That, given the government’s failure to address the crisis created by the influx of thousands of illegal border crossers travelling across our southern border between ports of entry, that the agencies responsible for dealing with this crisis have found gaps in security screening for newly arrived refugee claimants, as well as a backlog in both scheduled hearings and carrying out deportation orders, and that this trend is expected to increase over the summer months; the House call on the government to:
(a) ensure the agencies responsible for our borders are properly equipped so that they can continue to do their jobs effectively and that those arriving at Canadian borders go through the appropriate processes;
(b) admit the Prime Minister’s irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through illegal means;
(c) take responsibility for the massive social services costs burdening the provincial governments; and
(d) table in the House no later than May 11, 2018, a plan to (i) stop the influx of people illegally entering Canada from the United States, (ii) take appropriate measures to handle those who have already claimed asylum.
Today I want to lay out what exactly this problem is, why it is a problem, how the Liberals got Canada into this situation, the failure of the Liberals to manage the problem, and potential fixes that the Liberals could undertake to stop the flow but have elected not to do.
What is the problem? First of all, in the last year we have seen a massive influx, and by massive I mean tens of thousands of people illegally crossing the border from the United States into Canada and then claiming asylum. This is, of course, precipitated because Canada has an agreement with the United States called the safe third country agreement, which I am going to speak to later. Essentially, the agreement says that if someone claims asylum in one of the countries and then tries to enter the other country, that person should not make an asylum claim in the other country because we respect the fact that our asylum claim systems are mutually generous. They are run free of political interference, and they are regarded as some of the strongest in the world.
The problem is that the agreement is silent on what happens when someone illegally enters the country. Because the agreement is silent on that, this loophole allows people to illegally enter the country and claim asylum. Of course, when someone claims asylum in Canada, that person is automatically entitled to all the generous social benefits Canada has, including our health care system, social programs, welfare, and many other things that are designed as a social safety net in Canada but are also extended to those we are bringing in as humanitarian immigrants. The point is that this massive influx is not planned and it is not orderly. Therefore, the government has been scrambling to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at this, rather than looking for a way to solve the issue and bring Canada's immigration system back to order.
Briefly, the statistics show that last year there were 20,593 persons who illegally entered Canada and claimed asylum. This year, these months alone in 2018, which includes the winter months, there have been 6,373. Government documents project over 400 persons a day this summer. Certainly, based on those projections, we could see anywhere between 50,000 and 70,000 persons. This number of people means that we now have more people illegally entering the country and claiming asylum than those legally entering the country and claiming asylum. There is no plan to deal with this.
Very briefly, this is why it is a problem. Canadians are compassionate, but they want a planned and orderly immigration system. These numbers are not accounted for in the government's immigration levels plan. This means that, because the government has not accounted or planned for this, provincial governments are unable to budget for the impact on social services. The government is unable to understand the cohort that is coming through illegally and claiming asylum, and adequately budget for integration services. It does not understand the impact this might have on the Canadian economy one way or the other, because it does not understand the cohort. It does not understand how people might or might not be able to contribute to the Canadian economy.
This makes integration support much more difficult, and certainly we are seeing provincial governments saying it is impacting them. In fact, the Government of Quebec made a major push over the last couple of months, saying that the federal government owes it because of the federal government's inability to manage the borders. Certainly, the federal government did capitulate and had to spend hundreds of millions more of Canadian tax dollars to give a transfer to Quebec to manage the flow, rather than try to stop the problem.
It also renders us less able to help the world's most vulnerable. There is an immigration plan for a reason. The government should stipulate how many people we allow to enter the country through humanitarian means so we can do all those things I just talked about, such as plan for integration. Because the government has had to redirect resources to processing illegal migrants, we see massive wait times in other streams. The private sponsorship refugee stream has a backlog of over 45,000 cases. Across party lines, we all have cases where people are waiting. I have seen cases of people who are trying to privately sponsor people from Eritrea. There is an 89-month wait for that now. Let us think about that. A privately sponsored refugee from Eritrea has to wait over seven years. Does that not defeat the purpose of a refugee program?
Furthermore, regarding Immigration and Refugee Board government documents, and again, the government refutes this is the case, The Globe and Mail published an article in June 2017 which showed a government report which stated that based on the current track we are on for the increase year over year for the number of illegal migrants, the IRB is on track for an 11-year wait time for processing asylum claims.
Mr. Speaker, if my colleague could shut off his phone, that would be lovely. It is quite distracting.
The 11-year wait time means people who are making asylum claims after they illegally enter the country can then stay in Canada, claim social assistance benefits, and have expedited work permits. They can do all of these things, which are unplanned and unbudgeted, while we do not even know if their claim is valid. To me, that is not fair. Many people who are trying to legally enter the country think it is not fair.
