House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was citizenship.

Topics

Citizenship Of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Surrey Central for his even-handed speech. He mentioned not only those aspects of the bill with which he disagrees but also those parts of the bill which he feels strengthens the legislation.

One of the things I did not hear him mention is a problem that I run into frequently in my duties as a member of parliament. We have the so-called brain drain which has certainly affected our country with large numbers of professionals, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, chemists, having gone to greener pastures, having left the difficulties created by this government and the previous Tory government for them to practise their professions in this country.

I have dealt with a number of instances where doctors have applied to come to Canada at the invitation of certain medical facilities that are having a great deal of difficulty. In my rural constituency, many hospitals and many communities have lost doctors that they simply cannot replace and there are citizens who do not have the medical service that they require.

What is frustrating is that a hospital or a medical clinic may recruit a doctor from South Africa, England, Ireland or wherever, eminently qualified to perform the services that are needed. However, there is no give in Immigration Canada to provide a way for these people to come without going through sometimes years of application, reapplication and the cost involved with that. The consequence is that doctors in my experience have thrown up their hands and said “This application has gone on long enough”.

I want to ask my esteemed colleague if he and the committee have given any thought in this legislation as to how Canada might seek to improve itself by reversing the brain drain by modifying the immigration policies to accommodate this.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the question from my hon. colleague.

I agree with him that our health care system, which I call sickness care system, is in a continuous declining state. There are reasons, and of course the immigration policy could be one of them, but there are other policies of this government as well. The government is responsible for the deteriorating situation of our health care system because it cut $35 billion from the health care system, even though it tried to put some money back.

It is the cause for the deteriorating health care system. I am sure this weak, arrogant Liberal government owes an apology to Canadians. Not only is it the government's moral responsibility to fix it but it owes an apology to Canadians.

When we look at the billion dollar boondoggle in HRDC and then see in the new budget that more money has gone, $1.5 billion, to HRDC rather than to health care, it reminds me that this government is in the habit of not putting the money where its mouth is, but putting the money where its back pocket is.

Coming back to immigration, yes, the government can do a lot. The government can bring the respect of Canadian citizenship to its highest level by being fair, by respecting the principles of equality and by respecting the new immigrants, those who come to this country, to help them get into the system, to make them realize that this is their home, this is the future of their children.

The doctors, engineers and professionals are leaving this country because of high taxes, the boondoggles, the misuse of taxpayers' money, the killing of taxpayers through high taxes and the immigration policies which are not fair. All these factors are compounding the situation.

When they are debating about who their leader is or that their leader should go, I think this is not only the time for the Leader of the Liberal Party to go, it is time for the Liberals to go.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Dumas Argenteuil—Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about the citizenship act, we also talk about immigration, and when we talk about immigration, we talk about racism. I am particularly happy to rise today, because yesterday was Anti-Racism Day.

Bill C-16 contains many provisions which are identical or very similar to the current ones. If I may, I will highlight some nuances and differences.

I will start with a provision in this part of the bill, which is quite interesting. Paragraph 2(2)( c ) states that a person resides in Canada if the person is physically present in Canada and is not subject to a probation order, on parole or in jail.

More specifically on the issue of birth in Canada, the bill would maintain the current rule that children born in Canada are Canadian citizens, as stated in paragraph 4(1)( a ). The only exceptions, as is the case now, concern children of foreign diplomats and their employees. That is paragraph 4(2).

With regard to derivative citizenship, any person born abroad of Canadian parents is automatically a Canadian citizen. This is often referred to as “citizenship by transmission”. Second and subsequent generation children born abroad are also granted citizenship automatically, but they lose on attaining 28 years of age, unless they registered and have either resided in Canada for a period of at least one year immediately before applying for citizenship or established a substantial connection with Canada.

The bill would restrict the automatic transmission of citizenship to second generation children born abroad and toughen the requirements for these second generation citizens who want to retain citizenship after the age of 28.

Clause 14 provides that, to retain citizenship after the age of 28, a person would have to apply to the minister and would have to have resided in Canada for at least 1,095 days during the six years before so applying. As we will see later on, physical presence in Canada would be required during a period of three years. This is the same residency requirement that would have to be met by all permanent residents seeking citizenship.

As for third and subsequent generations, they would not be able to acquire Canadian citizenship unless they meet the usual immigration and citizenship requirements, just like any other individual who chooses Canada as his or her country of adoption.

To avoid the risk of statelessness for third generation children born outside of Canada, clause 11 provides the granting of citizenship, on application, to a person who is less than 28 years of age and who has never acquired, or had the right to acquire, citizenship of any country, but has a birth parent who is a Canadian citizen.

To qualify, this person must have resided in Canada for at least three years during the six previous years, and must not have been convicted of an offence against national security. The nature of the offence is not stipulated, and this specific category of offence is not stipulated in either the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act or the Criminal Code.

Bill C-16 modifies the requirements for acquiring citizenship other than at birth. One of the major changes clarifies the residence requirements. This important change concerns the definition of residence as physical presence in Canada, under subparagraph 2(2)( c ). The proposed objective requirement of residence, specifically to be physically present for three years, or 1,095 days, during the prescribed period, would do away with the huge uncertainties caused by the present legislation.

