Mr. Speaker and dear colleagues, the bill before us is an ideal opportunity to show Canadians that we take their interests to heart and that we abide by our electoral commitments.
I want to speak here not only to members of our government, but also and more particularly to members of the opposition. Since this bill was introduced, practically not a week has gone by without the media mentioning the immigration issue one way or another. Headlines are not heartening, because our system is not judged on its achievements but on its failures. That is unfortunate, because our system has its successes and plenty of them. For each case of fraud or crime that makes the headlines, thousands of cases of successful integration go unreported.
Most of the refugees and immigrants who live with us are so well integrated that nobody notices them. I do not need to give any examples. Just look around you.
The owner of your favourite restaurant, your daughter's computer instructor, your cousin's husband or your dentist, for example, may well be immigrants, but you probably do not notice it any more. Canadian society is often compared to a cultural mosaic, and I think this is confirmed in our everyday life. When you meet all these people, ask them what they think today of the cheaters and criminals who make the headlines.
When a person has left his country to start a new life, when he has started from nothing to build a future for himself, when he has finally succeeded in carving a place for himself in society, it must be insulting, to say the least, to be associated with someone who has committed criminal acts and who, in so doing, shows that he has no respect whatsoever for the country which welcomed him.
This explains why this bill is so important and so dear to our government. Of course, we must ensure that no one flouts our laws and our immigration system. But, more importantly maybe, we must protect the reputation of all decent people, those same people whom we represent, whatever our political affiliation.
Some will say that our bill goes too far, that it could be detrimental to refugees and immigrants acting in good faith. Others will say that it is too little too late, that it will not stop criminals from entering into Canada and staying here. Our government expects such criticism. However, as a responsible government, we had above all to avoid going to extremes, and I sincerely believe that we have succeeded in doing so.
Of course, the law must be merciless for cheaters and criminals, but it must not penalize those who are most in need of our help. The measures we are debating today are aimed at a very small minority of individuals. If we had the slightest doubt that they could be harmful to people acting in good faith, we would not go ahead with this bill, that goes without saying.
On the contrary, what could be most harmful to them is not the measures we are debating today, but the actions of a few criminals. Unfortunately, one instance is enough to tarnish the reputation of all refugees as far as some Canadians are concerned. One instance is enough to lead other criminals to think Canada is wide open.
We do not want to give the impression that immigrants and refugees are a threat to the security of our country. That is not true, and that is why now, as my hon. colleague said before, immigration is not the responsibility of a department of public security but a Department of Citizenship and Immigration. We want to show that we can be open when warranted but uncompromising when necessary.
We are prepared to open our doors to those who really need our help, not to just anyone. First of all, we must prevent criminals from claiming refugee status or appealing decisions by the IRB.
The system for recognition of refugee status was not put in place to delay deportation measures. We know what is going on out there, and we have no time or money to waste on criminals.
We also want to use this bill to deal with the problem of multiple claims for refugee status.
Anyone can make a mistake, and some claimants may assume that if they move, they have to submit a second claim. That we can understand. However, some people think they can confuse the authorities and delay their removal by submitting two or more claims. We must also be able to seize certain documents which those who cheat the system send by international mail. Immigration officers need additional tools to be able to do their job satisfactorily, and we, as a responsible government, intend to give them those tools. Customs officers must be able to search the mail and seize any forged documents they find.
We must also prevent criminals from taking advantage of legal loopholes. For instance, immigration officers can arrest a person who violates the Immigration Act, but in some cases, they cannot issue a warrant so the RCMP can arrest that person. In this area, we need all the help we can get. If cheaters set up networks, we must have the tools to deal with them.
Finally, we believe that the minister is still the best judge of whether dangerous criminals should be admitted to Canada on so-called humanitarian grounds. This makes sense, since in the final instances, the minister has to live with the consequences of his decision to quash a removal order which concerns a criminal. Under the bill, this authority will rest with the minister in the best interest of all Canadians. We believe that these new provisions are fair and equitable. To those who find that this bill does not go far enough, I say: tell us, tell Canadians who else should be included in this new legislation.
I know a few who would undoubtedly have a list as long as your arm of people to send back for reasons which I would call arbitrary. This is not the purpose of the government. As I said before, we are not extremists. This bill deals not with the number but with the kind of people to be deported.
We are going after people who defraud our social services and criminals who truly pose a threat to our security and that of our police forces whose job it is to protect us. The processing of citizenship applications is suspended pending the outcome of the immigration inquiry. People who have nothing to hide will have nothing to fear. Their application will not be turned down, its processing will only de delayed. People subject to an exclusion order, who had already been accepted as permanent residents, will lose that status. Up to now, this applied only to people being deported. It will no longer be true under the new bill.
To those who say that our bill goes too far, I say: Canadians are good-hearted but not weak-hearted. We would do a disservice to everyone, including bona fide refugees, by letting things drag on forever. No matter which side of the House we are on, each one of us represents Canadians who expect us to act now and in their best interest. They also expect us to take the necessary steps to enforce our laws. They are quite willing to open their doors to the victims of the various disasters which devastate our world, but not to criminals. They also expect that the efforts and resources that we spend to welcome refugees benefit those who need them most. The days of time and money being consumed by a handful of wrongdoers are gone forever. Canadians expect us to implement a trust-worthy immigration policy. To this end, we must show them that we know the difference between wright and wrong. In fact, we must show them that our government is a responsible one.
Our government has decided that it needed the means to respond to the expectations of Canadians. Bill C-44, presently before the House, is the one from which we expect the most. The measures we propose are aimed at providing specific solutions to specific problems.
This is not a bill prepared in a hurry, without any distinction between the majority of true refugees and immigrants, and a minority of abusers and criminals. Why go to such lengths for ten, twenty or a hundred unscrupulous individuals? Simply because one is enough to end the life of a person, ruin the lives of his or her family, upset their friends and relatives, and harm a whole cultural community. This is the objective of some of the measures in the bill.
The shock wave is being felt from one end of the country to the other, it reaches the ordinary citizens, as well as their elected representatives and their police forces. Who is to blame: society, you and me, our police? No, the culprits are the ten, twenty, or hundred individuals that we should expel without delay. If we do not do it, Mr. Speaker, ten, twenty or a hundred more will come in.
As you know, our government is convinced of the value of immigration for Canada. We believe that Canada should preserve its reputation of openness towards refugees, but we also believe that our policy towards immigrants and refugees should be strictly controlled in order to protect all Canadians.
I will conclude by comparing these abusers and criminals to the weeds that very often, not to say always, invade our gardens. They very quickly encroach on the space reserved for the vegetables we intended to grow and, when the time to harvest comes and the weeds have taken over, we wonder whether we should not have kept the lawn. Let us not deprive ourselves of the fruit we could harvest. Let us pull out the weeds that are trying to take root and let us make sure that we have the tools necessary to take care of our gardens. This is the way to build a better Canada.