Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill.
Having listened closely to the previous speaker's presentation on your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I will speak to one point on the issue that relates to Bill C-31 and to Bill C-38.
There are a number of issues in Bill C-38, our budget bill, that have a lot to do with immigration. I appreciate the member's description of what the opposition's role is in terms of keeping the government to account and accountable. However, what he failed to mention was the amount of time allocated in committee for both Bill C-31 and Bill C-38. Bill C-38 was given an unprecedented amount of time for debate, more than for any other bill in recent history. The fact is that the member would not and did not acknowledge the hours and hours spent debating each and every one of these clauses at committee, which is part of the parliamentary process. He did not even want to acknowledge the time given by the government, in agreement with the opposition, to have that debate.
I have said that because we took exactly the same approach with Bill C-31. We opened the doors at committee and said that we should bring in all witnesses. The opposition members believed that this was a big, fundamental bill that would change the refugee system in our country so they wanted to hear from all the experts in the country. Even though we had gone through the entire process once already, we went through it again. I did not hear an acknowledgement from the member opposite for the efforts made in terms of our parliamentary process and listening to what people had to say, and not just witnesses but all members of the opposition who had the opportunity to present their changes, thoughts and beliefs on what the bill should look like. With respect to Bill C-31, there were two significant amendments that were made at committee. These were not amendments that had to be made. As everyone knows, there are enough votes at each of our committees here on the Hill for us to win without having to make changes, without having to do anything other than that this is what will be moved forward for third reading and this is the bill that will receive royal assent.
In our case, we heard from witnesses and we made two significant changes. One had to do with cessation. The way the clause could have been interpreted, an unintended consequence could have been the potential for that individual to lose permanent residency if the country of origin had changed status. We made adjustments to that piece of the legislation. We also made a significant change to the detention issue for irregular arrivals. The original clause included a detention period of up to 12 months. Upon hearing from experts and witnesses who presented their case, the minister and the government listened and made a significant decision. We said that individuals who arrive in what is deemed an irregular arrival, as we saw with the Sun Sea or the Ocean Lady in British Columbia, they would have a hearing after 14 days. Subsequently, if they have been determined to have or not have success with respect to their refugee application, they would be given another hearing after six months.
Therefore, contrary to what the opposition members have been saying over the last week about this government's position with respect to listening, it does listen and it has listened. Bill C-31 is a stronger bill today at third reading than when it was introduced at first reading. Contrary to what the opposition members are saying, this government does spend a lot of time listening, understanding and moving toward the best piece of legislation that we can put forward.
In fact, it speaks to our refugee system here in the country. We welcome more resettled refugees than almost any country in the world. Based on the continued implementation of Bill C-31, which encapsulates a number of pieces of Bill C-11, which was our original refugee reform act, we will have an additional 2,500 refugees per year settle into our country, which is a 20% increase.
It again shows that Canadians have always been known to be fair and compassionate. Our country has a long and proud humanitarian tradition. This bill only strengthens that tradition all the more.
However, it is safe to say that our system, and it is no secret, is also open to abuse. We see that abuse on a daily basis. We are a generous and welcoming people but we do not have tolerance for those who take unfair advantage of our country. Canadians have told us loud and clear again and again that they want a stop put to the abuse which exists within our immigration system. By introducing Bill C-31, and where we are today at third reading, we will see and have shown to those people in this country who have asked us to, that we will protect the integrity of immigration and our refugee system.
There are three main areas covered by the bill which are all interrelated.
First, Bill C-31 includes further and much needed reforms to our asylum system. While the Balanced Refugee Reform Act went a long way to reforming Canada's refugee system, further reform is absolutely necessary. The opposition likes to ask why. The answer is very simple but it cannot be found by using political rhetoric. This is all based on a very factual, necessary and purposeful argument.
We need to look at the cold, hard and indisputable facts. In 2011, Canada received a total of 5,800 refugee claims from democratic, rights respecting member countries of the European Union. That is an increase of 14% from 2010. That number is actually more than the number of claims that we receive from Africa or Asia. There is a simple problem here. The top source country for refugee claims is Hungary, which is an EU member state. Of all refugee claims in 2011, 4,400, or 18%, came from Hungary. That is up almost 50% from 2010.
What is even more telling is that in 2010, of the 2,400 claims made by Hungarian nationals, only 100 of them were actually made in countries other than Canada. They all came to Canada to make a refugee claim from one country, except 100. There is a problem here. There is an obvious issue that needs to be dealt with. It means that Canada received 2,300 claims from Hungary, which is 23 times more than any other country has received from Hungary. The fact that most gets to the core of why further refugee reform is needed is that virtually every one of these claims was abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. Refugee claimants themselves are choosing not to see their claims to completion, meaning they are not in genuine need of Canada's protection. In other words, their claims are bogus.
The reason these claims are bogus is that people are choosing to come all the way to Canada. They have a choice. There are 26 other countries right next door and most, if not all, are part of the EU. These bogus claimants come here to exploit Canada's generous asylum system because of the lucrative and expensive taxpayer funded health care, welfare and other social benefits that are allowed under the current system we have in place. In fact, these bogus claims y cost Canadian taxpayers in excess of $170 million, and that was just last year alone.
Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, is part of our plan to restore integrity to our asylum system and restore Canadian's confidence in our immigration system. The bill would make Canada's refugee determination process faster and fairer and would result in faster protection for those who legitimately need refugee protection. It would also, and this is the important aspect of it, ensure faster removal of those whose claims are withdrawn, those claims that are bogus and those claims that have been rejected.
