Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Bill S-16, an act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in contraband tobacco).
The bill proposes amendments to the Criminal Code to create a new offence of trafficking in contraband tobacco and provide minimum penalties of imprisonment for persons who are convicted for a second and subsequent time for this offence.
I am going to be speaking very specifically about the bill, unlike some of the other speeches that we have heard from the other side today, so members will not have to make sure that I am being relevant.
The bill would fulfill the government's 2011 election policy platform commitment to help reduce the problem of trafficking in contraband tobacco by establishing mandatory jail time for repeat offenders of trafficking in contraband tobacco. I have to thank the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Health for working together to bring about all the aspects of what we are trying to accomplish with Bill S-16.
Bill S-16 proposes to create a new offence dealing with contraband tobacco trafficking. Indeed, the bill would prohibit possession for the purpose of sale, offer for sale, transportation, delivery or distribution of a tobacco product or raw leaf tobacco that is not packaged, unless it is stamped. The terms “tobacco product”, “raw leaf tobacco”, “packaged”, and “stamped” have the exact same meanings as we see in section 2 of the Excise Tax Act of 2011.
The maximum penalty for a first offence would be up to six months' imprisonment on summary conviction and up to five years' imprisonment if prosecuted on indictment.
Repeat offenders convicted of this new offence in cases involving 10,000 cigarettes or more or 10 kilograms or more of any other tobacco product or 10 kilograms or more of raw leaf tobacco would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 90 days on a second conviction and a minimum of 180 days on a third conviction, and a minimum of two years less a day on subsequent convictions.
These proposed measures would undoubtedly have an impact on organized crime and on the sale of contraband tobacco. I also believe that this initiative would have a positive effect on the health of Canadians.
We all know, and we have heard it said here earlier today, that there are really three general rules for healthy living. If we want to have a healthier Canada, there are three things that we really have to do: get physical activity on a daily basis, eat well and eat healthy, and stop smoking.
For those who do not smoke, do not start. Smoking cessation is key to ensuring that people live longer. Smoking is tied to so many health problems, whether it is lung disease, heart disease or cancer. Those are the things that we have to ensure we prevent and save people all the agony of going through those terrible chronic illnesses.
We also know that there are a number of things that we can do to stop smoking and reduce smoking and other tobacco intakes. We know that implementing high tobacco prices achieved through excise taxes is an evidence-based strategy to reduce the use of tobacco products. We know among Canadian adults it is estimated that a 10% increase in price is estimated to result in a decrease in cigarette demand of up to 4%. There is a correlation. It is proven and it is statistical.
However, the presence of cheap contraband cigarettes, sold without all appropriate taxes applied, undermines the potential health benefits of this effective intervention by providing an accessible alternative to quitting, thereby increasing relapses and encouraging people to start smoking again.
The illegal sale of contraband cigarettes increased exponentially in Canada between 2002 and 2008, particularly in Canada's largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec. In 2008, the contraband tobacco market in Ontario was estimated to be as much as 42% of total cigarette sales. Contraband cigarettes enter the Canadian market through many sources: unlawfully or lawfully manufactured and smuggled in from the United States, unlawfully manufactured right here in Canada, counterfeit products entering the country illegally, and other related criminality, such as thefts.
Studies have demonstrated that persons who smoke contraband cigarettes have higher levels of nicotine dependence, have been smoking for longer in terms of pack-per-year history, have no intention to quit, perceive themselves to be very addicted, have previously used pharmacotherapy to stop smoking and are exposed to smoking in the home, compared with those who used premium or discount tobacco brands. Studies have also shown that people who smoke contraband cigarettes are somewhat less likely to attempt to quit compared to those who use a premium or discount tobacco brand.
We all know that tobacco products are ranked by the World Health Organization as a level one carcinogen. That puts it on the same level as asbestos, mustard gas and nuclear radiation. Therefore, we need to make sure that people stay away from tobacco products. As the member for Oak Ridges—Markham mentioned earlier tonight, I have witnessed people in my family, loved ones, suffer horribly and die horrific deaths because of their heavy tobacco use throughout their lives.
In my view, a successful approach to combatting contraband tobacco cannot rely solely on legislation. Although tough legislation such as Bill S-16 is necessary, a government strategy must also involve the use of law enforcement.
We have been talking tonight about some of the efforts being made by law enforcement agencies, particularly the RCMP. In this regard I have to note that our government is advancing its efforts to combat the trafficking and cross-border smuggling of contraband tobacco by standing up and establishing a 50-officer RCMP anti-contraband tobacco force. This anti-contraband tobacco force would target organized crime groups engaged in the production and distribution of contraband tobacco. Its goal is to have a measurable impact on reducing the contraband market and on combatting organized criminal networks. This would align with the RCMP contraband tobacco enforcement strategy, which focuses on reducing the availability of and demand for contraband tobacco and the involvement of organized crime, as well as build on our existing federal enforcement measures.
The Government of Canada recognizes that contraband tobacco smuggling has become a serious problem in the last few years. Certainly, Canadians want to be protected from offenders involved in these contraband tobacco smuggling operations, which threaten their safety and that of their families, as well as their health and the health of our youth.
I can speak for the communities of Selkirk—Interlake, which are very rural ridings, and Metis and first nation communities. No one likes having criminal elements in our neighbourhoods. No one wants those criminal elements and organized criminal gangs selling contraband tobacco and other illicit drugs to our youth. Canadians want to be protected from organized crime that is associated with contraband tobacco activities. These proposed amendments and the establishment of a 50-officer RCMP anti-contraband tobacco force would do just that.
I have to say that I respect the RCMP and all of its efforts related to community safety. I respect the work that it is doing on the Hill. I know it wants to stop contraband, stop organized crime and stop smoking. I just wish that the NDP leader would stop at stop signs, that he would stop for the RCMP cruisers when they chase him and he would stop being so mean.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, for bringing forward Bill S-201, which would designate November 15 every year as National Philanthropy Day.
According to Statistics Canada, 80% of Canadians give to a charity, have given and in 2010 gave almost $11 billion alone. Philanthropy is not just about donating money. His Excellency the Governor General recently described philanthropy as giving “time, talent and treasure”, noting particularly that two-thirds of the meaning honestly had nothing to do with money. Very simply, it was giving of oneself.
Philanthropy can very simply be described as anything one can do to make the world a little better place. When Canadians give of their time, talent and money, they can and they have made Canada a better place. I know locally in my riding, Volunteer & Information Quinte, one organization, represents and comprises more than 150 agencies and various organizations.
I would like to mention a few today that I have had the personal pleasure to be involved with. There is Alternatives for Women. There is the Alzheimer Society; I participate in the annual walk as much as possible to demonstrate, of course, that it is so important not only to support the victims but the affected families. There is the Canadian Hearing Society and the Canadian Cancer Society. Locally I was privileged to act as the past president of the local Canadian Cancer Society, and every year we have thousands of people who participate in the cure for cancer walk in our riding, which I know we are all so pleased to support.
