Human Resources Committee on May 13th, 2008
Evidence of meeting #30 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was countries.
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Balkar Bajwa Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum of Canada
- Balwinder Singh Chahal Secretary, Old Age Benefits Forum - Vancouver
- Raymond Micah Principal, Raymond Micah & Associates, As an Individual
- Samuel Olarewaju Secretary, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network
- Kifleyesus Woldemichael Member, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network
Balkar Bajwa Principal, Old Age Benefits Forum of Canada
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
Because of the time constraints, I would like to reduce the presentation I submitted to you earlier. I would like to concentrate on the points where this issue is opposed in general.
I have already appeared at some other forums on Bill C-362, and I presented certain views that might be in common with what I say today, but they are relevant here more than before.
The persons who oppose this amendment base their arguments on two main planks—permanency of connection of the beneficiaries with Canada, and their contribution. I feel privileged to take this opportunity to give my opinion on these two points here before this august body.
First, with respect to permanency of connection, most of the seniors have reconnected with their families after a considerable wait, and it is a cherished desire of every grandparent to spend the fag-end of their life with their children and grandchildren. Politicians must appreciate that they can never think of leaving them at this stage.
These people have left their previous country far behind. Canada, the most beloved country of their families, has also become their own country. It's not now a foreign country; it is their own country.
Most of the seniors have become citizens of Canada. They have taken a solemn oath by holding the Canadian flag that they will ever remain loyal and faithful to this country.
Respected members, are these facts not sufficient to justify their permanency of connection with Canada?
Second, the question of contribution regarding the seniors is clear and evident. Seniors bring along their rich academic and professional experiences, and they become a living source of academic and professional help to the family at all times. Particularly, they become an effective asset for the grandchildren in their school homework and further studies. They are the best source of transmitting their cultural heritage, which is full of enviable social and moral values. See them escorting small kids to the school or the school bus in the chilly, snowy weather. Is this not a contribution?
We can never ignore the long and rich background experience of elders. It becomes an asset for the younger generations who have yet to have these experiences. At certain crucial junctures of life or in vital decision-making situations, seniors render highly valuable opinions and advice. Most important, they remain available to their children at home. The house becomes a home that throbs with life all the time.
Income from disposed-of property in the native land and their current incomes and returns are all brought over here and judiciously invested in properties in Canada. Seniors make their families completely carefree from household errands and concerns, and thus the family members become more effective as Canadian workers and citizens. Seniors are the ones who brought up their sons and daughters, who are now contributing to the Canadian economy as professionals, skilled workers, and businessmen. Some of them are now serving as representatives in Parliament or in provincial parliaments.
I just heard some of the arguments here, and I think this issue has become a ball between political parties. I can quote certain occasions when Conservatives too sported this idea and decided it was discriminatory. I can adduce from the record that Mr. Gurmant Grewal, one of the Conservatives, moved a motion regarding this very issue. Another time it was when the Liberals were in power. I think we should not be made the victims of this political game.
Let us, sir, look at this respectable but useful section of our Canadian society a bit more compassionately. They should be honoured by having their economic and social security ensured. The amendment of this act will go a long way towards ensuring rights of equality for landed immigrants. Currently this fundamental right is being infringed, which leads to unfairness and injustice to them.
A parliament that can impose a condition has all the power and authority to remove it through an amendment. From this platform, I implore Parliament to make this amendment. It is a common and just cause for all seniors, yours and ours. At present, three years’ residency is a sufficient condition to enable them to get OAS benefits. It will surely go a long way toward eliminating two classes of Canadians in matters of OAS benefits. There should be no classes, no bifurcation of seniors.
Hence, I extend wholehearted support to Bill C-362 and appeal to all of you to consider it compassionately and favourably, and to recommend it to Parliament for third reading.
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Thank you, Mr. Bajwa.
To all the witnesses, to assist you with your time, when we get to four minutes and you have one minute left, I'll hold up a finger indicating one minute.
Mr. Bajwa, you weren't too far over. We appreciate that.
Mr. Balwinder Singh Chahal, sir, the floor is yours for five minutes.
