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House of Commons Hansard #108 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

4:35 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his remarks and evident concern for the plight of refugees. However, I am concerned with what I regard as a clear lack of balance in the way the member and his colleagues in the NDP approach this issue. They speak about asylum claimants as though they are all refugees, when in point of fact some two-thirds of the asylum claimants in Canada turn out not to be in need of our protection. According to our very fair and generous legal system, they do not have a well-founded fear of persecution. Does he not acknowledge that it represents a problem?

He just spoke about European asylum claimants. Will he not acknowledge that nearly 100% of the European asylum claimants abandon or withdraw their claims of their own volition? Since we gave visa exemptions to central European countries, 95% of those claimants have not shown up at their hearings. It is telling us through their volition that they do not need our protection.

Does he not think we need a more efficient system that is able to address large waves of unfounded claims, claims that are not necessarily being rejected by our fair legal system, but are being withdrawn by the claimants themselves? Is he not the least bit concerned about this apparent abuse of our system and its generosity?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government loves to pull the most egregious examples and then craft legislation around those examples, but that is not the way to do it. That is what we are trying to say on this side.

Many Canadians, many experts, have a lot of concern about the very fact that the minister of the day would have essentially carte blanche on some of these decisions. There is a real concern around the way these decisions would be made. It is fair and reasonable for Canadians to be concerned about the process and the lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the government through this proposed legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in Bill C-31 there are three areas we need to explore and discuss and I look forward to doing that in committee.

The old bill, Bill C-4 will die because Bill C-31 replaces it. There were significant challenges brought forward by lawyers across Canada who said that Bill C-4 had some serious legal aspects. They challenged its worthiness to even pass in a court of law in Canada and said that it was unfair to refugees. That is one component of the bill.

A second component of the bill deals with legislation which this House passed but the government is trying to amend so as to no longer have an advisory committee. The minister wants to have the power to designate countries as safe countries. Rather than having an advisory board, the minister wants that power.

I would like the member to comment on the third component, which deals with biometrics. Does the NDP have a position on the use of biometrics in regard to visas?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Winnipeg North likes to keep us waiting for the question.

On issues such as biometrics and other matters where the government talks about cost savings, there are provisions in Bill C-31 that are very costly. For example, mandatory detention of irregular arrivals for a minimum of one year could cost up to $70,000 per claimant. Refugee claimants from designated countries would not be able to apply for work permits for at least six months and they would be forced on to social assistance. These are the parts of the bill where the economics absolutely do not make any sense.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this legislation. It is something that my constituents ask me about on a regular basis. I have communicated with them several times on some of the great initiatives which the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has put forward in the past. Those measures were always warmly received. Our minister is doing a great job. Not only is he a great minister, but he is a great representative of Calgary Southeast and our home province of Alberta.

Canadians are rightfully proud of Canada's long-standing humanitarian tradition and the fact that we are one of the top countries in the world to offer protection to those who sincerely and genuinely need asylum. At the same time, reasonable Canadians would not disagree that our refugee system is in some need of reform.

As we see time and time again, genuine refugee claimants wait far too long for a decision on their claim. That is because those who seek to use our asylum system as a back door to get into Canada do so at the expense of genuine refugees.

Illegitimate claimants clog our refugee system and create unnecessarily long wait times for those truly in need of Canada's protection. This leaves in limbo those who are genuinely in need. Long delays also encourage individuals who are not in need of our protection to use the refugee system as a way to remain in Canada. Essentially, delays allow those who do not really need our protection to abuse our system and our generosity.

Last year processing times for a decision on a claim before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, affectionately known as the IRB, could take more than 20 months. Because of the resources available, it could take an average of four and one-half years from the time a claim is made until a failed refugee claimant has exhausted all legal avenues and is removed from Canada. This is completely unacceptable.

This makes Canada an attractive target for illegitimate claimants since they know that they can remain in Canada for several years while their claim is processed, during which time claimants can access our generous taxpayer-funded social benefits and perhaps obtain a work permit. In other words, these individuals basically establish themselves here in Canada without knowing if they are going to be approved as a refugee or not. Illegitimate claimants come here at a huge cost to Canadian taxpayers. The average unfounded claim costs about $55,000. Last year alone bogus refugee claimants cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million.

We need to send a clear and unmistakable message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act seeks to address these problems with our refugee system by providing faster protection to those in genuine need while quickly removing those who are not.

