Evidence of meeting #30 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was consular.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Okay, and we can continue to analyze that.

In the meantime, we'll move to Ms. Lalonde.

You have seven minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

I'm going to share my time with Ms. Deschamps.

I listened to you, I would say, with a certain amount of disappointment. You aren't unaware that we are meeting today because there is a feeling of concern and anger among Canadians and Quebeckers over a number of cases that can be called consular cases or that can be given other names. This public feeling has very definitely been exacerbated by court judgments that have determined that the rights of citizens have been abused.

You are high-level administrators. Do you believe that rights—such as those conferred by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or by international treaties—should apply uniformally to all Canadian citizens, whatever their names may be? Do you believe that rights and freedoms are privileges that the government can distribute or that they are legal obligations?

I've come to the point where I've asked that question. I know it isn't easy for you to perform the duties of the job you hold, but you often hold in your hands the lives and futures of citizens who, in some instances, completely depend on you.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Edwards.

4:10 p.m.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Leonard Edwards

Perhaps I can start. I'm sure that we at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade honour the rights of Canadian citizens. That's a rule and a way of working. We are always very much aware of Canadians' rights. We enforce our rules and provide our consular services in an equal manner.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency

Luc Portelance

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As I mentioned earlier, we have a twofold mandate at the Canada Border Services Agency. First, we focus on facilitating the entry of people to the country, whether they be Canadian, immigrants or refugees. We also have an obligation to enforce certain laws, including the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Customs Act and so on. At the senior management level, we definitely expect all our employees to abide by Canada's laws, and we accept nothing less.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Madame Deschamps.

August 26th, 2009 / 4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you very much.

Along the same lines, I would like to know whether the person who made the decision to withdraw Ms. Mohamud's passport from her did so after consulting superiors. From what we are told, that individual did not at least conduct an in-depth investigation. Ms. Mohamud's passport was withdrawn without anyone even taking the trouble to do what she asked and examine the many photo ID cards that she had with her or even to check her fingerprints.

Our migration integrity officers may well be under a great deal of pressure. As a result of this obsession with crime and rising terrorism, there are increasing numbers of new directives complicating the procedures so that we wind up with situations like that of Ms. Mohamud.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Merci, madame Deschamps.

Are there any comments?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency

Luc Portelance

I'm going to answer, Mr. Chairman.

Perhaps it would be useful to clarify the role of our immigration officers outside Canada. Their primary role is to provide advice to the airlines. These details are not very well known. The job of our officers who work at airports outside Canada is to guide and advise the airlines. The airlines have an obligation under the act not to allow people with inadequate documentation to board airplanes. The decisions are not necessarily made by Border Services Agency officers. They are made by the airlines whose responsibility that is. Our officers are responsible for training the airlines and working with them in order to prepare them. Most of the time, they are there when flights leave various airports for Canadian destinations.

Our officers' decision-making and law enforcement powers are nevertheless very limited when they are outside Canada. These are decisions that are made by the airlines, which subsequently must be guided by the laws of the city or country in question.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

I think your time is up. Just a quick comment, please.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Edwards, I consulted the Foreign Affairs website concerning situations in which one finds oneself abroad. It's very well done; there's a lot of information. I invite my constituents to consult it as well. However, once I get there, I expect to receive services from the people who are there. Consequently, if I had had to go through the same situation as that lady, I would probably have done the same thing as she did, that is to say sue the ministers and senior officials.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Madame Deschamps.

We'll move to Mr. Obhrai.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the officials for coming here today.

There are some questions that are really disturbing about what is happening here, specifically with the member for Pickering, who is having his coffee. Maybe if he would come to his seat, we could address some of our concerns.

As the deputy minister has stated, over 50 million trips are made abroad every year. There are a large number of Canadians travelling overseas, and as pointed out, there are unfortunate circumstances that require consular assistance--this year alone, 250,000 new cases, as the deputy minister said. Right now, there are 26,000 open cases being handled by consular people.

The members opposite were in the government and were responsible for the administration of government services. As you can see in their title, they write the word “Honourable”, which means they were members of the Privy Council and subject to the highest clearance available to see the operations of the Government of Canada. This then goes to the point very clearly that they know exactly how the Government of Canada works, because they were part of the Government of Canada.

But what is really disturbing is when they go out publicly and, for cheap political points, accuse the same department that they had been working with, insinuating that it is racist, that there's racism in the department and a two-tier system in the department.

I want to ask the member for Pickering, who was in charge of consular services at that time, what was he doing if he feels that this department that he's talking about--

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Kevin Sorenson

Mr. Obhrai, on that, we need your questions to be directed to the witnesses and not to the honourable member for Pickering.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

All right.