Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and have the opportunity to speak on Bill C-31 protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, our immigration system is open to abuse. Canadians are generous people, but we have no tolerance for those who abuse that generosity and who take unfair advantage of our great country.
Canadians have told us, loud and clear, that they want us to put a stop to this type of abuse. Our government has listened and we are taking action. That is why our Conservative government introduced Bill C-31. It would make our immigration system faster and fairer. It is the latest step by our government to ensure that our immigration system is no longer abused by foreign criminals, bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.
This bill includes three major components. First, it includes much needed reforms to our refugee system. Second, this bill includes the provisions in C-4, preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. There is one important difference to note. It has been brought up in the House today, but it is important to stress once again, that there is now an exemption from detention for anyone under the age of 16.
Third, and the focus of my remarks today, is that this bill would provide the government with the authority to collect biometric data, specifically fingerprints and a photograph from foreign nationals who seek to enter Canada.
Canada welcomes thousands upon thousands of visitors each and every year, tourists, family members and business people, among others. In 2010, under our Conservative government, over 920,000 temporary visa permits were issued. That is a 13% increase compared to the previous Liberal government.
We have also increased the maximum length of multiple entry visas from 5 to 10 years to make it easier for eligible applicants to visit Canada and come back. Our government introduced the parent and grandparent super visa so that loved ones can visit their children and grandchildren for a period of up to two years at a time. Since 2006, our government has also lifted visa requirements from eight countries: Taiwan, Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary and Lithuania.
Our government is facilitating the travel of legitimate travellers to Canada. I want to stress the word “legitimate”. It is no secret that there are countless numbers of people, each and every year, who are not allowed to come to Canada and who nevertheless find their way in.
There are countless examples on almost a daily basis of violent criminals, terrorists, human smugglers and war criminals, among others, who have entered Canada using false or fraudulent documents. There are several examples of criminals entering Canada on multiple occasions even after they have been deported. There are even examples of criminals re-entering Canada using false identities and documents up to 15, 19, 21 different times.
We must take action. We cannot allow this to continue. This has to stop. Biometrics would help our government end this fraud and the obvious abuse. Biometrics would help our government protect the safety and security of all Canadians. That is one of the number one priorities of any government. Biometrics is one of the most effective ways to correctly identify individuals. Biometrics would be an important new tool to help protect the safety and security of Canadians by reducing identity fraud and identity theft. As fraudsters become more sophisticated, biometrics would improve our ability to keep violent criminals and those who pose a threat to Canada out of Canada.
Let me explain how biometrics would work. When foreign nationals apply for a visa to enter Canada, they would go to a visa office or one of the many visa application centres located around the world. They would provide their fingerprints and have a high quality, digital photo taken.
This data would then be checked against other databases. If no flags were raised and they met all other criteria, they would be provided with a visa to visit Canada. However, if a flag were raised and a person found to be inadmissible, that person would be denied a visa to enter Canada.
When the visa holders enter Canada, they would again be asked to provide their biometric data. This would ensure the person who is entering Canada is the same person who provided the data when he or she applied overseas and who was approved to travel on that visa.
In other words, we must ensure that “who applies is who arrives”. Needless to say, biometrics would be an effective security tool.
Understandably, there are concerns about privacy when it comes to the collection of biometric data. I would like to be perfectly clear. Biometric data would not be required of Canadian citizens or permanent residents. The personal information of visa applicants would be used, retained, shared and disposed of in accordance with Canada's privacy laws. Citizenship and Immigration is working closely with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on the implementation of biometrics. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner's office has stated that it is “satisfied that CIC is taking its privacy responsibilities as part of the protocol seriously, and with the fact that it has been receptive to much of our advice”.
It is also important to note that if someone acquired Canadian citizenship before their biometric data was due to be disposed of, it would be disposed of immediately upon the individual receiving citizenship.
The collection of biometric data makes such common sense that the only question it begs is why it was not done decades ago. In fact, it was done decades ago in many other countries around the world. Bill C-31 would finally put us in line with other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, countries of the European Union, New Zealand, the United States and Japan.
Biometrics would not just help our government keep those who pose a threat out, it would also facilitate the travel of legitimate visitors, and again I stress “legitimate“. It could lead to faster processing times.
There has been widespread support for biometrics. In fact, a Globe and Mail editorial on Bill C-31 stated:
The bill will also implement biometric identification, such as fingerprints and photos, for people who apply for visitor’s visas. This welcome change will guard against the use of false identities.
A Montreal Gazette editorial gave the following praise. It stated:
And it allows for the collection of biometric data--fingerprints and digital photos--of people entering Canada on a visitor visa, a work permit or a study visa. Both of these measures are advisable.... The collection of biometric information is a sensible security precaution that will be a valuable tool in preventing people from slipping into the country with false identities.
I know that all Canadians want our government to strengthen our security screening process to ensure that serious criminals, terrorists, bogus refugee claimants and war criminals, among others, are not permitted to enter Canada. My constituents in Scarborough Centre do not want these criminals to be able to enter Canada or live in our neighbourhoods. I am certain the NDP and Liberal MPs' constituents do not either. That is why I was so shocked to learn that the opposition parties, both the NDP and the Liberals, are voting against this bill and against the use of biometrics. Not only do they oppose the provisions to give the government the authority to collect biometrics, they also voted against the funding necessary to start the collection of biometric data. In other words, the NDP and Liberals have voted against and continue to vote against one of the most important measures to prevent criminals and terrorists from entering our great country. They are voting against a tool that would help protect the safety and security of all Canadians, including their own constituents. For that they will be held accountable.
Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration systems act, would make our immigration system faster and fairer. Most importantly, it would help protect the safety and security of all Canadians. I implore all members of the House to support this important and much needed piece of legislation.