The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to continue the debate on Bill .
Canada and the government are proud of our tradition of being a country of openness to newcomers and a place of protection for refugees. Indeed, since the government came into office in 2006 we have maintained the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history, admitting on average over 250,000 new permanent residents each year, and maintaining the world's strongest tradition of refugee protection.
We are increasing by some 20% the number of resettled refugees that we accept, increasing the integration support that they receive, so that Canada will receive the highest per capita number of resettled refugees in the world. Of course, we also have a generous refugee asylum determination system to ensure that foreigners who come to Canada who have a well-founded fear of persecution are not returned to face danger.
However, this bill is a necessary part of our efforts to protect the openness and generosity of our immigration and refugee protection systems against those who would seek to abuse Canada's generosity, more specifically, through commercial and dangerous human smuggling operations, fake asylum claims, large numbers of which are in our asylum system, and other efforts to subvert the integrity of our immigration system and the consistent application of its fair rules.
I would like to commend the members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on their diligent work and their many hours of hearings on Bill . They heard from dozens of witnesses and diligently considered amendments to the bill.
The members who were in the House in the previous Parliament will remember that we passed Bill , which set out a balanced refugee system. They will also remember that, at that time, the government and the opposition agreed to make certain amendments to the bill to ensure that it was balanced or, in other words, to make sure that the system was quick, effective and fair. At that time, we were happy with the results of that legislative effort.
However, since June 2010, there has been a huge increase in bogus refugee claims in Canada, particularly by EU nationals.
Indeed, last year, we received close to 6,000 refugee claims from EU nationals, which is more than the number of claims we receive from Africa or Asia. Almost none of these European refugee claimants attend their hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board, and according to our fair and legal system, almost none of them are legitimate refugees.
That is one of the reasons why we need to strengthen the integrity of our system to really discourage bogus refugee claimants from coming to Canada and abusing our country's generosity. Processing these fake claims costs Canadian taxpayers approximately $50,000. These are the objectives of Bill .
Further to the statements made by members of Parliament, including opposition members, and by some witnesses who appeared before the parliamentary committee, the government considered any reasonable amendments to create a better bill that meets its objectives of combatting human smuggling more effectively, preventing bogus refugee claims and strengthening the security of our system.
Let me review briefly some of the amendments that were adopted at committee.
First, one such amendment relates to clause 19. Clause 19 provides for the automatic loss of permanent resident status if an individual loses protected person status as a result of cessation.
Cessation means that the Immigration and Refugee Board, I emphasize the IRB, not the minister, can take away someone's refugee status if it is proven that the person no longer needs protection. It has always been in IRPA, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, since it became law in 2002.
Since we introduced Bill , we have heard concerns that an improvement of the conditions in someone's country of origin could result in the automatic loss of an individual's permanent resident status by a decision of the IRB, regardless of how long they have been a permanent resident in Canada.
Some have worried that Canada was moving toward a conditional permanent residence situation for refugees, which I should point out is not unusual in other democratic countries. The United Kingdom and Germany, for example, do not grant immediate permanent residency for protected people. However, this was never the intention of the bill.
To clarify our intentions, we moved an amendment at committee that one automatic cessation ground be removed from clause 19. The cessation ground we are removing reads as follows:
||the reasons for which the person sought refugee status have ceased to exist.
The effect of this amendment is that cessation for these reasons, such as a change in country conditions, would not result in automatic loss of permanent residency. This would ensure that permanent resident status is lost automatically only when the cessation decision of the IRB is the result of the individual's own actions.
For example, if people come to Canada, make an asylum claim that is accepted by the IRB, but shortly after receiving such status, they return to live in the country of origin, which they allegedly fled due to fear of persecution, we would reserve the right under IRPA to go before the IRB to say that it appears they never needed our protection because they have immediately re-availed themselves of their country of origin. Therefore we could commence proceedings of the IRB to seek an order to cease their protected person status and revoke their permanent residency, but that would only be if they have done something to demonstrate essentially that they defrauded our asylum system.
The government also moved an amendment that relates to pre-removal risk assessments, also known as PRRAs. When failed refugee claimants are given removal orders from Canada, they can under certain conditions apply for a PRRA, which would trigger a review to make certain that the failed claimants are not being removed into situations where they might face a risk of persecution, torture, cruel and unusual punishment or loss of life.
