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House of Commons Hansard #90 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

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, the new normal around the developed world is to enhance immigration security screening by requiring that foreign nationals submit biometric data, because there is such a large amount of fraudulent migration based on fake documents.

We have had serious crimes committed in Canada by people who had been deported as foreign criminals but who then re-entered the country on false documents, fake passports. As long as our system is based simply on biographic data, that is to say papers and names, we cannot absolutely verify the identity of someone.

A biometric system would allow us to identify, for example, Mr. Edmund Ezemo who was deported eight times for more than 30 counts, including theft and fraud, and kept coming back. With biometrics, that would be impossible. The doors of Canada would be shut to repeat foreign criminals who had been deported.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House once again to debate Bill C-31. I would like to ask the minister a question.

We now know that refugee families who unfortunately are smuggled into Canada will be targeted and punished by this new Conservative bill. The NDP has a number of concerns, including the fact that these families will be put in jail: the parents, who have had to resort to extreme measures in trying to flee their country, and also their children, who will be kept in detention centres.

If the children remain with their parents, will the minister ensure that these children receive appropriate psychological care and also the education to which they are entitled? Can he give us that assurance?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, the premise of the question is completely wrong. We do not have jails for immigrants. There are immigration detention centres that often receive families and are equipped to care for families and children.

Having said that, I would like to point out two things. First, almost all democratic and free countries use immigrant detention much more than Canada. Even after the bill passes, immigrant detention will be very minimal. We will be moving an amendment to Bill C-31 to allow minors under the age of 16 who are not accompanied by their parents to be released from detention if they have been smuggled into the country. I imagine they would become the responsibility of provincial child welfare agencies.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Calgary Northeast, I thank and congratulate the minister for his effective management of the tough immigration issues. Whether it was to reduce the backlog ballooned by the Liberals or to bring in skilled workers in an expedited manner, whether it was to help the families by allowing their parents to come in under super visas, and now, to deal with those who put their lives at risk and also pay thousands of dollars to the human smugglers criminal network.

Are there measures in the bill for those people who come to Canada and, after obtaining their permanent residency, go back immediately to the same country they—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. minister has about 30 seconds left for a response.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, the answer is yes. Too often we see situations where people who claim persecution from a country receive Canada's protection and immediately go back to that country that was supposedly the source of persecution.

We have clarified in the bill that, under the current law, the minister may apply to the IRB for an order to cessate the protected person status of someone who does go back right away. The bill simplifies it so that an application to cease protected person status can also be joined with an application to revoke the person's permanent residency. If someone were to fraudulently obtain a protected person status, we would now have a streamlined process to revoke both the protected status and the fraudulently obtained permanent residency.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand and debate this bill and present the position of the official opposition, the New Democratic Party of Canada, on Bill C-31, improperly and inaccurately named “protecting Canada's immigration system act”, because this bill would do damage to Canada's immigration system legally, socially, morally and internationally.

I want to talk about the omnibus nature of this bill which, just from a structural point of view, is something that is a disturbing feature of the Conservative government. Canadians saw already in this Parliament, the government take nine separate pieces of serious and complex crime legislation and put them into one omnibus bill and then put that before parliamentarians to discuss and debate. Now we see the minister take two separate major pieces of legislation, as well as another serious issue, which is that of biometrics, and combine those into one bill.

For Canadians who may be watching this, I want to explain a bit about what those bills are. By introducing this bill, the minister has taken Bill C-11, which was introduced in the last Parliament, debated, went through committee, was amended and passed in this very House, went through all three readings at the Senate committee and passed there, received royal assent and was waiting to be implemented this June, and the minister has stopped that bill from being implemented this June. I will tell members a bit more about what the minister had to say about that bill in a few moments. That bill was geared toward reforming Canada's refugee system.

About that bill, in June 2010 the minister said:

We have, in good faith, agreed to significant amendments that reflect their input, resulting in a stronger piece of legislation that is a monumental achievement for all involved.

These amendments, I am happy to say, create a reform package that is both faster and fairer than the bill as it was originally tabled.

Those were the comments by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism on Tuesday, June 15, 2010. The minister has now taken the original bill that he had tabled in the previous Parliament, before those amendments that made it fairer and faster, and has thrown the amendments in the garbage and reintroduced the original bill, the very bill that he said was inferior to the amendments that were made by all parties of this House. The minister has, not unsurprisingly, neglected to explain that.