To help reduce the attraction of coming to Canada, these new measures would further accelerate the processing of all refugee claims, particularly for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. This policy would provide the government with an important tool to respond to spikes in claims from countries that one would not normally expect a refugee to seek or claim asylum from.

This legislation would also reduce the options for resources available to failed claimants. Currently, these options permit failed claimants to further delay their removal from Canada. Even though many failed applicants know they will be unsuccessful, they also know these avenues of appeal will help them prolong their stay here where they can continue to have access to our generous system.

Let me be very clear about one thing. Under these new measures, all eligible refugee claimants would continue to be entitled to a fair hearing before an independent decision-maker. However, there would be no automatic stay of removal for claimants from designated countries of origin once a negative decision had been rendered by the IRB and the claimant had applied for judicial review to the Federal Court. This means that failed claimants could no longer use the Federal Court process to further delay their removal.

As I said, it currently takes an average of four and one-half years before a failed claimant has exhausted all avenues of appeal and is removed from Canada. In some instances it has taken over a decade. All the while, failed claimants have access to our generous tax-supported services such as health care and other social benefits.

Canadians work hard to support these services. They do not appreciate it when their hard-earned tax dollars go toward supporting foreign nationals who should not even be here in the first place, who come here under false pretenses knowing full well what they are doing.

The success of the new system hinges on our ability to speed up the current processing times for refugee claims. This is essential because the less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and queue-jump the regular immigration process. Also, if we can speed up the current processing times for refugee claims, genuine refugees would get our protection more quickly.

Hearings at the IRB for claimants from designated countries of origin would occur within 30 to 45 days. Claimants who are not from designated countries of origin would also have their hearing timelines accelerated. It is proposed that these hearings would be scheduled within 60 days of being referred to the IRB, compared to the current system which takes over 1,000 days. It is no wonder that Chris Selley from the National Post said that the immigration minister is:

--certainly showing more guts than we came to expect from his Liberal predecessors....

Blame whomever you want, these timelines are completely preposterous. And they are one of the two biggest reasons that so many asylum-seekers make for Canada....But if a refugee claim was processed in, say, two months, instead of a year or two or five, the incentive for people with weak claims to give it a whirl would be massively reduced, as would the overall burden on the system.

John Ibbitson from the Globe and Mail also spoke positively about the bill:

I think we need a system first of all that doesn’t cost too much. I mean if you spend four years processing a bogus refugee claim, that’s the taxpayer who pays for it and that person may also be on welfare and other forms of social assistance during that time. So I agree. And I think there is broad public support for the idea that we need to process refugee claimants fairly and swiftly.

Finally, John Ivison from the National Post stated:

I was talking to somebody today who was saying within four days of a claimant landing in Toronto, they can be claiming welfare. Now that’s an obvious magnet for refugees all over the world. We have the most generous refugee system in the world. We have an acceptance rate of something like 50 per cent. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.

Well, how many people do you need to consult to figure out that Hungary should not be our leading source of refugees? What had happened was that the ten, the top ten countries that we receive refugees from did not figure in the UN’s top ten list of refugees.

These new measures would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of our generous refugee system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees. By improving the refugee system in these ways, this legislation would also ensure that the refugee claimants who really do need our protection would get it even faster.

These proposed measures would continue to meet our domestic and international obligations. They would also maintain the balance and fairness that are the foundation of our refugee system. I am confident that they would honour the spirit and support for refugees that Canadians value.

In supporting this legislation, my hon. colleagues in the House can help to provide a quicker, more secure beginning for victims of violence and persecution around the world and help deter abuse of our refugee system. I urge all hon. members in the House to join me in supporting Bill C-31.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague's speech. I wish to thank him for his speech. However, unfortunately, the hon. member seems to believe in magical thinking, as do most of his cabinet colleagues.

It is a very serious problem, because Bill C-31 repeats some aspects of Bill C-4, for example, concerning the 12-month mandatory detention of foreign nationals who are arbitrarily designated by the minister. In the end, we all agree that we are talking about a measure that could be a deterrent, as long as the people detained are informed of it and can weigh all of the consequences.

Elsewhere in the world, experience has shown that this does not work, but that is not the most serious aspect. The worst aspect is that, if this bill passes, it could be formally contested under section 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has to do with arbitrary detention. Thus, we will be back at square one.

Considering the cost of this kind of detention and the possibility that it will be abolished, how can my colleague justify this kind of spending and such a waste of time, not to mention the suffering of the people detained?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I can say without any hesitation how my constituents feel about the current system. The current system completely fails them.

