Mr. Speaker, I am glad to offer my contribution to this vital debate about the future of Canada's internationally renowned immigration system.
I am sure all hon. members in the House can agree that it is crucial to Canada's national interest that our immigration system functions fairly, effectively and with integrity.
If enacted, the measures in Bill C-31, otherwise known as protecting Canada's immigration system act, would help ensure that the immigration system would continue to function in a just way.
Let us not mince words. Our immigration system is one of Canada's greatest assets. It is one of the reasons we have the great country we do today.
I think of my own riding in Barrie, Ontario and of some of the people from Barrie who have come to Canada recently. They represent some of the best values to which we could ever aspire.
I think of Beethoven Crasco who, when he first came here, was working two jobs to support his family and still found time to volunteer at our local hospital.
I think of Tahir Nawaz who within a few years of coming here organized a large fundraiser for the Red Cross as he wanted to give back and be engaged in the community.
I think of Aaron Sureshkumar who, after coming from Sri Lanka and working tirelessly, managed to not only find a job, but created and opened his own factory producing hot tub covers, which are now being sold all across North America. Coming here with very little, he now employs dozens in Barrie and is opening an expansion.
That type of work ethic embodies the Canadian spirit unequivocally.
I know most MPs go to citizenship ceremonies. We can never have better example of why we appreciate immigration than those ceremonies. I remember going to my first one when I was on city council 12 years ago and seeing a new Canadian cry at the thought of getting her citizenship. It really is inspiring. It reminds us of why we live in such an amazing country.
Immigration has brought countless newcomers and their descendants to our shores, immigrants who have brought immeasurable benefits to Canada's development, have contributed to the richness and diversity of our country and have helped make it the free and prosperous society it is today. Therefore, it is our duty as legislators to ensure that we enact laws that protect and ensure the strength of our immigration system.
The measures in Bill C-31, once enacted, will do exactly that, so I am happy to support this legislation.
I would like to speak today about one of the important pieces of the protecting Canada's immigration system act. The measures in this legislation will enable the introduction of biometric technology for the mandatory screening of temporary resident applicants.
As members know, Bill C-31 would also help carry out long needed reforms to the refugee system and would help crackdown on human smugglers who may try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system.
Regarding biometrics, the Montreal Gazette had this to say in a recent editorial on the bill we are debating today. It wrote:
The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities.
I agree with this analysis. I would go even further and echo the words of our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who has described the implementation of biometric screening of visa applicants as a “historic” development in Canada's immigration system.
Under our current system, when individuals make immigration applications, in most cases they only need to initially provide written documents to support their applications. A modern immigration system can do a better job in ensuring security. How? Let me provide an explanation of how this new system would work.
Essentially, the legislation under consideration today, and the regulations that will follow, will allow the Government of Canada to make it mandatory for travellers, students and workers from prescribed visa-required countries and territories to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa study permit or work permit applications.
That is it in a nutshell. It will simply mean the photos and prints will be collected as part of a standard visa application process. For overseas applicants, they would be collected before the applicant arrives in Canada. This will help with processing visa applications and later with confirming the identity of visa holders when they arrive at our borders.
The introduction of biometrics as an identity-management tool and our immigration and border control system is a welcome development that has been a long time in coming and long overdue. It is also something that will bring Canada up to speed with what is quickly becoming the international standard in this domain. Many governments around the world have already introduced biometric collection in their immigration and border programs. Here are some examples: the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia to name a few.
Although it is a long time in coming for Canada, the fact that so many other countries have already adopted biometrics brings a side benefit. Many visa applicants to Canada will already be familiar with the process. This will make for a very smooth transition to the system. Also, because other countries have already gone through the transition to biometrics, we already know that there is normally only a small, short-term drop in application volumes following the implementation of biometrics.
It would be difficult to argue that what I am describing here is anything but efficient, effective and a straightforward process. In terms of the security of the immigration system, implementing biometrics will help stop known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using false identity to obtain a Canadian visa.
Biometrics will help improve the integrity of our immigration system and will bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool to help confirm identity. This will greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applicants and the growing sophistication in identity fraud. It will provide great benefits to the Canadian officials making visa applications and border entry decisions.
At the same time, it will be beneficial to applicants because in the long run the use of biometrics will facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants. For instance, in cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain, biometrics could expedite decision making at Canadian points of entry. Using biometrics could also protect visa applicants by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use an applicant's identity to gain access into Canada.
Finally, Canada has committed to the exchange of biometric information with the United States beginning in 2014. This will help both Canadian and U.S. authorities spot failed refugee claimants, deportees, previously refused applicants and applicants using fraudulent identities before they get to North America. This initiative is part of our two countries' action plan on perimeter security and economic competitiveness, which provides a practical road map for enhancing security, while speeding up legitimate trade and travel across the Canada-U.S. border.
Let me give a few practical examples of why biometrics is fundamentally necessary in Canada. Let us take the example of Esron Laing and David Wilson, who were convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. They returned to Canada on three different occasions. In fact, they are known as the “Yo-Yo Bandits” because just like a yo-yo, they kept coming back.
I know that three times does not seem like a high number, but I am sad to say that many serious criminals are deported and manage to return to Canada many more times than that. For example, Anthony Hakim Saunders was convicted of assault and drug trafficking. He was deported on 10 different occasions. That is right, an astonishing 10 different times. Just like the “Yo-Yo Bandits”, he kept returning.
Edmund Ezemo was convicted of more than 30 charges, including identity theft and fraud. He was deported and returned to Canada eight times.
Dale Anthony Wyatt was convicted of trafficking drugs and possession of illegal weapons. He was deported and returned to Canada on at least four separate occasions.
Unfortunately this is only a tiny sample of the examples I could use to illustrate the number of people who are not eligible to come to Canada but do.
The many benefits of introducing biometric technology for screening visa applicants makes it a welcome and historic development for our immigration system. Furthermore, the use of biometrics is increasingly becoming the international norm. By passing Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, we will be ensuring that Canada keeps up with the many other countries in the world already using this system.
For this reason and many others, I will be supporting the bill wholeheartedly. I encourage all members of the House to do the same.