The House resumed from March 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Ms. Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 threatens this common vision of hope and our collective desire to build a nation where compassion is the rule, a nation that opens its arms and offers a fair opportunity to those seeking asylum, safety and protection.
I must state clearly that Bill C-31 puts aside all the hard negotiated and balanced compromise on immigration reform that all parties, including the government, worked to achieve in the previous Parliament in former Bill C-11.
Unfortunately, the balance and the compromises that were achieved at the time have disappeared. Instead of punishing human smugglers, Bill C-31 attacks the refugees who are the victims of these unscrupulous people. Even more worrisome, the minister is giving himself certain powers that will jeopardize a system that must be fair and must honour international conventions.
Under Bill C-31, the minister will establish a list of safe countries and a list of countries that are considered unsafe. What is troubling is that this list will be established by the minister, rather than by a panel of experts in international relations, not to mention that this list will change depending on his assessment of the safety of the countries on that list.
In the previous more balanced immigration reform act, Bill C-11, the decision on whether or not a country was safe was left to a board of human rights advisers, not a minister with a red pen.
Perhaps most troubling of all, Bill C-31's unbalanced approach to immigration reform enables the minister to revoke the permanent resident status of former refugee claimants if the minister decides that their country of origin is no longer threatening.
There are many permanent residents that have made my riding their home. It can take years for someone to obtain permanent resident status, as many of my constituents know. Imagine the anxiety they would feel, how vulnerable they would be to know that the minister could revoke their status on a whim, just as they have begun to rebuild their lives.
In the meantime, these constituents have settled in Montreal. They have made friendships and have married. They have worked hard to make a living so that one day their children can go to school, college and university, and participate in our society. They have come to build lives and share in the prosperity and security that too many of us born here take for granted.
My colleagues know as well as I do that when the government makes rash decisions, our constituency offices are the first to hear about it. Our constituents turn to us when they can no longer count on government services, for example, because the delays have become untenable or because the process has become fundamentally unfair.
We respond to calls from our constituents who hope to be reunited with a spouse overseas and who, after months and years, can no longer wait and confess to us that their marriage is about to fall apart. We open our doors to mothers who come with their children, begging us to intervene because they are about to be deported in less than two hours and they are overtaken by desperation.
Decisions made by governments have very real and very human consequences, often far from Ottawa; we see that every day. The government needs to put more resources into processing requests, well-trained human resources that can meet the demand.
Bill C-31 epitomizes this government's callous vision of a society made up of two classes of citizens: good Canadians and those whom the Conservatives consider profiteers.
It is no accident that Canada is called the “new world”. Our country is a land of immigrants, a land that welcomes immigrants, a beacon of safety and hope and opportunity for a better life. That is the Canada whose values I stand for.
That is why I am urging the government to forget about Bill C-31, as it forgot about its predecessor, Bill C-4. I am asking the government not to repudiate the historic compromises that all parties achieved when they reformed our immigration system by passing Bill C-11 during the previous Parliament.
Those are the reasons why I oppose Bill C-31.
Hon. Vic Toews (Minister of Public Safety, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Canada has a long-standing and well-respected reputation as a nation that welcomes more than 250,000 refugees and immigrants every year. As I indicate to my constituents, that is the equivalent of building the city of Winnipeg every three years. We get a tremendous number of people coming into this country, given our generous refugee and immigration system. With Canada's population of approximately 33 million, that puts stress on government and infrastructure at all levels. Our immigration system is one of the most generous and fair systems in the world.
We have heard time and time again that Canadians have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity and take advantage of our country. Make no mistake, there are those who look at Canada's generous immigration system through a different lens. They see it as an opportunity for exploitation, an opportunity to make profit by skirting the rules and smuggling people into our country. They have no regard for our rules and no concern for the safety and the well-being of their passengers.
Over the past several years we have seen more incidents in the media about human smuggling criminal operations at work around the globe, sometimes with tragic results. Two years ago, 30 people died when their wooden boat operated by suspected human smugglers capsized off the coast of Australia's Christmas Island. Also, close to 200 irregular migrants destined for Australia perished when their vessel capsized in rough waters off the coast of Indonesia last December.
Recent incidents in Canadian waters and on Canadian soil are a clear indication that these migrant smuggling syndicates are focusing their efforts on our nation. The headlines tell the story. There was the irregular arrival of two boats off the coast of British Columbia within a year of each other.
Human smuggling organizations around the globe continue to actively target Canada as a destination of choice. There must be stronger laws in place that specifically condemn the practice of human smuggling for what it is. It is a dangerous criminal activity that risks the lives of those smuggled and undermines Canadian sovereignty and our immigration system. I will be returning to these themes, but we must act now to prevent human smugglers from targeting Canada.
Bill C-31 contains important provisions that would help to address the growing threat of human smuggling, a despicable activity. Before I go into the specifics of our legislation, I would like to take a moment to provide some context to what we are talking about.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime refers to human smuggling as a deadly business characterized by the following trends and patterns. First, human smuggling is increasing as more criminals are providing these services to irregular migrants to evade national border controls. Second, the crime of human smuggling is a low risk, high reward activity, meaning that more criminals are turning to this practice as a means of generating significant revenues. Third, smugglers continually evolve in their tactics in order to respond to changing law enforcement efforts by states that must respond to this activity. Lastly, smuggling puts the lives of those smuggled at risk.
All of these trends and patterns illustrate the need for all countries, including Canada, to be vigilant in responding to this crime. That is exactly what we are doing in Bill C-31. The bill contains firm and reasonable measures that address specific challenges related to human smuggling and irregular arrivals. What are those challenges? I would like to quote from a case in the Ontario courts which summarizes them quite accurately. The judge noted, and I quote directly, that:
|| The implications of human smuggling are profound and far-reaching. The integrity of Canada's borders is compromised when criminals such as these smuggle illegal aliens across. There are no checks on the type of people entering, making it possible for criminals and terrorists to move back and forth between these countries at will. The risk to society generally of this kind of criminal activity is great.
|| It is important for national security and public safety to send a message that those who would compromise our international borders in this manner will be dealt with severely. Illegal smuggling of human beings cannot be permitted to become a profitable business operation in Canada.
Those observations demonstrate the importance of improving our responses to this crime and safeguarding the integrity of Canada's borders. That is exactly what we are proposing to do in Bill C-31.
This bill would make it harder for human smugglers to undermine the integrity of Canada's immigration system while still continuing to offer protection to refugees. This has always been the position of our government. The 2011 Speech from the Throne underscored the government's commitment to combat human smuggling which can place migrants in dangerous conditions and undermine trust in Canada's immigration system.
During the last election, we were also clear. Our platform reiterated that it is not fair that criminal human smugglers and bogus claimants abuse Canada's generosity and jump the immigration queue ahead of those who follow the rules. Members probably know from their own experiences in riding offices how many legitimate immigrants are waiting to come to Canada, yet because others are jumping the queue, they and their families are suffering as a result. Quite frankly, that is not fair.
The bill before us today makes it clear that Canada and Canadians do not and will not tolerate the despicable crime of human smuggling. Canada has always been a strong and visible supporter of international efforts to fight human smuggling. Bill C-31 would provide law enforcement officials additional tools to investigate and prosecute individuals who organize, engage in and profit from human smuggling.
As hon. members are aware, our existing laws against migrant smuggling target a very specific manifestation of human smuggling. The crown must prove that the accused knew the people being smuggled did not have the documents needed to enter Canada. This bill proposes to change this law and broaden the offence to provide a more comprehensive response to the various manifestations of this crime.
The first way it does this is by expanding the offence so that proof that the accused knew that any part of the act would be violated, and not just the failure to have the necessary documents, would constitute smuggling. The focus then is on the smuggler breaching the act, as opposed to whether the smuggler knew that the individual did not have the documents. That specific knowledge, of course, is very difficult to prove in any prosecution.
The second way this offence would be broadened is by adding the mental element of recklessness to the offence. This would mean that a prosecutor could lead evidence showing that the accused was subjectively aware of the substantial risk, but without absolute certainty that the smuggled persons would be entering Canada in contravention of the requirements of the act, and proceeded despite the risk.
This is a fairly common term in our criminal law. It is probably expressed best in the concept of wilful blindness where essentially someone knows there is something wrong but proceeds anyway and suggests that he or she did not know specifically what was wrong. In fact, that person is wilfully blind. The law has never viewed that as an excuse. I think this amendment would bring the legislation into that stream of well-established law in Canada.
These amendments would provide our police and prosecutors the necessary tools to respond to human smuggling in all of its forms. Bill C-31 proposes mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of human smuggling. Depending upon the circumstances of the offence, these mandatory sentences would range up to a maximum of 10 years for the most grievous offences such as those conducted for profit by a criminal organization or terrorist group, or endangering the lives or causing the death of smuggled persons.
These mandatory penalties are highly tailored and respond to the most harmful and dangerous manifestations of a practice that is done with little or no regard for any of those being smuggled. Similarly, this bill would increase the penalties for violations of the Marine Transportation Security Act, such as refusals to comply with a ministerial directive to leave Canadian waters or for providing false or misleading information to officials. In such cases, individuals would be liable for fines of as much as $200,000 and up to $500,000 for a subsequent offence. These changes will deliver a strong, clear message. It is a message that must be delivered before the next migrant vessel sails for our shores, and that risk is very real.