There is the Christmas Sharing Program that is out there for families who at that time of year need that special help. There is Operation Red Nose. Not every community has one, but we are so blessed in our riding to have a group of people who put together such a caring group of volunteers who decided they would help out at that troublesome time of year for some people. It has been a tremendous asset—certainly the contribution from Rick Watt, the organizer, and a number of his committee members. To the past chairs over the years and certainly the outgoing chair, Mary Hanley, and the present incoming chair, Mark Rashotte, I wish them well in their work this year again.
There is the CNIB; Family Space; Safe Communities; and Gleaners Food Bank. That is an organization, locally, that has had a far-reaching effect across our entire riding, and there are the food banks across our country. I know they have served the school breakfast programs and have been helping families across our country, certainly in my riding, going through some challenging times.
There is the Habitat for Humanity, which in many cases provides the dignity of having a home that would not otherwise be available for people. There is the Children's Aid Society; the Hastings and Prince Edward Counties Health Unit; the Heart and Stroke Foundation; the Multiple Sclerosis Society; and the number of children's day cares we have in our riding and the hundreds of volunteers who help out, helping the moms and pops feel more comfortable during their day at work, knowing their children are being looked after.
It is the Community Living and the Chamber of Commerce. I served as the president of a local Chamber of Commerce, and when I see the hundreds of members and hundreds of businesses that reach out, not only through the business itself but through their employees, as members of the Chamber of Commerce, I know they contribute tremendously to our area.
There is the Red Cross and the Sexual Assault Centre, and it is sad that we need that, but for those who have been victimized, what a wonderful resource it is, to be able to reach out and be assisted.
There is the Salvation Army, Sally Ann as most of us comfortably call it. When we see that kettle campaign every year, that is only the tip of the iceberg of all the wonderful work and volunteerism they do in our communities.
There is the Three Oaks shelter for abused women. Once again, it is unfortunate that in society we even need something like that, but it is a reality we have. When we have the people who help in those times of distress, it is tremendously encouraging.
We have the Trenton Military Family Resource Centre, and of course this has been more in vogue as we have had a number of repatriation ceremonies at Trenton, right next to me. I see the post-traumatic stress syndrome that is evident through a number of armed forces personnel. I am very pleased to see the volunteers there.
There is, of course, the United Way itself, which is really an umbrella financial organization that just absolutely makes it possible for a number of these groups to be able to participate. It raises a significant amount of funds. Those funds come through volunteers, companies, corporations and individuals.
There are the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Quinte Vocational Support Services, the Brain Injury Association, and Foundations itself, which is a group dedicated to assisting young people having challenges or looking for mentorship or fellowship. Some people classify it as a drop-in centre, but it does so much more. It provides a hot meal, a warm smile and a ready helping hand. There is the Diabetes Foundation and the various hospice organizations supported by many volunteers in all communities. At times of ultimate sadness, there are ways to reach out, help console and show the consideration necessary.
There is the Diabetes Foundation, as I mentioned before, and the Mental Health Support Network. In my area, there is the Quinte United Immigrant Services. It is a wonderful help not only to new Canadians who go there for advice and assistance but, as a member of Parliament who deals with a number of immigration cases, as do a number of my colleague, I find it a wonderful assistant to me in providing support, consideration and advice. There is Pathways to Independence. Having been a big brother myself over a number of years, I know Big Brothers Big Sisters reaches out and helps many people.
There are autism services and local hospital auxiliaries. I am sure many people go into hospitals and always find the auxiliary there to reach out, welcome, give directions and console at times of distress. There are, of course, all churches spread throughout the country. There are a significant number in my riding who are most active. They run many volunteer programs and are literally a cornerstone of our communities.
There are service clubs, such as the Legion, the Rotary, the Kiwanis, the Lions, the Women's Institute, the Kinsmen or the Elks. The list goes on. It is absolute volunteerism to the ultimate. There is Meals on Wheels for those who are not able to cook their own meals; they do not have the capacity, the commodities or the ability to do so. There are senior citizens clubs that reach out to people they know need help, guidance and assistance. There are Scouts Canada, the Girl Guides and the Humane Society. People question why I would include Humane Society. To many people who live alone or have an animal, that animal is a very precious being, so the Humane Society reaches out in a number of ways.
There are thousands of coaches, sponsors and volunteers in many sporting, cultural and artistic organizations throughout the ridings in our country. I know many of them. I have been a coach myself at the various levels, whether provincial, national or local. I see the countless hours put in on semi-pro teams and kids' teams or teachers putting in the dedicated commitment to many young people after hours. There are many more I could name, but I am obviously limited in my time here today in listing all the local contributors, let alone those who reach out both nationally and internationally.
We have to remember that it is our young people. They might not be able to donate money, but they represent an important demographic because they are future of philanthropy. Though they make up a small number, they of course will ensure the future sustainability of our voluntary sectors. We all recognize that seniors are the most active volunteers, but as they age, they will begin to reduce their volunteer participation.
Our government has numerous programs and projects that encourage youth in their philanthropic endeavours, because when people are inspired to take action, they can make an incredible impact not only in their communities but around the world. Whatever way it is manifested, philanthropy plays an important role in our country. It is at the heart of who we are as a nation; it is part of our identity; it is at the core of our values; and it is the spirit of giving of every type, from donating to volunteering. It defines our people and our country. Therefore, why do we need to legislate a national philanthropy day? As the Prime Minister has himself said, volunteers need to be acknowledged and honoured for their work. This day would be a day to do so.
I am happy to support this legislation highlighting the actions of so many generous Canadians across the country. I tip my hat and my hand today to all of those who contribute so much to making our country what it is.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support a number of petitions referring to Canada's 400-year-old definition of human being and asking Parliament to bring that into the 21st century. The petitioners are asking Parliament to stand up for the principle that every human being is created equal and every human being has an inherent worth and dignity.
In particular, I have a petition with almost 300 signatures from the riding of Mississauga—Erindale. I have a petition with almost 400 signatures from Calgary, Saskatoon, Vancouver Island, London and Bruce Grey. I have petitions from the riding of Scarborough—Rouge River, which together accomplish almost 1,200 signatures, many of whom are women. I have a petition from the riding of Markham—Unionville, which together have almost 1,300 signatures. I have a petition to the same effect from the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham with 300 signatures. I also have a petition from the riding of Scarborough—Agincourt with almost 300 signatures.
I have received petitions from all across the country with thousands of signatures but I will stop there for today.
Mr. Speaker, first let me commend the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for bringing this legislation forward in the House. He always works very hard for his constituents. He is one of the people who, after I was first elected, was very helpful in helping me better understand the role of a member of Parliament and how things work in this place.
