Madam Speaker, it was in March that the federal government introduced the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act and called it part of its balanced refugee reform. The minister said that its objective is to preserve the system's integrity by reducing wait times for refugee claims to be processed and, he said, to give people the protection they need more quickly. The bill proposes spending an additional $540.7 million over five years.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill so that it is referred to committee and an in-depth study can be undertaken of the refugee system, its flaws and the proposed amendments. The Bloc Québécois will work hard to see that all the necessary amendments are passed so that this reform is effective and so that claims are processed quickly and processed fairly, in the case of refugees. Many of the measures in this bill are interesting. And even though they are being proposed as part of the reform of Canada's asylum system, we believe that they are hiding other, more worrying proposals. In our opinion, the bill we are discussing today, Bill C-11, contains fundamental flaws.
What we noticed as we were going through this bill initially was the typically Conservative ideology that seeks to differentiate between genuine and false claimants. We are concerned about that because we believe that reforms based on that kind of discriminatory principle could be deeply prejudicial toward refugees. The bill also gives the minister significant latitude in designing the asylum-granting system. We also noticed that several of the measures announced as part of this reform do not appear in the bill. For example, the minister can designate countries of origin according to criteria set out in regulations published in the Canada Gazette, but the criteria used in creating the list of safe countries cannot be debated in the House. We believe that lacks transparency. The minister is really giving himself a lot of powers.
Several other measures also make us worry about the politicization of the system. First, the minister may designate, by order, a country whose classes of nationals, in the Minister’s opinion, meet the criteria established by the regulations. Second, the minister can designate countries whose nationals are precluded from appealing decisions to the refugee appeal division. Third, the minister can prohibit nationals of certain countries from applying for protection. Fourth, the minister can grant an exemption from any obligations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on humanitarian and compassionate grounds or on public policy grounds.
Once again, the minister really would be assuming a lot of powers.
The Bloc Québécois believes that an appeal process for refugee claimants should have been instituted when the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into force in June 2002. In fact, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration unanimously passed a Bloc Québécois motion requiring the federal government to set up a refugee appeal division immediately.
We also introduced Bill C-280 in 2006, which became BIll C-291 in 2009, with the aim of establishing a real refugee appeal division. Unfortunately, the House's two official parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals, joined forces to defeat that bill. Members on both sides either abstained or were absent.
Some members hid behind the curtains, so they would not have to vote.
The Bloc Québécois is delighted that the bill before us could finally establish a refugee appeal division and allow new measures to be added to the system, even though the refugee appeal division will not be up and running until two years after the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act comes into force.
Also, unsuccessful claimants from countries that are deemed safe will have no right to appeal the initial decision rendered by public servants. We believe this measure is far too strict. It is unfair that claimants from a safe country whose first application is denied cannot appeal their cases before the refugee appeal division, and instead must take their cases to Federal Court.
Earlier I spoke about designated countries of origin. I spoke about designated countries and other countries. The United Kingdom uses a fast tracking process to examine refugee claims from designated countries. Canada, on the other hand, would assess all claims from all countries the same way. The only reason the process would be any faster is that unsuccessful claimants from countries that are deemed safe will have no right to appeal their case before the new refugee appeal division. We think this measure is discriminatory.
The principle of safe countries raises a number of other concerns. First, the fact that a refugee can be classified as a false claimant even before his or her case is analyzed can be extremely prejudicial. Even though the government assures us that all claims will be analyzed on their own merits, it cannot guarantee that no mistakes will be made in first-level decisions. For this reason in particular, the committee must look at this issue and consider how such a designation by the minister could affect refugee claimants.
The Bloc Québécois had made it known that it wanted all failed refugee claimants to have access to the refugee appeal division, regardless of their country of origin. Our critic on the committee is willing to look at any measures that would correct this flaw, such as including criteria for designating safe countries in the bill. As things now stand, these criteria would be established by regulation.
Canada's asylum system has always been based on reliable, solid resources that make for sound decisions. The proposal to submit all the necessary documents within eight days and hold hearings within 60 days after the claim is made could mean a change in this procedure and could have serious consequences for refugees. With such short deadlines, decision-makers could make decisions too quickly, and the quality of the decisions would suffer as a result.
Refugees have the right to find a lawyer and assemble all the documents they need for their testimony. This is a fundamental rule of justice.
I want to make one last point. The fact that IRB officials make the first-level decisions is problematic. These officials are probably long-standing employees, but it is essential that they demonstrate a certain level of independence.
Lastly, Bill C-11 must be studied in committee, because it has major flaws. That is why it will be sent to committee. I am sure that our critic on the committee will clearly state the Bloc's position.