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House of Commons Hansard #126 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

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member made reference to the issue of mandatory detention and then alluded to the current system. What I have been saying for quite a while now is that we, meaning the immigration and citizenship committee, have been told that the current system of detention was actually working quite well. It was proven to be effective. It was holding people in detention for as long as was necessary to alleviate both public security and health concerns.

It raises the question of why the government would change something that appeared to be working quite well. It had nothing to do with the processing times that all parties are concerned about and everything to do with how to detain someone. That system seemed to work, so why would the government want to make that change at this time? What does the member suspect is the motivator?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to speculate as to the government's motivation for bringing in this change. However, I do share his concern that children, for example, could be detained under this legislation. I do not think that is right or appropriate.

I also share his concern that just a year ago, all parties agreed on changes to the immigration and refugee legislation. There was a balanced approach, and while no one felt it was perfect, there was compromise. There has not even been time for that legislation to be fully implemented and for us to see the outcome of that legislation, and now the minister wants to sweep aside that compromise and bring in these changes, which is troubling to many of those who are directly affected.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Before I get into the bill, I want to give a little background about the riding I represent and the people who make up the wonderful riding of Richmond Hill in Ontario. Richmond Hill is nestled in the heart of the GTA. It is one of the most diverse communities in the country consisting of Canadian citizenships, landed immigrants and people aspiring to become citizenships who come from virtually every nation in the world. In fact, in the greater Toronto area in which I reside, over 150 dialects are spoken on a daily basis. I am very much in touch with the needs of the multicultural community and what it means to come to Canada for a better life for themselves and their families and to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in this wonderful nation in which we live.

I feel compelled to voice in the House what I hear from the people who reside in the great riding of Richmond Hill with respect to Bill C-31. I am hoping that, in the short time that I have, I will be able to properly articulate their views on this legislation since a large percentage of the people who reside in my riding were immigrants to this country at one time or another.

We have heard opposition members state their position. There are a few things that need to be again highlighted to bring the subject into proper focus. I think we all agree in the House and certainly Canadians agree across this nation that Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, Canadians have no tolerance for people who abuse our generosity. It is a responsibility of parliamentarians and certainly the government to take the proper measures to crack down on those who abuse that generosity. Protecting Canada's immigration system act would make our refugee system faster and fairer.

I will provide a plain statistic. Processing an application today of a refugee claimant in our country takes an average of 1,038 days. That would be reduced to 45 days for those who are claiming refuge in Canada from designated countries and 216 days for those from other countries around the world. Imagine someone who is persecuted, whose life is threatened and has been tortured, comes to Canada for a better life and is tied up in a system for 1,038 days while bogus claimants are clogging up the system? Imagine people coming here for a better life and waiting the better part of three years for their application to be decided on before they can start contributing to Canada as a viable new immigrant to this country. The measures in Bill C-31 would ensure that the people who need it the most get into the country a lot faster. That, I submit, is a very compassionate approach to refugee reform.

I applaud the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for the courage he has shown in spearheading this through. That is what members are hearing in their ridings and it is certainly what I am hearing in my riding, that we need to be compassionate and look after those in need. If we clog them up in the system after they have come to this country and they do not know what is happening or what will happen for the next two and a half to three years, that is not showing compassion.

Unfortunately, human smuggling is a very lucrative business and there are those who engage in that disgraceful act of preying on those in need for financial profit. We need to crack down on those people because, in my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of every member in this House, there is no place in Canada for human smugglers to prosper. We should close every possible loophole we have to eliminate that possibility from happening.

We have a responsibility as a government and that responsibility is predicated upon the fact that Canadians expect us to ensure that those people who are welcomed into our country are properly identified so that we know who is going to walk the streets beside our families, live in our communities and work with us in our place of employment.

This bill would provide for a significant investment in the identification of people and that is the concept of biometrics. Biometrics is a 21st century identification tool that we have heard is very much a positive step for us take. We have heard it from law enforcement agencies across this country, including the RCMP, the CBSA and CSIS.

It makes sense to Canadians and it should make sense to all of us that we know the identity of individuals before we allow them to walk on our soil in, before they walk beside our families, before they work in our communities and before they shop where we shop. We need to know their identity. Biometrics is a method that will help us to more quickly identify people who want to come into our country. It is something that should be applauded by all members in this House. I do not think anyone would want people here who have perpetrated a war crime, who are a security risk in their own country, who have done prison time or who are criminals who came over here on a ship and have thrown their records into the water so they cannot be identified when they arrive.