Even if the current legislation requires three years of residence, the word residence is not defined. Consequently, judicial decisions with radically opposed interpretations have greatly complicated enforcement of the law.

The year following the coming into force, in 1977, of the present legislation, the Federal Court held in a case that physical presence in Canada was not necessary to meet the requirements. The judge found that applicants had to demonstrate that they had established a significant connection with Canada throughout the period, whether or not they had been physically present in Canada.

To demonstrate this connection, one might produce evidence of maintenance of residence, even though this was not absolutely necessary, of accounts in Canadian banks, investments, membership in clubs, provincial driving permits, and so on. In extreme cases, some applicants were granted citizenship even if they had actually been present in Canada only a few months, and even a few days.

However, other federal court judges strongly disagreed with this approach and refused to excuse prolonged absences. So an inconsistent jurisprudence evolved, which made the enforcement of the legislation unforeseeable and uncertain; some say it even compromised the residence requirement and therefore the value of the whole granting of Canadian citizenship process. In its 1994 report, the standing committee recommended that the legal definition of residence call for a substantial period of physical presence.

On the issue of language, Bill C-16 maintains the obligation to show an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages. Unfortunately, French is not the language chosen in most cases. Also, the applicants are still required to demonstrate an adequate knowledge of Canada and of the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship.

Some new provisions govern the granting of citizenship to children adopted by Canadian citizens abroad. The present legislation states that children adopted abroad must become permanent residents before granting them citizenship can even be considered, and there are loads of consequences to that.

First, children must undergo the same medical examination as any other person who applies for landed resident status or else have obtained a special exemption. Second, this means that children adopted by Canadian parents who live abroad and want to stay abroad cannot become landed residents and consequently Canadian citizens.

The legislation provides that minor children adopted abroad in accordance with the laws of the country of residence of the children or parents may be granted citizenship on application. The adoption must also meet the following criteria: the adoption must be in the best interest of the child; it must have created a genuine relationship of parent and child; and it must not have been intended to circumvent the requirements under any enactment for admission to Canada or citizenship.

Clause 10 of Bill C-16 is a new provision specifically enabling the Minister “for the purposes of this Act”—that is to grant citizenship—to deem a person who has resided in Canada for at least 10 years to be or have become a permanent resident. This clause is for persons who thought they were Canadian citizens while they were not.

As for renunciation and revocation, Bill C-16, as the existing legislation, sets out the circumstances where citizens may renounce their Canadian citizenship. The criteria are very similar.

Under clause 16, the renunciation of citizenship may be revoked, just like the citizenship itself and the restoration of citizenship could be, if the minister is satisfied that there has been false representations, fraud or concealment of material circumstances.

The procedure being used now to challenge the revocation order remains essentially unchanged. It is set out at clause 17. When a person is notified that the minister intends to revoke his or her citizenship, this person can request the minister to refer the matter to the federal court trial division. A new element is that the court will make its determination on a balance of probabilities, under clause 17(1)( b ). This would solve the problem of certain decisions of the trial division as to the criteria that should apply.

To sum up, Bill C-16 would, with a few exceptions, maintain the present provisions on the revocation of citizenship. At present, people who lose their citizenship must first be admitted for permanent residence and may apply for citizenship after having resided in Canada for one year immediately before applying.

The bill requires people in this situation to have resided in Canada for at least 365 days during the two years immediately before applying for citizenship. This is provided under clause 19. Here again, the important change is that the new definition of residence would require actual presence in Canada.

Bill C-16 gives a new power to the Governor in Council, who, on the recommendation of the minister, may deny citizenship if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not in the public interest for a person to become a citizen”. Not only is this power new, it would also constitute a substantive change to the current legislation according to which citizenship is a right and not a privilege, provided that certain objective criteria are met.

While there is no definition of public interest, the new clause would, for example, make it possible not to grant citizenship to a person who distributes hate literature but who otherwise meets the criteria.

Bill C-16 would maintain, with some changes, existing procedures relating to the denial of citizenship for reasons of national security. As it is the case now, the process would begin with a report by the minister to the Security Intelligence Review Committee saying that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person has engaged or will engage in an activity that constitutes a threat to the security of Canada or an activity that is part of a pattern of criminal activity.

The bill states that, within ten days after the report is made, the person who is the subject of a report shall be notified that the report has been made and made aware of possible consequences. The committee would then investigate using the procedure set out in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and, as soon as practicable, send to the person who is the subject of the report a statement summarizing the information available to the review committee.

A new provision would have the review committee consider whether the information may be disclosed without injury to national security or to the safety of persons. That is covered in paragraph 25(3). On completion of its investigation, the review committee would report to the Governor in Council and provide the report's conclusions to the person who is the subject of the report, but not necessarily at the same time.

So, Bill C-16 adds somewhat to the list of things preventing an individual from obtaining Canadian citizenship.

Crimes committed in foreign countries would be taken into account as well as those committed in Canada.

The bill prohibits granting citizenship to any person who is under a removal order or subject to an inquiry under the Immigration Act that may lead to removal from Canada or the loss of permanent resident status.