In addition, one of the first bills the Conservatives introduced in this Parliament was Bill C-4, again inaccurately and unconscionably titled a bill concerning human smuggling. It has been going through debate in this place but the minister has taken that bill and put it into this current Bill C-31. There is no explanation as to why he would take a bill, which has already been introduced and is moving through the system, slow it down and put it back into this legislative process, basically putting us behind where we would have been. I have a theory as to why that may be the case. Bill C-4 has been roundly condemned by virtually every group and stakeholder involved in the immigration system in this country, from lawyers, refugee groups, churches and immigrant settlement services across the board. I cannot name any group that has sent any message that it supports Bill C-4.

As well, the government has taken another issue, biometrics, and put that into the bill. What is puzzling about that is that approximately 30 days ago we commenced a study in the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship on biometrics. We have had a handful of meetings and are in the middle of our study of biometrics and the government introduces legislative steps on the very thing we are supposed to be studying. I wonder what that says about the government's view of the work of standing committees and the experts and witnesses who appear before our committee when it actually comes to a conclusion before we have heard all the evidence.

I want to talk about the substance of Bill C-4. Bill C-4 was hastily drafted by the government when Canadians witnessed the spectre of two boats coming to the shores of British Columbia carrying some of the most damaged and wounded people on earth, people fleeing, as the minister has rightly pointed out, one of the worst civil wars in the world in Sri Lanka.

Some 550 people were on those boats. And, never ones to pass up a good photo op, the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Public Safety were there doing news conferences outside accusing the people on those boats of being bogus and of harbouring terrorists. They said that publicly. They also accused them of queue jumping.

What anyone going through the immigration system knows up to now is that there is no queue jumping. It is a normal part of our refugee system for people to make their way to a country by regular means and make a refugee claim, and the Minister of Immigration knows that. No queue is being jumped. The Minister of Immigration actually went into immigrant communities where they were suffering long delays in their applications for permanent residency to sponsor their parents and preyed on their frustrations at his government's inability to deal with that backlog and wait time and tried to foster resentment from those immigrants toward these refugees.

We always want to be careful with our analogies but we need to consider the Jews when they were fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II. When they made their way into a neighbouring country through the dark of night, they did not arrive with a visa. They did not come through any UNHCR process because there was none at the time. They just made their way to safety. Those people were not bogus. They were not jumping any queue. They were escaping for their lives. That is what people do and that is what those people were doing on those boats.

To make the claim that those people were terrorists before there was an adjudication is as incendiary and as inflammatory as it is wrong. To this day, of 540 people, none have been deemed to be terrorists. Also, if anyone has any kind of question about their origin, there are less than a handful.

What would Bill C-4 do? It would allow the minister to concentrate his power. The Minister of Immigration wants the power to designate people as irregular arrivals. Under the bill, it just says a group. It does not define how many. We presume it is two or more. What happens to those people? Those people could be detained for up to a year without review.

I will talk about the legality of that. The identical provision has gone to the Supreme Court of Canada in the security certificate cases and it has been deemed unconstitutional, yet the government puts it right back into this bill. Moreover, the minister says that they can come out if they are deemed to be refugees. That is true but that assumes that we have a refugee determination system that would make that determination in under a year. If it does not, people could be stuck in detention for up to a year. Even if those people are deemed to be bona fide refugees, this part of the bill would still prevent those people from being able to make a permanent residency application for five years or sponsor their family for five years. I will say right now that that is a violation of the UN convention on refugees and a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I will explain for the minister why that is the case. I put the question to him and he avoided answering the question. It is because the UN convention on refugees says that signatories, which Canada is, are not to put penalties on people who arrive at our shores by irregular means. If people who are deemed to be refugees are then prevented from sponsoring their families for five years or prohibited from making a permanent residency application for five years, they are absolutely being penalized because of their irregular entry.

The minister said that if they make a successful refugee claim they would be let out within the year. That is true but what about the five year bans? The minister refuses to answer that. That is the differential treatment of someone who comes through in the other process and it is a violation of the UN convention on refugees.

In terms of the rights of the child, the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea, the two boats came to Canada's shores, included children who were travelling unaccompanied. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates signatories, of which Canada is one, to put the best interests of the child first and foremost in our determination, and that includes in the immigration system. If we have a 14-year-old or a 12-year-old child who comes to our country and is deemed by the minister to be an irregular arrival, he or she would be prohibited from sponsoring his or her parents for five years. That is not in the best interests of that child. I say that there is a violation there.

