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

Iraq
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Winnipeg South Centre
Manitoba

Liberal

Lloyd Axworthy Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the government has taken a leadership role. We have commissioned a major study of the broad application of sanctions by the International Peace Academy.

We will be tabling that report at the United Nations in early April. We have also reserved during the month of April, when we are president of the council, that we will have a broad ranging review of the application of sanctions by the security council.

National Parks
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Gruending Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, the report from the panel on the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks repeated what Canadians have known for years, and that is that our parks are in jeopardy.

This summer Canadians want to be greeted by Parks Canada personnel at the gates, to be educated by guides in the parks and to know that there will be water in the showers.

Will this be the vacation memory shared by millions of Canadians or will we see closed facilities and Liberal promises for yet another year?

National Parks
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, one of the recommendations of the report on ecological integrity is that not only do we need interpreters to explore with us the ecosystems of the parks but we also need to return to the park a sense of the aboriginal presence which has been in those lands for 4,000 years and which today is not present in the park system.

I am very pleased with the recommendations of the report that call for a stronger interconnection between aboriginal peoples, interpretation of aboriginal history and also interpretation of ecological integrity, which should be part of the shared parks experience that people will get this summer when they go to our parks.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw the attention of the hon. members to the presence in our gallery of the seven recipients of the first Governor General's awards in visual and media arts.

We offer our heartiest congratulations to these very talented artists.

I invite members to join them at a reception in my Chambers at the end of question period.

I introduce to you Jocelyne Alloucherie, Ghitta Caiserman-Roth, John Chalke, Jacques Giraldeau, John Scott, Michael Snow and Doris Shadbolt.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

March 23rd, 2000 / 3 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Today in question period, after two questions, one by the member for Wanuskewin and the other one from the member for Athabasca, you ruled that the questions were out of order and moved on to other orders of the day.

However, I refer you to a decision made by James Jerome. I have his book. He made a decision on February 20, 1975, when a member of parliament felt that a law had been broken and tried to raise it as a question of privilege.

At that time the Speaker made this ruling:

Since there is a clear line of administerial responsibility, grievances of this type are not points of privileges but should be brought before the House and laid before the minister for the minister to answer because this was in the best public interest and both members of parliament and the public had the right to be informed of them.

It seems to me that there is a clear line of ministerial responsibility when we feel that a law has been broken or compromised that we bring it forward in a question before the minister and have the minister answer that question in the House.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I agree that you should be able to bring forth whatever issues you want. All colleagues will know that many times in question period it is not only the words but it is the tone of the voice, the reaction and the accusation. That is what I have to base my decision on in the heat of battle. Therefore, today I made this decision that stands for today. Mr. Jerome made another decision in his time.

I have said many times in that there are no words which of themselves are unparliamentary. I told you we can use the word liar, for example, if you say “I was called a liar”. But there is no need to explain it. I have to have a little room in order to keep the question period so that we can hear the questions and the answers and so that the question period moves along. Did I make mistakes? Yes, like anyone else. Was I too quick? Perhaps, but it is the decision I have made and I stay with it, with respect.

Business Of The House
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, could the government House leader tell us what is on the agenda for the remainder of this week and for next week?

Business Of The House
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his excellent question. I might add that it is the best one I have heard today.

I would like to inform the House that, this afternoon, we hope to complete second reading of Bill C-16, the Canadian citizenship bill. We do not intend to proceed with Bill C-19 this afternoon. When we are done with Bill C-16, we will not call the next bill listed on the projected order of business. We will not deal with Bill C-19 this afternoon.

Tomorrow, we will consider Bill C-10, the municipal grants bill, at third reading, as well as Bill C-12, the labour bill. Regarding the latter, there have been discussions among the parties earlier.

Next Monday will be the third day of the budget debate.

Tuesday, we will proceed with third reading of Bill C-13, the institutes of health research bill, and second reading of Bill C-22, the money laundering bill.

Wednesday will be the last day of the budget debate.

Next Thursday, we will consider the Senate amendments to Bill C-6, the electronic commerce bill.

After negotiations among the parties, we may decide to switch the order between Wednesday and Thursday. We may therefore be dealing with Bill C-6 on Wednesday and completing the budget debate on Thursday.

That is the agenda for next week.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian Citizenship, be now read a second time and referred to a committee.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by summarizing somewhat.

I did start my remarks with a statement that in my belief there is no higher honour one can have than that of being a citizen in a democracy. I mean that quite sincerely. I believe that all Canadians value that in their lives as indicated by the fact that we had an overwhelming outpouring of representations by Canadians to the citizenship committee on this bill. Thirty-seven presenters brought forward their points of view and many of those points made it into the actual bill and now form what we know as Bill C-16.