I cannot imagine any Canadian saying that we should let people into our country without identifying them, that they have said that they are refugees and we should believe them.

It is a responsibility of our government to ensure that we look after the safety and security of Canadians first. It is also our responsibility to ensure that our good nature is not taken advantage of by those who come here claiming they are refugees, take the benefits and then shortly thereafter leave. It is does not make sense. It boggles the mind that 95%, if not more, of applicants from the European Union either abandon, withdraw their claim or the refugee board deems them inappropriate or inadmissible to Canada.

Those people tie up the system and that is at a cost of about $170 million per year to the Canadian taxpayer. I think it is critically important for us to ensure that people who claim to be a refugee or claim that they being persecuted in a European Union country is a legitimate refugee. It is important for all of us to realize that the European Union is a union of 27 democratically elected nations. The first choice that someone who feels they are being persecuted would have would be one of the other 26 countries before they would come to Canada. That would only makes sense. They are democratically elected nations.

In closing, I will t quote what some others have said. In an article in the Edmonton Journal dated February 17, 2012, it states:

Good moves on refugees.

Given the financial stress placed on our system by those numbers, there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective means of weeding out the bogus claimants from Europe and elsewhere.

A Toronto Star editorial from February 21, 2012, reads:

...[the Minister of Immigration]'s latest reform plan would reduce the current backlog of 42,000 refugee claims; cut the processing time for asylum seekers from "safe countries" to 45 days...and save money.

Ian Capstick, MediaStyle NDP commentator on CBC's Power and Politics, as early as February 16, 2012, stated, “Obviously there are certain countries like the United States of America, for instance, in which...we should accept no refugees from”.

I would ask all of the members of the House to consider the importance of this legislation and vote for it as quickly as possible for the betterment of Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was very pleasant working with my colleague on the committee, even though he did make a mistake and did not vote for any of the amendments I proposed.

I want to set the record straight about people within the European Union. People within the European Union do have mobility. They can go into another state and look for a job. However, my understanding from the witnesses we heard is that they have 90 days within which to find work or they have to move on. However, under the agreement reached by the EU, they cannot, while they are there, claim asylum on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. That was the information that was shared with us by the representative from the EU.

If there is not the potential for, let us say, a Roma to leave Czechoslovakia and go to France and be able to claim asylum, why would we keep using that argument over and over again?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the good work she did on the committee. As much as I like her on a personal level, I could not find myself voting on any of those amendments as they were in contradiction to what it is we are trying to accomplish here, which is to make a faster, fairer refugee system that will allow legitimate people into the country a lot faster.

In response to the question, the minister has been very clear and he has only commented on trends of asylum claim finalizations. Virtually all asylum claims from the European Union have been withdrawn or abandoned by the claimants themselves, or rejected by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, indicating that these claimants have not been in need of Canada's protection. In the vast majority of cases, these decisions have been made by the claimants themselves through abandonment and withdrawal. The point is that over 95% of these claims are bogus claims, and we need to wake up to that fact.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the efforts that the member made in committee. I enjoyed listening to his questions. I thought they were good questions, well put and so forth.

I want to ask a different type of question that I have asked other members, and that is with regard to the safe country list. The member was at committee listening to all the presenters. I think he recognizes that Canada does need to establish a safe country list. All political parties support that, or at least the three main political parties support having a safe country list. Where we differ in our opinions is on the manner by which countries are placed onto that list.

Can the member recall anything in committee where the suggestion would have been made or implied that it would be better to have the minister determine what is a safe country, versus an advisory group or a panel? I thought an advisory group or a panel would have been better than having the minister himself do it. I think an amendment to re-establish what was previously agreed to would be well received if, in fact, that amendment were put here in the House or even possibly in the Senate.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Conservative Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the good work he does on the committee. I found his voice to be a voice of reason and understanding. He spoke in favour of many of the positive points of Bill C-31 on repeated occasions.

In fact, let me quote him. The Liberal immigration critic, the hon. member of Parliament for Winnipeg North, was quoted in the March 30 edition of the Vancouver Courier, as saying, “In principle I support the need to make quick decisions in regards to refugees”. That is a telltale signal of how he feels about the legislation.

