Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Canada is a welcoming and generous nation. In fact, Canada welcomes one in ten of the world's resettled refugees, almost more than any other country in the world. Our Conservative government is increasing the number of resettled refugees by 20%, to 14,500.
In addition to resettled refugees, many people flee their country of origin because they are persecuted and fear for their life. Unfortunately, Canada's immigration system is being abused by people who are not refugees, by people who would rather break the rules or pay to be smuggled into the country instead of waiting their turn in line.
For far too long, foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees have abused our immigration system. This abuse comes at a great cost. It is not just the monetary cost borne by Canadian taxpayers. It also comes at a cost to genuine refugees who are waiting longer than they should to get a decision on their claim and receive Canada's protection.
Today I stand in defence of genuine refugees, in defence of Canada's border integrity and for all Canadians whose abundant generosity has been exploited. The facts speak for themselves. Canada receives more refugee claims from the European Union than from Africa or Asia. More specifically, EU member state, Hungary, has become Canada's top source country for refugee claims. Hungarians made over 2,400 refugee claims around the world in 2010 and, of those, 2,300 were made in Canada. That is 23 times more claims made in Canada than in the rest of the world put together.
Further, in 2011, Canada received more than 4,400 claims from Hungarian nationals. These numbers have risen dramatically to the point where Hungarian nationals constituted 18% of all claimants to Canada in 2011. Yet, in the last few years, virtually all of the refugee claims from EU nationals were rejected, abandoned or withdrawn.
The average failed refugee claimant costs approximately $55,000. That means that the unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year alone cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. The facts make it clear that our immigration system is being abused.
Bill C-31 would make several improvements to our asylum system that would make it faster and fairer. An essential feature of Bill C-31 is the ability of the government to designate safe countries that do not typically produce refugees and who respect human rights. It is proposed that hearings on claims for people from safe countries would generally occur within 45 days compared to the current system in which it takes over 1,000 days for a decision.
Under Bill C-31 , all eligible refugee claimants, including those from designated countries, would continue to receive a fair hearing at the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and would be able to seek judicial review of a negative decision to the Federal Court. To put the huge financial costs of bogus refugee claimants in perspective, it is estimated that Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers approximately $1.6 billion over a period of five years.
In addition to refugee reform, Bill C-31 includes measures to crack down on human smuggling. Human smuggling is a serious and despicable criminal offence that endangers human lives while stuffing the pockets of criminal organizations. This bill would send a clear message that the abuse of our immigration system by human smugglers will not be tolerated and every effort will be made to ensure the safety and security of all Canadians.
The proposed legislation would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and impose mandatory minimum prison sentences of up to 10 years on convicted smugglers. We must change the perception of Canadian shores being a vulnerable target for these migrant vessels. It is important to continually strengthen our laws to ensure that we have the tools necessary to hold offenders accountable.
Bill C-31 also deals with the pull factors that result in migrants choosing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to be smuggled into Canada. Experience has shown that both the push and pull factors must be addressed to effectively deter human smuggling. It is important to underline that when migrants arrive as part of an illegal smuggling operation, they usually do not have documentation or have fraudulent documentation. It takes time to establish their identities and determine whether they pose a threat to the safety and security of Canadians and whether they are architects of the operation.
It is completely reasonable and expected by Canadians that smuggled migrants would be detained until their identities have been established and decisions made on their claims. To suggest that these people should immediately be released into our communities without knowing whether they pose a threat is completely irresponsible. It is important to note that under Bill C-31 minors under the age of 16 would not be detained.
Bill C-31 also includes provisions to ensure that the health benefits received by those who arrive as part of an illegal human smuggling operation are no more generous than what are received by the Canadian taxpayers who fund these benefits. Further, Bill C-31 would also prevent smuggled migrants from sponsoring subsequent family members for a period of five years. By addressing the pull factors that lead to the use of criminal human smugglers, Bill C-31 would be more effective at deterring this despicable crime from happening in the first place.
Finally, Bill C-31 would provide the government with the authority to collect biometric data from temporary residents seeking entry into Canada. Biometrics will be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics will improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out of our country. Unfortunately, there are countless examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who have entered Canada in the past. Under Bill C-31, foreign criminals would be barred from entering Canada thanks to biometrics.
Further, biometrics may result in faster processing and shorter wait times for legitimate visitors and immigrants to Canada, as visa officers would have an additional tool to help them make their decisions. The use of biometrics would put Canada in line with most other western countries, such as Australia, the U.K., the European Union, Japan and the United States, which are already using or preparing to use biometrics in immigration matters.
Bill C-31 would strengthen the integrity of our immigration system. This would mean that genuine refugee claimants would receive Canada's protection sooner. It would also mean that bogus refugee claimants who are abusing Canada's generosity would be processed and removed from the country more quickly. Bill C-31 would provide an expedited secure process for those who are genuinely in need of asylum and protection. It would provide a just framework from which Canadians could feel secure in knowing that their tax dollars were contributing to a structured and thoughtful refugee system.
Finally, this bill would protect our borders from dangers that all Canadians stand united in opposing. These changes are necessary and deserve the support of all parliamentarians.