Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill C-31.
First, there are a couple of aspects that were brought up by the critics from the Liberal Party and the NDP with regard to Bill C-11, the balanced refugee reform legislation which was passed in the last Parliament. They claimed that bill is on hold, that it has not been implemented and that no acts within that bill have actually been processed. I want to clarify that they are factually incorrect. It needs to be identified in the House and on the record that there are two very important components of that bill that have continued.
The first is that prior to passing Bill C-11, there was a backlog in this country of over 60,000 refugee claimants. The process set in place by Bill C-11 would see that reduced significantly. In fact, that has happened. The backlog has been reduced to below 45,000 refugee applicants, which is a very critical component to the direction Bill C-11 was moving toward, which is to ensure that we do not have a tremendous backlog that would put us in an extremely difficult position in terms of processing applications.
The second is a point which the minister brought up during his speech. With the implementation of Bill C-11, we would see an additional 2,500 refugees, which is 20% on top of the current average. An additional 2,500 refugees would be able to settle in our country. We would accept those additional 2,500. Five hundred would be government-sponsored refugees and 2,000 would be privately sponsored.
I know what the Liberal Party and NDP critics' jobs are, but to hear them say that Bill C-11 has not moved forward and has not helped refugees or those in need is completely false. I suggest that when they get the opportunity, they should acknowledge that they supported two parts of that bill without reserve, and those parts continue to move forward today.
Turning now to Bill C-31, Canada welcomes more refugees per capita than any other G20 country in the world. I mentioned the additional 2,500 refugees that will settle in this country. They will, through the United Nations and private sponsorship, begin to come to this country.
The facts speak for themselves. In 2011, Canada received a total of 5,800 refugee claims from people in democratic, rights-respecting member countries of the European Union. That is an increase of 14% from 2010. It means that 23% of the total refugee claims come from the EU. That is more than Africa and Asia. In fact, Hungary is the top source country for people attempting to claim refugee status in Canada. Hungary is an EU member state. That means 4,400 or 18% of all refugee claims in 2011 came from Hungary. That is up 50% from 2010.
What is even more telling is that in 2010, of the 2,400 claims made by Hungarian nationals, only 100 of them were made in countries outside Canada. That means Canada received 2,300 of those claims, 23 times more than any other country in the world. That is not by accident. Those claims are being made for a reason. What is most important is that virtually all of these claims are abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. Refugee claimants themselves are choosing not to see their claims to completion, meaning they are actually not in genuine need of Canada's protection. In other words, these claims are bogus. They are false. They are untrue. These bogus claims from the EU cost Canadian taxpayers over $170 million a year.
At the federal level, we throw figures around in millions of dollars on a regular basis. However, if the average cost of a refugee claim is $55,000 and upwards of only 38% of those claims are actually approved, we can see what we now accept and have to deal with. It costs $170 million to deal with bogus claims and claims that are withdrawn or abandoned. That money should not go to defend and try to articulate and determine whether these are actual refugees. It should go to refugees who are in fact approved and need the assistance, whether it be for settlement services, education or whatever it may be to help them acclimatize and learn about our Canadian system.
Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, is part of our plan to restore integrity to our asylum system. It would make Canada's refugee determination process faster, fairer, stronger and more appealing. It would ensure that we would go through this process in a faster way so that legitimate refugees would be able to settle into the country and be approved. As well, we would remove bogus claimants in a much quicker, more expedient way so that we could actually deliver services to those who deserve them.
The monetary aspect is not why we are moving forward with the legislation. However, with the implementation of Bill C-31, over the next five years, we will see a savings to taxpayers across the country of close to $1.65 billion.
Bill C-31 would also help speed up refugee claims in a number of ways. One major component is the improvements to the designated countries of origin provisions. It would enable the ministry to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally did not produce refugees.
The minister and I spoke earlier of what we saw in the European Union. That is specifically why we will be able to ensure with a safe country that we can process and work through the response in a period of up to, and no more than, 45 days. That is compared to a process which now takes upward, and in many cases exceeds, 1,000 days. It goes on and on.
