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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

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

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.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in regard to biometrics, I do not know if the member is aware of it, but it was actually the Liberal government that initiated the pilot project on biometrics. It has taken the government five or six years now to act on that initiative.

In regard to detentions, the current system works. The government is claiming to fix something that is just not broken. The current system has been working.

With respect to terrorists and the return of criminals, the government has been negligent on the biometrics aspect, but when it comes to the detention aspect of it, the government created the issue. The issue was not there.

Besides those two points, could the member tell me what other measures in this legislation are going to prevent terrorism or punish criminals who are not landed immigrants or in fact refugees? What other initiatives is the member referring to in this bill?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know the detention system is not working for Canadians.

I would like to talk about biometrics and the opportunity this presents for people who are coming into Canada legitimately. When people provide this kind of information it gives the Canadian immigration system new tools to help legitimate people get into Canada far more quickly. We are just following in the steps, and late in so doing may I say, of many other countries in the world that are already implementing this kind of technology. It is time Canada got on board.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, we hear a lot about all these people who are trying to get into Canada illegally, but the Geneva convention does recognize asylum seekers. When we look at people from Hungary, even though there were many applicants, Canada did recognize at least 160 of them last year as asylum seekers under the Geneva convention.

Why is this bill going out of its way to discriminate and punish victims instead of going after the smugglers?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to relay to the House a little story about my own daughter. When she was in Spain her passport was stolen from her backpack. She reported the passport stolen. Two years later we received a phone call from the RCMP, which was trying to identify the status of my daughter's passport because it was being used for the fraudulent purpose of trying to bring someone into the country.

These are the kinds of things we absolutely have to stop. By using biometrics we are going to cut down on the number of people who are fraudulently attempting to get into Canada. We will make our system work far more expeditiously.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

June 1st, 2012 / 12:50 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated my colleague's message with respect to biometrics. She noted a number of countries that have moved aggressively in this area. We are trying to work with them, whether it be the United States or countries in the EU. In particular, this is one of the key pieces of the work we are doing with the United States on the perimeter agreement.

I wonder if the hon. member could comment on the importance of our relationship concerning identification and pursuit of the security of our border with the United States.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question because it gives me the opportunity to mention again the number of countries that Canada is lagging behind in getting this technology into place. The United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, countries of the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia are countries that have already implemented biometrics.

One of the things we can consider is many members of the House have already participated in biometrics when they have applied for or received their NEXUS card. It is a tool that the United States has used as a pilot project. It already collects biometrics to facilitate the border crossings between Canada and the United States.

It has expedited the opportunity for business transactions to take place between our two countries. We know that by implementing these kinds of biometrics for our immigration system, we are going to expedite the process and have the tools we need to bring legitimate people into our country, who will be great participants in Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I kind of wish I did not have to speak to Bill C-31 at report stage because it is a bill that we in the NDP very much oppose. We are very concerned about its passage through report stage and on to third reading.

Our colleague, the member for Newton—North Delta, has worked so hard in committee. She tried valiantly to make amendments to the bill at committee to improve it.

I will begin my remarks by reflecting on the history of the bill. It has an interesting history. There was an original bill which was amended to become Bill C-11, as a result of the Conservative government being in a minority Parliament. It was interesting that at that time there was some co-operation and collaboration to actually remove some of the worst aspects of the bill and to move forward with a bill that was more acceptable to members of Parliament. Of course, now there is a majority Conservative government and it is very disturbing to see that what the Conservatives did was rather than continue with former Bill C-11, they came back with a bill that is quite horrifying in terms of what it will do.

What I find disturbing is that when we hear the speeches from the government members, on the one hand they say that the bill is all about fairness and balance and that we are going to be treating refugees in a proper way and respecting international conventions and Canada's history around refugees. Then on the other hand, everything that comes out of the Conservatives' mouths is basically about abuse of the system.

It is the same kind of mantra we hear so much on the government's legislation around law and order, the Criminal Code and criminal justice. It is always about focusing on what the Conservatives see as abuse and changing laws in massive widespread ways that have an impact on society as a whole. It is a very disturbing pattern that we have seen with the government. It is a tactic the Conservatives use to divide people.

There are fears about people coming to Canada. People have many fears, but when we see a government deliberately playing on those fears and exploiting people's concerns, whether it is about immigration, refugees, or whatever it might be, it feels really bad. It feels like this is absolutely what we should not be doing. Our laws should be based on overall merit, objectivity and the public interest, rather than singling out abuse. We have seen that many times in the political environment. An example would be the attacks on people who are poor, who live on welfare. We call it poor-bashing, where laws are designed to basically scapegoat people on welfare when the rate of abuse is no more than for people in the financial sector who are involved in abuse. It becomes very much a class issue, a term which we do not use very often in the House. It becomes a way of singling people out, of targeting particular segments of our community by saying there are good people and bad people, there are criminals and there are victims, making that very simplistic division.

