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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

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague was at the committee stage when we went over many of these issues. He has a good understanding of the legislation before us.

Creating a two-tiered system for refugees, I would argue, goes against the way we have built our country. We have built our country on immigrants and refugees coming from different parts of the world, and we have had a nation-building scheme. Now, with this legislation, the government is going to decide, not based on the merits of a person's claim, but by how they arrive in our country or by the numbers they arrive in, and it is going to designate them irregular. Not only then does it have the potential to keep them in detention, jail, for a year, but after that, for five years, they will not be given any kind of a status that would allow them to have their family members join them. We know that once one applies, it can take anything up to six or seven years after that, so families will be separated. This is from a government that says its base is about building strong families. For whom?

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to rise and speak yet again at report stage of Bill C-31.

I want to make it clear that the minister, I and this government from day one have stated that we would consider any reasonable amendments put forward that would be consistent with the goals and the principles of the bill.

I would remind the House that Bill C-31 aims to make Canada's refugee system fairer and faster. It also aims to provide protection to genuine refugees who need to be qualified for assistance much more quickly, while we remove those asylum seekers who are bogus, of criminal background or who come here from a human smuggling perspective.We are after hose human smugglers, and the bill makes it very clear.

To no surprise, the minister, I and my colleagues on committee, who did an amazing job, and this government had a chance to keep our word. After lengthy and in-depth study at committee and after hearing from literally dozens of witnesses, the government did agree to several amendments that would strengthen the bill.

There are two further amendments that we have presented at report stage. As the minister will also explain, as will those who will follow me, both amendments are technical in nature. The first amendment affects clause 26 and simply corrects a French word in one of the amendments passed at committee to ensure it is consistent with the English word used and the French wording used throughout the rest of the legislation.

Clause 26 of Bill C-31 includes the detention of anyone who arrives on Canada's shores as part of a human smuggling event, and for good reason. It is the responsibility of any government to protect the safety and security of its citizens. Smuggled migrants often arrive in Canada with no documentation. At first, it is literally impossible to tell who is who.

Just a couple of days ago, and these are the second charges that have been laid with respect to the irregular arrival of the Ocean Lady and the Sun Sea, the RCMP laid charges against two of the alleged organizers of the MV Sun Sea human smuggling operation who arrived on the boat along with other smuggling migrants. I want to congratulate the RCMP for its hard work on these cases and on the previous charges it laid in relation to the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady.

These vessels included on them criminal human smugglers, the organizers of these dangerous and too often deadly voyages, terrorists and other criminals among others. It is important that all of the individuals who arrived as a party to a human smuggling event are detained until their identities are established and it is determined whether they pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians.

I am a little shocked that the NDP and the Liberals would vote against these provisions and this amendment. My constituents in the riding of St. Catharines, almost without exception, support the intent and the movement of the bill in terms of what it will do for refugees, what it will do to those who would not be qualified refugees and the whole component of human smuggling. I am certain that if went into the ridings of my colleagues on the other side of the House, we would determine that most of their constituents support the legislation.

It behooves me to say that it would seem to me that when it comes to Bill C-31, the position taken by both the NDP and the Liberal Party is about ideology rather than the safety and security of Canadians.

At committee we put forward amendments that would add reviews when we came to the whole aspect of detention. Those individuals who arrived on these irregular arrivals, as we saw with the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, would in fact be detained for the purposes of identification, for the purposes of determining whether they are in fact true refugees and for the purposes of determining whether they were criminals in their own country or were the individuals who organized the event of the smuggling.

We have said, and we have made changes within the content of the bill through amendment at committee, that after 14 days, these individuals will have an opportunity for a review of their file. If their file has not been completed within a period of six months after the first initial review, they will have an opportunity for a further review.

We have to keep in mind that under Bill C-31, decisions on refugee claims will take place within a few short months, compared to the current system where the origin application is heard, on average, within a one to two year period of time.

The fact is this legislation does exactly what it is supposed to do. It moves the process up much quicker so a determination is made at a much sooner stage in the process, as soon as 45 days in most circumstances. If that is not the case, within the context of the irregular arrival, the individuals will still have an opportunity to have their hearing after six months. We have solved what many on the other side of the House say we should do.