However, I will quote somebody else I know he feels very close to, although I do not. This is what that person had to say: “I want a legitimate, lawful refugee system that, to get to the openness point, welcomes genuine refugees”. He then says, “Look, there are a number of countries in the world in which we cannot accept a bona fide refugee claim because you don't have cause, you don't have just cause coming from those countries” and “otherwise we'll have refugee fraud, and nobody wants that”. That was in the Saint John Board of Trade on August 13, 2009, from none other than the former leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand today to add my voice in opposition to this legislation, the anti-refugee bill, and in support of the NDP amendments.

As New Democrats, we oppose the bill because we will not support the punishment of asylum seekers, and that is exactly what the bill would do.

We also believe the Conservative government should change the title of the bill to “the punishing refugees act”. The title of the bill should reflect the nature of its content. If we are to be honest with Canadians, we need to tell them what the minister is doing and the true direction we are headed under the government.

Canadians are proud of our country's tradition of providing protection for those in need. With the passing of Bill C-31, the Conservative government will effectively be killing this tradition.

For over two weeks, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration heard from witnesses who spoke on the content of Bill C-31. Witness after witness told us this legislation was fundamentally flawed, unconstitutional and concentrated too much power in the hands of one minister.

The well-informed opinion of these witnesses should not be taken lightly. We are talking about witnesses representing Amnesty International, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canada Research Chair in Global Migration Studies and front-line workers who provide legal, medical and psychological support to people who have fled persecution. These are experts in this field. They know far more about this topic than many in this room. Therefore, their testimony should be taken seriously and simply not ignored, which is exactly what the government is currently doing.

As I stand in the House, a key component of our highly respected democracy, with plush carpets and clean water, food to eat, peace in our country, I am reminded that elsewhere in the country and around the world people are not so lucky.

Right now, at this very moment, people are being persecuted, are experiencing discrimination, are living through conflict, public unrest and general instability, and some are forced to make the decision to flee the only home they have ever known, fleeing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

People flee their country because they are desperate and they have no other option if they want to ensure the safety of their families. However, with the passing of Bill C-31, if they come to our country as asylum seekers, much like my father did, depending on their means of arrival and undefined number of people they arrive with, instead of being treated like human beings they will be treated like criminals, treated as guilty until proven innocent. We all know that is not the Canadian standard.

The bill would punish victims of persecution and victims of human smuggling. It would punish those who, because of a lack of money or option, would do whatever it takes to keep their families safe. I ask my colleagues in the House to empathize and put themselves in their situation. I ask them to think for a moment of what they would do to keep their partner, their children, their mother, their grandmother safe. If they needed to, would they run, flee the country that was unsafe through any means?

The Conservatives refuse to accept that our system currently works. We already capture the real criminals and deport them. The sentence for human smuggling is already the most punitive it can be in our country, life in prison and a fine of $1 million, yet we continuously hear members opposite saying that we need to take away the rights of victim in order to catch the human smugglers. The bill would do nothing to catch human smugglers. It would punish refugees and refugee claimants and not the human smugglers.

Instead of targeting the illegal smuggling rings, the Conservatives would rather arbitrarily designate some refugees as “irregular arrivals” and incarcerate all of them. Now, upon arrival, designated refugees will be held in provincial jails, handcuffed and treated like prisoners, with minimal review.

New Democrats are opposed to the measures in the bill precisely because Canada will now be known for punishing the most vulnerable and traumatized people in the world.

My constituents are concerned. Some of the refugees who were on the MV Sun Sea and Ocean Lady live in my riding of Scarborough-Rouge River. They have been given refugee protection by our government. They are making a home in our neighbourhoods, contributing to our economy and giving back to our community.

As the designated foreign national category is retroactive to 2009, these valuable members of our community who came on these two migrant vessels, along with future so-called irregular arrivals, will now be treated as second-class citizens under the new two-tier refugee treatment system that will be created.

Under the bill they, and all so-called designated refugees, would be barred from applying for permanent residence for five years. This is different from all other refugees, who are allowed to apply for permanent residency immediately. The bar would prevent families from reuniting for five years and further as they went through the already lengthy sponsorship system.

We are separating children from their parents. If fathers or mothers flee their country to make way for their children, they would now be separated from their families for a minimum of at least seven years. Children who are 13 will be young adults by the time they would see their mother and father again. Formative years of their life will be lived spent away from their parents.

Further, by the time their parents would be eligible to actually sponsor them, the children may not qualify as dependents anymore, meaning that they will now be forced to live permanently separated from their parents and parents separated from their children.