Bill C-31 will deter human smugglers from mounting such ventures. Indeed, we must do more than simply express our distaste for human smuggling. There is also the simple yet profound matter of exercising our right as a sovereign nation to protect our borders. Canada has the right to decide who enters this country and there is no question that Canada is very generous in that regard, as I indicated in my earlier remarks. At the same time, we have an international obligation to assist those in need.
The existing rules allow a foreign national or permanent resident entering Canada to be detained if an immigration officer considers that person's detention necessary in order to carry out a proper investigation to make sure that the person is who they say they are. This is nothing different from what happens in our courts on a daily basis. If someone goes to court and a court cannot identify them, that person will remain in custody, whether a Canadian citizen or not. That is the general rule in our criminal justice system. If someone cannot identify who they are and the court is not satisfied who they are, that is the regular rule applied within our criminal justice system. What this essentially does is to extend the same principle to foreigners and illegal migrants who come to our country and then demand entry. Our country must have the same rights that it exercises in respect of citizens who refuse to identify themselves with those who are not citizens or, indeed, those whom we have no idea who they are. This is prudent and it must be done. There is nothing in their background that would make them inadmissible to Canada, but we do not know who they are.
Detentions of this kind must be reviewed by the Immigration Review and Refugee Board within 48 hours, and again within seven days and, if necessary, every 30 days after that.
The system works well most of the time. However, it is not designed to deal with those who arrive en masse at one location, as was the case with the MV Sun Sea in 2010. Border officials did not have sufficient time to carry out the investigations so vital to protecting public safety. That is why the bill would give them the authority to declare the arrival of a group of people in circumstances such as the MV Sun Sea as an irregular arrival if the minister was of the opinion that their identity or admissibility could not be determined in a timely manner, or if there were reasonable grounds to suspect human smuggling done for profit by a criminal organization or a terrorist group. If a decision is made to designate the arrival, individuals who arrive under those circumstances would be detained until the Immigration Refugee Board determined they were refugees who needed Canada's protection. This would not apply to those 16 years of age or younger.
If they were still detained after one year, their detention would be reviewed at the Immigration and Refugee Board hearing, which would decide whether their detention would continue. At any point during that period, there would be the authority to order early release where exceptional circumstances existed. Subsequent detention review hearings, if necessary, would follow at six-month intervals. These mandatory detention provisions would not apply to individuals who are under 16 years of age.
As I said, these detention measures are needed in the context of irregular arrivals. They provide Canadian immigration law enforcement officials with sufficient time to examine and investigate individuals to determine the identity and admissibility of each and every individual. Presently, the officers do not have the time to process these individuals, and so in a number of cases the boards order the release of individuals whose backgrounds we do not know, that is, who they are and what criminal or terrorists organizations they may be associated with.
The determination of identity may take days, weeks, months and even years, particularly if individuals arrive with no documentation, as they often do. It also takes time to verify any documentation provided, in some cases from overseas. All migrants must be interviewed, and often several times. At the same time, the detention provisions ensure that those found to be refugees and those in exceptional circumstances would be released.
It is not just the number of irregular arrivals but also the complexity of the human smuggling offence and the clandestine, sophisticated and transnational nature of the venture that extend the time required for officials to fully process individuals attempting to enter Canada.
These human smuggling ventures are launched from areas of the world where terrorist and criminal groups are known to be active. The threat is real. It would be irresponsible for our government to allow individuals to enter our country without fully determining their true identity and whether or not they pose a threat to Canada and Canadians.
Common sense dictates that we know who is entering our country in the same way that it is common sense for the courts, on a daily basis, to determine now whether the individuals before them are who they in fact say they are. As I say, this happens with Canadian citizens all the time, and it needs to happen with irregular migrants.
Canada will continue to afford a fair and independent hearing to all eligible asylum seekers and will uphold our obligations under international law to protect those who are found to be refugees.
We have heard from Canadians across the country that they are concerned about the threat of the illegal migrant process in terms of it potentially allowing suspected criminals and/or terrorist-linked individuals into the country. That such individuals attempt to gain admittance to our country taints our entire immigration and refugee system. It could also compromise Canada's reputation as a country able to secure itself against individuals connected to terrorism or organized crime. Indeed, it is our government's priority to defend the integrity of our immigration and refugee system.
The changes we are proposing with the bill will enhance the safety and security of Canadians and, indeed, protect the integrity of our immigration system.
A past editorial published in the Globe and Mail stated the situation we are facing with regard to human smuggling very clearly:
|| For immigrants, scams and crimes are broken promises that lead to broken homes and a burden of debt owed to middlemen. For Canada, that often means the entry of the wrong people into the country, while others Canada would prefer are forced to wait, or never get their chance to come.
This is certainly something we all hear about in our ridings from individuals who are looking to bring family members into the country.
Every successful incident of human smuggling encourages these reprehensible operators to continue their predatory schemes. Every successful incident of human smuggling encourages more people to try to take advantage of Canada's generosity by convincing individuals to cut in front of those who have followed the rules, who have filed the proper papers and waited patiently for the opportunity to begin a new life in the best country in the world.
I urge all hon. members to support the bill and the fine work that our Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has done.
Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.
In a speech he delivered in the House when Bill C-4 was introduced, the Minister of Immigration said that we needed this bill's harsh measures against asylum seekers in order to communicate to them in no uncertain terms that Canada's streets were not paved with gold and that Canada was not the place for them.
As a case in point, the minister said that asylum seekers believe they will be given $50,000 upon arrival in Canada. We know this, obviously, is not the case. There are no such pots of gold awaiting refugee claimants at Canadian border points. This false and, ultimately, disappointing picture for asylum seekers of the easy prosperity that supposedly lies at the end of a long, arduous and sometimes deadly boat trip across the seas has been attracting the world's poor, persecuted and downtrodden to North America for well over a century. As well as the very real promise of freedom, this has been a point of attraction for immigrants and refugees who desperately seek a better life free from violence or squalor.
I do not think the minister's speech nor the bill would change this fact. We also need to realize that there is a flaw in the argument that Bill C-4, which is now part of Bill C-31, somehow will discourage people from coming to Canada.
The minister assumes that we live in a world of perfect information as the neo-classical economists regularly assure us in their economic models, but the fact is that would-be asylum seekers are fundamentally unaware of what awaits them here beyond the images they have borne of a hope they often desperately cling to. Indeed, not even the minister can extinguish the hope that is, in some ways, the psychological and emotional sustenance on which many people around the world living in harsh conditions survive.
It is a given that asylum seekers have a distorted view of the benefits that await them here in this country. There is no $50,000 pot of gold that awaits them when they arrive here. The corollary of course is that they also have a distorted view of any negative consequences that might await them should they arrive as refugee claimants aided and abetted by human smugglers. They cannot be expected to have accurate knowledge of the measures in Bill C-31, the measures imported from Bill C-4, that have been created in an attempt to discourage asylum seekers from coming to Canada.
Not only are would-be asylum seekers misinformed about what awaits them in Canada but many Canadians who have access to the 24-hour news cycle and who are generally well informed are themselves unaware of the manner in which Canada treats refugees upon arrival. I am sure many members in the House have received a chain email which I have been receiving if for about eight years now. I have been getting this email from highly educated Canadians, friends of mine, good people, good Liberals who believe in individual rights and who want fair treatment of immigrants and refugees. However, because it comes in on the Internet there is a tendency to take it at face value. I will quote from the email I have been receiving and that many members have been receiving. Only in Canada. It says:
|| It is interesting to know that the federal Government of Canada allows a monthly pension of $1,890 to a simple refugee, plus $580 in social aid for a grand total of $2,470 monthly. That’s $28,920 in annual income.
|| By comparison the Old Age Pension of a senior citizen who has contributed to the development of Our Beautiful Big Country during 40 or 50 years cannot receive more than $1,012 in Old Age Pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement per month, for $12,144 in annual income.
|| That’s a difference of $16,776 per year.
|| Perhaps our senior citizens should ask for the Status of Refugees instead of applying for Old Age Pension.
That is what is circulating on the Internet here in Canada. It is so false, so prevalent and so ongoing as a form of a spam email that the Department of Immigration has actually put up a web page to try to clarify the situation.
There is a lot of misinformation both in Canada and overseas where people are getting their information from human smugglers about what awaits them here. That is true of the false benefits that await them. If we assume that, which is what the Minister of Immigration said, people think they are coming here to a pot of gold of $50,000 when they arrive, that somehow officers from the Canada Border Services Agency await asylum seekers with chequebook and pen in hand, we also have to assume that would-be asylum seekers do not know what is in Bill C-31. They do not know what was in Bill C-4. They will not be discouraged by the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Who will tell them about the harsh measures in Bill C-31. Will it be the human smugglers? Will the human smugglers tell them that they will take their money, that they will bring them over to Canada, then tell them about the new legislation that may put them in detention for a year and say that maybe they will not do that human smuggling deal after all? There is a flaw in that logic.
