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.