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House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.

Topics

Message from the Senate

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill to which the concurrence of the House is desired: S-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Security of Information Act.

The House resumed from May 17 consideration of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, and we are speaking at report stage.

Unfortunately, we are debating what I would call irresponsible opposition amendments that try to gut this important piece of legislation. I would like to take a few minutes to explain what the negative consequences would be if the NDP and the Liberals succeeded in delaying and stopping this bill from going forward.

Bill C-31, once passed, will make Canada's asylum system much faster and fairer. The most negative and important consequence of the opposition amendments would be that legitimate refugees would have to wait longer to receive Canada's much needed protection. Under the current system, it takes almost two years for a decision. Our Conservative government believes that is unfair and unacceptable. That is one of the main reasons we have introduced Bill C-31.

By introducing and supporting the opposition amendments, the NDP and Liberals are telling true refugees fleeing war and persecution around this world, many who literally have scars on their backs, that they should wait longer than is necessary to receive Canada's protection and for the certainty and piece of mind that comes with that protection. This is truly shameful.

The measures in Bill C-31 unquestionably complement Canada's proud humanitarian tradition of providing protection for those who are most in need of it. That tradition manifests itself in many internationally recognized ways. For example, Canada is one of only about 20 countries in the world that resettle refugees. In fact, we annually resettle about one out of every ten refugees who are resettled globally, more than almost any country in this world. That is something that we can be proud of. The government has pledged to continue this tradition. By 2013, Canada will resettle up to 14,500 refugees. That is an increase of 2,500 refugees since 2010.

On top of this, every year Canada grants protection inside the country to thousands of asylum seekers. Bill C-31 will continue to move forward Canada's strong humanitarian tradition. With that being said, no one should doubt that there are many concerns with the way that our current refugee system operates. We know there is significant abuse of the system and of Canadians' generosity. Bill C-31 would help address those problems.

Let us take a look at the facts. In 2011, 62% of all asylum claims were either abandoned or withdrawn by the claimant or rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Far too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on such claims. Indeed, the average failed refugee claim costs taxpayers around $55,000.

Another concern is the recent spike in refugee claims from countries that are generally considered to be safe. These are countries with traditions similar to our own with respect to human rights and commitments to the rule of law. For instance, Canadians would be interested to know that last year nationals from European Union countries accounted for about a quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada. That is over 5,800 claims from the European Union in 2011, more than the claims that are received from Asia or Africa.

What is more, virtually all of the asylum claims made from EU countries were abandoned or withdrawn by claimants, which is their own admission that they were bogus, or they were rejected by the independent IRB. The cost to hard-working Canadian taxpayers for those unfounded claims is at least $170 million per year.

These facts speak for themselves. A large number of asylum seekers in Canada are simply not in need of our protection. Instead of waiting patiently to come to Canada through the proper immigration process, too many of these people are trying to use our asylum system as a back door to gain entry into Canada. The very unfortunate result is a clogged refugee system where those who legitimately need protection must wait far too long before we can process their claims.

Canadians are generous. They want to provide protection to those who are genuinely in need. However, I can tell the House that Canadians have no tolerance for those who blatantly seek to abuse that generosity. We need to send a clear message on behalf of Canadians on this, that being that if they are not in need of our protection they will be sent home quickly.

I would like to try offering an explanation about why the current system results in so many unfounded claims.

To begin, too much of our time is spent on processing applications from people whose applications for asylum are ultimately rejected. This has contributed to a significant backlog of cases at the Immigration and Refugee Board. Currently, about 42,000 claims are pending. In a nutshell, the current system is too slow, not only for our refugees who are genuinely in need of our protection, but also for dealing with bogus claimants who seek to abuse our system and our generosity.

Long wait times make Canada a much more attractive target for those whose only motivation for seeking asylum is to take advantage of our many generous social benefits while they wait for a decision. Ultimately, again, it is hard-working Canadian taxpayers who end up footing that very expensive bill.

Under the current system, claimants can access taxpayer-funded health care and claim social assistance for several years while their claim is still pending. On average, it can take up to four and a half years from the time an initial claim is made until a failed claimant is removed from Canada. In some cases, this process has taken more than 10 years. Every Canadian I know would say that this is clearly unacceptable.

The situation is also far too cumbersome which makes it more vulnerable to abuse. Bogus claimants who seek to abuse our system know they have many avenues and many different layers of recourse. They know they can further prolong their time here by seeking these different avenues of recourse. That is precisely what many of them do to further delay their removal from Canada.