I did make the connection between the concept of citizenship and the building of community. There are really three things: the idea that a citizen is part of something larger, the sense of community, and how we in the New Democratic Party view that sense as being at risk somewhat in a day that champions the individual, it seems, more than the collective. Operating as a collective is much more a Canadian point of view. Canadians make that connection and value citizenship.

The bill that we are looking at today started life as Bill C-63. Most of Bill C-63 is still contained in Bill C-16. We brought recommendations forward at the various stages of Bill C-63 hoping to improve the bill because many of the groups that came to see us on Bill C-63 were not entirely enamoured with the bill as it stood. They had serious reservations about aspects of the bill and as is proper, they brought those concerns to the committee. We listened carefully. We tried to make meaningful amendments to try to satisfy some of their concerns. As it stands, we believe that Bill C-16 is an improved version of Bill C-63.

The real point that has been made today by other speakers as well is that we would like to get on with this bill. We would like to finish with debate on the bill and get it back to committee. We would get through the final stages and put it to bed because most Canadians are quite anxious to address other immigration and refugee matters, issues other than Bill C-16.

Citizenship as such deals with people who have already landed in the country, who have already made it to our shores and have settled in for a number of years and are now at that final stage of becoming a new Canadian and going through the act of getting their citizenship papers.

The real concern that most Canadians are bringing to my attention as the critic for the NDP is the much broader issue of immigration to Canada. How do we attract the right new Canadians to this country to help us grow the economy and help the country grow? How do we seek out and find these people? How do we convince them that Canada is the country they should come to? There is growing competition around the world for the skilled workers of the world and certainly we need to do more outreach than we have done in the past in terms of reaching out to people and offering what we have to offer in a very public way. We have to advertise and promote ourselves if we are to attract more people to these shores.

I made the point earlier that we in the New Democratic Party believe that immigration is an engine of economic growth. We would like to see more immigration to this country and we are very critical of those in the country and some in the House of Commons who would argue that we should close the doors now on immigration. This is an attitude that has been largely driven by fear or ignorance, I would say, and fear generated by some of the recent events of this summer which saw migrant boat people drifting up on our shore on the west coast.

If I could take one moment just to talk about that one subject. It has been a source of great frustration to me as this whole issue got blown so badly out of proportion. There were 500 or 600 desperate Chinese migrants who landed on our shores looking for safe refuge, looking for sanctuary, looking for a better life. The reaction of certain Canadians was “Oh my goodness, our borders are a sieve, it is a threat to national security in some way, we have to slam the door shut and lock these people up and send them back”. In fact, the Reform Party had a public press conference when the first boat landed and said that we should send them back without even a hearing, that we should just simply put them on another boat and send them back where they came from without any knowledge of what their circumstances were or if there could have been legitimate refugee claims.

Thankfully, this country has better policies than that and our policy is that everyone deserves the right to a full hearing, the right to counsel and the right to have their case heard. Some will be eligible and some will not.

We in the New Democratic Party went a bit further. We wanted to understand a little bit more about this idea of the migration of people throughout the world. It is getting to be very common for people to seek better economic situations and to move around the globe. We did a bit of research on the Fujian province, from where these people originated. We learned that the Fujian province is one of the first places in China that had what we call free economic trade zones.

I spoke earlier in my speech about the globalization of capital threatening the concepts of citizenship, the nation-state and democracy. Here is a graphic illustration in these free economic trade zones.

The ILO did some research to say that one should be making about 85 cents an hour in these trade zones to have a standard of living comparable to a working class Chinese person in that area. These trade zones, where all kinds of western goods, such as clothing and toys, are manufactured, pay on the average 18 cents an hour. Here are these people making western products for you and I and our children to enjoy who are making one-fifth of what it takes to have the standard of living of a Chinese peasant in a fenced compound in China and having some knowledge of the western world, that there is a better world out there.

Their motivation, I suppose, was to elevate their standard of wages and working conditions by getting out of there, but there was no legitimate way to get to some place like Canada, to get to the west. There is only one place to go to get papers to apply for a Canadian visa or a permit to come to Canada and that is in Beijing. It is a heck of a long way from the Fujian province. They cannot get here from there. There is no legitimate way for them to apply to come to Canada and, under the current rules, they probably would not qualify anyway.

When we know a little bit more about the people who wound up on the shores of B.C., we are a little less threatened by them. The fear and the ignorance will hopefully dissipate as the story really gets out on who these people are and how we should really be dealing with them. I wanted to speak to that a little bit as we do get calls. Even as recently as today, we got faxes from Canadians who are not as open-minded about this issue. I hope the truth is finally getting out.

We have been dealing with the estimates, the spending of the government and various aspects of government. I would hope that as we get through the estimates regarding the immigration department that more money is put toward the promotion of immigration than it is toward the enforcement of immigration rules, which are really designed to keep people out.