The bill also brings important changes in the way citizenship applications are processed. Citizenship judges, who are working under the direction of a chief judge, would be replaced and their basic duties fulfilled by officials acting under the delegated authority of the minister. This is under section 44.

Ceremonial duties would be assigned to citizenship commissioners, appointed by the governor in council to serve full-time or part-time, during pleasure, for a term of not more than five years. That is under section 31 of the bill. Each commissioner would receive a remuneration. A chief commissioner could be appointed to supervise and co-ordinate the work of the commissioners.

I would like to focus on the role of the commissioners. According to the bill:

31(6) To be eligible for appointment as, and to serve as, a Citizenship Commissioner, a person must be a citizen, have demonstrated an understanding of the values of good citizenship and be recognized for their valuable civic contribution.

The duties of a citizenship commissioner would be the following: to preside at citizenship ceremonies; to promote active citizenship in the community; to provide, on the minister's request, advise and recommendation about citizenship, the exercise of the minister's discretion, appropriate methods to evaluate citizenship applicants knowledge of Canada, the responsibilities and rights of citizenship and official languages. It is therefore of the utmost importance that commissioners be chosen very carefully.

In conclusion, I would like to speak briefly about the citizenship oath. Personally, and I am not speaking for my party, there is something I do not like in this oath. It is an allegiance oath, and I quote:

—to Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, and to her heirs and successors.

I was raised as a Republican. Not an American style Republican, but an anti-monarchist nonetheless. I do not agree with the fact that Canada, an independent country, still has a foreigner as its head of state. This is why I dislike the oath as it is written.

When I had to take the oath as a member of parliament, I tried to skip certain parts, because I do not believe that we in Canada should swear allegiance to the Queen of England. I would agree if Canada had a leader from this country as its head of state. The governor general could bear the title of president, something with which I would agree more.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Gruending Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-16, the citizenship act. I will be sharing my time with the member for Halifax West.

I am a relatively new member of parliament. I was elected in a byelection last November. I am especially pleased to get up and, for the first time, talk about a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

I have very strong feelings about immigrants and refugees. Like many people in the House, my grandparents were immigrants to this country; on the one side from Germany and on the other from the Ukraine. My family members were farmers and settlers. As I was growing up, we did have a multicultural society for the time, a patchwork quilt in Saskatchewan of a variety of people, mostly from central Europe, in addition to the aboriginal people of course who had lived here for thousands of years.

My wife's family were Mennonite farmers who similarly had a long and interesting history of moving from place to place to place and always making great contributions in whatever place they lived.

One of the strongest experiences I have had with immigrant and refugee people was during the 1973 disaster in Chile when people had to leave their country. Interestingly, many of them at that time were branded as criminals by a regime that was actually criminal. I will have more to say about criminality and immigrants and refugees in a moment. It was clear and remains clear what a great contribution the Chilean community made to Canada. I am very pleased to say, in a personal sense, that some of these Chileans, who I met in the mid-seventies, remain my closest and dearest friends.

In 1979, 1980 and 1981 I worked with the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina. One of the very busy but pleasant jobs that we had was to welcome the Vietnamese boat people who were adrift in the South China Sea and ended up, in some cases, in our country. We co-operated with the immigration department in setting up umbrella agreements so that communities could accept these people.

I also want to mention that perhaps 10 to 15 years after these people came here destitute, and, in some cases, not even the clothes on their backs when they got off the ships, a significant academic study was completed showing that the Vietnamese refugees in Canada had made a very significant economic and social contribution to our country.

Both my wife and I have been involved in refugee work from almost the beginning of our marriage, which goes back many years. We have, in successive times and places, welcomed Central Americans, Iraqis, Iranians, eastern Europeans, Somalis, Eritreans, Bosnians, Africans, particularly from Sudan, and the most recent family we have worked with is an Afghani family who had spent years in refugee camps in Pakistan.

I do believe I have some knowledge on which to speak, although not as much as my wife, but I can tell the House that it is often very worthwhile and interesting to work with people before making pronouncements about what one fears may be their negative contribution to our country. That has been far from our experience.

In a more philosophical vein, I did spend a number of years working for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops who often had things to say about immigration policy and the whole question of immigrants and refugees. I will only mention one point and it is of a theological nature.

I learned, from things that the bishop said about the biblical code of people in countries at the time of Christ and before, how to welcome a stranger. When the stranger came, they opened their tent; they killed the fatted calf; they literally rolled out the carpet. One of the statements the bishops issued while I was working with them on the immigration policy was called “Welcome the Stranger”.

Before I get into more specifics of the bill, I want to mention my political experience, brief as it may be. During the byelection in November 1999, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of immigrant peoples in the riding of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, particularly on the west side of Saskatoon where I was doing my door knocking. When I knocked on the doors of Filipino people, Vietnamese people and people from other countries, I was often welcomed in a way that I was sometimes not at other doors. These people were extremely pleased to be taking some part in the democratic process. I remember various episodes where people told me that it was not only their duty but their pleasure to vote and become involved.

I can remember a Filipino man in particular. When I went to his house in the dark one evening, he invited me in and asked if I was alone. When I said that I was alone, he said “Well, what a wonderful country when you can campaign politically without having to take your bodyguards along with you”. That was the experience that he was bringing to this and that was his view of our country and now his country.