In its original form, Bill called for a one-year ban for failed refugee claimants, including those from countries that generally do not produce refugees, which I might add, is a phrase used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
This measure was intended to simplify the refugee system, eliminate duplication and expedite the removal of failed refugee claimants. The government proposed an amendment that extended this ban to three years for failed refugee claimants from countries that generally do not produce refugees.
The extension of the bar for these claimants is aimed at addressing existing process vulnerabilities that lead to misuse by those who are not in need of protection. It would facilitate the removals of those individuals not in need of Canada's protection, without the requirement to conduct a redundant second risk assessment.
Since the extension of the bar on PRRA would apply only to failed claimants from countries known to not normally produce refugees and generally considered safe, which countries, by the way, based on our proposed guidelines, would see at least three-quarters of asylum claims being rejected, abandoned or withdrawn, there is already a minimal likelihood of returning someone to a situation of risk.
It should also be noted that each eligible claimant would have received a hearing on the merits of his or her case before an independent decision-maker at the quasi-judicial IRB, which decision-maker would have rejected the claim and found no risk in returning the claimant.
In addition, the legislation would provide the minister with the ability to exempt someone from the bar on PRRA, either the one-year bar for most failed claimants or the three-year bar on PRRA for failed claimants from designated countries. That is to say, for example, that if there were to be a major event, say, a coup d'état or civil war in a country, the minister could exempt failed claimants from that country from the PRRA bar, allowing them to in fact apply for and receive a second risk assessment. It is also important to note that this amendment does not preclude a failed refugee claimant from continuing to seek leave to the Federal Court for judicial review of a negative decision of the refugee protection division of the IRB.
Some of the measures in Bill that received the most feedback from parliamentarians and members of the public were those that concerned the mandatory detention of foreign nationals who arrive in Canada as part of a designated irregular arrival, which effectively would be a large-scale human smuggling voyage. These measures, of course, were part of the section of the bill designed to deal with human smuggling.
This amendment would allow for a detention review by the immigration division of the IRB on the detention of a smuggled migrant in a designated arrival initially at 14 days prior to the detention and then subsequently at 6 months, rather than the 12 months that had originally been proposed in the bill.
I would like to once again thank all the members for their important work in committee. I am eager for all the amendments to be accepted here in the House.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on this bill really on behalf of my riding of Parkdale—High Park, an urban riding in the west end of Toronto and home to communities that have come together from many different countries. There are people who came, like my grandparents, from the U.K. There are people who have come from Asia, from Africa, from the U.S., from Europe, from all over, in waves of different immigrants.
Some, like my family, came with not much more than their ability to work hard and their desire to make a better life for themselves and their families. People who were able to immigrate to this great country have seen their families go on to make a contribution that was beyond their imagination at that time.
We see others who have come under real duress, people who have come as refugees generations ago and more recently. For example, in my riding of Parkdale—High Park we have the largest Tibetan community in Canada. These are people who sought refuge, sometimes decades ago, from the Tibetan region of China and who had been living in the refugee areas in Nepal or India. We have people who came from Africa and from all parts of the world.
Some of the stories they tell are harrowing. The stories are of people who are trying to escape from extreme conditions, from a lack of political or religious rights and sometimes from very harrowing physical conditions.
My community also happens to be home to many new refugees from the Roma community. We have a large Roma community in our area. I have met many members of the community. I have heard many stories, and I want to express the great concern that not just that community but others in our city and across the country have expressed about these changes that are being proposed and brought before the House.
Certainly there is concern that the bill takes an approach of punishing refugees rather than of looking to assist them and help them in their hour of greatest need and that the issue of human smuggling can already be adequately dealt with under existing legislation.
We have heard from many who have said that this same party, while in a minority government, just passed a balanced refugee reform bill last year. It has just been passed, it has not even been fully implemented, and now the compromise that was worked out with all parties and passed by the House is going to be thrown out in favour of the provisions in this legislation. Once again the government, as it is wont to do now that it has a majority, is ramming this legislation through in a way that is especially troubling for those who perhaps do not share the perspective of the government and really want to have a very full airing of the provisions in the bill.
I have also heard great concern about the fact that the bill would concentrate power in the hands of the minister in terms of being able to treat refugees differently based on how they come to Canada. There is concern about what that means in terms of equality before the law.
