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 When we consider that virtually all claims from the European Union in recent years were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent body, it is quite apparent that too many of our tax dollars are being spent on people who do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.