We could have made the bill better. New Democrats proposed concrete changes to the bill. It was a disappointment to the witnesses, the stakeholders and all involved when all of these good propositions that would have provided improvements to the bill were opposed by the government time and time again.

While baby steps were taken, none of the NDP's substantive amendments were adopted by the government members in the committee.

New Democrats have a better solution to our refugee and immigration system. In fact, just last year, all parties compromised to pass Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. That bill was applauded by our current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

Bill C-31, however, ignores these compromises and includes all of the worst parts of the former Bill C-11.

What is worse is that Bill C-31 will pass before we will even have the chance to see the outcome of the changes included in Bill C-31. The government has not even allowed for the changes to take place.

One of the most troublesome measures that the Conservatives refused to revise is impossibly tight timelines for submitting an application to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The refugee system is being set up to fail. The asylum seekers are being set up to fail.

Witness after witness, including the Conservatives' own witnesses, said that these timelines were too short, that they would create incomplete and inaccurate applications. On top of that, some refugees would be refused the right to appeal their application.

We all know, unfortunately, that mistakes can be made at the IRB. The board is not perfect. With cuts to its budget and limited resources to hire adjudicators, the likelihood that mistakes will occur would be even greater. New information could come to light after an expedited claim is mistakenly processed. Without access to an appeal, this information may never be heard.

The consequences of these decisions could truly mean life or death.

Banning access to an appeal for some claimants undermines the international obligations to refugees.

A further dangerous consequence of the bill is that the power to designate a country as safe for all is concentrated solely in the hands of the minister. No country is truly safe. A country that may be safe for some residents may be unsafe for other residents.

Impartiality toward the development and maintenance of this list is extremely important. It is confusing why Bill C-31 would remove the safeguard of having a panel of experts maintain and review this list, as was decreed in Bill C-11 .

We have earned a gold standard on how we treat refugees fleeing persecution in the world. The current government is tarnishing our earned reputation. The Conservatives' changes to the refugee and immigration system will erode Canada's humanitarian reputation around the world.

I cannot support the bill and the move to a discriminatory refugee and immigration system. I cannot support the punishment of asylum seekers and refugees. That is why I oppose the bill and support the amendments put forward by the NDP.

The government needs to abandon the legislation and go back to the drawing board.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, that counts as one of the least helpful, misinformed and frankly arrogant speeches I have heard out of dozens offered in this place over the course of two Parliaments on the issue of asylum reform.

When I say arrogance I mean, for example, that the member speaks about ignoring the witnesses because she only seems to give any plausibility to the witnesses of the ideological left who agree with her position. She gives no credence whatsoever to the many witnesses who testified in favour of this bill and its many provisions.

There are two things I find most disturbing, though, about that speech.

The first is her hyperbolic and demagogic rhetoric suggesting that this bill represents a killing of our tradition of refugee protection. Will she not recognize that the government is actually increasing by 20% the number of resettled refugees we accept, so we would be the largest recipient of resettled refugees per capita in the world? Does she characterize that as killing our tradition? Will she not recognize that these reforms would create for the first time ever a full fact-based appeal, which has never before existed in our system, which would benefit the vast majority of failed asylum claimants? Does she think that is killing our tradition of refugee protection?

The second is this. What does she propose to do to stop human smugglers from targeting Canada? She has not said a single word that would be a constructive idea to deter people from committing to pay $40,000 to $50,000 a year to a bunch of gangsters to come to Canada illegally and dangerously. Is her idea to do nothing?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will repeat some of what I mentioned in my speech.

Witness after witness, including Conservative witnesses, spoke of the unconstitutionality of the bill and the impossible timelines that are being set out in the bill. Yet the minister seems to have not heard the government's own Conservative witnesses either, apparently, because when amendments were proposed in the committee, they fell on deaf ears. The Conservative members voted against them time and time again, even when the Conservatives own witnesses were being quoted in support of the amendments and against the timelines. Apparently I only hear the NDP witnesses, when we really did take into account all the witness statements that were presented to the committee.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, would the member be able to provide some comment in regard to the two ships, the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, both of which landed on our shores a couple of years back? If this particular bill is passed, and we anticipate that it will be because there is a majority government, it would give the minister of immigration the power to retroactively classify those individuals who came to Canada on those two ships as irregulars, which would have a fairly significant impact on their future.