The minister and I have attended many different community events together in our area, and I know that he tries to get to know newcomer communities well. They appreciate that, but I do not know how well he knows the Roma community. I have heard him say a lot about it, but I will read a letter from one member of the community who is now a landed immigrant in Canada.
|| My name is Robi Botos. I'm a Roma musician and composer. I came to Canada in 1998 from Budapest, Hungary. I saw the growing persecution and racism in the 90s. With the support of the Canadian music scene, fans and friends I was able to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
|| Hungary did not become a safer country since I left. In fact, it became much worse. Today, if you are a Roma living in Hungary, your life is clearly in danger from the growing fascist movement. There are many evidences of that. All you need to do is, just go on the internet and see for yourself.
I have done more than that. I have talked to many community members in our area.
He goes on:
|| I fell in love with Canada, because I saw that people don't discriminate against me, and they support me for who I am.
|| I won two of the biggest piano competitions in the world as a Canadian Roma artist. I got many awards as a Canadian Roma musician, including the National Jazz Award, and recent Juno nominations. They announce me as a Canadian national treasure. I shared the stage with my biggest hero, the great Canadian legend Oscar Peterson.
|| I say this, because just a few years back, I was at the edge of being deported, and if Bill C-31 would have been in effect, and I had to go back to Hungary, my son could've been the boy who they shot 18 times because he was a Roma.
|| I did not come to Canada to take advantage of the Canadian Welfare system, or be a criminal! Like most Roma refugees I sold everything I ever had to be able to buy air plane tickets, knowing I'll lose it all if I have to go back. I came here with no English skills, and no guarantees.
|| I'm deeply disappointed about the Canadian Immigration discriminating against Roma refugees, by referring to them as “bogus refugees” and that they're even considering calling Hungary a safe country for the Roma people. That's not the Canadian way. They should at least research first!
|| I dream, that the Canadian Immigration will act Canadian by protecting Roma refugees and not threaten them, by sending them back where their life is in great danger.
|| Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of my people.
I am concerned first of all that here in Canada there have been comments made about the Roma community that impugn their reputation. I have met many people face to face, know them, hear their stories and know of the contribution they make to our community. I know about the insecurity and fear they feel about losing the opportunity to be here in safety and going back to persecution.
I am concerned that our government made changes to the immigration and refugee legislation just a year ago and today is throwing those changes out and introducing changes that would create two tiers of refugees and deny people who are seeking safety here the opportunity to remain in Canada.
I have done a lot of work with organizations such as the Canadian Council for Refugees, which is calling for this bill to be completely scrapped. The Canadian Bar Association is concerned that it violates charter protections against arbitrary detention. The Civil Liberties Association has also been very critical and is calling the measures contemplated “draconian”.
I am speaking out on behalf of people I have seen face to face, families who come here with very little and who have had terrible experiences of discrimination and, in some cases, violence. They see Canada as a refuge. I would hate to think that with our reputation for human rights and for respecting international agreements around the world, we would somehow turn our backs on people in their hour of need.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill , protecting Canada's immigration system act.
Before I get into the bill, I want to give a little background about the riding I represent and the people who make up the wonderful riding of Richmond Hill in Ontario. Richmond Hill is nestled in the heart of the GTA. It is one of the most diverse communities in the country-consisting of Canadian citizens, landed immigrants and people aspiring to become citizens who come from virtually every nation in the world. In fact, in the greater Toronto area in which I reside, over 150 dialects are spoken on a daily basis. I am very much in touch with the needs of the multicultural community and what it means to come to Canada for a better life for themselves and their families and to take advantage of the opportunities that are available in this wonderful nation in which we live.
I feel compelled to voice in the House what I hear from the people who reside in the great riding of Richmond Hill with respect to Bill . I am hoping that, in the short time that I have, I will be able to properly articulate their views on this legislation, since a large percentage of the people who reside in my riding were immigrants to this country at one time or another.
We have heard opposition members state their position. There are a few things that need to be again highlighted to bring the subject into proper focus. I think we all agree in the House, and certainly Canadians agree across this nation, that Canada has the most fair and generous immigration system in the world. However, Canadians have no tolerance for people who abuse our generosity. It is a responsibility of parliamentarians and certainly the government to take the proper measures to crack down on those who abuse that generosity. The protecting Canada's immigration system act would make our refugee system faster and fairer.
I will provide a plain statistic. Processing an application today of a refugee claimant in our country takes an average of 1,038 days. That would be reduced to 45 days for those who are claiming refuge in Canada from designated countries and 216 days for those from other countries around the world. Imagine someone who is persecuted, whose life is threatened and has been tortured, comes to Canada for a better life and is tied up in a system for 1,038 days while bogus claimants are clogging up the system? Imagine people coming here for a better life and waiting the better part of three years for their application to be decided on before they can start contributing to Canada as a viable new immigrant to this country. The measures in Bill would ensure that the people who need it the most get into the country a lot faster. That, I submit, is a very compassionate approach to refugee reform.