We all view legislation through the prisms of our respective political philosophies. For me and others in the House that prism is liberalism. Liberalism is fundamentally about the primacy of the rights and dignity of the individual. Of course, liberals recognize and understand that human beings are social animals, that we can only thrive in a group or community. Living in a group or community makes everything possible, including individual economic prosperity. A simple example is the real estate value of one's home is a function of the vibrancy of the community in which it lies: no community, no capital gain upon home resale.
Community is not only the context necessary for individual fulfillment and security. It is also a source of identity. Liberals believe in the inherent value of community, but neither Conservatives nor the NDP spread misinformation on this point. Liberals are communitarians. We believe in safe streets, believe it or not. We believe in social cohesion and maintaining the social fabric.
Where we differ from the Conservatives is that we put the individual first. In a court of law or in an administrative tribunal, the focus is on the individual, not the group to which he or she belongs. In matters of justice, when we have to judge, we believe that we must judge based on the individual's unique circumstances, not the circumstances of the larger and more amorphous group to which he or she may happen to belong.
As an aside, that is why we as Liberals have trouble with minimum sentencing. We believe the circumstances of the crime and the offender must be evaluated, namely by a judge with years of legal training and experience because, as Liberals, we believe in the power of reason to find as close an approximation of the truth as we can. We believe in the ability of judges to apply reason to the facts of the case and develop a sanction that is proper to the individual circumstances, including one that is just to the victims. We believe in victims' rights.
That is also why we object to judging a refugee claimant based primarily on his or her group affiliation or country of origin. We do not believe that a refugee's treatment at the hands of the Canadian government should be judged as a function of their country of origin, in other words, on the basis of their nationality essentially, anymore than on their race or ethnicity.
I will quote Audrey Maklin of the University of Toronto's Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, and lawyer, Lorne Waldman, both in regard to Bill C-31's predecessor, Bill C-4. They state:
|| The legislation also gives the minister the power to decree certain countries as “safe.” This formalizes in law the presumption that a refugee claimant from one of these countries is a fraud. Many countries are safe for most people most of the time. Refugees are usually people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so designating a country as safe tells us nothing about the risks faced by the people likely--
Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party agrees with reforming the system so processing times for refugees are fair and reasonable. After all, refugees are people seeking refuge, a safe place to go because life is untenable for them wherever they happen to be.
We are concerned that the government has taken this bill to reform the system and it has muddied the waters on it, using it as a vehicle for trafficking. The government is trying to say that it wants to separate the refugee from the trafficked person. No one is arguing the intent of that. We all agree with it. The question is to how it is being done. The process that the bill lays out is very unjust and it contravenes many pieces of international law, a charter and the United Nations convention on the rights of refugees. First and foremost, it gives two ministers the sole power to decide.
It gives the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the power to decide what a safe country is, with absolutely no accountability. There is nothing built in for sudden changes in circumstances in a country that sounds as if it is safe and in the offset is seen to be safe. I want to remind members of this. We thought Germany was a safe country and because of that, the people on the St. Louis were turned back to absolute death and to concentration camps. We did not know what was going on within Germany.
When we say we know about so-called safe countries, we have to look at countries that we trade with, countries that are on the surface a so-called European Union and developed countries, so-called democratic countries, where human, minority, women's, ethnic and religious rights have been denied to many groups and minorities within that country.
I go back to the issue of the Sinti and the Roma. Everyone likes to ask if the Sinti and the Roma cannot go off to one of the 25 European nations. I will quote Catherine Dauvergne, UBC professor, Canada Research chair in Migration Law. She said, “Some individuals have utterly inadequate rights protections, which is why some Roma are found to be refugees, in Canada and elsewhere”.
I go to the Organization for Security and Co-operation. I am the special representative for gender. I work closely with the special representative for migration and minority rights and we see in pockets of many countries, the denial of any rights to the Sinti and Roma. In countries like Italy and Spain, we see this happening and yet they are so-called democratic countries. The idea that the minister will designate safe countries is a slippery slope.
Not only that, but people coming from a so-called safe country have no recourse, if they apply as a refugee, to due process or appeal. That is an unacceptable thing under the rule of law. The Minister of Public Safety has the power of mandatory detention for a people who make a refugee claim and if that refugee claim is made with another individual or individuals, they can go to jail for one year because this claim has been made by a group. We do not even have the definition of what a group is. The group is anybody over two people. That in itself is an infringement on rights of people. It infringes on the right of association.
I want to remind members of the Vietnamese boat people who came to our country seeking refuge. Canada opened its arms to them. They went into communities that embraced them. Today, those same Vietnamese boat people are model citizens in Canada and we have benefited very much by their being here.
Let us look at another so-called safe country. In 1989, when the Tiananmen massacre occurred in April, if the Chinese students who were being threatened had come to our country a month later, they would not have been accepted and would have been jailed because they came as a group seeking refuge because of changed circumstances regarding Tiananmen Square . We have to learn from our past experiences.
Today, we do not need to take this kind of abuse of rule of law. We have technology and we have diplomatic relations with many countries. It is easy for us to talk to these countries to get information about a person of interest or about a suspicious person or group. I do not understand why we have to detain people for a whole year. We could use technology on this, if we want to be compassionate and understanding, to avoid harming people who are real refugees by sending them back to almost certain detention, torture and death in some instances. It is improbable that we cannot get this kind of information within 60 days.
The ministers should consider rule of law. If a government ignores rule of law, then it makes Canada a non-democratic nation. We love to talk about the pillars of democracy, rule of law is one of them. The government is ignoring rule of law and basing fear-mongering on the fact that there are all kinds of people coming to Canada who are terrorists. There are ways around this, so I do not understand why the government would ignore rule of law. There are ways in which the government can dilute the threat. It can use technology. It can talk to diplomatic people within the country and find out if these people are people of interest.
What is the process or the provision for the release of mass arrivals in the event that it comes to light that there were significant changes in circumstances within the country from which those mass arrivals came? I go back to China and Tiananmen Square. I go back to the St. Louis. I go back to the Vietnamese people. Is there a provision in the legislation that would allow us to say that we were wrong, that we are sorry, that circumstances have changed and that we need to accept these people? No. They would have been placed on mandatory detention immediately for a minimum of a year.
I want to go back to the list of safe countries. Should we put in a clause that says it would be mandatory to review that list if we hear from another nation or other groups about something suspicious going on in another country that we deem to be a safe country? Is there a way of going back and looking at a sunset clause on that place?
These are the kinds of checks and balances that we need in good legislation. We all have concerns about the backlogs. We care about that. Let us not forget that it was the government that failed to fill a lot of vacancies on the refugee board, creating that backlog. The Conservatives dragged their feet on that.
Let us not forget the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the government is a signatory. The minister has looked at that and said that minors under 16 years of age will be excluded from this, but we would be taking children away from their parents. Imagine children leaving their homes, going into some hole of a boat scared and frightened and then upon arrival, they are taken away from their parents who are put it detention without those children knowing where they will be sent. Imagine the psychological damage we would do to that child. That is totally abhorrent. It totally opposes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is cruel, it is inhumane and it also contravenes the 1951 refugee convention.
There is another piece in the bill that bothers us. People cannot apply on humanitarian and compassionate grounds for one year following a negative decision. What is this? Where do these people go? Are they stateless people? What happens to them? These are important questions we have to ask.
There is also a five year waiting period before an individual can apply for permanent residency. This would create a bunch of people with absolutely no rights.
Section 7 of the charter speaks to life, liberty and security of the person. The denial of access to families, denial of appeal violates that right to liberty of the person.
Section 9 of the charter speaks to the right not to be arbitrarily detained. This legislation would break that section.
Section 12 of the charter talks about cruel and unjust punishment. The bill would inflict cruel and inhumane punishment.
People who are afraid of torture, afraid for their lives or the lives of their families will do anything to come to safety. Australia found that it costs more to detain people than if there were a different set of circumstances. Australia is now looking at its bill.
This bill has a basis of political intentions. It appeals to the fear in people. It does not give information and education to Canadians to allow them to understand the reality of the circumstances of refugees and to understand the difference between refugees and traffickers. It therefore—
Mr. John Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Scarborough Centre.
I am pleased to be able to participate on the debate on Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, which will further improve Canada's asylum system.
Canada has a well-deserved international reputation because it has the most generous and fair immigration system in the world. Every year, Canada extends protection to more than 10% of the world's resettled refugees, more than any other industrialized country. However, Canada's asylum system is vulnerable to abuse.
Canadians have no tolerance for people who take advantage of our generosity and our country.
The government is concerned about the recent increase in asylum claims by citizens of countries usually considered to be safe.
In view of the fact that, last year, 62% of asylum claims were abandoned or withdrawn, or denied by the IRB, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, it is evident that too much money is spent on asylum seekers who receive taxpayer-funded social benefits.
The facts speak for themselves. For example, in 2011, Canada received more refugee claims from the democratic and human rights-respecting countries of the European Union than from Africa or Asia. Last year alone, a quarter of all refugee claims came from European Union countries.
Over the past few years, nearly all asylum claims from EU countries have been withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. In 2010-11 alone, that was the case for 95% of claims from EU countries. Last year's unfounded asylum claims by 5,800 EU nationals will cost Canadian taxpayers nearly $170 million. Obviously, something has to change.
