Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Fleetwood—Port Kells to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Our Conservative government recognizes the importance of immigration to our great country. That is evident in our actions and policies. Since 2006, the Government of Canada has welcomed the highest sustained level of immigration in Canadian history. Our government has also continued to strengthen and support our generous refugee system, which is an important expression of the compassionate and humanitarian convictions of Canadians and of our international commitments.
Canada remains one of the top countries in the world to welcome refugees. In fact, we welcome more refugees per capita than any other G20 country, because this government understands the importance of the immigration system to Canada's future. It also understands the importance of remaining vigilant about keeping that system functioning in our national interest. To do so, we must always be prepared to make improvements to the system according to changing circumstances and identified shortcomings.
Bill C-31 would do exactly that. When there is a system in place as generous as Canada, it is particularly important to guard against the abuse of that system and that generosity. Indeed, for too many years our refugee system has been abused by too many people making bogus claims. Our system has become overwhelmed by a significant backlog of cases. More recently, we have grown more and more concerned about a notable upsurge of refugee claims originating in countries that we would not normally expect to produce refugees. This is adding to our backlog.
Allow me to specify exactly what I mean by that.
It comes a surprise to many Canadians to learn that Canada receives more asylum claims from countries in Europe than others in Africa or Asia. Last year alone, almost one quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada were made by EU nationals. Let us think about that. EU countries have strong human rights and democratic systems similar to our own, yet they produced almost 25% of all the refugee claims to this country in 2011. That is up from 14% in the previous year.
These bogus claimants come with a large price tag for Canadian taxpayers. In recent years, virtually all EU claims were withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. The unfounded claims from the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million. Under the current system, it takes an average of 4.5 years from an initial claim to remove a failed refugee claimant from the country. Some cases have even taken more than 10 years. The result is an overburdened system and a waste of taxpayer money. For too long, we have spent precious time and taxpayer money on people who are not in need of protection at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers.
The protecting Canada's immigration system act would help speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways, such as changing the designated country of origin policy to enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally did not produce refugees, such as most of those in the European Union. Claimants from those countries would be processed in about 45 days, compared to more than 1,000 days under the current system. Claimants from designated countries of origin would also have their claims heard sooner and would not have access to the new refugee appeal division.
Moreover, it would also further streamline the process by limiting access to appeals for other countries, such as by claimants with manifestly unfounded claims or claims with no credible basis at all. It would enable more timely removals from Canada of failed refugee claimants.
Taken together, these measures send a clear message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous refugee system. It tells them that if they do not need our protection, they will be sent home quickly. They would not be able to remain in Canada by using endless appeals to delay their removal. At the same time, if they need refugee status, these measures would help them get protection even faster. Every eligible asylum claimant would continue to get a fair hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board.
Once these needed changes are implemented, Canada's refugee determination system would remain one of the most generous in the world.
The protecting Canada's immigration system act would also deal with the despicable crime of human smuggling. Human smugglers are criminals who operate around the world, charging large amounts of money to facilitate illegal migration. Each year, countless people die while taking these dangerous journeys. Bill C-31 would help crack down on these smugglers in a number of ways. It would enable the Minister of Public Safety to designate the arrival of a group of individuals into Canada as an irregular arrival. It would establish mandatory detention of those individuals to determine their identity, admissibility and whether they have been involved in illegal activities. It is important to mention here that once a person's refugee claim has been approved, that person would be released from detention.
It would also make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would impost mandatory minimum prison sentences on those convicted of human smuggling. It would hold shipowners and operators to account when their ships are used for human smuggling.
It would enhance our ability to revoke the refugee status of people who are no longer in need of Canada's protection and of those who have gained that status through misrepresentation. It would reduce the attraction of coming to Canada by way of illegal human smuggling, by limiting the ability of those who do to take advantage of our generous immigration system and social services.
One notable improvement in Bill C-31 from Bill C-4 is that mandatory detention would exclude designated foreign nationals who are under the age of 16.
Our government continues to be absolutely clear that human smuggling is a despicable crime and any attempts to abuse Canada's generosity for financial gain will not be tolerated. With this bill, we will crack down on those who endanger human lives and threaten the integrity of our borders.
The protecting Canada's immigration system act also includes a framework for the collection of biometric information, photographs and fingerprints, in the temporary visa program and will establish parameters for how this information can be used and disclosed by the RCMP in order to enforce Canadian law. The use of biometrics would bring Canada in line with other countries that already use biometrics in their immigration programs, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, the United States and Japan, among others.
To maintain the support of Canadians for our generous immigration and refugee system, we must demonstrate that Canada has a fair, well-managed system that does not tolerate queue jumping. Bill C-31 will ensure that genuine refugees in need of protection will receive it sooner, while those who are abusing Canada's generosity will be removed more quickly.
I am proud to support this important piece of legislation and hope that all of my colleagues will work together to ensure the timely passage of this bill.