Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be able to speak today in support of the legislation to amend the Immigration Act.
Let me start by saying that it is interesting to hear the comments of the opposition. On the one side we are becoming heartless by going too far and on the other side we are not doing enough although at least we are listening. The bill is a balance struck between the two, dictated by common sense and the comments of concerned Canadians, and will cure situations like the one presented by the hon. member for Fraser Valley West.
In its very essence this is what Canadian democracy is all about. It is fairness and protection for all including the immigrant and the refugee. It is about swift justice for criminals that threaten our system. The legislation is about balance, fairness and justice. The bill will help deal with those few hoodlums with guns and knives that want to subvert our immigration and refugee policy.
Nowhere in the legislation will we find that the government has heeded the voices of reaction that would have us bar our doors and shutter our windows to the world because of the misconceptions of some and violence of a few.
Make no mistakes. We do not listen to those voices and we will not listen because we know our immigration and refugee policy has been just and sound. We know from what others around the globe tell us that Canadian policies are often seen as a beacon of hope in a world of gloom and doom. Bill C-44 is meant to keep that light shining.
When I first came to Canada as an immigrant, I found a free society in which each member was respected and immigrants considered as pillars of society. Canada is a huge country where more people die than are born. This means that the responsibility rests with the immigrants to provide Canada with the numbers required to ensure the efficiency of our society. In return, these immigrants must be guaranteed a dignified life and a future for their children, with the assurance that crime is not the norm but the exception in this country.
Our immigration policy is envied world-wide and has ensured Canada a dynamic and courageous immigration, one which has played a major role in building our country.
We are committed to maintaining a progressive immigration policy. We have seen the benefits it has brought this country. Immigrants create jobs. They do not take them. Immigrants are not likely to depend on welfare or to commit crime. We know that to be a fact. Statistics prove it time and time again.
We can also see other facts. Criminals have slipped through. Crimes have been committed. Compared to the thousands or indeed millions that come to Canada every year, those that commit crimes are in the minority. However the fact that they are small in number does not diminish the horror of some of these crimes.
As soon as this bill was introduced in the House of Commons, we started receiving comments from members, journalists, immigrants, refugees, citizens. We received letters, faxes, telephone calls. This goes to show how much interest was generated by this matter of great importance to everyone. This interest made it necessary to introduce changes to give a sense of security to our citizens.
The legislation is designed to root out criminals that have subverted our immigration system and broken our laws. There can be no equivocating on the issue because it quickly boils down to respect for Canadian law and protection for truly needy refugees and honest immigrants.
The minuscule number of criminals that have crept into the immigration system like thieves in the night do not make minuscule headlines when they go bad. It is those dreadful deeds. We have all seen the pictures and we heard our colleague. They start an erosion of trust in an immigration system that has served the country well.
If people feel they cannot trust a system they will not support it. If people feel a system is open to abuse or misuse they will turn their back on it. The government equates immigration with nation building. Immigrants built the country. They built our railways. They worked in our factories and broke sod for farms.
Because nation building is a process that never stops we need an immigration policy that is both progressive and effective. That in itself is a good reason for fighting to maintain public trust in the integrity of the system.
We must get rid of the criminal element. We must do so intelligently and without undermining the underlying principles of our immigration policy. As we know, all hon. members believe in the principles of confidence, honesty and justice, and I know that all of them wish the law to be changed to regain public confidence.
On examination, we see that the proposed changes cannot be rejected. Some would want more drastic changes, but this would be against the philosophy of our government as well as that of a majority of Canadians.
Can anybody really fault a proposal that would prevent serious criminals from claiming to be refugees to delay their deportation? I think not. We have a system to help refugees, not serious criminals.
How about a proposal that allows us to seize documentation from the mails that would be used to defraud our immigration regulations? I cannot find fault with that and I do not think too many people would either.
The bill smoothes out a number of glitches and bumps in old legislation that gave criminals a place to hide. For example, immigration officials currently have the authority to arrest someone who violates immigration laws, but they cannot issue a warrant for other agencies such as the RCMP to arrest that person.
Under our present system the immigration appeal division of the IRB can overturn removal orders against serious criminals on humanitarian grounds. However the minister alone must deal with the consequences of these decisions. The minister alone is the one entrusted with ensuring the interests of Canadians are protected. Therefore the minister should have the authority to make the decision.
The criminal element is not acceptable and premeditated crime must be punished for our protection and for the sake of justice. For too long, Canada has been a haven for the criminal element which often misused our country's all too flexible laws.
That is why liaison was established with the Correctional Service of Canada to help rid us of criminals immediately after their have served their sentence.
There have been management changes at the immigration appeals division which should improve efficiency and effectiveness in decision making. We are also making sure that IRB gets the information it needs involving war criminals, patterns of fraud or multiple identities.
The legislation before the House does not deal with removals and some might see that as a flaw. I would caution those who think that way to remember that we have targeted foreign criminals for a quick exit through a joint police-immigration enforcement effort.
Members are well aware of the special joint task force involving police from a number of forces and immigration officials. This task force is targeting serious criminals for removal and operational units are working as we speak in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
I would also like to ask those calling for more drastic changes to reflect on the fact that our immigration policy has served us well and should not be abolished. Of course, when we have economic problems, we try to find causes for these problems. We do not think about the fact that the economic crisis is a global problem. We respond right away by calling for an end to all immigration. We must, of course, solve existing problems as quickly as possible but this does not mean that we must close off our borders. Canada is the only country in the world with vast empty spaces and even if we closed off our borders, we could not stop immigration. We can only limit it and strengthen the laws controlling it.
It is interesting to note that in the research paper presented at a Carleton University law conference last year-and the same research was mentioned earlier by the minister-researchers noted that under our system immigrants are granted legal status and have access to the legal system. Illegal immigrants on the other hand become accomplices or victims of gangs because they cannot appeal to legitimate authorities.
The research paper also noted: "Tougher immigration laws might well drive more people into the arms of smugglers and the gangs". Of course we do need to be tough on abuse and those who manipulate our system and the intent of our laws. We must send a clear message that those who violate our laws will have to pay a price.
We are not a government that will punish the innocent just to get at the guilty. We have no intention of making people who really deserve Canada's protection pay for the actions of a small criminal element. We will not tar all refugees as criminals because we know they are not. We are not people who have the intention of labelling immigrants and refugees as security risks.
One of our first actions as a government was to take immigration out of a department christened, and unjustly so, by our predecessors as the department of public security and put it in a department called citizenship and immigration where it rightly belongs. We will fight with our every breath to prevent the word immigrant from becoming a synonym of the word criminal.
Look at the members of this House. As you can see, there are very few native people. All the others are new arrivals. They are immigrants themselves. They are the sons and daughters of immigrants. They are the descendants of recent immigrants and, as you know, this diversity represents the reality and the wealth of our country.
By proposing these amendments, the minister tried to eliminate current abuses in the system. He also wanted to indicate to the criminal element taking the place of real refugees and immigrants that crime is not acceptable.
This government's commitment to progressive immigration is reinforced by this bill. We think we can have both a progressive policy and an aggressive strategy supporting the integrity and credibility of our policy.
This bill addresses real problems with real solutions. The key to success is balance. As we have done for generations, we can continue to welcome immigrants and refugees to help continue building our nation. As soon as this legislation is proclaimed we can tell those few who exploit Canada's generosity that in the land of the maple leaf they have nowhere to hide.
I urge my colleagues in all parties to recognize the importance of this legislation and give it speedy passage.