We expect that the new refugee protection system will save the provinces approximately $1.65 billion over five years in welfare and education costs.
The Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act builds on and enhances reforms introduced in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. The new measures will expedite asylum claims processing for nationals of designated countries, those that are not a usual source of refugees. In addition, the new measures will reduce the number of options available to unsuccessful asylum seekers, options that allow them to delay their departure from Canada.
Thanks to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and associated regulations, IRB processing times have gone down to 60 days for claimants from designated countries and 90 days for other asylum seekers. However, as we were preparing to implement the act, it became clear that these processing times were still too long for people who do not need our protection.
The government has always made it clear that reforms to the asylum system are ongoing and that further measures will be introduced as needed and when needed. Given recent surges in the number of bogus asylum claims from human rights-respecting EU countries, it is clear that further reforms to Canada's asylum system are needed sooner rather than later.
Faster decisions regarding refugee claims are the key to an improved system. That is why, under the new provisions, wait times for hearings will be further improved.
The government is acting responsibly and in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers by presenting reforms meant to resolve problems related to the rise in false refugee claims. These claimants, many of whom withdraw or abandon their claims, are seeking to abuse Canada's generous immigration system and take advantage of our generous welfare benefits, such as social assistance and health care, and this costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Shorter processing times and faster removals will limit access to these social benefits and to work permits, which will also help prevent the abuse of our refugee system.
Under the proposed changes, refugee claimants coming from designated countries of origin will be given a hearing within 30 days, if their claim has been filed at an office in Canada, and within 45 days if it was filed at a point of entry, compared to over 1,000 days in the current system.
I would remind the House that the Balanced Refugee Reform Act creates a new refugee appeal division, or RAD, within the IRB. The appeal process will include an examination of the original decision, and in some cases, new evidence that was submitted later.
Under Bill C-31, claimants from designated countries of origin and those who have manifestly unfounded claims or claims with no credible basis, will not have access to the RAD. All asylum seekers whose claims are deemed admissible will have a fair hearing and can always appeal to the Federal Court in the event of a negative decision.
I want to read from an editorial that appeared in The Gazette of Montreal:
|| Canada has a long-standing and well-deserved reputation as a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution in their homelands.
|| At the same time, however, it has also gained repute as an easy mark for the unscrupulous who fraudulently use our generous refugee determination system as a way to get into Canada without submitting to standard immigration requirements and procedures...
|| Shielding the refugee system from false claimants is not only in the best interest of Canadians, on whom they are a financial burden, but also of legitimate applicants who stand to lose out if bogus claimants cast the system as a whole into disrepute.
|| Establishing a system that is both efficient and fairly balanced is a daunting challenge, but it is one that should be tackled realistically and at the same time in a spirit of generosity that should stand as a Canadian hallmark.
We want to ensure that the refugee protection system is solid enough to deal with unfounded asylum claims, and these changes will send the right message: if you do not need protection, you will be sent home quickly.
The significant changes introduced in the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act will accelerate the processing of asylum claims and discourage abuse of the redress process. The bill will also make it possible to offer protection more quickly to those who really need it.
I therefore encourage all hon. members to support Bill C-31, which will help to maintain the integrity of our immigration and refugee protection system.
Ms. Roxanne James (Scarborough Centre, CPC):
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.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about this important bill, which was introduced by the Conservatives. I would like to indicate right away that I intend to share my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
This is an important bill introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism but, as we have just heard from the Conservatives, it has a confrontational tone similar to what we saw with the bills designed to intrude and spy on our private lives through our computers, bills that were introduced by the Minister of Public Safety. In that case, if we did not agree with the government, then it meant that we were siding with pedophiles and child pornographers. Now, we get the impression that, if we dare to oppose the minister's bill, we will be accused of siding with terrorists and criminals. This is really childish politics, like something you would see in the schoolyard, and I deplore it.
I would like to begin my speech with the words of an Argentinian poet. This is something I rarely do, but I think it is important. It gives an idea of the tone and vision that I would like the debate on immigrants and refugees to have.
The Spanish title of this poem is Los hermanos or, in English, The Brothers.
I have so many brothers,
more than I can count,
from the valleys, the mountains,
the plains and the seas.
People connected by work,
with hope ahead,
and memory behind.
That’s how we go on
tanned like leather by loneliness.
It’s how we lose each other in the world.
It’s how we find each other again.
I have so many brothers,
more than I can count
and a sister, very beautiful,
whose name is freedom.
That is what people do when they are trying to find a bit of hope, a bit of light in their life, when they are trying to get out of terrible situations, when, for their own sake and for the sake of their children, they want to go live a better life in a free society. They think they will be welcomed there with open arms on humanitarian grounds and received as our brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, we have Conservative policies that are clamping down and taking us in a completely different direction. That is why, as a New Democrat, I am opposed to Bill C-31. I will elaborate as to why.
We have problems with clauses 24 and 25 of the bill. We had a Conservative colleague explain to us the benefits of democracy and human rights in the European Union. We will come back to that and talk about Hungary and the problem of the gypsies and the Roma.
However, I would like to share the opinion of a few judges of the European Court of Human Rights: Judges Rosakis, Tulkens, Hajiyev, Spielmann and Hirvelä. They said that depriving someone of their freedom for a long period of time constitutes a serious injustice if they committed no crime and had no intention of doing so. They also said that no civilized country should knowingly tolerate this kind of injustice.
These are very wise words. The bill introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism does not contain the same wisdom. Indeed, Bill C-31 would automatically incarcerate refugee claimants designated by the minister, with no chance of release. That is exactly the situation the judges of the European Court of Human Rights criticized.
If this bill passes, any refugee claimants who arrive with the help of a smuggler will have to serve at least 12 months in detention. On March 6, the minister defended this measure by describing it as humane detention. That is absolute nonsense and reminds me of the newspeak that George Orwell wrote about.
Moreover, the bill will punish people who have been given refugee status by denying them permanent residence and family reunification for five years. We think five years is extreme. Overall, the bill targets refugees, not human smugglers. The language, the rhetoric, says it is targeting smugglers, but in fact the people who will really be affected are refugees. The minister is aiming at the wrong target. Certainly, the bill is well intentioned. The good intentions are there, but the cure it seeks to apply is worse than the disease.
The people who will suffer if this bill is passed are people fleeing persecution, people fleeing war or violence or discrimination in their country based on sexual orientation or other grounds. The people who will suffer are the adults who come here, but also their children.
I heard the Minister of Foreign Affairs mocking our concern for children. This is important to us. We care about our families and we think our children are important, but we also think the children of all families are important.
There is a difference between wanting to arrest terrorists, people who endanger the security of Canada and our fellow Canadians, and wanting to arrest everybody on the pretext that they came here with a smuggler because they were in a desperate situation, and putting them in a detention centre because the government does not dare call it a prison. It is talking about putting adults in those places with their children for a year. Theoretically, children under the age of 16 will not be detained, but in reality, families of claimants are faced with the wrenching choice of staying together in detention or separating from their children.
In January of this year, in an unequivocal study, research psychologists affiliated with McGill University warned the government about the negative impact of detention on the mental health of refugee claimants. According to those researchers, separating children from their parents in detention is not an acceptable alternative, in terms of mental health. The effects of the separation are generally harmful to the child’s development, with very serious long-term consequences.
The situation is just as alarming when it comes to adult claimants. In Australia and the United Kingdom, automatic detention is common practice, however numerous cases of suicidal behaviour, severe depression, suicide and self-mutilation have been reported among detainees. Yes, in our opinion, this bill flies in the face of the charter.
In attempting to justify their bill in this House, the Conservatives’ rhetoric seems to vacillate between humane treatment and repression. In our opinion, this approach is incompatible with the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and with Canada's international commitments in the area of human rights. This point of view is shared not only by the Canadian Council for Refugees, but also by the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.
The automatic detention of designated refugee claimants is arbitrary, since it permits the imprisonment of innocent people. The vast majority of foreign national detainees are not criminals and have no intention of becoming so. In 95% of cases, these people are detained because officers have doubts about their identity or whether or not they will be present for immigration proceedings.
“Designated claimants” are criticized for the manner in which they entered Canada. Yet, by definition, a refugee is a person who travels and crosses a border in search of protection. Migration is, therefore, an inherent part of the refugee process. The means whereby this migration is carried out is circumstantial in nature. Basing the detention of refugee claimants on the manner in which they arrived in Canada is nonsensical. It equates to punishing a refugee for simply being a refugee.
The government is criminalizing the migration process. This violates article 31(1) of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits the application of penalties on refugees for illegal entry or presence. This measure also violates sections 7 and 9 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In our opinion, this is a discriminatory measure. Making a distinction between refugee claimants based on their mode of arrival is discriminatory under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and articles 1 and 3 of the Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees. The creation of the category of “designated claimants” is based on absurd logic that implies different treatment with serious consequences. The system of automatic detention for “designated claimants” creates a system of “infra-rights”, otherwise known as a two-tier system, which prevents one category of refugees from effectively taking advantage of their fundamental rights as compared to other claimants.