The NDP members have praised the goals of this bill. They have said that the system needs to be faster and that more needs to be done to crack down on those who abuse the system. I will quote the NDP immigration critic and MP for Vancouver Kingsway who had this to say:

I think what we need to do is build a system that has a fast and fair determination process. And that’s something that I’ll give [the minister] credit for. I do think that’s what his intention has been all along. And we all want to work towards that. We don’t want endless dragging on of this stuff because refugees, when they come here, you know, they do qualify for basic sustenance...it is at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer.... We want a fast, fair system where we can give a sanctuary to people who need it quickly and we can weed out the people who don’t have valid claims, get them through a fair process. And if they’re not valid at the end of the day, deport them out of Canada swiftly.

The Liberal immigration critic and MP for Winnipeg North also has supported these goals. He said, “I support the need to make quick decisions in regards to refugees.”

Countless others support Bill C-31 as well. Immigration experts, lawyers, settlement organizations and average Canadians all overwhelmingly support Bill C-31. They have all said that something needs to be done. Our Conservative government has now taken action.

I am not surprised, but I am disappointed, to see that while the opposition members say one thing, they have done quite another. Instead of working in good faith with our government to pass legislation that is in the best interest of Canadians and genuine refugees, they have chosen to play politics with this issue.

The measures in Bill C-31 would help protect the integrity of our immigration system. At the same time, they would not change the fact that Canada's refugee determination system remains one of the most generous in the world. If the measures contained in Bill C-31 are implemented, Canada will be able to develop a faster, fairer refugee system that better protects those who genuinely need our protection. We will also be able to remove bogus asylum claimants from the country faster. Too many taxpayer dollars continue to be spent on bogus applications from people who are not in need of protection.

It is for these reasons that I implore all members in this House to vote against the NDP and Liberal amendments. I ask them to support Bill C-31 and help to ensure its speedy passage.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech with some interest. I disagree with his analysis of our position. I think that he is being disingenuous when he talks about the NDP supporting a bill that turns around a bill that we worked on in the last Parliament where we made compromises and came to conclusions. The former Bill C-11 was supported by all parties. However, this bill turns around many of the things that were included in that bill.

Why does the hon. member think that in the short period of a year and a half we should turn around our thinking on an important issue such as refugees and the changes that are required to ensure that their part in Canada is well protected?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, the only turnaround that is taking place here is the NDP members' support for the bill and their position on it. It is my understanding that in committee they supported Conservative amendments. They supported at least two of the amendments that Conservatives made at committee. That would lead us to believe that they were fairly happy with the bill and the way that it was going and that they supported the direction we are taking, as I quoted members who supported its concepts. Now they are making 85 amendments in the House, trying to completely destroy the bill.

The member across the way talks about a turnaround. There is no turnaround on this side of the House. We stand for the protection of those who are genuine refugees. We also stand for the protection of taxpayers. Taxpayers are ultimately going to pay the extra costs that are being borne by the system when bogus refugee claims are in that system.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the executive committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that “in view of the hardship which it involves, detention should normally be avoided”. Canada is a signatory to the convention through which the High Commissioner for Refugees functions. Yet the bill, as a matter of normal course, will involve the detention of anyone who arrives by what the minister deems to be irregular entry. This appears punitive. Yet the minister says there is no attempt here to put forward punitive detention. It seems to me we are flying in the face of our international commitments.

I would ask my friend the hon. parliamentary secretary how he would square this circle? How is this not in direct violation of our international commitments to protect the rights of refugees?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, Canada has a great and long tradition of protecting refugees. Many of the people who have settled in this country are refugees. They were escaping from different types of totalitarian regimes, different types of persecution around the world.

To answer the member's question directly, it is my understanding that less than one half of 1% of refugees will be impacted by any of the detention clauses that are presented in the bill. It is aimed specifically at those who come here with what are called irregular arrivals. We had examples of folks showing up on a boat and we did not have any idea of who they were, or if their identification was accurate or not. There is a need to protect the Canadian public and to find out who people are and what they are here for before they are allowed to settle in our country.