I do not know how many members of this House, I am assuming all members, get the same chain emails that I get, saying that pensioners would be better off if they left Canada and came back and applied as refugees. It does not matter if perhaps some of the information in the email is misinformed. It is the spirit in which it is sent. The spirit behind that is our system is currently too wide open to abuses.

We can sit here and discuss the merits and the technical merits of the bill. Detention is there. It is currently provided for if individuals are in need of detention when they come here as asylum seekers. With the legislation, they can be held in detention for a certain period of time. That would not change under the new legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share something with the member. Maybe he has had the opportunity to read the press release that was issued by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers in its response to Bill C-31.

In the second point, it states that “the draconian measures of C-4 are rolled into this new bill“, obviously referring to Bill C-31 and that “C-4's proposed mandatory, unreviewable, warrantless, year-long detention is patently unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada decided this issue in the clearest of terms.”

The second point being, “family separation for at least 5, and up to 8 or more years, will have a disastrous consequence for refugees.”

This is in fact what Bill C-31 is proposing to do.

This is not the Liberal Party or the New Democratic Party saying this. These are individuals who have represented refugees for many years. This is a professional organization. Would the member comment on that statement by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's question. It would be like asking the defence lawyer association of Canada about Criminal Code changes. However, the reality is some of that $170 million, I suppose, would be going to some of these lawyers in terms of fees and would be a burden to the taxpayers of Canada.

The reality of the system is if we want something sped up, the changes that the minister is proposing would take processes that take over 1,000 days now, years, and reduce them so that people who are genuine refugees would actually get the protection that they need.

I would think that anybody of moral virtue purporting to represent people who are genuine refugees would appreciate the legislation here. Somebody who would be losing the 1,000 days of endless appeals might not have that same view.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-31 on immigration because much of my campaign last year focused on the idea of having an immigration system that is as transparent as the justice system. Unfortunately, Bill C-31 does not meet these expectations of offering something fairer—not at all.

I received a lot of feedback in Quebec City after Bill C-31 was introduced. Many community agencies, citizens' groups and voters have spoken to me about this issue. They think it is completely ridiculous. It goes too far. We cannot leave everything in the hands of the minister, as the bill intends.

For the Quebec City agencies that are crying for help when it comes to this bill, there is a clear lack of resources to help immigrants in distress. People get lost in red tape and are discouraged most of the time because they do not understand. They see visas getting rejected for strictly administrative reasons—bureaucracy. It is under this government no less.

At first glance, the changes in Bill C-31 seem only to make clarifications to the existing legislation. However, this bill makes draconian changes to situations that are already precarious.

The first thing that jumps out and that I must highlight is the arbitrary power that the minister has clearly given himself. With this discretionary power, he can overturn any decision that has already been made. It is obvious that this will not resolve the issue I am being asked about: why does it take three years for one immigrant to obtain citizenship, and ten years for another? There is a lack of transparency. It is not clear.

The change that scares future immigrants the most, and which we hear about regularly, is the rejection of applications and the pure and simple cancellation of most of the economic class applications. People have been waiting for 7, 8, 9 and even 10 years for positive news about their file, and their applications are going to be returned with a refund of the initial payment—a matter I will not get into at this time—because the minister wants to eliminate the backlog of applications filed since February 2008.

Rapid changes in the demand for labour in Canada would explain this situation. However, what about the people, the human element, the people who have held out hope all these years? The minister will say that they can resubmit their applications and that, if they meet the criteria, they will be chosen quickly. However, what is not being publicized is the fact that, since these people applied, the program has undergone some fine tuning and the law of natural selection now comes into play: the cost of applying has increased. There is no guarantee that the application will be accepted. Hopes are crushed.

Another change would see refugees sent back to their country of origin if the situation there improves. This is what organizations in my riding and people who call and email are telling me. People come here and adapt to life here. They start their lives over in Canada. They make friends and find work here. Their children are raised in Quebec or Canadian culture. Yet the government would send them back to a country they no longer know, a country they fled under difficult circumstances, in most cases. They left everything behind, hoping for a better life. And Canada, which invited them in to give them that opportunity for a better life, would deport them just like that because things have improved in their country? They can live peacefully here. They will want to adapt to our customs. They certainly have the right to that opportunity.