This measure is also complete overkill—it uses a bazooka to try and kill a fly by imposing 12 full months of detention without the option of a court review. It is abusive not only because the period of detention is excessive, but also because it denies designated refugee claimants essential procedural guarantees against arbitrary detention. Preventing designated claimants from challenging the grounds for their continued detention over the 12-month period is another clear violation of the charter.
The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that the lack of review of the detention of foreign nationals infringes the guarantee against arbitrary detention in section 9 of the charter, which encompasses the right to prompt review of detention under section 10(c) of the charter.
Most importantly, this measure is completely ineffective and counterproductive because it is based on the myth that repression is a deterrent. However, in countries where similar measures have been introduced, the number of asylum claims has not gone down. Most migrants do not know the laws of the country in which they are seeking asylum. Their only motivation is to get out and seek protection.
Migratory patterns follow their own rules and conditions. Neither legal barriers nor bricks-and-mortar ones will stop migrants from coming here. Automatic incarceration will not reduce the number of asylum seekers; it will just increase their suffering. Whatever the government says, this treatment is not humane.
As legislators, we are the guardians of the Constitution. It is our duty to ensure that everything we do is inspired by the values in the charter, Canada's humanitarian tradition and our country's obligations vis-à-vis international law and human rights.
Ms. Isabelle Morin (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31 today, because nearly a quarter of the residents of my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine were not born in Canada. Every week, we meet foreign nationals who ask us to guide them through the sometimes long and often difficult process of claiming refugee status.
Bill C-31, which we are discussing today, generates strong reactions among immigrant families in my riding. People are afraid that under these new rules, the thousands of people who come to Canada every year seeking protection will no longer have an opportunity to prove their claims. They are questioning the transparency and fairness of the process.
Unfortunately, we have no arguments to persuade them otherwise. It must be clearly understood that people who come to Canada and claim refugee status are in an extremely vulnerable position. Some have been tortured, threatened or persecuted; others have a genuine fear that this will happen to them if they are sent back to their country of origin. And even though the reasons they give sometimes do not correspond to the very specific definition of “refugee”, they may still have left their country of origin for entirely legitimate reasons. In most cases, they have left everything behind, hoping they will be given some protection here. These extremely sensitive situations call for the greatest vigilance.
We have to make sure that each of these nationals is entitled to a real opportunity to make their claim in a process that is just and equitable. If this bill is enacted, refugee status claimants will now have only 15 days to complete their claim and 15 days to appeal the decision if their claim is refused. Those deadlines are unrealistic and the consequence will be that some of them will not be able to make their claims.
To understand clearly how inadequate this measure is, we have to look at the context. People have left their country of origin, where, for one reason or another, they were threatened or persecuted. They arrive in Canada, perhaps traumatized by their experience, and they have only 15 days to complete their claim. These people must write down their life stories, then get legal advice, and most importantly, obtain the supporting documents for their claim. Demanding that people do all this, and in such a short time, when they have just escaped from a situation where they feared for their lives and sometimes speak neither French nor English, will often amount to asking the impossible.
We are deeply concerned that there will be a designated safe country list unilaterally determined by the minister. The purpose of this measure appears to be to expedite the processing of claims, however it could in fact have serious consequences. Not only do we fear that this approach will taint the entire claim review process by bringing into play political considerations that have no place in the process, we also believe that this way of categorizing countries as safe and unsafe is totally out of touch with reality.
This approach to immigration does not take into account the individual characteristics of each foreign national. A country that is safe for a majority of people may not be safe for certain individuals or minority groups. One need only reflect for a moment to realize that such situations exist the world over, for example, for the Kurds in Turkey, the Roma in Hungary, and journalists and political opponents in Russia. Such situations exist when it comes to the rights of homosexuals in certain countries or the treatment of women. Our immigration system must provide each and every claimant with a fair process based on the claimant's specific situation and the facts as they relate to the claim, regardless of country of origin.
Not taking into account these specific considerations, ignoring the very existence of repression and discrimination, means choosing to bury one's head in the sand and leaving the most vulnerable people to their fate; it also violates Canada's humanitarian tradition. Even though their particular circumstances require closer review, foreign nationals from safe countries will have to comply with even shorter deadlines, and they will be unable to appeal decisions. It seems obvious to us that by shortening deadlines and considerably reducing the possibilities of appeal, the government is endangering the lives of refugees, because it will no longer be possible to correct mistakes that may have been made early on in the process. I wish to remind the government that it has a responsibility to protect foreign nationals.
The immigrant population in my riding, just like elsewhere in Canada, plays a key role in the growth of the country. Immigrants contribute on a daily basis to the economic, social and cultural development of our country.
The immigrant population will play an even more important role in the society of tomorrow. Our immigration system must continue to evolve in order to meet changing needs and world circumstances. In my opinion, Bill C-31 does the opposite. I remind the government that we are entirely opposed to all the criteria contained in this bill.
Mr. Parm Gill (Brampton—Springdale, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Langley.
I am grateful for the chance to speak in the House today on Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act. I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, for tabling this important legislation, and I encourage all members in the House to join me in supporting Bill C-31 to ensure that it passes into law.
Canada has always been a welcoming country and continues to be so. Since 2006, our government has welcomed the highest sustained, average number of immigrants in Canadian history. Our generous immigration system is not only the envy of the world but also enjoys broad support among Canadians.
Why is this? In my opinion, there are two big reasons. First is an economic reason. Canadians know that without a strong immigration system, our economy would suffer. We now live in a globally competitive world, where countries that can attract the best and the brightest from around the world will best be able to compete internationally.
Second is historic experience. Canadians know that for generations newcomers have come to Canada and have helped to build it into the strong and pluralistic country it is today. There is every reason to believe they will continue to do so in the future. However, for that to happen, we must be vigilant in ensuring that our immigration system remains robust, efficient and working in the best interests of our country.
I believe that the measures in Bill C-31 will help ensure exactly that. What are these measures? As the minister has clearly articulated, they fall into three complementary categories, all of which will help protect the immigration system. First, Bill C-31 will build on the reforms to the refugee system that were passed into law on June 2010 as part of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Second, this legislation will help crack down on the disreputable business of human smuggling. Finally, Bill C-31 will pave the way for the introduction next year of biometrics for screening applicants for temporary resident visas, or study or work permits.
Once these measures are implemented, I am confident they will live up to the name of the bill, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.
For the benefit of my hon. colleagues, I would like to briefly discuss the importance of each of these measures in turn. On the day that the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism introduced the bill, he spoke about the significant increase in refugee claims originating in countries that we would not normally expect to produce refugees, democratic countries that respect human rights.
The most striking example of this is the fact that last year alone almost a quarter of all refugee claims made in Canada were by EU nationals. In other words, a quarter of all claims are coming from our democratic European allies, not from war-torn countries ruled by tyrants and plagued by persecution. That fact alone makes the case for additional reform of the system, but consider the cost to Canadian taxpayers in recent years from almost all EU claims being withdrawn, abandoned or rejected. Indeed, the unfounded claims among the 5,800 EU nationals who sought asylum last year cost Canadian taxpayers $170 million.
In order to remove a failed refugee claimant from Canada, it still takes an average of four and a half years from the time of the claim to the person's removal, and removals have dragged out for more than a decade. Failed claimants are eligible to receive taxpayer-funded social benefits, which contributes to their overall economic burden on taxpayers. For many years, Canada has spent far too much time, effort and money on failed refugee claimants who do not need this country's protection. This hurts those who are very much in need of our protection.
As the minister has stated, these measures would help provinces save about $1.65 billion over five years in social assistance and education costs. The reforms proposed in the bill would speed up the process of both deciding on refugee claims and on removing failed claimants from Canada.
Even with these reforms, Canada will still have one of the most generous asylum systems on earth. In fact, because these reforms would enable those who need our protection to get it even faster, I would say that it makes the system even better.
Bill C-31 would help to bring our immigration and border control systems more fully into the 21st century by creating a legislative framework for the long planned implementation of biometric technology as an identity management tool in those systems. In plain language, collecting biometric data would mean photographing and fingerprinting people applying to Canada for a temporary resident visa, or for study or work permits. Because biometric data is more reliable and less prone to forgery or theft than documents, these measures would strengthen immigration screening, enhance security and help reduce fraud. This is an effective way to manage a high volume of applications and some forms of sophisticated identity fraud. It would help prevent serious criminals, previous deportees and terrorists, among others, from using a false identity to obtain a Canadian visa. Alternatively, the use of biometrics would also help facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool for confirming the identity of travellers, students and temporary workers.
I said at the beginning of my remarks, Canadians must always be vigilant about keeping our immigration system robust, efficient and working in the best interests of Canada. When we examine the measures in Bill C-31, it is clear that they will do all of these things.
The bill would make Canada's immigration system faster and fairer. It would help us put a stop to foreign criminals, human smugglers and bogus refugees abusing our generous immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health and social benefits. At the same time, Bill C-31 would provide protection more quickly to those truly in need.
For these reasons, I am very hopeful that all of my colleagues in this House will join me in supporting the bill's passage into law.
Mr. Mark Warawa (Langley, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to represent the incredible people of beautiful Langley, British Columbia.
I thank the member for Brampton—Springdale for his commitment to improving the Canadian immigration system. He is an inspiration to all of us in this House. I wish more people had the passion that he has to ensure we have an immigration system that is well protected.