Much of the determination of which countries would be designated would be determined on criteria clearly outlined in both the legislation and within the ministerial order. For example, for a country to be considered relatively safe, more than 60% of its asylum claims are withdrawn or have been abandoned by the claimants themselves, or more than 75% of asylum claims are rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. If that is not an objective, neutral test, I am not sure how the opposition could actually come up with one.
Because there will be countries that do not have a threshold in terms of the numbers who come to our country and claim refugee status, where there are not enough of those claims to make an objective quantitative assessment, clear qualitative criteria will be applied to determine the likelihood that a country would produce genuine refugees. This criteria will include, for example, an independent judicial system that recognizes and respects democratic rights and freedoms and whether civil society organizations exist and operate in that country.
In fact, unlike the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which had both quantitative and qualitative criteria specified only in regulation, Bill C-31 would have its qualitative factors enshrined in legislation, while the quantitative factors would be set out in a ministerial order. In this way, the criteria used to trigger a country for review for designation would be more transparent and more accountable than under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. It is an important criteria and important aspect to keep in mind as we debate the bill.
The designated country of origin provisions included in Bill C-31 would bring Canada in line with peer countries, like the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Switzerland, recognizing that some countries were safer than others.
The opposition likes to use the United Nations as an example, or at least as the leadership that we should follow in terms of how we recognize refugees and how we are supposed to stay in line with what should happen in dealing with refugees in our system, in our program in our country.
However, if I could just quote from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, who has himself acknowledged, “there are indeed Safe Countries of Origin and there are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries”. He also has agreed that as long all refugee claimants have access to some process, it is completely legitimate to accelerate claims from safe countries.
Under Bill C-31, every refugee claimant would continue to receive a hearing before the independent and quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board regardless of where he or she may have come from. Furthermore, every refugee claimant in Canada would have access to at least one level of appeal. This is contrary to the opposition statements. These procedures exceed the requirements of both our domestic law and our international obligations.
Unfortunately, what is lost in a lot of the debate on the bill is the other equally important positive aspect that it will have. Not only will it result in fewer bogus claims abusing our generous immigration system, it will also allow for legitimate refugees who are in need of Canada's protection to receive that protection much sooner than they do now.
I want to stop at this point for a moment. Under Canada's current refugee determination system, it takes an average of two years before refugee claimants receive a decision on their case. Our system has become so backward that legitimate refugees are not in a position to move forward in a much quicker way. Our system has been overwhelmed by a backlog of cases. We have started to work toward a reduction of those cases, but we have not done enough and we need to do more, which is why we are debating Bill C-31.
It is important to remind the House and all Canadians that bogus refugee claims clog up our system. They result in legitimate refugees who are in genuine need of Canada's protection waiting far too long to receive that needed protection.
Bill C-31 would further deter abuse of Canada's immigration system by providing the government the authority to collect biometric data from certain foreign nationals who wanted to enter into Canada. The minister brought forward countless examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who had come into this country in the past, sometimes repeatedly, up to eight times, even after having been deported. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, so too must the countries that are to protect their citizens. Therefore, biometrics will improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to our country out.
Foreign criminals will now be barred entry into Canada thanks to biometrics. It is an important new tool that will help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. Biometrics, in short, will strengthen the integrity of our system and help protect the safety and security of Canadians while helping facilitate legitimate travel.
Using biometrics will also bring Canada in line with other countries that are already ahead of us in that regard, the United Kingdom, Australia, European Union, New Zealand, United States and Japan, among others.
I would like to point out that while other countries around the world are using biometrics, opposition members voted against the use of biometrics and the funding to implement it, to assist with the safety of both Canadians and those entering our country. They determined they were not going to support what Canadians, if we were to ask them, probably believed should already have been implemented.
It is not likely surprising to anyone that I certainly do support the bill and that all of the government's efforts to improve our immigration system move us in the right direction.
However, what is telling about the bill is that a large number of experts and immigration stakeholders also support the bill. I heard from both critics, from the NDP and Liberals, that all lawyers across the country did not support the bill.