I have had the opportunity to deal with some of the religious persecution issues. We need to be a country that is open to bringing in folks who are being persecuted, whose lives are in danger. There are many places in this world that imprison individuals on issues of religious faith. People are being threatened with death. Canada needs to be a place that is open to having them come to this country. We need to welcome them as we always have.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has done an excellent job of outlining his position and in responding specifically to the issues.

He mentioned those he has assisted with respect to religious persecution. I would like to give him an opportunity to speak a little further about those who are genuine refugees and actually need our assistance here in Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to recognize the great work that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has done on this legislation and on so many of these issues. He is far more knowledgeable than I am on these issues.

In many areas around the world people are persecuted just for making a choice to believe. They should have the freedom to be able to make their own choices. They should be able to believe as they choose. They should be able to act that out as they choose as long as it does not invade their neighbours' space or violate other people's rights. We realize that is not the case in big parts of this world. There are regimes that have specifically targeted religious minorities. They are threatening them with persecution and death. We need to be open to bringing those people in.

I just need to quickly point out that Canada's top source of refugee claims last year was Hungary. When most of our refugee claimants are coming from the European Union, we need to do something to correct that situation and allow genuine refugees to be able to come here and settle.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-31 but before I get into my speaking points, I did not have an opportunity to reply to the parliamentary secretary for natural resources but I want to put on record the very clear NDP position on this.

First, I want to acknowledge the good work done by the member for Newton—North Delta and the member for Vancouver Kingsway. The member for Newton—North Delta indicated that witness after witness at the committee meetings studying Bill C-31 told us that the legislation was fundamentally flawed, unconstitutional and that it concentrated too much power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Bill C-31 would effectively punish legitimate refugees and do nothing to stop human smuggling because none of the NDP substantive amendments were adopted by the government members at committee and because MPs from all parties just passed the balanced refugee reform package in the last Parliament. The member for Newton—North Delta recommended that all clauses be deleted from this legislation. I think that is a fairly clear position from the NDP.

I also must correct the record around the member for Vancouver Kingsway. I know all members of the House at various times selectively quote from speeches and press releases, but I want to indicate that the member for Vancouver Kingsway actually said that Bill C-31 was a bill that was “...unconstitutional, violates international conventions, punishes refugees and harms Canada's long reputation as a responsible recipient of those needing protection”. That is from the website of the Canadian Council for Refugees. I think that is fairly unequivocal about the NDP position on Bill C-31.

As responsible parliamentarians, the New Democrats studied the bill very carefully. I would remind people that it is another omnibus bill, which seems to be a pattern that we are seeing from the Conservatives.They are not allowing parliamentarians to divide bills up and have thorough and considered study of each section of the bill to ensure we are not having unintended consequences and that the impact is exactly what the bill was intended to do. We have seen other examples in the House where we have had to go back and correct after the fact when we have made errors in bills that have been passed.

Bill C-31 would repeal most of the compromises from the former Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, which was from the 40th Parliament. It received all party support. Again, members from the New Democrats worked very hard with other parties to ensure that it was a more balanced approach. Bill C-31 re-introduces Bill C-4, human smuggling, which targets refugees instead of the smugglers, and it introduces the collection of biometrics for temporary residents.

I do not have enough time in 10 minutes to go through all aspects of the bill but I will touch on a couple of points. The bill would concentrate more powers in the hands of the minister by allowing him or her to name safe countries and to restrict refugees from these countries. Under the former Bill C-11, this was to be done by a panel of experts, including human rights experts. It would restrict access to humanitarian and compassionate consideration. It includes a clause that would prohibit refugee claimants who have been incarcerated in their home country for over 10 years and would not allow for tribunal discretion in the case of political prisoners. One that has been pointed out in this context is Nelson Mandela who was convicted and sentenced for sabotage in the apartheid era of South Africa. Although the New Democrats agree that Canada should not accept those with a criminal background, many refugees are actually fleeing political persecution and some consideration must be given to those refugees.

The bill would allow arbitrary designation of irregular arrivals and their mandatory incarceration.

Bill C-31 re-introduces most of the provisions of Bill C-4, which were widely condemned by refugee advocates and are likely unconstitutional. It would change the Balanced Refugee Reform Act 2010 without even implementing the law as it is. That act was passed by the minority Parliament after a series of compromises led by the NDP and was set to come into effect in June 2012.

I want to emphasize a couple of key points. The bill would punish refugees and would not address the problem of human smuggling. We just passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act last year and the Conservatives are going back on that compromise that they spoke in favour of mere months ago. The minister wants to concentrate more arbitrary power in the minister's hands to treat refugees differently depending on how they come to Canada.