It has always been of great frustration to our caucus that much of the energies and resources of the immigration officials and bureaucracy are dedicated to keeping people out of the country and not to welcoming them in. It sends absolutely the wrong message. The more barriers, obstacles and roadblocks we put in the way of people who are coming or who seek to make Canada their home, the more the message spreads out around the world that it is a difficult place to come to, that they will be frustrated and that it will not be easy. They will then go someplace else.

If we are serious about building this country, we had better change that perception. That means some resources will need to be spent in specifically targeted parts of the world where we know workers with the skills we need reside. We can invite and attract them and promote this country so that they choose to come here and make Canada their home.

With regard to the citizenship bill, in the last minute or two that I have I will deal with some of the specifics and some of the reservations we have about Bill C-16. We are eager to see it go back to the committee so that we can deal with it in further depth and we can hear a few more groups make representation to us to see what they think about its current form as opposed to its format under the former Bill C-63.

One of the things raised at length by the member of the Bloc Quebecois was that there was some objection to having the Queen referenced in the citizenship oath. Frankly, I think that is a matter so minor and insignificant that it does not even warrant comment in the House of Commons. Surely we have better things to dwell on than an issue such as that, but we did hear quite a bit of debate on that subject from other speakers.

There was some really serious concern that the abolition of the citizenship judges would be a step backward if they were replaced with citizenship commissioners in terms of getting a fair adjudication. This work would now be done by bureaucrats who may not have the same abilities to weigh the variables in a complicated citizenship case.

We also believe that the citizenship tests should be available in either official language and, if translation is needed, it should be available. I believe that has been addressed and we are happy to see it.

I have one remaining point that I need to comment on. We believe that the rules regarding the actual physical presence of a person in this country are too stringent. Under the current rules, one has to be physically present for three of the last six years before citizenship papers are granted. We believe that places an undue burden on those who may have interests outside the country and who may often need to travel outside the country to take care of their business interests elsewhere. We would like to see that addressed at the committee stage and we will soon have an opportunity to do so.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-16, the citizenship act, and my comments will be multifaceted.

I will speak first on some of my experiences in Africa a couple of weeks ago, then address the timing of the bill and then highlight a few of the many issues that the department has ignored for far too long. I will also, of course, speak to the bill itself.

Before I proceed on those topics, I want to affirm that my party is a proponent of immigration and citizenship. We support individuals receiving citizenship and enjoying the many privileges of being Canadian. We have always valued and cherished the contributions that newcomers make to our society.

Four hundred years ago Europeans joined aboriginals already living here to begin building this country we call Canada today. Since that time, persons from every corner of the globe have moved to Canada and have enriched our society with their knowledge, talents and culture.

We do believe in balancing the welcoming of refugees and immigrants with ensuring a fair system. Related to that, I wish to provide some clarifications.

Aboriginals aside, we were all immigrants or refugees. All refugees are immigrants but not all immigrants are refugees. This is not clearing things up very well is it? I will try to clarify it a bit more.

The legal definition of refugee in Canada follows the convention refugee of the United Nations, which states:

“Convention refugee” means any person who

(a) by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion,

An immigrant is legally defined as a person who seeks landing. In other words, an immigrant is someone who leaves his or her country with the intention of living in Canada.

Now that I have furnished the House with these definitions, I wish to provide some context for the definitions.

As I said, I was recently on a trip to Africa and I had a chance to sit in on some interviews with potential Canadian citizens. I will talk about one in particular, which was a rather heart-rending story. It involves a young lady, around 18 years old, who came from Sudan. She lived in a city where her father was killed by rebels when she was 11 years old. She lived with her mother and two brothers. The city was being bombed. Rebels were on the outside. This family was told they had to leave the city. In leaving the city, she was separated from her mother and brothers and has never seen them since. She was able to find someone at a church who put her up for a while and then found her a foster home in Nairobi. At that home she was sexually abused. She finally got away from that and laid claim for refugee status at the United Nations. That was how she came to the Canadian immigration office to make application as a refugee.

When she came into the office her dossier said that she spoke English. However, in questioning her, we had a hard time getting her to say anything. It was basically yeses and noes. At that point, the immigration officer asked her to write down something. She took a piece of paper and a pencil and easily wrote a beautiful, one paragraph account. After that, the immigration officer asked her to do a couple of math questions and she had no problem at all. Then she started to open up a little bit and we found that she did speak English very well. She spoke, read and wrote English.

We then found out that she had only about five years of schooling; about two and a half years in primary school and about the same in secondary school. During that time her mother tongue was Arabic. She spoke, wrote and read Arabic. We know she spoke, wrote and read English. She also spoke two other languages fluently, with only five years of education. As members can see, this person, with the few opportunities she has had in life, was able to develop. This is the type of person would would probably be an excellent Canadian citizen.

While I was in Nairobi, I had the chance to visit the orientation training school for the refugees who were coming to Canada. I have to say that I was a little nervous with these people because I felt most of them knew more about Canada than I did. Refugees from that area who are trying to come Canada usually spend from two to three months getting a little training about what Canada is all about and what they can expect when they get here. I have to say that from what I saw they were doing an excellent job.