I applaud the for the courage he has shown in spearheading this through. That is what members are hearing in their ridings and it is certainly what I am hearing in my riding, that we need to be compassionate and look after those in need. If we clog them up in the system after they have come to this country and they do not know what is happening or what will happen for the next two and a half to three years, that is not showing compassion.
Unfortunately, human smuggling is a very lucrative business, and there are those who engage in that disgraceful act of preying on those in need for financial profit. We need to crack down on those people because, in my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of every member in this House, there is no place in Canada for human smugglers to prosper. We should close every possible loophole we have to eliminate that possibility from happening.
We have a responsibility as a government, and that responsibility is predicated upon the fact that Canadians expect us to ensure that those people who are welcomed into our country are properly identified so that we know who is going to walk the streets beside our families, live in our communities and work with us in our place of employment.
This bill would provide for a significant investment in the identification of people, and that is the concept of biometrics. Biometrics is a 21st century identification tool that we have heard is very much a positive step for us take. We have heard it from law enforcement agencies across this country, including the RCMP, the CBSA and CSIS.
It makes sense to Canadians, and it should make sense to all of us that we know the identity of individuals before we allow them to walk on our soil in, before they walk beside our families, before they work in our communities and before they shop where we shop. We need to know their identity. Biometrics is a method that will help us to more quickly identify people who want to come into our country. It is something that should be applauded by all members in this House. I do not think anyone would want people here who have perpetrated a war crime, who are a security risk in their own country, who have done prison time or who are criminals who came over here on a ship and have thrown their records into the water so they cannot be identified when they arrive.
I cannot imagine any Canadian saying that we should let people into our country without identifying them, that they have said that they are refugees and we should believe them.
It is a responsibility of our government to ensure that we look after the safety and security of Canadians first. It is also our responsibility to ensure that our good nature is not taken advantage of by those who come here claiming they are refugees, take the benefits and then shortly thereafter leave. It is does not make sense. It boggles the mind that 95%, if not more, of applicants from the European Union either abandon, withdraw their claim or the refugee board deems them inappropriate or inadmissible to Canada.
Those people tie up the system, and that is at a cost of about $170 million per year to the Canadian taxpayer. I think it is critically important for us to ensure that people who claim to be refugees or claim that they being persecuted in a European Union country are a legitimate refugees. It is important for all of us to realize that the European Union is a union of 27 democratically elected nations. The first choice that someone who feels they are being persecuted would have would be one of the other 26 countries before they would come to Canada. That would only makes sense. They are democratically elected nations.
In closing, I will t quote what some others have said. In an article in the Edmonton Journal dated February 17, 2012, it states:
|| Given the financial stress placed on our system by those numbers, there has to be a more efficient, cost-effective means of weeding out the bogus claimants from Europe and elsewhere.
A Toronto Star editorial from February 21, 2012, reads:
||...[the Minister of Immigration]'s latest reform plan would reduce the current backlog of 42,000 refugee claims; cut the processing time for asylum seekers from "safe countries" to 45 days...and save money.
Ian Capstick, MediaStyle NDP commentator on CBC's Power and Politics, as early as February 16, 2012, stated, “Obviously there are certain countries like the United States of America, for instance, in which...we should accept no refugees from”.
I would ask all of the members of the House to consider the importance of this legislation and vote for it as quickly as possible for the betterment of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand today to add my voice in opposition to this legislation, the anti-refugee bill, and in support of the NDP amendments.
As New Democrats, we oppose the bill because we will not support the punishment of asylum seekers, and that is exactly what the bill would do.
We also believe the Conservative government should change the title of the bill to “the punishing refugees act”. The title of the bill should reflect the nature of its content. If we are to be honest with Canadians, we need to tell them what the minister is doing and the true direction we are headed under the government.
Canadians are proud of our country's tradition of providing protection for those in need. With the passing of Bill , the Conservative government will effectively be killing this tradition.
For over two weeks, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration heard from witnesses who spoke on the content of Bill . Witness after witness told us this legislation was fundamentally flawed, unconstitutional and concentrated too much power in the hands of one minister.