The Liberals' failure to manage our border has created a demand and placed a burden on the Immigration and Refugee Board. The head of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society was quoted in a Calgary Herald article a few months ago talking about how it is unfair to people who have come into the country legally, made asylum claims, and who are then forced to wait for years to learn whether they can stay in Canada. While he did not say this to me, that could also create a disincentive to work, to put down roots, and to establish any sort of commitment to integration over time because they do not know if they will be able to stay here. To me, that is absolutely ridiculous. There is a burden on the IRB system.
My colleague who is our shadow minister for public safety, the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, is going to talk later today about the impact this massive influx of illegal migrants coming into the country has had on screening and border security. He has statistics he is going to speak to today about how the CBSA has said that it has reduced by 400% the amount of time spent screening people entering the country. I do not think any Canadian would be satisfied with the fact that the government is accommodating people illegally entering the country by reducing the amount of time our border agents spend on screening them for security. Certainly this is a burden on the system.
We have heard the Canada Border Services Agency talk about how it has placed a great strain on its resources and it does not feel it has enough. Again, the government's response has been to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the problem, but all that has done is make things worse. It has made our border services and the IRB less effective because of the demand being put on the system.
A Liberal response to a crisis like this is to throw money at the problem and not look at ways to stop the problem. In fact, what I think the government has done here by doing things like creating a refugee camp at the U.S.-Canada border, and to pay for heated tent trailers, has actually incented more people to come into the country through this mechanism. That is very irresponsible.
Also, I am concerned about the fact that the government has basically said to come hither through this mechanism and that might incent people in terms of human smuggling and crime. We have certainly seen cases in the media of things like a child pornography ring that was busted up. We need to put more control on this situation.
As well, my colleague is going to talk about the fact that while we have seen a great increase in people illegally entering the country, we have also seen removal orders steadily increase, but the ability of the government to execute those removal orders has diminished. What I am trying to say is that when people have been found to have no reason to be in the country and a removal order has been issued for them, the government actually lacks the capacity to remove them. Someone can come into the country illegally, make an asylum claim, and claim social benefits for a long period of time without having his or her claim heard. After that time passes and after the person has claimed all these benefits, even if the person is found to not have a legal reason to be in the country, the person will have to wait a long period of time to be removed. That is unacceptable. Placing more demand on the system this way is unacceptable and, frankly, it is not fair.
Canada is a country where everyone will proudly say that they support immigration. It is not a matter of “if”; it is a matter of “how”. We want to be compassionate. However, the government has turned a blind eye to this, and people who have legally come to this country and other Canadian taxpayers are sitting here and looking.
The Prime Minister stood in Edmonton only a few short months ago, looked at a Canadian veteran, and said, “You are asking for more than the government can give.” We then had the immigration minister stand up in the House of Commons and talk about the hundreds of millions of dollars that the government has proudly thrown at people who are illegally entering the country.
That is not fair. As someone who supports compassionate, planned, orderly migration, and sees it as a key to sustaining the Canadian economy over time when done properly, legally, and safely, I worry that by abdicating the responsibility to do this, it is actually the Liberal Party that is creating divisiveness in the country, because people are starting to talk about “if” rather than “how”. People start talking about “if” when the government abdicates its responsibility to get the “how” right, which is why we put this motion forward today.
Again, let us think about this. This has been going on for 18 months. We are going into another summer. Report after report has been issued by government officials saying there is a problem, it is happening, and here it is. All the government has done is throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the problem, and it has gotten worse. The analogy I used in the House yesterday is that it is like having a big hole in the roof during a rainstorm and planning to replace the hardwood every day. It does not make sense to me.
Also, the fact that the Liberals have done nothing to structurally close the problem is irresponsible. It is taking away that social licence, and that is irresponsible, not just in the expenditure of money and the prioritization of tax dollars, but also in terms of sustaining Canada's hope in immigration over time.
Why do the Liberals need to table this plan? They knew that this was happening. They are projecting 400 persons a day, starting now. They need to table a plan that does not say they are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. They need to table a plan that does one of two things, or both: close the loophole in the safe third country agreement that I mentioned earlier, or designate the entire Canadian border as a technical official point of entry in order to stop the flow of people illegally entering the country to claim asylum.
I want to spend my last few minutes talking about the safe third country agreement and some of the things the Liberals should be including. I hope they support this motion today when they table their plan, as this motion requests, by May 11.
I should note as well that I tried to raise this issue in the citizenship and immigration committee last week. I asked committee members to study this at the citizenship and immigration committee in terms of developing a plan. The committee members voted that down, which is very irresponsible. I encourage anyone watching today to write or phone the members of the immigration committee who voted against that motion.