Lawyers across the country from the Canadian Bar Association to the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers have all said that the detention without review process will be attacked as a violation of the charter in three different ways. The act will go to the Supreme Court of Canada, mark my words.

Let us talk about the Bill C-11 component. All parties in the House in the last Parliament worked in good faith to reform Canada's refugee system. I will grant the minister that there was need for reform. The minister is correct when he says that the old system is not working. People make a refugee claim, they are denied, they appeal. Then they make a H and C application and they are denied the appeal. Then they make a pre-removal assessment application and they are denied the appeal. It can take too long to remove people who do not have valid claims.

That is why the parties rolled up our sleeves last Parliament and worked on a streamlined quick process to make those determinations. The New Democrats proposed, as we have for a long time, through our hard work, that the government actually put in place a Refugee Appeal Division, which I will give the minister credit for doing. The Liberals never did do it and the current minister did. However, it was pushed by the New Democrats all the way.

The problem with the bill is that the minister then wanted to deny access to the appeal division of people that he determined to come from so-called safe countries. The minister wanted the sole power to determine what was a safe country. Again, that is too much power concentrated in the hands of one person. The opposition asked why he did not have an independent panel of experts to guide him with firm criteria and the minister accepted that change. In fact, he praised it. He said that it made the process of designation more transparent. Those are not my words, they are the minister's words in the last Parliament. Now today, the minister has thrown that panel out and he wants to go back to the original proposals so that he alone determines what is a safe country.

As well, the minister wanted to deny access to the appeal division to people who came from what he deemed to be safe countries. In the last Parliament, we persuaded the minister and we said that everyone had a right to appeal. We cannot have a justice system where some people have a right to appeal and some do not. Imagine how Canadians would feel if we said that if they went to court, their neighbour could appeal the decision, but they could not, depending on where they came from. We were successful in saying that everyone had a right to appeal no matter where they came from.

While I am on this subject, a fundamental difference between the Conservatives and the New Democrats is that New Democrats believe that every country in this world is capable of producing a refugee. There are cases where some countries or more or less likely, but every country is capable of that. In particular, on the LGBT community, 100 countries have some form of legal discrimination against the LGBT community. Governments change.

The minister said that there were EU countries that had refugees and they had to be safe. Right now the far-right government of Hungary is currently passing laws before its parliament to have the power to pass laws in 24 hours, with 6 minutes of debate accorded to the opposition parties. It is amending the constitution. There is the situation of the Roma in Europe. Everyone knows in World War II that Jews were rounded up because of their faith and ethnicity. Roma were rounded up because of their ethnicity as were disabled and communists. These were historically discriminated against, including Roma. There is a long history of established discrimination against Roma, and those people come from Hungary. They come from the Czech Republic, from Romania, from countries that are members of the EU in some cases and those people have a right to make their claim.

The minister has thrown out the panel of experts to advise him. I ask why? If the minister is so confident that he can choose which countries are safe countries, why would he not want the benefit of advice from experts in human rights, the very idea he praised and thought was a good idea 18 months ago?

The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism may have great faith in his own judgment, but to have one person make such important determinations as to what country is safe or not, which country is or is not capable of producing refugees and who is an irregular arrival who will be subject to detention for up to a year without review and penalties that might keep their families apart for a decade. That is too much power for one person. We should build in checks and balances and that would be the case no matter who would be the minister of immigration, including a New Democrat. I do not know who would make the argument that the system is not better served by having that kind of check and balance.

In terms of the biometrics, biometrics is a system whereby this legislation would have people who apply for a visa to come to this country provide their fingerprints and pictures. That is a model we should be looking at, but there are significant privacy considerations and the Standing Committee on Immigration is looking at those very considerations right now.

The privacy commissioner has already testified and she says that providing a fingerprint for the purposes of identification to ensure that people presenting at our borders are who they say they are is fine. However, taking that fingerprint and comparing it to a wide database for other purposes or sharing that information with other countries or other bodies raises serious privacy concerns. We are in the middle of looking at those and those are issues that the government would be well advised to pay attention to before we proceed down that path.

I want to talk about a few other things that the bill would do.

