Bill C-35 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Jason Kenney Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to change the manner of regulating third parties in immigration processes. Among other things it
(a) creates a new offence by extending the prohibition against representing or advising persons for consideration — or offering to do so — to all stages in connection with a proceeding or application under that Act, including before a proceeding has been commenced or an application has been made, and provides for penalties in case of contravention;
(b) exempts from the prohibition
(i) members of a provincial law society or notaries of the Chambre des notaires du Québec, and students-at-law acting under their supervision,
(ii) any other members of a provincial law society or the Chambre des notaires du Québec, including a paralegal,
(iii) members of a body designated by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and
(iv) entities, and persons acting on the entities’ behalf, acting in accordance with an agreement or arrangement with Her Majesty in right of Canada;
(c) extends the time for instituting certain proceedings by way of summary conviction from six months to 10 years;
(d) gives the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to make transitional regulations in relation to the designation or revocation by the Minister of a body;
(e) provides for oversight by that Minister of a designated body through regulations requiring the body to provide information to allow the Minister to determine whether it governs its members in the public interest; and
(f) facilitates information sharing with regulatory bodies regarding the professional and ethical conduct of their members.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Madam Speaker, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, I am pleased to rise today to commence third reading of Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
This important piece of legislation would strengthen the rules governing those who charge a fee for immigration advice and representation. I hope at the end of the day that all hon. members will support the bill.
Over the past four years, this government has proposed and implemented initiatives and policies that clearly demonstrate a commitment to innovation and to improvement. Hon. members will recall that we modernized our immigration system by bringing flexibility to the way we select immigrants while tackling the backlog. We had to fix our immigration system or else the number of people waiting to come here would have swelled to over 1.5 million by 2012.
To improve Canada's asylum system, the minister introduced earlier this year the balanced refugee reform act. Its implementation will mean faster protection for those who genuinely need it and fast removals of bogus refugees who simply do not.
Now it is time to address the lack of public confidence in the regulation of immigration consultants. We all know that people anxious to immigrate to Canada can fall victim to unscrupulous immigration representatives who charge exorbitant fees and may promise would-be immigrants high-paying jobs or guaranteed, fast-tracked visas.
We have all heard or read about their unscrupulous and deceitful schemes such as encouraging prospective immigrants to lie on their applications, to concoct bogus stories about persecution while making refugee claims or to enter into sham marriages with Canadian citizens and permanent residents. In their quest for personal gain these unscrupulous representatives have displayed a wanton disregard for our immigration rules, bilked numerous people out of their hard-earned dollars and left countless lives in tatters along the way. These crooked immigration representatives are a menace, posing a costly threat not only to their victims but also to the integrity and fairness of our system.
Bill C-35 would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act so that only members in good standing of a law society of a province, the Chambre des notaires du Québec or a body designated by the minister may represent or advise for a fee, or offer to do so at any stage of a proceeding or application.
Under the current legislation, the involvement of representatives in the pre-application or pre-submission period is beyond the scope of the law. Well, I am happy to say that Bill C-35 fixes that. By our casting a wider net, unauthorized individuals who provide paid advice or representation at any stage would be subject to a fine and/or imprisonment. This includes undeclared ghost consultants who operate in the shadows and conceal their involvement in an application or proceeding.
Further, there are currently no mechanisms in law that give the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism the authority to oversee the governing body regulating immigration consultants. The bill would provide the minister with the power by regulation to designate a body to govern immigration consultants and provide the Governor in Council the ability to establish measures to enhance the government's oversight of that designated body.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is currently limited in its ability to disclose to the relevant governing body information on individuals providing unethical or unprofessional representation or advice. The bill would allow CIC to disclose such information to those responsible for governing or investigating that conduct, so we can work together to crack down on crooked consultants. An investigation could be undertaken more readily by the appropriate governing body and, where appropriate, disciplinary action pursued.
As we all know, governing bodies are responsible for taking disciplinary action against their members in cases of misconduct. This includes the revocation of membership. The governing body for immigration consultants can, like other bodies, investigate the conduct of its members where there is a concern that a member has breached a term of his or her membership. Provincial law societies use a similar process to look into complaints concerning their own members.
This bill is a comprehensive proposal to provide protection for vulnerable would-be immigrants by imposing serious criminal sanctions on unscrupulous representatives, enhancing oversight of the governing body for immigration consultants and improving information-sharing tools.
Since its introduction, Bill C-35 has received positive feedback from stakeholders, the media and Canadians, all of whom believe that this change was long overdue.
Throughout the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration study of Bill C-35, the minister and government committee members listened to the concerns raised and, accordingly, have adjusted the bill in a way that we believe can only strengthen it. That is what I said. We adjusted the bill accordingly during our consultations at committee.
For example, the government proposed the recognition of paralegals regulated by a law society. By recognizing the ability of law societies to govern their members in the public interest, such recognition could help protect would-be immigrants.
In response to concerns raised in good faith by parliamentarians, we also agreed to a number of amendments that reflect their input, resulting in language that, I believe, has strengthened this bill.
These amendments create a package that would realize our goal of cracking down on unscrupulous immigration representatives who exploit prospective would-be immigrants.
The offence provision found in Bill C-35 has been amended to capture both direct and indirect representation and advice. Penalties have been toughened by increasing the maximum fine for the offence of providing unauthorized immigration advice from $50,000 to $100,000; and summary convictions from $10,000 to $20,000.
The statute of limitations for summary conviction has also been increased to 10 years, offering investigators ample time to properly and fully investigate various offences committed under the act and lay charges before the time period passes.
In addition, for greater clarity, the government proposed a compromise amendment, which would respect Quebec's jurisdiction while maintaining federal authority over the regulation of immigration consultants.
The intention of this provision is to recognize that the province's act respecting immigration to Quebec applies to immigration consultants who, for consideration, advise or represent a person who files an application with the Quebec minister or government.
This amendment is not intended to capture immigration consultants who are advising or representing a person with regard to processes or requirements only under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, where these processes or requirements do not relate to Quebec legislation.
The proposed reforms follow the launch in 2009 of a public information campaign with information on the web in Canada, at missions abroad and through the media, explaining to Canadians how our immigration system works.
At the same time that Bill C-35 moves through the legislative process, a public selection process has been undertaken, under current authority, to identify a governing body for recognition as the regulator of immigration consultants.
In 2008 and 2009, reports of the standing committee pointed to a lack of public confidence in the body currently governing immigration consultants. This lack of public confidence poses a significant and immediate threat to the immigration program and its process.
Public comments on the selection process were solicited in June. This was followed by a call for submissions, as published in the Canada Gazette on August 28.
This open and transparent process is being undertaken in order to ensure that the body governing immigration consultants can effectively regulate its members, thus ensuring public confidence in the integrity of our immigration program.
A selection committee, composed of officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, other federal government organizations and external experts, will examine all of the completed submissions against the criteria listed in the call for submissions that I spoke of earlier.
The selection committee will provide the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism with a recommendation as to which organizations, if any, has or have demonstrated the necessary organizational competencies.
Any and all potential and interested candidates are welcome to apply, including the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
This ongoing public selection process, together with the legislative changes proposed in Bill C-35, ensure the most efficient and the most effective approach to strengthening the regulation of immigration consultants, immediately and in the future. However, as we know all too well, there are large numbers of immigration consultants who operate beyond our borders.
The problem we are trying to address is large in scale and it is international in scope. The value of coming to Canada is so great in the minds of so many that they are often willing to pay their life savings in cash, and beyond, to unscrupulous representatives with the false promise of obtaining visas to visit or to move to Canada. That is why, when the minister met in September with some of our international partners, he underscored the need for combined action to thwart fraud and various forms of exploitation by unscrupulous immigration representatives.
The commission of fraud under Canada's immigration program is a crime that threatens the integrity of our immigration system, raises security concerns, wastes tax dollars, is unfair to those who do follow the rules and adds to the processing time for legitimate applications. We are fortunate that Canada's visa officers are extremely vigilant in preventing the exploitation of victims, but every fake document and false story we find slows down the entire system and diverts our resources away from legitimate applications. That is because our fraud deterrents and verification efforts, while effective, require much more time and resources than routine processing of applications.
Members can see why we are determined to crack down on immigration fraud or misrepresentation by unscrupulous immigration representatives. These unscrupulous representatives victimize people who dream of immigrating to this country. With no motive but greed, these profiteers take advantage of would-be immigrants and tempt them with a bogus bill of goods.
Needless to say, the underhanded schemes of unscrupulous representatives undermine the integrity and the fairness of Canada's immigration system. It is imperative that we tackle the threat they pose and this bill would allow us to do just that. The changes we propose would strengthen the rules governing those who provide immigration advice and representation for a fee, or offer to do so, and it would improve the way in which immigration consultants are regulated.
These changes are also in line with amendments we have proposed to the Citizenship Act to regulate citizenship consultants, which is Bill C-37 and will be coming to this House for second reading very shortly.
For far too long, unscrupulous immigration representatives have preyed upon the hopes and the dreams of would-be immigrants to our country. This disreputable conduct has brought shame to their profession and has abused our immigration system.
As was the case with Bill C-11, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the spirit of compromise and co-operation surrounding this bill has again been remarkable. I should speak to that briefly.
The fact is that one of the things Canadians have asked this government to do, and have asked all parties in this House to do, is to do our best to work together, to not be seen as always opposing the position of each other for political gain or to embarrass each other, because at the end of the day, legislation that passes through this House must be good for Canadians. It must be effective and efficient in terms of the new law that it sets, the new standard that it sets, in legislation.
I have to say, having been a member, as a parliamentary secretary, of the citizenship and immigration committee since the 40th general election, it is in fact a testament to the group of people who have sat on that committee and the group of people who sit on the committee now that indeed, while we do have our political flare-ups and we do have our disagreements, we have in fact, with Bill C-11 and Bill C-35, found a way to work together.
I certainly want to credit my critic who, while being on the job for a little less than a year, has in fact taken up the challenge that his predecessor put in front of him in terms of ensuring that, if we are going to work on issues of citizenship, on issues of immigration and on issues of multiculturalism and because the laws of the country sit before that committee, we must work together on behalf of Canadians to move that legislation forward.
The citizenship and immigration committee certainly has set an example of the spirit of compromise. It is a testament that legislation requires the support not just of the government but of a number of individuals in order to get it through the House.
Bill C-35 is a testament to the compromise the government is prepared to make without surrendering its values or the importance of the legislation the government puts before the House. The government recognizes that in the spirit of compromise, in some cases, the amendments actually strengthen the legislation. Bill C-35 is stronger now than it was before it went to committee. I compliment the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who understands the need to listen, respond and act when legislation is moving forward.
I think the vote on third reading of Bill C-35 will show the support throughout the House for this piece of legislation. This legislation stands for those people who come to this country to become Canadians because of the history and traditions that make Canada a great country. Many people want to become Canadian citizens.
It is important to note that this legislation is for prospective Canadians. It is not just for those who are already Canadian citizens. That speaks volumes to where we are going as a country in terms of the immigrants coming here to build better lives for themselves and to contribute to the Canadian way of life. This bill does a great job in terms of representing that direction.
It is my hope that the spirit of compromise and co-operation as seen during the committee's study of Bill C-35 will ensure the bill's passage in the House.
I want to note the tireless efforts of the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Many in the House know of his hard work.
I also want to compliment all of the members of the committee, in particular my colleagues who sit on the government side. All five of them put in hours and hours of effort to ensure that this bill would move forward and carry.
I want to thank the chairman of the committee who at times had to rule with an iron fist. At times, he had to ensure that even the parliamentary secretary kept his cool during the hearings. In fact, I moved a motion to challenge the chair. I lost that vote as the opposition members actually sided with the chairman, but I certainly respected his decision in that regard.