I also had a chance to sit in on an immigrant interview. This was a young man and his wife learning a lesson about how difficult it was to come to Canada as an immigrant. We do have some major problems in that system.

This young gentleman was an aeronautics engineer with five years of university but his profession was not recognized in Canada, even though we have a need for aeronautics engineers in Canada and our point system indicates they would get preference. In order for this young gentleman to get in he was applying as an aircraft mechanic. With our point system, there is not a large need for aircraft mechanics and, unfortunately, this gentleman will be refused. It is too bad because this is a young family with good possibilities.

Our point system needs to be updated. We do not move fast enough as the changes come about in the workforce to do what is needed in Canada.

On a final point about the trip, I want to recognize that the high commissioners and immigration staff face many mental and physical challenges in foreign lands. They do the very best they can in the conditions they work in. For that I applaud them.

I now wish to turn to the timing of this bill. The bill is important but at this point in our history there are far more serious problems to deal with in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.

Last summer 599 illegal immigrants arrived on the west coast by boat. Six hundred arrivals at once places an enormous strain on Canadian taxpayers who must support these migrants, provide legal aid, shelter and health care. Such an arrival also infuriates those who have tried to enter Canada the conventional way, such as those I have just described. They encounter far too many delays in the immigration process.

Just last month the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia called on the federal government to reduce the backlogs in immigration inventories. Refugees and immigrants alike need to wait unnecessarily long for their claims to be processed, while it is the provinces which must pay for social assistance, legal aid, health care and housing.

The minister's response to this common front was that Ontario should reduce its taxes. Reducing taxes will not ease the strains of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

During the month of January a container ship with stowaways arrived in British Columbia. Almost every week in January illegal immigrants were found somewhere in the province of Ontario.

Another point I would like to speak to is our foreign students and the missed opportunities because of the stringent rules on those students. We look for students. We bring in roughly 30,000 a year to attend our different universities. These students pay double the tuition that our students pay. They learn the language when they are here, if they do not know it before they arrive. They are immersed in our culture. Most of them stay four years, some five, and then they are allowed to work in the country for one year. They then have to leave if they want to apply to get back into the country. We do not actively go after them, and that is unfortunate, because the Americans go after them and the Australians go after them. We end up losing these people. Indirectly, we have a chance for a brain gain, but we are suffering again from brain drain.

This winter has seen heartsick worry in cancer wards in Ontario. The province has been suffering from a shortage of radiation therapists. The provincial government has been recruiting foreign therapists, but this initiative has become snagged in immigration red tape. The processing times for these therapists takes far too long. Waiting times for cancer patients are dangerous. Delays allow this fatal illness to spread to other parts of the body. These are just a few of the issues which CIC has had before it over the last eight months.

Similarly, there are a few issues which CIC has ineffectively dealt with. As a matter of fact, last year the minister and the Prime Minister said that the winter months would discourage migration from overseas countries. Of course, that was absurd and cowardly, and it meant to defend the integrity of our Canadian society.

Canadians, the provinces and this party want attention focused on the serious issues. We are speaking of our borders, entities which we have the responsibility, indeed the right, to defend. We are a sovereign nation and we should be able to decide who is admitted to Canada and how they are admitted.

A new citizenship bill would not solve our border problems, would not speed up our processing time for radiation therapists and could not provide us with a new way of dealing fairly with non-status migrants arriving on our shores. A new citizenship act would not provide additional resources for customs agents who are required to safeguard our borders.

In my own riding I have seven border crossings. It is a problem we deal with every day. We do not have enough immigration officials. We understand that the first line at our borders is our customs officers. Our customs officers are not equipped, quite frankly. They have just been given a certain amount of power. They have been given the right of arrest, but they have no arms and no special training. They are taking some test cases, but I think our criminals will quite easily find which border crossings are covered and which are not, and we know what will happen.

At this point the minister has advanced no solutions and, most important, she has not tabled the new immigration bill to begin the process of dealing with these problems and concerns. I understand, due to departmental leaks, that a new bill is on its way. I just do not understand why it is taking so long.

The former minister was all set to forge ahead with a new act last year, but a cabinet shuffle seemed to postpone the legislation, and I cannot grasp why. I know it would take some time to study the bill, but in 1998-99 citizenship and immigration launched reviews and consultations costing $1.76 million. These studies have been done. Why have we not seen the results? Why has it taken the department so long to release this new bill?

I am disappointed that it has taken so much money and time for a new piece of immigration legislation, but I will not press this point further. There are parts of Bill C-16 which I wish to address.