I want to thank the NDP immigration critic who, as she stated at committee and in the House, which I appreciated, welcomed the move by the government to add detention reviews. She in fact praised the government for its willingness to listen to the witnesses and feedback we received and the fact that we were open to accepting amendments that actually did improve the legislation.

For the record, she was not the only one. Rob Shropshire, interim executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, stated that the amendment to clause 26 and other clauses to add detention reviews was certainly “a good thing.”

It is important to give credit where credit is due. The one thing I have experienced at the citizenship and immigration committee since I have been there is that there is, within the walls of Parliament Hill, the ability to work with each, not necessarily agree but certainly do our best to work together.

Credit where credit is due, the NDP did support every amendment that the government put forward to improve the detention provisions related human smuggling in this bill. I want to thank each of the members of the committee for doing that. Unfortunately, despite supporting the amendments at committee, the NDP will vote against this amendment to improve this new provision and it will still vote against the improved bill.

I find that rather telling about the NDP's position on this bill. The NDP members will vote against this technical amendment to ensure that the wording is consistent through the bill even though they voted for the original amendment at committee.

I suppose after having complimented the NDP members of the committee who supported the amendment, it is rather unfortunate and a reminder that the NDP says one thing to Canadians in front of the news cameras and does another thing in Ottawa. If they want to make Parliament work, then they should be consistent in terms of where they support what has been proposed by the government and acknowledge that throughout the process versus what I believe to be a good start and then a very quick completion.

The second amendment the government has put forward at report stage is also technical. It is needed as a result of an amendment that was adopted at committee stage. The committee adopted an amendment that added a subsection to clause 83, and that amendment was simply not numbered. The amendment adds 83(1). Clause 83(1) pertains to the one-year ban on the pre-removal risk assessment for failed asylum claimants.

These are two technical amendments that the government will support to move the bill forward.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, there were a few amendments that we did support at the committee stage. We also made it very clear at committee that we could not support the clause. However, we supported those amendments because they would mitigate the harm that would be there for the refugees. They absolutely did not go far enough when it came to the review for those people in detention. Fourteen days is too long for people to wait.

However, I want to ask a question along a different tack.

The current act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, actually allows the government to detain new arrivals until it has confirmed their identity and done a criminal check and a security check. That actually exists right now. I think we need to very clear about that.

However, the new bill, Bill C-31, says that there will be mandatory imprisonment for up to a year for irregular arrivals and that there will be no automatic release once they have their identification, security checks and criminal record checks have cleared. That is a big concern for us.

The question for my colleague is on how they will --

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

I appreciate the question, Mr. Speaker, because it gives me the opportunity to identify that 80% to 85% of what was in Bill C-11 has been carried forward to Bill C-31.

One of the reasons we introduced this legislation is that the process, even under Bill C-11, would take an extremely long period of time to work through. The minister, the government and the department identified that an opportunity to move forward and expedite the process through which a refugee claimant could make a claim to become a refugee here in Canada would actually speed up that process. , Bill C-31 would give an individual or a family who is applying to become a refugee here in Canada a much quicker process.

Therefore, even if those individuals are in detention during that period of time, they would now have two opportunities for a review of their file. We believe that before that second review takes place in six months, we will have made the identification and will have determined whether the individual is a claimant who has been denied or a claimant who is a true refugee here in the country.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a very specific question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration with regard to this whole idea of the two-tiered refugee system.

There is a retroactive portion in the bill that, if passed, means that the individuals who arrived on the Sun Sea or the Ocean Lady could be subjected to Bill C-31, which means that, if and when they acquire refugee status, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism gets to decide whether they will be able to sponsor a family member shortly after being recognized as legitimate refugees.

Is the parliamentary secretary prepared to give a guarantee to the House that the individuals who arrived on the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady will not be subjected to this legislation?

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly not going to give the member that kind of guarantee. What I will do, though, is identify the fact that he talked about a two-tiered system.

We, on this side of the House, do not believe that UN-sanctioned refugees who have been living in squalor and who have been waiting for years, in some cases over a decade, to find out where they will start their new lives and who have already been declared refugees, should, in any way, shape or form, be superseded by irregular arrivals who are claiming refugee status in Canada.

