Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take part in the important debate on Bill C-43. The headline of the Toronto Star editorial before Christmas says it about as succinctly as possible when it comes to this legislation. It sums it up: “Conservatives' bill to deport ‘foreign' criminals goes too far”.
As the editorial points out, “Criminals should do their time. No one disputes that”. Neither do I and neither do my New Democrat colleagues. In fact I think we can all agree that non-citizens who commit serious crimes in Canada should be dealt with quickly. The safety of our communities is paramount.
We said from the time this legislation was tabled that we were willing to work with the government to prevent non-citizens who commit serious crimes from abusing our appeals process, without trampling on their rights. We remain very concerned, however, that this Conservative bill would concentrate more arbitrary power in the hands of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism without any checks and balances.
With an eye towards compromise, I introduced nine reasonable NDP amendments to the bill at the committee stage to curb the excessive powers of the minister and restore some due process. Unfortunately, they were all rejected by the Conservative Party.
I was especially disappointed that the Conservatives rejected moderate NDP amendments to curb the excessive power the bill gives the minister. They even rejected an amendment that sought to codify into the legislation, word-for-word, the minister's own proposed guidelines for keeping people out of Canada on public policy considerations.
What became clear at committee stage was that New Democrats wanted to work across party lines to ensure the speedy removal of serious non-citizen criminals. But the Conservatives did not want to work with us to make the legislation better. Many witnesses and stakeholders from all sides told us that the real problem with serious criminals delaying deportation is that there is a lack of coordination and resources at Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Numerous auditor generals' reports also confirmed this to be the case. In fact, even a Conservative witness, Mr. James Bisset, told the immigration committee that:
There simply aren't enough enforcement officers in the Canada Border Services Agency to track down some of these very serious cases. They do their best, but there are few resources devoted to that. In the past, the enforcement of immigration has not been something that has been vigorously pursued in the country.
Conservatives members often referenced the case of Clinton Gayle, a dangerous criminal who callously murdered a Toronto police officer, Todd Baylis, while awaiting deportation for other crimes.
However during a federal inquiry into the Clinton Gayle case, associate deputy minister Ian Glen stated, “Quite simply, the system failed”. As to why, he explained that the department's priority at the time was to target unsuccessful refugee claimants who were on the run rather than criminals, because that way the deportation numbers were higher. This is the real problem, and nothing in the legislation before us would address these concerns.
What became clear from witness testimony into Bill C-43 is that this is not a silver bullet when it comes to public safety. We believe that the priority of the government needs to be addressing the lack of training, resources and integration of information and monitoring technologies with the responsible public service agencies.
Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is happening under the Conservative government. The 2012 budget plan announced cuts of $143 million to the Canada Border Services Agency. These reckless cuts are going to have an impact on the safety and efficiency of our borders.
The Conservatives saying this will not have an impact on our front line services is simply wishful thinking. We know that 325 jobs on the front line of border crossings across the country will be cut; intelligence branch of the CBSA has been hard hit, losing 100 positions; and 19 sniffer dog units are being slashed due to budget reductions. This is outrageous and no way to keep Canadians safe from foreign criminals who will now have an easier time getting across our borders.
Canadians want us to stop criminals and terrorists before they arrive in Canada. However, Conservative cuts will mean that Canadian officials will have to try to do the best they can with less.
As I have mentioned, the official opposition's primary concern with this legislation is the arbitrary power it gives the minister. In fact, it seems as if the Minister of Immigration has not seen a problem that cannot be solved by giving him more power. The concern about the overly broad powers to keep people out of Canada on public policy considerations was perhaps best articulated by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in its brief on Bill C-43 to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration:
This vague provision, imbues the Minister with an unacceptable level of discretion in deciding who may be blocked from entering Canada, and politicizes this process.
Even the minister seemed to acknowledge, when he visited the immigration committee, that limits to his power were needed. On October 24 of last year he presented us a set of guidelines, and we took him at his word that he was serious when he said, “the committee may recommend that we codify these guidelines in the bill”. When New Democrats, in good faith, moved to do just that, every single government member rejected it—another modest amendment defeated by the uncompromising majority.
This bill also seeks to limit appeals based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Amnesty International told the committee studying this bill that this section runs afoul of international law and that denying individuals access to this process might result in their being sent to torture or persecution.
New Democrats do not believe that the minister should be relieved of the obligation to consider humanitarian and compassionate circumstances, including the best interests of children. We moved reasonable amendments to restore the minister's ability to consider these factors, with a caveat that the minister has reasonable grounds to believe it is justified. Again that was voted down by the other side.
New Democrats also sought to curb some of the harsher provisions that redefine serious criminality and strip permanent Canadian residents of due process rights. Consider a piece in the Ottawa Citizen a few months ago, called “Canada's new exiles”, which details the case of a young Somali man being deported to Mogadishu, one of the most violent and dangerous places on earth, despite having no connection to that troubled city. The piece goes on to point out, as many of our witnesses did, that:
It is not uncommon for immigrants and refugees who arrive as children to assume they are citizens, or never put their mind to the question until the government moves to deport them.
Actually, I had such a conversation with a taxi driver just the other day, who was shocked that he was not a citizen.
Finally, I must articulate to the House what I feel is the most egregious element of the legislation before us. It is a public relations stunt. There is no evidence that criminality is more prevalent among visitors or permanent Canadian residents. In fact, it is quite the opposite. There is little evidence to show that the provisions in this legislation will make Canadian communities any safer. Yet again we find the Conservative government offering solutions to problems that do not exist at the expense of addressing ones that do.
New Democrats know that the vast majority of newcomers to Canada are law-abiding people who want to build better lives for themselves and their families. I hope that as a Parliament we can move and spend more effort making sure they are treated fairly, have the resources they need and can be reunited with their families. On this side of the House we believe that the minister should focus less on press conferences that negatively portray newcomers and, instead, work with the Minister of Public Safety to make sure border and law enforcement officials have the resources they need to keep us safe from criminals of all backgrounds.