The well-informed opinion of these witnesses should not be taken lightly. We are talking about witnesses representing Amnesty International, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canada Research Chair in Global Migration Studies and front-line workers who provide legal, medical and psychological support to people who have fled persecution. These are experts in this field. They know far more about this topic than many in this room. Therefore, their testimony should be taken seriously and simply not ignored, which is exactly what the government is currently doing.
As I stand in the House, a key component of our highly respected democracy, with plush carpets and clean water, food to eat, peace in our country, I am reminded that elsewhere in the country and around the world people are not so lucky.
Right now, at this very moment, people are being persecuted, are experiencing discrimination, are living through conflict, public unrest and general instability, and some are forced to make the decision to flee the only home they have ever known, fleeing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
People flee their country because they are desperate and they have no other option if they want to ensure the safety of their families. However, with the passing of Bill , if they come to our country as asylum seekers, much like my father did, depending on their means of arrival and undefined number of people they arrive with, instead of being treated like human beings they will be treated like criminals, treated as guilty until proven innocent. We all know that is not the Canadian standard.
The bill would punish victims of persecution and victims of human smuggling. It would punish those who, because of a lack of money or option, would do whatever it takes to keep their families safe. I ask my colleagues in the House to empathize and put themselves in their situation. I ask them to think for a moment of what they would do to keep their partner, their children, their mother, their grandmother safe. If they needed to, would they run, flee the country that was unsafe through any means?
The Conservatives refuse to accept that our system currently works. We already capture the real criminals and deport them. The sentence for human smuggling is already the most punitive it can be in our country, life in prison and a fine of $1 million, yet we continuously hear members opposite saying that we need to take away the rights of victim in order to catch the human smugglers. The bill would do nothing to catch human smugglers. It would punish refugees and refugee claimants and not the human smugglers.
Instead of targeting the illegal smuggling rings, the Conservatives would rather arbitrarily designate some refugees as “irregular arrivals” and incarcerate all of them. Now, upon arrival, designated refugees will be held in provincial jails, handcuffed and treated like prisoners, with minimal review.
New Democrats are opposed to the measures in the bill precisely because Canada will now be known for punishing the most vulnerable and traumatized people in the world.
My constituents are concerned. Some of the refugees who were on the MV Sun Sea and Ocean Lady live in my riding of Scarborough-Rouge River. They have been given refugee protection by our government. They are making a home in our neighbourhoods, contributing to our economy and giving back to our community.
As the designated foreign national category is retroactive to 2009, these valuable members of our community who came on these two migrant vessels, along with future so-called irregular arrivals, will now be treated as second-class citizens under the new two-tier refugee treatment system that will be created.
Under the bill they, and all so-called designated refugees, would be barred from applying for permanent residence for five years. This is different from all other refugees, who are allowed to apply for permanent residency immediately. The bar would prevent families from reuniting for five years and further as they went through the already lengthy sponsorship system.
We are separating children from their parents. If fathers or mothers flee their country to make way for their children, they would now be separated from their families for a minimum of at least seven years. Children who are 13 will be young adults by the time they would see their mother and father again. Formative years of their life will be lived spent away from their parents.
Further, by the time their parents would be eligible to actually sponsor them, the children may not qualify as dependents anymore, meaning that they will now be forced to live permanently separated from their parents and parents separated from their children.
We could have made the bill better. New Democrats proposed concrete changes to the bill. It was a disappointment to the witnesses, the stakeholders and all involved when all of these good propositions that would have provided improvements to the bill were opposed by the government time and time again.
While baby steps were taken, none of the NDP's substantive amendments were adopted by the government members in the committee.
New Democrats have a better solution to our refugee and immigration system. In fact, just last year, all parties compromised to pass Bill , the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. That bill was applauded by our current .
Bill , however, ignores these compromises and includes all of the worst parts of the former Bill .
What is worse is that Bill will pass before we will even have the chance to see the outcome of the changes included in Bill . The government has not even allowed for the changes to take place.
One of the most troublesome measures that the Conservatives refused to revise is impossibly tight timelines for submitting an application to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The refugee system is being set up to fail. The asylum seekers are being set up to fail.
Witness after witness, including the Conservatives' own witnesses, said that these timelines were too short, that they would create incomplete and inaccurate applications. On top of that, some refugees would be refused the right to appeal their application.
We all know, unfortunately, that mistakes can be made at the IRB. The board is not perfect. With cuts to its budget and limited resources to hire adjudicators, the likelihood that mistakes will occur would be even greater. New information could come to light after an expedited claim is mistakenly processed. Without access to an appeal, this information may never be heard.