What Bill C-31 would do, and what Bill C-11 did, is it would eliminate the potential of a two-tired system.

We need to ensure that all those individuals who have already received refugee status get their opportunity for a new life in Canada. Those are the individuals who deserve to get here quickly. Those are the individuals we have committed to.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary reinforces why it is we have a two-tier system. We need to recognize that the people on the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady will be deemed as irregular arrivals once this legislation passes. If we had applied that same principle to what the government wants today, that would have been applied to a ship that came from India, Europe or Vietnam. The government would have classified these individuals as irregulars. The moment they are branded as irregular arrivals, they will be treated differently from other refugees, which goes against the 1951 United Nations convention. That is something that was brought to the government's attention, even in committee.

I want to pick up on the point that Bill C-31 would tarnish Canada's leadership role in the whole area of refugees. For many years, Canada has been a leader when it comes to the development of refugee policies. Countries throughout the world have looked to Canada as a model and to see how they might be able to emulate it.

What became quite apparent at the committee level after listening to presenter after presenter was that this would tarnish our reputation. One of the primary reasons for that was the establishment of the two-tier refugee, better known as the irregular arrival versus the other form of arrival, and the consequences of that. For example, as with the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, people left their country because they were scared of being tortured or possibly killed, or whatever the reason might have been. They would be victimized once again by being put into a detention centre and then, because they would be labelled as irregulars, even if they were classified shortly thereafter as being bona fide refugees, they would not be able to sponsor their children or their spouse for at least five years, unlike other refugees. To me and everyone else except the Conservative members of the committee that is a two-tier system.

The Conservatives talked a lot about the importance of mandatory detention. I will concede that they did change their minds once we were at the committee stage, and I applaud them on doing that, but we need to look at the reality of it. The current system related to detentions works. Canada Border Services presented at the committee. We already have the ability to do what is proposed in this bill in terms of being able to keep people in detention centres. That aspect of the system is not broken. The government has made that up in order to bring in what it had originally called “the anti-smuggling bill”. That is the one for which the Prime Minister and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism stepped on the back of a ship to give the impression that we were being invaded by refugees. That aspect of the legislation does not need to be fixed. It works and yet the government is prepared to tarnish our reputation in order to have a photo op and create a false impression with Canadians.

As I said, the Conservatives did back down at the committee stage and changed their mind. Now they are saying that there will be a 14 day review, which is great. We support that idea. However, after that it is a long six months. We suggested that, at the very least, there should be some sort of review every 28 days. They call it judicial overview.

We should not have to keep people in detention if there is no need to keep them in detention. However, for some reason the Conservatives believe they should, at a huge cost. I am not just talking about the dollar figure. I am also talking about the social cost of it.

The government likes to think it is about families and yet it wants to lock up parents of children who will be put into foster care facilities. Better yet, the government is saying that people will have a choice, the choice being that they can take their eight-year-old son with them to jail so they can still be together. What kind of a dilemma is that? As a parent, my choice is that I can either take my eight-year-old child with me into a jail or a detention centre or I can have my child separated from me and living in a foster care facility. One does not need to be a psychiatrist to understand that will cause all sorts of social issues going forward after the matter has been resolved.

There is the issue of age. We moved amendment after amendment to try to deal with the recognition that there is a difference between 16 and 18 years of age.

At the end of the day, we believe the minister is now saying that he is the one to decide. Not only can he tell who is a regular or irregular arrival, he wants to be able to say what is a safe country and what is not. One had better not be on that safe country list because it will be a whole lot more difficult. People had better come with a lot of paperwork and have it filed, and know who they will be recruiting to represent them because they will not have very much time to get their case together in order to adequately represent themselves.

How many advocates, groups and individuals, whether they were lawyers or lay people who came before the committee, said that was not enough time? The government is not allowing individuals the opportunity to make and state their cases.

We in the Liberal Party want a process that will not only be fast but we want the other “f” word also: fair. That seems to have escaped the government. It does not seem to recognize the importance of fairness in the system. That has been lost on the minister.

