An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Peggy Nash  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Dec. 7, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment allows a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative who is not a member of the family class.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • March 5, 2008 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

March 5th, 2008 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-394, under private members' business.

The House resumed from February 29, 2008, consideration of the motion that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

February 29th, 2008 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House today to support Bill C-394, put forward by the member for Parkdale—High Park.

This is a terrific bill. All members of the NDP have given very strong support to this idea. It is one simple thing we can do to fix our terrible immigration system. We support the idea of allowing families in Canada to sponsor, once in a lifetime, a relative who would not otherwise qualify under the existing family clause.

Originally I sponsored the bill and I am delighted now that the member for Parkdale—High Park has it. I know she has been a passionate advocate for family reunification, as have all of us in the NDP.

I want to remind the House, because members have probably forgotten, especially the Liberals, that the idea of being able to sponsor a family member once in a lifetime came from a former Liberal citizenship and immigration minister. We know the Liberals like to turn their backs on all the things in which they once believed, and this is another example of that.

The minister, Elinor Caplan, suggested this program. She came to Vancouver and talked about it publicly. It got a huge reception in the community and people thought it was a great idea. She came back to Ottawa and the bureaucrats got hold of her, I think, and maybe other members of her caucus, and that was the end of it. I thought this was a good opportunity, and as a result of that, we developed this bill, and we have not let go of it since. We believe it is a very sound idea.

It is interesting to hear the debate today. It is interesting to hear the Conservative members say that the bill will be unsustainable and unmanageable and that it will create a huge backlog. Is that not the party that claimed it would fix the immigration system? Is that not the party that went out and campaigned on this? Yet we still have a system in which people get completely clogged. It takes years and years to get a family member here, to reunite with a loved one, to come here as an independent. The Conservatives did nothing, as the Liberals before them.

Therefore, I find it ironic that the folks who said they would clean up the immigration system and allow people to come to Canada now deny this very straightforward simple proposal, which would allow families here at least some relief, some way of reuniting with a family member.

As well, it strikes me ironic that in Canada, for example, we have the province of Manitoba, which has the most successful provincial nominee program in Canada. The Premier of Manitoba just came back from the Philippines with agreements and proposals to increase immigration from the Philippines. I know that Manitoba, over the last year, has seen something like 10,000 new immigrants come to that province along with their family members. It is using its provincial nominee program because it is so fed up with the fact that the federal program does not work any more. This is an indication of something that actually works. We should give credit to the Government of Manitoba for recognizing the importance of immigration in its community.

I know in my own community of Vancouver East, we would not exist in Vancouver. The history of immigration has built our city, the people who work in our city, the people who provide businesses, who provide services and cultural contributions. Vancouver would not exist as a modern day city if it were not for immigration.

I, like all my colleagues in the NDP, and I am sure other members of the House, have people coming to my office every day with the most heartfelt stories of being unable to be reunited with family members. We deal with hundreds of cases every year. Some of them just make us want to cry when we hear the stories that unfold of how people have to deal with this system and the heartbreak they go through, when all they want to do is to have a reunification of their families.

The studies and the evidence of what the net benefits are to Canada from immigration are huge. I do not think anybody here would dispute that. Therefore, the question that remains is this. Why today, when we have an opportunity to vote on the bill, would we have the Conservatives and the Liberals speaking against it? Why would we not take this opportunity to do something straightforward and simple, something that will not affect the system overall, but will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of thousands of families in our country to have the opportunity to bring forward a son or a daughter over the age of 22 who is not a dependant, or maybe an aunt or an uncle, a brother or sister or a first cousin? It might be someone who is very close to them in their family relations, but under existing provisions would be prohibited and prevented from doing so.

The bill has always been a complete win-win situation. It speaks to our deep values and the history of supporting and encouraging immigration and seeing the incredible positive benefits coming from it. We know the system overall doe not work, but we have the opportunity now to at least do this one thing that would allow some people to come here and be reunited with their family.

It is disappointing today to hear Conservative members dish this and say that it will not work. It is disappointing to hear Liberal members say that they do not care about this any more and that they will not allow it to happen.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

February 29th, 2008 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-394, this private member's bill, is not a new initiative. It is a repeat of several previous initiatives of private members to put forward amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would change the definition of family class, expanding it to allow a greater number of people in the relative class to be viewed as family class.

Taken in isolation, it might be seen as somewhat benign and not complex. Certainly, as I will mention later, the proposal in concept has been received favourably in immigration quarters, among immigration groups and settlement groups. One can understand why they might see this as a positive change, but I will address some of those issues later in relation to immigration settlement.

We in the Liberal Party know that immigration is a critical and fundamental component of Canada's future growth and prosperity. Without a healthy immigration program, our country, our children's country, may fail to achieve many of the very promising objectives that we see out there in the future, both economically and sociologically.

We see that immigration has not just built the country to where it is now, but that it is actually fundamental in taking us from the present into the future as a strong and independent economy with the necessary skills and connection to the rest of the world. We are a trading nation and we see that immigration is a factor in how we will maintain and improve our trade relationships around the world.