I will summarize by saying that I have great respect, admiration and compassion for immigrant and refugee peoples. This arises out of my family background, my life experiences and my philosophical orientation.

I know that often there is a backlash toward immigrants and refugees. For all the reasons I have mentioned, I certainly do not share that. I try at every opportunity to talk to people about it.

I want to say as well, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre said earlier today, that there is an element of self-interest in our welcoming immigrant and refugee people. He talked about how Canada should think about and decide how many people it wants and what sort of population it wants, and cast its policies in that way. If we look at our past, and he mentioned the time of Sifton when the great west was settled, there was a great openness for people from other countries because we knew that we needed them. I would say that we still need them today and will continue to need them in the future.

If we have any doubt of that, there was an interesting story in the newspaper within the past week about Japan and Korea and how they will have to have fairly massive immigration. Otherwise they will see a loss in population and a shortage of workers, and I would say a shortage of prosperity. That is something which Canada has to look at as well.

This does not mean that it should be completely open ended. We have to have due process. We have to ensure that we do not have queue jumping. We have to do checks to ensure that we are not accepting people with a criminal past into our country.

If I may, I would like to make several specific references to the bill. I have talked about due process. A good number of groups appeared, on a previous incarnation of this bill, to talk about things they thought important, and they made some very good points. I will refer to a few of them.

There is a possibility, the way the legislation is structured, of giving the minister new powers to annul citizenship and broadening measures to revoke it. This means that citizens born outside Canada could lose citizenship, even after many years here, without due process, and in some cases without the right to a hearing.

There are lengthened residency requirements for citizenship. We are concerned about some of these.

There are increased language requirements, imposing more rigorous requirements on applicants for citizenship. This would penalize people who have difficulty learning a new language, and elderly people, often women, survivors of torture.

I could tell the House of the experiences I have had since being elected of immigrants who have come to me who have had great problems one way or another with the language, which creates great problems with the immigration officials.

There will be a certain loss of discretion in citizenship making. Citizenship judges will no longer be the people who make decisions. Frequently it will be civil servants working within specific guidelines. This concerns our caucus as well. We believe that cabinet powers to refuse citizenship are too broad.

We are concerned that business people may find the requirement to live in Canada for three of six years such a difficulty that many may not immigrate to Canada and may take their business elsewhere as a result.

In summary, I and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party feel that it is time this bill be brought to bear and that we have new regulations for immigration, but at the same time we have certain concerns with the bill, some of which I have outlined very briefly and others which my colleague from Winnipeg Centre talked about in more detail earlier today.

We would hope to see in committee some changes which would improve this bill and make it more possible for us, perhaps, to support it.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today to speak, along with my colleagues from Winnipeg Centre and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, to this very important topic of citizenship.

It has been mentioned that citizenship is something which all Canadians hold very dear to their hearts.

A number of problems come through my constituency office around immigration issues and the difficulties people have in coming to Canada. Quite often there are a lot of bureaucratic entanglements before they can get here.

I think of one situation in particular of a young man who had married a young lady from his home of Lebanon. He had been separated from his bride for almost a year and was still encountering difficulties in bringing her to Canada. I was able to get involved in that case and help move it along to the point where she eventually was admitted to Canada.

Shortly after that, he and his wife and their family invited me and my wife to a party they were having to celebrate this occasion. It was a wonderful experience to be in the midst of the party with so many relatives, young children and older people, all having a wonderful time. They were enjoying the hospitality and friendship of each other. My wife and I looked at each other and thought it was a shame that people have to go through such difficulty before they can come together to enjoy each other.

That is why it is important that the whole issue of immigration and citizenship be looked upon very seriously and dealt with in a way that will show respect for our fellow human beings and enable us to enjoy each other's company.

With respect to the bill, some of our concerns have already been mentioned. I want to touch upon a couple of issues concerning citizenship which I think are very important.

Clause 21 of Bill C-16 would introduce a new power to permit the governor in council, upon a report from the minister, to deny a person's citizenship “where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not in the public interest for the person to become a citizen”.

We have some concerns about that. That power would not only be new, it would also represent somewhat of a conceptual change from the present law. Under the present law citizenship is seen pretty much as a right more so than a privilege. It is a right which all people should have, provided that the objective criteria have been fulfilled. The new provision would put the whole question of citizenship into the area of a privilege which would be conferred upon people. The question of the definition of public interest is not really clarified in the legislation. We do not know what is meant by public interest and what will be used to deny citizenship to an individual.

In order to trigger this section of the bill the minister would be required to provide the person concerned with a summary of the contents of the proposed report to the governor in council. The person would then have 30 days in which to respond, in writing, to the minister. If the minister proceeded with the report and the governor in council agreed, the latter would order citizenship to be denied.

The decision of cabinet—and this is the part we want to look at very carefully—would not be subject to appeal or review by any court and would be valid for five years. This order would be conclusive proof of the matters that were stated in the report.