The bill would prevent someone who has been convicted of a jail sentence of more than 10 years from making a refugee claim. I have raised this issue as well. Nelson Mandela was convicted of a crime for which he received a sentence of more than 10 years. Under the legislation, were that to happen today, Nelson Mandela could not make a refugee claim in Canada. He might be able to make a humanitarian and compassionate claim but no refugee claim. I have not heard the government explain that.

The bill would also, for the first time, give the minister the power to refer to the IRB the case of a refugee who had now become a permanent resident. The minister would have the power to strip that refugee of his or her permanent resident status if it were determined that circumstances had changed in the country from which the refugee escaped. That is unacceptable. People come to this country seeking safety and yet they find themselves, under this legislation, perhaps looking at being stripped of that status.

I would like to move the following amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, because it:

(a) places an unacceptable level of arbitrary power in the hands of the minister;

(b) allows for the indiscriminate designation and subsequent imprisonment of bona fide refugees for up to one year without review;

(c) places the status of thousands of refugees and permanent residents in jeopardy;

(d) punishes bona fide refugees, including children, by imposing penalties based on mode of entry to Canada;

(e) creates a two-tiered refugee system that denies many applicants access to an appeals mechanism; and

(f) violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and two international conventions to which Canada is signatory.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The amendment is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Madam Speaker, I am afraid I cannot agree with any of the remarks by my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway. I clearly do not have enough time to rebut the various specious arguments that he offered. I hope to do so throughout the course of the debate.

I will say two things.

First, I found the suggestion that human smuggling was a “normative” part of a refugee process shocking. It is not normative. It is not normal. It is a despicable crime and we must do everything we reasonably can to deter people from going into smuggling operations. The member has offered no alternative. If the NDP members want to be critics, that is fine. If they want to be a government in waiting, they have to offer responsible alternatives that would, in this case, deter smugglers from targeting Canada. What are the member's alternatives?

Second, I wonder if the member realizes just how extraordinarily far out of the mainstream he and his party have become. Is he aware that, as a matter of policy, the left-of-centre social democratic government of Australia detains all asylum claimants, not just smuggled asylum claimants, until their claims are determined? Is he aware that the social democratic labour government of the United Kingdom created a law to detain all asylum claimants coming from designated safe countries? Is he aware that the social democratic government of Portugal, for example, deals with claims coming from designated safe countries in nine days? Is he aware that the position of his sister parties across the democratic west is far faster and less respectful of asylum rights than what we propose in this bill?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, the clever words of a sophist are always difficult to deal with. I never said that I am protecting human smugglers. The minister uses these shifts of language quite often. I was making a distinction between the irregular movement of refugees and human smuggling. There are cases where sometimes refugees organize themselves together and leave a place on boats sometimes.

There are tens of thousands of people from Vietnam in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway. Does the member know how many of them left Vietnam on a boat? Does he know how many of them paid someone to help them leave on a boat? Under the minister, those people would be criminals. They would be victims of human smuggling.

Let us look at Australia. We had an immigration professor at UBC, who did her doctorate in Australia, give testimony before our committee last week. She testified that the very same system the minister wants to impose in Bill C-31, which would penalize entrance to Canada for regular arrivals by detaining them, had not worked in Australia. It had not deterred anyone from going to Australia. Those are the facts, but facts are a challenge for the government.

What is out of the mainstream is an extreme right-wing approach to immigration that seeks to be incendiary and uses language such as “bogus refugees”, when some of the most vulnerable people on earth, people who have a well-founded fear of persecution and are fleeing countries, deserve to have their claims treated with respect. It is unseemly for the minister of immigration to continue to use inflammatory language that misleads. People may not have a valid claim—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order please. I see many people rising and I would like to give them an opportunity also.

The hon. member for Bourassa.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Kingsway for his speech.

The problem is that we are caught between two ideologies. On the one hand, those subscribing to a right-wing ideology want to erase everything the Liberals did. We know that Canada is a nation that welcomes immigrants and that every case is unique. When we start generalizing and labelling everything, we end up with problems and people fall through the cracks.

On the other hand, the NDP thinks that everything is rosy and nice, but that is not reality. As a former immigration minister, I know that it is not easy, and I know that the minister has to deal with certain cases.

I would like the member for Vancouver Kingsway to comment on the problem with this bill, which is that a minister will decide whether a country is safe or not. We know that there can be problems in places like Mexico or even Hungary. Recently, an intellectual left Hungary because of anti-Semitism. If the minister decides that Hungary is a safe country, then no refugees from Hungary will be allowed in.