Bill C-31 has yet more shortcomings. For example, there is no mechanism to challenge blunt refusal with respect to family reunification. Families separated by time and borders that are frequently not their own are denied the opportunity to bring their spouse and children because they did not list them when registering. Registration happens in refugee camps where people live in terrible conditions. Once they arrive, they are given a vague one-year window to declare another individual on their application. That makes no sense. Bill C-31 does not address that, but it happens.

Immigration is much more than bringing people through the nation's door, welcoming them and then letting them go.

I recently met with a group of immigrants from my riding. I invited them to my office to discuss their concerns and the problems and issues they faced when they arrived in Quebec.

It is quite simple: they waited and they hoped. They lived the dream and were happy, but even after years, their diplomas are still not recognized and they are still having a hard time finding a good job. Reality bites. There is not enough support. When we really look at it, it seems as though the government believes that it has allowed them in and filled its quota, and now they have to get by on their own. Of course, this summary does not apply to refugees, but I heard this from the mouths of qualified workers who have come here to keep our economy moving and whom we are abandoning. We are not helping them fit in to our Canadian way of life.

Canada is a dream that is often inaccessible and sometimes incomprehensible. People fill out forms, answer questions, put up with delays, and still more delays, pay money and are eventually given the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, and this is all priceless. They are asked to leave everything behind—their house, their culture, their lives—to be submerged in a foreign culture, and they are asked to act like us, to be like us and to thank us. But what tools do we give them?

Just a few hours of French lessons and everything should be perfect? What about life in our society and what about our values? What about support, follow up and a real helping hand? Bill C-31 does not address any of that. Yet that is definitely a reality that many of my hon. colleagues must face in their constituency offices—they must see people going from tears of joy to tears of despair, and get all kinds of calls from people who want to know where to turn.

We see families separated, years of waiting just to be rejected, and hopes dashed. Fortunately, some situations end well. We help people achieve the dream of reunification and staying here. However, I always wonder. I hope everything will go well for them, but we never know. We are in the process of giving the minister more and more discretionary power and that makes no sense.

I also condemn this blatant lack of provincial-federal and interdepartmental dialogue. The government is certainly not known for listening to the provinces. There is no shortage of examples of problems that are only going to get worse under this Conservative government. People have simply lost everything. The federal government requires one thing, the provincial another. One accepts things when the other refuses or vice versa. Costs keep piling up. A federal-provincial dialogue would help people.

The same goes for a dialogue between the federal departments. Is it normal for a person to have his work permit rejected because there is a delay in processing claims at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada? No, that is not normal. The person is not responsible whatsoever for any such delay. The surprising thing is that he has to pay for these delays out of his own pocket every time and usually more than once. As far as I understand, the applicant is certainly not reimbursed.

This Bill C-31 does not reflect our values. This Bill C-31 does not help refugees. This bill is putting everything into the hands of the minister. That is not really a good thing.

I will close on a more positive note because that might be what we should focus on. Recently, in my riding in Quebec City, I met a newly arrived immigrant couple. In fact, it was a spousal reunification. The wife had waited years for her husband to finally be able to join her. To see such happiness is priceless. There are human beings behind all this paperwork.

We have to think of the people.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I do not know exactly what the member was talking about, because it was really not Bill C-31. She expressed reasonable concerns about integrating newcomers. On that subject, I must inform the member that since 2006, this government has more than tripled federal investments in integration services for newcomers, in Quebec and throughout Canada, in particular for francization, language training and job searches for newcomers.

With respect to resettled refugees, we are increasing the number we accept by 20%. We are also increasing support for those refugees under the refugee assistance program. So we are doing a great deal to help newcomers.

We are also reforming immigrant selection at the federal level so they are able to arrive in Canada much faster with jobs organized before they arrive.

Is the member aware of these investments? Does she think that tripling investment in integration is important or not?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for that question because it shows very clearly how the Conservatives think. They have invested, so that is supposed to do the job. They have put money into it, so everything should be fine.

What I wanted to do was bring a human perspective to it. In fact, I am not surprised to see that the minister also failed to grasp the main point after the human element, which is the dialogue with the provinces to solve the little problems I wanted to raise when I decided to talk about immigration, because this was the opportunity to do just that.

I very sincerely hope that this government will live up to its responsibilities and that it will be able to engage in dialogue to improve things. This is not just a question of investment or of doubling the number of hours. There are human beings behind it. Everything possible must be done to make it work. They cannot always set up an F-35 secretariat, or a veterans committee, to solve things.