We have a situation where cabinet could decide, for various reasons which are not clearly amplified in the bill, that in the public interest someone is not fit to be granted Canadian citizenship and there would be no appeal. That gives a very big power to refuse citizenship on the basis of a public interest which could be defined in any way, shape or form. We have a lot of concern about that.

We are also concerned about the citizenship commissioners. The new bill would introduce a major change in the way citizenship applications are dealt with. Many citizenship judges are doing an excellent job and I commend them for their dedication to their task.

I have had the opportunity to attend in my riding many of the citizenship courts and to witness firsthand the excellent job which these citizenship judges do in imparting to the new citizens the joy, responsibilities and obligations involved in being a Canadian citizen. I want to commend the many citizenship judges throughout our country for the fine work they do.

Under Bill C-16 we find that these judges would be replaced by citizenship commissioners. Their duties would be full time or part time and they would be appointed by the governor in council during pleasure. Again, the words “during pleasure” cause us a bit of concern. That is something which should be looked at very closely. We really should not make change for the sake of making change if there is no rationale behind changing the citizenship judges and the fine job they do to a new system. I am not sure we would be moving forward in a very positive way.

It is also not clear how the advisory side of the commissioner's mandate would be accomplished under the bill, nor why the commissioners would be particularly well suited to provide such advice. Again, this is something that causes us concern and we feel it should be looked at very closely.

There are a number of things upon which I could elaborate, but I would conclude by emphasizing that from my experience the whole process of a person coming to our country, having the right to citizenship and going through the process which moves them into that status is very, very important.

I have seen many new citizens who exude a sense of pride and a sense of happiness when they are declared Canadian citizens. I have been at the ceremonies where tears fall from the eyes of many of these people as they are welcomed into Canadian society. As we do that, we are certainly saying something about our society, about the openness of our society, about how we feel that people have an obligation to share one with the other and about how we have an obligation to support these people. That is an aspect I would want to emphasize as well.

When we look at citizenship we cannot just dwell on the responsibility of those who are receiving citizenship, we must dwell upon our own responsibility to provide the kind of support mechanisms that are necessary to new Canadians.

When I come to Ottawa and I get in a taxi to drive to the House of Commons, many times I am being chauffeured by someone who is a new Canadian, someone from another country. When they tell me about their background, their experience and their qualifications in their home country, I ask myself why they are driving a taxi. Why are they not working as an engineer, a lawyer or a doctor? We have to look at that aspect of citizenship as well, as to how we treat our new citizens.

The other day I had a young man, who was originally from Africa, talk to me about the difficulty he is having getting a job in Nova Scotia. As we talked it became very clear that this young man had a university degree from one of our own institutions, yet he was having difficulty getting a job.

We have to look at some of the barriers that we place in the way of our new citizens who have obtained the desired status of Canadian citizenship.

We all have an obligation and a responsibility to work on this matter in the best interests of each and every one of the new citizens and to do the best we can to make them truly welcome and truly proud to be Canadian citizens.

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4:55 p.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, there were a couple of incidents in my riding concerning immigration which the hon. member might wish to comment on.

The first incident happened in the last two weeks. A medical doctor was returning to Canada. He was not yet a citizen. The immigration department, for some reason, was unable to quickly process his entry visa to allow him to continue working. He had been working in Canada for three years. As a result, the town went for over a week without the services of that doctor. It finally took the intervention of outside sources, including MPs like myself, to move it along.

I would like to know if the hon. member has a comment with respect to how the system is working when it comes to work visas.

The second thing is that in our riding we have quite a few dairy farms. It is difficult to find people who will work all day, from 5.30 in the morning, or who will work a broken shift. I know of one big dairy farm which requires labourers. The owner happens to know of people in Switzerland, persons experienced in dairy, who would come to Manitoba to work.

They are having many problems within the immigration department to get him moved along to allow him to immigrate and work. There does not seem to be anybody in our area to fill that particular job. Does the member have any comments with regard to how the immigration system is working?

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5 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have found as well that there have been many bureaucratic problems with respect to assisting people to come to Canada. The example the member spoke of with the doctor is one example. I could cite many others as well. Part of the problem seems to be that we have a bit of a separation between the Canadian authorities and the visa officers in the country of origin. Far too often it is almost like never the two shall meet.

We allow a certain amount of independence to the party in the country of origin to make his or her decision and sometimes the accountability aspect of why the decision is made and how it is made is not always there. It is like “We have no control over that decision, that is made by this person here”. If that person gets up on a bad day and does not like the look of the person who is applying for the visa or whatever, the applicant may never get here. Those are issues that we have to work on.

With respect to getting people here to work in various jobs, as the member mentioned with regard to the farm industry, we have to be mindful of the cultural differences as well because it may be that a person coming from another country needs a cultural adjustment before working in a given type of operation. As I mentioned, quite often people coming from another country will have training for a certain profession and ideally it would be nice if work could be obtained in that profession. Those are areas we have to work on.

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5 p.m.

Kitchener—Waterloo
Ontario

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, let me commend my colleagues from Halifax West and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. They both made very eloquent presentations on the issue of what it means to be a Canadian citizen.