Balwinder Singh Chahal Secretary, Old Age Benefits Forum - Vancouver
Honourable Chair, members, it's a privilege to be before the committee.
This weekend the federal Secretary of State for Multiculturalism was in Vancouver. He said that an official apology is coming. He also announced $2.5 million compensation, or a memorial, for the Komagata Maru incident, which happened 94 years ago in Canadian history.
You are probably wondering why I'm raising this issue, as I'm here to talk about old age security. I'll come back to it later, but you will kindly keep note of the situation I just mentioned.
My name is Balwinder Chahal. I am the secretary of the Old Age Benefits Forum. We have been pursuing this cause for the last ten years.
To summarize everything in five minutes is a challenging task, but I will try to do it. Then I'll let it for you to ask questions later, if you have any.
What we are asking here is this. First, for any senior to have to stay in Canada for ten years is just not justified; it's unduly harsh; it has an unjustified impact on seniors and their living conditions, their families, even their ties. Ten years is not the right thing to do.
By itself, the ten years is a harsh thing. There is another dimension to the whole thing. We have two classes of seniors in the country, one class who access it when they are 65, without waiting for ten years. There are others who are 65 who have to wait ten years.
Whatever the rules or the regulations, whatever agreements we have put in, can those agreements in any way touch the charter? The charter gives us equality. This is a matter of equality.
I will ask honourable members to consider the necessity of all those social agreements we are talking about. Do we have agreements for MSPs? Do we have agreements for EI benefits? Do we have agreements for CPP? No. So where is the need for an agreement at all? I'll show the fallacy: that agreements were used simply as a tool to deny benefits to a group.
When the Old Age Benefits Forum undertook this issue, at a time when another party may have been in power, they looked into it and saw that something was wrong. They brought out the papers, which I have in front of me. This is on access to the public...immigrant seniors, and it is part of the government regulations.
What they have done here is a change. From now on, seniors from agreement countries will be paid on a different schedule. If agreements haven't changed, how can the government change the pattern of payment? That shows that agreements didn't carry any force earlier and agreements don't have force today. But they're being used as a tool to deny benefits.
Secondly, on financial service fees, my honourable representatives were talking about.... Finance is an important matter, I won't say it's not, and it should be looked into. But looking at a greater angle, if the figures are right that have been quoted in Parliament, there are 4.3 million seniors over the age of 65 at the moment, of which number 4.078 million are being paid old age security. This leaves us with 4% to 5% of seniors who are not getting it.
The point is not about millions. Certainly it is a millions thing, but the point and issue here is that we are already spending billions on 95%. How justified is it to say we don't have the money for the 5%? That's the whole thing. Yes, it will be millions, but if we are already spending billions, why don't we do it? That's another thing to talk about.
Another thing is about the law challenge. Yes, it went to the courts of law, that's right, but the courts do not make the law; they interpret the law. They say this doesn't fall under discrimination as emphasized in the charter. Yes, that is so. But I say, before this august body, you have all the rights. If there is a difficulty....
Now I will come back to what I was saying earlier: 94 years after the Komagata Maru incident, today we are offering a national apology and money. It was legal to deny that ship--it was legal--but it was unjustified.
Similarly, this provision might remain legal, but it's unjustified. It's unequal and it's unfair.
That's what we are imploring you on. Is it talking about legality? Certainly not. It is talking about the basic system of justice and fairness. It has to.
Is it a good policy to give security to my friend and deny it to me? We are both Canadians.
Let me pull out my citizenship card. What does it say on the back of it? I'll read this and then I'll close my statement. I hope everybody will kindly take their copy, which says:
This...is a Canadian citizen under the provisions of the Citizenship Act and, as such, is entitled to all the rights and privileges and is subject to all the duties and responsibilities of a Canadian citizen.
It doesn't have any subject. It doesn't say anything about the fact that if I'm coming from this country, my citizenship is subject to that.
With that, certainly the current bill does not go 100% the way we would see it, but it is reaching a compromise where fair, reasonable provisions of residency are taken care of. Financial security is part of that, as is getting seniors their fair and due share so they can live with respect and dignity.