I wanted to begin that way because we see it so often in much of the legislation that is coming forward. Unfortunately, Bill C-31 is no different. It is a bill, like many other bills from the Conservative government, that confers greater power and authority on the minister.

I am the health critic for the NDP. We have seen recent changes in the health field around the Food and Drugs Act that will do the same thing for the Minister of Health. It will confer much greater power in terms of decision-making away from expert advice, away from a broader notion of public interest. It becomes much more of a partisan, and I would say ideological, decision-making process. Bill C-31 which deals with our refugee system is no different and in fact is probably worse.

There are many reasons to oppose the bill. One is that it concentrates more power in the minister's hands. For example, he would designate what are safe countries without any advice from independent experts.

Another major concern is it will restrict access to the humanitarian and compassionate consideration grounds for a refugee. This will be very problematic. It means that people will have to claim, at the beginning of the process, whether they will file for refugee status or humanitarian and compassionate grounds consideration. This will be a huge issue because people may not know at that point which avenue they will need to pursue. As it is now, people can go through the process and they can also file on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and know it is a due process on which they can rely.

The big concern is the arbitrary designation of so-called irregular arrivals and all that means, This raises huge alarm bells. I remember reading over the years what had occurred in places like Australia where it had mandatory detention and the kind of xenophobia and violent public discourse that took place as a result of that kind of government practice and legislation. Many of us feel this is something Canada now seems to be embarking upon. It is absolutely the wrong way to go.

I feel very concerned because when we have the minister making decisions without expert advice, those decisions can become very political and partisan. Yes, we are in politics, we all make political decisions, but when we deal with something as fundamental as a refugee process that is governed under international, UN and Geneva conventions, how we approach that is critical. Therefore, having the minister saying what is a safe country or saying that, for example, the European Union is not a safe country misses the complexity of our global environment.

I recently saw a film called Never Come Back, which is about the Roma in Canada. The film begins by speaking about Roma people who have settled in, particularly in the communities of Hamilton and Toronto. At the beginning, we think these are great contributors to the local society. There were people working in schools and long-term care facilities as cleaners and in pizza places and they had a soccer team. We wonder whether these people have been persecuted or are they refugees. Then the film takes us back to their home communities and we see the unbelievable persecution that the Roma had experienced, which was horrifying. It is something that is going on as neo-Nazism, xenophobia and violence against targeted minorities grow.

It is very alarming that the simplistic approach of the bill and the fact that it would give the minister so much power would possibly mean that many people who would be refugees legitimately fleeing persecution, hard-working Canadians who will make an enormous contribution to our society when they come here, would be cast aside for political reasons. We have been told that the bill is about getting at abuse. There is this heavy-handed approach at basically eliminating the possibility of many legitimate people from also coming through.

That is only a bit of what I wanted to say. However, it is another sad day that this legislation will go through. The bill has been resoundingly criticized by every major organization that deals with this issue. Even new groups, like the Canadian Doctors for Refugees in Canada, are so concerned about regulatory changes involving refugees and their health coverage. Because of that, they formed a new group and 50 of them visited the offices of elected members. We have not seen this before. I think it is because this kind of legislation will impact so many levels of our society that people who have not spoken out before are now saying they have to speak out.

We hope that possibly some of our amendments on report stage will be approved. I am skeptical about this, but nevertheless we will continue to speak out against this kind of legislation.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver East said that the bill would eliminate the possibility for some asylum claimants to get protection in Canada. Is she not aware that every asylum claimant from every country, regardless the mode of their arrival, would have access to the same kind of full fact-based oral hearing before an independent highly-trained IRB decision maker on the merits of their asylum case with no negative prejudice associated with it and that the bill would maintain Canada's absolute obligation of non-refoulement for bona fide refugees?

Furthermore, she mentioned particularly Roma refugee asylum claimants. Is she aware that over 95% of the asylum claimants coming from the European Union have abandoned or withdrawn their own claims of their own accord, admitting that they do not need Canada's protection? Is she aware of that fact and would she care to reflect on it?