There were some amendments that were considered. This was not only through the NDP but also by refugees and stakeholder groups. A couple of these amendments were to allow for initial detention review at 14 days initially and subsequently at six months, and to clarify that the government would not have the power to revoke the permanent residency of successful refugee claimants if conditions should change in their countries of origin unless it was found that they obtained their status through fraudulent means.

However, it is important to note that these amendments did not deal with a number of very serious situations: provisions that would give the minister the power to hand-pick which countries he or she thinks are safe without the advice from any independent experts; measures to deny some refugees access to the new refugee appeal division based on how they arrived; and a five-year mandatory wait for bona fide refugees to become permanent residents and reunite with their families, again based on how they arrive in the country.

A number of other serious concerns were highlighted as potentially unconstitutional or potentially in violation of our international obligations.

We are specifically talking about refugees but many of our constituency offices end up dealing with significant amounts of casework as a result of immigration, whether it be visitors visas, refugee claims or a number of other factors like that. I am dealing with two cases in my riding. One case concerns a family member who is now in Canada. The person is professional, hard-working and has been in the country for a number of years. Her sister has been applying to come to Canada as a resident. She has been on the list for seven years and she is a skilled, professional worker. We have no idea what is going to happen to her application. Despite the number of years she has been on the list, the amount of money she has paid and that she has done everything that she needed to do, she will not be able to come to Canada even though she is one of those skilled workers we are looking for. This family, which has been waiting patiently for seven years, has been thrown into turmoil.

The second case I am dealing with concerns a visitors visa. The person was born and raised in Canada and he married somebody from another country. This woman has adult children in the other country who are professionals and who have extended families and property. They just want to come here to visit mom and dad. These family members have been repeatedly denied visitors visas because they are deemed to be a threat or risk to not return, despite their very clear ties to their home country. What will happen in this case is that this Canadian family, with significant assets in this country, will sell its assets and move to the country where the woman's family lives. What we will have here is the loss of a professional and his wife who live in the country and the loss of their significant assets because the other country will welcome them with open arms. We need to look seriously at some of this processing.

In its comments on the amendments, the Canadian Council for Refugees stated:

While the CCR welcomes changes that improve protection for refugees in Canada, the majority of the CCR’s key concerns with the bill remain, including:

Provisions to designate ‘irregular arrivals’ and ’safe countries’ (also referred to as ‘designated countries of origin’) that discriminate simply because of a person’s origin or method of arrival

Speedy and inflexible timelines that prevent people from telling their stories and preparing their cases properly

A five-year ban on permanent residence applications and family reunification for “irregular arrivals” once they are recognized as refugees

Mandatory detention for some claimants

The Canadian Council for Refugees concludes:

Unfortunately, other amendments represent a step backwards with respect to restrictions for claimants from ‘safe countries’ applying for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA). In its original form, Bill C-31 put in place a 12-month bar; the amended version of the bill will increase this to 36 months. This change renders the PRRA ineffective.

We have an organization that works hard on behalf of refugees and it cannot support this bill. Surely the opinion of somebody who has the face-to-face knowledge from working for years with refugees should be considered.

I will close with a comment by Dr. Meb Rashid who said that as a physician who has had the privilege of working with refugee populations for over 10 years, he was deeply concerned about the impact of mandatory detention on the health status of an often overly traumatized population.

I urge all members of this House to oppose the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for participating in the debate on this important bill. I would, however, remind her that this is not an omnibus bill. These are all amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the vast majority of which deal with essentially the same scope of issues. They all deal with the integrity of our system.

The member is the first person I have heard suggest that this is an omnibus bill. Moreover, I would suggest that this bill has received very fulsome consideration. In fact, we have had more than 13 days of debate, almost 50 hours of debate and now over 130 speeches. At committee, we had 15 committee meetings with over 43 hours listening to 109 witnesses. Much of this bill was already considered in an earlier Parliament, with respect to the human smuggling provisions and the refugee reform provisions. Therefore, I would challenge that assertion.

I would, however, ask the member what I have asked every opposition MP. What does she propose as an effective legal disincentive for human smugglers who would target Canada and further would-be clients? Does the member have any constructive ideas about how we could dissuade such people from coming to Canada in such a dangerous and illegal fashion?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the minister is correct in that it is not an omnibus and that is not changing a number of different acts. I was referring to it more in terms of the very broad scope and the impact that it would have on immigrants to this country, refugees and their families. The minister is correct in that respect.