We talked at great lengths in regard to the safe country list. We do not believe for a moment that the minister should have the responsibility of designation. We believe there are people who are much better equipped to determine which country should be deemed a safe country. That is why, in previous legislation, when there was a minority Conservative government, there was a consensus. Even the current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism acknowledged back then that it was good legislation and it made sense.

What did that legislation say? It said that there would be an advisory panel of professionals, of people who had an understanding of human rights and so forth. Those individuals would be the ones to identify those countries around the world that could be deemed as being safe.

We were hopeful that was something on which the government would have been open to amendments. When the government said that it was open to amendments, we went into the committee stage in anticipation that would, in fact, be the case. The government made some amendments that came out of its own party but there was nothing in terms of recognizing the advisory committee, even though all political parties agreed to that previously and it would have improved the legislation.

The Liberal Party put forward numerous amendments. The Green Party picked up on a number of those amendments. We had hoped to give the government a second chance by getting it to support those amendments.

We do not support the bill as a whole because we believe the government has really dropped the ball on this reform package. We recognize the importance of speeding up the process but we also believe that there needs to be fairness, judicial overview and ministerial accountability and that is missing in this bill.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the hon. member's speech more than once now. It is one that reoccurs on a continuous basis, whether we are here in the House of Commons on this issue, or whether we are at committee. There is something the member fails to acknowledge, and I would like him to clarify.

One of the last witnesses we had at committee was a delegate from the United Nations. In his presentation, he spoke at great length on the content of the bill and his perspective on it. Whether the member agrees with the 15 day period, or whether he thinks there should be more time, is for debate. However, when it comes to the convention on refugees, we meet the minimum threshold in terms of the chance for a hearing. I would like the member to acknowledge this.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. I try to be consistent in the House, in committee and in my constituency. Consistency is important.

It is important to have an open mind so that when someone comes up with a good idea one is prepared to genuinely look at it, assess it and take action if it would improve the bill.

The presentation that my colleague referred to did make reference to the 15 days. However, there was a litany of other things that the individual presented. Members can access a full presentation on the issue. The United Nations has serious concerns with this legislation. I suspect, as a whole, it would have been much happier had there been a number of amendments recognizing some of the flaws in the legislation.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that many witnesses appeared before the committee and spoke about the discriminatory effects of this bill, which creates two classes of refugees. The measures taken in this bill are not at all dissuasive; instead, they put real refugees in a difficult position.

There is also the issue of the designation of safe countries. We also heard from witnesses who spoke about the situation of the Roma community.

Could the hon. member comment on this?

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the two-tier refugee system, maybe the best thing to do is provide a tangible example.

A family or group of four people fly into the Trudeau airport in Montreal. The minister would have the authority to say that they are irregular arrivals, which means they would go through a completely different stream and they would be treated completely differently than a group of four people at the Toronto international airport who are not deemed irregular arrivals.

Under that situation, the potential refugees in Montreal would be subjected to such things as detention or not being able to sponsor a child they might have left behind because they wanted to get out of the country quickly because of a threat of death or torture, for five years. It is going to keep the family apart. However, that group of four individuals who landed in Toronto would be able to sponsor because they were deemed as regular arrivals.

That is why it is very important for us to understand that there is going to be a distinction between those refugees who are deemed irregular arrivals and those who are not. That is where the concern comes in with regard to the 1951 UN convention.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.

The government has put forward two amendments at report stage in order to ensure the bill completely reflects the amendments that were adopted at committee. I am pleased to speak to these amendments today.

Canada has the fairest and most generous immigration system in the world. We welcome more resettled refugees per capita than almost any other country. That number is rising. We are increasing by 20%, or an additional 2,500, the number of refugees we resettle each year.

The fact is that our system is open to abuse. Bogus refugees and human smugglers have been using Canada as a doormat for far too long. Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and who take unfair advantage of our country. The government is committed to strengthening the integrity of Canada's immigration system. Bill C-31, the amendments that were adopted at committee, and the amendments we are debating now at report stage all serve the same purpose. Through them, the government would take action to crack down on this abuse and make Canada's asylum system fairer and faster.

We would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system, using endless avenues of appeal to remain in Canada and receive lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, we would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need.