This is a great bill that the people in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham are very excited to have me support. It adds to the many great positive pieces of legislation that we have brought forward to protect Canadian families and individuals. It is another reason why Canadians know that they can put their faith in those of us on this side of the House to always look after the rights of hard-working, law-abiding Canadians.
The NDP has put forward an amendment and I want to say a couple of things on the record about that. I know that while the NDP amendment aims to reconcile the potential discrepancy in definition of a spouse between the French and English versions of the bill, I note that it is limited to only child, spouse and conjugal cohabitant support orders. The problem with this is that it may actually exclude other forms of family law orders established by provincial law, such as parental support.
The reason why the amendment by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry is far superior is that it would achieve a better resolution. It relies on the language of existing federal legislation to make sure that this loophole is closed. I applaud the member for putting that amendment forward because that is what parliamentarians always try to do, to bring forward private member's legislation in the House. This government is very well known for consulting with and listening to Canadians and making sure we have the opportunity to truly respect the will of Canadians. We make the changes that are necessary to do that. I applaud the member for doing that.
The member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry's amendment would ensure better consistency with both federal and provincial laws. For those reasons, I cannot support the NDP's amendment and will be supporting the amendment by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. I will take a quick moment to thank the hon. member for bringing this bill forward. It is very important and another example of how this government and members on this side of the House are working every single day to make sure our communities are protected. Hard-working, law-abiding Canadians can count on this government to make sure that we do everything possible to keep communities safe.
I will be supporting the amendment by the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry because of the things I have mentioned.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday when we were debating the Trojan Horse budget bill and the member for Oak Ridges—Markham was responding to a question from the Liberal member for Kingston and the Islands, I let my emotions get the better of me and I want to apologize to my colleagues across the aisle, as well as to the Speaker, and ask that my remarks be withdrawn.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour, obviously, to speak to this bill.
I come from a community which, as I have said many times in the House, is the largest riding in the country. Some 250,000 people call my riding home. It is a community that has been built on immigration. Specifically, over the last 30 years, my community has grown dramatically in leaps and bounds. The entire York region has grown by leaps and bounds because of immigration to our community. Markham is one of the most diverse municipalities, if not the most diverse city, in all of Canada. We are proud of that because in Markham, Stouffville, King City and Richmond Hill, the communities that I represent, we understand that immigration is important to our communities. Immigration is what helps build and boost our economy. We understand that diversity is a strength, not a weakness.
I have to take a moment to congratulate the minister and the parliamentary secretary. What has been most impressive with this legislation, and in the last Parliament as well, is the ability of the minister and the parliamentary secretary to sit down with individuals to bring bills forward and to come to a consensus that is not only good for Canadians, but is good for those who would seek to come to Canada.
I had the pleasure of being on the immigration committee in the last Parliament when we studied a previous bill. We heard continually that the bill we brought forward then, which received the unanimous support of Parliament, was the first step in addressing what were many problems within the immigration system. It is absolutely no secret that when we took office, we were left with a system which had a backlog of a million people waiting to come to Canada. In the past, the first experience for people who wanted to come to this country was applying through the immigration system and being told that they would have to wait some seven to ten years before they would actually gain entrance into Canada. Many of them had moved on to other places. Some had fallen off the list for other reasons. We were not keeping track of things.
The minister, the parliamentary secretary and this government decided that we had to do something about that. If Canada was to continue to remain a prosperous country, we had to do better to encourage the right type of people to come to Canada so that we could continue the strong economic growth that we have had. The minister set out to make some changes. We worked with our provincial partners to make sure the people we were attracting to Canada were the type of people our economy required. We sat down with our provincial partners to find out the job categories they were looking to fill. They helped us create categories where we could encourage people with the needed skills to come to Canada .
We also told people that when they come to Canada, we want to get them employed faster. This government has moved very quickly to recognize foreign credentials so that when people come to Canada, they can actually be productive members of our society as soon as possible.
These are the types of changes we have started to make. Under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act we went even further.
We always said that we needed to do more to make sure that our immigration system reflected Canada's values and to put Canada first. What we are doing now is making some additional changes to our refugee system to ensure that Canada remains the best destination in the world for people to come to, but to also remove the disincentive for those people who would seek to take advantage of our generosity.
Recently, there were two ships that came to Canada. My community was the final destination for many of the people who were aboard those two ships. I recall the diverse opinions from people across my community. There was an immediate sense of wondering who the individuals coming to Canada were and what it was that they were fleeing. People wanted to know more about them.
This government had to put in place mechanisms. Through this legislation we are putting in place mechanisms that will make sure that people who seek to come to Canada actually require the assistance and protection of the Government of Canada, and our continued generosity. Unfortunately, in the past we have seen that there are individuals who would seek to take advantage of Canada's immigration policies. That is not how this country was built.
My parents came to this country in the late 1950s, early 1960s from Italy. They came in at Pier 21, as many immigrants did. Like millions of other hard-working immigrants, they came to this country, worked hard, loved this country, and were very proud to be Canadians. They contributed not only to the community but to the province and to the country until the day they died. That is the type of immigrant this country is seeking.
This country also does its part in making sure that those who are in need of protection get Canada's protection, but we will not stand for people seeking to take advantage of this generosity. Canadians do not expect us to stand for that.
We made it clear in the last election and in the throne speech that we intended to seek further changes to our immigration policies to make sure we put Canadians first, to make sure we put the protection of vulnerable individuals first. That is what we are doing.
When there are more refugee claimants from Europe than there are from other places in the world where there is an absolute need, then we have a problem that needs to be addressed. That is what we are doing.
My community is one of the most diverse communities in the entire country. I am proud to say that my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham is home to Canada's newest national park, the Rouge National Park. My riding is the largest in the entire country. It is also the breadbasket of southern Ontario. Some of the most fertile lands in all of southern Ontario are located in my riding, through Whitchurch, Stouffville, northern Markham, King City. This is the time of year when our farmers seek the assistance of people from all over the world to help them plant and bring in their crops, and to make sure that their fields remain some of the most productive.
We are making changes to the immigration system that will allow us to continue that, but will also allow us to seek the people this country needs to continue what has been the best global economic recovery of any nation in the world.
We are doing very well in this country not only because of policies that have been brought in by the Minister of Finance, but because of policies that the Minister of Immigration has brought in, the policies which have encouraged people to come to Canada.
I have the honour of representing the Department of Canadian Heritage. During the global economic downturn, we increased funding in culture and heritage because we understood that was important to the Canadian economy. No other G8 country did that. During the global economic downturn, while other G8 countries were reducing immigration, we were doing just the opposite. We were increasing immigration, because we understand how important immigration is to Canada and to our communities. We understand how important immigrants have been in helping to make this the best country in the world in which to live.