I think there are a number of organizations that we can work with in this country in terms of targeting smugglers and working with the international community. We do take our responsibility seriously. I also agree that Canadians do not want to see human trafficking and human smuggling take place. However, we would also argue that we do not target the refugee but actually target the smugglers.

We need to respect our international conventions and work with international organizations because the problem is that it is often not made in Canada, it comes from another country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do think we recognize, as the hon. minister pointed out, that this is specific legislation dealing with a specific area of immigration policy, and that there have been changes accepted.

Those changes are improvements but I am still not able to support the bill as it now stands because I believe we cannot treat a class of refugees, simply because they arrive by boat, differently from how we would treat anyone else. We could legitimately have an entire boatload of people escaping religious persecution. It would not matter the reason they had arrived on our shores, they would go to detention.

That is my understanding of the bill. I would ask my hon. friend if she thinks I have misunderstood the government's intent?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, actually, Amnesty International has raised this as an issue about looking at how a group of refugees comes. It cites article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which reads:

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.

The same article stipulates that anyone who is deprived of his or her liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court and so on.

Other organizations are also raising concerns about how we are targeting refugees, on how they arrive in Canada and on how we are treating them differently.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has been very clear since we started debate on this motion that we are absolutely in support of targeting the smugglers and that we should be working with the international community to ensure that they get the punishment they deserve and all the disincentives.

However, we are not in favour of punishing the victims, which is what this bill would do.

Could my colleague tells us exactly what will happen to children who are under 16 when they arrive on one of these boats?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, my understanding of this bill is that children under the age of 16 would often be treated the same way as adults. The physician whose comment I was reading was targeting how many of these young people are traumatized in their countries of origin and here we will add to that trauma. We would argue that it violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We would urge the government to review that section of the bill.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour, obviously, to speak to this bill.

I come from a community which, as I have said many times in the House, is the largest riding in the country. Some 250,000 people call my riding home. It is a community that has been built on immigration. Specifically, over the last 30 years, my community has grown dramatically in leaps and bounds. The entire York region has grown by leaps and bounds because of immigration to our community. Markham is one of the most diverse municipalities, if not the most diverse city, in all of Canada. We are proud of that because in Markham, Stouffville, King City and Richmond Hill, the communities that I represent, we understand that immigration is important to our communities. Immigration is what helps build and boost our economy. We understand that diversity is a strength, not a weakness.

I have to take a moment to congratulate the minister and the parliamentary secretary. What has been most impressive with this legislation, and in the last Parliament as well, is the ability of the minister and the parliamentary secretary to sit down with individuals to bring bills forward and to come to a consensus that is not only good for Canadians, but is good for those who would seek to come to Canada.

I had the pleasure of being on the immigration committee in the last Parliament when we studied a previous bill. We heard continually that the bill we brought forward then, which received the unanimous support of Parliament, was the first step in addressing what were many problems within the immigration system. It is absolutely no secret that when we took office, we were left with a system which had a backlog of a million people waiting to come to Canada. In the past, the first experience for people who wanted to come to this country was applying through the immigration system and being told that they would have to wait some seven to ten years before they would actually gain entrance into Canada. Many of them had moved on to other places. Some had fallen off the list for other reasons. We were not keeping track of things.

The minister, the parliamentary secretary and this government decided that we had to do something about that. If Canada was to continue to remain a prosperous country, we had to do better to encourage the right type of people to come to Canada so that we could continue the strong economic growth that we have had. The minister set out to make some changes. We worked with our provincial partners to make sure the people we were attracting to Canada were the type of people our economy required. We sat down with our provincial partners to find out the job categories they were looking to fill. They helped us create categories where we could encourage people with the needed skills to come to Canada .

We also told people that when they come to Canada, we want to get them employed faster. This government has moved very quickly to recognize foreign credentials so that when people come to Canada, they can actually be productive members of our society as soon as possible.

These are the types of changes we have started to make. Under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act we went even further.

We always said that we needed to do more to make sure that our immigration system reflected Canada's values and to put Canada first. What we are doing now is making some additional changes to our refugee system to ensure that Canada remains the best destination in the world for people to come to, but to also remove the disincentive for those people who would seek to take advantage of our generosity.