As we know, bogus refugee claimants are bogging down the system, resulting in genuine refugee claimants, who are fleeing torture, death and persecution, waiting on average almost two years to receive a decision on their cases. Our government believes this is unfair.

Under Bill C-31 genuine refugees would receive Canada's protection in a few short months instead of a few years. This is laudable and surely should be supported by every member of the House. Canadians have given the government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system and we are active on that mandate.

The two amendments introduced by the minister at report stage are technical amendments. They both seek to ensure the amended bill fully and accurately reflects the amendments that were adopted by the committee after an in-depth study and testimony by dozens of witnesses. One amendment seeks to ensure the French and English wording used throughout the bill are consistent. The second amendment would ensure that the entire bill reflects a new subsection that was created through an amendment that was passed at committee.

These amendments directly respond to the testimony and suggestions of witnesses such as clarifying provisions around revocation of refugee status, adding detention reviews at 14 days and again at 6 months for those who arrive as part of a human smuggling event, and ensuring that asylum seekers who come from countries that have been designated as safe no longer have endless avenues of appeal which allow them to remain in Canada for years and receive lucrative taxpayer-funder social assistance and health care benefits.

The minister has rightfully been praised for his willingness to accept amendments to the bill. He has said all along that he would be willing to seriously consider any reasonable amendment to make it fair and fast and provide Canada's protection to genuine refugees in need while removing bogus refugees more quickly and cracking down on the despicable crime of human smuggling.

This often has repercussions because we never know if it is a human smuggling event mixed up with a human trafficking event, and sometimes it gets very precarious. The government's amendments that were adopted at committee and the amendments we are debating now are proof that the government is committed to implementing a bill to improve our refugee system so that it is as strong and as effective as possible. We owe that to all Canadians.

It is evident that our government is willing to listen and to work to create and amend bills that are in the best interests of Canadians. Our constituents expect no less.

Let me give you a sample of what is being said about our government and the minister's openness to amending and further improving this bill. A recent Ottawa Citizen editorial stated:

[The minister] deserves praise for showing a few leadership qualities that are in short supply these days: willingness to talk, the courage to listen, and the flexibility to change his mind.

This is in keeping with what Canadians have seen of [the minister] in the past. Although he's unabashedly partisan, he is able to work with MPs from all parties. He seemed deservedly proud of the fact that he managed to get another refugee bill passed in 2010, with opposition support, when his government held a minority. The fact that he's still working with other parties when his government has a majority speaks well of him.

[The minister] seems determined that his time in public office should result in a legacy of better policy, not just a long string of election victories and an eventual corporate or patronage sinecure.

I cannot agree more.

Even The Toronto Star has praised the minister and in an editorial stated that his willingness to amend the bill suggests that he“is trying to make the refugee system faster and more fair”. In an editorial The Embassy stated, “good for [the minister] for agreeing to changes to the refugee bill, C-31”.

It is not just the media that is praising the government and the minister. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association stated in a news release that it “welcomes the Minister of Immigration's announcement that the government is proposing amendments to Bill C-31...”.

It goes even further than that. The NDP immigration critic and MP for Newton—North Delta stated on several occasions that she welcomed any move by the minister and the government to make improvements to the legislation. She spoke very favourably at committee of the government's willingness to take into account the views of various witnesses and stakeholders and to amend the bill, especially the detention provisions around human smuggling events.

Unfortunately the NDP has been playing partisan games with the amendments both at committee and at report stage. The opposition NDP and the Liberals will surely vote against these reasonable technical amendments. By opposing technical amendments that ensure the French and English wording is consistent, and that ensure the original version of the bill reflects the addition of a new subsection that was added at committee stage, they show that while the NDP and the Liberals say in front of the news cameras that they want to make Parliament work, their actions show quite the opposite is true. By voting against these amendments the NDP and the Liberals are proving yet again that they cannot be anything other than blindly partisan and that they are not willing to work with the government in good faith to pass legislation that is in the best interests of Canada.

I urge the NDP and the Liberals to change their position, stop opposing and trying to delay this important piece of legislation. I urge them to support these report stage amendments and the entire Bill C-31, to work with our government to help crack down on bogus refugee claimants and criminal human smugglers abusing the generosity of Canadian taxpayers and treating our country like a doormat.