Would the member provide any comment with respect to the retroactivity of this particular bill?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North for the question and the work he has done on the citizenship and immigration committee.

With respect to the retroactive nature of the minister's right to designate people as irregular arrivals, the fact that it specifically goes back to 2009 is odd. However, it is understandable based on the minister's comments in the last Parliament when he said that the anti-refugee bill he introduced then was specifically targeted because of the Tamil migrants who came to Canada by the Ocean Lady and the migrant vessel Sun Sea and that he needed to stop migrants from arriving in Canada in this fashion.

My people, the Tamil people, were fleeing persecution when they threw themselves onto a rickety cargo boat and held their lives in their hands for two months. We know that one man actually perished on the voyage over on the MV Sun Sea. They are now contributing to our economy and communities in Canada. The fact that this bill would give the minister the ability to now designate them as irregular arrivals and send them back to persecution is absolutely wrong. That is all I can say.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak to Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act and at report stage.

The amendments put forward by the opposition speak volumes about the real agenda in this place. When in front of the cameras, the NDP and Liberals claim they want to make Parliament work, but when the media is gone, their actions prove to be the complete opposite.

Our government listened closely to the thoughtful testimony given by each of the dozens of witnesses who appeared at our committee. We have also said that our government's focus is on passing a bill that is as strong and effective as possible.

Accordingly, we agreed to reasonable amendments that furthered the goals and principles of this bill. Even the NDP immigration critic praised our government at committee for its willingness to make this bill even better. Unfortunately, with these report stage amendments, the opposition NDP and Liberals have shown yet again that they refuse to do anything other than continue to be blindly partisan and that they are not here to work together on a better piece of legislation that is in the best interests of all Canadians and most importantly in the best interest of genuine refugees who truly are in need of Canada's protection.

Let me explain to this House and to Canadians the consequences of these amendments put forth by the opposition if they were to be adopted and if the bill were to be completely gutted.

Canada's asylum system is internationally renowned for its fairness. Not only does it respect our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN convention on refugees; it actually exceeds both. Indeed, Canada is one of the largest recipients of asylum claims, even though we are isolated geographically compared to most other countries. Many people come here great distances from around the globe to seek asylum here.

Consistently, the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, IRB, has delivered rulings that show that the majority of claims overall are unfounded. In 2011, 62% of all claims were either rejected by the IRB of Canada or abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants themselves.

To focus on one particular area, there were more than 5,800 new refugee claims from European Union nationals last year. Shockingly, this is more than we receive from countries like Africa or Asia. Not only that, but virtually all the claims from the European Union are withdrawn or abandoned by the claimants themselves or rejected by the independent IRB. In fact, 95% fit this category.

If the current rate of rejected, abandoned and withdrawn claims continues, it will come at a cost to the taxpayer. Last year, the cost to Canadian taxpayers for the unfounded claims was nearly $170 million. We believe that the reason we see so many of these rejected claimants travel so far to seek asylum here is that the current system invites them to do so. It is like a pull factor. The ability to quickly access our generous taxpayer-funded social and health benefits is definitely the pull factor for some of these people. It has become quite clear that our current refugee system is ripe for abuse.

The reality is that, instead of waiting patiently to come to Canada through the immigration process, too many people are trying to use our asylum system as a back door to gain entry into Canada. Through Bill C-31, we intend to strike the right balance with our refugee system in order to deter abuse of our country's generosity and the generosity of Canadian taxpayers like those in my riding of Scarborough Centre.

We also wish to discourage the horrible crime of human smuggling by building on existing criminal prohibitions that target human smugglers. Bill C-31 would make it easier to prosecute these cases and would provide for mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment for those convicted of this serious crime.

There is no doubt that Canada has become a target for the highly lucrative and lethal practice of human smuggling. The recent tragic loss of life involving a sailboat with four nationals aboard, which ran into trouble off the coast of Nova Scotia leaving one man dead and three sailors lost at sea, is a prime example of the danger that irregular travel to Canada can create.

The government had no way of knowing that these people were coming, and since this vessel was not registered, it is quite clear that something irregular was going on. This is a matter of great concern to our government, but it should also concern all Canadians. Tragically, the end result of this perilous voyage was disastrous for all those involved.

This crime threatens both Canada's security and the lives of many desperate people who seek the services of smugglers from around the world. The government, therefore, has both a legal and a moral obligation to put an end to these criminal operations.