Bill C-16 demands that permanent residents spend three years out of six in Canada. That is 1095 days. It assures that permanent residents need to display and prove their legitimacy in becoming Canadians, but how would this be enforced with any authority? How would permanent residents prove with any credibility that they have spent the required time in the country? How could Canadians be sure that this clause of Bill C-16 was respected? Exit controls do not exist in Canada for non-residents. However, we do not know when non-residents are in our country.

A pilot project was launched in southern Ontario this winter, whereby all refugee claimants were given identification cards. The whole issue of these identification cards has been shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Why did the minister not discuss this with parliament? Perhaps it would be a good idea to use these cards as exit controls for refugee claimants. Neither the standing committee nor the House had any input in the present usage of cards or any potential usage such as exit controls.

We praise the move that would make it easier for children adopted from other countries to become citizens. At present they must go through the immigration process and require permanent residency. First and foremost, this modification would hopefully have the effect of helping children abroad who are living in poverty or unacceptable conditions. It would also hopefully free up resources at CIC. Our only concern in this regard is that adequate health checks would be completed on new arrivals.

I do not understand why it has taken the government so long to allow these provisions for children abroad. The PC Party has been demanding these changes to overseas adoption for a long time. The minister should have acted much sooner.

The next topic I wish to cover in relation to Bill C-16 is its coming into force. The bill would apply to every man, woman and child in the queue for the citizenship ceremony. Bill C-16 is not retroactive, with only one exception, for cases sent to the citizenship judge. For the most part, when it comes into effect all applicants will fall under the new law. Why is this? What kind of overlap and additional paperwork would this cause? Would the minister please explain the thinking behind this part of the bill?

On a final point related to the Citizenship Act, I wish to comment on the appointment process of proposed citizenship commissioners who will replace citizenship judges. These citizenship commissioners will be appointed by orders in council. We wish to see this method of appointment changed to guarantee that confident, experienced individuals are chosen for the position of commissioner.

Various witnesses appearing before the standing committee expressed concern about partisan appointments at CIC. Professor François Crépeau and France Houle proposed four recommendations for ensuring competent individuals to fill jobs at CIC. It is worth my time to highlight some of these recommendations.

The first recommendation was that candidates should be hired for eight years with a one year probation period. Candidates must not be renewable and candidates must be staggered. This would ensure constant new blood in a stressful field.

The second recommendation was that candidates must have a knowledge of refugee law, a knowledge of the politics of the country of origin and psychological capabilities to deal with refugees and their situations.

The third recommendation was that a selection committee should be put in place to ensure that competent employees would be hired to the IRB. This committee would be composed of individuals from the immigration, refugee and law fields.

The fourth recommendation was that candidatures must be open to all and must be made public. The selection committee would have to follow strict guidelines, such as being familiar with the candidates' portfolios and a majority must agree on a candidate.

Our party has been calling for a more transparent hiring process for a long time. One needs only to glance at our platform from the 1997 election to see that. Today, as I have in the House before, I call on the minister to take the high road and ensure that competent and not necessarily partisan individuals are appointed to positions within CIC.

Professor Crépeau happens to be a professor in Montreal. The government should look to the province of Quebec more often for its immigration policies. I am speaking in particular about the Quebec investor program. Quebec is the only province in Canada to run its own program. The federal government administers provisions for business immigrants for the rest of the country.

The federal program has failed miserably. Why does the minister not look at Quebec's quasi-guarantees and financing options for business immigrants? Quebec also has the lowest corporate taxes in North America. Is it any wonder that the province's plan has worked so well?

Citizenship is of prime importance. It identifies us as belonging to a certain group of individuals, to a society, to a country. Citizenship is perennial in providing a sense of community. This is not a novel concept. Citizenship was a prized entity among ancient Greeks and Romans. I do not often agree with the minister, but she is correct in asserting that citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be Canadian. Our party only hopes that she protects the integrity and worth of our citizenship.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to be in the House today to listen to my critic, the member for Compton—Stanstead, as well as the member for Winnipeg Centre.

While I would say that I do not agree with everything they had to say, and I know they are not surprised to hear that, I wanted to take a moment to thank the member for Compton—Stanstead for acknowledging the hard work of the high commission and immigration officers.

I would also acknowledge the fact that I too had a chance to sit in on interviews in our posts abroad and I know the dedication of the staff. I think it was very important for that to be acknowledged in the House.

The hon. member made one point that I would like to comment on, and that is the fact that he has been waiting for a new immigration and refugee protection bill. He said that the Citizenship Act was not as important as the other and wondered why he had not yet seen an immigration bill.

I point out to him that the government has said that a new immigration act is a priority. A white paper was issued in January 1999. More than that, as a member of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, he would know that the committee tabled its report yesterday. I want to point out to him that I have been anxiously awaiting that report, because the committee's work in this area has been extremely important in helping to define the policy.

I understand that the member opposite made important and valuable contributions during the work of the committee on that report, and I want to assure him and all members of the House that I will be taking into consideration the recommendations of the committee in the development of a new bill, which I hope to see tabled in the House as soon as possible.