That's my respectful submission. Thank you very much.
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Thank you very much, sir.
We'll move to Mr. Raymond Micah, who's appearing as an individual.
Mr. Micah, you have five minutes.
Raymond Micah Principal, Raymond Micah & Associates, As an Individual
Honourable Chairman and members of the committee, it is truly a privilege and an honour to be part of this particular discussion.
I came to this issue in 2003 when there was a caucus group that came to Toronto, and I was asked, in my capacity as executive director of the African Canadian Social Development Council, to come to speak about issues affecting seniors in our community. Of course, not being a senior, I had very little knowledge about what those issues might be. Therefore, because the council was a membership-based organization that has many groups that deal with the different populations that make up the continental African-Canadian community, I consulted individuals to give me some information. I didn't feel that it was sufficient information for the presentation, so I started to do further research, and lo and behold, that was the first time I became aware of this problem that impacted our seniors.
Our seniors were saying, “The problem we have is that we have no income.” That was something I didn't know about, and that was the impetus upon which I began to try to get others also to look into the issue vis-à-vis their own communities.
I belong to a group called the Alternative Planning Group, which has a membership that involves the councils of Chinese, south Asian, and Hispanic communities. So we did research and held focus groups, and all the seniors were saying, “Indeed this is a problem.” So we said, “Ah, this is something that we really, as a matter of decency, need to try to raise attention around.”
I say this because I do not come here to blame anyone for having come to the issue without necessarily having known of the problem previously. I come to you to say that there is in fact a reason, I guess, that all of us have a lacuna, a blind spot, about this issue.
One of the reasons is that, as we all know, previously, in the 1950s and 1960s, in the 1970s, in fact, and even up to the 1980s, the source countries, where people came from, were quite different. As Madam Beaumier rightly mentioned, they came from countries that were much more developed—in some instances, with social security systems even comparable to Canada's. Potentially, at least, individuals coming from those countries who had lived most of their lives there could have recourse if those systems were there to support them. So there was a comfort that was available.
There were also these agreements that Canada was able to establish, mostly with those kinds of countries, at least, in the beginning. So if Canada denied entitlement to its social security system for these individuals, there was something that potentially could be drawn upon. That changed in the 1980s with a change of countries, but for all that time, there was at least a basis for having some sort of comfort that everybody somehow would be catered to.
That has changed, and when it changed, unfortunately we didn't all immediately wake up to that reality. Now people are coming from countries where there are no such systems at all, where people will work all their lives not because they wanted to....
One minute, Mr. Chair? Okay.
Essentially, there are a number of questions that my paper—which I worked on overnight, literally, to put together—looks at, and I think you will get access to it when it's translated. What is the nature, source, and magnitude of the problem? How did it escape our notice? I've explained that. And what would it cost to fix it?
I actually did some estimates based on statistics from Canada Immigration and from Statistics Canada. Essentially my estimates—which I worked on overnight, so I haven't had a chance to share them with all my colleagues—are as follows.
It will essentially cost $470.5 million per year, because there are 56,263 individuals over the past 10 years who have immigrated as permanent immigrants under family class. If we assume that in the first five years of their stay here, they will be given the same benefits that are given under the OAS, which is one-fortieth of the maximum--which is $502.30--times five, that would be actually $62.80.
If you take the average GIS that is given currently, which is $634.02, you have a total entitlement for this individual, under this bill, of $696.82. This means $8,361 per person, per year.
Multiply this by these 56,000 people over a 10-year period, which is the period upon which people are denied entitlement, and you get $470 million per year.
In the context of good governance, in the context of doing that which is decent, in the context of a budget of $30 billion to look after seniors as a whole, in the context of an understanding within current practice that the support for seniors is actually divided--not only by the seniors themselves, not only by their families, but by government--I think it is possible that we can all rise to the opportunity that this bill provides to do good.
On the bill itself, we fully support it and we congratulate Madam Beaumier. There is a slight challenge that I think needs to be addressed, which is the sponsorship component. That also needs to be looked at.
