Mr. Speaker, it is with great disappointment that I rise to speak to the amendments put forward by the opposition at report stage. I say “disappointed” because the opposition is playing exactly the sort of petty and blind partisanship that turned Canadians off politics. It is important to explain to Canadians the negative consequences that would result if these opposition amendments were adopted.
The opposition will not admit it, but Canadians know that Canada's immigration and refugee system faces challenges and is open to abuse. The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer. This bill would put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and refugees with unfounded claims from abusing Canada's generous immigration system. At the same time, this bill would provide protection more quickly to those who are truly in need. Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs, but they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and seek to take unfair advantage of our country. The facts speak for themselves. Canada welcomes more resettled refugees than almost any country in the world. In fact, we are increasing that number by an additional 20%. Our tradition of compassion and protection will continue and will grow.
However, our immigration system is open to abuse. Every year, thousands of bogus refugee claimants come to Canada. They choose to file bogus refugee claims in the hope that their lengthy processing times and endless appeals will result in their obtaining permanent residence in this country. Immigrants to Canada, like me, are very welcoming and fair but we have no tolerance for people from safe countries who abuse our refugee system as a way to jump the queue and get into Canada without having to wait and follow the proper process like everyone else. We have no tolerance for those who take unfair advantage of our generosity.
It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the opposition parties, NDP and Liberals, conveniently ignore the facts when they speak against Bill C-31. The amendments they introduced at the report stage prove that. These amendments show that the opposition members continue to ignore the facts that underscore the need for this important piece of legislation and undermine the opposition's criticism of it.
These are the facts. In 2011, Canada received 5,800 refugee claims from the European Union alone, a 14% increase from 2010. That means that a quarter of all refugee claims were from the democratic European Union, where human rights are respected. That is more than Africa and Asia. Canada's top source country for refugee claims was Hungary, an EU member state. In fact, in 2011 Canada received 4,400 refugee claims from Hungary alone. In comparison, Belgium received only 188, the U.S. only 47, and France and Norway only 33 each. It is very telling that in 2010, Hungarian nationals made a total of 2,400 refugee claims around the world and 2,300 of those claims were made in Canada. That means that only 100 refugee claims were made in other countries around the world. Canada received 23 times more than all other countries combined.
What is more, in the past few years virtually all of these claims were abandoned, withdrawn or rejected. The majority of these claimants chose to abandon or withdraw their claims, a clear sign they were not in need of Canada's protection. These claimants are, by definition, bogus. They are paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadian taxpayers pay upwards of $170 million per year for these bogus claimants from the European Union. Taxpayers fund their welfare, their education and their health care. Hard-working taxpayers are sick and tired of footing the bill for bogus refugee claimants who abuse the system at everyone else's expense. Too many tax dollars are spent on bogus refugees.
Bill C-31 would put a stop to this abuse. Allow me to illustrate. The bill would help speed up the refugee claims process in a number of ways. It would challenge the designated country of origin policy and enable the government to respond more quickly to increases in refugee claims from countries that generally do not produce refugees. Claimants from designated countries of origin would be processed in about 45 days compared to more than 1,000 days under the current system. The less time claimants spend in Canada awaiting a decision, the less incentive there is for people to abuse our generous asylum system and use it to jump the queue in the regular immigration process. Bill C-31 would also stop the ability of bogus claimants to use endless avenues of appeal to remain in Canada, receiving generous taxpayer-funded health care and social assistance benefits.
Bill C-31 would prevent refugee claimants from submitting a refugee claim at the same time as they apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. It would also bar claimants from submitting humanitarian and compassionate applications for one year following a final negative decision from the IRB. In addition, under the balanced refugee reform act, individuals with a final negative decision from the Immigration and Refugee Board would be barred from applying for a pre-removal risk assessment for 12 months.
Taken together, these measures send a clear message to those who seek to abuse Canada's generous refugee system. Those who do not need our protection would be sent home quickly. They would not be allowed to remain in Canada by using endless appeals to delay their removal. At the same time, for those who need refuge, these measures would help to get protection even faster. Every eligible asylum claimant would continue to get a fair hearing by the Immigration and Refugee Board. Again, even with these needed changes, Canada's refugee determination system would remain one of the most generous in the world.
Human smugglers are criminals who operate in the underworld and charge large amounts of money to facilitate illegal immigration. The protecting Canada's immigration system act 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 in order to determine their identity, admissibility and whether or not they have been involved in illegal activities.
As my hon. colleagues know, the detention provisions in Bill C-31 were recently amended and now reflect that the first detention review would occur within 14 days and subsequent reviews every six months.
I note that NDP members supported these amendments at the committee but now they are trying to gut the very amendments they supported. This is more proof that their main goal is to play games rather than work in good faith in the best interest of Canadians.
As before, a person would be released before this time upon being found to be a genuine refugee. As an additional safeguard, the Minister of Public Safety, on his own initiative, at any time, can also order the release of a detained individual when grounds for detention no longer exist. Mandatory detention would also exclude those designated foreign nationals who are under the age of 16.
The government is sending a clear message that our doors are open to those who play by the rules, but we will crack down on those who threaten the integrity of our borders. With these proposed measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of Canadians would be protected.
Unfortunately, by introducing these irresponsible amendments, the opposition has shown that it does not support strengthening the immigration system. It has shown that it does not support genuine refugees getting protection more quickly or protecting hard-working Canadian taxpayers from having to foot the bill for bogus refugee claimants and human smugglers.
I urge the opposition to stop playing games, listen to the will of their constituents and vote against these amendments.