I agree that citizenship is at the heart of what it means to be a Canadian, and Bill C-16 is a very important bill to Canadians and to future Canadians.

I am pleased to comment on the members' speeches and to acknowledge the expertise and interest which they have had in this very important issue concerning citizenship and immigration and refugee policy.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, the member for Compton—Stanstead, the member for Rosemont and even my critic from the Reform Party play a very important role on the committee, as does my parliamentary secretary and the other members. I appreciate their advice and I look forward to being at committee to defend Bill C-16 in the very near future, as soon as the House sees fit to send it to committee.

I have been listening very carefully to the debate. We will take into consideration the representations made by all of those who have taken the opportunity to speak to the bill and we will look very carefully at the representations of others when we are at committee. I expect the committee will hear witnesses.

It has been a long road for Bill C-16 and its predecessor Bill C-63. It is very important that this bill proceed. I am pleased to stand in my place today to acknowledge the important work that has been done on this bill. I hope to see it become a reality soon.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
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3:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her comments. I guess I would have to say, though, that last October the former minister promised us that a bill would be on the table. Had the bill come forward at that time naturally it would have gone into committee. Then we would have been able to work on it and get some of the amendments in that we wanted.

As we have heard recently, the critic from the Reform Party had a press conference and released a supposed draft bill. We have seen what was in that bill, so it will be easy to compare now to ensure the work we have done in committee gets into it.

I had a couple of interesting amendments which I was able to get in, such as asking for photos and prints on first contact, for which a lot of our witnesses had asked. Something that will come back to the House is the fact that we have had in the immigration law for quite a while now what we call a safe third country. Not very much has been done in the negotiations with other countries in this regard.

The amendment I put in asked that this be reported back to the House on a yearly basis so we could see if there were advancement in the file. To that point a lot of people did not even realize it was in the law and not much was being done about it.

Citizenship Of Canada Act
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3:45 p.m.

Reform

Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to encourage the government to adopt amendments to Bill C-16, an act respecting Canadian citizenship. The legislation proposes to make several changes to the current act, with the intention of providing more clearly defined guidelines, upgrading sections and replacing current procedures with a new administrative structure.

There are some more clearly defined parts in the bill. I like to give credit where credit is due, even if it is a little. The bill reached report stage and third reading before the end of the first session but it has yet to be passed. There are only four changes to the bill, despite committee hearings and a debate in the House.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration mentioned in her speech on February 3 that during public consultations on legislative review the main focus of the people with whom she met was immigration. Why has the minister chosen to do nothing on the present inefficient immigration legislation? Instead she has chosen to fiddle with the citizenship act, which reminds us of the typical Liberal way of doing things, merely tinkering with the law.

She also mentioned in her speech on Bill C-63, the act respecting Canadian citizenship, that the primary mission in her department was to contribute to building a stronger Canada. I am wondering if by bungling a billion dollars in HRDC the government makes Canada stronger or weaker.

The arrogant Liberal government uses departments for slush funds to give away grants and contributions like CIDA, CIDA Inc., western economic diversification, ACOA, Indian and northern affairs, heritage and many others. I will not go into that but I wanted to make the point. With its political interference, poor accountability and mismanagement, this weak Liberal government is weakening Canada and certainly not making it stronger.

By increasing taxes to death, does the government make or break families? By being given broad based tax relief families can be strengthened. Strong families make strong communities and strong communities make a strong nation. Having said that, I would like to go into the nitty-gritty of the bill.

The four changes made in this legislation by the Liberals between the first and second sessions of this parliament are as follows. The first is physical presence. According to clause 6, the time requirement for physical presence in Canada as pertaining to applications for citizenship has been changed from three years out of five to three years out of six. This is a positive change. It will allow people who travel on business a greater opportunity and incentive to make Canada their home, and we appreciate that.

The second is presence in terms of spousal considerations in subclause 19(2). This clause has been removed from Bill C-16. It would have allowed spouses of those employed by the federal or provincial governments outside Canada, for example the military, diplomats, et cetera, to collect time toward citizenship. In effect, when posted outside Canada they would be considered to be residing in Canada if living with a spouse while he or she, as the case may be, was working outside our country, maybe for the government in this case.

This is a negative change because the clause presented an equality problem. The spouses of those employed by private businesses were not given the same opportunity. This is valid only for government employees. What about those who are employed by companies that have their head offices in Canada but have to spend time outside the country?

The third is the definition of spouse. The clause allowing the minister to determine the definition of a spouse has been removed from Bill C-16. This is another positive change.

The fourth is a response to the Mennonites in clause 57. In response to lobbying by the Mennonites clause 57 has been added to Bill C-16. This clause will allow three generations of descendants of a Canadian citizen who have never lived in Canada to apply for citizenship for a period of three years from the time the legislation is passed. Is this not amazing? It goes to show that no one is treated equally by the government.