Recently, there were two ships that came to Canada. My community was the final destination for many of the people who were aboard those two ships. I recall the diverse opinions from people across my community. There was an immediate sense of wondering who the individuals coming to Canada were and what it was that they were fleeing. People wanted to know more about them.

This government had to put in place mechanisms. Through this legislation we are putting in place mechanisms that will make sure that people who seek to come to Canada actually require the assistance and protection of the Government of Canada, and our continued generosity. Unfortunately, in the past we have seen that there are individuals who would seek to take advantage of Canada's immigration policies. That is not how this country was built.

My parents came to this country in the late 1950s, early 1960s from Italy. They came in at Pier 21, as many immigrants did. Like millions of other hard-working immigrants, they came to this country, worked hard, loved this country, and were very proud to be Canadians. They contributed not only to the community but to the province and to the country until the day they died. That is the type of immigrant this country is seeking.

This country also does its part in making sure that those who are in need of protection get Canada's protection, but we will not stand for people seeking to take advantage of this generosity. Canadians do not expect us to stand for that.

We made it clear in the last election and in the throne speech that we intended to seek further changes to our immigration policies to make sure we put Canadians first, to make sure we put the protection of vulnerable individuals first. That is what we are doing.

When there are more refugee claimants from Europe than there are from other places in the world where there is an absolute need, then we have a problem that needs to be addressed. That is what we are doing.

My community is one of the most diverse communities in the entire country. I am proud to say that my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham is home to Canada's newest national park, the Rouge National Park. My riding is the largest in the entire country. It is also the breadbasket of southern Ontario. Some of the most fertile lands in all of southern Ontario are located in my riding, through Whitchurch, Stouffville, northern Markham, King City. This is the time of year when our farmers seek the assistance of people from all over the world to help them plant and bring in their crops, and to make sure that their fields remain some of the most productive.

We are making changes to the immigration system that will allow us to continue that, but will also allow us to seek the people this country needs to continue what has been the best global economic recovery of any nation in the world.

We are doing very well in this country not only because of policies that have been brought in by the Minister of Finance, but because of policies that the Minister of Immigration has brought in, the policies which have encouraged people to come to Canada.

I have the honour of representing the Department of Canadian Heritage. During the global economic downturn, we increased funding in culture and heritage because we understood that was important to the Canadian economy. No other G8 country did that. During the global economic downturn, while other G8 countries were reducing immigration, we were doing just the opposite. We were increasing immigration, because we understand how important immigration is to Canada and to our communities. We understand how important immigrants have been in helping to make this the best country in the world in which to live.

Canadians and people who seek to come to this country expect our immigration system to reflect what they need. We want to protect people faster. We want to make sure that those who need the support of this country get it. We want to make sure that those who seek to take advantage of our system, the human smugglers, are punished and that they are not given any incentives. We work with our international partners to make sure that we do our best to stop people before they actually get on the ships and pay the ransom they are asked to pay.

The member for Kildonan—St. Paul has been a tireless worker on human smuggling and protecting vulnerable women.

We on this side of the House understand a number of things. We understand that immigrants and the immigration system help to make this country a great place to live. We also understand that if we are going to continue to be the best country in the world, we have to do better to make sure that Canadians have confidence in the systems that support their government. That includes the immigration system.

We have tackled workers' credentials. We are tackling the backlog. Now we are reforming the refugee system to make sure that those who seek our protection actually get the protection that they deserve.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to sit across the aisle here and listen to some of the things that are being said about how much the government supports immigration and how much it supports refugees, when in fact, in this particular bill, two tiers of refugees are being created.

People are going to be recognized as refugees, but even after our recognition of them with all the criteria we use, we are still going to treat the refugees who arrive as so-called irregulars very differently. We will not be giving them any travel documents or permanent residency for five years after they have been recognized as refugees. They will not have any travel documents and they will not be able to bring their family members here to join them.

For a government that speaks so much about the family being central in Canadian society, why is the government attacking the families of the most vulnerable refugees who will land on our shores?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. This government has done everything in its power to encourage people to come to this country, as my family did. This government will continue to support legitimate refugees and those immigrants who want to come to this country and help build a better Canadian society.

The member is specifically referencing people who come in as irregular arrivals. We need to find out who they are. Canadians expect their immigration system to make sure that we know exactly who they are.