On the sponsorship component, essentially, if left alone, one might have a pyrrhic victory. We do not do all this to achieve that. We want to have both a change in the act, under the OAS, that brings it down to seven years, and then a change in the immigration rules--it's in here, and you can read it—that also reduces the sponsorship obligation to three years, so that the purposes that such a change seeks under the act, under the OAS, will actually be achieved, effectively in practice.
Thank you very much.
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Thank you, Mr. Micah.
We're going to move to the Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network.
We have Mr. Olarewaju and Mr. Woldemichael, for about five minutes.
The floor is yours, gentlemen.
Samuel Olarewaju Secretary, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network
Honourable Chairman, committee members, and guests, I want to thank you individually and collectively for giving us, particularly the African Seniors Advocacy Network members, this opportunity to bring this issue forward to you today.
We are very pleased to see support across the party lines for this particular bill, Bill C-362, which was brought forward by Colleen Beaumier. We're equally happy that the intention of bringing this forward is to improve the livelihood of senior people in the community.
This issue is a long-standing one. It has gone on for many years. When we look at the G-8 nations of the world, statistics are being compiled all the time to be able to measure how each nation is doing. Various parameters are being used to judge each nation.
On the basis of that alone, I think it would be in the interest of Canada, of which I am a part today—and I'm grateful to the government for giving me that opportunity—to do whatever it can for seniors in order to ensure that the social life seniors are leading is commendable when other people around the world, in other G-8 nations, see it.
I want to thank you for the support that was given by other parties. We know those parties that are against it; we know those parties that are not against it. But we are not after which parties are in favour and which parties are not. The benefit is for every party. Whether there was a party in the past that ought to have done it and hadn't done it, and a new party comes in now and does it, the benefit is for everybody who is a Canadian, whether young or old. What somebody has not done in the past is the past. That is gone. We don't need to talk about or waste our time on the past.
What we want to talk about is what is happening now and what we can do to improve a situation that ought to have been corrected years ago but was not. That's what we're here for. So I want to thank you in that regard.
However, we strongly recommend that this act be reduced from ten years to three years. In a similar way, we also want the sponsorship obligation to be affected by reducing it from ten years to three years.
There's no point doing the old age pension alone, without taking into account the sponsorship obligation. There have been many situations in various communities in which those sponsoring their parents were having problems, not of their own making but because of what was happening, generally, in society.
The intention of children to sponsor their parents is a genuine one. But genuine as it may be, you can never foresee what problems you will run into. When problems come, as far as children are concerned, they have to take care of themselves. And they say, “Well, you're going to take care of yourself.” How can an old man take care of himself?
So there has been a series of problems among seniors with their children. That's the area we felt the sponsorship obligation needed to be addressed, as well as the old age. In fact, according to the rules, the obligation cannot end prematurely, even if the sponsored individual becomes a Canadian citizen. That's why they flagged that on my Canadian citizenship.
My daughter who sponsored me is still responsible for whatever happens to me before the 10-year period is over. Thank God, she has a job. She's working. So maybe I don't have that problem.
But there are other seniors who have that problem. And I don't tell myself that because I don't have the problem, I don't care about others. We're all seniors.
So we wanted that and the obligation stands, even if the sponsor's financial situation becomes difficult due to major predicaments they face, such as loss of job or illness.
In short, we echo the following recommendation from the Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network. Number one, that amendments shall be made to all relevant existing acts and policies such that the entitlement of both the old and new immigrant seniors in federal, provincial and municipal income support groups, such as the social assistance program, is not compromised by the existence of an immigration sponsorship agreement between the sponsor and the newcomer senior and the Government of Canada.
Number two is that amendments be made to existing acts and policies to ensure that in all situations of genuine sponsorship breakdown--because we are looking at a genuine sponsorship breakdown and there are many--
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Mr. Olarewaju, how many recommendations do you have, because we are running out of time.
Secretary, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network
Only two. I have two in my paper, which I believe you will get shortly.
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Perhaps you could sum up reasonably quickly, sir.
Secretary, Immigrant Seniors Advocacy Network
Of course, by simply reducing both the residency period and the sponsorship obligation period to three years, all key matters relating to provincial social assistance programs and the challenging task of determining what situation of hardship involving a senior meets the test of genuine sponsorship breakdown, and which do not, are immediately addressed.