Those four items are the limit of the changes the Liberals have made to the bill. The government is weak. The minister received the recommendations of the government dominated Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in 1994. The government has taken over five years to prepare this legislation which still does not address the committee's key recommendations. The Liberals do not listen to anyone. They do as they please and still there are many problems with the bill. Let me go over some of them.

Citizenship at birth is in subclauses 4(1) to 4(4). Bill C-16 states in effect that all children born in Canada, except of course the children of foreign diplomats, will continue to automatically acquire Canadian citizenship regardless of the immigration or citizenship status in Canada of their parents. This is contrary to what the standing committee heard. This is contrary to what the departmental officials stated and this is contrary to the position of the official opposition and many other Canadians who support it.

The official opposition supports an immigration and citizenship policy that requires children born in Canada to take the citizenship of their parents. Only children born in Canada to landed immigrants would assume Canadian citizenship.

Another problem is the conditions for granting citizenship. First, subclause 6(1)(b) deals with presence in Canada. Bill C-16 defines the term permanent resident more concisely than does the current act. The existing legislation may be loosely interpreted. Some individuals have been found to be residing in Canada because they had a bank account here or they owned property in Canada without having actually resided on Canadian soil.

How could someone be a resident when not residing in Canada? Bill C-16 calls for 1,095 days of physical presence in Canada in the six years preceding application for citizenship. Bill C-16 does not provide any mechanism for determining when applicants arrive in Canada or when they leave. That is the root cause of the problem when we do not know when and how someone left the country or through what channels someone came to Canada.

The next one is penalties for bureaucratic delays in subclause 6(1)(b). The current act allows individuals whose claim for refugee status is approved 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 requirement. Bill C-16 removes this provision so that applicants will now be penalized for the system's bureaucratic delays even when the delays are no fault of the applicant.

Another one is redefining the family in clause 43. Bill C-16 grants the minister the power for what constitutes a relationship between parent and child. That is wrong. The next one is the famous one, blatant patronage in clauses 31 and 32. Bill C-16 maintains the tradition of patronage appointments.

The Liberals are famous for patronage appointments. Probably they have broken all records in history. Here again they do that. All citizenship judges will have all their duties taken over by departmental officials except for ceremonial duties. There is room for appointing someone for doing some favour for the Liberal Party, the governing party in this case.

Another one is language requirements to gain citizenship in clause 6. This is a very important one. I have had many calls on this point in my office because my constituency of Surrey Central has more of an immigrant population than any other constituency in Canada. It is the largest constituency in Canada in terms of population.

Bill C-16 states that the applicant must have an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada. No provisions are included on how this is to be judged or by whom it will be judged. Being a good citizen has nothing to do with language skills or how many languages one can speak. Being a citizen means one obeys the laws and makes a positive contribution to society.

How about those who are unfortunate, who are mute, deaf or blind? How will they pass that test? I understand it is important that someone should be able to effectively communicate, but I have seen examples of people in this country who could not speak a word of English or French but are now fluent, excellent in business and have made tremendous contributions to Canadian society and to our communities.

Another one is the citizenship oath in clause 34 of the bill. There was little public input on the content of the new oath in Bill C-16. The minister prepared this oath on her own. She did not consult anyone in Canada on what the wording of the oath should be. She ignored listening to Canadians.

The minister's first legislation should have been aimed at fixing a failed immigration system rather than tinkering with the citizenship act at this time. More than five years after the Liberal controlled and dominated standing committee made its recommendation on citizenship, the minister retabled the legislation. It delivers little of what was recommended by the committee. She chose not to listen to Canadians. She chose to ignore the official opposition and other parties in the House.

With globalization and advancement in technology, transport and telecommunications, in an ideal world the boundaries of countries could disappear for the purpose of mobility of the people. There should be peace, prosperity and harmony but this wonderful dream has not yet been fulfilled. I believe it will be fulfilled sometime down the road.

The biggest curse the world has is our inability to see humanity in all of us. Among us are those who do not respect law and order, those who know only their rights and not their responsibilities. There are criminals and terrorists unfortunately.

We have to take appropriate measures to protect our citizens and secure their safety and future. We have to make Canada a better place. It should not be a sieve where terrorists and criminals pass through and jeopardize the safety and security of our citizens and the future of this great country. Therefore our legislation should be carefully crafted and drafted.

The new changes to the Immigration Act the government will propose have been leaked to the official opposition immigration critic. The Canadian public is already very concerned about how badly the Liberals are going to fail in giving us what we want which is to fix the flawed and broken immigration and refugee system in this case.

I am sure members and all Canadians are concerned about refugees coming here in boats but Ottawa is missing the boat on refugees. The proposed changes to the Immigration Act will not do anything to fix the many faults with Canada's refugee adjudication process. The new rules will erode public support for real refugees. Who will suffer? The genuine refugees.