Canadians and people who seek to come to this country expect our immigration system to reflect what they need. We want to protect people faster. We want to make sure that those who need the support of this country get it. We want to make sure that those who seek to take advantage of our system, the human smugglers, are punished and that they are not given any incentives. We work with our international partners to make sure that we do our best to stop people before they actually get on the ships and pay the ransom they are asked to pay.
The member for Kildonan—St. Paul has been a tireless worker on human smuggling and protecting vulnerable women.
We on this side of the House understand a number of things. We understand that immigrants and the immigration system help to make this country a great place to live. We also understand that if we are going to continue to be the best country in the world, we have to do better to make sure that Canadians have confidence in the systems that support their government. That includes the immigration system.
We have tackled workers' credentials. We are tackling the backlog. Now we are reforming the refugee system to make sure that those who seek our protection actually get the protection that they deserve.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham talked a bit about the history of the economic action plan, how we had to stimulate the economy and where we are going now.
Of course the focus in terms of where we are going now is on having jobs available for our workforce, having a responsible government that spends within its means and moving back toward a balanced budget.
I would ask the member this: if we were not making this very important move to return to a balanced budget, what would be the long-term future for Canada and Canadians?
Order. I would ask again that hon. members recognize the hon. member for—
Order, order. The hon. member for Oak Ridges—Markham will come to order.
The hon. member for St. John's East has the floor.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of 228,000 people who live in Canada's largest riding, Oak Ridges—Markham, I am pleased by what our government has accomplished in China this week.
A key achievement is the three year renewal of the memorandum of understanding related to the Canada-China scholars' exchange program. We know that international learning opportunities are key to increasing understanding of our world.
Over the years, education ties between Canada and China have expanded significantly. For example, in 2010, over 60,000 Chinese students studied in Canada, representing close to 28% of international students and contributing almost $1.9 billion to the Canadian economy.
The agreements signed in the past few days in such a wide range of areas show that we are taking relations to the next level and further strengthening our strategic partnership. This is good news for Canadian students, small and medium-sized businesses, workers and their families.
Rest assured that despite the NDP opposition, our government is focused on pursuing opportunities for Canadian exporters—
Mr. Speaker, we as a government continue to listen to Canadians.
I find it interesting that my colleague actually has not heard this concern about the issue of being under-represented in her own constituency. That may be the case. I do not doubt her.
I am sure our colleagues from Brampton West, Oak Ridges—Markham, Vaughan, Halton, Mississauga, Whitby—Oshawa, and Nepean—Carleton have heard these concerns. People in those ridings are in fact under-represented in this House of Commons.
When the member speaks about why the Conservative government has not taken on the Liberal position, it is because we do not believe that provinces should be penalized. We do not believe that everyone should lose. We believe there is a balanced position that could be brought forward in this bill where everybody would get fairer representation without massive losses for some provinces.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the budget implementation act. However, I am very concerned about the limited time allowed. This act is about three inches thick, 640 pages plus, and the government, after three hours, brings in closure.
We are seeing the same thing at committees. When opposition brings motions before committee, the government goes in camera and basically votes against opposition motions and keeps them out of the public arena. What are we living in, an executive dictatorship in our country? Is this what the country is coming to?
This is a large budget bill with serious issues for Canadians in it, but the government shuts down debate. That is not the kind of country we have always known. We have known Canada to be a country that allowed debate, transparency and talked about issues in a comprehensive way. What we see from the government is closure.
Those on the back bench, although they get up and talk about its government, they seem to sit in fear, afraid to speak out against what cabinet is doing. It is a reckless government with a reckless agenda. It is just as simple as that.
The member for Oak Ridges—Markham can heckle all he likes, but the facts are the facts. This is a reckless government with a reckless agenda. We now have a huge deficit. The government has taken the country that was in a surplus position and drove it into deficit.
The government, to look at its message in the names of its bills, attempts to leave an impression. However, when Canadians listen to the names of government bills, they should not believe the implication in the name of the bill or what it should do is within the pages of that bill. The government is absolutely great at messaging, but it is what it does not tell us that we ought to pay attention to.
In the bill, the Conservatives talk about bringing in a family caregiver tax credit, which is a very important part. Also in the bill are a volunteer firefighter tax credit and a children's arts tax credit. Yes, it sounds good on the surface, but let us really look at it.
I will turn to the budget bill where it explains the volunteer firefighter tax credit.
I had a private member's bill in the House for years that would have done something for all the firefighters. If one serves as a firefighter, one deserves a tax credit. However, the government is denying the low-income earners. For students who may serve as volunteer firefighters, because they do not have a high income, the government would deny them the right to the same kind of credit, recognition and money as those who earn high incomes. In the government's budget implementation bill, this is a non-refundable tax credit. That means the low-income earners would not get the tax credit.
During the election we proposed, and what I proposed in my previous bill, a refundable tax credit. If one served, one deserved to get the money. However, as is the government's way, it has left the low-income people out of the bill.
Canadians should understand that when the government talks about a volunteer firefighter tax credit in the amount of $3,000, it is 15% of that and firefighters really end up with $450. Volunteer firefighters who are low-income earners, who still have to put gas in their vehicles to do the job, to get to the training, get zero, absolutely nothing.
That is the way the government operates. It supports the big corporations with tax credits and really, to a great extent, it throws a little chaff toward the small business sector. The multinational sector, the big corporations get the tax breaks and they get the tax breaks at a time when the income gap between the rich and poor is growing wider and wider. The way the government is moving forward is unacceptable.
As a party, we have asked the Conservatives to remove the minimum income threshold so low-income Canadians can also quality, but the Conservatives have refused. We think it is unconscionable for the Conservatives to deliberately exclude the very people who are most in need of help.
That is not the only area and it is not all in this budget. We can look at other areas where the Conservatives are involved. Let us look at the crime agenda. I was standing outside while the Minister of Public Safety was doing an interview. One of his responses was “A million here, a million there, we don't have the numbers”.
The member for Calgary Centre said in his remarks that the Conservatives wanted to be responsible with the public purse. We have never seen a government, in introducing legislation, as irresponsible as that government. It is bringing in a crime agenda that the Parliamentary Budget Officer claims could cost in the range of $9 billion.
The government does not have the figures. It will not produce the figures. We know what the crime agenda will do. At the end of the day, it will mean more jails, more costs and more than likely, if it goes the same way as the Americans have gone, more crime. What will happen is people will be imprisoned for longer periods of time. Where they go in for a soft crime, they will come out as hardened criminals.
The government will not even look at the facts and produce the figures to tell Canadians how much it will cost for that particular crime agenda. The costs are not just in the jails.
