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Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

Hon. Nicole Eaton moved third reading of Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

I thank honourable senators very much for giving me this last opportunity to speak to Bill C-43, an important piece of legislation that will ultimately improve the safety of our citizens and the communities in which they live. Our party pledged to Canadians to undertake these changes during the last election. They will improve our immigration system and the practices around it by speeding up the removal of foreign criminals.

Honourable senators, throughout debate on this bill in this place to date, we have heard a good deal about the fundamentals and essence of this legislation. However, during the debates, both in this place and in committee, some honourable senators have raised concerns and criticized the bill. I would like to respond to those concerns and criticisms.

By way of a reminder, under this bill's proposed provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a foreign national who is given a custodial sentence of six months or longer by a Canadian criminal court will be considered criminally inadmissible to Canada. As a consequence, a deportation order will be issued for them. Pre-removal risk assessment is still mandatory and the appeal system through the courts remains available to them.

The commission of a serious criminal act is the choice and decision of the criminal. These criminals, having made such a choice, must be and, through this bill, will be held responsible for their acts. When Canada opens its doors of generosity and opportunity to a foreign national, we ask but two things: that they live in Canada and that they do not commit a serious criminal act.

Honourable senators, in our study of this legislation, we have heard a concern from those across the floor regarding its requirements for foreign nationals seeking a visa and who have been tagged as a security risk to be interviewed by CSIS. Our honourable senators on the other side took issue with this, citing concerns that such interviews are too open-ended and might become "fishing expeditions," as the Honourable Senator Eggleton termed it.

Honourable senators, we believe in the notion that our institutions, such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency, are thorough yet fair in the conduct of these interviews.

Honourable senators opposite also stated concern over the provision that allows the minister to deny entry to a foreign national on the basis of public policy or negative discretion, as it is termed. We are a progressive country, yet when it comes to the notion of negative discretion we are not at par with our peers. Countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Australia, among others, all maintain very broad discretionary powers in this regard. In fact, most countries have powers that are much more discretionary than those contained in Bill C-43. For example, in the U.K., the Home Office has barred the entry of individuals whose presence is considered not conducive to the public good. In Australia, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has various powers to act personally in the national interest. It is up to the minister to determine whether a decision is warranted. In addition, Australia's immigration law allows for visa refusals based on foreign policy interests and the likelihood that an individual will promote or participate in violence in the community.

In the United States, the Secretary of State may direct a consular officer to refuse a visa, if necessary, for U.S. foreign policy or security interests. The Secretary of Homeland Security can delegate the authority to immigration officers to revoke a visa. Additionally, the President may restrict the international travel and suspend the entry of certain individuals whose presence would be considered detrimental to the U.S.

Minister Kenney spoke to the need for negative discretion when he attended at committee. When doing so, he cited a unanimous motion passed by the Quebec National Assembly asking him to prevent entry of extremists, showing the call for the use of the new negative discretion powers. The Quebec National Assembly sought this in the face of two foreign nationals seeking entry into Canada who had made homophobic statements and whose discourse trivialized violence against women. The National Assembly reaffirmed that these backward positions have no place in a democratic society and go against the fundamental values of Quebec society, namely, equality between men and women, and respect for the physical integrity of persons.

In light of such entreaties, the minister reached the conclusion that it was wise and optimal to maintain some degree of discretion around public policy concerns and considerations in the legislation. We endorse his position in this regard. We remain equally confident of the provisions in the legislation affording consideration of humanitarian and compassionate considerations, and whether to deport individuals from Canada for reasons of national security, terrorism or organized crime — categories all of serious inadmissibility to this country.

These speak to the issues raised by Honourable Senator Munson, who reminded the committee and Minister Kenney of the United Nations' position regarding the inclusion under Article 3, section 1, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically that the Continuing Committee of Officials on Human Rights urged Canada to ensure that legislation and procedures use the best interests of the child.