This is a great opportunity to speak to this bill before us today. We do need to protect Canada's immigration system and I believe that Bill C-31 would allow us to do just that. This legislation would help us maintain the faith that Canadians have in our immigration and refugee system. Our great nation has been built on the hopes and ambitions of people from other countries who choose Canada as a home and we continue to depend on contributions of newcomers to help preserve our prosperity and the wonderful quality of life that we experience in Canada.
For that reason, Canada opens its doors to more than a quarter of a million immigrants and refugees every year. In fact, since 2006, our Conservative government has welcomed the highest sustained average of immigrants in Canadian history. Is that not incredible? We have a well-earned reputation around the world for the generosity of our immigration and refugee system.
Unfortunately, though, this generous reputation has made us a target for criminals who want to abuse our system for their own gain. I am talking about the crime of human smuggling. I am sure all members have heard of and recall the irregular arrival of the Sun Sea in our waters off British Columbia in August 2010 with its 492 passengers. That incident and others have shaken the faith of Canadians in our immigration and refugee system. They fear some immigrants may have links with organized crime or even terrorist organizations. Canadians wonder if authorities can assess and expedite the entry of so many people into Canada at once without making a mistake. They might well ask that because, frankly, our current system is not designed to process quickly such an influx of people or complex cases arising from transnational, sophisticated human smuggling ventures.
That is why a key provision of Bill C-31 would allow us to bring in new rules to deal with irregular arrivals. Currently, for example, an immigration officer can detain a foreign national entering into Canada. This would include where the officer is not satisfied or not certain about the person's true identity. The Immigration and Refugee Board reviews these kinds of detentions within two days. If the person is still in custody, the board will look at that case again within seven days. Subsequently, it can look at it every 30 days after that.
Our current system is not meant to deal with mass arrivals in one location, which is what can often happen with human smuggling. As a result, authorities do not have adequate time for complete and proper identity, admissibility and security checks. We have a problem then. Depending on the complexity of the case, a security check can take days, weeks or even months. If a person arrives with no documentation, as is often the case with people who arrive en mass, the process can literally take years to complete. The reality is that the people carrying out human smuggling know this is how our system works.
I hope that all members, particularly those in the opposition, will change their minds and support this legislation.
Under this proposed legislation, the Minister of Public Safety would declare the arrival of groups as irregular in two situations: one, if the minister believes the identity or admissibility of the arrivals cannot be determined in a timely manner; two, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect criminal elements or terrorist groups are engaged in human smuggling for profit or for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with a criminal organization or terrorist group.
If the minister does designate the group as an ”irregular arrival”, then authorities would detain all the individuals who have arrived under these circumstances. These individuals would remain in detention until the Immigration and Refugee Board determined they were refugees. Under the proposed changes to our asylum system, this would take only a few months in many cases. If, after a year, an individual still has not been identified and is still in custody, the board would review his or her case and decide whether there should be continued detention or release.
I want to stress that the legislation would give the minister power to order early release in exceptional cases. I also want to point out that those under 16 years of age would be exempt from detention. I want to ensure the members of the opposition hear that. This is an important change from the previous human smuggling bill, Bill C-4. The opposition members do not like to hear the truth, unfortunately, but they have heard the truth and I hope the truth will set them free.
The proposed changes would give authorities the time they need to do proper background checks into identity and admissibility. This is absolutely crucial. When individuals with ties to organized crime or terrorists slip into our country they put the safety and security of all Canadians at risk.
On one hand, these incidents reinforce Canada's reputation as an easy target for human smugglers. On the other hand, they undermine the faith of Canadians in their immigration refugee system.
Our country needs newcomers to keep us strong. We can ill-afford for Canadians to lose trust and confidence in how we welcome immigrants and refugees. Our government is determined to address these challenges head on.
Centuries ago, when the first newcomers came to our shore, they harboured no thoughts about organized crime or terrorism, as some do now. They simply wanted a better life for themselves and their families. This same wish has drawn many people to Canada ever since. In 1906, my grandpa, my gido and baba came from Ukraine to Canada for a better life. As newcomers continue to take advantage of all our opportunities, they also contribute to our collective wealth in all sense of the word.
Together, to the envy of the world, we have woven a fabric that is a model of tolerance, compassion and prosperity. We cannot take this achievement for granted though. Indeed, as I speak, human smuggling is pulling at the fabric and threatening to unravel.
Irregular arrivals, like those on the Sun Sea, are making many Canadians question the merits of our immigration and refugee system. It will be a sad day indeed if our country loses faith in the merits of what new arrivals can bring us, so we must guard the vision of Canada closely. We must refuse to let criminal elements exploit our goodwill for their own ends. We must reassure all Canadians that we are ready to strengthen our immigration and refugee system. We must act now.
The provisions I have highlighted would give authorities more tools to manage large influxes of irregular arrivals. Officials would be able to do the necessary checks into immigration security and identity in order to protect Canadians. Other provisions would hold shipowners and operators accountable for their actions, including increasing the penalty for offences under the Marine Transportation and Security Act.
There are also proposed changes to our smuggling offence, including the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for persons convicted of smuggling. We know the opposition does not support getting tough, including mandatory minimums, but the courts need that guidance. These changes would go a long way to keep smugglers from doing their evil deeds in Canada.
We all need to get together and support this legislation. I thank the world's best environment minister for the incredible job he has done.
Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak very strongly in opposition to Bill C-31, which has been given another one of those new-speak titles, protecting Canada's immigration system act.
It is really a reincarnation of the previous Bill C-4, which I spoke against on second reading, so I will repeat some of those same arguments. Essentially this new bill has most of those same flaws as the previous bill.
I am opposed to the bill based, first, on my personal experience. In the 1980s, I became involved in refugee work, largely around the political crisis in Central America. I became the co-founder of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre and I opened my own home to refugees who fled for their lives, having had other members of their families killed or tortured as a result of violence in Central America. I also worked as an international human rights monitor in East Timor, Ambon in Indonesia and in Afghanistan. Therefore, I have seen the situations which create the international refugees who seek safety for themselves and their families in Canada.
I am also opposed based on my concerns about the bill being a violation of both Canada's Charter of Rights and our international obligations, in particular, the designation of certain claimants as irregular arrivals and creating a second class of refugee claimants who are subject to various severe measures, including potential detention for a year.
Members on the other side like to the point to the fact they have improved the bill because now children will not be kept with their parents in detention, but will be sent into some limbo outside detention.
The bar on applying for permanent residency status for five years means it would be very difficult to reunify families because individuals would also not be allowed to sponsor their families for five years and would have no access to the refugee appeals division.
It is also based on my general opposition to the new-speak we see again and again on the other side of the House in taking away the status of permanent resident, which would imply, once an individual is granted it, they would be allowed to stay in Canada permanently. Under the bill, a permanent resident would no longer mean permanent. It would be subject to a decision of the minister to decide whether individuals could stay in the country or whether they would have to go back. Individuals, having brought their family to safety, having established themselves in Canada, after an arbitrary decision by the minister, they could be forced to leave and return to that country and give up all the progress they have made in re-establishing their lives.
It is also based on my doubts about how we have come to have the bill in front of us. The previous bill, Bill C-11, passed in the previous Parliament, was a compromise between all parties working on the immigrant and refugee system, but it was never allowed to work.
What we have before us is another unfortunate example of what I call government by headlines and the politics of resentment. In particular, in Conservatives speeches we hear lots of reference to queue-jumping, to exploiting our generosity and playing on the emotions of Canadians about somehow, someone getting something to which he or she is not entitled.
The Conservatives like to pick the extreme examples. They like to pick the exceptions, which no one would support, and then attempt to make public policy on those exceptions.
I am also opposed to this because it is another case of a policy based on the concept of deterrence, which the government likes to use in criminal justice. It is a concept which has no basis in fact. Tough penalties would of course deter law abiding citizens. As one of the witnesses who appeared at the public safety committee said, “Yes, tough sentences deter you and me because we have something to lose. They deter all law-abiding citizens who understand the concept of community. They do not deter criminals”.
They certainly would not deter genuine refugees fleeing for their lives and they certainly would not deter the profiteers engaged in human smuggling. They already face maximum penalties of up to $1 million and life sentences. Therefore, if tough penalties were deterrents, we would see no human smuggling because there are no penalties bigger than that in the Canadian legal system.
However, make no mistake, I believe in deterrents based on what actually works. If we look at all the literature on criminal justice, it is the same things that also apply to refugee claimants. What works is the certainty of being caught and the swiftness of prosecution. Therefore, the certainty that a bogus claim would be identified and the speed with which that claim would be dealt with is what would deter those claims, not making restrictions on legitimate refugee claimants' rights and their ability to access the process.
The real solution is to apply more resources to the front end of our existing system so that those who make claims know that their claims will be dealt with in a matter of weeks or months, not a matter of years, and they know that bogus claims will not succeed in our system.
The government appears to set out some very nice targets in the bill that these new categories of refugees will have to meet, but in the absence of new resources the government will not meet those targets either. Therefore, we will pass a bill, which endangers the rights of many legitimate refugees, without achieving the swiftness the government claims will result from these measures because it will not have the resources in the system to actually accomplish this.