I believe my friend from Halifax West identified a very important point when he talked about people not being recognized for the qualifications they have. In my community, the Waterloo region, we have a doctor shortage, yet we have enough doctors who were foreign trained who are not allowed to practice. One of the problems is that licensing of physicians is a provincial responsibility. As much as we talk about the brain drain in this country, we also very much have what is known as the brain waste in this country. It is very unfortunate. I agree, I have shared many of the same experiences. In Canada we probably have the most highly educated taxi drivers of any place in the world because of the barriers that are put in place for people trying to gain recognition for their training.

I ask the hon. member to maybe further expand on his experience and give us his suggestions for what we must do, recognizing for the most part this is under provincial jurisdiction. I ask the hon. member to try to address this very tragic situation for the people involved.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address that issue because it is a very real issue right across the country.

What we have to do is not what was recommended by a statement read earlier in the House by a member of the official opposition who was decrying affirmative action programs and saying that we ought not to have those kinds of programs. We do need programs that will facilitate people being able to fulfil their potential in a meaningful way and that sometimes means giving people a leg up, removing the barriers and enabling people to move into the system.

As long as we have a preconceived idea that being equal and having equal opportunity means everybody has to be treated the same, then we will never have people fulfilling their potential. The situation is such that people do have to be treated differently because of different backgrounds, different experiences and different situations where they have not had equal opportunity for advancement. We have to change our mindset if we want to see this happen and that comes from within for each individual.

As long as people in positions of power, people in positions of authority do not have that change of mindset then we will never, ever see the kind of thing happen that the member has indicated should happen, and which I would agree should happen, so that we would use the brain power that we have here. Canada is a beautiful country. There are all kinds of opportunities and all kinds of people to fulfil those opportunities.

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5:05 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

I am here to tell the House today that I am a proud Canadian, just like many other members of the House of Commons. I am a proud Canadian because I have had the experience of being able to travel throughout the world as early as when I was 17 years old and joined the Canadian Armed Forces. I was able to travel around the world and the Canadian flag was held with deep respect everywhere I travelled.

Just a few years ago I was fortunate enough to travel on the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war to Holland. That was the most exciting time of my life, seeing the Canadian flags up and down the streets of Holland in commemoration of Canada's liberation of Holland in the second world war. It was very moving. It was an experience that I do not think I will ever forget. As I said, I am a very proud Canadian.

It is important in this debate today to realize that Canada's most valuable asset is not our natural resources or many of the other things people would think. It is actually the people of Canada. It is the people who make this country what it is. It is a democracy and we should be very proud of that fact.

I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak on Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian citizenship. The purpose of Bill C-16 is to repeal and replace the current Citizenship Act which many Canadians know is severely flawed. While this is an important goal, I have two serious reservations with this proposed legislation. First, specific clauses in the bill need to be amended before Bill C-16 will function as intended. Second, the timing of this bill is all wrong. Changes to the Immigration Act need to be dealt with before this bill is passed and no bill dealing with immigration has been tabled in the House.

The Liberal government claims that Bill C-16 is the first major reform with respect to citizenship in 20 years. The intent of this bill is to provide more clearly defined guidelines, replace current procedures with a new administrative structure and increase the minister's power to deny citizenship. Unfortunately what the Liberals intend and what the Liberals actually do are two separate things. Bill C-16 is no exception. While the Liberals claim that Bill C-16 is a major modern reform of the Citizenship Act, those of us who look closely at the bill see a number of areas that have been totally neglected and others that have been actually impacted in a negative manner.

In 1994 the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration made a number of important recommendations with respect to citizenship which the government has totally ignored. Given that the government has had five years to develop this bill, it is inexcusable that it is full of serious omissions.

Like most Canadians, I attach a great deal of importance to my citizenship as a Canadian. Therefore, I would like to focus my comments on the conditions for granting citizenship.

The current legislation governing citizenship is lax in this regard. Currently individuals who are deemed to be permanent residents of Canada have been found to have nothing more than a bank account or property in Canada. It seems as though having a physical presence is not important. Canadians believe it is. Bill C-16 takes a half measure to deal with this issue. It correctly defines a permanent resident as an individual who must have a physical presence here in Canada for at least 1,095 days during a six year period preceding their application for citizenship.

While this makes good sense, Bill C-16 does not provide any mechanism for determining when applicants arrive in Canada or when they leave, nor does the Liberal government intend to develop one. This was a serious concern for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and the committee members recommended that measures be introduced to monitor periods of time permanent residents are out of the country. Without a viable means of determining time spent in Canada, requiring that a permanent resident spend 1,095 days in Canada is as meaningless as a judge sentencing a convicted murderer to life in prison. We all know the time will not be served.

There are a number of other problems with this bill. The bill specifies that an applicant must have an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages in Canada but no specific provisions are made for how this is to be judged or by whom.

Another serious problem is that the number one recommendation of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was that the declaration of Canadian citizenship express the vision Canadians share for their future and the importance they attach to their citizenship. This should have been an opportunity for all Canadians to express what they wanted to see in the Canadian citizenship oath. It would have been a great opportunity for a nation-wide patriotic debate. Instead, the minister hobbled together an oath on her own. We can almost picture the minister huddled together with her staff just before a question period briefing and trying to put together a citizenship oath.