Given all these factors, it is imperative that we find a way to deter abuse of our immigration and refugee system. Bill C-31 would allow us to do just that.

First we must try to reduce the pull factors that entice disingenuous claimants from coming to Canada. Under the current asylum system, long wait times make Canada a much more attractive target for those who wish to game the system. While they wait for their claims to be processed, failed claimants can work in Canada and have access to our generous social support systems, like welfare in my province of Ontario.

Designated countries of origin are countries that do not generally produce refugees. Claimants from those countries would still get a fair and independent hearing, but they would be processed in about 45 days, compared to 1,038 days under the current system. The bill would also further streamline the process by limiting access to appeals for groups, such as those with manifestly unfounded claims, or claims with no credible basis. We would also prevent refugee claimants from submitting a claim at the same time as they apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Following a negative decision from the IRB, Bill C-31 would also bar claimants from submitting the humanitarian and compassionate applications for one year.

In order to have an effective immigration system we need faster decisions, which must be complemented by timely removals. An expanded assisted voluntary returns and reintegration program would help failed refugee claimants leave Canada more quickly and voluntarily and would help them make a fresh start in their home countries.

With regard to human smuggling, the legislation would deter human smugglers from targeting Canada with their dangerous voyages. Bill C-31 would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would also strengthen the criminal law's response to human smuggling. The bill would make ship owners and operators accountable for use of their ships in human smuggling operations, and it would introduce stiffer penalties and fines, including mandatory minimum prison sentences, for those convicted of human smuggling.

With the passage of Bill C-31, the government would continue to honour the values Canadians hold dear by ensuring that our asylum system remains fair to those who truly need our protection. By discouraging and reducing abuse of our refugee system, we would be able to direct more of our resources to those refugees who actually need them.

We believe these measures are necessary and we believe these measures are fair. We believe that Bill C-31 lives up to its title and, if passed, would indeed protect Canada's immigration system so that it would serve Canadians. Unfortunately, if the opposition amendments were adopted, the entire bill would be gutted and we would not be able to improve our refugee determination system. If the opposition NDP and Liberals got their way, genuine refugees fleeing persecution, death and torture would have to wait longer to receive Canada's much-needed protection. Hard-working Canadian taxpayers, like those in my constituency of Scarborough Centre, would continue to be forced to foot the bill for bogus claimants who are here for the sole reason of soaking up taxpayer-funded health care and welfare benefits.

It is for these reasons that I urge my colleagues to vote against these irresponsible and shameful amendments, amendments that are a detriment to genuine refugees and all of the hard-working Canadian taxpayers in our great country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, a lot has been said by the government, in particular about this problem of 95% of the refugee claimants from European countries not bothering to come for their hearings. That is what Bill C-11, in the previous Parliament, was supposed to fix, and will fix as of June of this year.

With the exception of giving the minister the power to determine which countries are safe, why are we in a rush to do what will actually be fixed if we just let the law we passed some time ago take place? What is so urgent, when we have a law coming into place to do exactly what the government says this bill was supposed to do?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to our refugee system and those who are seeking to come to Canada, that is not a static issue.

I will quote some figures, and I am going to speak specifically of Hungary. The number of refugee claims from Hungary alone in 2011 was 4,400. That was almost fifty percent more from the previous year, in 2010, when it was only 2,300. Obviously the number of asylum claims coming into Canada does not remain the same. I hope the hon. member across the way can recognize that.

This allows me the opportunity to speak to a previous comment that was made by the member for Parkdale—High Park. She was specifically talking about a group of 100 Roma who had come to Canada last year and were accepted as refugees.

I want to clearly stipulate that I quoted the number 4,400 for last year. If the 100 Roma the member was talking about were legitimate refugees, they would also have the opportunity to be heard under the new system and they would have gained access to Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I remember in committee that this member, more than anyone else, had a focus on the issue of detention facilities. I remember one incident when she made reference to the fact that refugees should not be expecting to come to Canada and go to a five-star hotel with little chocolates on the pillow and so forth. I am sure she can recall when she alluded that. I might have misquoted that a bit, but the member could always provide clarification.

Having said that, what we found is that there is a high percentage of refugees in detention who end up in provincial institutions because we do not have adequate space in our detention centres. They are far from first-class hotel services. They are in fact jails. I wonder if the member might want to expand on her hotel theory of a detention centre so members of the House would be familiar with what kind of detention situations we are expecting refugees to be held in.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Conservative Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that the opposition parties in committee clearly stated they have a problem with detention as it exists today. It is not necessarily the measures that are coming forth in this particular bill; they actually have a problem with the word “detention” and what it strives to do.