Despite the workings of some of the issues that arose, the chairman did an excellent job in guiding the committee through some difficult negotiations and discussions on the bill. He ensured that witnesses, members of the public from across the country, who wanted the opportunity to participate and speak to the bill in terms of what was good or in need of change were allowed to do so.
At the end of the day, we have a piece of legislation before this House of which all of us regardless of political stripe can be proud. The government will do its best to ensure that Bill C-35 is implemented quickly once it receives royal assent.
To conclude, I wish to thank the people who work at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They did an amazing job in ensuring that this bill met all of the standards this government wanted it to meet.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 10:35 a.m.
Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON
Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for her efforts on committee. I may not have always agreed with the issues or the particular amendments that she put forward, but she did participate in a vigorous way to ensure this bill would move forward.
The member spoke to the issue of regulation and how the implementation of the regulatory body would work. She pursued this issue throughout our committee hearings and our work on Bill C-35.
I can assure the member that the regulatory body will have the responsibility for ensuring that all consultants will have to receive its approval to act in this country. They will be governed by the regulatory body.
In terms of the practice of law, under the current legislation it is extremely difficult to charge and convict anyone acting as a ghost consultant or a consultant who has been unscrupulous with a client. This legislation would allow the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism to take the lead on the regulatory body, which would report directly to him. The bill would allow our ministry of justice to enforce legislation if a conviction was sought or a conviction was earned.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the involvement of the member for Abbotsford in this process. Many government members, such as my colleague from Abbotsford, participated in round table discussions leading up to the introduction of Bill C-35.
My colleague touched on a very important point. We bring forward legislation in this place in order to provide good government for a number of different reasons. One of the most important reasons, and one of the reasons that has pushed this legislation forward and has allowed all of us in the House to work together, is that Canadians absolutely believe that this legislation is the right thing to do. Countless groups have told us this is the direction to take, that this is where we should go. That is why we are here today.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-35 at third reading. Everyone knows that our country was built on immigration. People came from all over the world to try to build a new life. In some ways, it was easier to come to Canada in the past. There was certainly less paperwork 100 or even 50 years ago. Now, the process is complicated and strict. We want to ensure that the people we welcome into Canada are the best and that they have a lot to offer to help build a good, strong society.
That is why it is so disheartening to have seen that, for so many years, there have been immigration consultants who have been taking advantage of vulnerable people who want to improve their lives, who want to travel across the seas to start a new life and instead end up defrauded and taken advantage of by unscrupulous consultants.
That is why the bill and various projects around cracking down on unscrupulous consultants have come through various committee studies and we finally arrive at this point where we are bringing forward a framework for the minister to pick a new, and hopefully more effective, governing body around immigration consultants.
As my hon. colleague mentioned, this was a model of co-operation among all parliamentarians. There was a clear desire on behalf of Canadians to see Parliament work together to create a more robust structure that was going to care for these vulnerable people, people looking for help in a very big decision and process, that of coming to Canada.
We agreed in principle across the House that something needed to be done. On this side, we are still a little bit worried that the establishment of the recommendation from the immigration committee upon which Bill C-35 was built, which talked about creating a stand-alone regulator, was not entirely followed and is instead still just done through regulations.
However, I think the intent of the bill is clear and the effectiveness of what we have in place will move forward to protecting Canadians.
The essential part of the bill is that it gives more power to go after people who are consulting and offering advice at the earliest stages of an application process. The larger scope of the bill will allow us to protect people even before they have submitted a firm application, which was an important loophole to close.
On the other issues we brought forward as amendments, the Liberal Party was pleased to present the amendment that actually doubled the fines to $20,000 for a summary conviction, and up to $100,000 from $50,000 for anyone convicted of being an unregistered immigration consultant.
There was an excellent discussion in committee around the role and the responsibilities of immigration consultants in Quebec.
We concluded that, without taking anything away from the federal government's power, any immigration consultant working in the province of Quebec who wants to recommend an immigration opportunity in Quebec must be familiar with the immigration system in that province. The primacy of the federal government in this area in maintained, but we recognize that in Quebec, it is extremely important to be able to speak French to interact with the Quebec government. In addition, the consultant must be familiar with the particularities of the process in Quebec to be able to give good advice to those who would like to become citizens of this country.
We also managed to get rid of the short title. In consultations, it came back time and time again from consultants that they were actually offended and felt that naming the bill around the problem, which is the crooked consultants, actually demeaned and belittled the work of legitimate consultants. So we depoliticized the short title of the bill, which was a victory.
In general, the bill puts forward more powers of accountability for, and better relationships between, the minister's office and the eventual regulator. It provides for the sharing of information.
Unfortunately, one of the concerns we have, which is beyond the scope of this bill, is that in our mind there are still not enough resources for the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP to go after those who are not registered consultants and are still operating as, as we call them, ghost consultants, without being qualified or being able to guarantee that they are offering proper services to these vulnerable people who want to emigrate to Canada.
Ultimately, Bill C-35 is just an initial step in allowing the minister to create a new governing body for immigration consultants. It provides a very general framework. It provides a few important key issues. However, push is going to come to shove in the coming months when the government and the minister actually settle on who is going to be the next governing body for immigration consultants.
We have to make sure that we do not just end up with the same problems once again. We have to make sure that there is going to be a strong governance framework around this new consultant body. We have to make sure, if we stick with the same organization that will be articulated in a new way, that the same problems do not come back. We have to make sure that if we have a new and completely different governing body than the one existing right now, we do not fall into the same old traps and have the same ineffectiveness and problems that we have right now.
That is going to be where the opposition parties will watch closely what the government and the minister do and hopefully will engage and help shape the decision in such a way that people will truly be protected by this set of regulations governing immigration consultants.
The members of the committee worked together. We had differences and concerns that were hammered out. It was, as the parliamentary secretary has said, a model of co-operation and of trying to do right by Canadians on this important issue. It is something that I was very pleased to be able to be part of, and it is something that I know we can be proud of as parliamentarians, that on important issues, from time to time, we are able to work together.
I think the spirit of collegiality and co-operation is important and I certainly hope it extends to other bills and other issues on which we can find agreement in principle and not just tweak in committee but improve in committee, as my hon. colleague has said.
For all of these reasons, the Liberal Party is very happy to support Bill C-35 at third reading. We hope that it will be quickly passed by the other chamber so that Canadians will be protected when we have our new regulator for immigration consultants.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be speaking about Bill C-35, which we are debating today. We have talked a lot about immigration consultants, which are the focus of this bill.
I want to begin by speaking about the bill's title. Those following the debate since speeches started in the House this morning at about 10:20 a.m. would initially have seen it indicated on their screen that we are talking about the “Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act”, or the “Loi sévissant contre les consultants véreux” in French.
If they are watching now, they will probably see that we are talking about An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This was changed because, likely, at the beginning of the debate the audiovisual team was using the former title of the bill.
In committee, it was decided that the title should be changed to make it more neutral and objective. There are a number of reasons for this decision. Even though we all agree that a bill title has no legal effect and is simply a secondary element in the debate about the substantive clauses and the actual provisions of the bill, the title is still important. On one hand, the title is important from a social point of view because it can affect how people perceive the bill. On the other hand, it is important from a political point of view because it is a tool used by the government to engage in political marketing and even to change the essence and intent of a bill for its own purposes. The government is using this technique more and more.
I will discuss both cases, beginning with the one before us, Bill C-35. It seems to me that the government was using the bill's original title for political purposes. They said they would attack crooked consultants. That sounds like an opinion to me. Opinions have no place in the law. The government should stick to a technical description of what the bill does, which in this case is amend the immigration act to require people who want to practise as immigration consultants and who are not already members of a provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires du Québec to be members of a body to be designated by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. That is what this bill would do.
In practice, will this actually improve the situation and crack down on crooked consultants? That is a matter of opinion. Every member of the House is entitled to an opinion on the subject. I suppose that if the bill receives unanimous support, as it seems to have, that means people pretty much agree. Of course, the 308 members of the House can make mistakes. In the end, history may confirm that we have not. I do not think there should be anything subjective in the title.
If we want voters and the public to respect us, we should be humble enough to resist using bill titles to promote any messages, claims or opinions whatsoever. We must also take into account the potential social impact of an inappropriate title. In this case, they were calling it the cracking down on crooked consultants act.
Imagine consultants telling their clients to trust them because they have been accredited under the cracking down on crooked consultants act. As if. Picture the certificate hanging behind a consultant's desk, stating that the consultant has been accredited under the cracking down on crooked consultants act. That is not what the bill is about. This bill is about consultants who are not crooked. That is why the title of the bill was changed. Personally, I hope that the government will put an end to this practice, which has been observed in several House committees.
It is a ridiculous practice, one that wastes a great deal of parliamentarians' energy. In many cases, the bills do not even accomplish what is stated in the title, and that skews the democratic debate.
Since there is unanimity in the House on Bill C-35, I would like to provide a few other examples. In fact, most of the disagreement in committee was about the title.
There was Bill C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. Once again, the title was a claim. There was also the Protecting Victims from Sex Offenders Act. That is a matter of opinion; we may or may not agree that Bill C-34 will actually protect people from sex offenders. Then there is the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. I gave examples from different Parliaments, and there are others from the current session. We have bills pertaining to security that are named in memory of a victim whose case has nothing to do with the bill in question.
Getting back to immigration, given that this is the subject of the bill before us today, there is Bill C-49, at second reading. The title, Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada's Immigration System Act, is an opinion. In fact, most observers, including the opposition members in the House, find that the bill does not in any way deal with smugglers, but rather targets refugees. The title also refers to people who abuse the immigration system. The bill does not refer to the immigration system but to the refugee protection system. The title is completely at odds with the reality and serves as a political marketing tool.
The government has said that people support their bill. It conducted a poll and asked whether people agreed with the law to prevent human smugglers from abusing our immigration system. Everyone is evidently in agreement. The problem is that the bill does not do what the title says.
Clearly, this is a ploy on the government's part. Basically, the government is admitting that it knows very well that it will not be able to sell the contents of its bill to the public. So it is using smoke and mirrors. It is using the title as an intermediary to try and suggest that one of its bills cracks down on crooked consultants and therefore must be a good bill. It has a bill that cracks down on human smugglers, so it is a good bill.
The most pathetic title we have seen in this House was the title of a bill that was something like: an act to stop the trafficking of minors, even though the word “trafficking” was not mentioned once in the entire bill. The bill had a title that referred to the trafficking of minors, even though the bill was not about that.
Clearly, this is a recurring ploy that must stop. I am very pleased that the members of the committee agreed to stop playing the government's game. I hope the government will have the wisdom and good sense to stop playing these ridiculous little games. The parliamentary secretary talked about it and so did my Liberal colleague, the hon. member for Papineau, and I imagine my NDP colleague will also talk about it, since we tend to work very well together on that committee; we respect one another, despite our political differences. If the government wanted to demonstrate its desire to co-operate and its respect for the opposition members, it could start by giving its bills legitimate titles, instead of making these inane attempts to manipulate public opinion.
I realize that was a long digression, but I had to do it. All that being said, I will now talk about the substance of the bill.
Those who want to immigrate to Quebec and Canada, whether we are talking about refugees, economic immigrants, immigrants in the family reunification category, or people who come on humanitarian or other grounds, are often overwhelmed and not sure what to do next. They are unfamiliar with our laws and are a bit distressed by the red tape. We can relate because we cannot keep up with all the bureaucracy, requirements and regulations either. It is hard for us to keep track of our rights. Imagine what it is like for an immigrant.
There is a real and legitimate concern and many of these people seek advice on the immigration application process. The advice they are given is extremely important because it can have a significant impact on the ruling to be made and on the rest of their lives. During this process, many decide to deal with lawyers or notaries. That is what I always recommend when people knock on the door of my riding office.