The current immigration intake in Canada is approximately 300,000 persons per year. It is just slightly under that, but I will use the round number of 300,000.

Within that number, there are included what we call the economic class, which would be the skilled workers, investors and other persons in those categories, and there is the family class, where the criteria applied, aside from the normal criteria involving health and criminal record checks, simply involve the relationship between the Canadian who sponsors and the family member who has applied. That category of immigration has served us well and is continuing to do so. Then there is the refugee class, a small component of the 300,000, but in the vicinity of 15,000 to 25,000 persons each year.

With all of that coming together, we have a fairly decent immigration flow. The one point I would make in understanding this is that between the family class and the economic class, based on a policy decision, those numbers are split between 60% being economic class and 40% being family class. It used to be in the range of fifty-fifty, but a decision was taken at about the time of the adoption of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, based on the advice of the standing committee and other stakeholders, that 60% of our non-refugee class intake be economic class people with skills and 40% be family class.

That has a big impact on how we operate the immigration system now. It has huge implications for the type of bill proposed in this case, which would purport to expand the family class.

We have had a lot of complaints in the House, going back many years, about the so-called immigration backlog. Everyone says that the processing times take too long, but if we look closely at the immigration system, we will see, not to our surprise, that in virtually every year, going back 25 years, we have succeeded in bringing into Canada numbers of people within our targets.

Those targets are selected every year by the government and by the department. Every year, we have successfully brought into Canada the exact number of people, give or take a few thousand, of persons that we projected we would bring in. In order to bring in those people, we have to process them, get them into Canada and get them settled here. There is a whole process involved in that and it is complex too.

Therefore, even though we have a so-called backlog of approximately 800,000 people, we are succeeding every year as a country in bringing in exactly the same number of people that we want to bring in, and that is approximately 300,000. If we have a backlog of 800,000 and we bring in about 300,000, that averages out to about two and a half to three years of inventory of applications. That is a given.

Thus, somebody who complains that there is a three year processing time for a particular immigrant is simply looking at the reality, because it takes us three years to move the 800,000 people through the system. There is no way to do it any more quickly. The officials abroad cannot process any more quickly than they do.

Our immigration receiving areas, including Toronto, where I proudly represent a riding, Vancouver, Montreal and other places where we receive large numbers of immigrants, are hardly capable of assimilating and settling numbers much larger than what is coming in now. These people must have places to live, jobs, opportunities and schools. There are large numbers coming in now, with approximately 1% of our population coming in every year, and this is a huge challenge for communities. We invest federal money in that process.

The point is that the complaints about processing times are in most cases completely unfounded and do not take into account the fact that the department successfully achieves its targets every year.

What the current bill would do is expand the definition of family class, but if we think about it, all the bill would do is expand that 40% family class component and push it out beyond where it is now. If we stick to the 40% rule for the family class, the backlog in the number of applications will just get bigger and suddenly we will have a six year or seven year backlog, which may impair our ability to prioritize the spousal component of family class.

We do process spouses within six to twelve months. If we promise to do that, but the rest of the family class is still sitting there in a queue and this current bill adds thousands and thousands of new family class applicants who are not in the spousal category, that family class queue is going to go out to five to ten years. I do not think members of the House would want to see that happen.

My time is quickly coming to an end. It is normal for immigration groups and settlement groups to want to support a bill like this, but we have to keep in mind that those people legitimately speak in favour of their clients and their members. They naturally have an interest in expanding the family immigration class.

However, we have to look at the bill in the overall picture. We have to look at the overall immigration system. At the present time, it simply is not doable. It is not achievable to simply change the definition and hope that all the rest of the system will work well. I regret that.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

February 29th, 2008 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to allow for the once in a lifetime sponsorship of a relative.

As all members have heard, the bill before the House is not new. Governments and stakeholders have debated and analyzed for several years whether such a provision would be workable.

All of us believe in the principle of reuniting families. That is not an issue. The list of those who can be sponsored from abroad is already quite extensive, contrary to the assertion made previously by the member for Parkdale—High Park. This is a point I will return to later.

Currently, those who can be sponsored include: spouses; common-law and conjugal partners; parents; grandparents; dependent children, including those who are adopted; as well as orphaned brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces or grandchildren who are under the age of 18.

The one time sponsorship option, such as that proposed in Bill C-394, is fundamentally flawed because it is an expansion of the family class which would be unsustainable and unmanageable.

Bill C-394 would define an eligible relative to include a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, and so on.

Past experience has shown that even with more resources such an open-ended system would generate an increase in the backlog and processing times for this and other categories of immigrants, and would seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the entire immigration program.

Responsible members will also recognize that such an expansion of the family class would create additional problems for our immigration program. As it is, our officers are already pouring significant time and effort into the family relation verification process.