I will now turn to what I think is the most serious flaw in the bill, which is the process of designating certain countries as safe countries. This is a flawed concept and, once adopted, creates another second class of refugee claimants and provides severe restrictions on the rights of those who come from what is designated a safe country and on their ability to make effective refugee claims.
There was a compromise reached in the previous bill, Bill C-11, which said that safe countries could be designated, but it would be done by a panel of experts, not the minister, and the designation would allow for the exemption of certain geographic areas or certain classes of persons. We all know that there are certain countries where things are completely safe and other regions of the country where things might not be safe.
Under this bill, the designation of a country is either safe or not safe. It is safe for everyone in every place or it is not safe. The previous bill would have allowed the designation of women, in areas where violations of rights against women are rampant, as an exempted class, so the country might be safe for men but not for women. It would have allowed the designation of gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, who are rarely safe in most countries around the world, as a class of people who could come from what was otherwise a safe country. The bill does not allow those designations of classes or geographic areas as exempt from the safe country designation.
Now I will turn to the particular situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees under the bill. I want to do so not just because I am a gay man and also an immigrant whose basic decision to move to Canada was, in large part, based on the criminalization of homosexuality in my country of origin at the time. It is a big part of why I stand here today. The safe country concept will have a disproportionate impact on these refugees from my community. Those coming from a designated safe country are required to make a claim within 15 days of arrival. In that 15 days they have to decide whether they would make a humanitarian and compassionate claim or a refugee claim. When I came, I would have had no idea what that meant, and in 15 days I would have had no ability to figure that out. I firmly believe that most refugees will be in that situation. As well, they have only 15 days to find legal representation. If they come from a society, and sometimes from a family, where declaring their sexuality meant great losses on a personal level and a great threat to their safety, they have only 15 days to change their mindset whether to go and talk to a stranger and confess everything that has happened in their personal life that caused them to become a refugee.
From personal experience, I can say that would have been very difficult for me to do. I know it is very difficult for the current lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered refugees.
There is a particularly large problem with the 15-day limit because the claimant would then appear before an adjudicator, a single individual who would have no knowledge of the situation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities in the country of origin. Therefore, not only would individuals have to make their personal claim about their sexual orientation and how that made them unsafe, they would also have to demonstrate how their community was unsafe in their country as a whole. I doubt there are any refugees from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities who would be able to do so in that 15-day period.
Without identifying the individual, I want to talk for a moment about a refugee who came from the Caribbean when he was 17 years old. His life was threatened when it was found out that he was gay. Every day he went to high school in a taxi, paid for by his aunt from Toronto so that he could finish high school at home. Then he was spirited to Canada. When he went to make a refugee claim, he did not want to talk about the personal experiences that made it necessary for him to flee. He did not want to confess to being gay even to his lawyer. It took six months for his lawyer to get the full story from him and then document what had happened to him in his country of origin. Therefore, to try to do that in 15 days is virtually impossible.
What is the real solution here? The Canadian Council for Refugees said scrap the bill. I certainly stand with it here today. The Canadian Bar Association has expressed its concerns about charter rights violations. Amnesty International said that the bill fell far short of Canada's international obligations.
What would I suggest? I would suggest that we go back to letting Bill C-11, the compromise bill, work and that we ensure the government provides a proper resource system so Canada can continue to be a safe place for refugees, genuine refugees, from around the world to make their home.
Mr. Wladyslaw Lizon (Mississauga East—Cooksville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to this important bill, Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Every single day hundreds of thousands of people apply to immigrate to Canada. Who can blame them? After all, Canada is the best country in the world. These people fill out the paperwork and wait in line.
Unfortunately, every single year there are also thousands of people who choose not to fill out the paperwork. They choose not to wait in line with everyone else. Instead, they decide to jump the queue. They know that Canada's refugee system is broken and easily abused, so they choose to file bogus refugee claims in the hope that the lengthy processing times and endless appeals will result in their obtaining permanent residence in this country.
Immigrants to Canada, like myself, 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.
Our government has listened to Canadians, including those in my riding of Mississauga East—Cooksville, who have told us very clearly they want us to put a stop to this abuse. This is exactly what we are doing with Bill C-31.
It is unfortunate but not surprising that the opposition NDP and Liberal members conveniently ignore the facts when they speak against Bill C-31. It is not surprising because the facts 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 and human rights respecting European Union. That is more than Africa and Asia. Canada's top source 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, 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, 2,300 of which were made in Canada. That means only 100 refugee claims were made in all 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 themselves, a clear sign they are not in need of Canada's protection. These claimants are, by definition, bogus.
Instead of travelling to neighbouring safe countries which are easy to reach, these claimants are making the trip all the way to Canada. Instead of seeing their claims to completion, these bogus claimants are abandoning their claims and heading back home.
There is a reason these bogus refugee claimants are targeting Canada. In fact, I have been told of an instance in which a CBSA officer asked someone who landed at the airport and claimed refugee status the reason for the claim. The response was, “Free income”. Well, it is not free. It is paid for by hard-working Canadian taxpayers. Canadian taxpayers pay upward of $170 million per year for these bogus refugees from the European Union. Taxpayers fund their welfare, education and health care.
Hard-working Canadian 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 these bogus refugees.
It is not just the tax dollars that are being wasted that is of concern; it is also the severe impact these bogus claims are having on genuine refugees. Those who are truly in need of protection are waiting a long time to receive Canada's help because the system is being bogged down by these bogus refugee claimants. Fortunately, Bill C-31 would make Canada's refugee system faster and fairer.
Among other things, Bill C-31 would provide the authority for the minister to designate countries that are generally safe and democratic and respect human rights. Refugee claimants from these designated countries would have their claims expedited.
Under Canada's current asylum system, it takes on average more than 1,000 days to process a refugee claim. This is unacceptable. Under Bill C-31, refugee claims from generally non-refugee-producing countries, such as those in the European Union, would be processed in 45 days. Every single refugee claimant would continue to have his or her claim heard and decided on its merits by an independent immigration and refugee board.
Bill C-31 would also do away with endless levels of appeal that currently exist. All refugee claimants would still have the ability to apply for judicial review of a negative decision, as they do now, but the refugee claimants who come from countries that are considered generally safe would not get access to the refugee appeal division. In addition, the bill would enable more timely removal from Canada of failed refugee claimants.
These improvements are just common sense. These measures would help prevent abuse of the system and would ensure that all of our refugee determination processes are as streamlined as possible. This would be accomplished without affecting the fairness of the system and without compromising any of Canada's international and domestic obligations with respect to refugees.
Bill C-31 would save Canadian taxpayers $1.65 billion over five years. It would result in genuine refugees receiving Canada's protection much sooner. Anyone who has the best interests of real refugees at heart should support this bill.
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. All of the reforms included in the bill are aimed to determine abuse of Canada's generous immigration and refugee system. With these measures, the integrity of Canada's immigration programs and the safety and security of all Canadians would be protected.
Bill C-31 would put a stop to bogus refugees, foreign criminals and human smugglers abusing our immigration system and receiving lucrative taxpayer-funded health care and social benefits. The bill sends a clear message to those who would abuse Canada's generous asylum system that if they are not in need of protection, they will be sent home quickly.
Canadians gave our Conservative government a strong mandate to protect Canada's immigration system and we are acting on our mandate. I urge all members to support this important piece of legislation and ensure its timely passage.
Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Beauharnois—Salaberry, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Minister of Immigration's Bill C-31 looks a lot more like a monopoly on the power to make decisions than a way to improve refugees' quality of life.
Once again, the Conservatives' thirst for power, their lack of rigour and their refusal to listen are taking a toll on justice, respect and equality. This bill is the latest in a long line of bills that most stakeholders consider irresponsible, even senseless. Opponents include the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, to name but a few.
All of these opponents have indicated that this bill will make the system vulnerable to political considerations rather than ensure fair, independent and balanced decisions about who can be considered a refugee.
Bill C-31 makes us fear the worst for refugees who have become permanent residents. It is also discriminatory and, as the Canadian Council for Refugees pointed out, it creates a two-tier refugee protection system. According to the council, strict, tight deadlines will put victims of sexual trauma and members of the LGBT community at a major disadvantage. These people often need time to open up and tell their story. Two weeks is not enough. But for the Conservative government, ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable is nothing new.
To think that barely 18 months ago, the Conservative minister congratulated his opposition colleagues on reaching an agreement on some amendments that would make the refugee system, and I quote, “faster and fairer”.
Now that the Conservatives have a majority, we can expect that measures that the Centre for Refugee Studies calls radical and draconian will be added to these fair amendments. While last year the minister agreed to a sensible compromise in a minority situation, he can now pass whatever legislation he pleases, no matter how undemocratic it is. This is serious and appalling.
No longer will it be left up to a panel of experts—as it should—to come up with a list of “safe countries”, from which the federal government does not think refugees usually come. In addition, no longer will it be possible for residents of those designated countries of origin to appeal their cases if their claims are rejected. This is a human rights violation. Unsuccessful claimants will have to wait one year before applying again on humanitarian grounds, during which time they can be sent back to their country, a country they tried to flee.
It is especially unfortunate that the government continues using terms like “bogus claimants”, terms that are extremely harmful.