Of the witnesses who were put forward by the opposition parties, one particular witness indicated that 10% of those who arrive in irregular mass arrivals might be a potential problem but the other 90% are okay so therefore we should allow them to all be released into society.

I was elected on May 2 to stand up and represent the constituency of Scarborough Centre. I take this responsibility extremely seriously. One of the main responsibilities of any government is the safety and security of its citizens, and that is precisely what this bill is doing, what I am doing and what this government is doing.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, Official Languages; the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, The Environment; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Infrastructure.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House today to speak to the report stage amendments to Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, which has been introduced by the opposition at report stage.

Some of my hon. colleagues have already spoken about the negative impact the measures in this legislation would have on the government's ability to carry out badly needed reforms to the refugee determination system, reforms Canadians have asked for and expect. Others have spoken about how these measures will prevent the government from being able to crack down on criminal human smugglers who try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system.

In my allotted time today I would like to focus my remarks on how the opposition's irresponsible amendments to gut Bill C-31 will prevent the government from being able to introduce biometric technology for screening temporary resident applicants.

The introduction of biometrics would strengthen our immigration program in a number of ways. As members may be aware, there are several examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who have entered Canada in the past, sometimes repeatedly, by concealing or misrepresenting themselves and their history.

Let me give a few examples. Esron Laing and David Wilson were convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. They returned to Canada three different times. 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 seems 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.

Another example is Anthony Hakim Saunders, who was convicted of assault and drug trafficking. He was deported on 10 different occasions. That is right. It was an astonishing 10 different times. Just like the yo-yo bandits, he kept returning.

Edmund Ezemo was convicted of more than 30 charges, including 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.

Kevin Michael Sawyers was convicted of manslaughter. He was deported and returned to Canada twice.

Then there is Melando Yaphet Streety, who served a jail sentence in Canada after he was linked to four underage girls working in Toronto's sex trade. This criminal was deported and returned to Canada within the same year. That is right, all within the same year. Once he returned to Canada, he continued his life of crime.

The use of biometrics would help us prevent these criminals from entering Canada. Let me briefly explain how. Under the existing system, visa applicants only need to initially provide written documents to support their applications. Biometrics, photographs and fingerprints would provide greater certainty in identifying travellers than documents that can be forged or stolen.

In a nutshell, Bill C-31 and regulations that would follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for travellers, students and workers from certain 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.

Biometrics would help with processing applications. Later, when a visa holder arrives at a Canadian port of entry, the Canada Border Services Agency would also use this information to verify that the visa holder is the person to whom the visa was issued.

The use of biometrics would strengthen the integrity of our immigration program by helping to prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using a false identity to unlawfully obtain a Canadian visa and enter our country under false pretences.

Biometrics would also bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool to help confirm identity. As we can imagine, this would greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applicants and the growing sophistication in identity fraud.

While it is easy to see how using biometrics would help our own officials make decisions about visa applications, it is also important to consider how their use may provide benefits to the applicants themselves. After all, in the long run the use of biometrics would facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants.

Let me give an example. In cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain, biometrics could expedite decision-making at Canadian ports of entry. The time spent at secondary inspections could be reduced. 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.

To those who may be concerned about the impact of these new measures on travel to Canada, allow me to say that the implementation of biometrics would only apply to a relatively small percentage of visitors to Canada. Indeed more than 90% of visitors to Canada are from countries that are exempt from visa requirements, with visitors from the United States being the most obvious example.

It is also important to note that a number of other countries around the world have already incorporated biometrics into their own immigration and border programs. These include like-minded countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, countries in the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Because it is becoming so common in international travel, many of these applicants to Canada would already be familiar with the process and have experienced it first-hand in their travels abroad. What is more, the experience of other countries has shown that there is normally only a small short-term drop in application volumes following the introduction of biometrics collection.

I have no doubt that Canada would remain a destination of choice for visitors from around the world, and in the long run the use of biometrics would facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identities of applicants.

As some of my hon. colleagues may know, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are members of the Five Country Conference, or FCC, an international forum that examines immigration and border security issues. Under the FCC's high value data sharing protocol, Canada shares approximately 3,000 refugee claimants fingerprint records annually with partner countries. Information sharing allows Canada to, a) better identify immigration fraud, b) improve our ability to detect refugee claimants who misrepresent themselves, and c) protect Canadians from foreign criminals.