Also, the member has proposed repeatedly that we grant old age security to immigrant seniors after their third year of residency in Canada. It now appears that she also believes we should provide free supplementary health benefits to even smuggled migrants and rejected asylum claimants in Canada. I think I heard her endorse the position of those criticizing our changes to the interim federal health program. I would like her to clarify this. Is she in favour of granting supplementary benefits to even failed asylum claimants and smuggled migrants, which benefits are not normally available to Canadian citizens?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a great fear that the changes in the bill that will give the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism more power will mean that the system will not work the way it used to. I guess it is a matter of trust. I simply do not trust that minister nor his government to engage in a fair process. I think they have another agenda. That is why we feel so very concerned about the bill.

Whatever the minister might put forward today, at the end of the day the bill is about the process, about the minister's powers and the potential of what could happen. We can say very clearly, along with every other group that has examined this bill—

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Is that a yes or a no?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Conservative Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm going to guess yes.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Doesn't sound very good for Canadians.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Is that a yes?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess they do not want to hear the answer, but I will continue.

Any group that has examined this bill has come to the same conclusion as the NDP, that the bill should be defeated.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question in regard to Canada's international reputation.

If we take a look at it, we have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 million plus refugees around the world. Canada was respected as one of the countries that played a leading role on the whole refugee policy. We do get a good percentage of refugees compared to other countries. We see that as a positive thing.

Numerous people came to committee while the bill was being debated. A consensus was developing that in fact Bill C-31 would in fact tarnish Canada's leadership role on the whole refugee file. We should all be concerned about that. Most Canadians are quite compassionate and feel very strongly in protecting those individuals, even if it means not necessarily being able to come to Canada, and our influence in the world to make a better home for people around the world.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was not at the committee so I did not hear the witnesses, but I certainly talked with my colleagues who were on the committee and I heard a very similar description of what took place at committee. There is a lot of concern about what it means in not only Canada's reputation, but what our obligations are under various conventions for refugees. The bill, if it goes through, there is the suggestion that it will violate the charter in terms of arbitrary detention, so it may well face a legal challenge and there may be other challenges on how it contravenes international conventions.

Again, one would think this would give the government some pause for thought to think about what our role is in the international community. However, it appears that it is not willing to be thoughtful, that it does have a very political mission on the bill, and that is to create this them and us situation to focus on abuse and in the process deny many legitimate refugees the opportunity to be in our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Canada enjoys a global reputation as a nation that champions democracy, equality and freedom of speech. I believe strongly in the benefits and opportunities that come from a diverse society.

The fact is that most Canadians have a chapter in their family history that includes immigration and resettlement. It is what helps define Canada. There are countless individuals and families around the world who want to add the same chapter to their family history by coming to Canada. This is a source of pride for our government and for all Canadians.

Unfortunately the reality is that there are individuals and criminal organizations that see our generosity as an easy target to make a high profit with low risk. These criminal elements use Canada's great reputation to spin false and malicious stories of how refugees can bypass the proper channels by paying a set fee.

Until recently most Canadians believed that large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something that they just read about, that it happened in countries like Australia.

All that changed in 2009 when Canadians witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady, carrying 76 migrants, and then less than a year later 500 migrants arrived on the second vessel the MV Sun Sea. Shortly after that a sea container was uncovered at the port of Montreal, concealing yet more individuals who wanted to enter Canada illegally.

Suddenly Canadians' eyes were wide open. Suddenly they realized this was a problem. Canadians reacted. They told us they wanted our government to act decisively to crack down on those who would endanger the lives of men, women and children by selling them false dreams and transporting them in unsafe vessels or shipping crates.

I realize my time is short, but members on this side of the House have done extraordinary work in this area. The member for Kildonan—St. Paul has her human trafficking private member's bill. The Minister of Immigration is probably the best immigration minister that Canada has ever had.

The Minister of Immigration has a very strong understanding of the bill. He has consulted extensively. He knows what is right for Canada and he knows what is right and fair for everyone involved in immigration or as a refugee.

Our bill would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative tax-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, the bill would protect those who would be truly in need more quickly.

Those who are truly in need is a very important aspect. Why should those who are in need be penalized by those who abuse the system, the criminals or the people who are not genuine refugees? There is a system, but the old system is broken. The new system, under the greatest Minister of Immigration ever, will be a better and fairer system and, most important, the best system for Canada.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 1:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made Tuesday, May 29, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the report stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

The recorded division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred. The recorded division will also apply to Motions Nos. 2 to 5, 8 to 11, 13 to 18, 20, 21, 23, 25 to 27, 33, 36, 46, 48 to 54, 57 to 70, 73 to 79, 82 to 99 and 104 to 109.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 6, 7, 55, 56, 71, 72, 80, 81 and 100 to 103 in Group No. 2 to the House.