In many cases, people have paid a ransom to human smugglers, whom the opposition seems to want to support. We do not want people coming here and bringing their families, also as slaves, to try and pay off a ransom they have been forced to pay to criminal elements who have put them on ships. Criminal elements are forcing people to pay $25,000 to $50,000 a year to come to Canada, when they could have come legitimately.

This government has made changes to the immigration system that actually encourage some of the highest levels of immigration in this country's history. We will not create new slaves, people who are beholden to criminal elements at home and abroad. This government will always put the rights of hard-working Canadians, hard-working immigrants and real refugees ahead of the criminal elements.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, Brooks, Alberta, is a city in my riding that has a huge population of immigrants and refugees. On average, per capita, it is probably far greater than most other communities across this country. I have talked to those individuals, those immigrants and those refugees. They tell me that they are extremely upset with people who are jumping the queue.

How would this bill help us to protect the opportunity for people to come to this country as immigrants and refugees?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Medicine Hat comes from a region of the country that is in an economic boom. His community requires hard-working skilled immigrants to help our Canadian economy continue to prosper.

The member is quite right. Canadians expect that those legitimate people who want to come to this country and be a productive part of our society should get priority. They should be able to get here as soon as they possibly can so that we can meet some of the labour shortages across the country to help the extraordinary economic recovery that we have had in this country.

Canadians also expect us to deal with those who would seek to take advantage of this Canadian generosity, those who would seek to circumvent the rules, and those criminal elements who would seek to take advantage of people in need, criminal elements who seek ransoms of $25,000 to $50,000 per person. We are going to put them out of business. That is what Canadians expect this government to do and we will do it.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, and to voice my strong opposition to the irresponsible NDP and Liberal amendments that will gut this necessary and important piece of legislation, which will improve the country's immigration system in a number of important ways.

Immigration is central to our country's history, to our prosperity, to our international reputation for generosity and humanitarianism and our great success as a nation. That is why I am pleased to speak today in support of a bill that is designed to ensure that our country has a strong, effective and efficient immigration system.

Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, aims to strengthen Canada's immigration system in three very specific ways.

First, it would further build on the long-needed reforms to the asylum system that were passed in Parliament in June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

Second, it would allow Canadian authorities to better crack down on the lucrative business of human smuggling by integrating measures that the government previously introduced in the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act.

Third, it would enable the introduction of biometric technology for screening visa applicants which would strengthen our immigration program in a number of important ways.

All these measures are important for many reasons and I would like to spell out how and why.

On refugee reform, Canada has the fairest and most generous asylum system in the world. In fact, we resettle more refugees than almost any country on the planet, and we are increasing that number by 20%, a record of which all Canadians can be proud. However, it is not a secret that our system is open to abuse. The facts paint a clear picture.

Last year asylum claims for democratic and rights respecting European Union countries made up a quarter of all claims in Canada. Shockingly, that is more than the claims we received from Africa and Asia. What is more, virtually all these asylum claims from the EU were either abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants or rejected by the independent IRB.

In other words, these people were not in need of Canada's protection when they applied to come to Canada as refugees, but they came anyway. They came to soak up our generous benefits and to try to jump the queue because they did not want to wait in line and follow the rules like everyone else. While here, these bogus claimants have access to our generous taxpayer-funded health care system and our welfare benefits. Indeed, the average bogus asylum seeker costs the taxpayers $55,000 each.

The opposition can argue against this bill, but they cannot argue with those facts.

The measures in Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act, would accelerate the processing of refugee claims, especially for nationals from designated countries that generally would not produce refugees. They would also reduce the options available to failed claimants to delay their removal from Canada.

In short, these measures will help to prevent abuse of the system and will ensure that all our refugees determination processes are streamlined as much as possible. This will be accomplished without affecting the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international or domestic obligations with respect to refugees. Most important, by growing the refugee system in these ways, the legislation would also ensure that the refugee claimants who really needed our protection would get it even faster. For those who deserve to come to Canada, for those who are truly refugees, the system will become fairer and it will become faster.

As well with this new legislation, taxpayers are expected to save $1.65 billion over the next five years. This is money that can go to health care, to education, to roads, to all the other things that we hold dear in our country.

As I mentioned at the top of my remarks, the second piece of the protecting Canada's immigration system act incorporates measures that address human smuggling.

Several months ago in the House the Minister of Public Safety introduced Bill C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act.