Without indulging in labelling and ideology, if the member were the immigration minister, what would he do?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is pretty difficult to determine the question in that statement.

One thing on which I will agree with the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism is that the previous Liberal government sat back and made a complete mess of our system. When the government took power in 2006, it inherited a backlog of some 850,000 people. That does not sound like a model of success by the previous Liberal government.

Let us settle more refugees through the UNHCR process. Let us try to do a better job at bringing people to Canada and settling them here. Let us get a quick determination process of refugee status and give the refugees the support they need. Let us have a system that is fair. I think we can have both an efficient refugee determination system and one that respects Canadian domestic law and our international agreements.

The problem with the bill is that it does not achieve that balance, and the NDP will continue to fight for a refugee determination system that is fair, quick, legal and compassionate. That is what Canadians want, and that is not out of the mainstream.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, an exceptional thing happened, and I am sure the member who just spoke took part in it. It was in 2010, when we passed an amended version of Bill C-11. All the parties examined the issue and improved the government's bill. Even the minister was pleased, because he said that once the bill was amended, it was an essential tool for safeguarding the integrity of Canada's immigration and refugee systems. The bill, as amended by the Bloc Québécois and the other parties, had a provision to accelerate the application process. It also provided the right to appeal for all refugees, without exception. With Bill C-31, the government is removing all that.

I wonder if the government is trying to send a message to refugees the world over, telling them not to come to Canada, that they are not welcome. That is the feeling we get from Bill C-31. What does my colleague think?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

March 6th, 2012 / 4 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is true that the Bloc did play an instrumental role in building Bill C-11 in the previous Parliament. It is only fair to point that out.

It does seem like the government is trying to target refugees. One of the problems with Bill C-4 is that although it is directed punitively at human smugglers, it actually penalizes the refugees. That is what everyone is pointing out.

What happens if a refugee comes here? We will lock them up. We will prevent them from sponsoring their family for five years. We will prevent them from making an appeal application for five years. That is not targeting the smugglers but the refugees.

That is the problem with this bill. This bill also prevents someone from making a humanitarian and compassionate claim for up to one year, and it forces someone who arrives on our shores to make an election within 15 days between whether they make a refugee claim or a humanitarian and compassionate claim. These are people who often cannot speak English and have no access to legal advice. This is another serious structural flaw in the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be brief because I want to give my colleague a chance to comment further on one of the very important points he raised. He said that some countries might be considered safe when that is not necessarily the case, particularly certain countries in Europe where widespread discrimination is causing problems. If we took the time to examine ethnic conflicts, we would find several examples in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary, as the member mentioned. I would like to give him the opportunity to comment further on this problem and the prejudices against some countries.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, as I said in my speech, every country in this world is capable of producing a refugee. It depends on the particular political situation at the time. It depends on the government of the day. It depends on the cultural norms of that particular place. For example, how a country may treat gay people varies widely in this world.

Even in our own country, we are capable of producing refugees in a particular context at a particular time, and so these kinds of determinations should not be prejudged.

The bill stereotypes a group of people. If people come from a particular country, none of them have access to refugee appeal division. It does not matter how meritorious their case may be. It does not matter what the facts are.

That is not a typical characteristic of a modern, democratic legal system. One does do not make a determination on who has access to the court system or appeals in advance. One should let the merits of the case make that determination, and this bill does not do that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by making reference to what the minister started his speech with, that there has been great value from immigration. We in the Liberal Party have recognized over the years the importance of developing a balanced approach to dealing with immigration. We believe it is important to get not only good numbers but also the right mixture. We believe there is value in refugees. We believe there is value in families and family reunification. We see the value in terms of economic development. It is about getting the right mixture, and this is something on which we have been very successful in the past in what we have been able to achieve.

One of the greatest programs in the province of Manitoba has been the provincial nominee program.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

The member is welcome.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I will inform the member that it was actually a Liberal government that brought it in, but if the member for St. Catharines wants to try to take the credit for that, I will give him some credit.

What the government can take credit for is the huge backlog of refugees that has been generated. Remember that it was the Conservatives who did not fill the necessary positions at the refugee board to hear the numbers, and that is what started the backlog in the refugee system. Yes, improvement has been needed but members will find that through the years there has been movement, with a good mixture of immigrants and a progressive immigration policy that includes refugees.