I urge the opposition to support these amendments and the bill that would have the positive impact of providing protection more quickly to genuine refugees fleeting persecution, torture and death.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the last speaker, I wondered whether we were even sitting on the same committee. All of the witnesses said that this bill—its very essence—should be rejected. I will name only a few of them, not the least of which include: the Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Bar Association and UNICEF. This bill does not respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's civil liberties legislation or the international conventions.

A few amendments are not enough to change the very essence of this legislation, because, through an arbitrary ministerial decision, this bill gives the government the right to detain anyone it deems to be a “designated foreign national”.

Will the government amend this bill to remove the concept of “designated foreign national” or not?

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, their amendments would remove every clause in the bill.

This country has followed and applied the UN charter. We are the most generous country in the world. We bring in more refugees than almost every other country on the planet. The people who come here would tell us that themselves, whether they are immigrants, refugees or others.

Canada has absolutely nothing to apologize for to anybody in the world or any interest or partisan group.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has sat through some of the immigration committee meetings, maybe all of them. I am not too sure exactly how many he was there for.

The issue of detention came up time and time again. At one time the Conservatives were proposing that it be mandatory for an entire year. What was made very clear was the fact that the current system of detention works. I am talking strictly the detention aspect of the bill. We had the ability to keep people in detention well over a year, indefinitely. Anyone who seemed to be a potential threat to our nation, whether it was security or health or whatever it might have been, was already there.

If the detention system was working well, why would the government want to change it?

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this new process expedites everything. This would allow people who attend to hear the results of their hearings very quickly and get out. The other issue is that once individuals are identified, they are released.

Let me explain why some of the people are detained in the first place. I am sure that Canadians would not allow unknown persons into their homes to interact with their families and children, to avail themselves of their homes, their generosity and everything else.

That is the problem with some of these smuggling events. We do not know if they are real refugees, which some of them may be. We do not know if they are bogus refugees trying to take advantage of our generous system. We do not know if they are queue jumpers trying to get into Canada.

As the parliamentary secretary said earlier, there are a lot of UN convention refugees who are ready to resettle in this country. It is their right to do so, and we have a responsibility to them to make sure they arrive in this country fairly.

Many of these events are often tied up with human trafficking events. Until we can determine exactly who is involved in these events, we owe it to Canadians to defend their security in our country.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

The Secretary to the Governor General and Herald Chancellor

May 17, 2012

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 17th day of May, 2012, at 9:30 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace

The schedule indicates that the bills assented to on Thursday, May 17, 2012, were Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act—Chapter 7, and Bill S-1003, An Act to authorize Industrial Alliance Pacific Insurance and Financial Services Inc. to apply to be continued as a body corporate under the laws of Quebec.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, for two weeks in a row, we heard testimony from experts, front-line workers and refugees who came to express their concerns about Bill C-31 while it was being studied by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. I want to remind the House that a policy without justice is an inadequate policy. Bill C-31 completely jeopardizes refugee rights, and creates two classes of refugees.

The NDP does not support Bill C-31. The Conservatives should withdraw it so that the new Balanced Refugee Reform Act can work. Never before have the rights of refugees been as threatened as they are under the Conservatives. Never has our democracy been as discredited as it has been under the Conservative government, which is incapable of respecting the compromises consensually agreed upon with the other parties.

The government is unable to remember that the ratification of international refugee or human rights conventions requires us to make our legislation and policies consistent with the provisions of the international conventions we have signed. The experts who spoke to us reminded us that Canada is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. They feel that Bill C-31 protecting Canada's immigration system act respects neither the letter nor the spirit of the convention.

Let us first recall that Bill C-31 is an omnibus bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, unfortunately by incorporating into Bill C-4 the most unreasonable provisions of former Bill C-11, which received royal assent in June 2010. This bill raises serious concerns in addition to those already raised by Bill C-4, the unconstitutional nature of which we have raised and highlighted in our previous interventions. All the witnesses we heard during the committee's study of the bill agreed unanimously.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of the concerns with this bill, both in terms of the Canadian charter and the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. In response to Bill C-31, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers has said that, like the sorry Bill C-10, Bill C-31 is extremely complicated.

