Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity this afternoon to discuss customs and immigration issues. Canada has an obligation to encourage immigration. Having been given what we have in Canada it is only right to welcome refugees and immigrants to our country.
Most Canadians are descended from immigrants. My grandparents on my father's side came from Scandinavia. They looked for a country where they could have new opportunities. They looked at Canada and decided to come here. My mother decided in the 1950s that she would like to come to Canada. She emigrated from Scotland. She came here as a midwife and became a nurse. We all have immigration in our history.
If we are to have immigration we have an obligation to do a good job. I will ask a couple of questions this afternoon about whether we are doing a good job with our immigration policies. First, if we think we are doing a good job, could we not ask people in the general public what they think of our immigration policies? If we went to the public I am sure people would say our immigration policies are complicated and difficult to understand and that no one knows what the rules are.
People do come here. Last year 225,000 people tried to immigrate to Canada, 35,000 of whom claimed refugee status. People come here to stay because it is a good place to live and a safe place to live. We would like to keep it that way. I will take a few minutes to look at the present legislation to see if it would make Canada a safe place to live.
Bill C-11 has been introduced and is going through the process of becoming legislation. It seems well intentioned. My mother has a Scottish saying that members may be familiar with. She says the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This could be the government's statement of purpose on immigration legislation.
Bill C-11 tries to make the system workable but the government refuses to provide enough staff to make it workable. Bill C-11 tries to speed up refugee processing, or at least as the public sees it. The government's target includes referring refugees to the Immigration and Refugee Board within three days. However its processing time continues to be 90 days, the same as it has always been.
The bill does not address issues like out of date health standards or accountability of appointments, those of citizenship judges in particular. However the real problem with the immigration legislation is the problem at the heart of the Liberal government: it has no accountability.
Canadians are more concerned about the application of the present law than about having new laws. If people can come here, do damage and try to destroy the country, it justifiably causes fear among Canadians about what they may be doing. Montreal detective Claude Paquette said our porous immigration laws have turned Canada into “a Club Med for terrorists”. CSIS head Ward Elcock has said that with perhaps the singular exception of the United States there are more international terrorist groups active in Canada than in any other country. This is a poor place to be second.
Yesterday I rode in a taxi from the airport with a young gentleman who was concerned about the things going on around the world. He was from the Middle East. He said he came to Canada to have peace, not to have the dangers of that world come here. Canadians want to be safe.
Canadians are concerned that the system has been corrupted. We need to look at some of the major concerns Canadians have about failed political candidates being given appointments and jobs in the immigration system, a system in which immigration lawyers stand to make large amounts of money from people who cannot afford it, a system in which corrupt immigration advisers often try to take people's money away before they get to Canada.
To deal with these problems the Canadian Alliance has some suggestions. First, we need to take a serious look at a common perimeter security system with the United States. This is a simple and real opportunity to improve security for both Canadians and Americans. Simply put, it would increase security at our entry points. People cannot swim to this country. They come in through airports and the ports where our ships dock. We need a common perimeter security system.
Why do we need a perimeter security system? We need it for a couple of reasons. First, we need it for our own security and safety. This is the first duty of the federal government. Second, the United States has announced it will be requiring everyone leaving and entering that country to register when they do so. This will be done for several reasons. It will be done partly as a trade restriction, something we do not particularly need.
A couple of weeks ago one of the senators from North Dakota began using the security issue to try again to restrict agricultural products coming into the United States. Some of their bureaucrats and politicians are trying to use the issue to restrict things like softwood lumber and the ability of Canadians to work in the United States. We need to be aware that the United States is concerned about its own security. If we do not have a secure perimeter and cannot be trusted at our borders we will not be able to get through the U.S. border easily.
We have a second suggestion for the government. It should detain refugee claimants until it has properly identified them. That is common sense. We cannot simply let people go and collect their baggage when they arrive at and leave our airports. The Canadian people do not realize how the system is operating right now or they would be rising up and criticizing it.
Arrivals need to have verifiable documentation so the proper checks can be done. It is easy to do security and background checks on people who have the correct documentation. However those without verifiable documentation or who are questionable should be detained until we know whether they are safe. If they prove not to be safe they should be deported. Canadians do not find that unreasonable.
Here are some examples where stricter standards should have been applied. A convicted PLO terrorist lied to get into Canada. He currently lives in Brantford, Ontario, and has lived there since 1987. He is a failed refugee claimant but continues to avoid deportation through court appeals. If the government cannot deport a terrorist, whom can it deport?
A Toronto man who works at a grocery store has been positively linked to Osama bin Laden. He has been identified as a high ranking member of the Islamic terrorist group al-Jihad.
Ahmed Ressam, a failed refugee claimant, assembled bomb material in Burnaby, B.C., and tried to get into the United States. While he was fighting the Canadian refugee process it was discovered he was allowed to travel abroad for more terrorist training before returning to Canada.
A former terrorist wanted for questioning by the FBI for assisting in the bombing of an Egyptian embassy in the late 1980s is living in Canada.
How many other terrorists are hiding in Canada? One of the biggest concerns of Canadians is that the present inadequate screening system cannot tell them that.
One of the more bizarre examples of this occurred on October 7 when a plane arrived at Toronto's Pearson airport with an estimated 30 to 40 refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan who had come through Germany, a safe third country. These people, I would suggest, were not refugees but rather immigrants. They were processed and released into the general public and immigration officials lost them. Where are they? More important, who are they? People cannot just disappear.
Immigration Canada has been left with insufficient resources to track these people down. Does the government have the will to protect Canadians, either at the beginning of the immigration process or when things go wrong?
John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto based strategic think tank, says CSIS, our security agencies, immigration officers and police officers cannot act because they do not have the resources or the will behind them.
We have a couple of suggestions regarding customs. First, one of the ways to deal with the problems is to make customs officials full law enforcement officers. The government cannot decide what they are right now. They are expected to protect our borders but are only given the tools to be tax collectors. If our first line of defence is to be our customs officials let us give them sidearms and the equipment they need. If they are only to be tax collectors let us give them calculators.
We have a huge concern that customs officials are left without the proper training. In larger centres they are getting some training but in smaller ones they have less access to the RCMP and little access to police support. They do not have access to quick response training and are often left out of the training schedule, especially lately regarding pepper spray and the use of batons. The people who most need protection and training are the last to get it.
The national vice-president of the Customs Excise Union, Gary Filek, said:
Canada Customs has been under a systematic process of deterioration and dismantling for approximately the last decade.
The Canadian Alliance is suggesting to the government that it restore Canadian confidence by setting up a common perimeter security network, that it detain new arrivals until it knows for sure who they are, that it limit refugee acceptance to real refugees, and that it make customs officials peace officers and give them the proper training and necessary tools to do their jobs.