Understandably, we must ensure that family members and relatives are who they say they are. Expanding the family class in the way this bill proposes would make the family relation verification process extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Provisions already exist to process applications from relatives who are not immediate family members in certain circumstances. There is little reason to duplicate this in a separate piece of legislation with such serious problems.

If Canadians and permanent residents have no close family members in Canada, and none abroad whom they can sponsor, they can sponsor a more distant relative, regardless of their age or relationship.

Paragraph 117(1)(h) of the immigration and refugee protection regulations defines foreign nationals as members of the family class with respect to a sponsor if they are a relative of the sponsor, regardless of their age and if the sponsor does not have a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner, or any other immediate family member in Canada or abroad.

In addition, section 25 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act can be used to permit the sponsorship of a foreign national relative who would not otherwise qualify as a member of the family class if exceptional humanitarian and compassionate grounds exist.

Furthermore, foreign nationals who apply as skilled workers and who have close family members in Canada are given the advantage of five additional points on the selection grid.

As well, regulations already exist to make it much easier for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad and expand the family class in a well managed and sustainable way.

Our system for sponsoring family members is one of the most flexible in the world. Canada allows citizens, as well as permanent residents, equal opportunity to sponsor members of their family. This is different from countries such as the United States, which restricts some sponsorship privileges only to citizens.

Canada is also different from some other countries in that we do not apply economic selection criteria to family class members. Far from being too restrictive, Canada's family class program is expansive in a balanced and well managed way.

Today we include spouses, common-law and conjugal partners, dependent children, as well as orphaned siblings, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor their parents and grandparents. If a citizen or permanent resident has none of these close relatives, that person may sponsor any other relative who would not otherwise be eligible for sponsorship from abroad.

In exceptional cases certain requirements of the family class program can be waived on humanitarian and compassionate grounds to allow individuals to sponsor their loved ones who otherwise would not qualify.

Countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom include different and various combinations of individuals in their respective definitions of family class members, but none of those four follow the wide open example of the private member's bill before us today. This could greatly increase the potential for fraud and abuse, in addition to having an incalculable impact on the backlog and processing times, all imposed controls on intake through either their selection criteria or more restrictive definitions of who may be considered a family member. The model Canada has chosen, therefore, compares favourably on the world stage.

The family class has already been expanded in a well planned and responsible way. Provisions already exist for individuals who wish to sponsor an individual not included in the family class without jeopardizing the integrity of the immigration program itself.

Once again, I must repeat that such a potentially wide open approach would have a huge impact on our processing capacity and would significantly increase the already large backlog our government inherited from the previous government.

That said, I would note that the previous Liberal government expressed clear opposition to this legislation when it came up for debate in previous versions of the bill. Our colleagues in the Liberal Party have also expressed misgivings about this bill more recently, during the first hour of debate. The former Liberal parliamentary secretary, the current member for Vancouver Centre, said on February 12, 2004:

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

She went on to say:

The changes proposed...runs counter to...the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

More recently, in the first hour of debate on this bill, the Liberal immigration critic and member for Vaughan said:

The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children.

These are the words of the opposition in this legislature and are not our own but are worth repeating. They are positions that have been expressed by the Liberal Party, both when it was in government and in opposition, and they are positions that it still holds. I hope the Liberal Party will do the responsible thing and oppose this legislation as it did a short time ago when it was in government.

Before I close, I must say that I find the NDP position on the immigration backlog issue astounding. As the NDP has already indicated, it will be voting against our measures in budget 2008 that will help reduce the immigration backlog. Not only is it going to vote against measures to reduce the backlog but through Bill C-394 it is actively working to exponentially increase that backlog. That is what this bill does.

I cannot stand for that and I encourage my colleagues in the House not to stand for it, either. I cannot support the concept of a once in a lifetime sponsorship and will vote against this fundamentally flawed scheme set out in Bill C-394. I hope that all hon. members will join me by not voting for this bill.

The House resumed from December 12, 2007 consideration of the motion that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-394. This enactment would allow a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor, once in their lifetime, a relative who is not a member of the family class.

I would like to thank the member for Parkdale—High Park for raising this issue in response to repeated requests that we receive as members of Parliament when we meet citizens who wish to be reunited with family members. Their frustration on discovering that they cannot be reunited is evident. Moreover, those who already have a case in process tell us that they, too, experience frustration and exasperation when they find out how long they will have to wait before the government processes their case.

The Bloc Québécois believes that family is of vital importance. That is why we have always supported policies that help families. That applies to immigration too. This issue deserves a close look. I am very glad that one of our colleagues has opened the debate on this issue in the House. I think that the questions that will be raised and the discussion they will lead to will prove useful.

Canada has a moral obligation to do whatever it can to reunite families. We will therefore support the principles underlying this bill.

We would like this bill to go through a preliminary consultation process during meetings of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. We want to be sure that we understand the consequences of this bill on the immigration program.

The government will probably want to maintain the 60:40 balance between economic class immigration—business people, independent workers and skilled workers—and family class and refugee immigration.