Changes to the Immigration Act contemplated by the immigration minister will not streamline the refugee adjudication process. They will not do anything to fix that. They will not stop bogus claimants from clogging the system. The pipeline is clogged. Genuine refugees are already suffering. The cost of processing applicants should be reduced but it will go up because more people, bogus refugees, criminals and terrorists are involved. We have to do more work to scrutinize them. They will not discourage human smuggling. Erosion of public support for genuine refugees is the likely outcome of Bill C-16.

The United Nations convention on refugees states that countries should accept those who have “a valid founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”. The Minister of Citizen and Immigration proposes to expand the definition of refugees to include a new category five, “people in need of protection”. This extended definition could lead to more dubious refugee claims.

A 1998 government report called for an end to patronage appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. It urged Ottawa to appoint experienced bureaucrats to adjudicate refugee hearings despite the fact that immigration department officials could do a more effective job than inexperienced political appointees. Again the minister chose to ignore this recommendation.

Another level of appeal has been added that will clog the system even more. According to the act, unsuccessful claimants will not be removed from the country. Also no deterrent is in place for human smugglers. Between 1995 and 1998 only 14 smuggling charges were laid. The maximum fine was $4,000 and no one served a single day in jail. That is surprising.

This legislation is supposed to define the criteria for obtaining the world's most respected citizenship, Canadian citizenship. Our citizenship is the very foundation of the Canadian identity which unites us from coast to coast to coast.

To summarize, let me go over some of the points because they are interesting.

Another level of appeal has been added to the system and it will clog the system. The existing system along with its several rounds of appeal has already created a backlog of 30,000 refugee claimants. Rather than streamline the appeal process, this bill adds another level of appeal. There are already many layers. It is like an onion; we peel off one layer and there is another layer. We have to stop this onion effect. We have to be focused and have a clear-cut judicial process which should be keen on helping genuine refugees and not bogus refugees.

Recently the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Canada's obligation to protect its citizens outweighs its obligation to keep suspected foreign terrorists from torture. Under the new legislation which we are debating, if there is a chance of mismanagement upon their return, unsuccessful refugee claimants will not be sent home. They will not be sent back to countries which are deemed unacceptable by the minister. Migrant smugglers are sure to exploit this loophole. We have to plug the loophole.

Under the current legislation, penalties for smuggling range from $5,000 to $100,000 as well as prison terms from five to ten years. The bill proposes to strengthen the penalty for smuggling 10 or more illegal immigrants to a maximum fine of $1 million or life imprisonment. What about when there are batches of nine illegal immigrants? Then the penalties are different and less.

In spite of protestations to the contrary, by drafting the bill before the all-party committee on illegal immigration has made its recommendations, and by planning to introduce the bill on March 30, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration is sending a signal that it is a done deal. That is the Liberal style.

To safeguard genuine refugees and the public interest, the minister should scrap the bill. She should hear what the committee has to say and re-write this legislation.

I mentioned that Canadian citizenship is one of the most respected citizenships in the world. We are proud of this fact. We have to maintain respect for Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship is based on equality. One criteria for Canadian citizenship is understanding the equality of all Canadian citizens, but that is not the case with the government.

For example, I tabled some petitions from concerned Canadians, many of which were signed by my constituents but were also signed by people from all across Canada. I received many petitions on this issue. The petitioners, our respected senior citizens in this case, asked the weak Liberal government to treat all seniors equally in the allocation of old age security benefits.

I can understand that there is a difference between immigrants and citizens. To some extent we can probably understand the extent to which the difference exists. But for senior citizens the allocation of old age security benefits depends on the country of origin.

Once a person is a Canadian citizen what does where the person came from or his or her race and ethnicity matter? Why are citizens treated differently based on their country of origin and placed under arbitrary restrictions? These are the questions the petitioners asked of the government. Why does the government treat some citizens as second class citizens? The government through its programs has designated some citizens as hyphenated Canadians based on their race, ethnicity and country of origin.

We are debating the amendments to the citizenship act and it is not clear whether it is the government's intention to dilute Canadian citizenship or create different tiers of Canadians. A Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen. No Canadian citizen is superior or inferior to another Canadian citizen. This is what equality is all about. All Canadian citizens are Canadian citizens, period.

Should we not integrate new citizens rather than segregate them? The government sponsors the multiculturalism policy, the immigration policy and many other policies. It is bent on segregating Canadians rather than integrating them into Canadian society.

It is appalling that the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism says she is proud to call herself a Trinidad-Canadian. When will a Canadian federal minister be proud to call herself or himself a proud Canadian?

We are all proud of our religion, culture, race, ethnicity and our country of origin. When we have adopted and embraced Canada as our new home, we cannot get mail by writing part of the old address on the envelope. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian period, both in French and English and in any other language in the world. A Canadian is a Canadian.