Mr. Speaker, as I begin my comments, I want to acknowledge the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. It was important enough for him to come to Canada's tenth-largest city, and for those who do not know that is London Ontario, to be able to make some statements directly about Bill C-31 and the positive impact that it would have for people who would be affected by this. I wanted to acknowledge to him personally how much I appreciate that. As I make more formal comments, I appreciate the efforts of his department and the parliamentary secretary for ensuring the work that they have done provides us with what is a strong, fair and good bill.
As I rise today to discuss the importance of Bill C-31, I want to talk about this legislation, which ultimately is intended to strengthen Canada's already renowned immigration and refugee systems. It is quite evident that Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, our government and fair-minded Canadians have no tolerance for those who would exploit our generosity and take unfair advantage of our country's immigration and refugee system. As a result, we are taking action to crack down on this abuse by strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system through Bill C-31.
This bill proposed by our government is targeted to make our refugee system faster and fairer and at the same time to put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and refugees who abuse our generous immigration system so they can receive lucrative taxpayer-funded health, welfare and other social benefits. In fact, the ratification of the bill would save Canadian taxpayers at least $1.65 billion over five years, while providing protection more quickly to those truly in need. Through these improvements to the asylum system, the bogus claimants who are from countries with democracies that have respect for basic rights and freedoms will be weeded out.
The fact is too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on people who are not fleeing genuine persecution, who instead seek to manipulate and take advantage of Canada's generous asylum system to receive lucrative taxpayer-funded health care, welfare and various social benefits.
In its initiatives to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse, some of the clear measures in Bill C-31 include the following.
The first is fast-tracking refugee claims and ensuring failed claimants are promptly deported. However, people deemed in need of protection will not be returned to their country of persecution regardless of what country they have fled.
The second is implementing biometric identification such as fingerprints and photos for people who apply for visitors' visas for the reason that this important change would guard against the use of false identities.
The third is preventing the attraction of fleeing to Canada through means of illegal human smuggling operations by: increasing the penalties for human smugglers, ensuring the lucrative benefits refugees receive are not more generous than those received by the Canadian public; preventing human smuggling associated individuals from applying for permanent resident status for a period of five years, given that they successfully apply for refugee status; and preventing those individuals from sponsoring their family members also for a period of five years.
Canada has a well-deserved international reputation for having the most generous and fair immigration system in the world and, since 2006, our government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigration in Canadian history. Canada provides protection to more than one in ten refugees resettled each year worldwide, more than almost any other developed country in the world. Conversely, given the stated inefficiencies and flaws that are currently infecting the integrity of our system, Canadians have given our government a strong mandate to improve Canada's immigration system through Bill C-31, which would help us put a stop to those who seek to abuse that generosity.
Effective response measures to these detrimental abuses are needed now more than ever in order to restore the integrity and public confidence of our system. Our current system calls for the need for a faster and fairer refugee determination process, resulting in effective and efficient protection for legitimate refugees and faster removal for illegitimate claimants.
My constituents in London West and all Canadians expect that our borders and shores are protected and secure and our generous systems are protected from abuse.
Canada's current refugee system is flawed as it is vulnerable to abuse. Due to this, too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on people who are not fleeing genuine persecution, but are seeking to exploit Canada's generous asylum system to reap those benefits. For example, in 2011 Canada received 5,800 more refugee claims from the democratic and human rights-respecting countries, otherwise known as safe countries of the European Union, than from Africa or Asia, which was a significant increase, 14% from 2010.
Former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has recognized the legitimacy of designating certain countries as safe and ultimately even advocated rejecting all claims from those countries, which Bill C-31 does not propose to do.
This is a popular misconception of the bill, which is that by creating a process that allows certain countries to be designated as safe, Bill C-31 creates a two-tier asylum system and therefore violates the UN Convention on Refugees and/or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, that is completely false. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the 1951 UN refugee convention require that all refugees be given the opportunity to have their claims heard. The process in Canada goes above and beyond its domestic and international obligations and that would not change under the proposed act.
Canada has and will continue to have one of the most generous refugee systems in the world. All refugee claimants will continue to have their cases heard by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board. Furthermore, every failed refugee claimant will continue to have access to at least one level of appeal.
On February 26, Paul Attia of Immigrants for Canada stated:
Immigrants for Canada (IFC) represents the views of countless immigrants across our nation who hold strongly to the view that Canadian immigration policy should always be in Canada's best interests. The immigrants IFC represents worked very hard, and sacrificed much to arrive on Canadian shores, and who chose to do so in an honest and legal way. Accordingly, these same immigrants welcome legislation that works to ensure that people who have no valid claim to our protection are not able to use the refugee determination system to obtain permanent residence in Canada.
Under the act, our government can put a stop to those who seek to abuse our generosity, save a substantial amount to Canadian taxpayers, give protection to genuine refugees in a much more timely manner and allow the quick removal of illegitimate claimants who cheat the system and abuse our generosity.
Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, is truly in the best interests of Canada and of genuine refugees themselves. That is what we are talking about here. Canadians have given our government a mandate to improve Canada's immigration system and our government is acting on that mandate.
I emphasize the importance of the bill and urge the support and ratification of it as it stresses tough but fair measures to stop those who would abuse our generosity from becoming part of Canadian society. I do sincerely hope that my hon. colleagues across the floor will agree and join me in supporting this crucial legislation.
When we talk about the integrity of our immigration system, it is critical that we look not just at what a political position might be, but that we look at what the integrity of doing the right thing is intended to do. If members opposite look at doing the right thing, they will look deeply at this. They will look at this legislation and say that this is right for people who are not cheating the process, that this is right for people who are trying to do their very best to come to Canada the proper way and make a honest contribution to Canada and make our country a better place.
That is why I am so sincerely appreciative of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Perhaps for the first time we have found a minister who has the guts and the forthright approach to make this the most fair and transparent system, the right system for Canada. I would like to applaud him and I thank him on behalf of all Canadians.