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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

5:45 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the member who has just spoken. That is why I am certain that he did not write the speech he just delivered. I imagine that his speech was written by a member of his staff, a young, misinformed and ideological member. It certainly does not reflect the values of his constituents.

I was recently in Montreal, meeting with some of his constituents from the Canadian-Italian community in Montreal. This issue came up. They wanted to know why it was that the number one source region for asylum claims in Canada now is Europe, more than from Africa or Asia. They could not understand, as people of European origin, why folks who can move around with full mobility in a space of 27 democratic countries would be coming to Canada, and Canada alone, to make asylum claims and why virtually none of the claimants actually show up for their hearings, almost all of them abandoning and withdrawing their own claims.

He used some very strong and, I would argue, demagogic and irresponsible language, saying that this approach encourages xenophobia. Does the member not appreciate the fact that we need to address highly organized waves of false claims? Does he not agree with his constituents on that? Is he not willing at least to admit that the government is actually accepting more resettled refugees per capita than any other country in the world and that we are increasing the number of such resettled refugees by 20%, as well as the support we give them? Does he believe that reflects xenophobia?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his question. I have just a couple of clarifications.

He may have been in my riding, but I do not think he met with any of my constituents. Not all Italian-speaking Montrealers live in my constituency. Most of those he met do not live in my riding.

I think it is a general concern, not just in Montreal but everywhere, that we do have to try to minimize some of the refugee claims coming in. In my speech, I did not speak about the refugees who are coming in and making false claims. What I have a problem with is the refugees who are coming in par des passeurs, meaning the people who are organizing these refugees to come in. When a refugee comes in, even if he pays somebody to go around the system, he does not know the Canadian laws. He does not sit there in front of his computer, reading Canadian laws and saying “Once I get to Canada, I am going to be able to get around the refugee act”.

What I have a problem with is that a refugee comes here, has 15 days to prepare for his hearing and, if he does not prepare it appropriately, is going to be detained for a year. That is without speaking about the kids who are going to be sent with another family.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask this question in terms of those who are designated irregular arrivals. I am pretty sure that if I am in a war-torn country where my life is threatened, I am going to pay whoever, however, to get out of that country to save the lives of myself and my family.

What I would like to ask the hon. member to comment on is this. Should those people be penalized who are legitimately fleeing for their lives, who do not have the time to sit there, leaf through a book and say “Okay, I have to do things this way”, who want to get out and who will pay somebody to get them out? Somebody will take advantage of that situation and take advantage of them.

Should those people be penalized in the way the government is looking to penalize them, by having their children stripped from them and being jailed for up to a year?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I agree that most of the people who are desperate will do desperate things, will pay whatever it is and do whatever it is. They are not going to sit in front of their computers or write a letter to the Minister of Justice, asking him what the refugee laws are before they come to Canada, asking if they meet the criteria and whether they should go or not go.

It is totally unacceptable that these people who are actually coming here from a war-torn country, the example the member gave, be penalized and separated from their kids on top of everything else, after some of the tragic circumstances they may come from.

The premise of this bill is that it is starting on a bad footing. I have no problem sending a bill to committee, but when it starts on a negative footing like this, where there are tons of people who are already against it and do not see how it is ever going to be fixed, how can one support a bill of such a fashion?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

April 23rd, 2012 / 5:50 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. minister’s speech. My concerns were not addressed.

One very important aspect that we have discussed quite often and that, unfortunately, has not been addressed satisfactorily is the question of designated foreign nationals in the context of a system of countries targeted as unsafe. The minister and the government are claiming that this approach in itself is going to combat this method of illegal immigration, but they are unable to show us how that might be done.

In the past, they used as their pretext examples of mass illegal immigration, including the arrival by boat of smugglers who exploited the good faith of people who wanted to immigrate to Canada. Then they hand us a bill like this, when a life sentence can already be imposed on people convicted of human smuggling under the existing legislation.

Given that we are unable to prevent this kind of immigration at present, probably because of a lack of resources, how can the minister guarantee to this House that this legislation will really resolve the situation if we do not have the resources to enforce it?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for the question, but, frankly, I am not entirely sure I understood.

I can say that we are increasing prison sentences for human smugglers. For example, fines are imposed on the boat owners who help smuggle people into Canada.

The problem is that it is very difficult to apply Canadian law to the smugglers who live overseas. That is why we need to include deterrents in the bill for the potential clients of the smugglers. That is why we are proposing a five-year temporary residence period instead of permanent residence for immigrants who arrive here illegally and who are recognized as protected persons. We have to have deterrents for the clients in order to reduce the human smuggling market.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the minister is wrong on many points. When he makes reference to the most generous government in terms of immigration into the country, it is not this minister and not this government. If he does not have the facts I can provide him with a copy of the facts, which I would be more than happy to table. The most successful immigration program in recent history is the provincial nominee program which had nothing to do with the current minister or prime minister. It was a Jean Chrétien program. It is in fact the best, fastest growing immigration program.

