Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a news conference following the tabling of Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act

Ottawa, February 16, 2012

As delivered

Thank you very much. We’ve just tabled in the House of Commons Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, which will strengthen the fairness and integrity of Canada’s generous immigration and refugee programs.

This bill will further improve Canada’s asylum system, following the passage of the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in the last Parliament. It includes measures to crack down on human smuggling, which had previously been introduced and debated in Bill C-4, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration Act. Finally, this bill will enable the introduction of biometric technology into our immigration system, which will prevent known criminals, failed and deported refugee claimants and other deportees using fake identity from obtaining visas. In doing so, Bill C-31 will facilitate legitimate travel to Canada by bona fide visitors, students, businesspeople and others.

Our refugee system is amongst the most generous in the world. It is internationally recognized for its fairness. In fact, Canada welcomes one out of every ten resettled UN Convention refugees worldwide. We already welcome more resettled refugees per capita than any other country, the second most in absolute terms after the United States, and we’re in the process of increasing the number of convention refugees who we resettle by 20 percent, so that we will clearly be the world leader in refugee protection and resettlement. We are also giving those resettled refugees more support to ensure their success in Canada through a 20 per cent increase in the Refugee Assistance Program. Just this week, I met, for example, with some of the gay Iranian refugees who we have helped to find protection and begin new lives here in Canada – several dozen who have joined us in the recent past.

But for too many years, our generous asylum system has been abused by too many people making bogus refugee claims. Canadians take great pride in the generosity and compassion of our immigration and refugee programs. But they have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity or take advantage of our country. 

Our government is very concerned about the recent increase in refugee claims from democratic countries that respect human rights. Our asylum system is already overwhelmed by a large backlog of cases. The growing number of bogus claims from European Union democracies is only exacerbating the problem. Too many tax dollars are spent on people who do not need our protection. In fact, about 90 per cent of all claims from the European Union have been determined by our system, and mainly by the decisions of those asylum claimants themselves, to be unfounded, either by those individuals withdrawing and abandoning their own claims, or by their claims being examined and rejected by our fair and independent Immigration and Refugee Board.

On top of this, there are too many ways failed claimants can delay their removal from Canada after their claim has been fairly decided by the IRB. Currently, it takes an average of 4.5 years from an initial claim to remove a failed refugee claimant from the country. Some cases have taken more than ten years. The result is an overburdened system and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

For too long, we have spent precious time and taxpayers’ money on people who are not in need of our protection, at the expense of legitimate asylum seekers who have been forced to wait at the back of an unacceptably long queue. It means that it takes 21 months for legitimate asylum seekers. A person fleeing Iran as a victim of persecution and torture often has to wait more than 21 months to obtain an IRB hearing to seek Canada’s protection, in part because 62 per cent of asylum seekers are found to have bogus claims, claims that end up being rejected or withdrawn. We waste precious time, instead of providing much swifter protection for real refugees.

To be blunt: Canada’s asylum system is broken. That’s why Parliament passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act in 2010. The Act contains long-needed improvements that will result in faster protection for real refugees and quicker removal of bogus refugee claimants. That Act went a long way toward addressing problems in our system. But it’s become clear that there are still some gaps, and that further reforms are needed. We need stronger measures that are closer to the original bill that we tabled back in March of 2010.

The measures I am announcing today build on the reforms passed in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. These new measures will further accelerate the processing of refugee claims for nationals from designated countries that generally do not produce refugees. They will also reduce the options available to bogus claimants to delay their removal from Canada, which sometimes takes years and years. In fact, it takes at least 4.5 years on average for bogus refugee claimants to have run the course in all of the various appeals that they have. And then it takes us quite a lot longer to actually remove them from Canada, which is virtually an encouragement for people who want to come and abuse our generosity.

We are determined to prevent this abuse of our system and, in a time of fiscal restraint, we are committed to ensuring that our asylum system is as streamlined as possible while remaining fair. At the same time, those who truly need our help will get it even faster. Canada will continue to exceed all of our international and domestic legal obligations — for example, our obligations under the Charter of Rights and the United Nations Conventions on Refugees and Torture.

The rise in refugee claims from safe democratic countries is well-documented. It is a cause for growing concern. For example, Canada receives more asylum claims from the democratic Europe Union than from Africa or Asia. In fact, 23 per cent of the refugee claims made in Canada last year were made by EU nationals, who come from countries with strong human and democratic rights. That’s up from 14 per cent the previous year.

Consider the cost to taxpayers. Virtually all EU claims in the past couple of years have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn. If the current rejection rate continues, the cost to Canadian taxpayers for bogus asylum claimants from the EU last year is nearly $170-million. That’s, in part, why I am introducing these new measures today to further strengthen the refugee system.

