Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to continue the debate on Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act.
Canada and the government are proud of our tradition of being a country of openness to newcomers and a place of protection for refugees. Indeed, since the government came into office in 2006 we have maintained the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history, admitting on average over 250,000 new permanent residents each year, and maintaining the world's strongest tradition of refugee protection.
We are increasing by some 20% the number of resettled refugees that we accept, increasing the integration support that they receive, so that Canada will receive the highest per capita number of resettled refugees in the world. Of course, we also have a generous refugee asylum determination system to ensure that foreigners who come to Canada who have a well-founded fear of persecution are not returned to face danger.
However, this bill is a necessary part of our efforts to protect the openness and generosity of our immigration and refugee protection systems against those who would seek to abuse Canada's generosity, more specifically, through commercial and dangerous human smuggling operations, fake asylum claims, large numbers of which are in our asylum system, and other efforts to subvert the integrity of our immigration system and the consistent application of its fair rules.
I would like to commend the members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on their diligent work and their many hours of hearings on Bill C-31. They heard from dozens of witnesses and diligently considered amendments to the bill.
The members who were in the House in the previous Parliament will remember that we passed Bill C-11, which set out a balanced refugee system. They will also remember that, at that time, the government and the opposition agreed to make certain amendments to the bill to ensure that it was balanced or, in other words, to make sure that the system was quick, effective and fair. At that time, we were happy with the results of that legislative effort.
However, since June 2010, there has been a huge increase in bogus refugee claims in Canada, particularly by EU nationals.
Indeed, last year, we received close to 6,000 refugee claims from EU nationals, which is more than the number of claims we receive from Africa or Asia. Almost none of these European refugee claimants attend their hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board, and according to our fair and legal system, almost none of them are legitimate refugees.
That is one of the reasons why we need to strengthen the integrity of our system to really discourage bogus refugee claimants from coming to Canada and abusing our country's generosity. Processing these fake claims costs Canadian taxpayers approximately $50,000. These are the objectives of Bill C-31.
Further to the statements made by members of Parliament, including opposition members, and by some witnesses who appeared before the parliamentary committee, the government considered any reasonable amendments to create a better bill that meets its objectives of combatting human smuggling more effectively, preventing bogus refugee claims and strengthening the security of our system.
Let me review briefly some of the amendments that were adopted at committee.
First, one such amendment relates to clause 19. Clause 19 provides for the automatic loss of permanent resident status if an individual loses protected person status as a result of cessation.
Cessation means that the Immigration and Refugee Board, I emphasize the IRB, not the minister, can take away someone's refugee status if it is proven that the person no longer needs protection. It has always been in IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, since it became law in 2002.
Since we introduced Bill C-31, we have heard concerns that an improvement of the conditions in someone's country of origin could result in the automatic loss of an individual's permanent resident status by a decision of the IRB, regardless of how long they have been a permanent resident in Canada.
Some have worried that Canada was moving toward a conditional permanent residence situation for refugees, which I should point out is not unusual in other democratic countries. The United Kingdom and Germany, for example, do not grant immediate permanent residency for protected people. However, this was never the intention of the bill.
To clarify our intentions, we moved an amendment at committee that one automatic cessation ground be removed from clause 19. The cessation ground we are removing reads as follows:
the reasons for which the person sought refugee status have ceased to exist.
The effect of this amendment is that cessation for these reasons, such as a change in country conditions, would not result in automatic loss of permanent residency. This would ensure that permanent resident status is lost automatically only when the cessation decision of the IRB is the result of the individual's own actions.
For example, if people come to Canada, make an asylum claim that is accepted by the IRB, but shortly after receiving such status, they return to live in the country of origin, which they allegedly fled due to fear of persecution, we would reserve the right under IRPA to go before the IRB to say that it appears they never needed our protection because they have immediately re-availed themselves of their country of origin. Therefore we could commence proceedings of the IRB to seek an order to cease their protected person status and revoke their permanent residency, but that would only be if they have done something to demonstrate essentially that they defrauded our asylum system.
The government also moved an amendment that relates to pre-removal risk assessments, also known as PRRAs. When failed refugee claimants are given removal orders from Canada, they can under certain conditions apply for a PRRA, which would trigger a review to make certain that the failed claimants are not being removed into situations where they might face a risk of persecution, torture, cruel and unusual punishment or loss of life.
In its original form, Bill C-31 called for a one-year ban for failed refugee claimants, including those from countries that generally do not produce refugees, which I might add, is a phrase used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
This measure was intended to simplify the refugee system, eliminate duplication and expedite the removal of failed refugee claimants. The government proposed an amendment that extended this ban to three years for failed refugee claimants from countries that generally do not produce refugees.
The extension of the bar for these claimants is aimed at addressing existing process vulnerabilities that lead to misuse by those who are not in need of protection. It would facilitate the removals of those individuals not in need of Canada's protection, without the requirement to conduct a redundant second risk assessment.
Since the extension of the bar on PRRA would apply only to failed claimants from countries known to not normally produce refugees and generally considered safe, which countries, by the way, based on our proposed guidelines, would see at least three-quarters of asylum claims being rejected, abandoned or withdrawn, there is already a minimal likelihood of returning someone to a situation of risk.
It should also be noted that each eligible claimant would have received a hearing on the merits of his or her case before an independent decision-maker at the quasi-judicial IRB, which decision-maker would have rejected the claim and found no risk in returning the claimant.
In addition, the legislation would provide the minister with the ability to exempt someone from the bar on PRRA, either the one-year bar for most failed claimants or the three-year bar on PRRA for failed claimants from designated countries. That is to say, for example, that if there were to be a major event, say, a coup d'état or civil war in a country, the minister could exempt failed claimants from that country from the PRRA bar, allowing them to in fact apply for and receive a second risk assessment. It is also important to note that this amendment does not preclude a failed refugee claimant from continuing to seek leave to the Federal Court for judicial review of a negative decision of the refugee protection division of the IRB.
Some of the measures in Bill C-31 that received the most feedback from parliamentarians and members of the public were those that concerned the mandatory detention of foreign nationals who arrive in Canada as part of a designated irregular arrival, which effectively would be a large-scale human smuggling voyage. These measures, of course, were part of the section of the bill designed to deal with human smuggling.
This amendment would allow for a detention review by the immigration division of the IRB on the detention of a smuggled migrant in a designated arrival initially at 14 days prior to the detention and then subsequently at 6 months, rather than the 12 months that had originally been proposed in the bill.
I would like to once again thank all the members for their important work in committee. I am eager for all the amendments to be accepted here in the House.