We fought an issue in the House during the last Parliament. It was over the prison farms. Anybody and everybody in the criminal justice system will say that prison farms were perhaps one of the best rehabilitative tools for prisoners in the system. The government did not look at the facts and closed them down. Some of those operations were in fact profitable, but the government did not want to hear it. It just put criminals in jail. That is what this crew does.
Again, it is a reckless expenditure of money that at the end of the day will produce poor results.
Let me go to my area of responsibility, which is international trade critic. There is not a whole lot in the budget, other than the fact that it will increase trade. The Minister of International Trade is going to China next week. He was at the committee today, but the chair of the committee would not let us ask him any questions. He would not let committee members ask any questions on the problem in the United States, the buy America proposal. The minister was only there to talk about the Canada-European trade agreement.
The government has a whole range of ministers in the area of international trade. There is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but we know that most of his time is not spent concentrating on the subject at hand. Most of his time is spent defending the ridiculous expenditures of the President of the Treasury Board in terms of patronizing in his own riding.
My point is this: although it is good to be looking at trade in other areas, while the minister was flitting around the world, the government was caught with its pants down in terms of buy America. President Obama telegraphed on June 28 what he was going to do. There have been five speeches since that time, and the government failed to realize it and to be proactive by talking to the administration to stop him from closing down Canadian jobs with the buy American policy.
Mr. Speaker, I listened to my friend from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound and the point trying to be made by the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, talking about the workers going back to work.
In fact, when the workers met with Mr. Chopra, they clearly indicated that they would go back to work, that they wanted to go back to work and that they would go back under the conditions of the past contract. They were very clear on that. They do not want to be off work. We have injured workers who do not have access to benefits packages. They have medication that has to be bought. They have children who have to be fended for. All these benefits are gone as long as they are locked out. They did offer to go back to work.
However, knowing that the government would bring forward this legislation, does my friend not see that they did not walk down the middle of this one, that it has put this squarely in favour of the corporation on this particular piece of legislation?
Madam Speaker, as this is my first time rising in the House following the election, I will take a moment to thank the people of Oak Ridges—Markham for returning me here. As I said during the campaign, there is not a day that goes by that I am not honoured to serve them in the House and not a day that goes by that I do not thank them for giving me this opportunity to serve our community.
I also want to thank the members of my campaign team for all of the hard work they did to help me get re-elected. I thank my campaign manager, Mathew Ellis, who came back to help me win my second election, and the over 200 volunteers who each and every day knocked on doors and set up signs, not just during the election but in the lead up to the election.
I must say that when I was first elected to this place two and a half years ago, I won by a small plurality of 542 votes. This last time I increased that a bit with a margin of 22,000 votes. While I would like to think that it was my own hard work, I know that it was due to a lot of hard work by the team that surrounds me in both my constituency office and in my Parliament Hill office.
I also want to take the opportunity to thank my constituency team led by Natalie James, Rena Sassano and Owen Macri and, on the Hill, Alli Filleul and my volunteer student Michael Seccareccia. They have done a tremendous amount of work to help me reach the people in my community. My riding is the largest riding in Canada in terms of population. It is twice the size of a normal riding. They have worked very hard to help me secure my re-election.
Of course it goes without saying that I thank my family, my beautiful wife Melanie and my beautiful daughters Natalie and Olivia for their understanding and the sacrifices they make to allow me to be here. They are my best supporters and some of my best advisors. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank them because without them I would not be able to be here in Ottawa living out my dream each and every day.
When I first came here in 2008, the world was changing. We were in the midst of what is now being called the great recession. It was, of course, a recession that did not start here in Canada but, with a global economy, we felt the effects quickly.
Before I was elected, the government, the Prime Minister and the award-winning Minister of Finance made some changes. They knew something was coming and, as the world economy was heading toward choppy waters, they decided that the best way to keep our economy going was to reinvest in Canadians. They did that by paying down almost $40 billion worth of debt. They did that by reducing taxes for families and for businesses. We reduced the GST from 7% to 6% to 5% so that Canadians and businesses would have more money in their pockets to invest in themselves, their families and their communities.
We invested in families. As I said, I have two small children, a five-year-old and a three-year-old and, thanks to some changes that we introduced, my family receives $100 per child, as do all Canadians with children under six. It has been a big help to Canadians in meeting the everyday needs of their families.
We also invested in infrastructure. In phase one of Canada's economic action plan, we did what Canadians asked us to do. We sat down with our counterparts at the municipal and provincial levels. Canadians were telling us that they wanted us to work together to get us through the economic downturn and that is what we did. The results in communities like mine and the York region were some $300 million worth of investments in roads, bridges, public transportation and community centres.
We invested in areas that would help us create jobs and also improve infrastructure so that as we emerged from the global economic downturn our small businesses, our communities and our job creators, small, medium and large, could seize on the benefits of the first phase of the economic action plan. The results have been spectacular. We have seen some 540,000 jobs created, as was mentioned by the parliamentary secretary.
In my community, the results are evident across the riding, and it is because of the hard work of this government. It is also because of the hard work of Canadian taxpayers and the fact that we were able to work with our counterparts at the municipal and provincial levels to get the job done for Canadians.
The minister reintroduced his budget, which is the second phase of Canada's economic action plan. I am just as excited about the next phase as I was about the first phase of the economic action plan because the minister has made out a path to a balance budget. Not only that, we will be doing this a year ahead of time.
As I was out on the campaign trail, Canadians told me that they wanted to see the government back into a balanced budget. They understood the investments that we needed to make in the economy during a recession. They approved of it, but they wanted to see us move toward a balanced budget, and we will do that.
As I said earlier, we will continue to invest in job creation for our small, medium and large job creators. In the last Parliament we introduced the Red Tape Reduction Commission. It is criss-crossing the country, working with small businesses to find out where government is getting in the way and impeding them so we can reduce the red tape and regulation to allow them to meet their potential.
As well, we are introducing a small business hiring tax credit so small businesses in main streets such as in Stouffville, where I live, can hire students, hire individuals and unleash their potential to create jobs.
We are extending the accelerated capital cost allowance for manufacturers.
I represent a portion of Markham that is known as one of the high tech capitals of Canada, but the manufacturing industry in Markham was hard hit by the recession and the lead up to the recession. Some of the changes we made to reduce taxation will allow them to invest in new machinery to upgrade facilities and compete, not based on a low dollar but based on productivity. This allows manufacturers to create jobs, expand and compete. They are not only competing with other Canadians; they are competing around the world.
In Markham they are succeeding and it is because of the hard work of this award-winning Minister of Finance and this entire government. We understand that we need to unleash the potential of our economy and our communities.
We are doing more and are again focusing on families.
In this budget we introduced some increases to the GIS for our seniors. On this side of the House, we understand it was our seniors who helped make this the best country in the world in which to live, invest and raise a family. We are going to support our seniors.
