in Canada for even decades and have established lives, families and careers here may be stripped of their status if the minister sees fit.

I would be prepared to say that the minister would not act in such an arbitrary manner, but the legislation does grant that kind of authority for that kind of power to be so arbitrarily exercised.

Indeed, as the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers put it, this provision “undermines Canada's commitment to refugees, makes a mockery of our commitment to the United Nations to provide permanent resettlement to refugees and puts at risk of deportation tens of thousands of refugees who have already been granted permanent residence in Canada”.

Fifth, the bill makes changes to the judicial review process in ways that are highly problematic, constitutionally suspect, and undesirable from a policy point of view.

The proposed bill removes the automatic stay of removal when filing for judicial review for claimants from designated countries of origin, claimants under an exemption to the safe third country agreement, claimants whose claims have been determined to be manifestly unfounded or of no credible basis, and claimants who arrive as part of a designated irregular arrival.

Not only does this prejudice certain applicants further, as I noted in my initial remarks about the problem of having designated countries in the first place, it is problematic in that claimants who have a valid claim as recognized by the courts would be forced to fight their court case from abroad. It is difficult enough for such claimants to argue their cases here in Canada, but it becomes even more difficult when they are forced to do so from a distance. If the court finds that the claimant is correct and should be allowed to stay here, will Canada fund the person's return voyage? Or is the government's plan thereby to end up removing more than needs to be removed and make it more difficult for people to come back?

Sixth and related, the legislation allows the Canada Border Services Agency to establish regulations concerning factors to consider when deferring removal. In this regard, we see a change in the legislation where removal orders are to be enforced as soon as is reasonably practicable, to use the language of Bill C-31, which says that the order must be enforced as soon as possible. This could cause a problem.

Time does not permit me to get into any other concerns, so I will quote the Canadian Civil Liberties Association by way of conclusion:

The provisions of Bill C-31 stand in stark contrast to Canada's legal obligations under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a variety of international human rights conventions. Furthermore, this bill represents a dramatic departure from the ethos and reputation of Canada....

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member, but in his substantive comments, unfortunately there were at least a couple of errors of fact and certainly, in my view, mischaracterizations of the bill in its intent.

One of the areas of fact which I suspect he just repeated and probably a researcher got it off the Internet was the notion that the minister is empowered under Bill C-31 with the ability to arbitrarily strip settled refugees of their permanent residency. There is no such power. This is a complete fiction.

In fact, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, adopted in 2002 by the government of which he was a member, in section 108 empowers the minister to make an application to the IRB to revoke permanent residency from people for whom protected status has ceased because they obtained such status through fraudulent means or country conditions have changed.

There is no change in the bill in this respect. The minister has no such power. It is a power that belongs to the IRB and is very infrequently used by that quasi-judicial body.

The member talked about 12 months of detention for smuggled claimants. In fact, they would be released following a positive protection decision by the IRB which, under the accelerated timelines of Bill C-31, would be in a matter of weeks or a couple of months.

The member asked why we would penalize claimants from designated safe countries. There is no such penalty. We have an accelerated process which his party agreed to in Bill C-11 in the last Parliament. The only change is that claimants would not have access, if failed at first instance, to the refugee appeal division, which the Liberal government refused to create in the first place.

How is it penalizing people to not give them access to something which does not currently exist?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's comments, but they remind me of a recent response of his in a similar situation. In response to a Montreal Gazette editorial, the minister wrote not unlike that which he said in response to my comments today:

It is simply incorrect to suggest that C-31 includes any new powers, or loosens any of the criteria in Canada's immigration laws pertaining to the removal of refugee status.

However, as Professor Sean Rehaag of Osgoode Hall Law School pointed out in his response to the minister, who, I suspect, will have a response to that as well, the issue we are concerned about has to do with the cessation provision in Bill C-31 which authorizes the stripping of people's refugee status that underpin their permanent residency, thus making them subject to deportation. As Professor Rehaag noted:

This is a sweeping change to Canadian refugee law, one that puts the permanent residence of tens of thousands of recognized refugees at risk.

While this may not be the sweeping change that has been so characterized, it clearly is a change, unlike that which the minister himself so characterized.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2012 / 1:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism continually says that Canada exceeds our obligations of international law by simply giving a refugee claimant a hearing. Under the 1951 refugee convention, host countries have the obligation to assess the claim of any asylum seeker who reaches their territory.

Of course, there is no refugee queue. Everyone has the right to seek asylum regardless of how many others are doing so at the same time. There is no obligation in international law for a refugee to seek asylum in the nearest country. Refugees often escape to the nearest country. Often the country is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and has no legal obligation to protect them. Those people are often at risk of arrest, abuse, detention, demands for bribes, forced labour, et cetera.

I would like to make a brief comment on the minister's comments on previous Bill C-11 about the independent committee to assess designated safe countries. What he said then was that those amendments “go a long way in providing greater clarity and transparency around the process of designation”. That is what the minister said about the committee in the last Parliament and he scrapped that committee in this Parliament.