I want to talk about the safe third country agreement, very briefly. I gave an outline of what it was, but I want to read an excerpt from an article called, “The meaning of borders: Lessons from the last world war”. It was written by Howard Anglin and published on March 12, 2017, in iPolitics. It states:
One of the most contentious debates during the drafting of the 1951 Convention—
—this is on refugees—
—was between the United Kingdom and France over the scope of what would become Article 31, the provision that deals with the circumvention of national borders. Recognizing that “[a] refugee whose departure from his country of origin is usually a flight, is rarely in a position to comply with the requirements for legal entry … into the country of refuge,” Article 31 exempts persons who enter a country seeking refuge in violation of that country’s laws from the normal consequences of their illegal entry and presence.
Worried about large numbers of refugees in the countries bordering France, the French delegate to the drafting convention sought assurances that if those refugees crossed the border from a country where their lives were not in danger, France would be able to return them to the frontier. According to one account of the deliberations, the French delegate observed that, “[t]o admit that a refugee who had settled temporarily in a reception country was free to enter another, would be to grant him a right of immigration which might be exercised for reasons of mere personal convenience.”
That is what I see happening in the situation at the Lacolle border crossing right now, because we know, with even the very few cases that have been processed by the IRB, certainly not a majority of them are being found to be valid. This argument prevailed in the drafting of article 31, so there is an argument saying we have international obligations. In fact, legally the safe third country agreement is based on the exact provision that I just mentioned.
I will quote some Liberals. After the safe third country agreement was negotiated, to pre-empt American talk of increasing security at the U.S.-Canada border, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien dispatched then deputy prime minister John Manley to Washington to ensure that the legal flow of goods and people between the two countries was not interrupted. The resulting agreement, the safe third country agreement, was signed by then immigration minister Denis Coderre, who personally predicted that it would allow Canada to turn back 15,000 people a year to the United States.
In his article, Howard Anglin quotes John Manley, who at the time was the deputy prime minister, as explaining, “it's not a matter of shopping for the country that you want, it's a matter of escaping the oppression that you face.” To build on this quote, I think anybody here would be hard pressed to say that people are fleeing oppression from the United States of America. I would be fairly offended if somebody said that, and our foreign affairs minister would have a great deal of difficulty trying to explain that statement in her negotiations with NAFTA.
If that is the spirit of the safe third country agreement, and the immigration minister and the Prime Minister have said they support its application, it begs the question why they have not approached the Americans about closing the loophole I mentioned earlier. I have asked the immigration minister many times at committee. He says they simply have not raised it with the Americans. Is it a lack of character, a lack of conviction, fright, or something else? I do not know.
However, the fact that they have not raised this with the Americans begs the question why they would support the application of the agreement in the first place. They cannot suck and blow. They cannot say they support the application of the safe third country agreement and then say they will do nothing to close the loophole that lets thousands of people into the country. My former colleague Jason Kenney tried to do that. He is on the record saying he feels that the Americans under the previous administration saw this as a way for people to self-deport into Canada.
What can we do here in Canada? The immigration refugee protection regulations define ports of entry as “(a) a place set out in Schedule 1” and “(b) a place designated by the Minister under section 26 as a port of entry”. Schedule 1 identifies more than 70 land ports. Section 26 refers to the authority to designate points of entry by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and says the minister “may, on the basis of the following factors, designate a place as a port of entry as well as the port of entry's dates and hours of operation”. It goes on to list a series of criteria.
There might be some legal requirements around putting infrastructure into place. That could easily be changed so that the entire Canadian land border could be defined as a technical application for the safe third country agreement, so that it would apply. Then we would not need to set up tent trailers. Then we would not need to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the RCMP and CBSA for the sole purpose of managing illegal immigrants.
The spirit of the agreement would apply. Frankly, as we see needs in legislation, we should be seeking to solve problems. That is what we do here. If we are going to see this agreement apply, then we should be looking to a solution like that. I would love to say we would do that if we were in government. However, it is the government's responsibility to table a plan, and that is what the spirit of this motion is today.
I want to close by again saying how we got here. Members will remember that when the Americans issued an executive order around immigration, the Prime Minister tweeted, “#WelcomeToCanada”. Of course, we saw an article in the National Post, dated April 3, 2018, based on information obtained through access to information. It describes the confusion of embassies with respect to citizenship and immigration, because all of a sudden they were inundated with requests from people saying, “I can just come in, right?” This is when we started seeing the spike in people illegally entering the country.
We know that the Prime Minister has never taken responsibility for this tweet, and he certainly has done nothing to rectify the problem it caused. It is incumbent upon him to solve it before the summer, before we have another 45,000 to 55,000 people enter the country illegally, which creates all of these issues.
Therefore, I ask my colleagues to support this motion and I call upon the government to table a concrete plan that does not just replace the hardwood but actually solves this issue, so we can get back to the principle of compassionate, planned, orderly immigration.