Evidence of meeting #46 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was program.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Claudette Deschênes  Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Amipal Manchanda  Assistant Deputy Minister, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
  • Neil Yeates  Deputy Minister, Department of Citizenship and Immigration

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Thank you very much, Madam James.

This is an issue that this committee spent a great deal of time studying in previous Parliaments. When I became minister, I became aware of the great anxiety of many newcomers who had been exploited by crooked and often fake immigration consultants, people I'm now referring to as criminals posing as immigration consultants.

I heard stories about people who had given sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in cash to people essentially posing as credible immigration consultants with often the promise of a guaranteed visa, only to find that the person closed up their shop and walked away with the money, with no service delivered. There are undoubtedly thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of victims of these scamsters both here and abroad, which is why I've made it one of my key priorities as minister, with the support of the department, to combat this global industry of immigration profiteers.

We've made enormous strides, first of all, through the adoption of the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, which came into effect in June 2011, which made it a criminal offence to provide assistance on an immigration application or a visitor visa application at any stage of the process without being a licensed member in good standing of either the designated regulatory body for consultants or the provincial law societies. This addressed the problem of the ghost consultants. Now anyone who provides advice or assistance, or advertises to do so, promises to do so, must be a registered member of the licensing body.

Secondly, we responded to widespread concerns about frankly the dysfunctionality of the former designated regulatory organization for consultants that was called CSIC. There were concerns about its lack of transparency, lack of accountability, lack of disciplinary action and a lot of other issues, which is why we went after a transparent process and selected a new and we think much more credible and accountable regulatory body, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, which I designated as the new regulator last year.

I just gave a status report on the good work being done by the ICCRC. They have already, for example, referred to the law enforcement agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency or the RCMP over 60 cases for referrals for criminal action. They have undertaken serious discipline. They have hired former RCMP officers to follow up and conduct investigations on complaints against members of their organization. They have done more in the past year to throw the book at crooked consultants than the CSIC did in the previous seven years. So there's been huge improvement.

Last week I announced the last piece of this, which was the recent coming into force of new regulations to support the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act. This allows my ministry, the RCMP, CSIS, and the Immigration and Refugee Board to share information on the conduct of ICCRC members with the council.

What this means, effectively, is that if a member of the IRB sees an asylum claim that apparently is filled with lies and fraud that has been facilitated by an ICCRC member or a provincial law society member, the IRB can then refer that to the regulatory body and suggest they might want to take disciplinary action. Similarly, if one of our visa officers abroad sees a spousal sponsorship application prepared by an ICCRC member or a lawyer that is filled with documentary fraud or misrepresentation, they can then send that now legally to the ICCRC for disciplinary measures.

This means we can crack down on the ghost consultants. The law enforcement agencies and the ministry can refer cases of fraud on the part of representatives to the licensing body, and the licensing body is now much more actively referring apparent criminal acts to the CBSA and the RCMP.

I have to say this is one of the things I'm proudest about that we've managed to achieve. There will continue to be people victimized, no doubt, and part of this has to be the overseas dimension, because much of this activity happens beyond the reach of Canadian law in the source countries of immigration, which is why I've made it a priority both for myself and our government to strongly encourage foreign governments to crack down on the same industry of crooked agents.

I've raised this issue personally with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, with President Aquino of the Philippines, with Prime Minister Gillani of Pakistan, with the public security minister of the People's Republic of China, with state and provincial authorities, and with police authorities in all of those countries, asking them to cooperate more actively with CIC and our partners in New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., with what's called the Five Country Conference—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Perhaps you can conclude, Mr. Minister.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

—to crack down on the industry.

Sorry.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Thank you.

Ms. James, I'm sorry, that concludes your time.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

No, you're doing an excellent job, Mr. Minister.

Ms. Sims.

May 31st, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Thank you.

Welcome to the committee, Mr. Minister.

Minister, I have a question around health care coverage for refugees. As you know, asylum seekers, many of whom will end up being legitimate refugees, are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Many of them are fleeing violent persecution. Canada has always been a compassionate sanctuary, but it seems like those days are numbered under your government.

Last month you announced drastic cuts to health care coverage for vulnerable refugees, a move that has since been condemned by such radical groups as the Canadian Medical Association, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and the Canadian Nurses Association. Some of those doctors in lab coats went so far as to engage in acts of civil disobedience to oppose these mean-spirited cuts.

At the time of the announcement, you said this was all about making sure that refugees are not given more medical coverage than the average Canadian citizen. But we now know that isn't completely true.

An article in Embassy a few weeks ago pointed out that a potentially legitimate refugee from a so-called safe country delivering a baby or undergoing emergency surgery for a heart attack at a Canadian hospital would have to pay for it out of pocket because of your changes to the interim federal health program for refugees. Your parliamentary secretary is quoted in this article, and essentially confirms that this will be the case. A doctor in the article is quoted as saying that people could die because of this.

The question is simple. Will you admit that once again you have acted in haste when proposing these reforms? Will you at the very least reconsider the part of your planned reform that would deny basic medical coverage from designated country-of-origin asylum seekers?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

No, I will not make such an admission, because I reject the premise of the questions, Madam Sims.

You've suggested, for example, that we'll deny basic health coverage for refugees. That is completely and categorically false. Under our reforms to the interim federal health program, anyone who is a refugee, whether a resettled refugee or a successful asylum claimant, will benefit from the same bundle of health care services that are available to Canadians.

This bundle of services will not include the supplementary benefits Canadians have to pay extra for, because we believe there is a problem in terms of fairness and equity that working Canadian taxpayers should not get health care benefits as generous as foreign nationals who come to this country. We think there is an important equity principle here that we are establishing by eliminating supplementary benefits coverage.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Minister—

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Having said that, the only people under the IFH program who will not receive the basic equivalent of provincial health care coverage are asylum claimants—not refugees, but claimants—coming from designated countries such as the ones from Europe, over 95% of whom don't even show up for their refugee hearings.

I would argue that they have no more of a right to receive publicly funded health insurance than a visitor from those countries.

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Minister, as you know, many of those do get accepted as refugees. Let's even take the example of Hungary: 160 asylum seekers from Hungary were accepted as legitimate refugees.

Let me give you this example. A pregnant woman fleeing legitimate persecution goes to see her doctor. She's here as an asylum seeker. Unfortunately, her country of origin is likely to be on the designated safe list. She is then informed that she would have no prenatal and no birth coverage as of June 30 if this list is announced. She ponders whether she should have an abortion now, because she cannot imagine going through a pregnancy without basic health care.

How do you feel about putting a woman in a situation where they have to choose—

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

Excuse me, Ms. Sims.

Mr. Dykstra, on a point of order.

4 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

I appreciate that we are trying to deal with estimates here, but I fail to understand what a question like this has to do at all with the subject matter at hand.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Tilson

You know, really, Ms. Sims, you're asking the minister a hypothetical question, which is really unfair. I think Mr. Dykstra has a point. Could you just calm it down a little bit?

4 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Okay, I will calm it down a little bit.

I have to be hypothetical at this stage, because the bill hasn't been enacted yet. But under the new legislation, women could be put in this situation, or men and women could be put in situations where they have dire health care needs, and they will be denied services.

What happens to a woman if she is pregnant, and she needs the prenatal health care to have a safe delivery of her baby, and she is still considered an asylum seeker? She doesn't quite have the designation of a refugee yet.