We are introducing a children's art tax credit to make it a little easier for families that want their children to participate in their communities.
We are introducing a family caregiver tax credit. As the population ages, we know it will sometimes fall upon the rest of the family to take care of the parents or grandparents. We want to support them as they do that.
We are also introducing the volunteer firefighter tax credit.
I represent four communities: Markham, Stouffville, King City and Richmond Hill. In two of those communities, King City and Stouffville, it is volunteer fire fighters who put their lives on the line each and every day in responding to hundreds of calls for help. I know our communities would not be as successful as they are if it were not for the hard work of these brave community volunteers.
I had an opportunity to meet with some volunteer firefighters before and during the election. They were very excited that a government had finally recognized the hard work and sacrifices they made. I am very pleased this budget will continue those investments.
As I said earlier, I am extraordinarily proud to have the opportunity to represent my community in the House. Over the last two years in government we have helped guide the country through the worst global recession in history. We have done that while providing more money to Canadians. We have done that by providing support for small, medium and large job creators. We are unleashing the potential of our communities across the country so they can compete not only locally but globally with anybody, any time.
I am so excited about the future of our country because of everything that this government has done to help unleash Canada's potential. We should all be proud of what we have done and thank Canadians for the hard work they have done to allow us this success.
I congratulate you, Madam Speaker, on being elected Deputy Speaker and I congratulate all the members for being elected as well.
Mr. Speaker, on July 21, 2004, the Liberal Party of Canada transferred exactly $5,000 to the Liberal riding association of Oak Ridges—Markham. On August 16, 2004, not even a month later, that same riding association transferred back $5,000 to the national Liberal Party.
In all of these instances, where Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Québécois members engaged in the in and out transfers, Elections Canada provided rebates and legitimized them. We are asking only that it do the exact same thing for Conservative members.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this motion, just another in a series of extraordinary justice legislation that has been brought forward by this government to restore balance to our justice system. I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the good people of Oak Ridges—Markham.
I want to take a moment to commend the hon. members who have already demonstrated their support for Bill C-59 and are ensuring that these important changes receive quick passage into law. Those hon. members are showing their commitment to ensuring the safety and security of our communities.
All offenders must be held accountable for the crimes they commit. Bill C-59 is all about accountability, about offenders serving appropriate sentences for the crimes committed. That is what we call justice.
Bill C-59 would ensure that all offenders will be treated equally, regardless of the nature of the crime they commit, when it comes to eligibility for parole. Currently, there is a distinction made between crimes committed with or without violence. Parole, in cases of non-violent crime, is presumptive, meaning that the Parole Board of Canada must automatically release the offender into the community under supervision unless it has reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will commit a violent offence if released.
That does not seem fair to me. Fraud and white-collar crimes must not have been committed with violence but the victims are harmed nonetheless. Lives are ruined, entire life savings are lost and the physical, psychological and emotional harm resulting from these crimes can be equally as devastating.
Can we honestly say that justice has been served when an offender who has received a sentence befitting the crime walks out of jail well before the sentence has been served? In essence, many victims are essentially re-victimized by the relatively short amount of time that offenders spend behind bars for their crimes.
Canadians have spoken loud and clear. They are outraged that the rights of offenders seem to be put ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens. Our government is listening and we are taking the necessary action to crack down on crime and stand up for those who have been victimized. We are ensuring that victims' voices are heard and that their concerns are being addressed. Bill C-59 is just one step in that direction.
Our government has already introduced several initiatives that demonstrate our commitment to victims' rights. The federal victims strategy was introduced in 2006 to improve the experience of victims of crime in the criminal justice system. Since its creation, the government has committed over $50 million to this strategy. We created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime in 2007 to ensure that the federal government meets its responsibility to victims of crime.
Under our leadership, the truth in sentencing law was passed, which eliminates the two-for-one credit that offenders receive for time served in custody prior to sentencing. We have gotten tough on organized crime, including drug crime, with stiffer sentences and we have passed the Tackling Violent Crime Act, which better protects Canadians from those who commit serious and violent crimes.
In addition, we are facilitating access to EI benefits for family members of victims of crime and the right to unpaid leave for workers in federally regulated industries. The victim surcharge is also being made mandatory to provide better financial support to victim services.
There are several more examples I could give that demonstrate that this government is making victims' rights a priority, but now I want to turn to the accelerated parole review challenges, the very rights that we are working so hard to uphold. By allowing accelerated parole review to continue operating in the justice process, we are, in essence, undermining the rights of victims and trivializing the suffering that they may have suffered at the hands of their offenders.
The current system of accelerated parole review grants parole to offenders convicted of non-violent offences after serving only one-sixth of the sentence and full parole after serving just one-third. This means that a white-collar criminal who has received a sentence of 12 years would actually spend very little time in jail. With accelerated parole review, these offenders can be back in our communities on day parole in just two years and be on full parole in just four years.
The current system requires that the Correctional Service of Canada refers the case of offenders eligible for APR to the parole board. This is done before the offender's day parole eligibility date so that they can be released into the community as early as possible. Parole hearings are not held in these cases, as there is no requirement for the parole board to hold a hearing to determine whether offenders eligible for APR may be released on day parole and full parole.
I, like most Canadians, would expect that the decisions around parole for white collar criminals would entail more than a simple paper exercise. It does not work that way for violent offenders, so it should not work that way for fraudsters either. They should not simply be let out on day parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence, as they essentially now often are.
Other offenders must convince the parole board that they will comply with the law and the conditions of their release. These offenders must make their case at an actual hearing. Unfortunately, as it now stands, white collar offenders do not actually have to explain to anyone why they should be granted parole. They only have to go through a paper review with the parole board.
Compounding the problem, the parole board has no choice but to grant parole to an offender who is entitled to APR, except in those instances where the parole board believes the offender may commit a violent offence before the sentence is up.
This situation is unlike the one facing other offenders and, thankfully, Bill C-59 will put a stop to it.
Let us think about the current scenario again because it offends both me and many of my hon. colleagues in the House. Under the present law, only the prospect of an offender committing a violent offence will prevent that criminal from receiving automatic parole.
Those fraudsters, the ones who may have duped many and literally destroyed lives, will not be denied parole and will only serve a fraction of their time behind bars. Without grounds to believe a violent offence will be committed, the Parole Board of Canada simply has no other choice but to grant parole.
The special treatment afforded to these offenders has to end. All other offenders are subject to a very different standard, one that instills, rather than undermines, confidence in our justice system. Right now, for all other offences, the parole board has set criteria to guide its approach in deciding whether they grant or deny parole.
In these cases the parole board will assess whether an offender poses an insurmountable level of risk to commit any type of an offence if released. If that risk exists for any type of offence, parole is denied.