While not every individual who files a refugee claim necessarily needs extreme protection, that does not make these refugee claimants “potential abusers”. These people may have very good reasons for leaving their country.
Refugees are some of the most vulnerable members of society and are, therefore, easy targets for attack as non-citizens in a foreign country. Denigrating labels, especially those given by the government, have a serious negative impact on the public's perception of refugees and non-citizens in general.
Canada is a model for the rest of the world. It is known for welcoming people who are fleeing persecution. This important asset is going to be lost because of a new proposal by this government that emphasizes speed and categorization, at the expense of fairness, justice and protecting individuals.
In our opinion, the government is pushing its mandate far too far. In many ways, Bill C-31 represents the unprecedented dismantling of Canada's refugee system. If we just take the example of Australia, which had to go back to a system similar to our current system, it is clear that the approach outlined in Bill C-31 does not work. The Conservatives would save Canadians a lot of time and money if they stopped navel gazing and starting using facts, expert studies, statistics and concrete examples to support their bills.
On average, 25,000 refugees have obtained permanent resident status every year of the past five years. Last year, the number was 24,700. After a waiting period of three years, it takes an average of 18 to 22 months before the person can apply for citizenship, which takes an average of 19 months.
It takes at least five to six years for a person to become a citizen, if the process goes quickly. This bill threatens the thousands of refugees admitted every year, not to mention those who have not yet applied.
The minister wants to pass this vague bill in September, when the former Bill C-11 has not even come into force. Why be in such a rush to pass, at all costs, a bungled bill that has such serious consequences for people's lives? What is more, clause 19 literally undermines Canada's commitment to refugees, makes a mockery of our commitment to the United Nations to grant permanent residence to refugees, and puts tens of thousands of refugees who have already been granted permanent resident status in Canada at risk of deportation.
Out of respect for Canada's commitment to the United Nations, refugees who have settled here permanently have and should always have the right to rebuild their lives, to work and to raise their families knowing that Canada is and will remain their permanent home.
This is one of the most positive characteristics of our country. Canada's promotion of rapid and permanent resettlement is an enormous advantage, just as much for all Canadians as for all refugees. Instead of living in uncertainty, refugees become active and productive members of our society. The feeling of security that accompanies permanent residence cannot be overestimated and should be a formality.
Canada's commitments to the UN are nevertheless clear: refugees who receive permanent resident status are entitled to rebuild their lives in the host country, to work and to have a family. They will not succeed in integrating into Canadian society if they are constantly under the threat of being sent back to the country they fled.
Canada is a land of refuge and I am grateful, for if it had not been, I would not be here today. My parents came here in the wave of boat people after the Vietnam War, which enabled a number of new Canadians to take refuge here. In certain cases, this change might expose them to potentially violent reprisals if they go back to their country of origin.
Determining refugee status is complex and difficult. It is not easy to decide whether a person needs protection or not. On the other hand, for refugees, the need for protection at all times is simple, but critical. For Canadians, the question is simple: are we going to make sure that refugees are not going back to persecution? It seems to me that the answer should be simple.
In summary, what the Conservative government wants is the discretionary and automatic power to remove at any time a person who was granted refugee status in Canada and who then received permanent resident status. This is what I vehemently oppose, on behalf of all refugees, like my parents and my brothers, who flee their country, risking their lives, without identification and who hope, no matter what happens to them, to find a safe haven and live with dignity in a country to which they will contribute on a social, cultural or economic level. These people want to go on living with their heads held high, and they have human rights that must be respected.
Bill C-31 does not target criminals or human traffickers or those who would take advantage of refugees. We worked on the old bill C-11; there are many points that need another look. I am therefore asking the Conservative government to go back to the drawing board with this bill.
Mr. Andrew Saxton (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to lend my support to Bill C-31, Protecting Canada's Immigration System act. I am going to focus my remarks on how the proposed legislation would change our existing laws in respect of the crime of human smuggling. Before talking about the proposed reforms, it is important to contextualize this issue.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that human smuggling puts the lives of those smuggled at risk. Clearly it does, as evidenced by the tragic deaths of countless smuggled migrants around the world every year. It is important to remember that such occurrences are not restricted to smuggling by sea. Every year, people die as a result of smuggling operations by transport containers, as well as on the high seas. It says this crime is on the rise. In fact, just a few weeks ago, international media reported that a massive human smuggling ring had been organizing a trip for several hundred migrants from Togo to Canada. Fortunately, this ring was discovered and dismantled. However, this is clear evidence that human smugglers are making plans for Canada as we speak. Canada remains a prime target.
Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, says that maritime migrant smuggling is the deadliest form of illegal international travel and its illicit proceeds fuel criminality. Canada is an attractive destination for migrant smugglers and these new measures send a strong message that our country is no longer open for business to these criminals. He says that it is shocking to hear apologists from migrant smugglers portraying these criminals as providing a service for illegal migrants seeking to enter Canada. He also says that migrant smugglers have been linked to organized crime, human trafficking and terrorist organizations. They care nothing for the wellbeing of those they transport in perilous and often deadly vessels.
While it is difficult to precisely estimate the extent of smuggling, there is some information. According to the United Nations Development Programme, in 2009 there were an estimated 50 million irregular migrants in the world. A significant number are believed to have turned to smugglers to assist them across international borders. It is also believed that the number of persons who are turning to smugglers to help them enter other countries continues to increase.
The United Nations Development Programme says that smugglers continually change their tactics to keep one step ahead of authorities. As countries around the world work together to respond to the practices of smugglers, these criminals adapt. Corruption among state actors has become an important tool in the smugglers' arsenal and provides additional impetus for ensuring that all countries, including Canada, step up their efforts to respond.
It is important to remember that migrant smuggling is big business, generating million upon millions of dollars for transnational organized crime every year. Interpol has said that compared to other types of transnational organized crime, human smugglers benefit from weak legislation and low risk of detection, arrest and prosecution. Logically then, Canada needs strong legislation that gives authorities the tools to detect, arrest and prosecute human smugglers.
While it is true that we already have a robust criminal law framework in place to respond to human smuggling, we must continue to build on that. That is why Bill C-31 is proposing important amendments in this area.
Allow me to highlight those provisions within the bill that relate to cracking down on human smuggling. Currently, when faced with an incident of human smuggling, authorities must prove the accused knew that the smuggled person did not have the documents needed to enter Canada. While this is certainly one manifestation of this crime, it is not the only way it can be committed. For example, sometimes smuggled persons may be brought into Canada in a way that evades contact with immigration authorities. In other words, the smuggler agrees to help the person smuggled enter the country clandestinely. The proposed amendments would more clearly capture this behaviour. It would do this by broadening the offence to enable prosecution where there is evidence that the accused knew that the persons smuggled were in contravention of any requirement under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This would provide additional ways to establish that the smuggling offence had occurred.
The second way the existing smuggling offence would be broadened is by making clear that the prosecutor could show that the accused was reckless as to whether the smuggled person would be entering Canada in contravention of the requirements under IRPA.
Recklessness is a well-known and accepted form of subjective fault in criminal law. It means, in this context, that the accused was aware that there was a significant risk that the smuggled persons would be entering Canada in contravention of the IRPA, and in the face of this fact proceeded nevertheless.
This additional element would provide further assistance to police and prosecutors who must respond to such conduct. Migrant smuggling is a reprehensible crime. It undermines the integrity of our immigration system. It puts the lives of those smuggled at risk. It lines the pockets of organized crime, which in turn better enables such groups to engage in other criminal activity, the effects of which can be far-reaching. It also has an effect on the public's perception of immigrants and immigration.
For all of these reasons, we must state in unequivocal terms that such criminal actions must be strongly denounced and deterred. That is why Bill C-31 proposes mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of human smuggling. It is clear that the penalties proposed target only the most harmful manifestations of this crime.
They would not apply in all cases. The most serious mandatory penalties would be reserved for the most serious instances. Some might suggest that these mandatory penalties are inappropriate and would not do anything to deter this crime. I strongly disagree and would reiterate that these penalties are about more than just deterrence. They are a reflection of our belief that such conduct is utterly unacceptable and must be condemned and punished in the clearest of terms, particularly when the conduct in question is linked to organized crime or terrorism, or where the lives of those smuggled are in danger.
I believe that Canadians would agree that in such cases, such penalties properly reflect the gravity of the crime. It is important to note that the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is not the only piece of legislation that this bill would strengthen.
The bill also proposes higher penalties for violations of the Marine Transportation Security Act. For example, if individuals refused to obey a ministerial directive to leave Canadian waters or if they misled or lied to officials, they could be slapped with fines of up to $200,000 and or a prison sentence. If they were caught again, they would be looking at fines of up to $500,000. This would send the right message and ensure a more complete response to this crime.
Bill C-31 would be an important next step in our fight against smuggling. It is important to note, however, that it is not the only step we are taking. I am aware of the significant efforts being pursued by the government around the world to respond to this crime, including through the work of the Prime Minister's special advisor on migrant smuggling.
Taken together, we are moving forward in the right direction to ensure that smugglers think twice before they try to ply their trade here in Canada. I urge all my hon. colleagues to join with me in supporting Bill C-31.