Honourable senators, in all applications of Canada's immigration law, the best interest of minor children is always considered in every decision by visa officers, border service agents, the Immigration and Refugee Board and by the Federal Court. That is always a consideration, and nothing in Bill C-43 changes that.

The government will in no way be responsible for dividing family members if a serious foreign criminal is removed; that said, a child is the responsibility of the parent and as such should remain with the parent.

Let us make our position clear once again. If people commit serious crimes, they have lost the privilege of staying in Canada as a permanent resident.

The vast majority of immigrants whom we welcome as permanent residents are law-abiding people who would never dream of committing a serious crime and who also expect that those who do should lose the privilege of staying in Canada. As a government, every year on average we admit 257,000 permanent residents. It is the highest sustained level of immigration in Canadian history and the highest per capita level of immigration in the developed world, adding almost 0.8 per cent to our population every year.

However, it must be noted that over the past five years we have seen an average of about 800 permanent residents per year who commit serious violent crimes that carry penal sentences of six months or more. In 2010, it was 849; in 2009, it was 1,086; and in 2011, it was 564. That is a tiny fraction of a per cent of the number of permanent residents in Canada. Bill C-43 focuses only on the tiny minority who commit serious crimes.

The honourable opposition also raised concern — a concern that I might add is frankly baffling — regarding the bill's provisions around removal of application privilege for a period of five years in the case of misrepresentation. If ever there was and is a need for due diligence, full and frank disclosure and an absolute attention to detail, it is in this key step of the process. We take instances of misrepresentation in the immigration application process very seriously. This law needs no less than this important provision. It is fundamental to its integrity, and so too is the notion of what constitutes serious criminality. The provision of reducing the current two-year sentence length to a period of more than six months has to do with the denial of access to the Immigration Appeal Division to permanent residents who are sentenced in Canada to more than six months of imprisonment.

The committee heard a myriad of hypothetical creative situations around the what-ifs regarding this provision. However, the fact remains that this provision, too, speaks to the law's integrity. If one does not wish to endure withdrawal of the privilege of appeal, one can make the determined choice not to commit the crime or one may, through the courts, appeal the criminal conviction that brought about the sentence in the first place.

Again, honourable senators, we seek through this legislation to protect the just and to make processes around the treatment of criminals more robust and reflective of the serious nature of the crimes they perpetrate. That is why the retroactivity of its provisions will apply with regard to observance of mandatory minimum conditions to those in Canada both in custody and those whose files are still under review.

The conditions are simple and straightforward. They must report biannually to the Canadian Border Services Agency on their whereabouts and report as well on any changes in their circumstances. It is appropriate and indeed wise to see such conditions also imposed on individuals currently in Canada who are either being considered, or are determined to be, inadmissible for security reasons.

Honourable senators, Bill C-43 is legislation that puts an end to procedural games that saw foreign criminals navigate myriad processes, delaying or avoiding their ultimate removal. In closing, I would like to respond to Senator Jaffer, whose debate intervention reminded us of our need to consider the collective commitment to an ideal greater than any one individual.

Honourable senators, I say that Canada remains a beacon of hope for those eager to live in peace and safety. Our Canada is a nation where it is both humane and compassionate to protect our citizens from criminals who make the purposeful and determined decision to be involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity, serious human rights violations and organized criminality. We have not lost sight of our values; on the contrary, the need to affirm them and protect them is perhaps clearer than ever before. Bill C-43 helps us to do this in many ways.

Honourable senators, this legislation has much community and stakeholder support. We are pleased to affirm that the bill has endorsements from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and victim rights groups, including Victims of Violence and many other experts.

This is good, well considered and thoroughly studied legislation. I wish to thank Honourable senators Campbell and Jaffer for their contributions to the debate on this bill. I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation as well to Senator Eggleton in his eloquent role as critic.

This legislation deserves the support of honourable senators and is worthy of swift passage.