Why does my hon. colleague think the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism may have changed his opinion on the process of designating safe countries?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know why the minister would have changed his opinion. If the minister wants to offer a response as to why he did, I invite him to do so.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to express my support for Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

If there is one thing that Canadians can be proud of, it is the way we treat foreign nationals who seek our protection. Our asylum system is one of the most generous in the world. Currently, Canada opens its doors to one in 10 of the world's resettled refugees.

Our humanitarian efforts have even been recognized by the United Nations. Since the second world war, Canada has granted asylum to over one million refugees. As a Canadian and a Quebecker, I am proud of our humanitarian tradition. Our government is determined to maintain this tradition that Canadians are so proud of.

Canada welcomes 10% of the world's resettled refugees, more than almost any other country. Our government has also increased the number of resettled refugees, with plans to settle 2,500 more by 2013 for a total of 14,500, which is a 20% increase.

The rationale behind Bill C-31 is simple: by focusing our system's resources on the people who genuinely need our protection, we will be better able to help those people. But we can make our system more generous only if we correct the problems in it.

We got closer to that goal with the passing of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in June 2010, but the fact is that gaps remain in the system. We need more robust measures that are more like the ones in the bill that was first introduced.

For example, our asylum system is already overwhelmed by a significant backlog of claims. The growing number of bogus claims from European Union democracies is only exacerbating the problem. When we consider that virtually all claims from the European Union in recent years were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent body, it is quite apparent that too many of our tax dollars are being spent on people who do not need our protection.

What are we to make of the fact that most claimants from the EU abandon or withdraw their claims, if not that the claimants themselves believe they do not need Canada's protection and therefore filed bogus claims?

By building on the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, Bill C-31 would save hard-working Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. I think Canadians would agree that that money could be put to better use than dealing with bogus refugee claimants who abuse our system to enter our country through the back door. Yet that is just what we are doing now. We are using taxpayers' money to help people who should not even be here.

A failed refugee claim costs taxpayers an average of $55,000 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. A number of cases have dragged on for more than 10 years. During this time, claimants can receive free health care and social assistance while their claims are pending. Long wait times mean greater costs for Canadian taxpayers.

It also takes too long for people who need our protection to move through the system. Those who truly need our protection now wait approximately two years—20 months—for a decision on their claims, which is unfair to genuine claimants. Our message to genuine claimants who are waiting patiently in line is that we are sorry. We know that they need protection, but they must wait two years before we can tell them whether they will get it. This is just not fair. It is an abuse of our country's generosity.

This situation deprives genuine claimants of their peace of mind and of the opportunity to quickly obtain protection.

In view of these problems, further improvements to our refugee system are obviously needed. Canadians have had enough. They want our government to take action and improve the system. That is exactly what we are doing with Bill C-31.

This bill will not just improve the current system and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, it will also provide genuine claimants with protection sooner. The success of the new system depends on our ability to expedite the processing of claims, which is essential. The less time claimants spend in Canada waiting for a decision, the less incentive there is to abuse our generous refugee system and to queue-jump the regular immigration process. In addition, by speeding up processing times for refugee claims, we can provide genuine refugees with protection more quickly.

With Bill C-31, for example, claimants from designated countries of origin could have an IRB hearing within 30 to 45 days, as opposed to the 1,000 or more days it currently takes.

Let us be clear: the independent Immigration and Refugee Board will continue to hear every eligible claim, as it does now, regardless of the claimant's country of origin. 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 that people who are in genuine need of Canada's protection will receive it more quickly, they also mean that we can more quickly remove those who do not.

Given the recent spike in the number of unfounded claims from countries that respect human rights and defend democratic values, and that are not usually source countries for refugees, we must absolutely deter the abuse of our refugee system. Quick removals would deter abuse and contribute to reducing the overall cost of our asylum system.

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 allow us to continue to meet our domestic and international obligations.

These measures will also help to maintain the balance and fairness that are the foundations of our refugee system. Canadians gave our government a clear mandate to preserve the integrity of our immigration system. Bill C-31 delivers on that mandate.

This bill to protect Canada's immigration system will help to provide a quicker and more secure beginning here in Canada for victims of violence and persecution from around the world. At the same time, it will prevent bogus claimants from abusing the generosity of our immigration system and from benefiting from our health and social welfare services, which are paid for by taxpayers.

Canadians, and Quebeckers in particular, take great pride in the generosity of our immigration system, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country.

For all of these reasons, I urge all of my hon. colleagues in the opposition to support this important bill and to help us pass it quickly.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening all morning to members on the government side speak to the bill. Since we arrived here in May we have been listening to the government continually attacking the most vulnerable people in our country.

Government members describe the way in which refugees come to this country as if it were some kind of decision made by them in far-off countries because it would be fun, because they could scam the system and because they could do a lot better in Canada. That is not right. People who come to our shores, especially those who come by way of the egregious activities of human smugglers, come here because they have no choice. They are fleeing their home countries because they want to save their lives and the lives of their families.

I want to ask a question of the member opposite that plays very much to things that the government apparently is concerned about. The Conservatives talk about how we are losing so much money and how the system is broken. Would it not be better to hire more people to fill the vacancies at the IRB and get the claims processed faster?