There is one other thing I wanted to mention. People have been using the word “discrimination” here, about when the Supreme Court looked at this matter many years ago. I think it's a misuse of words. It is not discrimination we're talking about. Nobody discriminated against me, nobody discriminates against us. What we are saying is that the law that was set up for this old age pension was set up in 1952. If we agree that the country is dynamic, the people in it are dynamic, the law too should be dynamic. In other words, the law too should change as the future changes.
It's not an issue of discrimination, but the law was made in 1952. We are now in the year 2008. How can we continue to use a law that was set up in 1952 to apply to our current situation in the year 2008? I wanted to mention that point.
I want to thank you very much. You will all get a copy of my paper.
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Thank you very much.
I want to thank you all, gentlemen, for taking the time today, for your passion on this issue, and, all things considered, your reasonable brevity.
We'll only have time for one round of questions, members, and it will have to be a five-minute round, so I ask you all to be precise in your language and precise in who you ask the question to, because there is a committee following us here at 11 o'clock.
I'll start off with Ms. Dhalla, five minutes.
Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON
Thank you to all of our witnesses for coming from all over Canada to present before us at committee. I think your presentations have been insightful. As my colleague Mr. Savage has said, they've been very passionate. We do appreciate all of the work you have done on this particular issue.
I have a couple of questions first for Mr. Chahal. Thank you for your passionate delivery. In terms of the Old Age Benefits Forum, both out in British Columbia and with Mr. Bajwa in Ontario, along with Mr. Sahi and some of the other people who are here, Mr. Chahal, can you please describe to the committee some of the initiatives that the forum has done in the past ten years in advocating for this particular issue? That's number one.
Secondly, what is the frustration out in the community, what type of comments do you hear from seniors? Could you please give us a firsthand perspective? I think that would be really beneficial.
Secretary, Old Age Benefits Forum - Vancouver
Thank you very much.
I'll come to the second question first: what kind of frustration do we see? I can cite a living example, whom, in the interests of secrecy, I would not like to name. There is a gentlemen who migrated from India. He retired as a school headmaster, which we call a principal in our country here. He emigrated to this country in 1959, and went to work on farms. He was paying all of his Revenue Canada taxes right up until 1964.
In 1964 he was hurt at work, so disability payments kicked in. He received those payments for one year. At 65 years of age, they were cut off. The retired headmaster was looking after his family and giving educational advice to the young children, the grandchildren, and the neighbourhood children. At age 65, he had not been 10 years in the country and couldn't get anything—though he had already been working here. He was hard-pressed.
I saw that gentleman with real tears in his eyes, saying, “I have given my life to mankind.” He was not talking only of Canada or India. He said, “I have been teaching students, 1,500 to 2,000 people, and I worked with my hands when I came to this country, but now I am left alone.”
These are the circumstances that are happening. I would not like to experience that.
Now, the Old Age Benefits Forum was founded in 1994. Now it's been 14 years, which is a long enough period. We have knocked on every door possible. All the parliamentarians have files and files from us after we talked with them. We presented this to the Honourable Paul Martin at the time, when he was the finance minister. He agreed with us, but nothing happened.
A Supreme Court challenge was launched. But we are a voluntary body with no finances—nothing. We didn't have the finances to go there. And I will again say, it is not whether it is legal or not. You can say it's legal, but is it just? Is it fair? That's what I am asking.
If there are 10 people sitting in the room and we have money for 9, and we tell the person left, “Gentleman, you don't deserve it”, what kind of message are we sending? Is it a message of dignity and respect for the gentlemen? We are appealing for that. That is what a country like Canada....
And that's why I brought up the Komagata Maru issue. Let's not apologize after 94 years. This is an issue where I can say, with all due respect, that if parliamentarians don't do anything, you will see coming generations apologize one day that it was not the correct thing to do. We did that with the Chinese head tax, and let's not do it with this.
The Vice-Chair Michael Savage
Very briefly, Ms. Dhalla.