It is very distressing to see that the minister wants to give himself more responsibilities, because that makes us wonder whether a committee or a secretariat is going to be created. We are wondering how far it will go. So far, I really am not sure that it is going to go well.

Thus, Bill C-31 certainly does not reflect what we on this side expect, and what Canadians expect.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, at the end of her speech, the member said that she would like to leave it on a positive note and she talked about the reunification of a couple. I would like her to comment on one aspect of Bill C-31. The Minister of Immigration is putting into place a situation where refugees, after a year of detention, will need to wait an additional four or five years before being eligible to sponsor a spouse left in a country that they left because of fear for their life. Under this bill, they will wait years before being reunited with their family.

I would ask the member if she could provide comment on that aspect of the bill that would prevent people from being reunited in a more timely fashion.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank my hon. colleague for allowing me to expand on this point.

The power that the minister wants to give himself is indeed a matter of great concern. It is an excessive power that is going to allow him to designate countries of origin. In view of changing political situations, which can improve, there would be a decision not to take this refugee or that refugee now.

No matter which countries he chooses, it will certainly complicate things in family reunification cases for families from certain countries. It seems to me that what we have here is the very definition of discrimination.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join everyone here today to speak to Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

I thank the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for not only bringing forward this much needed act, but for being here in the House while the bill is being debated to answer questions, explain what the act entails and how it would improve upon the refugee claimant system that we have here in Canada. I also thank his parliamentary secretary for the work he has done in carrying this bill and ensuring we have this fulsome debate here in a democratic process.

I often hear from constituents in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake how important it is that we fix the refugee system. We always hear stories of people who come in and abuse the refugee system. They take dollars out of Canadian taxpayers' hands and use it in ways that benefit them personally but do not broaden the economy or culture of Canada. There have been a number of emails circulating on the Internet that find their way into the offices of members of Parliament and it is about time that we address some of the concerns that constituents have had. There are emails that have been going through cyberspace and letters to editors that have been written over the years that address the situation of whether people are legitimate asylum seekers, how many dollars are attributed to those individuals as they sit in the queue waiting to have their refugee claims heard, and whether or not they gain access to Canada or are denied and have to be returned to their country of origin.

I do not think anyone in this House could disagree that Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, as I said, no one has tolerance for the abuse that the Canadian refugee system has undergone over recent history.

However, for people to think that our government is trying to crack down on refugees and that there would also be a crackdown on overall immigration, I can say that is absolutely false. Since we have come to power, total immigration into Canada has gone up 15% on a year over year basis. That has helped Canada in finding skilled workers, finding people to work in our health care system and bringing people into our communities to help us continue to grow and prosper as a country. There is no doubt that immigrants who have come to Canada and call it their home have contributed significantly to our economy and helped us to get through the economic downturn.

Bill C-31 is a follow-up to what we have already done under Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. I do not think it has been said enough here that we have committed as a country to increasing the overall number of refugees we take in every year by 2,500 per year. That is almost a 10% increase of where we were last year and it is still generous. It means that we are still reaching out to help those who are in need and that we will help people who are in countries where they are being persecuted, prejudiced, possibly facing genocides and other atrocities to have the opportunity to come to Canada. We want to make it faster for refugees to come through the system and get safe asylum.

We will do that through a number of different ways. We will establish the safe countries list. By having a safe countries list we hope to reduce the backlog we have today of over 42,000 refugee claimants who are seeking asylum in Canada. Bill C-31 would reduce the overall processing time to 45 days for those people coming from the safe countries list. Right now, claimants coming from safe countries are seeing an average processing time of 1,038 days. We would dramatically reduce that time.

Second, as was mentioned earlier by the member for Barrie, we would bring in biometrics and follow suit with what so many other countries have done. We would bring in digital photographs and fingerprinting, as well as give people seeking asylum the opportunity to make their application in their own countries at Canadian consulates and embassies to get their names into the system along with data. By allowing them to make those claims in their own countries before they come to Canada would expedite the process.

The third important thing here is that we are going after the human smugglers. We do not want to see people profit from other people's disadvantage. We do not want people going out and extorting thousands of dollars from people to bring them to Canada, even though they come from countries where they can make those refugee claims. It is important that this bill addresses that.

As the minister has already said, we are not going after the actual bona fide asylum seekers. Rather, we are going after those who are out to abuse our system. We use the word “bogus” a lot and it gets thrown around but there are those who absolutely abuse the system.

