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 What is more, virtually all these asylum claims from the EU were either abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants or rejected by the independent IRB.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.