However, others seek advice and representation from an immigration consultant. The problem is that, unlike notaries or lawyers, immigration consultants are not really regulated. The regulatory body for these consultants, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, does not work at all; it is a colossal failure. This agency has serious governance problems and is run by people who commit flagrant abuses. They take liberties and do not administer the agency in the interest of its members or the general public. In my opinion, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants has to be abolished. It is beyond repair because it is fundamentally tainted by personal interests to the detriment of its members and the general public. I hope the minister will see it that way when he designates an agency.
A new organization must therefore be created that will better regulate the occupation. Let us hope that, with the new act, this organization will not encounter the same type of internal management problems and that it will have a much broader sphere of activity. Rather than controlling the relationship between the consultant and the government only from the day the application is filed to the day the application is ultimately accepted or rejected, the new act will cover the entire relationship between the consultant and the client or in other words, from the moment a client contacts a consultant or a consultant offers a potential client his or her services. This is a real improvement. However, the organization designated by the minister must do its work correctly and separate the wheat from the chaff.
We have to admit that there are some good immigration consultants; however, there are others who do not do their work properly at all. When touring the country, we were told that some consultants were abusing their ethnic proximity a little or even a lot. Someone immigrates to a new country where they do not know the system and do not know whom to trust, and then they meet someone from the same ethnic group who has successfully immigrated to Canada. Human nature being what it is, they might have a tendency to trust that person more than someone else.
Many crooked consultants—that is how the minister referred to them at the beginning—will abuse this trust. Sometimes these people do not know French or English, nor do they know the laws. People may pay a consultant thousands of dollars and that consultant will not even bother to submit their applications. They wonder why they have not heard anything, so they call the constituency office or the department only to be told that their application was never received and no one has ever heard of it. It can take years before they figure this out. There was a similar story on the news yesterday morning: a lady paid thousands of dollars but her application was likely never submitted.
We have taken a step forward. The House can pass laws, but it does not create the regulations. It is not the House that ultimately does the selection. The minister's role in that regard is very important. He must make wise choices and not usurp the will of Parliament, as has happened in the past, particularly in terms of immigration. He must comply with legislation and ensure that there is finally a real regulator that lives up to that title. Competent people are needed in order to ensure that the immigration consultants in Quebec and Canada are competent.
I have one last aside. Throughout this process, I have insisted that we must ensure that immigration consultants in Quebec are familiar with the requirements of the Quebec immigration system, which has its particularities. There is an agreement between Canada and Quebec. This must be recognized. If there are two categories of immigration consultants in Quebec, people who are submitting an application will not know whether their consultant is able to advise them on all of the possible options or just those that fall under either federal or Quebec jurisdiction. I maintain that, in dealing with immigration issues, we must always remember that the situation in Quebec is different and requires special treatment.
I would like to repeat that there is a good deal of collaboration in this committee. If there are interesting bills, we will study them. I do want to share a little frustration that is not the fault of the committee members or our chair, but it is a result of parliamentary procedure, which seriously limits us with respect to amendment possibilities. We could have developed a better bill if we had had more latitude, as parliamentarians, to make amendments that would change the bill's scope and give it a better direction. That is a problem for all parliamentarians. I hope that we will be able to have a look at this issue in the near future.
In the meantime, overall, I think that the bill before us deserves the support of Parliament.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON
Madam Speaker, all government services should be fast, fair and efficient. That should always include immigration services. People who use the service often do not necessarily know immigration laws very well and sometimes have language difficulties. That is why, ultimately, immigration regulations and laws should be transparent. They should be easy to understand. The decision-making process should be very clear and not appear to be arbitrary. Until then, a lot of immigrants will require some assistance. Some will have to go to immigration consultants or lawyers. We hope most will find they do not have the need to do so.
For the past many years, immigration consultants have not been regulated. The former Liberal government brought forward a bill a few years ago and set up a regulatory body. However, the regulatory body was not given the power to regulate properly. As a result, people could set up shop and call themselves immigration consultants without much knowledge of immigration laws or regulations. They could practise, but they did not need to be regulated and they were not breaking any law.
There are 2,000 immigration consultants who are licensed through one body and then there are another 2,000 immigration consultants practising who are not licensed. No one could really tell whether one group was better than the other group, or that any immigration consultants were breaking the laws.
In the last five years, only two or three people have been charged by the government for fraudulent behaviour. However, most people who have dealt with immigrants, whether at immigration offices or constituency offices of members of Parliament, have heard many horrifying experiences, where potential immigrants have been told that their applications have been submitted, but they have not. As a result, their brothers or sisters have grown too old to be considered under family class, or applications are completed in a way that is wrong. Many thousands of dollars later, because their applications have not been completed correctly, the potential immigrants have lost the opportunity to come to Canada or Canadians have been unable to bring their relatives to be united with them in Canada.
There are also other even more extreme cases where immigration consultants have taught people how lie and pretend to be refugees, clogging up the refugee system so genuine refugees have to wait for a long time before their cases are heard.
There are also cases where genuine refugees complete their application forms incorrectly. Some of them experienced torture overseas, but they were unable to describe it in a way that was satisfactory because of the wrong advice they received from consultants. As a result, some faced deportation, while others lost a lot of money.
This terrible experience suffered by potential immigrants is not new. In the early eighties, I was an assistant to a member of Parliament, New Democrat Dan Heap. At that time, I worked with the Globe and Mail with Victor Malarek, an investigative journalist. We visited a few unscrupulous immigration consultants and were able to document all types of behaviour that was fraudulent.
In the eighties and nineties there was a huge uproar in the communities. People were saying that these consultants had to be regulated, yet through these years, it was never done properly.
I hope, with Bill C-35, we will finally get it done properly. I hope the minister will ensure that there is speedy implementation of the bill, that the regulator will be picked and that it will operate in a democratic, fair and open manner. I also hope the regulator will have the power to legislate and regulate all immigration consultants. If people choose to practise as immigration consultants, they will be unable to do so, if they proceed without the licensing of this body. It will be a criminal offence to do so.
Beyond that, legislation is just one piece of the puzzle. The other piece includes education of both Canadians and potential immigrants overseas. The third piece is enforcement of the law. Even after a regulator has been established and licensed, we need to ensure that the Canadian Border Services Agency, the RCMP, sometimes CSIS and immigration officers work together to go after people who act in a fraudulent manner. The regulator needs the power to do this.
The Canadian government also needs to provide the kind of human resources needed in order to ensure those who commit a criminal act will be brought to justice. If not, the legislation will unfortunately not be enforced.
As well, after the regulator has been established, there needs to be regular evaluation. There have to be audits and regular reporting so it is clear for Canadian taxpayers, immigrants, members of Parliament and the general public that this new regulatory body functions in a way that is open, transparent and fair.
I want to spend some time on the detail of the proposed legislation. I have made quite a few amendments to the bill, one of which deals with smugglers, traffickers and immigration consultants who give bad advice. Through this amendment, if people, be they smugglers or consultants, violate the immigration act, enforcement officers will now have 10 years to go after them. In the past, it was only six months. Therefore, it is much tougher and there will be more fines if convictions take place. Smugglers will face life sentences and/or $1 million in fines if they are convicted. The punishment to those who give bad advice, cheat or victimize refugees and immigrants is very steep, and that is a good change.
Another change is the minister will have the power to revoke a regulator's licence. If a regulator is not performing the duty it is supposed to perform, the minister will have the power to take its licence away, especially if it is not delivering good service.
Other changes that I have been assured will be implemented are as follows.
There is the provision that would require immigrants seeking immigration status of any kind or renewing status in Canada to disclose the use of a representative. This would enable immigration officers to check whether a representative was licensed or not.
An administrative change would be a published list of people who had been convicted or removed from the list of approved immigration consultants. This list would be published on the Citizenship and Immigration website. Potential overseas immigrants would be able to see which consultants were licensed, which ones had their licences revoked or had been fined or convicted.
There would be a one-stop shop kind of hotline for the public to report fraud with a lead team to investigate the tips from complaints on unscrupulous immigration consultants. Often it is very confusing for immigrants, especially if their language capacity is not perfect. They may not know whether they should go to the local police, the RCMP, the immigration officer, or CBSA and they may get bounced around. At the end of the day, an immigrant may get frustrated and not file a complaint. Then the immigration consultant would continue to exploit other people. With the hotline and information published on the website of CIC, the public will know how to report fraud.
Another area where there is agreement is on some companies operating in Beijing or New Delhi. A company in India will be advised that it cannot provide substantive immigration advice. It is assisting immigrants to process claims, but it should not act as consultants or lawyers. It is not its task and really should not be its function.
At the end of day, after these agreements, there were still a few changes I would have made, but they were never included in Bill C-35.
I would have preferred to have seen overseas employment recruiters included in the bill so they could be licensed as well. If they ended up behaving in a way that was unacceptable, then they could be charged.
I hoped that if potential immigrants were given terrible advice, they would have a chance to reapply if the immigration consultant was convicted. Also, the immigrant's removal from Canada would be stayed until the immigration consultant went to court and was convicted.
Sometimes, whether they are smugglers, traffickers or crooked consultants, they give bad advice and the victims end up being deported from Canada and are not given the chance to either report the fraud or testify in court. The smugglers, traffickers or crooked consultants end up getting away without being convicted in court and they end up preying on other people.
A stay of removal until the criminals are convicted is really important so the victims are protected. If not, others, unfortunately, will be victimized by these criminals.
Unfortunately, that did not get into Bill C-35. This bill also deals with the same section of the law that deals with traffickers and smugglers. I would prefer it if we could reverse the onus so that the smugglers would have to prove that they are innocent. However, that was not acceptable.
All in all, at the end of the day, Bill C-35 is a bill that I and the New Democratic Party of Canada support because it would provide a legislative framework to ensure that all immigration consultants practising in Canada must be licensed and it would tighten up the law so that hopefully there will be fewer immigrants being cheated and having their life destroyed by these crooks.
I hope there will be sufficient resources to ensure the enforcement of this bill so that in a few years from now we will not be coming back to the House yet one more time to try to fix this issue.
Ultimately, maybe five or ten years from now, if the industry has matured in a way to be able to set up an independent non-share corporation so that the body can be self-regulating and the minister or the Government of Canada would no longer have to regulate, that would be the way to go. Just like the Canadian Bar Association, the Law Society or other professional bodies of engineers or accountants, this immigration consultant industry would be able to independently regulate itself.
I have been persuaded that the time is not right yet. Eventually that would be the goal for this industry to practice, as an independent non-share corporation. In the meantime, I hope the minister will be wise and will pick the right kind of regulator that will be able to deliver the service in a most efficient, open and transparent manner.
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
December 7th, 2010 / 11:50 a.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Madam Speaker, I want to speak to Bill C-35 because it affects all hon. members in the conduct of their work. It is probably one of the more sensitive and the more difficult areas. It deals with constituents who have matters dealing with immigration and even refugee issues.
Recently I have had a number of cases where people received bad information. They either did not provide true, full, plain and accurate information on a form or in representations, or there were some contradictions, and it was basically because of these so-called experts or advisers, many of whom are just people who are part of a particular community and say they have been through this before and know how to do it. It is a real tragedy when that happens, while someone with all the details on the table will be able to successfully complete an application, be considered and in fact be able to proceed with whatever proceeding is going on, or even with regard to things such as appeals.
This problem has been going on for so long that we have finally come to a bill that says, in proposed subsection 91(1):
Subject to this section, no person shall knowingly, directly or indirectly, represent or advise a person, for direct or indirect consideration — or offer to do so — in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act.
It is interesting that the words “directly or indirectly” were put in there, I assume for greater certainty, but even the reference in this subsection, “or offer to do so”. Even to offer to provide advice for money is an offence unless it is persons who are designated as not contravening because they are either lawyers, members of a law society, including paralegals, or members in good standing of a body designated under subsection 91(5).