The consequences of these decisions could truly mean life or death.
Banning access to an appeal for some claimants undermines the international obligations to refugees.
A further dangerous consequence of the bill is that the power to designate a country as safe for all is concentrated solely in the hands of the minister. No country is truly safe. A country that may be safe for some residents may be unsafe for other residents.
Impartiality toward the development and maintenance of this list is extremely important. It is confusing why Bill would remove the safeguard of having a panel of experts maintain and review this list, as was decreed in Bill .
We have earned a gold standard on how we treat refugees fleeing persecution in the world. The current government is tarnishing our earned reputation. The Conservatives' changes to the refugee and immigration system will erode Canada's humanitarian reputation around the world.
I cannot support the bill and the move to a discriminatory refugee and immigration system. I cannot support the punishment of asylum seekers and refugees. That is why I oppose the bill and support the amendments put forward by the NDP.
The government needs to abandon the legislation and go back to the drawing board.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak to Bill and at report stage.
The amendments put forward by the opposition speak volumes about the real agenda in this place. When in front of the cameras, the NDP and Liberals claim they want to make Parliament work, but when the media is gone, their actions prove to be the complete opposite.
Our government listened closely to the thoughtful testimony given by each of the dozens of witnesses who appeared at our committee. We have also said that our government's focus is on passing a bill that is as strong and effective as possible.
Accordingly, we agreed to reasonable amendments that furthered the goals and principles of this bill. Even the NDP immigration critic praised our government at committee for its willingness to make this bill even better. Unfortunately, with these report stage amendments, the opposition NDP and Liberals have shown yet again that they refuse to do anything other than continue to be blindly partisan and that they are not here to work together on a better piece of legislation that is in the best interests of all Canadians and most importantly in the best interest of genuine refugees who truly are in need of Canada's protection.
Let me explain to this House and to Canadians the consequences of these amendments put forth by the opposition if they were to be adopted and if the bill were to be completely gutted.
Canada's asylum system is internationally renowned for its fairness. Not only does it respect our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN convention on refugees; it actually exceeds both. Indeed, Canada is one of the largest recipients of asylum claims, even though we are isolated geographically compared to most other countries. Many people come here great distances from around the globe to seek asylum here.
Consistently, the independent Immigration and Refugee Board, IRB, has delivered rulings that show that the majority of claims overall are unfounded. In 2011, 62% of all claims were either rejected by the IRB of Canada or abandoned or withdrawn by the claimants themselves.
To focus on one particular area, there were more than 5,800 new refugee claims from European Union nationals last year. Shockingly, this is more than we receive from countries like Africa or Asia. Not only that, but virtually all the claims from the European Union are withdrawn or abandoned by the claimants themselves or rejected by the independent IRB. In fact, 95% fit this category.
If the current rate of rejected, abandoned and withdrawn claims continues, it will come at a cost to the taxpayer. Last year, the cost to Canadian taxpayers for the unfounded claims was nearly $170 million. We believe that the reason we see so many of these rejected claimants travel so far to seek asylum here is that the current system invites them to do so. It is like a pull factor. The ability to quickly access our generous taxpayer-funded social and health benefits is definitely the pull factor for some of these people. It has become quite clear that our current refugee system is ripe for abuse.
The reality is that, instead of waiting patiently to come to Canada through the immigration process, too many people are trying to use our asylum system as a back door to gain entry into Canada. Through Bill , we intend to strike the right balance with our refugee system in order to deter abuse of our country's generosity and the generosity of Canadian taxpayers like those in my riding of Scarborough Centre.
We also wish to discourage the horrible crime of human smuggling by building on existing criminal prohibitions that target human smugglers. Bill would make it easier to prosecute these cases and would provide for mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment for those convicted of this serious crime.
There is no doubt that Canada has become a target for the highly lucrative and lethal practice of human smuggling. The recent tragic loss of life involving a sailboat with four nationals aboard, which ran into trouble off the coast of Nova Scotia leaving one man dead and three sailors lost at sea, is a prime example of the danger that irregular travel to Canada can create.
The government had no way of knowing that these people were coming, and since this vessel was not registered, it is quite clear that something irregular was going on. This is a matter of great concern to our government, but it should also concern all Canadians. Tragically, the end result of this perilous voyage was disastrous for all those involved.
This crime threatens both Canada's security and the lives of many desperate people who seek the services of smugglers from around the world. The government, therefore, has both a legal and a moral obligation to put an end to these criminal operations.