Let us not miss the importance of that principle; it is one that warrants repeating. With the troubling exception of white collar offenders, all other offenders are not granted parole if the parole board is convinced that any type of offence will be committed once a person is released, whether violent or not.
There are no justifiable grounds for the existing exception for white collar criminals. These are the offenders who have bilked many, washing out entire savings and crippling lives in the most extreme cases. These offenders must no longer enjoy the different standard they face under the current law. The scales of justice seem unfairly tilted in their favour.
This government has made it quite clear that it will not put the rights of any offender ahead of the rights of others. We will stay committed and remind ourselves of a few clear cases where these white collar criminals have benefited from the current APR system. These are cases that make us all question whether justice is being served.
The parole board simply does not have the discretion is so sorely needs in these cases. Bill C-59 would bring about that change, which is why I stand here in the House and turn to my hon. colleagues and ask them to ensure timely passage of this bill.
I for one feel compelled to see the changes proposed in Bill C-59 put into place so that we put victims first. In my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham, we have certainly not been immune from the scourge of white collar crime. Indeed, not long ago a fraudster was at work within my community. After being convicted of her crime, she spent very little in jail and was released back into the community and was quickly found to be in violation of her parole. The police had to track her down and put her back in jail.
I know this person's victims. They are from my small home town of Stouffville. I see the stress they have faced. As this continued to be in the local papers, I watched the person who committed these acts flaunting our current system. It is absolutely positively unacceptable that we have a current justice system that would allow people who commit this type of crime to walk our streets after serving only one-sixth of their sentence.
However, this speaks to the many different things that this government has done.
Of course, when we came into office in 2006, we found a criminal justice system that was tilted not toward the victims but more toward the perpetrators of these crimes. Since then we have been rebalancing our justice system. The Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety and this government have focused on restoring balance to the justice system so that the victims of these crimes can feel that the government is truly working on their behalf to give them a system of justice they can be proud of and so that Canadians can understand that the government will always stand for them and the rights of victims before those of criminals.
There are so many different programs and justice bills that we have brought forward. We have Bill S-10, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and Bill C-39. As I said, it is part of this government's focus to restore people's confidence in their justice system.
However, when we talk about Bill C-59, it is sometimes forgotten that it deals with incredibly serious crimes. There are fraudsters out in the communities who are seeking vulnerable people in a lot of instances and taking advantage of them and their life savings, the things they have worked so hard for their entire lives. Yet there are fraudsters out there who are doing this and who have no shame. Then the victims are victimized again when a court pronounces a sentence and then the person is released back into the community after serving only one-sixth of their sentence. That is clearly unacceptable to the people I represent in Oak Ridges—Markham. That should be unacceptable to every single member of this House.
It is unconscionable that we have had delays in getting this bill passed and have been spending so much time at committee on what should be a common sense bill. The people from my riding have been calling me and asking why it is taking us so long to deal with this. They do not want to hear about delays. They do not want to hear about the stalling tactics the opposition have been using to try to thwart the bill being passed. They want us to get it done and get it passed so that people will pay the price for the crimes they have committed. They do not want us to make a distinction that would have us treating the criminals better than the victims. They do not want to be re-victimized. They want to know that this government and the Parliament of Canada will stand up for victims' rights ahead of criminals. That is what this bill does; that is what all of the legislation we have brought forward does.
It is interesting that before the government operations committee, we had the head of the Correctional Service of Canada. He was asked if he had the resources required to keep convicted criminals in jail longer so that they could serve the sentences they had been given by the people of Canada. He of course said that he could continue to provide one of the best criminal justice systems in the world, a system that has been looked at by other nations as an example. He talked about the savings that he has been able to find within the correctional service by computerizing scheduling and finding other efficiencies so that he could put that money into keeping offenders in jail longer.
Therefore, I am pleased to support this. I hope that all of my opposition colleagues will join with the government in passing this bill so that the Canadian people can feel confident that the government, and Parliament and the people they elect are putting them first.
When I was asked to speak on this bill, the first thing that came to mind was the individuals in Stouffville who were victimized by this unscrupulous person who took them for thousands of dollars and was later found back on the streets with the exact same group she had used to abuse these people and take their money.
People call me and talk to me and send emails asking how this can be allowed to happen in Canada. How can we allow these victims to go through this time and time again? Why should their names be in the paper again? Why should they be re-victimized? Why can members not get their act together and pass this bill?
Canadians, the people in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham, find it completely unacceptable that this bill has been stalled and delayed. They have sent me a very clear message to get the bill passed, get it through Parliament and start focusing on all the other crime legislation that has been brought forward in this House to restore balance to our criminal justice system. I am proud that I can do that, and I will be working with colleagues, at least on this side of the House, to make sure that all of those criminal justice issues are brought forward.
The delays to this particular piece of legislation and all of the legislation that we have been trying to get through this House speak to the sad reality of some individuals on the opposition benches who think more of their entitlements than they do of the people of Canada. If we were truly putting the Canadian people first, we would have passed this bill. We would not have spent a full day debating and talking about how we could delay this bill. It would have gone through committee.
In the government operations and estimates committee last week, we had an opposition witness who was talking about some of the crime legislation we had brought forward. It is something that stuck in my head as the father of two beautiful girls. The opposition was very happy with the group of witnesses before the committee. These witnesses did not support this government's agenda to keep violent criminals in jail. They did not support this government's agenda to keep white collar criminals in jail. They did not support our agenda to rebalance the Young Offenders Act. The opposition thought they had a great witness who would counter all of the arguments for keeping violent criminals in jail, but when the member for Peace River asked the witness whom the opposition had been so happy to bring forward, “Do you believe that people who rape children should be put into prison?“, that witness said, “Not necessarily.”
I know that members, at least on this side of the House, had to take a step back and make sure that the person truly understood the question. The member for Peace River asked again to make sure the witness has understood the question. The answer came back the same: “Not necessarily”.
Imagine having to go back to a riding and trying to explain that there are people in this House who support groups and organizations that do not feel that somebody who rapes or victimizes a child should necessarily go to jail. I can say that as a father of two, I found that completely unbelievable. I still find it unbelievable. It was testimony from a witness brought forward by the Liberal Party of Canada. It was jammed through committee in such a quick rush; they had to have this witness in front of the committee and now I know why.
When it comes to standing up for victims of crime, we can never rely on the Liberals to stand up for the victims. They will always find a way to stand up for the criminals, whether it be the member for Ajax—Pickering or others who tour our prisons and talk about how upset they are that the criminals are so demoralized in prison because they have a government that is getting tough on crime.
I can assure the residents of Oak Ridges—Markham that they have a member of Parliament who will always stand up for them. They have a member of Parliament who will always stand up for the victims of crime. I implore the opposition to once and for all vote the way their constituents are asking them to vote. Get tough on crime and do the right thing for victims.