I represent the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges in Quebec. The number of immigrants in my riding is growing. Lots of people come to my office to ask me to help them sponsor a relative. I am sure that other ridings in Quebec are experiencing the same thing.

We would like to hear about what happened from 1988 to 1993, when the Conservatives in power at the time changed the sponsorship rules by expanding the family class. I think it found itself in a situation in which it did not have the ability to process all the files of everyone who took advantage of this legislative change. We should remember the backlog that existed at a number of immigration offices abroad. At that time, different programs in the public service were experiencing major budget cuts and immigration was no exception.

Now, maybe the federal government has the means, but that is not the case for all the provinces. It is true that there are big challenges to integrating immigrants, but that does not prevent this bill from moving forward and at least continuing somewhat, so that it can be considered in committee.

Although the list of people who can be sponsored under the family class was expanded a few years ago, Canada's regulations concerning immigration and refugees are still quite limited in their definition of family members. Unfortunately, efforts in recent years have not solved the problem of wait times.

It may be time to expand the family class. I believe that an in-depth review in committee will allow us to better assess the mechanisms and resources that will be needed if Parliament passes this bill.

Canada certainly has to be able to control its immigration and set some limits. The limit here is allowing someone, once in their lifetime, to sponsor a relative. I think the hon. member was trying to limit massive immigration of relatives, but I wonder if she is taking the right approach.

There are so many problems to resolve in our immigration system. Certain mechanisms and principles distort the real objectives of immigration. Insufficient resources are a major problem across the board in immigration.

The consideration of a bill like this will at least force a debate and keep the pressure on the government for adequate funding to provide proper settlement services for those we take in, while not ignoring our humanitarian duty and compassion.

We need to bring meaning back to the expression “human compassion”, far too often rendered meaningless by acts that are not consistent with the family reunification programs.

The social costs of prolonged periods of separation must not be forgotten in our decision.

Although we are in favour of the principle of this bill, we believe it poses some problems in terms of its application. Is the hon. member proposing an increase in the number of immigrants or more changes to the 60/40 ratio between economic class immigrants and family class immigrants? Will immigration targets vary within the current limits on the admissible number of immigrants or is the hon. member suggesting the limits be increased? If we maintain the current numbers and the current limits, what impact will this have on the already lengthy wait times? If we increase the number of files to process, is the department capable of absorbing the new workload? Considering the existing backlog in processing files, will this bill not make matters worse?

For now it would be important to look at whether this will have a significant impact on the ability of Quebec and Canada to integrate the people sponsored through this bill. There are other questions that need to be asked and these could be discussed in greater length during the next debate on this bill.

Not only is the protection of families a fundamental principle entrenched in international law, but the principle also appears in section 3 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. That section outlines the goals of the act and specifies that one of the goals is to ensure that families are reunited. We must not lose sight of that objective. It is from that perspective, I think, that the member introduced this bill. We must at least consider this bill, allow it to move forward and be studied in committee. We could then at least debate, once and for all, the shortcomings of the immigration system. We could identify its shortcomings and the opportunities presented.

In accordance with international human rights texts, the protection of families is a responsibility of the state. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state. In other words, the state, which is Canada, must do everything it can to support family reunification. This is in the legislation and, as parliamentarians, we must examine the matter and not completely dismiss the possibility of debating such an important issue.

The Bloc Québécois believes that some of the existing mechanisms facilitating family reunification need to be remedied. As many people already know, among other things, I am extremely involved in refugee files. When a family reunification file takes eight or nine years to resolve, that is completely unacceptable. That is an example of how the family reunification policy must be improved. We must examine and assess the possibility of expanding the category immediately, as I was saying earlier. We must work from that perspective and with an objective that is as open as possible to other family members, as set out in this bill.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Vaughan, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we witnessed today in question period, indeed, immigration is an important issue, an issue that requires vision, and an issue that speaks to the future of our country. When we look at the years 2011 to 2015, approximately 100% of the net labour force growth will come from immigration alone.

We take these private members' bills very seriously. We analyze them. We see how, in a holistic manner, they can address key concerns related to immigration. There is nobody in the House who does not care about reuniting families or helping new Canadians or understanding the economic and social benefits of immigration.

We do this as a modern society that has seen this country transform itself, and this bill is debated at a time when the census report, the 2006 statistics report, was actually released. What do we see? We see that the 2006 census enumerated 6,186,950 foreign born in Canada, representing one in five, that is 19.8% of total foreign born population, the highest proportion in 75 years.

Between 2001 and 2006, the foreign born population increased by 13.6%, four times higher than 3.3% growth of the Canadian born population, 19.8%. It is higher than the U.S. at 12.5%, and lower than Australia at 22.2%.

The census also estimates that 1,000,110 recent immigrants arrived in Canada between January 1, 2001 and May 16, 2006. These newcomers make up 17.9% of the total foreign born population and 3.6% of Canada's population of 31.2 million.