Given all these factors, it is imperative that we find a way to deter abuse of our immigration and refugee system. Bill would allow us to do just that.
First we must try to reduce the pull factors that entice disingenuous claimants from coming to Canada. Under the current asylum system, long wait times make Canada a much more attractive target for those who wish to game the system. While they wait for their claims to be processed, failed claimants can work in Canada and have access to our generous social support systems, like welfare in my province of Ontario.
Designated countries of origin are countries that do not generally produce refugees. Claimants from those countries would still get a fair and independent hearing, but they would be processed in about 45 days, compared to 1,038 days under the current system. The bill would also further streamline the process by limiting access to appeals for groups, such as those with manifestly unfounded claims, or claims with no credible basis. We would also prevent refugee claimants from submitting a claim at the same time as they apply for humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Following a negative decision from the IRB, would also bar claimants from submitting the humanitarian and compassionate applications for one year.
In order to have an effective immigration system we need faster decisions, which must be complemented by timely removals. An expanded assisted voluntary returns and reintegration program would help failed refugee claimants leave Canada more quickly and voluntarily and would help them make a fresh start in their home countries.
With regard to human smuggling, the legislation would deter human smugglers from targeting Canada with their dangerous voyages. Bill would make it easier to prosecute human smugglers and would also strengthen the criminal law's response to human smuggling. The bill would make ship owners and operators accountable for use of their ships in human smuggling operations, and it would introduce stiffer penalties and fines, including mandatory minimum prison sentences, for those convicted of human smuggling.
With the passage of Bill , the government would continue to honour the values Canadians hold dear by ensuring that our asylum system remains fair to those who truly need our protection. By discouraging and reducing abuse of our refugee system, we would be able to direct more of our resources to those refugees who actually need them.
We believe these measures are necessary and we believe these measures are fair. We believe that Bill C-31 lives up to its title and, if passed, would indeed protect Canada's immigration system so that it would serve Canadians. Unfortunately, if the opposition amendments were adopted, the entire bill would be gutted and we would not be able to improve our refugee determination system. If the opposition NDP and Liberals got their way, genuine refugees fleeing persecution, death and torture would have to wait longer to receive Canada's much-needed protection. Hard-working Canadian taxpayers, like those in my constituency of Scarborough Centre, would continue to be forced to foot the bill for bogus claimants who are here for the sole reason of soaking up taxpayer-funded health care and welfare benefits.
It is for these reasons that I urge my colleagues to vote against these irresponsible and shameful amendments, amendments that are a detriment to genuine refugees and all of the hard-working Canadian taxpayers in our great country.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House today to speak to the report stage amendments to Bill , Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act, which has been introduced by the opposition at report stage.
Some of my hon. colleagues have already spoken about the negative impact the measures in this legislation would have on the government's ability to carry out badly needed reforms to the refugee determination system, reforms Canadians have asked for and expect. Others have spoken about how these measures will prevent the government from being able to crack down on criminal human smugglers who try to abuse Canada's generous immigration system.
In my allotted time today I would like to focus my remarks on how the opposition's irresponsible amendments to gut Bill will prevent the government from being able to introduce biometric technology for screening temporary resident applicants.
The introduction of biometrics would strengthen our immigration program in a number of ways. As members may be aware, there are several examples of serious criminals, human smugglers, war criminals and suspected terrorists, among others, who have entered Canada in the past, sometimes repeatedly, by concealing or misrepresenting themselves and their history.
Let me give a few examples. Esron Laing and David Wilson were convicted of armed robbery and forcible confinement. They returned to Canada three different times. In fact they are known as the “yo-yo bandits” because just like a yo-yo they kept coming back.
I know that three times seems like a high number, but I am sad to say that many serious criminals are deported and manage to return to Canada many more times than that.
Another example is Anthony Hakim Saunders, who was convicted of assault and drug trafficking. He was deported on 10 different occasions. That is right. It was an astonishing 10 different times. Just like the yo-yo bandits, he kept returning.
Edmund Ezemo was convicted of more than 30 charges, including theft and fraud. He was deported and returned to Canada eight times.
Dale Anthony Wyatt was convicted of trafficking drugs and possession of illegal weapons. He was deported and returned to Canada on at least four separate occasions.
Kevin Michael Sawyers was convicted of manslaughter. He was deported and returned to Canada twice.
Then there is Melando Yaphet Streety, who served a jail sentence in Canada after he was linked to four underage girls working in Toronto's sex trade. This criminal was deported and returned to Canada within the same year. That is right, all within the same year. Once he returned to Canada, he continued his life of crime.