Of course with all things Liberal, there is an issue of patronage. Despite the importance Canadians place on their citizenship the Liberals have maintained the tradition, Mr. Speaker, of patronage appointees. I know the Speaker is shocked by that.

Citizenship judges have been renamed citizenship commissioners in the proposed legislation but most of their duties will be taken over by departmental officials. It is just one more plum post for friends of the Prime Minister.

This legislation also discriminates against refugees. Current refugees get to count each full day of residency in Canada from the date of application as a half day toward the total needed for their citizenship application, but Bill C-16 removes this provision, penalizing applicants for all the bureaucratic delays that are already in the system. This is blatantly unfair for true refugees.

The real problem with Bill C-16 though is that the Liberals have their priorities all wrong. Last year the people of British Columbia watched as boatload after boatload of illegal immigrants entered this country with no action from the government at all. Our immigration system is in a desperate situation, pandering to people traffickers and others who abuse our immigration system and our compassion.

Canadians want to know why the Liberals have made citizenship a priority when the immigration system is in such dire straits. It is like putting new windows on a house when the roof is collapsing. It appears as though the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has no intention of fixing the multitude of problems facing Canada's immigration system.

In an advanced copy of her new immigration and refugee protection act, not yet tabled in the House, it is apparent that the Liberals will not close the door to bogus asylum seekers and people traffickers. Instead the Liberals are throwing the door wide open.

The definition of refugee is slated to be expanded and entrenched in the law with an entirely new category called “people in need of protection”. This definition goes well beyond that required by the United Nations' definition. The new immigration and refugee protection act does outline increased fines and penalties for the crime of people smuggling but these mean nothing without credible sentencing. Sentencing in Canada is anything but credible.

Recent statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics indicate that between 1995 and 1998 only 14 charges have ever been made under section 94.1 of the Immigration Act. Section 94.1 states:

—every person who knowingly organizes, includes, aids or abets...the coming into Canada of a person without valid documents required by the law is guilty of an offence and liable:

on conviction to a fine not over $100,000 or to imprisonment for not more than five years, or both

and

on summary conviction, to a fine not over $10,000 or to imprisonment of not more than one year.

During the last five years nobody charged under section 94.1 of the Immigration Act for people smuggling has served one day in jail. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, the toughest penalty handed down for an individual convicted was a $4,000 fine and one year probation. No wonder our immigration system is the laughing stock of the world.

Canada needs to be recruiting the world's best and brightest while allowing legitimate refugees to enter Canada and acquire citizenship in a timely and fair manner. While the citizenship act is in need of review, our immigration system is in dire straits and needs immediate attention. The government must focus its attention on priority areas like immigration. Let us get our immigration system up and running effectively. Then we can deal with citizenship.

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5:15 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my colleague and friend on his speech. I agree entirely that Canada should be seeking the best and the brightest and opening its doors to those refugees genuinely in need.

On that particular point I found this debate and some of the questions coming out of it rather frustrating and disappointing. We talked about the needs of Canadians. Canadian communities, such as many of those in my own constituency, have a need for doctors to replace those who have left because of the disastrous effects of the government's intervention in the medicare system. Replacing them with doctors who are qualified and willing to come is difficult because of the bureaucratic logjam in Immigration Canada and its unwillingness to do anything to move the process along at anything more than the slowest speed possible.

I have also listened to people talk about justifying the admission of illegal refugees on the basis that Canada does not have enough offices to process them overseas. I find that ridiculous. Legislation should once in a while be geared to the needs of Canadians.

Does my colleague have any comments on how this legislation might focus on the economic and social needs of Canadians and not simply pander to the needs, legitimate and otherwise, of those who are not Canadians and who only wish that they were?

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5:15 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canadians in general as I said earlier, do believe that Canada's most valuable asset is its people. It is a legitimate requirement that Canada in its desire to grow and become the most competitive nation in the world seek out the brightest and best qualified people to come to Canada.

Having said that, there is a legitimate need to recognize that some people do come to Canada as legitimate refugees. The UN has a declaration on refugee status and it is very explicit. This bill has gone one step further in stating that Canada would also take in people who, I guess by some declaration, say that they are people in need.

As I have been able to travel around the world, there are many people in other countries who would love to live in Canada and have the opportunities that we have here. The fact is that those people are citizens of other countries and they cannot simply come to Canada just to improve their own economic status. There is a responsibility that goes along with being a Canadian citizen and Canadians understand that. The legislation should focus on dealing with the responsibility of being a Canadian, what it means and include in it the aspirations that people want to have down the road.

The first thing that should be done is we should deal with the immigration system itself. We should address the problems that we saw last year in British Columbia. We should deal with the boatloads of people who are not legitimate refugees. They just said, “Canada sounds like a nice place to go to, let us go to Canada”. They paid an exorbitant amount of money to come here. It was through illegal means that they arrived in Canada. Those people are still being held up by the process that this country has developed.

We have to deal with that. We have to deal with people smuggling. We have to deal with the real problems that Canadians are concerned about. We have to improve the immigration system.

Every single member in the House, no matter what political viewpoint, are all proud Canadians. We have a responsibility to the people of Canada to deal with the problems facing Canadians. Immigration is a disaster and everyone in the House knows it. That is what we should be focusing on.

