Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the mover as well as the parliamentary secretary, and want to express my gratitude to the member for presenting Bill C-291, but I do want to give it some context.
There is no question in Canadians' minds that they deserve a refugee system that works, one that respects due process, creates avenues of equal opportunity, and provides safety for individuals who are in need of protection.
Unfortunately, today we have a broken refugee system with the following problems: a staggering 61,000 backlog of refugee claims; an increase of 17.7 months for the processing of claims, in other words, a wait of almost two years; a drastic decrease of 50% for the number of finalized claims; an almost 50% increase in the cost to finalize a claim, an estimated cost to Canadian taxpayers of approximately $29,000 for the processing of each claimant; and a 50% increase in the number of deportations from Canada over the last decade.
One of the first questions I asked when I was appointed opposition critic for citizenship and immigration was precisely on this issue and I want to cite the response given by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. In response to the question he said:
Mr. Speaker, I am really delighted to hear the interest of the member in hopefully working together to create a more efficient refugee determination system...However, the member is quite right, it is not efficient and the reality is that last year we received 38,000 inland refugee claimants, about 60% of whose applications were rejected by the IRB.
I would like to work with the member to find ways that we can dissuade people from making false refugee claims, seeking to jump the queue and to come to this country illegally under the cover of being refugees.
There is no question that the minister understands that the system is broken and that question was asked on March 11, 2009. This is a question that still of course requires an answer.
The Auditor General has stated some major concerns as well and so has the minister's departmental plan. To cite from what the minister said in committee on October 6: “As I indicated, that growing backlog reached 61,000 this summer”. He also said: “Mr. Chairman, under the current system, it's taking over 18 months for a claimant to get a hearing at the IRB”. He also said: “This is a broken system, and it needs to be streamlined”.
Where the minister stands is obvious. I have a suspicion that the minister is not getting the support he requires in cabinet to make the necessary investments to fix the system that we on both sides of the House all agree is indeed broken. So here comes this bill, Bill C-291. Of course, it is a bill that compels the government to bring certain provisions of IRPA into force for the purpose of creating the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Section 110 deals with the appeal, section 111 with the refugee appeal division decision, and section 171, the proceedings of the refugee appeal division.
On both sides are those who oppose and talk obviously about duplication. The CIC officials argue that the RAD is unnecessary given other avenues of appeal and recourse prior to deportation. They also say that we have a need for wider reform. I agree with that. We have to look at the entire system. It is arguable that the implementation of RAD must be accompanied by reform of the refugee determination system in order to enhance efficiency overall. There are concerns about costs. There are concerns that the RAD would only provide a review on the record. It would burden the system even further. We have heard all that.
We have heard all the points. I am very happy about the fact that I pushed for the bill to go to committee because both sides have raised important issues that required careful analysis and thought.
Those in support speak to fundamental issues of justice. For example, the administration of justice itself, that the RAD provides a way to balance the rights of refugees with the integrity of the immigration system.
On the issue of efficiency, the RAD would be a specialized appeal division as opposed to the federal court. It would increase the efficiency of the system, while still ensuring the humane treatment of those in need of protection. The implementation of an appeal division would improve public perception of the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Consistency in decision-making was also mentioned as one of the rationale for the original proposal. The creation of the RAD would allow for greater consistencies when reviewing the facts of a decision.
The other issue that was raised was procedural safeguard. The RAD would serve as a procedural safeguard and would enhance the IRB credibility to ensure justice is done so that no decision to deny refugee status would lead to serious consequences, such as detention, torture or death.
On the final point under judicial review, the judicial review of an IRB decision is more limited in scope than the appeal contemplated in the RAD. The court cannot replace a decision by the IRB with its own judgment. The federal court does not specialize in refugee matters, whereas advocates for the RAD would have an expertise in refugee determinations.
That is what we heard. This is an important bill to analyze because this is an important issue. I want members in the House to remember the context I presented today, that we are dealing with a broken system.
As a member of Parliament who likes to hear both sides of the debate, I want to put the government on notice. I am waiting for a reform package. I am 100% behind the concept of co-operating with the government and parties on all sides of the House to ensure we address the key concerns I cited earlier in my speech in reference to the broken refugee system. It has to be a system that is fair, a system that is just, a system that respects and meets Canada's international obligations to protect refugees and maintain confidence in the system. We have heard that inland refugee systems can take up to eight years to finalize a claim. That leaves thousands of people living in limbo, and that is not fair. A decision needs to be made within a responsible and acceptable timeframe. We need an appeal decision process that is fair and accessible.
The reality is when claimants fail, they unfortunately need to leave. The entire process should take closer to 12 to 18 months rather than 8 years. It has to be efficient, it has to be fair and it has to also maintain the integrity of the system itself.
It is for this reason that I put the government on notice. I support the bill. I will give the government time to present a reform package that also includes an appeals division.