We will speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways. For example, one major component of Bill C-31 is the improvements to the designated country of origin provision. This will enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally do not produce refugees, such as most of those that are in the European Union. Claimants from those countries will still have the opportunity to be heard in terms of their application and to be deemed refugees in Canada.
Contrary to what the opposition has said, there is, for every person who claims refugee status in this country, an opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to have their case determined by the Immigration and Refugee Board. We will change that process so that it will take close to 45 days versus close to 1,100 days that exists now, more than on average three years to process a refugee application in this country.
If 97% or 98% of claims from particular countries are abandoned or withdrawn, we can just imagine how many months and how many years an individual can take advantage of the Canadian system just because of the number of days it takes to get through this process. This will happen no more. We will turn the system around. We will ensure that everyone gets a hearing and we will ensure it is completed within and about as close to 45 days as possible.
The designated country of origin provisions, which I mentioned and are included in Bill C-31, would bring Canada in line with its peers. Countries, like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, all recognize that some countries are simply safer than others and we can presume them to be so based on criteria, both quantitative and qualitative, that are included within the bill itself. Therefore, refugee claimants from those designated safe countries may be reasonably considered under the expedited process, the 45 day process that I mentioned.
We have had some discussion about the UN lately. I am encouraged, or at least listening, when the opposition stands to speak in favour of pretty much anything that the UN does. I thought it would be important this morning to show that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has acknowledged that by saying:
...there are indeed safe countries of origin. There are indeed countries in which there is a presumption that refugee claims will probably be not as strong as in other countries
Mr. Guterres also agreed that as long as all refugee claimants have access to some process it is completely legitimate to accelerate claims from safe countries.
I will take that one step further. Abraham Abraham, who is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also is not opposed to the process upon which we have designated safe countries. He indicated:
...as long as this is used as a procedural tool to prioritize or accelerate examination of applications in carefully circumscribed situations, and not as an absolute bar.
We are not just implementing a process that is being used everywhere in a number of countries in the world. We are using a process that is endorsed and understood to be a correct one. It does not exist in our Canadian system as it is right now.
I want to underscore, despite what the opposition has said, that every refugee claimant will continue to receive a hearing before the independent quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board regardless of where he or she came from. Furthermore, every refugee claimant in Canada will have access to at least one level of appeal. These procedures exceed the requirements of both our domestic law and our international obligations.
I will add this is not the purpose nor the reason for passing the bill, but there is a financial benefit to the process in which we will now receive and determine refugee applications. We will save not just federal taxpayers, but provincial and territorial taxpayers, $1.65 billion over a five year period.
How will we use that money? The premiers, finance ministers and ministers of immigration across this country will tell us exactly how they could use that money, whether it be for settlement services, or whether it be for enhancing health care delivery. What we are offering is an opportunity for savings, an opportunity for that money to be used not to fund bogus claims, not to finance those who want to take advantage of our system, but to actually assist Canadians here in our country.
Unfortunately, what is lost in debate over the bill is what it will mean for genuine refugees who are fleeing persecution and who fear for their lives. Under Bill C-31, genuine refugees will receive Canada's much needed protection much more quickly. They will not be waiting three years in the determination process, but will be waiting as little as 45 days to know that they indeed have a home here in Canada. I cannot for the life of me understand how the NDP and the Liberals could be against that process.
Bill C-31 includes tough but fair and necessary measures to combat, deter and crack down on the criminal act of human smuggling. On this side of the House, we are not scared to face the issues of human trafficking and human smuggling. We will face them like no government in this country has before, and we will continue to do that.
Until recently, most Canadians believed that large-scale human smuggling was something that did not happen here, that it was something they just read about in the paper. They thought it only happened in other countries, for example, Australia.
That all changed in 2009 when Canada witnessed the arrival on the west coast of the MV Ocean Lady, which carried 76 migrants. It was almost as if it were a test case to see what would happen when the ship arrived, because less than one year later, the MV Sun Sea came, which held close to 500 migrants. This was not a cruise ship. This was not a ship designed to hold individuals. This was a ship designed specifically by human smugglers who take advantage of these individuals and extract as much money as they can, $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, from individuals, who end up spending most of their lives paying that money back. The smugglers would put these individuals on not much more than a freighter to come across the ocean and land here in Canada.
Just as we have new members who are seeing individuals who are not true refugee claimants come to Canada to take advantage of our system, so we have human smugglers who understand the business of smuggling and the lowest common denominator in terms of which country will accept the individuals and how to take advantage of that. Not only are they taking advantage of our country, but they are taking advantage of the individuals.
We all know the stories. On board many of these ships are criminals and terrorists from a country and the human smugglers themselves who, unbeknownst to others, are dressed as if they are also in a position to claim refugee status in our country.
That is going to change. We are going to let the world know that human smuggling is not only unacceptable in this country, but that there will be a very significant price to pay for those who want to get into this business.
We do not have to look too far back to the past number of short weeks and months to know that we are catching these individuals. They are being sought out. They are being charged and they will be convicted. That is how we will stop this business.
There are so many more parts of Bill C-31 that are critically important, whether it be human smuggling, whether it be the issue of irregular arrivals, or whether it be the system itself in terms of how long it takes. We are moving from a system that takes 1,000 days on average to answer a refugee application submitted to the minister to one in which it will take anywhere from 45 days for those who are coming from designated safe countries, versus those who are coming from non-designated safe countries. There is an appeal process in place for each one of these individuals.
There is a process in place where we are now responding to those who truly deserve to be in our country. The best part of all of this is it sets in place a process that is fair to Canadians.