I say this to paint a picture of the new Canada that is emerging and the resources that will be required by this government and future governments to address the key issue of immigration and immigrant settlements. However, as I reviewed Bill C-394 it was déjà vu, because the material in Bill C-394 is not exactly new. Bill C-272 resembled it very much and so does Bill C-436.

This bill would allow Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor once in a lifetime a relative who is not a member of the family class. It defines a relative as a brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, first cousin or child who is 22 years of age or older and is not dependent on sponsors.

It mirrors some of the provisions which already exist in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act regulations to process relatives who do not normally fall under the family class.

The bill essentially could create an exponential influx of immigration applications that could result in delays in processing priority members of the family class that are spouses, partners and dependent children. That could happen. It would also further increase processing times for other members of family class, such as parents and grandparents.

Good intentions also have to be followed with proper analysis of numbers and resources that are available. After today's question period, it was pretty clear that the present government does not have enough resources to address the present issues that our immigration system faces. It simply does not make sense at this point in time, unless we are willing to engage in a broader review of the immigration system in Canada with brand new goals and of course greater resources, to look at this particular bill.

We already have a backlog of 800,000 applications. That is stretching the present resources of the government.

I am one of those who has said, as I asked today in question period, that in fact the proper resources need to be made available so that we can reduce the backlog to have an effective and efficient immigration system. A system where we are going to require, as a nation that is an aging society, to really tap for the future not only the obvious social and cultural benefits drawn from immigration. I believe that immigration is an economic imperative as we look at the competition that exists for skilled workers and labour force of the future.

The hon. member will have to answer many questions related to whether or not she has actually crunched the numbers, as we say, in relationship to her bill. My sense is that she actually has not and that in fact this would inflate the demand for applications abroad as well.

This, of course, would result in larger processing inventories for family cases when demand in family class has already exceeded government resources. This would hamper, also, the efforts to process priority family members, such as spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners and dependent children, as quickly as possible. It would also add pressure to the processing of other family class applicants.

So, these bills cannot be just introduced ad hoc. The immigration system is a bit more complicated than perhaps the hon. member would believe. We need to look at it and balance the various needs.

It is clear, and it has been pointed out already by the parliamentary secretary, that in fact there are provisions that allow people obviously to come to Canada, that is how they get here, and this bill essentially would stress the already stressed resources of the immigration department at home as well as abroad.

Finally, I want to say to the hon. member that I have really not heard anything new from her that was not heard during the debates and presentations of Bill C-272 and Bill C-436. This is kind of déjà vu all over again.

It is a question that, once it has failed, we need to, as members of Parliament presenting private members' bill, present new evidence that in fact things can work better. With a government that is not willing to provide greater resources to immigration, that is going to be difficult.

However, I am one of those individuals who think that, given the challenges that we face as a country, as I said earlier, an aging population, skills shortages and reunification of families, we need to look at immigration in a broader scope. We need to redefine exactly what our targets are and redefine what it is that the government is willing to invest in immigration. Is the present government willing to make it a priority?

Because, quite frankly, what I have seen to date in the short time that I have been immigration critic is a government that has not made immigration a priority, although every indicator, social, cultural and economic, points to the fact that the future of our country largely depends on our ability to attract immigrants.

Whether we are talking about the 800,000 application backlog or whether we are talking about the $100 million shortfall with the Province of Ontario to help it deal with immigration issues, as well as the failure of the accreditation of foreign credentials, there is a lot of work to do in this portfolio.

I hope that the Prime Minister, as well as cabinet, begins to really realize that immigration in this country should not be an afterthought. Immigration is a key issue. It speaks to the future of our country and it should be taken more seriously by the Conservative government.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Souris—Moose Mountain
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative).

This private member's bill would grant every Canadian citizen or permanent resident the opportunity to sponsor once in his or her lifetime one foreign national who is a relative but not a member of the existing family class. The existing family class is a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner, a child under 22, a parent, or a grandparent. In that sense, there is an opportunity to sponsor family.

All of us appreciate the importance of strengthening families. Family reunification has been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration for decades, and this government is committed to ensuring that families represent a vibrant component of our immigration program in the years ahead. Indeed, that is what Canadians expect. Canadians expect a government that is firmly committed to families and to strengthening the ways that families can be reunited with their loved ones from overseas should they choose to make Canada their new home.

The issue raised by Bill C-394 is not new. There is a considerable history to it. The bill was previously introduced on two occasions and was defeated by significant margins at second reading. Bill C-272 was previously defeated on March 23, 2005 by a margin of 167 to 76. Bill C-436 was defeated on April 18, 2004 by a margin of 149 to 40. It is worth noting that both our party and the then Liberal government were clearly opposed to the previous incarnations of this bill.

The bill defines a relative as a brother or a sister of the sponsor, an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin, or a child who is under 22 and not dependent on the sponsor.

The management and implementation of a provision for once in a lifetime sponsorship of a family member is problematic for a number of reasons, all of which apply to the private member's bill before the House today. Such a wide open expansion of the family class category would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources.