The most draconian measures in Bill C-4 have again been made part of Bill C-31. Take automatic and mandatory detention, for example. Bill C-4 proposed mandatory detention for one year for people fleeing persecution in their country of origin and entering Canada without identity documents in their possession.

Clearly, the safety of Canadians is a priority for the NDP. That is why the current immigration legislation provides for detaining foreign nationals when their identity is not known, when they might run away, and especially when public safety is at risk. So we can see how the provisions on detention found in Bill C-4, which are being reintroduced in Bill C-31 are a direct violation of our Constitution.

Furthermore, the jurisprudence constante of the Supreme Court is categorical in this regard. The Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Bar Association, the Young Bar Association of Montreal and other legal experts who gave testimony were categorical about the unconstitutional nature of detention under Bill C-31, and specifically the detention of children.

The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the detention of children and defines a child as a human being under 18 years of age. We are asking that the age of the child be consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Finally, the experts whom we have heard from in committee have hammered away at the point that the detention of children is prohibited because it is detrimental to them psychologically, mentally and physiologically, and to society as a whole. For example, Australia had introduced mandatory detention for asylum seekers, but it had to backtrack, because, not only did detention cause costs to skyrocket, but it also destroyed the fabric of society and communities.

Why are the Conservatives attempting to put themselves above the rule of law, which is a key principle of our democracy, even though they know what our highest court said about detention in the Charkaoui case? Why are they asking the House to pass a bill that we know will be subject to court challenges, as a number of experts reminded us?

Why are they attempting to mislead the House by proposing that it pass laws that they know violate not only our Constitution, but also the Canadian charter and human rights conventions that our country has signed? Pacta sunt servanda is a principle of international law. Signed conventions have to be respected.

There are also deadlines that violate a principle of natural justice. Lawyers specializing in refugee rights have said that they are deeply troubled by the short time frames that Bill C-31 gives refugee claimants to seek Canada's protection. They find that Bill C-31 drastically changes Canada's refugee protection system and makes it unfair.

Bill C-31 imposes unrealistic time frames and unattainable deadlines on refugee claimants and uses the claimants' inability to meet those deadlines to exclude them from protection.

In fact, under the terms of Bill C-31, refugee claimants have only 15 days to overcome the trauma of persecution, find a lawyer to help them, gather the documentary evidence to support their allegations, and obtain proof of identity from their country.

If their application is dismissed, refugee claimants would have 15 days within which to file an appeal under Bill C-31. As anyone can see, the deadlines imposed on refugee claimants do not allow them to make a full response and defence.

Under our justice system, the greater the risk to life, the longer the time frame accorded to the person being tried to prepare his defence. Bill C-31 does not respect this principle of fundamental justice. A number of witnesses pointed this out to us.

I am also deeply concerned not only about the new term—designated country of origin—that Bill C-31 introduces into our legislation but also about the undemocratic nature of the process for designating the countries in question. Under Bill C-31, the minister alone has the power to designate safe countries of origin, without first defining the designation criteria for these countries that refugees may come from.

According to the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the designated safe country list and the unilateral power granted to the minister dangerously politicize Canada's refugee system.

Refugee claimants who are on a designated safe country list have even less time to submit their written arguments and will not be allowed an appeal.

Bill C-31 also relieves the minister of the obligation of justifying why a country is safe or considering the differential risks that certain minorities face in a country that is safe for other people.

If Bill C-31 is passed, refugees will become more vulnerable because their fate will depend on the political whims of the minister and the government. Failed claimants from designated countries of origin can be deported from Canada almost immediately, even if they have requested a judicial review of the decision. In other words, a person can be deported before his case is heard.

The Geneva convention stipulates that the personal fears of victims of persecution are to be taken into consideration. Nowhere does it say that international protection is given to victims of persecution because of the country in which the persecution occurred, or whether or not the victim used clandestine means to reach a state that is a party to the convention.

It is not only in undemocratic countries that religious minorities are persecuted. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not restricted to undemocratic countries. Persecution based on race can occur in any country in the world. All member states of the European Convention on Human Rights are democratic countries. But the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is replete with decisions condemning democratic states for their abuse of individuals.