The use of biometrics would help us prevent these criminals from entering Canada. Let me briefly explain how. Under the existing system, visa applicants only need to initially provide written documents to support their applications. Biometrics, photographs and fingerprints would provide greater certainty in identifying travellers than documents that can be forged or stolen.
In a nutshell, Bill and regulations that would follow would allow the government to make it mandatory for travellers, students and workers from certain visa-required countries and territories to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa, study permit or work permit applications.
Biometrics would help with processing applications. Later, when a visa holder arrives at a Canadian port of entry, the Canada Border Services Agency would also use this information to verify that the visa holder is the person to whom the visa was issued.
The use of biometrics would strengthen the integrity of our immigration program by helping to prevent known criminals, failed refugee claimants and previous deportees from using a false identity to unlawfully obtain a Canadian visa and enter our country under false pretences.
Biometrics would also bolster Canada's existing measures to facilitate legitimate travel by providing a fast and reliable tool to help confirm identity. As we can imagine, this would greatly help our front-line visa and border officers to manage high volumes of immigration applicants and the growing sophistication in identity fraud.
While it is easy to see how using biometrics would help our own officials make decisions about visa applications, it is also important to consider how their use may provide benefits to the applicants themselves. After all, in the long run the use of biometrics would facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identity of applicants.
Let me give an example. In cases where the authenticity of documents is uncertain, biometrics could expedite decision-making at Canadian ports of entry. The time spent at secondary inspections could be reduced. Using biometrics could also protect visa applicants by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use an applicant's identity to gain access into Canada.
To those who may be concerned about the impact of these new measures on travel to Canada, allow me to say that the implementation of biometrics would only apply to a relatively small percentage of visitors to Canada. Indeed more than 90% of visitors to Canada are from countries that are exempt from visa requirements, with visitors from the United States being the most obvious example.
It is also important to note that a number of other countries around the world have already incorporated biometrics into their own immigration and border programs. These include like-minded countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Japan, countries in the European Union, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Because it is becoming so common in international travel, many of these applicants to Canada would already be familiar with the process and have experienced it first-hand in their travels abroad. What is more, the experience of other countries has shown that there is normally only a small short-term drop in application volumes following the introduction of biometrics collection.
I have no doubt that Canada would remain a destination of choice for visitors from around the world, and in the long run the use of biometrics would facilitate entry to Canada by providing a reliable tool to readily confirm the identities of applicants.
As some of my hon. colleagues may know, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are members of the Five Country Conference, or FCC, an international forum that examines immigration and border security issues. Under the FCC's high value data sharing protocol, Canada shares approximately 3,000 refugee claimants fingerprint records annually with partner countries. Information sharing allows Canada to, a) better identify immigration fraud, b) improve our ability to detect refugee claimants who misrepresent themselves, and c) protect Canadians from foreign criminals.
Biometrics information has uncovered individuals who have used multiple identities and have inconsistent immigration histories and criminal records. For example, information sharing has resulted in, first, the U.K. returning to Australia a wanted rapist posing as an asylum seeker who subsequently pled guilty; second, Canada revoking the refugee status of a man British records proved was an American citizen; and, third, the U.K. taking action against an asylum seeker who FCC records showed had used nine different identities and six different documents across the FCC countries.
Approximately 11% of fingerprint files shared with our FCC partners have resulted in a match. About 13% of these matches have revealed individuals who presented conflicting names, dates of birth or nationalities.
The introduction of biometrics as an identity management tool in our immigration and border control systems is both long planned and long overdue. More and more it is also becoming an international norm. By passing Bill , we would be ensuring Canada keeps up with many other countries.
Collecting biometric data is a highly reliable way to reduce identity fraud while facilitating legitimate travel. As a result, biometrics would strengthen and modernize Canada's immigration processes. I am sure that all hon. members of this House would agree that what I have described is a secure and straightforward process—a no-brainer, so to speak.
Unfortunately, the opposition amendments would prevent the government from introducing biometrics. The opposition's complete lack of concern for the safety and security of their constituents is quite frankly appalling.
The NDP is trying to gut this bill by saying they are okay with criminals, terrorists, war criminals and the like coming into our great country and victimizing innocent Canadians.
I urge the NDP and Liberals to give their heads a shake, to stand up for the safety and security of their constituents and all Canadians and to vote against these ridiculous amendments.