It is interesting that the member did not answer the question about the uptake, or how many people this might bring into the system. If, as she said, the targets were not going to be changed, where would those numbers come from, where would they be taken away from?

There is no doubt that it would increase inventories exponentially and likely result in substantial delays for processing other applications, including those from immediate family members or applicants from other family class categories. This clearly is not in the best interests of Canadians.

The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park knows there are extensive family reunification provisions in the current Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the regulations and guidelines thereunder. These regulations, passed in 2002, significantly enhance the family reunification program and more closely reflect today's social and cultural realities.

It is easier today for Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their loved ones from abroad in a well-managed and sustainable way.

These changes, for example, provide for equal treatment under the law for common law and conjugal partners. They expand the definition of dependent child to better reflect the new realities of children being reliant on their parents for longer periods of time. They lower the age at which Canadian citizens or permanent residents are eligible to sponsor from 19 years of age to 18 years of age.

Under the immigration and refugee protection regulations, Canadians and permanent residents can also sponsor any other relative, regardless of age or relationship, if the sponsor does not have a more immediate living family member.

These enhancements to the family class facilitate family reunification while ensuring an appropriate balance between economic and non-economic immigrants. In the absence of a significant increase in admissions and resources, the adoption of this bill would have significant impacts on the balance and on the overall inventory and processing.

While the previous Liberal government allowed the backlog to balloon to over 800,000, the ever-increasing number of applicants wishing to make Canada their home continues to put additional pressures on the immigration system which many say is already too cumbersome and slow. These pressures would be compounded exponentially by the implementation of Bill C-394.

Simply put, implementing this legislation would impede CIC's ability to ensure the program is balanced and responsive to government priorities, including the ability to meet labour market demands.

The proposed amendments would also have potential impacts on matters of provincial and territorial concern. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has consulted with other levels of government, partners and stakeholders to find a way to work on immigration issues in a more coordinated and cooperative way.

For example, under provincial and territorial immigration agreements, the government has removed the limit on the number of immigrants provinces can nominate each year, allowing the provinces a better opportunity to meet their unique economic, social and labour market needs.

We have also committed to find ways to help temporary foreign workers and students settle in the provinces. In recent years most have gone to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver because large, established ethnic communities in those cities have made them attractive to newcomers. This has been a major challenge for the immigration system. Therefore, we have aligned our system to make it more responsive to labour market and regional needs.

As all members know, part of the government's plan for the coming year involves introducing a new avenue to immigration, a new economic class that will help attract and retain certain skilled temporary workers and international students with Canadian degrees and work experience.

We must ensure that the immigration program continues to meet the needs of all Canadians in the future. It is how the government will move forward in the future.

We agree with the concept of making it easier for families to reunite with their loved ones. We agree with the idea of strengthening families in general. But, the government has also a duty to properly manage the immigration program and ensure the principles of integrity and balance are upheld.

It is worth noting that the previous Liberal government was vehemently opposed to this legislation when it was introduced in previous sessions. On November 3, 2003, a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration said:

Such a wide open approach would significantly increase processing delays and the size of existing backlogs for every immigrant category. it would place an unsupportable burden on existing resources, and it would help to undermine the integrity of the entire immigration program by increasing the opportunities for fraud.

This position was echoed by another former Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration, the current member for Vancouver Centre, who, on February 12, 2004 said that the actual effect of the legislation would be:

--anyone could sponsor nearly anyone else as a member of the undefined relative class without any thought to fiscal support or employability. The new person could then repeat the exercise, as could their sponsored applicant, and so on, creating a multiplier effect. The result would be an almost limitless chain of family class immigration based simply on loose associations.

If this proposal is adopted, not only will we need significant resources to deal with a larger number of cases, but we will also need proportionally more resources to deal with the family class applications, simply to maintain the existing ratio between family and economic class immigration.

Moreover, this could result in new frauds and it could undermine the integrity of the economic class immigration, since a significant number of economic class immigrants have distant relatives in Canada who could sponsor them.

The changes proposed...runs counter...to the principles of fairness, balance and consultation, and so we cannot support it.

That is what that member said. Those are not our words.

Implementing Bill C-394 would have far-reaching negative implications on the integrity of the current immigration system. Its specific proposals to expand the family class are both unsustainable and unmanageable. We therefore cannot support Bill C-394 and urge all hon. members to do the same.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member was listening closely to my comments earlier. As I said before, the amendment being proposed in Bill C-394 does not change the limits on the overall numbers of people who would be allowed into Canada through the sponsorship program.

The difference between people who are now on the list and who may be waiting for some period of time is that the people who today do not qualify because the bill is not in place can never get on the list.

Yes, today some people have to wait a few years, but there are people today who have waited a lifetime and can never get on the list. That is what the bill is intended to address.

In terms of the member's statement that everyone will want to sponsor someone, I challenge that. A sponsorship application is very serious. It means a long term responsibility and a very serious financial commitment. I can tell the hon. member that not everyone wants to take that on. One has to be very serious about the responsibility under the sponsorship requirements.