As my hon. colleagues are well aware, we debated that bill extensively throughout the fall sitting of Parliament. The anti-human smuggling measures contained the bill would help maintain the integrity of our generous immigration system, while curtailing the abuse of that system by human smugglers whose activities would undermine the security and safety of Canadians.

Cracking down on human smugglers is an important element of protecting the integrity of our immigration system. After listening to expert witnesses, Canadians and parliamentarians, the government has proposed amendments to the detention portion of that bill.

The amendments would allow for a first detention review within 14 days and subsequent reviews every 180 days. As before, a person would be released before this time upon being found to be a genuine refugee. As an additional safeguard, the government will also propose an amendment which allow the Minister of Public Safety, on his own initiative and at any time, to release a detained individual when grounds for that detention no longer exist. We are putting great protections in the system for true refugees.

Detaining individuals until their identity has been established is what any responsible government would and should do. The human smuggling groups include architects of these criminal operations, war criminals and serious criminals. These are not just perceived threats; these are real threats, threats to Canadians, threats to our seniors, threats to our children.

For example, on the Sun Sea, to date, four people have been found inadmissible to Canada for security reasons. One has been found inadmissible because of being guilty of war crimes.

In the Ocean Lady, to date, 19 people have been found inadmissible to Canada for security reasons, while 17 have been found inadmissible due to war crimes.

These are significant numbers. Unlike the NDP and the Liberals, our government wants to keep these people off the streets and out of our country. By opposing these provisions, the NDP and the Liberals are saying to their constituents that they want these inadmissible people, war criminals, these security threats, to be let into our communities where they will go underground immediately and be difficult to track and left to threatened the safety and security of all Canadians, our seniors, our children, our single moms. These people are true threats and it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure they do not have access to Canada.

The first component of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, would create a legislative framework for the long-planned implementation of biometric technology as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems.

This component of the legislation and its corresponding regulations that would follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for certain visa applicants to Canada to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications. Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than other documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening and enhance our security and help reduce fraud.

Biometrics form an effective tool to manage high volumes of applications and growing sophistication in identity fraud measures. Using biometrics will help prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using false identities to obtain a Canadian visa. It will help prevent innocent Canadians from being victimized by foreign criminals who should not be in the country in the first place.

Implementing biometrics will bring Canada in line with a growing list of countries that already use biometrics in their immigration and border control programs.

I stand in strong support of Bill C-31, and congratulate the minister and the parliamentary secretary for bringing in needed amendments. I will support the bill and I ask the opposition parties to do the same.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The non. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley will have five minutes remaining for questions and comments when the House next returns to the motion.

Statements by members, the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul.

Foreign AffairsStatements by Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, last Sunday marked the amazing return of two children, Abby and Dominic Maryk, to their mother, Emily Cablek, after being abducted by their father to Mexico four years ago. The happy ending to this heart-wrenching case was the result of a joint effort of a number of partners.

I want to thank the incredible and relentless work of Winnipeg Police Inspector Gord Perrier, Detective Sergeant Shaunna Neufeld and the Winnipeg Police missing persons unit to find and rescue these children. That is amazing police work.

I also want to thank and highlight the invaluable assistance of Mexican congresswoman Rosi Orozco and the Mexican ambassador to Canada, Ambassador Francisco Barrio-Terrazas, as well as consular officials and our very own Minister of State for Consular Affairs, as well as the RCMP and the CBSA.

It is a wonderful day when we can wish Emily all the best in growing and helping her children to adjust in Canada.

HousingStatements by Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Sunday in Montreal, thousands of Quebeckers marched along with FRAPRU to call on the federal government to maintain social housing subsidies. An end to the agreements between the federal government and housing co-operatives is fast approaching.

Yesterday we met with the director of a group of non-profit housing organizations who confirmed that within just a few months, a number of organizations will no longer have financial support and will be on their own to maintain their already aging building inventory. Dozens of social housing units Will soon be in dangerous condition, when there is already a huge lack of available affordable housing. In the region of Roussillon alone, more than 1,500 families spend from 50% to 80% of their income on housing.

Three city councils in my riding, Delson, Saint-Constant and Sainte-Catherine, are aware of this problem and have supported a resolution calling on the Government of Canada to reinvest continuously and to maintain affordable housing subsidies.

The government stubbornly refuses to assume its responsibilities with respect to this issue, so I am taking this opportunity to strongly denounce this government that has, once again, turned its back on the poorest Canadians.