I previously asked the question of the member for Trinity—Spadina with regard to subsection 91(5) and said I would like an example of someone who might be designated by the minister. She gave the example of a paralegal, which actually is already in subsection 91(2). So I still do not have that. I hope someone is going to be able to expand on that, because when it gives the minister, under regulations, the authority to designate a body whose members in good standing may represent or advise a person for consideration, or offer to do so, in connection with the act, that means that notwithstanding anything else that is in the bill, the regulation is going to provide presumably a list of others who may be designated.
As I have often said in this place, bills that come before us are tabled and at first reading they get a bill number, we have second reading debate on the document, and if it is passed, it goes to committee where we have witnesses and amendments can be proposed. Once it passes through committee, it will come back to this place, where we can amend the bill with report stage motions, particularly from members who are not otherwise engaged in the process of the committee work, and also where the committee had not considered any such suggestions already. Now we are at third reading, and after all of this and we are going to vote on the bill in a very short time, we still do not know what the regulations will say. That is always my question.
If we look at legislation and ask when does it come into force and it says it comes into force on a date fixed by Governor in Council, that basically means that even though we may pass it and it goes through the Senate and all the legislative steps, it does not come into force until the regulations are drafted and promulgated and in fact are gazetted. That basically means nobody knows when it will happen, and there are other areas in which regulations have to be made.
My concern is that we have been having a debate on a bill that would do something and we have provided within the bill those who will not be committing an offence, but we have this regulation that would also exempt others at the discretion of the minister. I do not know whether that includes the YMCA or other social service agencies, something such as that, that may deal with the public.
The wording here is kind of interesting. Even to offer to provide service for direct or indirect compensation or benefit would constitute an offence under this.
I used to do the audit of a number of agencies, such as the Malton Community Council and immigration consulting services of Peel. These are organizations that do not fall under the legal ambit. I assume that the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants itself may in fact be providing services to people. I do not know whether they are going to be included as well.
It leaves us in the situation, which we have been in so many other cases, where the legislation in its intent is clear, but the details with regard to the principal persons who would be authorized or who have been, as put here, committing an offence or a contravention of the section are still unknown. We still do not know who these others are.
That little hole means that until this bill becomes law and the regulations are there, people are going to continue to do this. This is a problem in terms of people providing bad advice, which has very serious consequences on the lives of people who may very well find themselves taken out of Canada and sent back to the country from which they came, for any proceeding under this act, for people who are giving information.
I think every member of Parliament in this place could give an example of where individuals had relied on bad advice from people who represented themselves as knowing how the system worked. Once a person's file gets that little black mark on the top corner, the flag, that means that not only is that person's situation jaundiced and possibly dead, but it may also mean that other family members would be involved. People desperately want to do it right. They want to become Canadians. They want to be in Canada, and they rely on someone who unscrupulously provides them with information that is not correct, either because they are not properly trained or up to date on the law, or in fact maybe they simply want to get money from people who trust them. This happens far too often.
I am not sure whether bills such as this ought not to be also accompanied by a commitment by the government to educate the public. We can pass laws here every day, but if people do not realize that there is a serious concern about unscrupulous people out there who are giving bad advice and charging a lot of money for it, I wonder when the government is going to tell people that they can go to their members of Parliament first.
There are experienced people in the constituency offices of members of Parliament, who have been through the process many times. They have seen some of the ugly stories where people have blown it because they relied on those who were not properly informed about the law or the processes, the number of people who have been told not to disclose the fact that they have a child who is staying with somebody back home somewhere, and they are told that will be taken care of later. Something such as that would be a terrible blow to anybody's chances of being successful in an appeal or whatever it might be.
We get these situations. It was probably the first critical issue that I dealt with when I became a member of Parliament some 17 years ago, to have people come and see me who already find themselves with some problem and not understanding why they have to provide this, that or the other thing, or they are being questioned why something was not done and they do not know what to do now. Sometimes, at that point, it is too late.
It goes also to the fact that when members of Parliament get elected and come to this place, most members do not realize that their offices are going to become, for all intents and purposes, consultancies for immigration, refugee, citizenship and visa issues. It is a very complicated area, yet the House provides absolutely no orientation on it. Basically we have to survive and just struggle as much as we can. But experienced members have experienced staff and they can do very helpful work. If people are not confident there, they still certainly can go and get other advice, but even something as simple as making a mistake on an application can in fact jeopardize the success of any action that might be taken by a person covered under this act .
We need to spend some time, because most members will know that even if our offices were to contact citizenship and immigration, often there are difficulties even getting quick answers on certain things. There are often long delays in getting responses to requests for the status of certain things. The saddest day in a constituency office is undoubtedly when we have bad news for people because mistakes were made when they relied on others.
I hope that this is a good step and that the regulations will in fact be appropriate and not leave a little window open for those who may want to take advantage of it, because there are several regulations here. We will have to wait until they are promulgated to see what the government has in mind, but I would caution people and encourage the government, once this bill is passed, to publicly announce this bill and what it does and to encourage people not to be too quick to rely on the advice of those who are not properly trained or knowledgeable about the laws of Canada. They do change, and it can make a difference to a person's entire life.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 23rd, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.
Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, other than our colleagues, who are first nation members, you, I, and all of our colleagues in the House have something in common: we are the descendants of, and in fact some of us are, immigrants to Canada.
Yesterday in the House of Commons we heard speeches on Bill C-35 from two such members. The member for Newton—North Delta told his particular story of a young man arriving on Canada's shores as an immigrant from India and what an incredibly inspiring story that was. The immigrant from India, with virtually no money in his pocket, had a deep desire in his heart to build a new life in a new land. Who could have foretold that 25 years later he would be here, among us, in the House of Commons as one of the legislators of laws for this great land?
We also heard a speech yesterday from the member for Eglinton—Lawrence who also arrived as a new Canadian 55 years ago as part of a wave of Italian Canadians who arrived in Canada in the fifties, sixties and seventies. He mentioned that while he was speaking in the House, his grandson, a third generation Italian Canadian, was watching his immigrant grandfather address this august chamber, the House of Commons.
What incredible stories of Canada's potential, of Canada's promise. This has been the story of Canada right from the first days of Confederation. In Canada's first House of Commons there was a member elected by the name of Alexandre-Édouard Kierzkowski, a refugee from Russian imperialism, and a member of Canada's first House of Commons in 1867. That has been the story of Canada, wave after wave of people arriving on these shores.
The French, who settled and, along with the existing first nations, created something unique to Canada: a new first nation, the Métis. After the English, soon after Confederation there was a large wave of Bukovinians, Galicians, and Ukrainians who transformed the bush of the Northwest Territories into the golden wheat fields of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Chinese arrived to build our railroads, those ribbons of steel that bound our geographically vast land into a cohesive oneness.
More recently, as I have mentioned, the Italian Canadians and Portuguese Canadians arrived in the last half century and transformed our cities, cities such as my home town, Toronto. They transformed those cityscapes and created those jewels, the most liveable cities on the planet: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver. What this speaks to is a system that is dynamic. Our multicultural mosaic is not static; it is a constantly evolving multicultural mosaic. That is Canada's promise and strength.
Unfortunately, over the last number of years our immigration system has been suffering from dysfunction. In fact, I would even say it has reached the point where the system pretty much does not work.
In the past there have been two types of newcomers to Canada. There have been the refugees, going as far back as the Loyalists, the underground railroad, and more recently, the Vietnam and Iraqi war resisters. Even my grandparents landed in Canada, on freedom's shores, as refugees from communism, from the horrors of Stalinism. There have been the refugees and there have been the economic immigrants who saw Canada not just as a free land but also as a land of opportunity, having departed from lands where at that point in time, unfortunately, opportunities were limited. In Canada the opportunities were limitless.
The waves of people that landed on Canada's shores landed here because Canada is a free country and, as a consequence of that freedom, it is a prosperous country. All of those people had something in common. They came here with a willingness to work hard so that they could build a future for themselves, for their families and for future generations. They succeeded and they contributed back into their communities and to the greatness of our country.
Unfortunately, we have a current refugee and immigration system that has ceased to function. It creates confusion. It creates a situation of shattered dreams for hopeful new Canadians, new immigrants to our country. In this confusion, and in desperation that is fed by the confused system that we currently have, the ones who step in are the charlatans, the ghost consultants, who prey on impossible dreams and make impossible promises. They prey on the most vulnerable.
As my colleagues have said, I also am supporting this bill which deals with crooked consultants. I am supporting sending the bill to committee to further refine it. But let us not lose sight of the bigger job at hand. That job is to fix our immigration system. We need a new act.
Let me mention specific cases to show how desperate the situation is for potential new Canadians and the circumstances the current system forces them into.
Marya Kunyk arrived on a work visa as a live-in caregiver. She had to work two years over a three-year period to be able to begin the process of becoming a Canadian. Just a year after arriving and working on fulfilling that obligation, she was crossing at a crosswalk and was hit by a car. It was a horrific accident. The driver was found guilty, but Marya today has a shattered body, literally. Parts of her body have been replaced with pieces of steel.
What is the system doing to Marya, who needs continuing health care and physiotherapy so that she can once again become a functioning productive member of society? The system is deporting Marya back to a country that cannot provide the health care she requires. The system is deporting her because she is not fulfilling the obligations of her contract that she work two full years. It is just common sense. She has not been able to fulfill the obligations of that contract. She was hit by a car through no fault of her own.
Is it any wonder that there is so much desperation among new Canadians that they turn to these crooked consultants, these charlatans who prey on that desperation.
In another case, Iryna Ivaniv is a young woman who has been trying for over six years to bring her husband to Canada from Ukraine. She has four young children, Canadian children. I will read from a letter that she wrote to the minister:
1. We have four young children who are Canadian citizens: 6-year-old; 3-year-old; and 5-months-old twins. They have a right to have both their parents raise them....
2. Our twins were born premature. They're under pediatric constant supervision and need medical care which I do not feel could be obtained in Ukraine in satisfactory manner.
3. All our children are registered to start school and daycare from September 2010. I must stress that Canadian children 6-year of age must attend school under The Education Act.
What has happened in the case of Iryna Ivaniv? Just in the past two months, her husband has once again been denied the opportunity to come to Canada to unite this family.
How does this happen? Through an access to information request, I have been able to get the notes of the decision. It is astounding. The decision states that Iryna Ivaniv is still in possession of Ukrainian citizenship and can therefore freely access all health and social services in that country. She is not a Ukrainian citizen; she is a Canadian citizen. Ukraine does not allow dual citizenship. She is a citizen of one country.
How is it that decision-makers who do not even understand the rules are making the decisions?
Further on the decision states that the children would benefit from being sent from their country to Ukraine so they could be with their extended family, so there would not be disruption to the children's life separation from their grandparents, and it is significant disruption that we have caused because in Ukrainian culture, extended families are traditionally important.
My goodness. We would take Canadian children away from their mother, their Canadian grandparents, their Canadian uncle, deport them, and send them to a country half a world away.
These cases clearly illustrate how dysfunctional the system has become. Is it no wonder that people prey on the desperation of people such as Iryna, on the desperation of people such as Marya.
Let me also reference a statistic from the public database of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration regarding the processing time for skilled workers from Kiev, Ukraine. In 2009, 80% of the cases were finalized in 83 months, which is 6 years and 11 months.
What employer in Canada will wait seven years for an employee that has been hired from a foreign country to arrive? What about the people in those countries, under the skilled worker class of immigration, who are waiting not several months, but year after year after year? What has happened to Canada's promise?