We in the Liberal Party value the contributions that refugees make to our country. We have had refugees who have made it to Governor General of Canada, and to every economic, business, societal, non-profit and for-profit organization. Ninety-five percent plus of refugees who settle here in Canada go on to contribute immensely to our country and nation. We recognize that and are not scared to talk about it. The government and this minister in particular, on the other hand, have a totally different objective, an objective that demonizes the refugees in our great country.

The Liberal Party does not support Bill C-31, and for a good reason. Bill C-31 is in essence Bill C-4 and Bill C-11, with one major compromise in Bill C-11. The compromise took out the idea of an advisory group that would determine and advise the minister on which countries would be on the safe list. That was good enough when the Tories had a minority government but now that they have a majority government, they are going back to the Reform ways in how they are trying to deal with refugees in our country.

The minister wants to say what is a safe country. Think of the consequences of that. The minister wakes up one day and says that country X is no longer a safe country. As result, someone who comes from that country and claims to be a refugee will in all likelihood be gone before any sort of an appeal can be heard. That person will not even be in Canada but will have had to leave the country in order to make any sort of appeal.

The minister also wants to say who is an irregular arrival. That goes back to Bill C-4. There have been arguments about that. I know the minister will often write off the Liberal Party or the New Democrats as just being the opposition speaking. I would like to provide a specific quote about the government's behaviour on that particular line, and this comes from lawyers across our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Immigration lawyers who rally to the cause of immigration lawyers, you have to love that.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Well, I am listening to some lawyers, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism would do well if he also listened to some lawyers periodically. Maybe he should be listening—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Stand up for the immigration lawyers.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like the hon. member to direct his comments through the Chair and all members to wait until questions and comments before intervening.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North has the floor.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I do not blame the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for getting a little excited about that particular statement. Here is a response to the government on Bill C-31, a quote that makes reference to Bill C-4:

—[The] proposed mandatory, unreviewable, warrantless, year-long detention is patently unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada decided this issue in the clearest of terms.

This is not coming from the Liberal Party but a third party stakeholder that is trying to give advice to the Minister of Immigration . It is like talking to a brick wall. The minister has his own personal agenda and it is one that I do not think most Canadians would support.

I would like to read some comments made about Bill C-4 in some letters from Faith Academy school:

I urge you to take a tremendous stand against this bill.

Another reads:

You have to understand that the main reason refugees leave their countries is because they seek shelter from abuse, persecution and civil unrest. However, under this bill, refugees—including children—are only subjected to more persecution, fear of authority and denied rights.

If Canada's main concern truly is catching smugglers, why create a bill that only appears to punish refugees? Instead, let us join together in creatively seeking a way to deter smugglers without victimizing legitimate refugees.

That is a profound statement that the minister should really listen to.

I will read some more: “The bill forces refugees to be detained and they have come from their poor quality of life only to enter a similar one. Surely we have more integrity than that. There must be a more efficient way to keep track of them. Also the rule that the family can't come for five years after the refugee is allowed is absolutely absurd.” Another says, “I think let them come but make them wait for a certain time to gain residence, but the time should be reduced. Like what if you had to be put in that situation? Think it's still right?” A further one states, “The protection they wanted for Canada is great, but making other people and even innocent children feel like they are criminals or are committing something wrong is unfair.” Finally, “Bill C-4 is a punishment to refugees and is discriminatory since they will serve a mandatory sentence of one year and they will be denied the right to family reunification for five years.”

These are letters by young adults at Faith Academy school who have actually taken the time to read Bill C-4 and to voice their concerns regarding it.

I could go back to some of those statements by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. I mention the word “lawyers” and the minister laughs. I would suggest again that the minister would do well to listen. The association states:

Refugee claimants who are put on the designated safe country list are subjected to even shorter deadlines to submit a written claim, and will not have access to an appeal.

The Minister need not justify why he deems a country safe, nor does he have to take account of the differential risk faced by certain minorities in a country that is “safe” for others. Refugees will be vulnerable to the political whims of the Minister and the government.

The last time I had the opportunity speak to the bill, I challenged the government in my question to the minister. It was a very telling picture for me when I saw in a newspaper the minister, along with the Prime Minister, standing on the back of a ship, the Ocean Lady, making a statement.