All we need to do is look at the facts that we are dealing with today. The European Union, western world countries, democracies with human rights and established rules of law, account for 23% of all claims coming to Canada. In 2011, 5,800 refugee claimants came from the European Union, which is 14% over 2010, and, more important, it is more than we are getting from Africa and Asia where there are countries that have dictators, where we know people are being persecuted either because of their religious belief or race or are being disadvantaged because of their gender.

It is just amazing that we are getting so many claims from the European Union. Out of those claims, and this is where the word “bogus” comes in, when they actually need to appear before the Immigration and Refugee Board, 95% of those claimants never show up to defend their case. They are saying that they are sorry that they have wasted our time and have taken our money but that they will go back home now. What we are hearing is that they are getting off the plane or the boat, coming from countries like Hungary, the Roma in particular, saying that they are a refugee and then ask for the cheque. They are not even attempting to go through the process of proving that they are disadvantaged in the country that they reside.

The Roma coming from Hungary are essentially 18% of all the claimants that Canada faces. They are the large majority of those coming out of the European Union. That accounts for over 4,400 people, which is an increase of 50% from 2010. Last year, 4,400 people from Hungary tried to claim refugee status here in Canada.

People In the European Union have the freedom to move around without visas and without passports. They get to go back and forth and work in each other's jurisdictions. Therefore, how can these people be economic refugees or political refugees, or be persecuted under a system where they can go anywhere they want within the European Union, where we know there are some great democracies and leaders in human rights and the rule of law?

Belgium only received 188 people from Hungary in 2011. The U.S. only received 47 applicants. France and Norway only received 33 each. We are dealing with 4,400 refugee claimants from Hungary. How is that a fair system when we have people applying who are coming from legitimate countries where they want to get away from war, from government-forced famines or from being persecuted because of their religious beliefs?

This would have a huge savings cost wise for the Canadian taxpayer because we would be removing these people who are just using the system but, more important, it would speed up the system and open the door for legitimate asylum seekers. Those are the ones we want to reach out to and to see overall numbers increase by 2,500 refugees a year, so that Canada's generosity and compassion will still be second to none in the world.

Again I congratulate the minister and his department for their foresight and for going ahead and making these changes so that we can once and for all do away with a system that is broken and allow us to address the real needs of those seeking asylum around the world.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, what we are being told makes no sense. One of the aspects of Bill C-31 would allow the minister to designate so-called safe countries.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade. Not only are we not being given the opportunity to debate at length the free trade agreements signed with minor countries that trade with Canada—such as Jordan, Panama and Honduras—but we also face great challenges. The government obviously is pushing hard to sign these agreements with countries that have serious problems and that cannot guarantee, among other things, the rights of workers, the elimination of problems related to money laundering or, as in the case of Honduras, a solution to the problem of gang violence.

I would like to ask my colleague opposite what there is to gain from allowing the minister to draw up a list of safe countries when government priorities already allow countries whose safety is questionable to make trade agreements with Canada? This makes absolutely no sense to me.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is one thing that is being thrown out, that essentially there is going to be political direction given in determining which countries are on the list. There are going to be thresholds established. There is a process established. There is always the democratic way to ensure that regulations are brought into place, are properly sounded and that the public has a chance to respond to regulations.

Under the protecting Canada's immigration system act, the minister would have the authority to designate countries of origin, but with no sub-national or regional areas designated. Therefore, he has to designate the entire country, not just parts of it.

However, there are triggers for review based on rejection rates, withdrawal and abandonment rates, or qualitative checklists for countries with few refugee claims. For the quantitative criteria, a high rejection rate, which includes withdrawn and abandoned claims, would trigger a review for designation. The actual thresholds would be settled by ministerial order. The government is proposing a threshold of a 75% rejection rate and 60% withdrawal and abandonment rate. Those quantitative triggers would be established through ministerial order, so that allows the regulatory process to go through the gazetted review.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, with the previous Conservative speaker, I raised the issue of a press release issued by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers in response to the bill. The association did not respond very favourably to the bill and the member seemed to give the impression that this was to be expected. It was implied that the people who would have authored this press release would have received more money under the current system. Therefore, one would expect them to oppose the bill.