As I said earlier, Canada's dynamism and greatness has been built by the waves of people who have arrived on Canada's shores. We often reference the incredible natural resources of this vast land. Yes, we have been blessed with natural resources unlike any other country in the world, but our greatest resource is our human resource, the deep reservoir of human capacity that we have.
Canada is unique to the planet in having people who have an intricate understanding of every culture of the world, who speak every language of every people on the planet. In a future global village, what an incredible advantage that gives us.
That promise has to be reinstated. Canada cannot become a land that is static, that loses its dynamism. Yes, this particular bill addresses one issue, one small part of the dysfunction, and that is why we are supporting it. However, I certainly hope it does not distract us from the job at hand, and the job at hand is to put in place a new system. Canada's future is at stake.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 23rd, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-35. I listened yesterday to some very good speeches regarding the bill and some very good ideas. I might say at the outset that this bill is long overdue. I hope this Parliament lasts long enough for us to get the bill to committee and see that it does find its way through the system and into law.
As the last speaker indicated, this is not an issue that just came up in the last seven years. It might have taken the Liberals up until the last seven years to recognize this as a problem, but I can tell members that this was a rampant problem back in the 1980s.
When I was elected provincially in Manitoba in 1986, one of the concerns we had at that time as a provincial government was how to regulate the immigration consultants. In order for us to come to grips with that issue and deal with it, we had to find out just how big the problem was because immigration consultants were everywhere.They were not just lawyers doing it. In fact, lawyers were probably in the minority in terms of participants. We had many travel agents doing immigration consulting on the side. We had all sorts of people from all walks of life involved in one way or another in the immigration consulting business and charging big fees. As a matter of fact, some of these people were so well connected that they knew people on the Immigration Board who, in those days, were political appointees and oftentimes local, well connected people. Of course the immigration consultants would develop a rapport with them and try to get special considerations. I realize that the government has gone beyond that stage and tried to take steps to make that process a little better than it was.
I see this as a work in progress. I do not feel that proceeding with the bill and passing the bill will solve the problem because whenever in society there are large monetary rewards available for people to access, they will find a way to do it. Therefore, no matter what rules we set here in Parliament, there will be unscrupulous people who will find a way around whatever rules we set.
However, while it is late in the game, it is good that we are coming to grips with it. I am very happy that we are concentrating on the problem, and whether this solves the problem or even part of the problem will be something we should applaud. We certainly need tough rules against people who take advantage of vulnerable people. We not only need tough rules but we also need tough enforcement.
For the last several hundred years we have had immigrants coming to our shores for a whole number of reasons. If we look back in history we find the early explorers, starting with Leif Eriksson, I believe, but certainly Christopher Columbus and other explorers who were out to find new resources and new lands for their kings. It became a policy of kings to expand their empires by looking for more resources, whether it was new trade routes, new products, furs or gold. There have been various stages of immigration over the years.
We know, for example, in parts of Australia, where I was a number of years ago, many of the original immigrants to the Tasmanian area were from penal colonies. People were taken from prisons in Europe and sent to those colonies.
We had stages in our history when people were involved in the gold rush. Just south of Manitoba is the Black Hills area. The gold rush in that area brought thousands of immigrants to our country. There was the California gold rush and the Yukon gold rush.
The member for Timmins—James Bay talked about how people came here for jobs and for a better life.
Many people came here because of religious persecution in their home countries. They came here during certain periods when their governments back home were treating them badly, and that was their way to escape. People came here because of political problems in their home countries. There are numerous reasons why people have come to our country over the years.
Many people from China came to Canada to help build the railway. Perhaps John A. Macdonald would never have been able to get the railway built had it not been for Chinese immigrants coming in by the thousands to do what was essentially a very dangerous job. Many of them died during the process.
People have observed that there were fewer rules for immigration in those days. Several hundred years ago, people could simply come to our country and essentially get in, but today we are dealing with many more rules that have been brought in by different governments.
The Liberals, by virtue of the fact that they have been the government for most of the last century, have, in fact, been making the rules. To their credit, they have certainly encouraged immigration over the years. People with another view have said that they created the problems with the present immigration system that we are now trying to solve.
Several members have indicated that MPs' offices are deluged with immigration questions and immigration problems. Generally speaking, if that is a problem, that is an indication of a systemic problem within the government. I can think of other problems, on a provincial basis, for example, that people in large numbers have complained about to their elected officials, and finally, the political system wised up to the fact that something needed to be done about the problem to move it away from elected officials, because it is not really our job as elected officials to be running government programs.
One of the things I was surprised about as a new MP was that many MPs' offices are spending inordinate amounts of time and effort on immigration problems. Immigrants will oftentimes tell me that when they had a problem, it was their MP who solved it. When we are using up so much of our time on one particular problem, we have to deal with the problem through new laws and new enforcement and major changes.
This is not a problem that has developed in the last half dozen years, or even in the last 10 years. This problem was very much alive 25 years ago, and probably long before that. Why all governments have taken so much time to come up with a solution is really a big question.
The member for Winnipeg Centre made a fabulous speech yesterday on this subject, and he dealt with a number of areas. His riding is in the core area of Winnipeg, and he sees a huge number of immigrants who come to Manitoba.
The Manitoba government had enough foresight about 10 years ago to come up with a provincial nominee program, which, by the way, has attracted about 15,000 immigrants in the last year or so. The program has been a winner since the NDP government of Manitoba actually set it up. As a matter of fact, it was so successful that the government of Nova Scotia looked at it, studied it, and I believe adopted, or copied, the program.
The same thing happens all over the country. When there is a good program in a province, in Quebec, for example, other provinces will take a look at it. This program developed in Manitoba got such immediate, positive results that the Nova Scotia premier at the time, John Hamm, a Conservative, took a special interest in this area and came to study the program.
The member for Winnipeg Centre points out that when many immigrants first come into the province, initially they settle in his riding, so he has had a first-hand view of the immigration problems. He also sees the consultants at work. He indicated that he uncovered a situation, and I am sure that there are many such examples, where consultants were telling people that for $3,000 they would get them a letter from the person's member of Parliament, as if that was going to be their ticket through the process. That was one of the examples he discovered. The question is how many more examples of people paying these huge fees for something that, in fact, would have been free have gone undiscovered.
Before the member for Winnipeg Centre was the terrific member that he is for that constituency, that seat, for a very brief period, was held by the Liberals under Mr. David Walker. I know that he too had a lot of time to spend on immigration problems. As a matter of fact, my wife tells me very often the story of when she was trying to get her father in from Peru. They went to Mr. Walker's office, and he did a terrific job of getting them through the paperwork and the problems they had getting her father into Canada.
The question is whether MPs' offices have now become the official funnel through which all immigration issues and problems have to pass. Perhaps it is better that they come to the MPs' offices than to the immigration consultants.
The fact of the matter is that the immigration consultants catch them at an earlier stage. The immigration consultants are sitting in positions as travel agents. They are the ones selling the tickets.
The previous member who spoke before me made some good points. Yesterday the member for Winnipeg Centre talked about issues with the temporary worker program and how that program is being abused and profited from by some consultants. CBC did a big exposé about 20 years ago about immigration consultants in Manitoba who were involved in the immigrant investor program. The members will know all about that program and how it works. It basically attracts richer immigrants to the country.
These immigration consultants were not just operating here in Canada; they were operating outside Canada. They were travelling over to, in this case, I believe, the Philippines and were operating out of there. They were running ads in the paper in the Philippines with pictures of the immigration consultant shaking hands with or standing by the mayor of Winnipeg at the time.
I guess, as a politician, you have to be careful who you get your picture taken with, because you never know how, when, or where it is going to be used. The mayor of Winnipeg at the time was a wonderful gentleman, and he was very surprised to find out that his picture was being used in another country by an immigration consultant who was attracting people by showing that he had credibility with the mayor. If the immigrant wanted easy access into Winnipeg, this was the consultant to deal with, because here he was in a picture with the mayor of Winnipeg.
He took a lot of people for a lot of money. They employed him to fast-track them into the country, but in addition to that, this guy was also a real estate guy. He was selling them businesses that they had not seen other than through pictures. In one case, he sold a bakery in a rundown building in a rundown part of town for probably double or triple its value. When the immigrant investor ended up in Canada, they found themselves in a very difficult situation, because not only had they paid this guy consulting fees, they had also overpaid for the bakery they were buying. This is just one example. There were other examples.
The member from the Conservatives who was just commenting now knows of what I speak, because he was around in those days. He knows that this immigration consultant had connections and friends in his own provincial party. They were working together as a group. There was a group of them. These people were not people that any political party would want to be involved with. However, you cannot stop people from joining your party, and in some cases, you do not know why they are joining your party. These guys were smart enough to know that if they could connect with local politicians, mayors, and provincial and federal politicians, it was good for their business. It was a good business practice.
Of course, CBC did its job in exposing this person, but by then the damage had already been done, and these investors had lost most of their money.
This is the kind of activity that gives the country a bad name, because these people have friends back home, and they will certainly relate their experiences of coming to the country. When we are trying to attract immigrants, this is not a selling point if you run the risk of dealing with these types of fraudsters.
The member for Winnipeg Centre pointed out yesterday that the goal was to have a certain percentage of immigrants come to Canada on an annual basis. In actual fact, I think in only a very few years have we actually met the target. I do not think we have ever met the target. We have come close to the target in only several years.
The fact is that the government is on the right track with this particular bill. I am not one to not give the government its due when I think it is on the right track. In this case, it is on the right track. I just hope that it stays around long enough to get this bill through the process and does not prorogue Parliament again or call a quick election because it sees some short-term, quick opportunity on the gun registry or any other idea that kind of hits the government's fancy as the days progress. I hope that we apply ourselves.
We saw what happened under Lester Pearson. For six years of minority government, a lot of things were accomplished. The Conservative government has been around for five years and what does it have to show?
I would suggest—
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 23rd, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill on behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada. I am also happy to say that our party supports this bill.
It is a very important part of any responsible opposition not only to constructively criticize a government when we think its policy direction is ill-advised or incorrect, but it is also very important, as a responsible opposition, to congratulate and support a government when it introduces legislation that is correct and addresses a very real problem.
I want to congratulate my colleagues on the government side of the House for bringing in Bill C-35. The bill goes a long way toward dealing with a problem that is very pressing in this country.
The short title of Bill C-35 is the cracking down on crooked consultants act, which shows the government's penchant for giving its legislation catchy titles, but the title captures what the bill is about. Bill C-35 prohibits unlicensed consultants in the immigration field from providing advice or submitting applications on behalf of potential immigrants. It gives the minister the power to establish a new body that would regulate immigration consultants through a tendering process.
New Democrats, in particular my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, have been pushing for legislative changes to eliminate unethical immigration consultant practices for a long time now. At present, one out of every two immigration consultants is not licensed. There are many horror stories of vulnerable immigrants being cheated out of substantial amounts of money, in some cases their life savings, and worse, having their chances for a new beginning in Canada destroyed in the process.
In the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, our party and the committee received two supporting reports with nine recommendations on this issue. These include legislative changes and, more importantly, enforcement and education efforts, which are vital to making this legislation workable in practice. Again my colleague from Trinity—Spadina moved a motion for concurrence in that report which, through the wisdom and efforts of members of this House, passed in the spring of this year.
As another member said very well, other than first nations people in this country, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Almost everybody in this House owes his or her place in Canada to the courage of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or ancestors even further back. In some cases, members of this House are direct immigrants themselves, so it is an obvious point to make that Canada is one of the most multicultural countries on earth and one whose entire societal fabric is based on immigrants.
My own riding of Vancouver Kingsway is one of the most multicultural ridings in the country. Forty per cent of the residents of Vancouver Kingsway are of Chinese descent, from the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau. Eleven per cent of the residents of Vancouver Kingsway are South Asian, hailing from India, Pakistan and the Punjab. Ten per cent of the residents of my riding are from the Philippines. Five per cent are from Vietnam, Korea and a host of other countries. Indeed 70% of the people in my riding are visible minorities and are now the visible majority in my riding.