We will speed up processing of refugee claims. In particular, the refugee claimants from democratic rights-respecting countries, such as those in the EU, will be processed in about 45 days, compared to more than 1,000 days under the current system, or about 171 days under the reforms adopted in 2010. Claimants from designated countries of origin will also have their claims heard sooner and will not have access to the new Refugee Appeal Division that we are creating.

Proposed changes to the Designated Country of Origin policy will enable us to respond more quickly to organized waves of fake claims from safe democratic countries, by changing how countries are designated. We will limit access to taxpayer-funded social benefits and work permits for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin, to reduce the pull factors that often bring people here to Canada with illegitimate claims.

And, I should say, the provinces have an important role to play here. We encourage provincial governments to review their welfare and other benefit programs to ensure that they are not contributing to pull factors for bogus claims.

Refugee claimants from these countries will be ineligible to apply for a work permit and associated benefits until their claim is approved by the IRB — in which case they’re considered a bona fide refugee — or it has been in the system for more than 180 days without a decision.

As a result of quicker hearings under these proposed measures, failed claimants wouldn’t be in Canada long enough to actually obtain a work permit, with which comes access to various federal social benefits. 

To be effective, faster decisions must be complemented by timely removals. We are sending a message today: if you do not need Canada’s protection, we will give you access to our fair asylum system and then send you home quickly. You will not be allowed to remain in Canada for years using endless appeals at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.

But to those who need refuge, these proposed measures will help you to get protection even faster and, through the creation of the Refugee Appeal Division, the vast majority of failed claimants from the vast majority of countries around the world will now, for the first time in our system, have access to a full fact-based appeal at a quasi-judicial tribunal, the Refugee Appeal Division.

It’s important to note that all eligible asylum claimants will continue to get a fair hearing before the IRB, because it’s important that today’s measures do not change Canada’s reputation as having one of the most generous and fairest refugee determination systems in the world.

Another part of Bill C-31 addresses human smuggling. Several months ago, our government introduced Bill C-4, which targets the lucrative and bloody business of human smuggling, while still maintaining our long and proud tradition of providing a safe haven for refugees.

Bill C-31 effectively replaces the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, while keeping almost all of the measures contained in Bill C-4.These measures will help maintain the integrity of our generous immigration system, while curtailing the abuse of that system by human smugglers whose actions undermine the security and safety of Canadians.

I don’t think I need to go into all the specifics, as you are already aware of them. But I will say, though, that we’ve introduced one notable amendment to C-4 in today’s Bill: minors under the age of 16 will be exempt from the detention proposals designed to deal with all other designated foreign nationals.

This means that we will clarify that minors under the age of 16 in designated smuggling situations will be exempt from the 12-month immigration detention requirement.

Let me underscore one other very important provision of the Bill: if an individual’s refugee claim has been approved by the IRB, they will be released from detention. So the idea that all sorts of legitimate refugees who arrive in Canada as part of a smuggling operation would be kept in detention for a year is absolutely false. Given the speed of the proposed new asylum system, smuggled migrants who are found by the IRB to be bona fide refugees will be released from detention within about 90 days following the referral of their claim.

It makes sense to include these anti-smuggling provisions in the same bill as our balanced refugee reforms, as the two sets of proposals are in many ways quite complementary. Both of these sections of Bill C-31 deal with amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Both deal with threats to our immigration and refugee system — in the one case, highly organized waves of unfounded claims from safe democratic countries and, on the other hand, highly organized human smuggling operations. 

Finally, the Bill includes an important legislative authority for long-planned implementation of biometrics as an identity management tool in our immigration and border-control systems. This was a key part of the Canada-U.S. Security Perimeter Framework Agreement between President Obama and the Prime Minister in December. This legislation, and regulations that will follow, will allow our government to make it mandatory for certain visa applicants to have their photographs and fingerprints taken as part of their temporary resident visa applications. Documents can be forged or stolen, but biometric data provides greater certainty, confirming the identity of applicants when they apply. And this is necessary. 

Implementing biometrics will bring Canada in line with the growing list of countries that already use similar technologies, such as the U.K., Australia, the United States and other European countries.

Bill C-31 will allow for the implementation of biometrics screening, which we plan to begin rolling out next year.

And I should just highlight that we have seen many cases of foreign criminals arrested, convicted and deported, who came back to Canada using fake papers. Under the biometric visa system, this will effectively be virtually impossible. We’ll be able to identify them when they come back using fake papers. It will substantially improve immigration security and ensure as well that deported failed refugee claimants don’t return on fake papers.

Collecting biometrics gives us a tremendously effective tool to stop those who mean to do us harm or abuse our generosity.

In closing, with the introduction of the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, our government is making it clear: if you are a bona fide refugee you’re going to get protection in Canada. If you are a law-abiding immigrant, you’re more than welcome in this country, which maintains the highest level of immigration in the developed world. But, if you intend to come here as a criminal or to abuse our generosity, you will be stopped or you will be returned promptly. That’s what Canadians expect.

Thank you.

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