Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all members who have participated in this debate over the course of some 23 hours of debate over 5 parliamentary days, 64 members having spoken to the bill, in addition to which this bill was preceded, in part, by Bill C-4. Bill C-31 is subsuming Bill C-4. If we combine the amount of debate on the two bills, we have had 41 hours of debate over 14 days, with 137 speeches, a very fulsome debate, and I do hope that this important bill, an act to protect the integrity of Canada's immigration system, will be referred for close, detailed study to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Allow me, at this point, to respond to some of the concerns and criticisms levelled by opposition members against this balanced effort to protect the integrity of our fair and generous immigration and refugee determination systems.
First, throughout the course of this debate, particularly today, we have heard a level of demagogic rhetoric that I personally regard as being irresponsible.
Thankfully, in this country, we have a broad public consensus in favour of immigration and refugee protection. Thankfully, we have avoided the kind of heated and divisive politics of immigration we see, for example, in certain western European countries. I believe it is incumbent upon all of us as elected representatives to maintain the breadth of that consensus through a responsible and balanced discourse on these issues, not to say that we will always agree on particular features of our asylum or immigration systems but that we should engage in the debate in a responsible way.
I hear opposition members saying, as the deputy leader of the NDP did, that this government is “beating up on refugees”.
When I hear members like the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel say that we are promoting xenophobia, when I hear that the bill is against immigrants and that the government is creating fear, I am in fact hearing irresponsible voices in a debate that calls for us to be very careful and very cautious at all times.
This is really outrageous. Xenophobia, beating up on refugees and anti-immigrant are the kinds of terms we could fairly ascribe au Front national de la France, to the British National Party or to the xenophobic parties of western Europe that are against immigration and refugee protection.
However, here are the facts. This government, objectively speaking, based on the facts, based on the evidence, is the most pro-immigration government in the history of this dominion. Since 2006 we have admitted, on average, 254,000 permanent residents. That represents an increase of 14% over the levels of the previous Liberal government, which admitted 222,000 permanent residents, on average. This represents, under this government, the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history, adding nearly 0.8% to our population per year, the highest per capita levels of immigration in the developed world.
As the Prime Minister has noted, this was one of the only developed countries in the world to maintain robust levels during the global economic downturn, as opposed, for example, to the government of one Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who cut immigration levels almost in half during the early 1990s, or the government of Jean Chrétien, who cut immigration levels from 260,000 under this minister and his colleagues in 1993 to 175,000 in 1995. Those are the facts. The opposition asked us to have evidence-based policy. Here is evidence.
Here is more evidence. We already accept one out of every ten resettled refugees from around the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, we receive more resettled refugees per capita than any country in the world, already, under this so-called xenophobic, anti-refugee government.
However, guess what. Because we so profoundly understand this country's unique vocation as a land of protection for victims of persecution, of ethnic cleansing, of violence, because we understand that from the united empire loyalists to the black slaves who came north through the underground railroad to the victims who fled communist totalitarian states throughout the 20th century, because it was a Conservative government that opened the doors to the Vietnamese-Indochinese refugees in 1979, because we understand that this is in our DNA as a country, this government is increasing the number of convention refugees we accept from around the world by 20%, and we are increasing at a time of fiscal restraint. We are increasing the integration support we give to them by 20%, so we will be far and away the number one recipient of resettled refugees in the world. Therefore, I say to my friends in the opposition how ridiculous and shameful it is to characterize that record as one of xenophobia and promoting “beating up” on refugees.
What the bill before this place seeks to do is to take a balanced approach to refugee protection that exceeds both our charter and UN convention obligations. Our obligation under the charter, as defined by the Supreme Court in the 1985 Singh decision, is very simple. It is to provide to asylum claimants an oral hearing before a competent decision-maker where credibility is an issue. We exceed that requirement by giving all claimants access to a full hearing, regardless of which country they come from or whether such country has been designated by the minister or not, regardless of the means through which they came and whether they came in a smuggling operation or not.
Notwithstanding most of the speeches from the opposition, every single asylum claimant will have access to the same full, fair, independent hearing at the quasi-judicial IRB, in full compliance with natural justice, due process and the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which system, according to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, is the model system in the world for refugee protection. We are maintaining and in fact enhancing that system through the creation, for the first time, of a new full, fact-based appeal and oral hearing afforded failed claimants at the newly created refugee appeal division.
When I hear the hypocrisy about this from my colleagues in the Liberal Party who were in government for 13 years and refused to create a full appeal process for failed refugee claimants and who criticize this government, which is increasing the number of refugees we accept and creating for the first time a refugee appeal division, I say to my friends in the Liberal Party that they should be ashamed.
Our record speaks for itself. We are adding additional procedural protection for failed asylum claimants, but in this context we must deal with the reality that there are far too many who seek to abuse our generosity and that of our asylum system. Nearly two-thirds of asylum claimants are determined or deemed not to be well-founded claimants. Many of them, if not most, are manifestly fraudulent claimants who come here. They ought to come through the regular immigration procedures but very often are advised by consultants and maybe lawyers. We have had lawyers actually charged recently for coaching people to make fake asylum claims. People who are coached sometimes unwittingly go along with this to make false claims when they do not actually have a well-founded fear of persecution, which is the test in the convention for refugee protection. This has become an acute problem coming from certain democratic countries.
No country in the world is perfect. Certainly, none of the countries in the European Union are. However, it is a space that allows full mobility within 27 democratic member states, so why is it that Canada would be getting 90% of the asylum claims from around the world from the European Union? Why is it that almost 100% of those claimants do not show up for their own claim but rather abandon and withdraw the claims of their own volition? This is rather clear evidence that there is a highly organized wave of unfounded claims. That is not to say that their lives are perfect in Europe, but clearly by their own admission they do not need our protection. That is why we propose an accelerated process with limited appeals for people coming from designated countries. That is not to say that the minister would interfere in the decision-making process. That is nonsense. This is a full, independent, quasi-judicial decision that every claimant would benefit from.
I would further point out that this bill would allow us to give protection and certainty to bona fide asylum claimants in two to three months rather than two years. It would also allow us to remove from Canada false asylum claimants who have had the benefit of due process in a few months rather than several years, allowing them to restart their lives back in their countries of origin instead of abusing the generosity of Canadian taxpayers.
This is a balanced approach that respects our moral and legal obligations toward refugees. I am proud to support it.