There are over 100 languages spoken in Vancouver Kingsway. It is truly a cultural mosaic, one that is vibrant, strong and healthy. Many people in Vancouver Kingsway are first, second or third generation immigrants. I would venture to say that the majority of people in Vancouver Kingsway are within one of those three categories.
Of course, we have to pause and examine the profound reasons that people immigrate to Canada. Everybody who came to Canada, I think, came here because they had a dream. Sometimes those dreams were to build a better life for their families. Sometimes they were seeking freedom to practise their religion. Sometimes their dream was to escape poverty and enter a land where they felt equal opportunity was available to them and their children. Sometimes that dream involved pursuing an education. Many students come to Canada hoping to obtain an education upon which they can build a better life.
We also have to remember that this country, Canada, has been built by immigrants. We have already heard mention of the fact that one of the most important nation-building projects this country has witnessed, the building of our national coast-to-coast railway, could not have been done without the contributions of Chinese Canadians. Those people came here and were subjected to horrendous racism, including legislated racism, but they persevered and helped build a strong cultural Chinese presence on the west coast of our country and, indeed, in every province across this land.
The story of my own relatives is a typical one.
In the 1920s my grandparents immigrated to Canada from Hungary. First my grandfather came with his brother. They landed in Halifax and ended up taking a train across Canada. They were dropped off in October on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan in a little place called Dewberry. He and his brother had to walk 21 miles from the train station to their end destination. They lived in a sod house for two winters. They cleared land under a government program whereby if one cleared a quarter section of land within two years, one would be allowed to homestead it and own it. My grandfather did that and three years later brought his wife over from Hungary. At that point they raised my mother who to this day still speaks Hungarian and has exposed me to that cultural history and tradition.
My father had a similar story. His grandparents came from Ireland, Wales, and Germany. I think I am a fairly typical Canadian who can reach back just a generation or two and touch countries across the world.
What all immigrants have in common is courage, trust and faith. Their stories also can be heart-rending because many immigrants experience the reality of separation from their families, loneliness, insecurity and indeed poverty when they arrive here. Statistics in this country are rife with the difficulties and specific challenges that particularly face first generation Canadians.
Bill C-35 is targeted at protecting those immigrants, and that is critically important. It protects immigrants from unscrupulous immigration consultants who would prey on those people whose dreams make them vulnerable. They prey on these people for the most unjustifiable reason: pure money.
I want to pause and say that there are many professional and ethical immigration consultants practising in this field across the country, particularly in British Columbia. There are many diligent immigration consultants who provide intelligent and well-earned advice and help people from all over the globe access Canada's immigration system. I think those consultants join with us in Parliament today in wanting to keep their profession one that is well regulated and full of integrity. Those immigration consultants realize they have an interest in doing so. I want to point that out in particular because when we talk about a profession, we must recognize there are many people of integrity as well as those whose professional standards leave a lot to be desired.
I have met many excellent consultants. I have met people like Rose White and Bob White who have come to my office several times and given me their opinion on all kinds of immigration issues. Rajesh Randev helps hundreds and hundreds of people come to this country but who otherwise would be completely mystified by the process.
Cecile Barbier, a person who lives in my own neighbourhood, a recent immigrant from France and a lawyer from that country has taken immigration courses, so that she can also put her knowledge to work, helping other people. These are the kinds of immigration consultants who want to have a law in this country that makes their profession a regulated, respected one.
There are important organizations in British Columbia that also do critical and pivotal work for immigrants: SUCCESS Immigrant Settlement Services and PICS provide absolutely essential services to immigrants from every corner of the globe.
I think we have heard from all MPs. I do not think there is a member in the House who cannot stand up and tell stories about Canadians and residents of their ridings who come to their offices with terrible problems with the immigration system that they face. Sometimes I joke that I do not have a constituency office; I feel like I have an immigration law practice.
I would like to give an example of an issue on which I dealt with the immigration minister just yesterday. A resident in my riding is a citizen here with her husband and daughter who is from Colombia. She has had her mother and her brother visit here on temporary resident visas, in other words, visitor visas. Her younger sister has applied to come here just to visit her sister for three weeks and she was turned down three times. This person in Colombia is a woman with a law degree. The first time she was turned down she was in university and she was turned down because she did not have the income. Then she got her law degree and she was turned down the second time because she did not have a travel history.
This is of course a vicious cycle in which many people find themselves. How do we get a travel history if we are turned down for a visa because we do not have a travel history? This is the third time this person has applied for a visa. She was turned down this time because a visa officer in Colombia misread her application and said that she did not have sufficient income from her employer when the figure and the employer were listed right on her paperwork.
These are the kinds of typical problems that MPs face every day. These are the kinds of problems that immigration consultants could help with if they are regulated, trained, and held to a standard of professionalism that they want and need.
In my constituency I deal with immigrants every day that I am in Vancouver. People from the Philippines tell me that the number one export of the Philippines is not a good; it is people. I deal with Filipinos every day who come into my office, trying to engage in family reunification, trying to bring aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and cousins to Canada so that they can build their families.
We must realize in this country that in many areas of the world family is not defined as one's parents and children; it is defined as one's aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and grandparents. That concept of extended family is critically important to many people.
People come into my office who hail from China, where the rate of refusal on spousal sponsorships from places like Beijing is approaching 50%. That means almost one out of every two people from China who are married and are making applications to bring their spouses over are rejected.
People come into my office from India who are consistently rejected when they try to bring relatives over to attend a wedding. This is particularly a problem in Chandigarh, which has about the highest rate of refusals of temporary resident visas, TRVs, in the world.
These are the problems my residents face every day and with which they come to their MP for assistance. Our offices processes hundreds and hundreds of these cases every year through the hard work of my constituency assistants, Theresa Ho and Christine Ackermann . They help these people. They go out of their way and do yeowomen's work to help these people with their problems. These are people who do not have money to pay an immigration consultant or a lawyer. So they come to us.
I have also had people come into my office who have been victims of unscrupulous immigration consultants. One of the most heart-rending situations is when people come to this country, work one, two or three jobs, undergo intense pain by being separated from their families, work for years, save up money working jobs for $8 and $9 an hour and after working two or three years, save $3,000 or $4,000, which they give to an immigration consultant because they think that person will help bring their relatives over, only to discover that person abused their trust.
They lose their money, do not get the results they want and, worse, in many cases the applicant's record is permanently marred so that their relatives can never come over. That is wrong and is something that cries out for immediate rectification by sound legislators. I want to congratulate the government for bringing in this legislation, which I think goes a long way to addressing this.
What we must ensure and be vigilant about as parliamentarians is that this legislation is sound and that it works. It does not do any good to bring in legislation that cannot be actuated in practice. We need to ensure that we establish a regulatory process that has teeth, one that licenses immigration consultants and establishes sound standards, so we can ensure that any people calling themselves immigration consultants in this country have the proficiency and professionalism required to carry out their duties in a proper manner.
We must ensure there are adequate enforcement measures because standards without enforcement are of no use. We must ensure the immigration consultants in this country know that if they try to practice without licences or provide services they are not entitled to provide, they will be caught and there will be consequences.
We must also ensure that the public knows about it. We need to ensure that every person wanting to access the immigration system in this country can go to a website and see at a glance, like is done in Australia, who are the licensed immigration consultants, who are not licensed, who has made application and failed, and those who have a black mark against them. These are all critical components of a sound piece of legislation that ensures it does not just amount to words on a paper but actually makes a tangible difference in people's lives.
I also want to comment briefly on the government's attempt to bring in legislation that the previous Liberal government failed to do. I hear members of the Liberal Party talk about this legislation, but, of course, when they were in power, they did not get it done. After numerous consultations and hearings, the former minister, the member now for Eglinton—Lawrence, set up a regulatory body that had no teeth.
The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants had no power to enforce regulations or to prevent unlicensed consultants from practising. To make matters worse, that organization was not required to behave in a democratic, efficient or transparent manner. I am glad to see that members of the Liberal Party standing up today are supporting this legislation after having the opportunity of 13 years in government and failing to do so.
In fact, in many respects what they did was even worse, which was to set up a process that did not work. That breeds disrespect and sets back policy development because people look to a regulatory framework that does not work as proof that a regulatory framework is not valid or needed, and that is not the case.
I want to, once again, indicate that New Democrats stand behind immigrants in this country. We want them to be able to unify their families, we want them to be able to have a fair, fast and efficient immigration system. We will join with the government and all members of the House in helping to ensure that immigration consultants in this country practise in a manner that is professional and helpful.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 23rd, 2010 / 11:55 a.m.
Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate today on Bill C-35.
We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of immigration to Canada, and rightly so. The difficulty, however, is that people almost have to be Philadelphia lawyers to figure out what the rules and procedures are in order to immigrate to Canada. There is no real consistency in terms of what we tell people at our embassies and high commissions, about what the job market is like in a particular field, how long it will take in terms of the process in general to come to Canada, or under what basis people can come to Canada. For many people here who want to sponsor relatives, it turns out that they think it is a right rather than a privilege.
Not understanding the process has led to people looking for consultants. In some cases a consultant is really not the appropriate term given the fact that many of these people have limited if any understanding. There are some very good consultants out there and there are obviously some bad apples.
The difficulty is that as members of Parliament we are charged with the responsibility of dealing with legislation. In 2008 the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration produced nine recommendations. Now the question I have for the government is, why were they not implemented?
One of the difficulties around this place is that when a standing committee deals with a particular issue, it deals with a stream of witnesses, debate, amendments and comes up with very concrete recommendations that are sent to the government, sometimes it is as if we have basically wasted our time.
Now I realize that in 2008 there was a federal election, but since then these recommendations have not been implemented. I think that is absolutely unacceptable when we look at the nature of the recommendations to fix part of the problem. This legislation before the House is not a panacea. It is not going to solve all of the problems. It is not going to solve all the backlogs. It is not going to deal with the financial issues in order to implement the kind of process that we need in place.
In my office alone, one person is dedicated solely to deal with immigration. Now I am not an immigration office. In theory I seem to be part of an extension of the department. In many cases the department is dealing with the applications that need to be dealt with. We have too many people applying and not enough resources to deal with those applicants. Fortunately, I am very blessed with a very committed, dedicated individual who really understands the process, after the last five years.
The difficulty is that people's expectations and understanding of what is involved is like night and day. Many of these people are victims of consultants and it all starts where they are applying. Do our embassies and high commissions have the kind of information readily available?
One of the recommendations in this report was recommendation no. 8. It clearly indicated in 2008 that we needed to have the most up-to-date information, that people really had to understand what was going to be awaiting them if in fact they came to Canada, in terms of language skill requirements, job opportunities, housing, et cetera.
The difficulty is that most people enter this process rather blindly. Because they think that there is sometimes a quick fix, they deal with consultants. Some of these consultants turn out to be more of a problem than a cure.
In 2008 the standing committee made nine recommendations. One of them which I think was extremely important was this whole issue of a stand-alone agency that would deal with this issue in terms of having the summary powers needed to do the job properly.
Rather than amend the Citizenship and Immigration Act, we need to have a body that has the power to deal with consultants both from a regulatory standpoint, and some colleagues have talked about the provincial process of many regulatory bodies, but also the power to investigate and the power to really come down on people who mislead, who in fact basically take money when no service is really rendered.
Immigration is supposed to be important to this country and yet we have a system that is broken, and I would defy anyone who would suggest otherwise. People just need to go to any constituency office of a member of Parliament in the greater Toronto area or the greater Vancouver area and they will certainly see the difficulties that members of Parliament deal with. That is because we do not have the necessary tools. We do not have a legion of staff that can deal with this. There often is a lot of burn-out because one person dealing with this in particular is very difficult. We hear the most tragic stories of people who want to come to this country for a new opportunity but, again, it is the issue of dealing with this.
