Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Alliance has brought a motion before the House. I note that the minister replied this morning to the speech by the Canadian Alliance leader. The motion states:
That, as part of a continental perimeter initiative to secure Canada's borders and protect the security of Canadians and our neighbours, and to protect our trading relationships, this House calls on the government to:
(a) provide both Immigration officers and Customs officers enhanced training and full peace officer status to allow them to detain and arrest suspected criminals or terrorists at the border--
Obviously immigration officers have long been peace officers, meaning they have authority to arrest and detain persons who are inadmissible to Canada. This obviously includes persons they suspect of being criminals or who already belong to terrorist organizations in other countries.
Right now the existing legislation, as well as proposed Bill C-11, contain provisions for protecting our borders. It is completely wrong to suggest that we do not have such provisions. We do. Our officers have all the means at their disposal to protect the Canadian public.
The motion raises another point I wish to address. It states that the government should:
(c) detain all spontaneous refugee claimants appearing without proper documentation until their identities are confirmed and they have cleared proper health and security checks--
Here again I would mention that our immigration officers conduct an investigation as soon as an application for refugee status has been received. I wish to give an idea of the figures. Some 600 to 800 persons are detained every day by immigration officers. It is wrong to say that they are not doing their job. On the contrary, I think they are doing it rather well in the circumstances.
I am not saying the system is completely perfect. As we know, it obviously has its shortcomings but hundreds of thousands of people have been processed over the years. It is therefore not impossible that errors may occur or that someone may slip through.
On the whole, however, there are certainly safeguards. Last year alone over 8,500 persons were detained by the authorities for a full verification of their origins and their past, as to whether they had ever been charged with a crime and so on.
On the whole, as the minister already mentioned this morning, we already have in place a great number of mechanisms to protect our borders. Contrary to what has been said, I do not think a continental perimeter is required. I believe the Government of Canada has considerable experience in the field of immigration. I have visited some of our offices abroad. It may be true that on occasion there was a lack of resources. I do not doubt it. Our immigration officers work very hard. On the whole, I was impressed by both the quantity and quality of the work they accomplish. It is not insignificant. They work very well. This is a fact that we need to mention more often.
I do not mean to impute motives to the members from the Canadian Alliance, but it is unfortunate that the words “terrorist” and “criminal” come up too often when they speak in the House.
If we look at the facts--which is important--we see that Canadians on the whole very rarely use this kind of language.
Since September 11, it is all that people are talking about. We often forget the contributions that immigrants have made to our country. I would like to highlight a few facts.
First, if we look at people's files, very few immigrants have criminal records or have been in trouble with the law. It is very important to acknowledge this, and it is a fact.
Second, once immigrants settle, on the whole, very few of them require employment insurance benefits. It is important to note that these people contribute to our country, they do not abuse the system as some in this House have implied.
Third, we often hear stories to the effect that immigrants abuse the system in another way, with welfare. Obviously, when some immigrants arrive, before settling in the community, they need help. We have a very sophisticated system. Some may believe that it is being abused on a daily basis, but this is not the case. There is a social infrastructure in place to help people get settled. I believe that it is one of the great achievements of our Christian society, if I may use the term.
Another thing we have seen with immigrants over the years is that, in their first five years, the average immigrant will earn less than the Canadian average. After their fifth year of working in Canada, in excess of 50% of them earn more than the Canadian average. Once again, this gives some idea of the effort they put into contributing to this country, and not only for themselves and their families. This gives some idea, when over 50% of them earn more than the Canadian average.
There is another aspect people are neglecting to mention here. The educational level of most immigrants to Canada is higher than the Canadian average. Many are technicians or professionals. In Damascus, I had the opportunity to sit in on an interview with a man who had been working in Syria for four or five years and was seeking to immigrate. It took him about a year and a half. He had a doctorate in biochemistry, a great asset for our country.
Overall, I find that these facts are being forgotten. Too often we have been hearing “immigrant”, “terrorist” and “criminal” used in the same sentence. I do not find this acceptable, when the facts demonstrate the opposite. This needs some thought. As everyone keeps saying, we in this country are all the children or grandchildren of immigrants. We need to think about that.
There is one other point I must mention. We have heard in the past four or five weeks that some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been pointing fingers at Canada, saying that our immigration policies were not efficient, that many people were getting around the system. I do not know where they have been getting their information, but they are completely wrong.
I would like to give a few important statistics: 40% of people who make refugee claims at the Canadian border are coming from the United States. They are on American territory and come to the Canadian border to make a refugee claim. Are we the ones responsible if they have got into the U.S. and then come to our border to make a refugee claim? How is this a flaw in our system? It is theirs that is flawed.
I would like to mention some of the comments I have heard made by Alliance members in the past weeks. I bring to their attention that quite often in a lot of their speeches they use the word “immigrants” and in the same sentence they bring out the fact that there are criminals and terrorists. That is a little exaggerated on their part and they should be very conscious of it.
What we have achieved in this country has been a tremendous advantage to most Canadians. In the past weeks many Canadians have expressed their profound belief that Canada is a peaceful and highly respected country throughout the world. They know there are problems in other parts of the world and as Canadians they feel that maybe the root causes should be attacked. More than ever we have to show restraint in what we do in Canada. It would be very wise for us to realize that some of the things we do are going to have profound repercussions not only here but abroad and for those who want to come to Canada.
I hope we can keep in mind that we have a tremendous advantage by living in this country. Many people want to come to Canada. However we cannot start making them feel as if we suspect everyone who wants to come to this country and that we want to have investigations. We do not want them to feel that way. We want them to feel welcome here. If in speeches they hear the word “immigrant” is followed every time by “criminal” or “terrorist”, that is highly unacceptable.
In closing, when Bill C-11 was examined in committee, the Canadian Alliance member for Dauphin--Swan River worked a lot with us to find ways to improve our immigration system. We sat over five or six weeks and corrected certain things.
Overall, the Immigration Act will be much more secure, because parts of it will make the system more effective. We will be able to make quicker decisions, because we will have the information at hand.
I just wanted to make these comments and I am prepared to answer questions from my colleagues.