I have a picture of the Minister of Immigration standing on a ship with the Prime Minister, at the time of the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea, talking about how tough he is going to be on profiteers and human smugglers. In reality, this bill is going to do more damage and make double victims of legitimate refugees who come to our shore. He is making refugees victims again. This is a minister who has a power grab. It is this minister who wants to--

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

I know it has been two weeks, but I would just remind hon. members that the time allocated for questions and comments is limited and they may want to keep about one minute for a question, and a response is in order. Then more hon. members would have the opportunity to pose a question.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, here are some points of fact. The average number of permanent residents admitted from 1993 to 2005 under the previous government was 222,000. Since this government took office in 2006, we have admitted on average 254,000 permanent residents per year, the highest sustained level in Canadian history. With respect to the PN program to which the member referred, in 2005, 4,700 PNs were admitted to Manitoba and this year, 12,000. We have tripled the number of PNs going to Manitoba. We have increased the program overall nationally tenfold. We have increased those numbers.

Finally, why is it that the Liberal Party has not yet offered a single concrete or positive idea to deter human smugglers from putting people's lives at risk by targeting Canada as a place for their odious commerce?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate with the hon. member for Mississauga South, I will let her know that I will have to interrupt her at 15 minutes after the hour as this is the time allocated today for government orders.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have this brief opportunity to discuss Bill C-31 and how it proposes much needed reforms to secure our immigration system.

A number of my colleagues have spoken on this matter and illustrated a number of safeguards Bill C-31 contains to ensure that Canada will take a prudent and balanced approach to protecting the immigration system from abuse. Both the government and opposition parties have noted with pride that Canada has a long tradition of providing protection to those who are in need of it. With Canada accepting 1 out of every 10 refugee claims made in the world, it is very clear that the Canadian system is the most compassionate and generous in the world today. As a government, members on this side of the House have every intention of continuing to build on that great tradition.

Refugees who make honest claims and come to Canada because they truly need protection have nothing to fear. There will always be a place in Canada for them for as long as they need it. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system. We are acting on that mandate. We are creating a faster and fairer immigration system.

The Globe and Mail editorial board has applauded Bill C-31. Listen to what it had to say:

[The] Immigration Minister...['s] refugee reforms, aimed at making the process more efficient and decisive, are generally good. If implemented, they will improve an unwieldy asylum program...

The legislation rightly focuses on weeding out claimants who are not genuine, and stemming the flow of asylum seekers from countries such as Mexico and Hungary that are democracies with respect for basic rights and freedoms....

Fast-tracking refugee claims from these countries, and ensuring failed claimants are promptly deported, is an excellent way to ensure Canada does not become a magnet for abuse. The bill will also implement biometric identification, such as fingerprints and photos, for people who apply for visitor's visas. This welcome change will guard against the use of false identities.

What I would like to see acknowledged by the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party is the fact that the system should have a mechanism in place that allows Canada to deal with refugee claimants who were not honest in their claims and gained permanent residency in our country through fraudulent means. The opposition MPs keep rising in the House and exclaiming that this rule is taking away people's rights. We are committed to preserving the place of people who are legitimately persecuted and make honest refugee claims. Canada will continue to protect these people. Their rights are not in question now and never will be.

The so-called rights in question, the rights that the NDP is trying to defend, must then belong to those who made fraudulent claims. This is patently absurd. It is not a right to defraud the Government of Canada. It is not a right to defraud Canadian taxpayers. It is not a right for refugee claimants to provide false information to the government to gain permanent residency in Canada and with it gain access to Canada's generous system of health and social benefits. The total savings to taxpayers as a result of this bill would be $1.65 billion over five years. If we do not pass this bill, then we will continue to pay up to $170 million per year for bogus EU claimants.

The NDP does not understand this approach and how it will save taxpayers money. Instead, the NDP approach to dealing with someone who manages to sneak by the system, who is able to swindle the system and Canadian taxpayers, is to do nothing. If it is found out that refugee claimants have cheated the system, the NDP wants to reward them by letting them stay in Canada and letting them claim social benefits at the expense of working families for even longer. This is wrong.

We are making sure that fraudulent refugee claimants do not get to benefit from their deception. The comments from NDP members suggest that they are intent on protecting people who cheat the system. The government is trying to close this loophole. Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland has even called the minister a loophole closer. He went on to say:

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 per cent, and in some years 95 per cent, of the target group, the Roma claimants, didn't even show up for their oral hearings. They rode on the taxpayer.

The government has said all along that Bill C-31 would make the immigration system faster and fairer. If members read the bill, they would know that is exactly what we are doing. Just as we are making the immigration system faster and fairer for legitimate refugee claimants who are truly in need of our protection because of persecution in their homeland, we are also making it more efficient to remove those refugee claimants who face no such persecution and those who have managed to cheat the refugee process.

Canadians do not want what the NDP wants, which is to let fraudulent refugee claimants stay in Canada. We must take action to crack down on the abuse of our generous immigration system. Our government is committed to strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system.

The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make our refugee system faster and fairer. This bill would put an end to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, this bill would provide protection more quickly for those who are truly in need. Canada has always made a place for those who have needed our protection. I encourage everyone in this House to support this bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 6:15 p.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, March 12, 2012, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #182

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the amendment defeated.

The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.