The last Liberal government, our government in 2005, put $900 million toward trying to deal with the backlog, which really was not enough, as with the present government which was not enough.
I am sure many members of Parliament have been asked by people how to speed up the process or how they can be fast-tracked. Obviously we can fast-track when we can fast-track them all and we cannot fast-track anyone.
Will this legislation deal with the problem? It will only deal partly with the problem. We support it going to committee. A 2008 standing committee report has nine recommendations in it, part of which deal with the issue of consultants. If the government had implemented those recommendations, we would perhaps be onto something else today. The fact is that we continue to try to reinvent the wheel instead of asking what the major problem is here.
If in fact we had no immigration policy, how would we create one that would address the economic needs of this country and the kinds of issues that we as Canadians believe are important and be able to attract people to this country? Instead, we always deal around the edges. We do not deal with the problems per se.
A stand alone regulatory body, as recommended by the standing committee in 2008, is what is needed. It really needs those powers, as we have said. However, this proposed legislation only deals with part of that issue. It does not really deal with the significant governance issues that the standing committee looked at when it listened to the many witnesses who came forward. We need to deal with that.
We also need to be working with our international partners. We need to get better coordination in terms of everything from people smuggling to the fact that people set up shot overseas and say that they are a consultant. When they are asked what kind of regulations there are, they say that one can come to Canada and do this and that.
Many of the people who come to my office have been drained financially paying money to certain individuals who in the end tell them to go see their MP. In other words, let the MP now try to deal with the problem that they in many cases have created or clearly have not been able to deal with. We need to look at that. It is obviously part of the solution.
As we know, consultants are often not lawyers. They provide advice and the difficulty is that sometimes they are not up to speed on this.
I have held information sessions in my riding dealing with the process. One is absolutely dizzy by the time one listens to how this process works: how does one do this, can one appeal this and then there is another appeal, what happens if one comes under certain classifications. One has to be a Philadelphia lawyer to figure that out.
We have these ghost consultants. We have these people who say that they can solve one's problem. It goes back to the fact that people accept money to give advice which often turns out not to be very helpful.
When we have standing committee recommendations, the best thing the government can do today would be to embrace those nine recommendations and move forward so we can deal with other aspects of immigration. Again, within those nine recommendations we also deal with a stand alone body that would deal with this. I think that is part of the solution but it is not the total solution.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 23rd, 2010 / 12:20 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Every member of Parliament is probably in a position to bring to this place his or her experience with some of the difficulties people have had with regard to these matters, whether it be sponsoring immigration, visas, or in fact, refugee files. Canadians probably are not aware that members of Parliament's offices probably do more work on immigration than they do on any other aspect of being a member of Parliament. There is a tremendous volume of activity. Some offices, in fact, have several staff members who are permanently dedicated to citizenship and immigration matters.
It is also probably pretty evident that Canadians at large often do not understand the difference between immigrants and refugees. We saw that with regard to the latest situation with the ship that arrived carrying Tamil refugee claimants.
The point I would like to make, first of all, is that we need to educate everyone who has a responsibility, interest, or stake in our system of immigration.
As I mentioned in the question to the previous speaker, the issue of providing resources from the department is critical. This bill does not propose additional resources for addressing the issues that have been raised.
I share the concern of other members about the title. If it is a bill to make improvements in terms of the regulations guiding those who provide consulting information and assistance, that is fine, but I note that in the speech of the minister himself, when he moved the bill, he made the broad statement that people do not have to go to consultants. I do not know where exactly they would go, other than maybe to an MP's office, but I do know that there is not a spot they can go to in the department to have their questions answered in a way that is helpful to them.
I note that in the report from the committee in 2008, three of the recommendations popped out. One of them is recommendation number eight. Keep in mind that this is a standing committee of members of Parliament. It recommends that the government revise all of its websites at Canadian embassies and missions abroad so that they include consistent, clear, and prominent information about immigration consultants.
One would think that our missions abroad would have all the boilerplate information necessary to guide people. One would think that the departmental website would have all the information to guide people through the processes, whether it be for immigration, sponsorship, applying for permanent residency, or visas. Also, from our experience, some files are very quick and could take maybe a couple of years, but most of them take three or four years. I have files that are seven years old. I do not think Canadians understand that the system is such that there are people in the hopper who have waited for a determination, waited for answers, for several years. It is tough to get into this country, but it does not have to be.
I also note that in the minister's speech, he spent a lot of time talking about these terrible consultants and the forged documents, forged marriage certificates, and forged bank statements and all of these things. He never once mentioned the applicants themselves and the role they play in terms of making application with documents that they know, or ought to know, are not proper.
It is a tough country to get into, very tough. A lot of people have talked about the dream of getting into this country. The dream of getting into this country is self-evident. There is an understanding that one has to be true, full, and plain in terms of the representations made. Members will assure those who come to their offices after they have problems that if they have filed documents that are inaccurate, contradictory, or forged or that contain untruths or omissions, it is very likely that they are going to fail in their efforts to get into Canada.
In our offices abroad and in our embassies, those providing information could tell people, “Here is our experience. These are the characteristics of applications that are in good shape, are accepted, and are handled within a reasonable period of time. The ones that are not accepted, the ones that have the problems, have these typical problems. Here are the reasons you will not get in”.
Then what happens? Most members will tell you that people who run afoul of the process all of a sudden start going to members of Parliament thinking that for some odd reason, the member of Parliament will have some pull and will be able to fix a problem that has to do with providing incorrect, inaccurate, and fraudulent information. It is not just the consultants. The applicants have to take some responsibility for that as well.
One has to understand that people wanting the opportunity to come to Canada will probably take whatever advice they can get from whomever, especially if somebody is charging an exorbitant fee. That is why I agree with the second recommendation in the committee's report from 2008, which is that there be an independent body established, arm's length from the department, to regulate immigration consultants. Give it the tools, the authorization, and the statutory power to control a very important resource and address the problem of people getting bad, wrong, or illegal advice. The government did not take heed of that recommendation.
When our committees make these kinds of recommendations, one would expect that the government's response, whether it be a written response to a committee report or legislation brought forward, would respond to the situation it is trying to address and would provide the best possible solution that makes sense, given all the facts.
What we have in Bill C-35 is an effort to provide penalties for people who are found to have caused problems and who have acted unethically as immigration consultants. However, the tool that is being established is going to be established by regulation. Basically, the government is going to provide the mechanism to police immigration consultants, and it will be regulation.
The problem is that we are debating a bill and will vote at second reading on whether we want it to go to committee. It will go to committee, where there will be witnesses. They will discuss all the possibilities. They will make some recommendations and possibly propose some amendments to the bill. It will then come back to the chamber at report stage. Possibly there may be further amendments by members who were not involved at committee, and then it will go to third reading.
We have this process, but what the process does not have, in terms of House activities, are the regulations. If we do not know the regulations specifically proposed, how can we trust or have confidence that the establishment of some regulatory regime is going to, in fact, do the job? That is the problem.
One recommendation I would have for the committee would be that it ask the government to table and file with the committee the proposed regulations prior to their being gazetted and promulgated.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 22nd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote to send Bill C-35 to committee for further study. Our party has decided to give the bill a chance, to see if we can improve it in committee. Those watching us at home are trying to understand how the House of Commons and its committees work. We now have the opportunity to explain that the bills introduced here can always be improved in committee. After we hear from witnesses and examine the evidence they have given, we can propose amendments to the bill, which are voted on by the committee members and then reported back to the House of Commons.
We have noted that too many immigration consultants have been acting fraudulently and getting away with it. After all these years, the federal government still has not managed to effectively regulate this area. The failure of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is irrefutable proof of that.
We believe that the committee should examine the issue to determine whether a new regulatory body is needed, one that is better monitored and can crack down harder on corrupt consultants who provide services related to federal immigration programs.
Since the regulating of professions falls under Quebec and provincial jurisdictions, the Bloc Québécois is worried that a federal act to create and establish an organization to regulate immigration consultants will interfere in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. This is important. Every day, Bloc Québécois members, who have been elected by the people of Quebec, proudly stand up in this House to defend the interests and values of Quebeckers. An example of those values is respect for our jurisdictions. How professions are regulated is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. The Bloc Québécois will make sure that the government understands this in committee.
The Quebec government demonstrated its jurisdictional authority by passing a regulation concerning immigration consultants. This regulation will come into effect on November 4, 2010. Quebec is often at the forefront of numerous initiatives that are then borrowed by other Canadian provinces. We have always said that when Quebec is its own country—and we hope that will happen sooner rather than later—it will have good neighbours and good relationships with those neighbours. It will continue to create exemplary legislation, as it is doing now, that can be emulated by Canada.
We hope that the Government of Canada will learn from the Government of Quebec. To do this, the federal government must recognize Quebec's jurisdiction as well as that of the provinces so that it is clear that crooked immigration consultants will be replaced by a professional body. This body will then be regulated by Quebec since this falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
On June 9, 2008, the Bloc Québécois convinced the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to pass a recommendation that Quebec immigration consultants be officially recognized under Quebec laws instead of being forced to join the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
The Bloc Québécois is always true to itself. Our excellent critic, the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, did a wonderful job making the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration understand that it is important that the Canadian government officially recognize Quebec's immigration consultants, who will be governed by a regulation as of November 4, 2010.
Even though Bill C-35 would better regulate consultants who deal with immigration matters that come under federal jurisdiction, the Bloc Québécois has serious concerns about the power the minister is giving himself to be able to designate a regulatory body in federal legislation. Overlapping jurisdictions never works well, needless to say.
This was particularly evident in recent months, even for over a year. The federal government decided to interfere in the securities market by establishing a national securities commission. And yet Quebec has its own securities commission as do the other provinces. The Canadian system was recognized for having weathered the recent economic crisis—a financial crisis that hit stock exchanges around the world— better than others.
Naturally, it is still rather difficult to understand that, once again, the federal government wants to replace something that works with a centralized, national body even though the effectiveness of the Canadian system has been acknowledged internationally. The passport system allowed every province, Quebec as well as the other provinces, to have their own securities commissions. This provided security during the stock exchange crisis.
Even though the Minister of Finance is practically hoarse from ranting that it is a voluntary system, he knows very well that corporations will be encouraged directly to join the Canada-wide system.
The federal government is always trying to chip away at the powers of Quebec and the provinces. That is fine if it does not bother the provinces; however, we notice that Alberta also has a great deal of difficulty with this. It seems to want to stand its ground, which seldom happens. It usually bows down to the federal government. However, in this case, Alberta seems to want to oppose the national securities commission.
Once again the Bloc Québécois will be vigilant. Above all it does not want Bill C-35, the so-called Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, to infringe on provincial jurisdictions. In fact, as I was saying earlier, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants is a dismal failure. Clearly, Quebec and the provinces should be allowed to provide good, effective oversight of immigration consultants.
What is more, our party is of the opinion that there should be closer consideration of the committee aspect. Our concern is that Bill C-35 would require information to be communicated between members of the Barreau du Québec or the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the federal government. We have to take a closer look at this aspect of the bill in order to ensure that it does not conflict with Quebec's laws and to maintain the integrity of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
As a notary by training, I can provide a little lesson in law. As hon. members know, in Quebec notaries are jurists who specialize in the contractual aspect of business and individual relationships. That is the objective. The Civil Code of Quebec is based on the Napoleonic code. That is a particularity of Quebec. I am always surprised to see colleagues who are notaries with a federalist bent, when the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the notary profession are a true reflection of this diversity, this difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada. We are the only province to have a chamber of notaries and notarial training. This training is obviously French-based. Notaries are highly respected professionals in France. Again, because the Civil Code of Quebec stems from the Napoleonic code, the notary profession is a direct link to these ancestral laws that Quebec held onto, which is not what happened in the rest of Canada. The rest of Canada has the common law, while Quebec has the civil code.