Would the member acknowledge that the government's position is that the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers is in fact in conflict of interest and therefore anything it has to say on the bill is worth nothing?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quote from Richard Kurland, who is an immigration lawyer. He appeared on CTV's news channel on February 16. He said:

Finally someone recognized that the open wallet approach of the past, offering free education, free medicare, and a welfare cheque to anyone who touched Canadian soil making a refugee claim was not the right thing to do. So I’m glad to see today that finally, after several years, someone has the political courage to take the political risk of saying, if you’re from a European country and you can land in London or Paris or Berlin, fill out paperwork, and legally live there, work there, pay taxes there, you shouldn’t be allowed to make a refugee claim in Canada. Buttress that with this reality check. Over 90 percent, and in some years 95 percent, of the target group, the Roma claimants, didn’t even show up for their oral hearings. They rode on the taxpayer.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am afraid I am going to disappoint the hon. member for London West by saying that we are not going to come on board on this.

Let us talk about some basic levels of fairness. Under this legislation, people coming here from a designated country would be given 15 days to complete the personal information forms and then 30 days to prepare for a refugee hearing. We are talking about people who are traumatized, people who have perhaps fled their country because of violent sexual assault, people who are extremely fragile. We are going to tell them that we want them to complete all of this complicated paperwork in 15 days and then come back with a fully formed argument and defence for their position.

How can anyone in the House believe that is fair treatment for refugees?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

April 23rd, 2012 / 5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of thoughts that come to mind. First, I will share his disappointment that they are not coming on board. If there was an opportunity for them to do that in a thoughtful way, we would certainly appreciate that kind of support. As we go forward, who knows what can happen? However, it may not happen in this case.

Let me say what is not humane. What is not humane is when people, through the system that we have, base their hope on something that is not real. There may well be people who come in through the back door as bogus refugees and I think we would find consensus on both sides of the House that if inappropriate refugees come into Canada and redirect the focus away from people who have done it genuinely, we would want to get rid of those bogus refugees. I think we could find support in that.

What is really the challenge and really inhumane is when people are in the system for years and years and do not have their cases heard because of the significant backlog. That is what is wrong. What we are going to see through Bill C-31 is a significant streamlining that is humane and fair and treats refugees with greater respect.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member would be well advised to recognize that a couple of years ago all parties in the House of Commons acknowledged the need to speed up the process. That is why legislation was passed back then that would have done just that.

Having said that, I would ask the member to imagine a completely legitimate case. Let us imagine that a man comes from a country where his life has been in danger, lands in Canada and becomes a refugee. That is wonderful. Then, after being stamped, he now has to wait to sponsor his wife, which could take another three or four years under the current system. It is being mandated under this particular bill that a qualified refugee is going to have to wait that period of time.

Does the member feel it is in the best interests of a legitimate refugee, who fled a country because of being afraid of losing his or her life or being tortured, to have to wait another three, four, or five years before being able to sponsor a spouse?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, from my perspective, what is in the best interests of refugees who come to this country is to ensure that their cases are heard quickly, in contrast to the current circumstance. By virtue of the backlog and the folks who come in through the back door and do not come in genuinely, the biggest challenge in the system is the massive backlog.

If the member opposite would support streamlining this process, I think we could find accord with the third party as well. That would be very appropriate, and I would encourage him to support it for the very reason he is saying: to streamline this process. That is the humane, fair and right thing to do for refugees.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. The title of this bill is misleading because the only thing the bill protects is the Conservatives' paranoid ideology.

Once again, the Conservatives have a repressive agenda. They want to muster support by making people feel that they are under threat. This is the same kind of tactic we see our neighbours to the south using against illegal immigrants, an easy target for those seeking to drum up support for certain intolerant politicians. As we are seeing with Conservative policies, Canada is quickly becoming Americanized.

To perpetuate the illusion that their Canada is still a different country, the Conservatives are placing disproportionate emphasis on the monarchy and past wars, but those symbols are not relevant to Canadians' day-to-day lives. The Canada we love is an open nation that respects everyone and protects its people from arbitrary rule. We are proud of our past, but we live in 2012, so, back to this bill, which has a lot in common with American policy from the 1960s.

Bill C-31 targets a group of people who are fleeing persecution and suffering. These people are easy targets for the Conservatives because they have no legal status in Canada and no right to vote. The Conservatives can demonize them without suffering any consequences come the next election.

Instead, the Conservatives should tackle human smugglers, those who make money by exploiting human misery and breaking our laws. Illegal immigrants already take huge risks to escape misery. The threat of penalties will not dissuade them from entering Canada illegally. In other words, this bill will just cause more problems for refugees and will do little or nothing to punish smugglers. Do I have to remind the House that these smugglers typically treat illegal immigrants as slaves once they get here? The government should target those who stand to gain from the crime, not victims and desperate people.