The government has frequently invoked the UNHCR's favourable opinion of the safe countries of origin list.

I would like to conclude by mentioning my final concern about the changes being made by Bill C-31 with respect to applications on humanitarian grounds. These applications are a tool that allow individuals to remain in Canada, even if they are not eligible for other reasons. Unfortunately, under Bill C-31, applicants awaiting a decision from the Refugee Appeal Division cannot simultaneously submit an application on humanitarian grounds.

I would like to point out that our country has always been in the forefront where basic human rights are concerned.

The refugee problem is a human rights problem and, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people are acknowledged to have these rights, whatever their race, religion, political beliefs or lifestyle.

Asylum seekers are above all human beings. They are to be treated with respect, humanity and dignity. More than anything else, they fall into the category of vulnerable people who need our compassion and our protection. What is involved here is universal human justice.

This bill and these universal values are poles apart. That is why Bill C-31 should be rejected.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I have a question with regard to the designated countries of origin.

The NDP members are either choosing to misrepresent the clause and the interpretation of it or they are purposely misleading individuals who are trying to get a better understanding of Bill C-31.

Many countries use the principle. Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland are all counties that use designated countries of origin. Most important, there are quantitative and qualitative reviews that will automatically kick in when a country reaches the threshold of being designated a country. It does not happen automatically. The review includes ministry officials and other ministries i terms of input.

Why does the member continue to misrepresent exactly what is in this bill in terms of the designated country of origin?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would simply like to say that we unanimously agreed on a refugee bill that contained a measure whereby a panel of experts was to sit to address this matter of establishing a safe country list.

I would like to remind this House that now, under Bill C-31, only the minister has this discretionary power to establish a safe country list. That is neither democratic nor normal.

CyberbullyingStatements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, as a teacher I know full well the impact that cyberbullying has on our children. In my riding, several children have suffered so badly that they have tragically taken their lives as a result of bullying.

I wish to congratulate Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie on his innovative legislation that combats cyberbullying. His legislation will create a legal definition for cyberbullying. It forces school boards to educate and discipline their students. It dictates fines and community service to those who are guilty of cyberbullying. It empowers judges to order restrictions on the use of electronic devices, including the power to confiscate them if it is deemed needed. It also recognizes that parents have a role in the prevention of cyberbullying and holds parents legally responsible if their children are guilty of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a plague upon our nation. I congratulate Jamie Baillie on taking strong action to stand up to it.

Fort Témiscamingue ObadjiwanStatements by Members

May 17th, 2012 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, the Conservative government's thoughtless cuts prove that it does not care about the regions.

For example, Parks Canada's Fort Témiscamingue Obadjiwan is a tourist destination in my riding. Over 8,000 people visit every year, generating significant spinoffs for the region's tourism industry. The Témiscamingue community contributed over $500,000 to the creation of the visitor information centre, but the government's cuts will shorten the summer season and put an end to guided tours. Five jobs are in danger.

A major development project involving tourism stakeholders in both Ontario and Quebec is underway at Lake Timiskaming. Fort Témiscamingue is supposed to be the centrepiece of the initiative. These cuts will have a devastating impact on our region, which has diversified its economic activities but which has been abandoned now that the investments have been made.

Our region is trying to keep its head above water, but the government could not care less about our efforts and is slashing our economic resources.

Child PornographyStatements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the RCMP and the Kids' Internet Safety Alliance estimate there are more than 2 million pornographic pictures and movies, involving 50,000 different children worldwide, that can be found on the Internet. The vast majority of this vile material involves young children, some as young as two or three years old. Only 2,500 of these children have been identified and rescued.

As many as 200,000 men in Canada are regularly trading, selling and producing child pornography. One out of three men who possess child pornography are child abusers.

This is a community safety issue of the highest priority. Sadly, Canadian police were only able to arrest 513 people in 2010 for child pornography offences. Why? Because they hide behind the Internet and make themselves anonymous.

It is the duty of the House to ensure that law enforcement has the legal tools it needs to find and prosecute these offenders, to make the Internet a safer place and to protect our children.