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Private Members' Business

December 12th, 2007 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

moved that Bill C-394, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (sponsorship of relative), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-394, which I call the once in a lifetime bill. I call it that because it would amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that would allow a Canadian resident or permanent citizen to sponsor once in their lifetime a family member from outside the family classes currently defined under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Currently, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines family as: a spouse, a common law or conjugal partner who is at least 16 years of age; a dependent child under the age of 22; a child who is a full time student or is dependent upon a parent for financial support; a child who is disabled; a parent or grandparent; a child to be adopted under the age of 18; and a brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild who has been orphaned, is under the age of 18 and is not a spouse or common law partner.

What would my bill do? It proposes to add additional members to the sponsorship definition. It will cover, in addition, a son or daughter over the age of 22 who is not dependent on his or her parents. It will cover an aunt or uncle, a brother or sister, a niece or nephew or a first cousin. It will expand the definition of family so the sponsor could add additional people to the definition of those from whom they could choose to sponsor.

Why is this bill necessary? In short, as Statistics Canada recently reported, one in five Canadians is now born outside of Canada. It is an increase of 13.6% from 2001, with the vast majority of newcomers settling in my province of Ontario. We have found that 6.2 million people in Canada were born outside of the country and the foreign born population of our country is now at its highest proportion in 75 years.

In the past five years 1.1 million immigrants have come to Canada and have made it their home, most of them settling in Ontario, which is 52.3% of newcomers. In addition, 17% settled in Quebec and 16% settled in British Columbia.

Why is it important to have a broader definition of family for the purpose of sponsorship? There are three main reasons and I will elaborate on each of them. The first is to reunite families. The second is to help new Canadians who come to Canada succeed. The third is for the economic and social benefit of all Canadians.

First, reuniting families is a very important goal in and of itself. The current act recognizes the important role that family members play in the life of a new Canadian, but the current family class rules are simply too restrictive and it means that many close relatives are simply not eligible.

Many people have a close relative, such as a brother or sister, who they would desperately like to have join them in Canada. A brother can be as close to someone as a parent, or an aunt and uncle can be as close as a grandmother or grandfather, but the current rules do not allow for this. Therefore, families are kept apart.

I want to provide three examples of people of whom I know, but there are many people who find themselves in these kinds of situations.

I have a woman in my riding who is a 62-year-old an English teacher from Ukraine. The age requirement has prevented her from sponsoring her 31-year-old daughter and 15-year-old grandson to join her in Canada. She said:

It's hard. I'm getting to that age when I could need some help. And I want to care for my grandson as well. We don't want to be separated, but there's so little we can do.

She lives in Toronto with her older son. She said about her daughter, “We talk on the phone every day, but it's simply not the same”.

I know of another case, a refugee who came to Canada over 25 years ago from Vietnam. He is now in his forties and is very successful. He has a very elderly mother who lives with him. His only relative left in Vietnam is his sister, who just misses qualifying under the point system. He desperately wants to reunite his family. His mother is too old and does not want to travel to Vietnam. He wants to bring his sister to Canada.

I know of another person whose parents died when he was very young. He was the elder of three siblings and, in essence, raised his brother and sister. He has only one sibling left in his country of origin. He was like the parent to that sibling, but because they are now adults, they do not qualify under the current rules. Therefore, the bill would make all the difference to someone in that situation.

There are many examples that I could offer of people who are simply denied the ability to reunite their families under the current definition. Reuniting families should be a major aim of our immigration policy and the bill would help a great deal to do this.

The second reason for the bill is to help new Canadians succeed. Canada is a country of newcomers. Helping new Canadians adjust and thrive in their new country is one of the primary goals of our immigration policy. The bill would significantly help with that.

Many immigrants to Canada bring their children with them or have children soon after they arrive. This adds to our child care crisis. New Canadians are barely on their feet financially with almost no social network. They have to find enough revenue for the ever rising cost of child care because our country has failed parents. It has not introduced a national child care program to meet the needs of children with early learning and care, so parents, for the most part, are left on their own to cope and find child care. It is difficult to find and it is expensive.

This search on the part of new Canadians becomes especially difficult when parents are forced to upgrade their qualifications in order to work in their fields of expertise while in Canada. Costly and time consuming studies place an extra burden on their child care needs.

If brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles were allowed to be sponsored under Bill C-394, they could play an important role in helping fulfill the family's child care needs. This would also help newcomers to get the work and the skills they need to succeed because they would be assured and would have the peace of mind that their children were cared for by a family member.

The families of many new Canadians include older parents or grandparents. Caring for an aging family member can place a great strain on anyone. However, for newcomers, with new social networks, lack of financial stability, an urgent need to acquire new skills and oftentimes with children to look after, the task becomes truly arduous and limits their capacity to adjust and succeed in Canada. Allowing the sponsorship of siblings, older children or nieces and nephews in Canada makes the family unit much stronger and capable of caring for its aging members.