He did it again today. At the beginning of his speech, he made reference to the fact that illegal immigrants pay to be brought here on two large ships, with a high number of bogus claims. He likes to refer to those queues, which is, I argue, the demonizing of the refugee.

He went on a boat with the Prime Minister and he talked about profiteers and how the government would get tough on human smugglers. This bill would have more of an impact on refugees. In essence, individuals are leaving their countries and putting their lives in danger by getting on some of these crafts to come to Canada. They leave for a wide variety of reasons. Their lives might be in danger. Who knows? At the end of the day, they are putting their lives at risk in order to land on our shore. The minister said he does not mean just boats. It could be people arriving by plane or car. The minister said the first thing to be done is to put these people in detention.

The last time I spoke on this bill, there was a lot of discussion about how to justify putting a 14-year-old or an 8-year-old in detention. To the minister's credit, and I do not give him very much credit, but in this case I will give him some credit, he said people under 16 years of age will not be detained. I am not 100% clear. I think he attempted to address it in his remarks. How does that apply if it involves a family? I believe he said it is only youth who are 12 or 14 years old and might not have a parent who would not be held in detention.

I was a little more clear going into this debate than I am now, because of the minister's remarks. I would look to him to provide some clarification. In terms of the legislation, the government is still saying one year of detention. That is fairly strong in terms of charters, constitutional rights, et cetera. We believe the government is moving in the wrong direction and there has to be an alternative.

The minister is often quoted as referring to or implying the notion of bogus refugees. I have had the opportunity to speak with refugees. Many people come to Canada with genuine fears. Just because they might not necessarily meet the criteria of refugees does not mean that they come to Canada wanting to commit fraud. When we start to label people by saying bogus, it is to the detriment of the refugee community. The minister needs to seriously consider how he chooses his photo ops when he talks about human smuggling, for example, or when he makes general statements about bogus refugees. His definition might not necessarily be the same definition as the many individuals who come to Canada fleeing persecution.

There was another issue that the critic for the New Democrats raised that I want the minister to comment on. It is incorporated in this particular bill and it is the biometrics.

We have been looking into this issue at the citizenship and immigration committee. Individuals have come before the committee to make presentations. Now the minister has brought this in out of nowhere and put it into the legislation. Some might argue that he undermined the work of the citizenship and immigration committee. There is some very strong merit in that argument.

We had another review to deal with the backlog of immigration. On November 4, halfway through it, the minister announced a freeze so that people could not sponsor their mom and dad from India or the Philippines or any other country for at least two years. He said we were not to worry because the government has this super visa program, which would compensate for the freeze.

The government has abandoned the whole concept of family and the valuable role that plays in the mixture of immigrants to Canada. We oppose this. What amazed me was that the minister announced the 10 year super visa, and then on December 1 he provided the details of the program.

Initially I was quite supportive of the concept of the super visa. However, the details of it probably excluded the parents of over 80% of immigrants because of the financial and health requirements put into place by the government. I would argue it was ultimately a manipulation. Much like with biometrics, this was another attempt by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to undermine what the citizenship and immigration committee was doing.

I look to the government, and in particular this Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, to reassess what it is actually doing within the immigration department. There is a need for change. We recognize that. When asked, for example, about the role biometrics could play, we believe that biometrics can play a role. We were quite willing to discuss this, and to hear what other Canadians and other stakeholders had to say on the issue. That is why we ultimately supported the committee to deal with that issue.

There is strong merit for biometrics. The minister himself has made reference to them, in terms of individuals who were able to come to Canada, put in a claim, leave and re-enter. There is no doubt biometrics would deal with issues such as that. There is no doubt that countries around the world are trying to get a better sense of the role of biometrics in a nation's security and the integrity of our immigration system, not only for refugees but also for temporary visas for visitors, students or possibly workers. We are open to that.

We are surprised that the minister would have taken this time to bring in that legislation when in fact we have a committee that is supposed to be studying the issue. One could ultimately ask why we are looking at that issue if in fact the minister seems to be going in a certain direction.

That brings me right back to some of my opening comments.

We in the Liberal Party believe that there has to be due process. We need to ensure that there is an appeal mechanism that would enable people to be in Canada while that appeal is being heard. That would not happen under Bill C-31.

We would like to see the minister make the change that he previously agreed to. He acknowledged that there was value to it. We would like to see that change.