If it is decided that the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec are to report to the federal government, we must ensure that Quebec's rights and jurisdictions are respected. That is the objective. As for the Chambre des notaires du Québec, we all agree that the federal government has no knowledge of or jurisdiction in the matter.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the federal government encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction in any way. It will ensure that Bill C-35 does not give the minister any power he is not entitled to.
We are talking about immigration consultants. One interesting way of reducing the number of crooked consultants would be to transfer part of these powers to Quebec lawyers or notaries or to lawyers in the rest of Canada who are regulated by professional codes.
If we consider what is happening the field of law, there are a few lawyers and notaries who have been caught. However, since there is a process to follow and an established structure, they were disbarred and can no longer practice. That is not the case with the federal structure, which is why the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which was somewhat regulated, was a failure. It was not a recognized profession.
There needs to be a new way of training consultants. They should report to the Chambre des notaires du Québec, the Barreau du Québec or other provincial bars. It would be an interesting path to take.
These professions are governed by Quebec's professional code. Members of the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the Barreau du Québec are governed by Quebec's professional code. We have to make sure that any new power granted to a professional association respects Quebec's jurisdiction and that of the provinces.
I would like to go over some background to Bill C-35. On June 8, 2010, the government introduced Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. I will give an overview of the bill now.
The minister will be able to designate a governing body to regulate and oversee consultants' activities; this organization will replace the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
Only consultants approved by this body or members of a provincial bar or the Chambre des notaires du Québec will be allowed to charge fees for immigration advice, with some exceptions: students-at-law acting under the supervision of a member and entities and persons acting on their own behalf in accordance with an agreement with the government, such as visa application centres and other service providers.
All individuals who “knowingly represent or advise a person for consideration—or offer to do so—in connection with a proceeding or application under this Act” are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison, a $50,000 fine or both. This offence already exists in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Consultants have to be recognized by an organization. If they knowingly advise people, they will be committing a criminal offence.
The law provides for information exchange between different levels of government. The designated organization will have to supply information set out in regulations to allow the minister to determine whether the organization governs its members in the public interest.
Regulations will govern information sharing by enabling the department to disclose professional or ethical information about members of provincial bar associations to the designated organization or to the person responsible for investigating a consultant's conduct.
We must ensure that discussions between the federal government and the members of the Barreau du Québec and the Chambre des notaires du Québec respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces at all times.
On August 30, 2010, the government published a call for submissions from applicants interested in becoming the regulatory body for immigration consultants.
I should point out that in this bill to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the provisions apply to persons who are the subject of proceedings or applications pertaining to immigration and refugee matters, not citizenship matters. The Citizenship Act does not provide for the same regulatory powers as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. However, Bill C-37, introduced last spring, would provide regulations, in particular, by increasing penalties for consultants who fraudulently help individuals obtain citizenship.
Bill C-35 and Bill C-37 amend different acts.
In short, Bill-35 expands the range of activities governed by the act. In current federal regulations, the government can only take action when the application is submitted or at the beginning of a proceeding. Under Bill-35, the authorized representative commits an offence if he represents or advises a person for consideration in connection with a proceeding or application under that act, or offers to do so. This addition would make it possible to regulate—and punish, if an offence occurs—all forms of representation and advice at any stage, including that provided by unauthorized consultants, who might be involved before an immigration application is submitted.
All those who solicit work, that is crooked consultants, ask for payment in return for helping people with immigration proceedings.
We have seen some abuses—and the media have certainly jumped on them. Some people have been swindled out of a lot of money, sometimes the only savings they had, when seeking permission to immigrate to Quebec and Canada. I believe we must intervene.
The Bloc Quebecois wants to point out that Quebec also has powers in the area of immigration. All we want is for Quebec and provincial jurisdictions to be respected. Earlier I gave the example of securities commissions. The government wants to centralize exclusively provincial powers into a Canada-wide federal organization. That is what is going on with securities. Yet that system is what got us through the crisis. The Prime Minister keeps telling us over and over again that Canada has come out of the crisis exceptionally well, better than any other country in the world, as we heard again today in question period. It is not necessarily thanks to the Conservatives. It was a financial crisis, primarily a stock market crisis. It was thanks to our financial system and the fact that our banks were not allowed to merge.
I was one of those who opposed the Canadian bank mergers, so that they could not turn around and acquire American banks and contaminate all of the investments made by our citizens. That is one of the reasons we were able to get through this crisis relatively well. Furthermore, the stock market system allowed each province to have its own securities commission. When we have 10 such bodies, we can monitor things better than if we have only one. However, it is difficult, because the federal government is always trying to take powers away from the provinces. We will ensure that Bill C-35 does not have this unfortunate tendency to take power from Quebec and the provinces, in this case concerning immigration, and in particular, power over crooked consultants. Quebec is ready to take charge in this important area, since we already have legislation that is about to come into force on November 4, 2010. If all other Canadian provinces were to do the same, all of our immigrants would be better protected.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today to Bill C-35, a bill which I prefer to call an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a more formal name than that which it has been given by the minister. Even though I think part of the bill is meant to be a cracking down on crooked consultants, the bill actually has more than that purpose.
I want to discuss for a few moments today some of the important concerns that I have regarding the bill.
I understand that our caucus will be supporting the bill at second reading so we will have a chance to amend it and improve it at committee. I hope we can take seriously the considerations of all members, including those members from Quebec who have some jurisdictional concerns. Other concerns have been raised regarding the resources that are required to make these particular amendments effective.
It would seem to me that the bill needs to deal with two particular problems. One is the consumer protection portion of the bill with all of the concerns that everyone in the House knows about, which are immigrants, potential immigrants and people seeking help with the department being abused by scoundrels in the business who are much less than honourable.
The danger there is not only the effect that has on potential immigrants or those with immigration questions, but also on bona fide, excellent consultants who are doing their work honourably and effectively and are being tarnished with the same brush. Therefore, there is that concern around the consumer protection issue of this.
There are also concerns around the governance issues that we have seen over the last number of years since the institution of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. I do not think I am the only member who has been approached by individual consultants as well as members of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants in a formal way to express concerns about the procedures, transparency and governance issues by the society itself.
I am hoping that we can address that. The concern I have is the reluctance of the government to actually put in a statutory, regulatory body that has teeth, resources and effectiveness in doing this regulatory work.
I come at that from my experience as a member of a regulatory body at the provincial level and that was as a member of the Board of Funeral Services in the Ontario jurisdiction. That body was responsible for the licensing of funeral establishments as well as the licensing of professionals. It was one of the many professional boards that was a regulatory body for an independent profession.
I am hoping the government can look at ways that we can apply some of what has been learned from some of the provincial bodies to this federal body.
I have searched for other examples of professional bodies at the federal level that are regulated federally and I could not find any. Perhaps I will get some help on that because I have just started that search to see if there are any precedents. Failing that, however, I looked at the provincial precedent and it seems to me that a provincial regulatory body has several things that it needs to do. It licenses and certifies professionals and ensures their training is adequate. It maintains that training regime by having continuing education requirements and opportunities. It licenses the establishments or the businesses that may employ those licensed professionals. It provides public education for consumers to know their rights to ensure that they are actually involved in the process. It also has a rigorous complaints process as well as a disciplinary process that is effective and has some teeth to it so that consumers know they can make a complaint and have it actually acted upon by that professional body.
Those are statutory bodies. They are not merely dreamt up by the minister and accountable to the minister. They are arm's length, functional, regulatory bodies that are meant to ensure that we have consumer protection and we have professionals who are acting in the best interest of all Canadians and potential new Canadians.
My concern is that this bill will not be as arm's length because it is a creation of the minister as opposed to a statute. I think that has some concern for us in the ongoing way that this will unfold.
When we look at the issue, it seems to me that we have been hearing these concerns for a number of years. I will take as much blame as I need to from this side of the House for not having effectively established a body that was meant to regulate this profession. However, we have learned. The current board has improved somewhat but I am still concerned that it does not have an arm's length relationship with the training board, the Canadian Migration Institute, and that has implications with respect to the same people who are on the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which is the regulatory body.
This is a small profession with somewhere between 1,800 to 6,000 professional consultants working on immigration procedures. While that may sound like a lot, it is not a large body to actually ensure that the training opportunities are there and that they are kept current. The department will need to provide some more resources to ensure that our consultants are part of the public good. That is missing in this legislation. The very training and licensing functions need to be absolutely clarified in the legislation to have an expectation, as well as the membership of this body.
I am also concerned about the way the government is proposing we establish this board. Normally a board would be established by statute with a certain number of members who are part of the profession and then some members from the public. I was a public member of the funeral board in Ontario. The majority were actually licensed members of the profession with a smaller number being interested, hopefully competent members of the public, to ensure that the public interest was broadly defined. That is also missing in this legislation.
It seems to me that the government is kind of privatizing this by issuing out a request for people to bid on becoming the regulatory body. This is unprecedented for me. I do not understand why the government would put out a request for proposals, privatizing a regulatory function, and opening it up to the most successful bidder, including one that people already have concerns about, which is the existing body. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could answer this for me because I have concerns about understanding how that is done. It would seem to me that this should be a statutory body with a clear mandate from the Parliament of Canada, arm's length from the government, with a relationship with the department for transparency. Members of that board should be appointed by order in council. That would be my desire for this as part of a regulatory body.
The hon. members of the Bloc Québécois have offered some concerns about jurisdictional issues. That would also be a concern to me because other provinces are beginning to have more involvement in the immigration selection process and therefore we will need to be concerned about how the provinces are regulating the profession as well.
Underneath some of this concern is not only unscrupulous consultants. They are a concern and we know about them. It is not only governance on the current board and transparency and accountability to the members of the association for the betterment of consumer protection, but also a basic understanding that some of these consultants are finding work because the department is failing in its job.
Those of us who have large multicultural ridings know that half our work in our constituency offices is related to immigration procedures. Actually, we have underpaid immigration consultants working in our offices, and that is a great concern for me.
The great concern for me is that the system is broken, it is not working. We have queues of up to seven years. People are applying for citizenship and they are not getting hearings in our high commissions and our embassies around the world because our embassies and high commissions are understaffed. The department is understaffed with officials to review cases. We have backlogs with respect to security issues, which we want to have done effectively. We want immigrants coming to Canada to have been cleared for security reasons. We obviously want them to be effective in the workforce and to be part of the Canadian mosaic. That is the goal of our immigration system.
However, as long as we have procedures that are not effective, inefficient and keep people waiting a long time, we are creating a market for immigration consultants that perhaps should not be there. If there is that market, then we want it to be a regulated profession with an arm's length, effective body with the resources in it to ensure that the Canadian consumer, the potential Canadian immigrant, is well served, is effective and will be part of a Canadian society for which we can be proud.
Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act
September 22nd, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his input into this process and also his confirmation that in fact his party will be in support of getting the bill to committee to obviously look into some of the issues that he has identified today, but I am a little unsure about his concern, at least at this point, with respect to his point about statutory.
The way it exists now is not nearly how it is going to exist after Bill C-35 is passed in terms of the regulatory board, so I am a little unsure as to what his concern is with respect to statutory, because this will be a board that obviously reports directly to the ministry and to the minister and will be given authority to do so. It will be given authority to actually regulate the industry and its position will become permanent based on that organization applying to the ministry, and a number of organizations obviously will. The organization chosen to be the overseer will in fact become the regulatory body.
So I am not quite sure what his concern is, but I would suggest that it certainly is something the committee will be studying once we get the bill through second reading and get it to committee.