Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my voice today to the debate on this important piece of legislation.
As we know, Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would help us carry out long-needed reforms to the refugee system and help crack down on human smugglers who may try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system. However, I would like to focus my remarks today on another important component of Bill C-31: the measures in this legislation that would allow the introduction of biometric technology for the screening of temporary resident applicants.
Currently, when individuals make immigration applications, in most cases, they only need to initially provide written documents to support their applications. Quite frankly, a modern immigration system can do a better job of ensuring safety and security. Indeed, biometrics, photographs and fingerprints to be more specific, provide greater certainty in identifying travellers than documents, which, as we all know, can easily be forged or stolen.
Our government is facilitating the travel of legitimate travellers to Canada. However, it is no secret that there are countless numbers of people each year who are not allowed to come to Canada who, nevertheless, find ways to enter. There are countless examples on an almost daily basis of violent criminals, terrorists, human smugglers and war criminals among others, who have entered Canada using false documents.
In fact, there are several examples of criminals entering Canada on multiple occasions after being deported. There are even examples of criminals re-entering Canada using false identities and documents up to 15, 19, 21 different times. This has to stop, and biometrics will help our government end this fraud and abuse. Biometrics will help our government protect the safety and the security of Canadians.
Biometrics is one of the most effective ways to correctly identify individuals. Biometrics would be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat out of Canada.
The legislation being debated today, 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 and work permit applications. This would mean that photos and fingerprints would be collected as part of a standard visa application process before the applicant arrives in Canada. This would help with processing visa applications and later, with confirming the identity of visa holders when they arrive at our borders.
The use of biometrics as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems is a welcome development that is a long time in the making.
It would also bring Canada in line with what is quickly becoming the international norm in this area.
As my hon. colleagues may know, many governments around the world have already introduced biometric collection in their immigration and border programs. They include the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, countries of the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Although the use of biometrics for visa applications would be a new development for Canada, the fact that so many other countries have already adopted biometrics has an added benefit. Many visa applicants to Canada would already be familiar with the process. This would make for a smoother transition to this system.
By providing a fast and reliable tool to help confirm identity, biometrics would strengthen the integrity of Canada's immigration system and help protect the safety and security of Canadians while helping facilitate legitimate travel. This would greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applications and the growing sophistication in identity fraud.
At the same time, the use of biometrics would be beneficial to applicants themselves because, in the long run, as I noted, the use of biometrics would actually facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants.
For instance, in cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain or in doubt, biometrics could expedite decision-making at Canadian ports of entry. Using biometrics could also protect visa applicants by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use the applicants' identity to gain access into Canada.
The legislation and regulations would also allow for biometric data collected from foreign nationals to be used and disclosed by the RCMP for domestic law enforcement. For instance, in a criminal investigation, if there is a match to a temporary resident's fingerprints, the RCMP would be authorized to disclose that information to another law enforcement agency. This may help, for example, in cases where unidentified fingerprints are found at a crime scene, or where assistance is needed in identifying victims.
This is yet another tool to help enforce Canadian laws and to ensure that Canada's doors are not open to those who would break the law or endanger the safety of our citizens. Let me stress, however, that the use of biometric information for law enforcement purposes would be conducted in accordance with Canada's privacy legislation.
Allow me to quote from a recent editorial on Bill C-31 which appeared in the Montreal Gazette. It noted:
The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities.
It would be hard to disagree with this take on biometrics. After all, the many benefits of introducing biometric technology for screening visa applicants make it a welcome and, as the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has described it, a “historic” development for our immigration system.
Furthermore, the use of biometrics is increasingly becoming the standard by which other countries operate. By passing Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, we would be ensuring that Canada keeps up with the many countries already using biometrics in their immigration and border programs.
The implementation of biometrics makes so much common sense, I cannot for the life of me understand how the opposition NDP and Liberals could vote against these provisions.
Canadians, including my constituents in Newmarket—Aurora, do not want criminals to be able to enter Canada, live in their neighbourhoods and roam their streets. I am quite certain neither do the constituents of any of the NDP and Liberal MPs in this House.
The NDP and Liberals are trying to gut biometric provisions. They are voting against one of the most important measures to prevent criminals and terrorists from entering our country. They are voting against a tool that will help protect the safety and security of all Canadians, including their constituents.
It is only our Conservative government that is supporting measures that will help prevent any more innocent Canadians from being victimized by foreign criminals who should not be in Canada in the first place.
Biometrics would protect the integrity of Canada's immigration system. It is an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out.
For these reasons and many others, I wholeheartedly and without reservation urge all members to vote against the irresponsible NDP and Liberal amendments that would stop the government from implementing biometrics, and instead support Bill C-31 and ensure its speedy passage.