Adjusting to a new life in Canada while finding work can be challenging. As I mentioned, many immigrants find themselves unable to get work in the fields of their expertise and specialization without upgrading their qualifications. The financial, emotional and social support that family members provide for each other makes it much more likely for a newcomer to succeed in finding work and the time and resources to upgrade their skills. The once in a lifetime bill would help reunite families and make them stronger.

The third reason I believe this definition should be expanded, as I have outlined in my bill, is it has economic and social benefits for all Canadians. Allowing new Canadians to reunite with important family members is critical to their success upon arrival in Canada. The success of immigrants to Canada is a net benefit to all Canadians.

As a member of the industry committee, I know there is a labour shortage in Canada. Allowing family members to come through a sponsorship program is a relatively risk free way of bringing in new Canadians who can be part of the economic strength of our country. The sooner and more efficiently new Canadians can adjust and enter the workforce, the better for our economy.

Lack of family reunification leads to a greater sense of isolation, fewer social supports, fewer resources and therefore a much more difficult time integrating into the Canadian economy and supporting oneself. Such circumstances are a greater strain on the country's social infrastructure and do not allow new Canadians to get ahead. It robs the national economy of valuable contributions.

The restrictive definition of family class in the current legislation does not allow for the sponsor of relatives who can greatly help new Canadians play an important role in our growing economy.

It is well known, after many years of budget cuts, that there are problems with the application processing within Citizenship and Immigration, but this should not impact the right of families to be reunited. The problem of the backlog lies with the funding and resourcing of the department and not with the families that submit applications.

What effect will the bill have on our current immigration targets? In a word, none. The bill would in no way modifies immigration targets or quotas, but it would positively affect the lives of Canadians who have family living abroad.

Bill C-394 has no impact on the current standards, regulations and rules stipulated for immigration to Canada. Additional family members sponsored under this new legislation would remain subject to all current immigration selection criteria.

In summary, Canada is a country of newcomers. We have based our success, our history, our economy on the efforts of generation, after generation of newcomers. We know newcomers do best when they have the benefit of strong family supports, just like all of us. However, newcomers face additional challenges. In fitting in the economy, they may face language barriers and the challenge of learning about their new society. It would make their lives much easier to have family members with them.

We know the current law is too restrictive and leaves many families separated and in distress. There are many examples, whether families are here from immigration or they came as a refugee. Families are separated and they desperately want to reunite with their family members, especially if they are isolated, alone, in the country of origin. They want to get that family members back to Canada.

The change I am proposing does not solve all the problems with immigration or even with the sponsorship program. However, it would solve a particular problem that today has no solution for so many families and creates such a crisis for so many landed immigrants and Canadians here.

Sponsorship is such a low risk form of immigration for Canada. The families bear the cost and the responsibility. We know that when people come to Canada through the sponsorship program, they have a greater chance of fitting in, of finding success and of settling in their new country because of the sponsorship program.

I want to add that many newcomer organizations strongly support this once in a lifetime bill. They are very excited about it. Many people have watched this debate closely and want to see its success.

I thank my colleagues in advance for their generous support.

Immigration
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 20th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the third petition is in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-394, called the once in a lifetime bill.

My bill recognizes that family sponsorship is a key component of a fair immigration policy. The current family class rules are too restrictive and they mean that close family relatives in many cases are not eligible for sponsorship. I have had a huge response to this private member's bill.

The petitioners are urging that we act to redefine family class under the immigration and refugee act by passing Bill C-394.

Immigration
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 13th, 2007 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is signed by 145 people from my community and is in support of my once in a lifetime bill on family reunification. It recognizes that the most successful newcomers are sponsored by family members so they can reintegrate easily into the community.

The current family class rules are very restrictive and mean that too many family members are not eligible, so the petitioners are calling on Parliament to ensure that Canadian citizens and landed immigrants have a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a family member outside the current family class, as currently defined in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and to pass my Bill C-394.

Immigration
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 6th, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to table another petition today calling on this House to adopt the NDP's Bill C-394, the once in a lifetime bill. This petition was circulated by the Philippino community in my home town of Hamilton.

All of the petitioners agree that family reunification must be a key component of a fair immigration policy. The current family class rules, as we all well know, are too restrictive and mean that many close relatives are not eligible to come to Canada.

The petitioners are asking Parliament to ensure, by passing Bill C-394, that Canadian citizens and landed immigrants are given the once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a family member from outside the current family class as it is currently defined in the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, so that they may be reunited with loved ones from around the world.

It has been my privilege to work with the Philippino community in Hamilton to bring this petition forward on their behalf today.

Citizenship and Immigration
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

May 28th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present.

The first one is from 268 people across Canada in support of my once in a lifetime bill. The petitioners recognize that family reunification should be a key component to a fair immigration policy and that the current family class rules are too restricted and mean that many close relatives are not eligible for sponsorship.

The petitioners are calling upon Parliament to ensure that Canadian citizens and landed immigrants are given a once in a lifetime opportunity to sponsor a family member from outside the current family class as currently defined in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act by passing my private member's bill, Bill C-394.