Madam Speaker, I can assure the hon. member that this is a government that truly understands how the immigration system should work. It truly understands what Canadians look for in an immigration system.
When we took over, we saw a waiting list of one million people. If that is what the Liberals are claiming was a successful immigration system under their watch, I can certainly assure the member that people to whom I am talking in Canada's most diverse riding certainly do not agree with that assessment. What they are saying to me is that the system under the previous administration was a catastrophe and they are certainly happy that this government, this Minister of Immigration and the Prime Minister, stepped in to fix the mess that was left behind by the Liberal government after 13 years of terrible rule.
Let me say this. We do not need any lessons from the Liberal Party or any of the members opposite on how to deal fairly with refugees and with immigration matters.
However, getting back to this bill specifically, I welcome the opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-49, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act. I am sure hon. members will agree that human smuggling is among the most loathsome of criminal endeavours, and judging from the comments on news websites, the letters on the pages of newspapers, and the calls to talk radio shows, Canadians definitely feel the same way. Some have suggested that Canadians' reaction to the recent arrivals of the smuggling ships was somehow improper, ungenerous, inhuman or worse. I do not believe anything could be further from the truth.
Canada's international reputation for generosity, as a place of refuge and welcome to newcomers, is definitely a source of pride for all Canadians, but no one wants our generosity to be abused, and most certainly, Canadians do not want unscrupulous operators to line their pockets from the desperation of the downtrodden and the generosity of the Canadian immigration system. That is why Canadians are angry and that is why our government has acted.
As an editorial in the Calgary Herald put it a few days after the Sun Sea docked in Esquimalt:
[I]t's not that Canada has lost its tolerance for refugees. What we've lost is our tolerance for refugee smugglers.
The bill makes it clear that Canada and Canadians do not and will not tolerate human smuggling. In fact, this bill makes it even more clear. Canada has always been a strong and visible supporter of international efforts to fight human smuggling. Our signature on the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air demonstrates our commitment to be part of the solution. Bill C-49 reinforces that commitment. It would allow law enforcement officials additional tools to investigate and to prosecute individuals who organize, engage in and profit from human smuggling.
As hon. members are aware, existing laws are very narrow in terms of the activities that can be prosecuted in this regard. The Crown must prove that the accused knew that the people being smuggled did not have the documents needed to enter Canada. This bill would change that. The amendments our government is proposing would broaden the application of the law so that it will be easier to prosecute human smugglers.
That sends a message to would-be smugglers. Bill C-49 underscores that message with mandatory minimum penalties for anyone convicted of human smuggling. Depending on the circumstances of the offence, these mandatory sentences would range up to a minimum of 10 years for the most grievous offences, such as those involving organized crime and endangering the lives of smuggled persons.
Similarly, this bill will increase the penalties for violations of the Marine Transportation Security Act, such as refusing to comply with a ministerial directive to leave Canadian waters or providing false or misleading information to officials. Individuals, for example, would be liable to fines of as much as $200,000 on indictment, up from the current $10,000. Individuals convicted on indictment for failure to file a pre-arrival information report would be liable to a maximum penalty of one year of imprisonment or a $75,000 fine, or both.
These changes would deliver a strong, clear message. It is a message that must be delivered before the next MV Sun Sea sails for our shores, and that risk is very real.
The bill would deter human smugglers from mounting such ventures. Indeed, we must do more than simply express our distaste for human smugglers as the opposition have been wanting to do today.
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. At the same time, we have an obligation and we are committed to protecting the safety and security of Canadians. We have to be certain that the individuals claiming refugee status in Canada are not war criminals or a danger to Canadians.
The existing rules allow a foreign national or permanent resident entering Canada to be detained if an immigration officer considers their detention necessary in order to carry out a proper examination, to make sure that the person is who they say they are and that there is nothing in their background that would make them inadmissible to Canada.
Detentions of this kind must be reviewed by the Immigration and Refugee Board within 48 hours, again within seven days, and if necessary, within every 30 days after that. This system works well most of the time; however, it is not designed to deal with hundreds of people arriving en masse at one location, as was the case with the Sun Sea.
Instead of concentrating on the investigations that are so vital to public safety, border officers find themselves devoting hour after precious hour to preparing for these numerous detention reviews. That is why Bill C-49 would give the Minister of Public Safety the authority to designate anyone who arrives at our border in circumstances such as the Sun Sea as an irregular arrival.
As an irregular arrival, individuals would be detained until the Immigration and Refugee Board determines that they are legitimate refugees. If they are still detained after one year, their detention would be reviewed at an IRB hearing that would decide whether detention should continue. Subsequent hearings, if necessary, would follow at six-month intervals. Where exceptional circumstances exist, the minister would have the authority to order early release.
Other changes in this bill would require designated arrivals to wait a minimum of five years before they could apply for permanent resident status in Canada or sponsor family members who come to our country. Designated arrivals would also not be able to access the supplemental benefits under the interim health plan, which provides benefits more generous than those available to Canadians. This is only fair. People who push to the front of the line should not be rewarded.
The changes that we are proposing in this bill would enhance the safety and security of Canadians and protect the integrity of our immigration system. Every successful incident of human smuggling encourages more people to try to take advantage of Canada's generosity, to cut in front of those who have followed the rules, who have filed papers, who have filed proper papers and waited patiently for the opportunity to begin a new life in Canada.
Canada needs immigrants. We cannot afford to allow criminal acts to discourage the newcomers to our country. We cannot afford to allow human smugglers and queue jumpers to undermine the public support of our immigration system. That is one of the reasons I am urging all members to support this bill.
Let me just say this. The hon. members across, the Liberal Party in particular, like to wrap themselves in the cloak of a generous party, as people who care about refugees and immigrants. We have heard constantly today, speaker after speaker and the critic talking about the Tamils. I do not have to remind the hon. member that it was a Conservative government in 1984 that began to open the door to Tamil refugees in this country.
I represent the riding of Oak Ridges—Markham, which is home to a large diaspora of Sri Lankans, both Tamil and Ceylonese people. We have been working together to try to find solutions to the problems that they have back at home. What we consistently hear from the Liberal Party are these great platitudes of what we should accomplish, but they never have solutions to the problems.
Here they have an opportunity to vote for a solution, to put an end to human smuggling in this country, and what are they doing? They are wrapping themselves up like pretzels. They are flip-flopping. What they are doing is ignoring what Canadians want.
I just hope that by the time we get this debate completed they will actually see the light, they might listen to what Canadians want, they might read the hundreds of emails and letters and listen to the phone calls, and the opposition coalition might for once listen to Canadians and vote the right way.
The electoral district of Oak Ridges--Markham (Ontario) has a population of 169,642 with 136,755 registered voters and 375 polling divisions.
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