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5:20 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, yes, the long suffering Immigration Act and Citizenship Act. Even though Bill C-16 is designated as the Citizenship Act and amendments to it, it reflects quite frequently on the Immigration Act itself. If we are intending on fixing the Citizenship Act, the matter that precedes it is the Immigration Act and all of its faults.

When Reform first came to the House in 1994, immigration was on the plate. It was an issue that was debated at length by the Reform Party. We dared to bring up this topic. We dared to introduce some different ideas in spite of all the criticism that was hurled our way. Much of that criticism was an attempt not only by the government side but by special interests in the community that had a direct ear to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at that time and still do—

Citizenship Of Canada Act
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5:20 p.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Immigration lawyers and consultants.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
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5:20 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Yes, the lawyers and consultants had a vested interest in keeping the situation the way it was. It was a moneymaker for so many. Unfortunately things have not improved all that much. The consultants still exist and are making piles of money from it. The lawyers are still making piles of money from it. For what and to whose advantage? Is it for the advantage of the Canadian people? No, it has never been to their advantage.

The people in this country have never had input into any discussion on the Immigration Act. They have never had any input into any provision or amendment. Why? Because there has been a vested interest on the part of the Liberal government since 1993, the time that we have been in the House, to lean toward those who have that very special consideration: the consultants, the lawyers and anyone else who is part of that industry.

Things have not changed. The amendments in Bill C-16 do not deal with that problem. The changes that are coming up in the new Immigration Act do not deal with the problem of interference.

When I took office as a member of parliament in 1993 I was somewhat shocked to find that 70% to 80% of my work related to immigration matters. Immigration has become a political football. If we oppose it, we are criticized severely and called every name in the book. If we say there is something wrong with the act, our opponents say we are criticizing immigrants or that we are being discriminatory. That is the accusation made. Unfortunately that is a smokescreen. It is an abuse of a position to hurl those kinds of insults at someone who is just trying to straighten out a problem that most people in the country know exists but are not quite sure how it all comes together.

When dealing with issues on immigration, the quickest way to come up with an act that is suitable for people is to include them. New immigrants, those who have been here for 20 years and those who were born here should be included. The government would be very surprised in what it found out.

One of the biggest complaints about the Immigration Act, even relating to the Citizenship Act and certainly dealing with the refugee system, is that many immigrants who do come here would like to bring their relatives over to visit from time to time. That is a fair request. They would like to bring their relatives over but time and time again they have been denied that privilege.

Why would they be denied bringing their relatives to visit them here in Canada? It is because of an interpretation in one court case by a supreme court justice which has never been challenged. If a person comes here and claims refugee status, no one can send him back. That is a fact. No one can send him back. Even though he may have come on a visitors visa and decided to stay, he cannot be turned back or refused if he says, “I am a refugee”.

Unfortunately that very specific court ruling has never been challenged. It is high time that it was because the immigrants in my riding, and I have many, would like their friends and relatives to visit them even if it is in the case of sickness. But because of that very foolish interpretation many of them are denied that very special privilege.

When talking about a family, that is a provision that could change to allow a stronger family and certainly a much better position on strengthening the family.

What else is wrong which this act does not address? We could cross-reference this act to the Immigration Act because they go hand in glove.

It is high time that we changed the visitors visas and introduced a system where cash bonds could be placed. Anyone who refused to return would have to forfeit the bond. It would pay for any court case that came along. This would address a major concern in my riding at least and would make a lot of people much more comfortable.

I am going to go back to the refugee system. I think it is the most flawed area in immigration. There are so many queue jumpers who use the refugee system to enter this country. The issue is not being addressed in a very effective way.

This was a battle in 1993, in 1994, and in fact it has even existed much longer than that. It was one that we took up when we came into office in 1994. We fought diligently to have some reasonable changes made to the Immigration Act to deal with the refugee determination system.

Lo and behold very little has changed. Bill C-16 talks about patronage appointments through the citizenship process. That permeates the whole immigration system. Not only does it deal with the citizenship process, the judges and those doing the evaluations, but it also deals with the Immigration and Refugee Board. Nothing has changed. I believe it has even gotten worse and and has been pushed down out of sight because no one wants to talk about it much any more. Needless to say, when we do not talk about it on this side, the government refuses to clean up any of the problems that exist.

Let us look at the immigration and refugee act. If that hole is plugged, I believe that a lot of immigrants who are in the process of trying to immigrate to this country through the normal legal channels will feel a lot better about the process. They look at others who have jumped the queue, who have come in through the back door via the refugee system. They become very irritated and as a result they too begin to look for other ways of entering the country.

I will now talk about the issue of sovereignty. We on the west coast of this country have experienced boatloads of people arriving on our shores. These people are not refugees but illegals who have come in through this whole process of smuggling people, which has severely tarnished the immigration process in Canada.

People smugglers have not been dealt with in a severe manner in any way, shape or form. They should be taught that this is not acceptable. Unfortunately, the government of the day refuses to tighten up the laws in this area. Enforcement and court action are the keys to this problem. I can only call on the government to examine those processes before it deals in any substantive way with the citizenship issue.