Biometrics information has uncovered individuals who have used multiple identities and have inconsistent immigration histories and criminal records. For example, information sharing has resulted in, first, the U.K. returning to Australia a wanted rapist posing as an asylum seeker who subsequently pled guilty; second, Canada revoking the refugee status of a man British records proved was an American citizen; and, third, the U.K. taking action against an asylum seeker who FCC records showed had used nine different identities and six different documents across the FCC countries.

Approximately 11% of fingerprint files shared with our FCC partners have resulted in a match. About 13% of these matches have revealed individuals who presented conflicting names, dates of birth or nationalities.

The introduction of biometrics as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems is both long planned and long overdue. More and more it is also becoming an international norm. By passing Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, we would be ensuring Canada keeps up with many other countries.

Collecting biometric data is a highly reliable way to reduce identity fraud while facilitating legitimate travel. As a result, biometrics would strengthen and modernize Canada's immigration processes. I am sure that all hon. members of this House would agree that what I have described is a secure and straightforward process—a no-brainer, so to speak.

Unfortunately, the opposition amendments would prevent the government from introducing biometrics. The opposition's complete lack of concern for the safety and security of their constituents is quite frankly appalling.

The NDP is trying to gut this bill by saying they are okay with criminals, terrorists, war criminals and the like coming into our great country and victimizing innocent Canadians.

I urge the NDP and Liberals to give their heads a shake, to stand up for the safety and security of their constituents and all Canadians and to vote against these ridiculous amendments.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, first of all let me make it very clear that at no time has the NDP, either in committee or anywhere else, said we support terrorists or other people coming into our country who will place our country in jeopardy.

As a matter of fact, when it came to the biometrics section we supported the use of biometrics as long as it is used for identification and for checking backgrounds to make sure people are not threats to our national security. We have concerns about what else that data could be used for, how long the data would be kept and about its usage by other agencies with which we may share that data.

My question for my colleague across the way is very simple. We know those who are designated as irregular arrivals will have to go to detention centres, or in most of the country they will go to prisons. The minister has said that only children over 16 will be designated as adults and therefore they could go into prison.

Would my colleague share with all of us what would happen to those children who should happen to be on a boat or come by plane because the parents have managed to grab their child—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The question is over. Before I go to the answer, I would like to remind all hon. members that in a five-minute question and answer period we try to get two questions in and two answers. That is about a minute and fifteen seconds per person. I would encourage all hon. members, as they are addressing the Chair, to look for signals that their time is coming to a close. I reluctantly cut people off, but this afternoon the questions and the answers have been drifting longer and longer.

With that, I will give the member about five seconds to put the question.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, would the hon. member across the way explain, under the current proposed system, what would happen to children under 16?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Newton—North Delta is very engaged when it comes to immigration issues.

I will get back to the point I was trying to make about biometric identification because it is really part and parcel of the whole immigration bill. When the opposition members are looking to gut the whole bill, they will cut the biometrics, even though they say that they agree with that as a tool.

I will just remind the hon. member about the things we are trying to address here. We are trying to improve relations with safe countries so that we can facilitate travel into this country. I will take the example of Hungary. We received over 4,400 refugee claims last year from Hungary alone. Enacting Bill C-31 will allow us to streamline travel, not just with Hungary but with the entire European Union.

It is really important that the biometric pieces of the bill be passed, along with everything else in the bill, including the turning back of refugee claimants from safe countries.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I looked at the last year's figures for Hungary, for Roma, and there has been a lot of inflating of those who were either abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. These are separate categories. There were 165 accepted as legitimate refugees who needed our protection.

I would ask my hon. friend to bear in mind that some people will take desperate steps to escape unbearable circumstances, and they will bring their families.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Conservative Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the topic of Hungary, we do accept legitimate refugees. However, it is a fact that 95% of refugee claims from Hungary were just abandoned, suggesting that these people were not genuine refugees. They did not have the fear to actually pursue their refugee claim in Canada so they just abandoned it and disappeared into the system.

What we are trying to strengthen through Bill C-31 are those kinds of situations where it is clearly a fraudulent refugee claim used to exploit Canada's generous refugee and immigration system. By doing biometrics, by putting the other elements of Bill C-31 in place, we will address those issues.