I am extremely concerned about several aspects of this bill. First of all, I would like to note the changes to the deadlines that refugees must meet in completing their forms, the basis for their claim. Refugee claimants will have only 15 days to complete and file their applications. That is not long enough. Claimants need to obtain legal advice and must have time to prepare their cases and, above all, to become familiar with how things work in Canada. It is therefore unreasonable to give them only 15 days to complete their applications.

Another aspect of the bill that concerns me is giving the minister the power to create a list of designated countries of origin. Without having to consult any experts, the minister can make decisions that will have serious consequences. This seems arbitrary to me and, considering how the Conservatives have behaved in this House and during the election, many Canadians are worried about this measure.

As I already asked, why is this bill being so hard on illegal immigrants? Under this bill, anyone who arrives in a group will be detained for one year, even 16-year-olds. This typically Conservative “solution” is completely ridiculous. It will not stop illegal immigrants from entering Canada. They are often desperate and are being manipulated by human smugglers. They will not even be aware of the risk of imprisonment that they face when entering Canada illegally. It is unlikely that refugees will have read the Canadian legislation before coming here.

In other words, this will have no deterrent effect. Furthermore, who will have to pay for these detentions? Canadian taxpayers, once again. Before the Conservatives make Canadian taxpayers pay the cost of putting more people in prison, do the Conservatives have even one study that says that this will be beneficial in any way?

This government is looking more and more ridiculous because of its lack of professionalism and rigour. What is unfortunate about all of this is that taxpayers and refugees will be the ones to pay the price.

And what will happen to the young people under 16? They will try to reach Canada with their parents, who will be in prison. Who will take care of the young people? The state, of course, and it will fall to the provinces once again. In other words, the Canadian taxpayers will be on the hook again.

Why impose a 12-month minimum prison sentence? Why send the bill to the provinces yet again? This measure seems both unnecessary and expensive. Of course, increasing the age of imprisonment to 16 is better than throwing a seven year old in jail, but again we have to consider the effects on the children of having their parents in prison for such a long time. What is more, those who will be imprisoned will not even be able to appeal the decision.

The Conservatives are making the provinces pay again. For example, as a result of the Conservatives' policies, Quebeckers will have to foot the bill for creating a new firearms registry, building prisons, taking care of the children of imprisoned illegal immigrants, for the losses resulting from the expropriation of certain copyrights and for using the new Champlain bridge.

The Conservatives also want to balance the budget on the backs of the provinces. By constantly dumping their problems onto Quebec, the Conservatives are only providing ammunition to those who believe federalism is doomed to fail. Even separatists describe the Conservative Prime Minister as a great sovereignist.

Furthermore, those who are deported because their application has been rejected will be barred from applying for permanent residency status for five years. If we add this to the minimum one-year detention for immigrants who arrive from a designated country of origin, it will take more than six years for a person to immigrate. I do not believe that this measure is necessary. Are there studies that suggest this is the approach to be taken?

This bill raises another question. Is it constitutional? The withdrawal of permanent resident status from a person who loses their refugee status without committing a crime seems excessive. It is very likely that there will be Supreme Court challenges because those with refugee status are also protected by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Legitimate applicants may be detained longer than necessary, which contravenes their right to freedom and legal rights. In addition, detaining someone for a minimum of 12 months without reviewing their file contravenes the Charter because it limits that person's right to legal recourse. Minimum detention of 12 month is also cruel for both children and parents and does not allow judges to decide whether or not the risk of reoffending justifies such imprisonment.

To conclude, I would remind the House of how much the Conservatives hate expert opinions, and that this is bad for Canada. In this case, the government is questioning the intelligence of judges and immigration experts. With this bill, the minister and the Conservative Party are claiming to be better qualified to decide the fate of immigrants smuggled into Canada than the experts are. Once again, this is a right-wing policy designed solely to create fear and exacerbate xenophobia. Yes, unfounded refugee claims must be rejected, but our government must not send the message that the doors to Canada are closed—quite the opposite. Imposing a minimum sentence, allowing the minister to decide what countries are acceptable and what countries are not, and separating children from their parents for as long as a year are not acceptable policies.

Regardless, we know that the Conservative government will not admit it is on the wrong track and will not amend its bill.

We must make efforts to prevent human smuggling and to punish smugglers, not the people who are fleeing human misery. It is unfortunate that we are again debating a bill that will not achieve its goal, simply because it is aiming at the wrong target.